It had been getting to me, all those stories of huge kippers from France. Stuck in the factory making bait, all the phone calls and letters were doing me no good at all. I was going crackers. I wanted my share. What I wanted, what I craved for, was a good session. Not just a few days rushing here and there in the hope of a fish. I wanted time. Time to give one of the big fish waters my best shot. By the time August had come around I’d made my mind up – I was going to have that session. There was just one little problem to surmount, namely a driving license. For reasons I won’t go into, I didn’t happen to have one with me at the time.
Now there are ways around everything, and I was sure that a couple of mates of mine would be on for it. Sure they were, the prospect of sun, wine and big carp, was a chance neither could turn down. That is until four days before the planned trip when both unavoidably had to cry off. Disappointed? I’ll say, I could have topped myself, it was reach for the revolver time again. Everything was going wrong, I just couldn’t believe it. I looked up at the great carp man in the sky and wondered what I’d done to offend him. Weeks had been spent planning it all. The ferries had been booked, all the bait had been sorted out. I had a boat, engines, batteries, new line on the reels, rigs had been tied up, the van M.O.T., insurance sorted out, I’d put so much work into it, I was physically and mentally knackered. I couldn’t see all the hard work go down the drain. I was so down in the dumps, feeling sorry for myself, when I thought “bollocks I am going, let’s make the thing happen.”
Now I’m not the sort who can fish with anybody. The fish to me are not everything. To really enjoy my fishing it has to be in the company of someone I naturally get along with. Conversation can be very strained when the only thing you have in common is carp fishing. There have to be other topics of conversation or life gets very dull. I guess that’s how friendships actually get made, because there is always something to talk about. But those who I would have chosen to fish with, either couldn’t make it, or wouldn’t. Where do I go from here, I was in desperate need of a chauffeur.
Richard Tennant, who works for me, could see I was starting to panic, and suggested that a friend of his, Richard Seal, who had just finished college was in a position to go, and would probably jump at the chance. At first I declined the offer, not believing that I could get on with someone half my age, knowing the stress and strains which can be part of a prolonged trip. Then it hit me, the trip was practically upon me. It had to be Richard Seal or no trip at all. Considering that I’d never even met him, it was a bit of a gamble, but one I felt worth taking. The only stipulation that I made was, no rave tapes allowed. I can handle most things in life, but rave music isn’t among them. Like hitting yourself across the head with a hammer, I’m always glad when it stops.
Friday afternoon and the fateful day cometh. Richard arrived, his brother Ben having driven him over the Pennines from Stockport. I recognised both lads, their pictures along with nice fish, having graced previous issues of Carpscene. Soon we were into the monumental task of loading up the camper for a month. This took several hours, involving the use of a fork truck, to get everything up and on the roof, out of the way. When at last it looked as if everything had been completed, Richard emerged from Ben’s car with a box full of cassette tapes. “I thought these would help the long drive”. Said Richard to me. “Just as long as they’re not bloody rave” I replied. Richard’s faced dropped. Ben started laughing. “That’s all he’s got”, said Ben. I couldn’t believe it, obviously Richard Tennant hadn’t passed the message on. Not the best of starts, but surely things could only get better, couldn’t they?
Well, the ferry trip went well enough, and the following morning we set off from Zeebrugge heading for France. No actual destination had been planned, but three waters were in my mind. For once I wanted to go for a really big fish, one that might improve on my personal best. Two of those waters I had in mind had in the past produced such fish, while the other, my friends and I thought had the potential to do so. To get to that last water involved travelling past the other two, so the plan was to look at them all in turn and weigh up the chances. I might explain here that news of the first two had got out on the grapevine and there was a very real possibility that there would be no space to fish on either water, such was the pressure both had been receiving.
As luck would have it, just as we were about to give up on the first water, due to over crowding, at the very last area we checked out, some Dutch guys were just packing up. It still didn’t leave much room, as there were still German and French anglers in residence, but there was enough to squeeze in either end of them. We thought it was worth a shot. After taking down just the minimum of tackle to secure the swim, Richard returned for the night to the camper, knackered from the long day’s drive. I decided to cast out a couple of baits with stringers, just a few yards out. Not that I was expecting anything, but with a bait in the water, you’re always in with a chance. As it happened, I had runs all night long, from tench (big ones) and carp (very small ones).
The following morning, Richard appeared, looking slightly worried, “Rod I’ve got the camper stuck. I can’t reverse it out.” I looked back at the area he had parked it. No wonder he couldn’t reverse out, he’d parked it on the north face of the Eiger. To make matters worse it had rained all night, and water was running down the steep slope like a river. Hitting him over the head with a rod rest, I dispatched him off into the countryside, in search of a farmer and tractor.
