Operation Freedom: Part 9
Alex, Patricia and Norman the pigeon, head in the direction of Italy: the land of beautiful weather, wonderful food and huge carp

Countless hours have colluded, ebbing by as effortlessly as the trickle of a summer stream. I have wandered the echoing chasm of my own mind in order that I might maintain a biscuit of sanity. Though we have moved, scanned and plumbed the depths, no effort on my part has earned us so much as a glimpse of our intended quarry. The lake is stern and unmoved by my futile attempts. Last time things were much more favourable but that has long since past. Now I return as an apprentice with much to learn. With the lake as my teacher, I am brought to the fickle nature of the mind; I know too well the foolishness of expectancy, but every so often I am caught by it.

It begins

Almost any water worth its salt can be, at times, like a Rubik’s Cube to a novice, each twist and turn seemingly leading further away until mistakes and blunders reveal themselves to be glimpses of a greater understanding. Often I am not so aware of such understanding, so I kind of bump into it down the line like a hapless carp. That said, there have been occasions where I dreamed with such genuine intent that the only requirement was that I roused myself in time for the dream to become reality.

Forecasted low pressure approached, lifting my spirits momentarily. All could be restored, I thought, as moisture condensed around the alpine peeks. But an inconsiderate white-hot sun evaporated them back into thin air. It was becoming obvious that I was no longer just content to be by the waterside as before. If I didn’t summon a bite soon I might actually go a little strange.

Restless, I took Patricia’s bike and cycled the perimeter of the lake for several miles; through a forest, down a steep track until I reached a sandy rock-laden shore. It was far away from the wake boarding types and usual holidaymaker ruckus, making it a pleasant place to be. I stood watching the water as the sky darkened steely grey. A good omen. Although I didn’t see any signs of fish I felt something stir in the pit of my stomach. It was either angling intuition or a poorly identified mushroom – I’m not sure which. With the image of a new swim sloshing around in mental space, I peddled back hurriedly to collect Patricia and the gear.

For two days we patiently waited; over our heads the grey sky loomed but through our hands the rods did not pass. We found enjoyable ways to spend the time, searching out bolet and beefsteak mushrooms to include in evening stews. It was actually very enriching and provided almost as much pleasure as the fishing.

Gradually a strong wind grew pushing torrents into the opposite bank at distance, the kind I dislike while fishing. Each time I repositioned a rod I neared closer and closer to the far margin until our circumstances changed. A beautiful common was the first to break a very, very long silence. It was as if the whole session in a round about way had led me to, and depended upon, the capture of that fish.

I did the gentlemanly thing and let Patricia row against a barrage of waves and white water while my concerns were with the fish. To make matters worse, it was early, so not one of Patricia’s preferred times of day. Despite the wind, rain and the unfavourable hour, she assisted without question; we were in it together and I for one was grateful.

Each time we progressed escaping the bramble-like weedbeds hogging the shallows, another patch materialised demanding our attention for way too long. Composed I was not; in fact, I was losing my shit but eventually we made it through, out into deeper water, brief thumps of the rod tip instilling hope as we passed beneath ominous skies.

A brief pause
One that broke a very long silence
Confidence restored

Our fishing abilities, or lack of them, hadn’t proved successful during those first weeks. However, we were fortunate enough to land day after day of blissful sunshine. A period where we lost many hours foraging for figs, walnuts, crays, berries, herbs and wild salads. If nothing else we both agreed it was as good an opportunity as any to eat well, sleep as much as we wanted and create our own kind of secluded truth by the waterside.

Once the quiet spell subsided, and I am glad it did, we found little time to entertain anything else. It was all or nothing. The electric motor had long since died so I had to utilise dips in the wind to position my lines. When I finally arrived at the far margin, a good three-hundred-metres away, I noticed a gathering of bubbles dappling the surface. Then another. Patches effervesced in all directions, occasionally smashed by tailing carp. Was this my reward for ten days of mind-altering inaction? It certainly seemed so. I almost didn’t drop a line out of courtesy for the moment as I bobbed in the wake of another rolling fish.

The rod was on the rest for a matter of moments before we were tussling with another really beautiful carp, this time a mirror. All in all we managed twenty or so fish in six days, a vast change from our previous efforts; one that left us in much need of sleep, especially poor Patricia. I did want for a really big one, in fact I’d greedily hoped for a few, but perhaps by concerning myself with such aspirations I was not worthy of the lake’s treasure. Full understanding was not to be snatched at greedily on the first attempt or the many preceding.

Patricia’s first

B eside high hopes and good fortune, we soon had other concerns. Patricia and I had become increasingly worried: Norman had gone missing! I’d left to go buy supplies when a novice in a speedboat entered the no go zone, taking out the rods. While Patricia dealt with this, Norman panicked and took off out of sight. He’d flown away many times before and usually would return or show up in a near by tree. But this time he did not. The more time that passed without Norm’s return, the more distraught Patricia became. I was sad too, of course, but it pained me greatly to see how much it affected Patricia.

