Caught by the River

cuckoo spit & dripping yarns

Dexter Petley | 23rd April 2008


was beginning to despair of a despatch from your sector. lines down, snipers, pickpockets, village hooligans. it must be rough up highgate. thank christmas for the hampstead ponds, their toothless pike and broken perch, ladies of the silt, cutpurse carp who once saw katherine mansfield, and landlocked eels who were there before betjeman. i await your report on a full closed season inspection.
here april still sends volleys over the trench. water temperatures stuck in february. four days in stephane’s tourainne 2 weeks ago at his parents house while they were away on a vichy cure. we’d planned fishing the loire but it was over the banks. so it was plan 9 from hell. one thing worse than fishing your own scroffy chanceless pits is going hundreds of miles to fish someone else’s ten times worse. here i need spend only 10 minutes picking up the litter round the lake; down there we were on the dustcarts for 3 hours. 4 pits in 4 days, the only carp we saw were dead. fish till midnight and the early hours, in the downpours, the wind whistling jack the knife, spring trenchfoot as the boots leaked, carbuncles, cuckoos, rainbows like iron girders cooling after a smelt of lightening thick as trees; nightingales in thunderstorms, and as the wind dropped for an hour on saturday evening the swallows dropped with it and gorged themselves on rising gnat. i felt like a bloody weather-boy on a church clock, in and out the brolley as one foul weather replaced another. sunday was one long flush on a stuck ballcock, an eerie blue nightfall after a day of pounding rain:

this was lac de varennes, marçon, looking clean for the moment, 230 acres of rain, sunday’s best and deserted. they all fish the one point visible in the blue picture, scuffed to mud while the rest of the lake is duck-mown grass. like all these lakes, off-season you’re alone. the water’s high and the fish are on. they’re not all fish; the biggest fully-scaled mirror in france at 60lbs died last year, sick of the point, and the shoreline sunday was post-flood sticks and shampoo bottles and a few bloated fourties side on up the slope. these fish are beachballs with carp body attachments, genetic misprints with bellies designed to explode once 10kgs of gathered eggs bind at the end of its rapid lifetime. the dead ones lay like those green photos of dead soldiers at paschendale, pods ripped open, mouth stuck round on a failed breath. these things self-inflate when they bolt off with the rig. thunderbird 2 painted on their fuselage.
rituals kept us alive: a minute we’re in the door a roaring fire off stephane’s dad’s lifetime collection of faggots, roasting sausages and drying out boots and socks, a raid on the cellar for the best of vouvray and chinon, then red-eyed sleep till mid-morning which brings no real peace as it’s carpless in an unfamiliar attic, and into the wind we go again. friday night on street corner pit when the local carp-heads came to launch a thousand boats on a mere 20 acres, playing pirates in the night over disputed swims, firing boilies over the bows, hand to hand over 25 foot of cold blue water, cursing each other through the swash buckle of petzel sword. absolutely fucking crackers. you read the obituaries in the french carp mags now, another fuckhead ditched from his zodiac after a night smoking dope in the bivvy. they cant cast is the trouble. into the boat at 3am they go, squinting at the GPS to drop their bait. hat knocked off by a branch, they make a sea-sick lurch for it and down they go into lazy bones locker. worst are the orange lamps hoisted on poles outside the bivvy. simms city tossers.
once home, swept by nostalgia for penelope pit as the first leaves of spring soaked up the rain. too soggy to garden, never to soggy to fish, i went back on monday, first session there since autumn. thick mist of drizzle, soaked through just putting the rod rests in. this time i wasnt going home fishless. rigged the marker rod and scoured the bottom for something to put a bait on. right hander on a stony patch at the foot of a twelve foot gulley, left hander on a stony hump 8 foot under, dropping off to 12. the drizzle was a fucking greenhouse power mister and got into everything making pva bagging a sealed laboratory job, which meant taking off the waterproofs, stripping down to bare towelled off arms and getting into the front seat of the landrover with the heater blower on to do it. the first three flew off anyway as the chuck was 60 yards. but perseverence, and by half five there were two in place and the downpour suit had packed in, i’d forgot to proof the boots and there was just no point putting up the brolley. so i did the unforgivable and sat up in the short-wheel base bivvy:

the wind dropped my side as i listened to the archers and a fish crashed over the right hander.

darkness fell like a wet rag over your face and i stood outside like a horse in the rain, staring at the buzzers as the boots just sucked in mud. quarter to ten, nightingales wetting their whistle, a fish came up in the margin where one of my pva bags had come off on the failed launches. then another 30 yards off. the urge to pack up dissolved. ran through proceedure for a take off the rocky bar. made sure everything was in place. ten o’clock, one beep on the left hander, indicator tight against the rod so i hit it. like pumping in a dumped steamroller till 20 yards off it decided to practice for le mans. so good to be back on jumping scales needles in the dark, 37 to 38 pounds, who cares, spring’s in the air:

i’m packing that rod down when the other goes one beep more, the runner-up, one to watch:

next week i’m getting the boat out and heading up the 7 mile dam where the wild commons go fourty and live round the islands in the gorge. the water temperature is up two degrees this week. up with the sap, down with their heads.

battery charger on the bird table