A couple of hours later Richard arrived back, complete with farmer, helper and tractor. Within no time, she’d been pulled out, and was back on terra firma. We paid the farmer for his trouble, then proceeded to unload the mountainous stack of tackle and bait. By late afternoon, tired, sweating and half a stone lighter we were set up in our swims. Richard went off to park up the camper in a safe place, while I set about blowing up the inflatable. Half an hour later, I’m huffing and puffing and still hadn’t got the thing up. It had been kept in the garden shed over winter, and the mice had taken a liking to it. I’d seen fewer holes in a string vest. “All right?” Asked Richard. “No I’m bloody not,” said I, “the mice have ate me boat.” Richard looked worried. “What’s up now,” said I. Richard stuttered a bit at first, then came out with it. “I’ve had a little accident, I just didn’t see it there. I’ve backed into the German’s car.” There was complete silence as I I looked at Richard hardly believing my ears and he looked at me and wondered whether I was going to kill him. Before I could say anything, Richard jumped in, trying to lesson the blow. “I didn’t do much damage.” There was a pause. “Well, not to his car. The camper’s in a bit of mess though. I thought, “should I kill him or get him to bait my swim first?”
Funnily enough, after a somewhat dodgy start, things for the most part went fine after that. Well for the most part? We had to put up with an inflatable which required patching each day. A rigid boat with only one rowlock and no seat – great that was, you went round and round in circles while your knees either clamped up or you made yourself a candidate for piles of the year! Then there was the thick clinging mud and the endless procession of anglers enquiring as to when we’d be leaving, but generally we got on great and caught a fair few fish into the bargain. The following are some of the recollections I have of the rest of the trip.
Dawn had only just come up, and I was sat outside the bivvy, drinking and talking to a Dutch angler we’d christened Robert the Rice Man. He was a nice bloke, easy to get on with, although our conversations never lasted very long, due to the fact that he was a more than a frequent visitor to the bushes. His wife you see, had prepared a meal for him, for every day of the week, which was all nicely wrapped, and packed away in his cool box. The only thing was, each meal was exactly the same: rice, peas and a few prawns. Hence the frequent visits, hence the name, the Rice Man. Well, we’re chatting away when suddenly one of my rods absolutely rockets off. I was straight onto it, and even at a range of about 350 yards, the fish was taking line off the reel.
“I’ll get my boat”, said Robert, which seemed like a good idea, seeing as mine was laid as flat as a doormat in the mud. In no time we were ploughing through the water in pursuit of big Mr Cypry. Robert was a dab hand with the boat and soon we were above the fish applying some heavy pressure. I’d had a couple of small carp in the night and had got into a bit of a tangle in the dark, so not wanting to tackle up again, had put out the spare rod, my old Horizon, and it was this what the run had come to. Now the Horizons have plenty of poke in them, but this was a big fish and I just could not get it up into the surface layers. At one point I thought I had it beaten, when suddenly there was a tremendous surge of power, and down she went, nearly pulling me in, in the process. I quickly banged the bait-runner back in, for fear the clutch couldn’t keep up. By the time I disengaged it, all was solid. However this was just the time when long leaders prove their worth, and several turns were already on the reel.
“Go for it” said the Rice Man, and so I heaved and I heaved for all I was worth. Reluctantly something came slowly off the bottom. It felt just like a sack of cement. I kept on heaving, the old rod let out a tortured cry, then “crack”. The bloody spigot snapped. I was so determined not to let this one get away that I quickly grabbed the leader, pulled my sweater sleeve down and wrapped it around that, so as not to sever my hand. I pulled, and I heaved and I sweated, and up she slowly came. Wrapping more line around my sleeve, I heaved again, giving it everything I’d got. “She’s coming Robert, get the net out”, I yelled, all excited like you do. One last heave, Robert reached out with the net, and finally she broke surface. A bloody roll of barbed wire fence! “Do you think that took your boilie?,” said the Rice Man, a mischievous look on his face. “Shut up,” said I.
Now although I have picked up a little French over the years, Richard was along not just as chauffeur but also as my official translator. He had studied French at school and had even stayed on holidays with French families polishing his French language to a fine degree, and he was enjoying this chance to engage in conversation again. He was chatting away to a farmer at the bar. The translated conversation went something like this, Richard: “Nice weather that we’re having. Do you know if there is any wind or rain forecast?” Farmer: “Oh, I live in the next village.” I burst out laughing. Richard, “No, sorry mister, you misunderstood me. I asked if you know if the weather is about to change. If any wind or rain is forecast?” “Oh, sorry.” Said the farmer in reply, and looking at his watch said, “Its quarter to three.”
Sunday night, I was happily chomping away on my bankside speciality, Cantonese fried steak, Lincolnshire style, washing it down with an excellent vintage of Cotes de Rhone, when I crunched upon a hard bit. I gave it another bite, like you do, to see if it was edible, and decided that it was not. Examining the offending problem, I observed that it was not a tough piece of meat, but a metallic filling which had dropped out my ancient molar. With another week still to go, and cold frosty nights ahead, an empty cavity was a threatening proposition, and not one to look forward to. Being the practical fella that I am, I sought a solution.
The wine was doing its job and a flash of inspiration lit up the old grey matter. A drop of super-glue on the filling, and I popped it backed in. Problem solved, jobs a good ‘un.
I thought nothing of it, until the following afternoon when my gum felt slightly sore. That night was quite hectic, with quite a few runs coming and it must have been close to 4am before I got any real shut-eye. By then, my gum was extremely sore.