A couple of days came and went. We searched high and low but could not locate little Norm. I concluded that he’d probably been eaten. Of course I kept that to myself while reassuring Patricia that he was probably having a great time with his fellow pigeony brothers and sisters. The days turned to weeks and our hopes to woes. Every so often Patricia burst into tears; she really missed the little dude.

Norman’s absence coincided with a lull in action. We held out in our isolated corner a little longer just on the off chance Norm might return. It was a long shot but as there had been no shortage of miracles since the birthing of Operation Freedom we aired on the side of optimism.

Perched beneath swaying oaks with a freshly brewed tea I watched the dawns unfold one after the other – handfuls of glimmering fireballs clinging to the slowly waning darkness. What a place, what a moment to dissolve the mind in. For me, among cintillas of gratitude often comes a deep life-giving breath of realisation. I once again notice just how incredible life is, and I mean really notice. Momentarily I find myself waking awe-struck into an unfathomable, otherworldly existence. A sandy, tree-lined bay full of sailboats materialised eerily out of a heavy morning mist. It was a familiar spot, one we had fished in spring and which had produced some lovely specimens including a giant common for Patricia. No longer could we hang on for odd bites at the previous locality.

The thick mist lifted by mid morning, revealing an intense sunny day. We treated ourselves to some local Italian pastries, a small coffee followed by a herbal cigarette. The morning eased by and my attention was again brought to the sheer beauty of our surroundings. I tinkled away on my guitar in a kind of meditative state, casting melodies at the sun while simultaneously praying for a bite. It all occupied but a moment and without better explanation than coincidence, my rod signalled a series of erratic chirps until forming a single tone.

The guitar left my hands and I bounded down the grassy bank, through the margins up to the remains of an old concrete jetty where my rods rested. Even at such distance the resistance was undeniable. Quickly I jumped into the boat and with the newly charged battery I motored out over the sandy shallows beneath an incredible blue expanse.

Dawn approaches
A lunchtime common

My heart beating, I dealt with the various weedbeds wherein my line had snagged, which at times was an undertaking. Mercifully the hook held and I continued out to what I assumed was no monster. But as I arrived, down some metres below in crystal water, a wide back and deep flank flashed me. An electric sensation buzzed through me. I took a deep breath and a long hard look beneath to clarify it was no mirage of the mind.

Slowly reining myself in, I took a casual glance around and then to the fish. All was well and the day so very beautiful, the unbroken surface permitting my eyes a passage into another realm with exceptional clarity. I watched the minutes unfold. A thick common circled towards the surface. I extended the net and the two met without error.

It wasn’t until I lifted her out of the water that I was certain she was in excess of fifty-pounds. An immense looking fish and a new personal best common rested in my arms. My internal sunshine deepened and I thanked the lake for answering my prayers. I’d finally been gifted one of the lake’s treasures; its impression glided with me all the way over the mountain cols dividing Italy from France and for many months to follow.

Norm and Patricia

On the journey we talked passionately about our love of travelling, our way of life and the necessity for it to continue. It became the spark that has since instigated a much bigger adventure; a journey Eastwards to unfamiliar lands, new waters, people and ways of life. Something about the idea of the unknown, intimidating as it can be, also seduces us. Having discussed the many options we’ve settled on pointing the van in the preferred direction and going with our intuition. Madness perhaps; exciting definitely.

As part of this adventure we are going to create a series of stand out inspirational films during our eight-months travel around Europe. As passionate anglers and nature lovers, we feel it important to do whatever we can to bring about a much-needed change in the way we collectively see and thus experience nature. For us, angling is not just about learning how to best extract a wary fish from its watery home, it’s also about understanding how best to maintain and preserve the equilibrium surrounding fish and all nature. After all, the fish and its environment are one and the same; they are inexorably coupled and cannot survive without each other.

Norm taking a rest
Night time by the water
One final look
My favourite of the trip
The simple things
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Angling has become increasingly popular in recent years but unfortunately, like most industries, its mainstream has become subject to materialist values, hence losing sight of its origins and philosophy. Angling is not a sport but a way of relating to the world; it is through angling that I think most of us have founded a deeper relationship with nature, something I see as essential to the longevity of angling and the future of this planet as a whole.

One of our primary concerns for the future is to encourage people to open their minds to the intelligence in nature. For too long we have upheld the notion that human beings are the pinnacle of intelligence. This just is not the case and to assume such a thing highlights the ignorance dwelling within human perception. To my mind we have been largely mis-educated in the west around these notions and unfortunately, in my opinion, it is this mis-education that allows for the continued ecological degradation now occurring on a global scale. We want to help inspire this change through sharing new ideas and discoveries that have been long overdue.

We already have the wheels in motion, so to speak, but we would ask anyone who sees value in what we are looking to achieve for support.

Alex Norgate
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