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Operation Freedom: Part 8
This journey features millions of life-sapping mozzies, a heat-wave and one biblical looking 50lb mirror carp...

Twisting streets bustling with stumbling partygoers was a contrast after weeks at Cassien. Once I’d parked the truck on the outskirts of Nice I leapt out into the warm evening; a sea scented breeze filled my nostrils shortly followed by the faint smell of piss and stagnant city. Being in such a place never used to affect me quite in the way as it does now. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate a city’s significance, it’s just that since spending the past three years living by lakes surrounded by nothing but trees, animals and plants, the disparity becomes almost shocking. It’s like I am looking in on some alternate reality, one that I now find hard to relate to.

A very bedragled Norman after moulting

Loading my bike up with gear I headed for a small bar by the name of Le Blue Whale. Norman sat comfortably in a small bag around my front, his head above the zip watching intently as we glided down luminous orange-lit roads and lanes towards Patricia’s flat, where he and my bike would reside until I finished.

All in all the night was a success, I did what it is that I do: beatbox, DJ, scratch, rap. People responded well, but truth be told I didn’t feel human again until Norm, Patricia and I could see the blazing orange glow of Nice fading in the rear view mirror.

We idled a few days away at Cassien, lulling in the soupy margins and occasionally casting a rod. The sun beat down furiously and our attempts to stay cool in anyway were unsuccessful, apart from the brief moments where we would dive several metres below the surface down to the cooler layers. It was apparently the hottest weather Cassien had seen in some years, the water being up around the 30-degree mark.

After locating an uncomfortable little spot by boat where a huddle of willows stretched out over the margins, two rods were placed. Both baits were delicately dropped beneath a dense overhang and not more than ten minutes had passed before I was hooped over under the trudging power of a Cassien visitor.

The few moments of excitement quickly diminished as I wound down with speed trying to fathom why my line was now void of tension. With an optimistic chuckle I announced it to be a good sign and replaced the rod confident of another take. The hookbaits rested a few feet from the bank but the heat was so overwhelming that we had to douse ourselves. We did it as stealthily as we could, swimming out into open water but no doubt spooking fish. After twenty minutes one of the rod tips knocked viciously and, for a moment, I was sure I’d hooked a fish but all was invitingly still. The day’s end grew nearer and I was beginning to think we had blown our chances but good fortune was with us; we were gifted one final chance.

The line poured from my spool down below the willows. I quickly motored out into the bay applying pressure and the fish followed suit. It was very powerful and roared around under my tiny boat spinning me around several times before it bored down into the depths. At that point it could have been huge and my mind gladly assisted me in creating the illusion that it was. Nevertheless, a very muscular common was my prize and he made for a lovely photo under the willows before we boated our way back under serene purples and pinks. Norman entertained us as he clambered all over the gear between Patricia and I, well aware of the soaking he would get if he should put a foot wrong. A fine mist gathered as the lingering day merged with night; a timeless moment that the three of us silently absorbed. It was goodbye Cassien. We were ready for something new, something that would allow us the opportunity to fish into witching hours where I imagined our fortune might change.

Playing with imagination

The first small pool we encountered didn’t feel quite right. I think it was something to do with the queues of holidaymaker’s tomb-stoning from the top of a steep overhang and the rather overcrowded banksides. We continued on towards another spot we had been told about and it was far more fitting: a reservoir with plenty of character, surrounded by steep hills, full of lilies, weed, endless snags, shelves and open water. It was a unique looking place, not overly aesthetic but at least it was peaceful.

We parked up and took straight to the water. Almost immediately perche soleil began pecking at our legs and arms so we lay there enjoying what seemed to be a fair exchange. Staring out over the water I saw the old predatory fish splash but nothing remotely carpy showed. After cooling off and a good look around we settled beneath a cluster of oaks at the top of a steep bank which quickly dropped away into deep margins. It looked like a good place to try for our first night.

The sun swiftly slipped over the hill behind us, dappling the earth like a huge mirror ball. The light passed through the dry coniferous-cloaked inclines until it reached the emerald water. Close by, geckos rustled through the sun-baked leaves as they licked at passing flies. The all too familiar whine of ravenous tiger mosquitoes shrilled in the inescapable evening heat, and all I could think to do was lower myself into the margins once more to wash away the grime and sweat that is so much a part of summertime angling in the South.

We placed our rods. I fished to the right while Patricia opted for a small plateau under a tree to the left. We quickly secured ourselves firmly behind mozi mesh and watched the little buggers dance on the other side; occasionally probing their proboscises through the mesh in the hope that they may sneak a quick sip of our blood. If we had to leave the sanctuary of the bivvy at any point, they would be ready and waiting.

