Operation Freedom: Part 4
Alex Norgate heads to a forgotten lake which is home to monstrous carp and comes with postcard backdrops

An alertness rippled through me as a familiar panorama of mountains erupted along the hazy horizon. It was as though I was returning from some distant voyage but in reality it was 400-miles. We twisted along the narrow lanes, passed overhangs, ascended steep inclines, descended them and avoided fallen rocks that marked a perilous boundary. Over the years I’d drifted through many times but now I registered a deeper yearning to hold fast amongst the towering, icy monstrosities that curved up.

A moment where I managed to be close to my camera

We headed directly for a place I’d become deeply fond of, a gravelly pool, weaving through woodlands of alder, acacia, oak and birch. I’d held its image in my mind all summer and hadn’t forgotten about one of its inhabitants. A colossal fish that I’d seen from the top of an overhanging alder one spring, its wide shoulders emerging through the filmy scum, glistening dark blue-gold in the late afternoon sun. I was flabbergasted and astonished that such a goliath fish swam. It restored a moment from my childhood when I first encountered carp swimming below the surface of a small unassuming pool several miles from my home. I was overcome by an intense moment of wonder, throttled by a pang of fear. The notion of being connected with something so utterly larger than anything I’d witnessed before concerned me. My small glass rod, surely, wouldn’t survive the encounter. If, by some miracle it did, I’d have been dragged helpless into the murky margins that seemed bottomless back then.

With Goliath in my sights and almost two-months extending before me, it was as though I was slipping under a warm duck-down duvet of contentment, but at no point did I take for granted the fortune that had befallen me. I’d taken risks to rupture my tethering to modern society in order to see the world more clearly as I’d dreamed it. There was, and still is no going back. As Mr. Yates so simply put it: “Any fool can make money, show me someone who can make time.”

It was late September and the end of summer. The lake was shrouded in thick green foliage, the pathways laced with plantain, wild strawberry and nettle. Autumnal flowers scented the thick, heavy pungency of alpine mud as I walked the forest path, generously bathed in a shimmering bronze light. The track led along a reed-fringed bay under a small assembly of oaks, down to the swim that had served me so well back in spring. I breathed deeply, the fresh oxygen being exchanged into the air all around me. I acknowledged the various life forms with which I shared the moment, and my gaze came to rest in the centre of the lake. Here, a huge hump in the lakebed billowed up several metres below the distinct turquoise surface. There I would start my quest.

Words fall short in the face of such breathtaking scenery
A quick snap of a repeat capture

There is much to be said about long sessions, especially in isolation. It’s usually around day five the daily concerns, the mundane chattering of thought begin to fall silent. Colours appear more vibrant; iridescence appears on the surface of things, trees whisper in the wind and nature itself begins to speak in subtle, visual ways always intended to be noticed. For me this is what angling is all about. It is why I now spend most of my days by the waterside. There, sitting amongst the undergrowth, are the revelations in thought; there, real learning can begin, until one is able to mould the very fabric of existence toward birthing unspeakable miracles.

Of course I refer to that jewelled masterpiece that is worlds within worlds of intricate bronze and gold. For those of us who marvel at its brilliance, it is essentially the gatekeeper to another realm. It’s through that very seeking over time that we can find deep solace in the natural world.

The carp’s gold and bronze begin to extend out over the surface of things. I see this not as essential, but vital. Vital so we can more intimately know of, and relate to, the environment in which we thrive. So we can burrow deeper and deeper beyond the layers of learned ignorance to arrive at a juncture where deep respect and love is the lens through which we encounter the world, especially the natural world.

Vogal said: “It is fishing that gets me out in to the woods, hunting mushrooms and noticing things. Catching fish is participating in something much grander then we can fully understand. It engages us in the more meaningful aspects of our existence.

“I acknowledged the various life forms with which I shared the moment, and my gaze came to rest in the centre of the lake. Here, a huge hump in the lakebed billowed up several metres below the distinct turquoise surface. There I would start my quest.”

The days and nights rolled into one unfolding rhythm, a sort of music for the senses in which all things dance. The carp were very active for days at a time, not always was I fortunate to pluck one from amongst the looming shadowy depths. They fed cautiously and as soon as one or two encountered a hook they would distil throughout the lake until some days later, when one of them would discreetly flatten the distorted surface, giving away their whereabouts.

One fish in particular made a couple of appearances over those weeks: a muscular common with a taste for tigers. I recognised it straight away due to its retracted right pupil. Both times it drove powerfully under the boat in that slow determined manner that sizable fish often adopt. My clutch screeched, absorbing the heavy thuds from tail against line as the fish hugged the lakebed. It bored deeper into the thick, black silt causing plumes of rotten gas to bubble and fizz around the boat. Gradually I inched it nearer, each lunge sending out ripples through the calm glassy liquid. I couldn’t help feeling sorry that I’d hooked it a second time.

Some days later, as the sun peered through a gap in clouds, I stood hunched over my net gasping at one of the most exquisitely proportioned mirrors I’ve ever seen. Deep textured purples and dark blues glistened luminously across its wide scaly back. From paddle to belly, it gleamed golden-yellow and orange in the dawn light. It was a brief moment to glimpse one of the lake’s hidden treasures. What was remarkable in addition, was the photo that captured the sentiments of that time; the enduring mountains overshadowing a calm mysterious pool, a growing sense of freedom and the fish from which all that was anchored mirrored more than once on the surface.

