November 05, 2023

Carp, Ciaran, and Catastrophe

During the last visit to the surgeon he seemed impressed and decided that a replacement shoulder could go on the back burner for a while. I even bragged that I'd been moving rocks around our garden pond when his face changed. "No, oh no, no, no," said he. You have to remember that, although things are going well, what is left of your shoulder joint is being held together by tattered bits of tendon and gristle. No heavy lifting!

It took a bit of absorbing but I could see his point which was echoed by the physiotherapist later. She told me that were I to do further damage, I would be left with an arm that would have minimal movement and remain that way. This could seriously affect my Hokey Cokey and it stopped my season in its tracks. I wasn't going to risk further damage and miss out on the year's highlight.

Since October 2022, I have had a French carp trip planned. My lad Neil, good mate Paddy and I were to fish an intimate lake of little more than four acres, which contained some fine-looking fish which grew to vast proportions. The timing was quite late but was chosen to coincide with the half-term to release Neil from school runs. We had all been very eager and there was no chance of me pulling out. I did, however, realise that my syndicate lake full of 30lb+ fish would likely have to be dropped. I had put my back out several times hoisting fish up the bank, for once I had to act my age.

And so to France and a quick mooch around the lake had swims chosen and we all tried to set up before the rain came in. I failed and got wet. In fact, I was having a mare. I hadn't carp fished for 18 months and the rust was obvious. My fingers became thumbs or toes, I was disorganised and it took me ages just to get a rod out. In fact, with one thing and another, it took me a couple of days to get all of the rods out. My head was all over the place, and my bait boat developed a new and sinister personality. 

On night one, Neil hooked a lump. A ponderous weight mooched along the bottom but he felt he was having an impact until - his reel seized. A far from cheap Diawa stuck and useless whilst a fish of 50 or even 60lbs waddled off into the weeds. Neil stripped his reel and got movement back but the fish had gone. He was later rewarded with a mid-double common but he was wounded.

The next morning he hooked a similar small common and again, the reel seized. I arrived to net the handlined fish but Neil was now seething and who could blame him. Luckily, the lake owner gave him one of his own reels to use for the duration.

All of this was forgotten the next day when I looked at my phone early next morning, "When you wake up, come and give me a hand".

We all met in Neil's swim and watched in awe as the net was lifted and revealed a golden-scaled beast.  I was pretty much a spectator as the fish was lifted onto the scales - I now know my limits - and they thumped down and 'errored'. My scales read a bit higher and they could manage the bulk that stopped at 65lb 5oz. To Neil's credit, he was fastidious with the weight of the sling and an eventual weight of 60lb 4oz was settled on but I am sure it was a few ounces heavier but who cares. Sixty bloody pounds! Moments like this are once in a lifetime and we drank in the elation. Neil even smiled in a photo - very rare. Amazing.

Paddy joined the fun by getting a 30-pound leather, things were looking good, apart from his photos.

The full moon was now waning and I felt the pressure to get on board and join the action but, I was struggling for bites despite working hard at it. There comes a point when you realise that it's not going to be your trip. I was happy enough working at it and, if I'm honest, just seeing that huge fish was enough to leave me sated, that Neil had caught it gave me a very warm feeling.

The weather had been wet. Every afternoon brought a downpour and I was thankful that I had purchased the 'Social Cap' for my Tempest bivvy. It effectively adds a lot of space for either socialising or, for me, to increase storage space and to keep the weather out of your bivvy, very useful in poor weather. It was my first trial with the Cap and, apart from the velcro straps proving inefficient at holding it to the bivvy and needing a layer of Gorilla Tape to secure them, I was happy to have a dry bed and room to stretch out. Then Storm Ciaran popped in for a visit.

I had a fitful night and several times had to venture out into the wind and rain to re-peg the Cap front, replace the tension bars that repeatedly fell off and to re-tape the Velcro. I led there, listening to an angry wind (on the outside for a change), the flapping of canvas and the falling branches all around. An old barrow I'd borrowed and left beneath a tree, was blown into my bivvy, it was getting rough. I pondered the idea of being trapped by a fallen tree - sleep was impossible. Then it happened.

