We went to France, I had a big 'un first night, it got stupidly difficult, the car broke, I saw some lovely countryside, Neil eventually had a carp, the swim we'd fished for a week switched on as soon as we left it and the bloke I ran into was unhurt.
Now, for those of you with nothing better to do, here's 2600 words of detail.
There can be nothing more uncertain than foreign travel. Oh yes, we can study maps, plan
your route, select our destination and even read the glorious accounts of previous travelers but this never quite reflects reality. Take the weather for instance and unseasonal cool winds and rain are just waiting to add the buggeration factor to your plans. But I am on a fishing holiday so who cares about a spot of rain – not I, I'm after big fish and I know that they inhabit this section of river because my mate Phil (“easy tiger”) Bunyan caught some about seven years ago, what could possibly go wrong?
Strange isn't it? We arrived after a looong drive and had a quick look at the river. As we got out of the car doing weird Ti Chi movements to reinvigorate the stiff limbs, I noticed a white van follow us down the track and turn off upstream. Hmm?, obviously workers of some sort I thought and dismissed it.
The river looked delicious and full of potential. Phil had described in minute detail the going swim and I'd even spotted the partly sunken tree on Google Earth. Although I was eager to stamp my own authority on the river, a couple of 'easy' fish from a flyer would be a great start to the holiday. We decided to look along the stretch and drove up the track and saw – yes, you've guessed it, two French lads unloading a mountain of gear from the van I saw into the 'best' swim. After all that traveling we were beaten to the swim by a few minutes – incredible.
After much walking and discussion, Neil and I took to the inflatable and went across to explore the features along the far bank. We found a couple more sunken trees in areas that had promise, Neil took first choice and I dropped into a section where the river widened giving me some far bank (that I could bearly reach with my gear) and an inner line just off the main flow.
Camp set for the duration and three rods out, two long casts and one lobbed 35 yards into the inside of the bend with a pva bag of boilies. We had a meal and called it a night.
At just before 2am I woke..... was that a bleep? Yes, there it was again, a single blip on my middle rod. I got out and had a look see. The line was pointing in the wrong direction and I retrieved it, full of weed that was to become a complete nightmare. I put the rod in the rest and decided that the cool night air had provoked a biological response in my kidneys. I popped round the back of the bivvy and was just about to release last nights petite beers when I heard the wonderful sound of a monotone bite alarm from the nearside bait! I was on the rod (the fishing one) in seconds and bent into something that, to be honest, didn't feel that special. I pumped it back towards me and it wallowed and slapped the surface as it came. I was convinced that it was a small catfish for some reason but was more than content with some early action.
Just as it got close it did a bit of a run and made me feel that I was playing a worthy adversary. It was brief and I soon had the fish, that I could barely make out in my old headlight (I found the good one at the bottom of my bag much later), coming towards the waiting net. As I lifted the arms around it I got a look at its size. Oh my goodness, what a lump!
I folded the net around it and secured t with a bankstick. I called Neil on the walkie talkie suggesting he may wish to take a photograph. “How big is it?” he asked, “Certainly a double” I replied with tongue firmly in cheek, and he was soon in my swim. As I lifted it out it became even bigger than I had dared guess. I had mid to upper twenty in mind but Neil took one look and said “That's got to be a thirty!” There were lots of other words being bandied about but they are all unprintable.
30lbs11oz on the scales and I had achieved my carp target on the first night – fantastic! Not only was it a great result but it filled us with a ton of confidence and as I lay wide awake in my bivvy, I was hoping that we would continue to catch, especially Neil, who I really want to get the most from his first fishing holiday.
Who's a clever boy then?
This was written five days after that opening night and it is fair to say that since then, it has become something of a trial. I've had a small barbel, Neil's had two barbel and a chub of about 4lbs
The French lads turned out to be mad keen carp nuts with loads of UK gear and baits but with
a method as continental as the siesta. To avoid the maddening weed that clogged the lines whenever the barrage was open, and that was a lot of the time, they tied their lines to the trees above the swim. The clever bit was in the knot which, you could pull against with the rod but, as if by magic, released when a fish took. That was the theory as, during their stay, they had just one take and it smashed them instantly.
We moved into 'their/Phil's' swim when they left purely due to its previous history, something the French lads knew about and they had traveled a long way to fish. But, apart from one or two heavy rolls at night, there was no sign of a fish.
The weather, that had been pleasant, even hot for a day or two, decided to change and the Sunday saw us hanging on to everything as a gale blew through the area. I hate fishing in a wind and turned in early for a good night's sleep in the gite we had taken for some of the time there. This was a great idea and a curse as it turned out, but it meant I had a good eight hours.
I collected Nicky from Toulouse next day and we drove through low cloud and rain to the river. “There's a lovely view over there” I offered but all we could see was grey. Back at the gite and Phil (the turtle botherer) and Bunny had arrived. They were also reticent to bivvy up in the rain so we had a drunken evening at the gite with a good meal.
I wanted to take Nicky sight seeing although she was adamant that we should fish. I was hearing none of it and we set off in a car that lurched and coughed then whistled. The Ford garage was owned by a bloke with the disinterest of a Parisian waiter and the patience of a crack addict but his mechanic was very helpful and agreed that it was a leaking pipe which he eventually found. I went back when he was less busy and we effected a (temporary) repair with my duck tape.