Cooling down with an outside shower

The night was humid, uncomfortable and we found if difficult to sleep. Eventually we must have passed the divide-separating dream from the immediate because I woke to a series of bleeps to which I naturally reacted. Skipping and sliding down the gravel bank I connected. It was Patricia’s rod and she hadn’t noticed a thing. I shouted for her. She groaned vaguely from the top of the bank while I went about freeing the fish from a weedbed not far from where it was hooked. It didn’t seem to be putting up much of a fight at all. I handed a sleepy Patricia the rod and she gently led the fish to the mesh after it made a few short runs. It looked half decent in the twilight as it slid like a giant bream into the net.

Resting amongst weed fronds lay Patricia’s prize, a dark oldie in excess of fifty-pounds. Its flanks, fins, mouth and body were immaculate. It was such a beast I had to help place it in Patricia’s arms for a few shots.

With such a good start we felt sure another bite would befall us before we were due to leave. Over-confidence can be a humbling experience at times. Just like the slowly evaporating lake, our confidence vapourised in the sun’s unforgiving heat. We gradually lost our appetite for fishing so we opted to go for a walk in the hope that we might find a new angle.

Under the willows
A more fitting spot
An emerald oldie
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Next

When walking, one thing we nearly always do is look out for wild foods, not just because we have inexhaustible appetites but because it also draws us closer to that which we seek; a deeper connection with our environment, the lake and our quarry. Alongside a few offerings we spotted a tree full of juicy purple figs just out of reach. After some ingenuity we had several each. It wasn’t until I took a big mouthful that I noticed that the insides were dehydrated and totally inedible. No doubt the result of a rather lengthy dry spell.

We continued the trail down beyond the dam at the end of the reservoir, which brought us to the edge of a small river. Fifty-metres beyond the ruckus of the dam the flow slowed to a gentle crawl. The steep valley and high trees only allowed a small amount of light to penetrate to the forest floor, which offered us sanctum from the days overbearing heat. Small insects circled through shafts of light making it feel almost enchanted. I had heard rumours of fish passing over the dam wall during floods in recent years and upon seeing it I knew it was where we should try.

A fiery sun soared high in an empty blue sky as we navigated a narrow lane for several miles toward the river. High above, a large tree canopy converged. Huge vines twisted and climbed their way through the treetops, some reaching back to the floor. It looked more like jungle than small wooded riverside. We set-up camp quickly to minimise the amount of blood loss from the blasted flying hypodermic needles.

“Whist we were flailing about in the darkness a huge kerplosh up river grabbed my attention. I waited, listening out for another sign longer than I should have”

After placing our rods in what seemed like inviting spots we scuttled behind the mozzie mesh with haste. The air was so thick and humid all we could do was try our best not to move while the sweat poured down our faces. Occasionally I would make a dash down river for a quick dip but before I could climb out, the sodding mozzies were pinning up my face like it was going out of fashion. It was by no means comfortable fishing and perhaps a little uninviting but all the mozzies aside we found ourselves captivated by the slow, steady life-giving flow of the river; encapsulated in a lush green haven amidst a rather dry and arid area of France.

The night quickly brought the day’s screaming cicadas to a deafening standstill. Behind us the odd branch crack resounded through the undergrowth as something made its way through the dense wood. The odd shrill from our thirsty little friends kept us holding on a little too long for a pee until we could do so no longer. It was a case of a mad dash swatting at every little buzz that whizzed passed our ears.

Whilst we were flailing about in the darkness, a huge kerplosh up river grabbed my attention. I waited, listening out for another sign longer than I should have. It wasn’t until I flicked on the head touch that I noticed my arms were the life and soul of a party I was unwillingly hosting. Like a madman I brushed over my body, scrambling back into the bivvy and vowed that it was my last wee until day break.

A sense of humour
The day after Patricia’s big mirror
Food for free
Swimming time
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Dawn inevitably arrived, bringing with it a cool refreshing breeze pushing a heavy mist slowly down the dark bronze river. The biters had gone so we lifted the veil and went about making breakfast, both donning huge smiles. As the first beams of sunlight poured into the valley, my margin rod signalled a clear run and it headed straight for the lilies. With a bit of oomph I coaxed the fish out into the middle of the river where it bounded up and down energetically for several minutes. Its bright orange belly occasionally illuminated by a single ray as it twisted and turned below. It wasn’t the monster I had been dreaming about but no less welcome. He slipped into the net and made for a nice snap by the waterfall just downstream.

As before, I was sure that we would catch another but the opportunity never came.

A birds view. I couldn’t resist
Alex Norgate
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