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06 Mar 2017
by Alex Norgate
Operation Freedom: Part 7
Alex and Norman head to the busy streets of Nice before settling on the banks of the world famous Lac Du Saint Cassein

During the few months Patricia and I had known each other, we decided that I would join her in the South of France. It seemed like a good idea at the time, seemingly allowing me the opportunity to earn some money as a musician in between fishing exploits and rendezvous with Patricia. As the time neared to head south, I found myself being drawn to a new Alpine water that had been mentioned in passing by a not so reliable source. Apparently it contained some huge fish and, being an optimistic chancer, I couldn’t resist the temptation.

Weaving my way through unfamiliar, sun-drenched mountain pasture brought me to my senses. Time became but a word the meaning of which was anchored in some distant conception. Standing above me, a vastness, a hazy sapphire expanse, moments before unacknowledged, now holding me awestruck. In the distance shimmering heat poured from matt black tarmac. Intermittent phrases of bird song flittered from hedgerows as we juddered along empty lanes. I say we, because Norman (the pigeon we’d rescued in Italy) was there too, precariously perched on my shoulder, bobbing his powder grey bonce in anticipation.

We arrived as the falling sun plunged beyond the brow of a high hill. Crunching over gravel we came to a standstill at the lakeside. I took Norman, placing him on my shoulder and stepped out into the thick luminous evening. Breathing a deep breath felt like the appropriate action as I made my way to the water’s edge, the sweet punge of lake already filling my nostrils. I peered into the weed and lily-choked margins. It was dark and full of promise, certainly the kind of place you might find a carp. To either side of me dense reeds stretched towards the dusky sky. Looking across the water my eyes met lush forest bounding up over rolling, somewhat dramatic hillsides like a thick green duvet in all directions. Taking in the moment was no problem. I could have done so for hours, but the light was fading quickly so after I exchanged a few sentences with a passer-by I headed directly for the opposite side, amongst the deep overgrown foliage.

Often, I assume I go fishing for solitude, but in reality there is nothing solitary about being in the thick of an incredibly alive and conscious web of organisms. Actually that’s why I think it pays to go alone from time to time. It’s then that it is possible for the trivia of our daily lives to subside in favour of something far more potent, something far more mysterious. I am fairly certain almost all have witnessed small unexplainable miracles by the waterside and if not we are constantly witnessing a very large one; the miracle that anything should exist at all; the conundrum of being, no less.

A meeting with Alpine Utopia

Although I find it very easy to whittle away vast amounts of time toiling over such notions and still be none the wiser, I can’t help myself. I’m allured by the mysterious; I think that’s why fishing is so appealing. Of course people give it the old ‘merely this’ and ‘nothing but’ deduction but people do that with anything, and to my mind that’s half the issue with our narrow-minded western conception of life. We quash the magic and essential aliveness of being.

“We have to create culture, don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow. The nexus of space and time where you are now is the most immediate sector of your universe, and if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered, you’re giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that you want to dress like X or have lips like Y. This is sh*t-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion, and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And we are told ‘no’, we’re unimportant, we’re peripheral. ‘Get a degree, get a job, get a this, get a that.’ And then you’re a player, you don’t want to even play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world.” Terence McKenna

Ma maison
A young and tatty looking Norman

The sun’s unfaltering rhythms doused the picturesque hill-shrouded valley day after day. Small shafts of gold light cascaded through the undulating canopy above washing over me, reviving me from the night’s chill. Out beyond the water to a far hill, my mind weaved through thickets and stunted oaks. In that joyous space I became more than just I. The spell of separateness’s skin was shed and for a time I was rattling the cage of unbridled possibility.

The carp, on the other hand, were absent. In my case it’s certainly true that more time doesn’t in any way mean more chance of a fish. I make no claims of being a master; more a novice who becomes so entwined in just being there that catching almost poses as a distraction. All be it a very welcome one. I do love how fishing can hold us in these places. Without a reason I think most of us would not long be sucked back into the tight grasp of modern life without the chance of knowing such freedom, such undeniable beauty. In the words of Garry Snyder: “Nature is not a place for visiting, it is home.”

After a total of five days on the move and no sign of a single carp, I started to think that perhaps this lake was not all it was cracked up to be. Of course it would have been naive of me to suppose the lake was at fault. My lack of finesse, skill and intuition seemed a far more viable conclusion. By this point my desperation had mounted to an excruciating level. I had found a jewel, clear-cut by nature’s hands, and I wanted more than anything to catch one of its more than elusive inhabitants before trundling south. I made my intentions known as I often do when dancing on the edge of sanity. To my mind it is obvious that the trees, the water, the birds and animals share some deeper knowing or intelligence that has a tendency to be overlooked. They are all a part of the over-mind, one in which the human psyche is also deeply rooted and, as such, if one has not been totally confined to reductionism, then it is possible to engage it in a conversation of sorts.

In absence of distraction

In the warm forgiving darkness I lay outstretched under the stars, the occasional bream splashing amongst the lilies. Soon enough I was succumbing to a lucid flow of visions, subtle shapes and colours forming behind closed eyelids drawing me closer to slumber. As the visions deepened still further, I felt a strange sensation, which snatched me back. Startled I gazed into the darkness, a pair of soul piercing eyes intensely glared back in moonlight. Some primordial fear held me as my mind worked overtime to attribute meaning to my unease. Then, without warning, a mighty splash rocked the surface somewhere out in the darkness. I instantly turned my attention to the lake, searching for its location. It was unmistakably carpy.