Next day was hot and I decided to check out more of the river – er, I mean, take Nicky sight seeing. Neil was at his nadir after so long without a bite and came along. I aimed for St Cirq Lapopie as there was a night fishing area there. What I wasn't prepared for was the majestic beauty of this part of the Lot valley, it is quite simply staggering. We drove on down to Cahors, which seemed only fair as I've drunk enough of their wine in the past. We found a nice place to sit with a drink and people watch, Neil and I found many gorgeous people to watch and would happily have lived there but the Boss was less impressed. I even pointed out the short, fat bloke wearing a thong but it didn't get her going, so we left.
Thursday came, hot and sunny and despite Nicky insisting that we stay and fish, I insisted on a trip to Millau and a look at the new bridge. It was stunning as was the surrounding countryside, sort of a Grand Canyon with trees. Our visit was cut short though. Phil sent me a text with news of a fish. They'd moved just down from us and he had taken his first of the trip which we were eager to witness and photograph – 40lb 8oz! A fantastic fish -the spawny sod!
Nicky went home next day and I settled down to fish the last few days refreshed by my break. However, I couldn't sleep that night. I was driven by an urge to move to a productive area I fished a few years ago so that Neil could hopefully get amongst the fish. As I saw it, we had done nothing wrong, we fished the same way that Phil with the same rigs and baits in a couple of swims that, at times, contain big carp. It was just that whilst we were there, they weren't. We could stay there another week and not catch.
I discussed it with Neil in the early morning and he agreed, we were off. We said our goodbyes to the Bunyans and, as we packed so the they were moving into our swims, I wished them luck but suggested they were wasting their time. We then left ourselves at the mercy of Tom Tom's sense of humour as to what it feels is a 'fastest route'. We eventually arrived on the river Dropt, a tributary of the Dordogne.
I'd fallen out with my bivvy by this time and could not face the wrestling match of erecting it, replacing the joint that keeps separating and even worse, putting the bloody thing back in it's undersized bag. I decided to sleep beneath the stars on my bed chair using nothing more than a bedchair cover. It was lovely looking up at the stars and listening to the night creatures around me, I dropped off into a blissful sleep............... then it rained.
Neil tapped on the car window and I appeared, bleary eyed, to the news that he'd had a mid double at about 3am – brilliant news. It had, however, done a flip and a flop back into the water before he could weigh or photograph it. Ah well, good job it wasn't a thirty.
The rain poured relentlessly and to make matters worse, news came from the poachers – I mean Bunyan's to say that they'd lost one and taken three carp to 23lbs with Bunny having two in fifteen minutes from MY swim! I was genuinely pleased for them but come on, nearly two week's of effort for little bounty and as soon as we leave the fish move in and feed with gay abandon. Fishing can be a very jagged pill to swallow at times.
Sunday was wet, very wet! My rods were at the bottom of three slippery mud steps and I just knew that, were I to get a take, I'd get very wet indeed. But I sat, read or dozed the day away in my bivvy, detached from my rods and not really with my heart in what I was doing. There were other places I wanted to look at but it was all just too late in the holiday. I sat it out, hoping that Neil would get more action as his efforts had deserved much, much more reward.
I awoke on Monday after a night with plenty of bites – all over my arms and body! I'd been feasted upon by blood thirsty beasties and I itched to buggery! Neil, however, had been getting bites of a different kind. During the hours of darkness he had a probable liner, a fish that broke the leadcore (which I had tied – oops!) and a fish that took him all over the place and was undoubtedly very large, only for the hook to pull as it dived for the nearside bushes. I felt absolutely gutted for him. But that's fishing I suppose.
It was still pretty damp and we'd had enough. I did say that we could extend our trip should the mood take us but, after so much heart ache, we both know that it was time to head for home.
I had a last look as we departed, my hateful bivvy sat, alone and empty on the bank with a sign attached telling the first local that finds it “Gratis - Bon Peche”.
I think that I need to round up the above with some after thoughts. From reading those accounts you would probably feel that I came home in tears but far from it. Yes, we caught very little and, at times, due to the lack of action, the fishing felt detached from the general sunbathing and cheese eating. But I had a wonderful time, I really did.
What would I do differently next time? Well, I booked the gite as a sort of cop out as I didn't want to spend two weeks in a little canvas dome. It was great having the morning three S's under a solid roof but it tied us to an area that was obviously much harder than we had bargained on. Phil (the swim poaching, turtle bothering, “easy tiger” saying bounder) is a carp expert and revels in such difficult waters. I was more than prepared for a fish as infrequent as say – every other day but we found it much, much slower and that's not what we wanted. That a shoal chose to move in as we drove away was just plain cruel but – such is life. I just wish I'd been there to watch Bunny take two fish in fifteen minutes, that would have been really special.
Most of all, I wish that Neil had had just a modicum of luck. I really wanted his rod to bend and I wish (sort of) that the thirty had come to his rod. But there's plenty more trips to come, many more rivers to fish and surely one of those will be trouble free and full of fish.
I really do want to thank Phil for his help and advice before and during the trip, he really is a good angler even if he keeps them all for himself ;-) If you want to know why Phil is a turtle botherer then please ring him on his work number at The Tackle Den 01285 862716, he won't mind.
I'd also like to apologise to HM Government Ministry of Agriculture for the number of possibly invasive species that have accompanied us home. If they are still flying, jumping and chirping their way around my garden when I next visit La Belle France, I shall endeavor to return them from whence they came.
Oh yes, the chap I ran into...... I have nothing more to say on the grounds that I may incriminate myself.