Next morning, waking at the crack of ten, I felt rough. One of those days when you know that you’re just not wired up right. Richard came round with a cuppa, and on seeing me, stepped back with amazement and shock. Now I’m never a pretty sight in the morning, nor the afternoon, evening or night time come to that, but this morning I really looked an old dog. One side of my face was literally twice the size of the other. Nick Faldo had obviously screwed his tee shot, and his ball was wedged firmly in my jaw. Richard was so concerned he suggested that we pack up straight away and head off back to England. No way, I was in too much pain to pack up, I just wanted to lay there and die, besides which I had fish to photograph. I forced my way through this ritual, all sideways on shots mind you, from the front I looked like a knobbly potato, but half an hour or so later had to give into the pain. I was in agony, my face blowing up by the second, so off in search of a doctors we went.
Richard’s French came in handy here. We visited a blacksmith, taxidermist and tattoo artist before finally we found the surgery and with trepidation, sat down in the doctor’s waiting room. When eventually we were ushered into the surgery, even the doctor looked shocked. He thought Richard had brought along the elephant man. Looking into my swollen mouth, he instantly picked up the phone and rang the nearest hospital. His voice sounded very concerned. I couldn’t understand the full conversation, but the words enormous and grotesque were easily picked out, he didn’t think much to the state of my mouth either. He explained that although he could prescribe antibiotics etc, the huge abscess which had formed, needed lancing, and that he wasn’t qualified to do it. Therefore he had made us an appointment with the nearest hospital that afternoon. We never made that appointment though, because shortly after leaving the doctors, the offending lump in my jaw burst. Straight into my system. I felt rougher than rough, like I’d been drinking southern beer all night with a bad curry on top. The doctor’s little pills did the trick though, and after twenty hours or so sleeping it off, I was ready for battle again.
“It’s not enough to be a good angler”. Norfolk carp man John Dunn once said to me, “I rather be a lucky angler”. He was right of course, and over the years I have had more than my share of good luck. However, on this occasion, luck had certainly run against me. I was now at the end of the long session, and had just one night to go. Catching carp hadn’t been a problem. I was averaging two or three a night, but, I just couldn’t crack the real big one. This was my last chance, and I was going to give it my best shot, a biggie or bust.
Each rod was made up the same. I wasn’t messing about, 25lb B.S. The Edge hook links, armed with size 2 Black carbon hooks, which had three 22mm boilies on the hair rig. The entire terminal tackle was then dropped into a Phantasm PVA tube along with about half a kilo of boilies. It was easily the roughest looking rig you’ve ever seen. All tied up, it looked just like a knobbly sock.
It wasn’t proper fishing, instead the baits were rowed out some 350 metres to where the carp were holed up in deep water. As I said, not proper fishing, but sometimes a man’s gotta do, what a man’s gotta do. An hour after dark, Richard and a couple of Dutch lads were sat around my bivvy, yarning and having a beer, when the left hand rod was away. I leapt out of the bivvy, kicking over everyone’s beer, and was on it. The rod hooped over then shot back straight. “Oh, what a pity I’ve lost it,” I remarked. Everyone remained silent, sensing my disappointment. I presumed the hook had slipped, but on retrieving the tackle found that the fish had fed so confidently that the hook had been swallowed, and I’d been bitten off. “That must have been some fish, to swallow that lot,” said one of the Dutch guys, with which they returned to their rods, thinking a few lunkers could be about.
Around midnight, the middle rod was away. The outcome was the same, in that I was bitten off again! I couldn’t believe how my luck was running. I thought of the old proverb, “Bad luck is better than no luck at all.” I wasn’t so sure about that one.
So there I am, tired, cold, disappointed, laid out on the bed, trying to get some kip, dressed in wet, muddy, chest waders, dreading the thought of packing up in the morning, when at 3am, the remaining rod burst into life. I was almost scared to pick it up, fully expecting a bite-off again, but no, my luck was in. Even at 350 metres, it had me instantly back winding. I wasn’t going to lose this one. It was one of those heart-pounding jobs, I just knew this was my whacker. Wading twenty maybe thirty yards out in the shallow water, waves crashing over me, I played the fish as though my life depended upon it. It felt so heavy, I just couldn’t get it up to the top, even in water only four feet deep. The fight seemed to be lasting forever when suddenly there was a big swirl in front of me. In the dark, I just lifted the net and hoped for the best. I looked down into the folds of the net to admire my prize. There she lay in all her glory, the most perfectly conditioned five pounder I’ve ever clapped my eyes on, all tangled up in someone else’s lost tackle. You can’t win them all. Such is carp fishing.
We were returning home, aboard the North Sea Ferry. Outside the sea was raging, and I’m sat by the bar, quietly sipping the amber nectar to calm my nerves. Looking across the disco floor, there’s my fishing partner Richard gyrating about like a demented ferret. Some time later he slumped into the chair opposite me, looking a little the worse for wear. “I didn’t know you was into dancing”, said I, “you were really giving it the big’un there old son.” “Dancing” said Rich looking puzzled, “I was just trying to stand up.” With that he fell off his chair.