The new day brought with it a cool, low-lying mist shrouding the pool in a mysterious haze. Bird song echoed resounding like a choir over the glassy turquoise pool, filling me with a sense of tranquillity, much-needed after a somewhat chilling encounter in the dead of night. Despite no fish I was full of confidence and rapidly headed for the far margin where I discovered several carp engaged in ritual courtship under a cluster of willows. I shinned the shell of a dead beech precariously balanced over the margins and was delighted to see several mirrors nose to tail trailing beneath me. Intently I observed them, succumbing to their magnificence, their transcendent-like quality.

A little nervous with my first Cassien fish
Out to the rolling hills my mind weaving the dense undergrowth

Norman paraded up and down the margins, cooing and fanning his tail while I tackled up excitedly. No less than ten minutes eased by before I was pushing the net under a surprised looking mirror. It seemed not to know what was happening, which made for a rather speedy encounter, every second of which was cherished as it glistened in my arms against the vivid blue alpine sky. Several others followed in the cover of darkness, a great deal more intent on escaping than the first. One of which, a remarkable silver grey mirror, bounded throughout the weedy margins for ages in the still moonless night. As dawn approached I shook off my lethargy and in a slight daze packed away ready for the drive to Nice. With one final acknowledgement I silently thanked the lake before heading south via the route Napoleon.

The day was sapphire blue, deep and welcoming. I was elated to be heading to new grounds, images of what lay ahead filling me with wonder as a warm breeze blasted through the window. Some hours later I found my way over a myriad of weaving narrow cols through a spectacular and vast mountain range. Sweaty palms. Skirting continual sheer drops. All exacerbated by the precarious height of my wagon.

As the journey wore on, so my need for its end increased. Patricia was waiting for me in Nice, but as I neared the place all my good feelings and illusions about the idea of being in a quaint French city vanished. The busy roads, built up industrial estates, clustered housing, endless advertising; harsh colours and hectic rushing of people forced my soul firmly back inside the confines of my being. What the hell was I thinking? This is no place for someone like me. This is my idea of hell. I did my very best to look on the positive side while my true self just squirmed, looking for any possible escape. As Norm and I navigated deeper into the concrete jungle we both became irritable and unsettled. After spending so much time in expansive unaltered paradise, to me the city seemed like a place people go to lose touch with reality and that’s exactly what it felt like.

After collecting Patricia from a bustling street near her flat we headed through heavy traffic for the sea front and a much-needed swim. After a while I got used to Nice, although I wouldn’t go as far to say I enjoyed it much. A week or so later and after a wonderful visit from my younger brother, Patricia and I were parked in a secluded car park at the notorious Lac du Saint Cassien. The strange thing about it was shortly after arriving our friends and fellow carp gypsies Alex and Caroline pulled up right next to us, eyes twinkling. We were all surprised to see each other, especially considering neither of us had spoken in a while. It was meant to be, we just had to fish together.

A powerful mirror under sapphire skies
Lost in Cassien treasure
Dexter admiring a beautiful Cassien common
Melting in the heat
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Right from the off the weather was on our side. Huge bouts of low pressure pushed ferocious storms directly over our heads, filling the air with distinct smell of electrical fire. Although it was bloody scary at moments, it did the fishing a world of good. Almost instantly we caught fish. On our first day together Alex and I managed ten or so carp including two supremely scaled mirrors. Unfortunately the one I captured, a stunner of a linear, managed to escape through my legs before Alex could get a photo. I made a grab for it but slipped and landed up to my neck in the water.

Alex seemed more upset about it than I, being the most beautiful Cassien fish he’d seen in a while. I just couldn’t help but laugh at my total lack of finesse and for some reason I didn’t seem to mind.

Alex and Caroline eventually had to leave to continue work on their new book and Patricia headed back to Nice for a week of work. It was perfect timing as I had arranged to fish with my friend Dexter who had driven all the way from Normandy. We were left to our own devices, which consisted of food, wine and good conversation. The carp continued biting but not with the constancy of the day before.

Dexter stayed a few days before heading off to the River Lot. During that time he caught a striking common from the plateau in front of the swim known as Kevin Elis. Its intermeshing scales glimmered like shards of polished gold in the warm evening glow. After Dexter made tracks, it was impossible to occupy the swim I wanted due to the presence of others. I was far too exhausted from a week of early mornings and late nights to continue pushing myself, so I decided to fish evenings only which would give me much-needed time to write.

Under moonlight

Having never fished Cassien before I assumed it would be an angling hellhole, but in actual fact I have found it to be quite the contrary. It is still possible to escape the hordes and seek isolation, despite it being a popular location for holidaymakers and anglers alike. It also has a very diverse stock of carp; sublimely scattered mirrors, linears, two-tone commons equipped with huge tails and brutish monsters to temporarily avail most from the afflictions of big carp angling.

Cassien’s attraction is notorious, but unfortunately like many other public waters it has become heavily regulated. The reasons for this vary; in the case of Cassien it is mainly down to a huge amount of litter left predominately by the angling/camping communities. If I can say anything about this, I would like to encourage anglers to consider being more conscious with regard to the issue of littering. Cleaning swims of others rubbish is a simple, yet vital task. I’m sure many of us have cast aside a blunt hook or a length of mono without a second thought, but unfortunately it’s this kind of unconscious action that contributes to degradation of the environment.

As anglers, we can aspire to acquire a greater intimacy with our surroundings. Doing so not only makes us better anglers, it also enables us to gain greater insight into ourselves. Somewhere along the line it has become expected, within the minds of people, to disregard nature. Setting example, whilst remaining empathic towards others is by far the best approach to cultivate any kind of positive change for the future of angling and the preservation of nature as a whole.

Taken by the moment
Hazy summer days in isolation
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