The roar of the wind suddenly became deafening, the bivvy bent and twisted then, with one last violent push, I was cast into open air as my roof vanished and my gear was cast to the winds. My Cap had been torn off and my bivvy had launched upwards and was desperately trying to fly to the next county. I found myself with one leg clutched in my outstretched right arm and just about able to hold it as it blew this way and that. I then noticed that I was trapped. The tension strap, attached to my big green kite, had been pulled across my body which was holding me against my bedchair. What a predicament.

I got my wits about me and considered my options. Were I to release or cut the tension strap, I felt certain that the bivvy would be lost. Neither could I bring the bivvy back to ground - what a pickle.

I always keep my cool bag next to my bed as the flat lid is ideal for my watch, phone, spare torch and walkie-talkie. I reached for it but it was gone. I had a headtorch around my neck and began searching, nothing was how it had been. The groundsheet had turned inside out and everything was strewn. I called out for help but no reply. At last, I found my phone and rang Neil, he was obviously sleeping well. I rang Paddy who had heard my plea for rescue and was already on his way around. I lay back and relaxed as much as possible whilst trying to hold a large green parachute determined to head skyward in a hurricane.

I've known Paddy for nearly sixty years and I wondered what quip he would use on seeing me. Relieved to see his torch nearing, he appraised the chaotic and amusing scene, held one leg of the flying bivvy and said, There, is that better? I'll be off then.

I was soon released and scanned the scene of destruction around me. Where do I start? Neil put the bivvy back up and made it secure whilst we all gathered up the sodden kit spread around and threw it into it, a real quart into a pint pot scenario. It took an hour but the guys, both wishing they had put coats on, left me to find a small gap where I could lay in a damp sleeping bag and try to sleep. It was an interesting incident and Neil kept saying, in the days after, 'But what if the strap had gone across your neck'. It didn't, we survived and lived to tell the tail.

The real crippler came when I went to reel the lines in as I did not want to be disturbed again that night. I found that all of the bobbins had blown off the lines and one of the rods was up tight and bent. I lifted into  it only to find that I had been done in the lilies. My only hook-up of the week and I knew nothing of it and a fish lost.

The morning saw me trying to get things dry and tidy but it was a trial and was much the same after a lot of work. I took in the devastation around me, trees down, broken branches everywhere and a big drop in temperature.

A Poplar tree that succumbed to the storm

The island lost a few too

The remains of my Cap

Paddy had another fish of 19lbs or so I think. Whilst Neil had a 32-pound common. Again we gathered for the weigh-in and were joined by one of the owner's dogs, a particularly ugly little French Bulldog with no personality. It liked scrounging and was attentive as long as the food lasted. As we were eating our breakfasts, it was around our feet and happy. Neil took the fish from the weigh sling and revealed it to the air and mutt. It went ballistic and leapt at the hapless carp. At first, I thought it was trying to hump it but no, it wanted to kill or eat it. Neil fought it off amid some colourful language and Paddy ushered it about seventy yards down the path. He returned, thinking he had trained it but it ran straight past him and leapt again onto the unhooking mat growling and snapping like an angry weasel. I was beside myself and laughed for ages. Anyway, another lovely common for the boy. 


The object of a certain mutt's desires

I kept at it despite everything but the few bites to the others had dried up and the trip home looked grim. We had to wait another day before our changed bookings saw us leaving France and a bumpy crossing to Portsmouth.

We all learn from victories and failures. What if Neil had landed that first fish? It could easily be another sixty at this time of year and, having had one of the big ones come out last week, the two biggest fish often follow. Imagine the boy having a brace of 60's, it could spoil him for life - not to mention him spoiling mine.

I accept the blank as being all part of the game. I know I was on some good spots, and I kept at it until the last morning. Maybe it was for the best, imagine me trying to do it all alone and finishing my shoulder off on a big fish? Who knows, I'm big enough and ugly enough to put this one behind me, it's whether I do it again that's in doubt. I turned 68 during our stay and I know that despite looking less (or so I'm told), my body is ageing and I have to learn to be sensible and listen to whatever bit is complaining.

I guess I'll stop when the laughter does.