A moment to hold one of the lake’s hidden treasures
A shapely common
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Although the fishing had only really just started, Caroline was keen to be back on the open road. I said that she should indeed take the van and go wherever she pleased, but she saw through my tact and expressed that she preferred it if I’d go with her, half out of fear and half out of love. It was tricky! We’d been travelling all summer and also just returned from a two-week trip to the UK. All I could think to do was amble the hours away by the waterside or at the very least be still a while.

Caroline eventually decided she would go on an adventure. I was glad and genuinely felt it would be good for her. We’d spent a great deal of time in each other’s company, well over eight-months; even I was ready for some solitary time.

Deep down I knew my lifelong passion was influencing my path as it usually did; something looming in the future was drawing me helplessly in, like a moth to light. The image of a monster haunted my dreams, its broad back glimmering through the depths of my consciousness. I had not stopped thinking about it. The intensity had increased even more now I was by the water it inhabited.

The days of solitude leaked through my age-old brolly into the core of my stationary bones. It seemed a perfect time to be engaged in a conversation with the lake. Each line passing out into a liquid realm poised and enquiring. I imagined the Goliath eyeing my bait cautiously through the fronds of wavering weed cables. All my efforts to wield the moment toward a bite were hopeless. Perhaps it was mad to seek such a fish after all; if I could just look beyond the necessity to catch it maybe things would turn in my favour.

“We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.” Anaïs Nin

The frustrations of a fishless angler are, at times, excruciating, but they always pass. A glimmer of hope rushes outwards when a line jerks causing the rod tip to judder momentarily. It allows the mind to taste what might be going on below, to fathom a solution to the conundrum of a cunning creature. If one sees it just as a matter of technical knowhow, gadgetry and mechanics, then nature reveals not its greatest secrets, its innermost mysteries. It only appears as a surface for which we can see but not deeply feel. As anglers, if we are good, we pay attention to our intuition because it is necessary to feel into the world in order for greater understanding. We may not know it’s going to rain but we feel a change in pressure or humidity. We may not know fish are huddled in silt in a seemingly featureless spit of water but we get a feeling that tells us to try. We do not know a fish will bite while lost in the depths of a dream, but we get a feeling that awakens us moments before it happens.

To my mind there is something inherently slippery to discern working beyond the surface of matter, something utterly incomprehensible weaving mind and world together. To employ words such as ‘coincidence’ or ‘happenstance’ is to not fully appreciate the nature of the matter as will become clear.

Autumn bronze
Worlds within worlds of intricate gold and bronze
Returning to nature
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The slow spell came to pass and for a time I caught several fish over the course of each day. One carp barely resembled another and even though my efforts focused on tempting the one I sought, it did not in anyway sour my enjoyment for catching. I entered into a daily routine of gathering wood, cutting it to size and preparing a fire to cook particles. In addition I would lose myself, identifying edible plants and herbs amongst the tall grassy margins until the sound of my drag snatched me back, heart pounding, fingers trembling that it may be the one.

Caroline returned refreshed and things were good. I could sense something wasn’t all together as it was before, but I’d long since become accustomed to allowing things to unfold in whichever way necessary, and I knew, whatever the problem, we possessed the capacity to resolve it.

A few days later I was amongst the hectic bustle of a train station awaiting my younger twin brothers who’d planned a short visit. Being outdoor types and having spent a great deal of time angling away childhood, they were happy to spend a couple of days by a mountain-fringed pool.

Mirrored more than once
A vegetarian pike
Monstrosities carving up the sky
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As we walked the two-miles back to the lake, our path veered dangerously close to a patisserie, and we were helpless to the enticing aromas wafting through the slightly open window. We arrived at the lake caked to the eyeballs and hardly a moment had passed before my brothers, eyes glinting, were collecting and chopping wood for a fire. As the evening outspread, a crisp star-filled sky cloaked the mountains while we all huddled round the flickering flames of our campfire. Conversation ran long into the early hours. I even caught a fish in the dim blue twilight. Dawn approaching.

Although no more fish were tempted over those two days, the sun poured down affording us a brief October dip amongst the margins. It was cold but somehow the discomfort was life-affirming, reviving us to the gestalt of our aliveness. I knew leaving would risk losing the swim that had been so successful, but I’d promised my brothers we’d spend a few days trekking into the mountains. We bid the lake farewell but its waters did not bid me farewell, they continued their rhythmic sloshing in the depths of my carp entangled mind as we climbed over boulders, through forest, along river, for no reason other than to just be there.

Anyone who understands the passion for angling knows that only true happiness exists by the waterside; all other time is spent either thinking or dreaming about it. It’s about catching fish obviously, but aside from that very important part, it’s about being outside, immersed in nature and truly appreciating it. When we stop and are in the moment we realise how good it is to be alive. This is our chosen reality.

Morning by the waterside
Venturing into the mountains
Alex Norgate
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