Caught by the River

Letters From Arcadia

Dexter Petley | 5th August 2008

‘Pack Up Your Troubles’


tench of old england, the long trunk road south, a bucket of john barleycorn and a pond in the corner of edmund blunden’s eye. every july should have one.

the french july is no cobbett’s ride. it’s a state funded month of shit by a lake, freedom to litter, a new generation of school leavers takes to the road, just out of wheelies, in receipt of the keys to death’s door, a bottle of gin and a disposable lighter. suicide is the new gap year, coming off the s-bend, plastic bouqets tied to the stop sign they never read. the song of the cuckoo is replaced by the building of 850,000 bungalows, the thrashing of petrol engine, the squeel of rubber and the midnight hells of boy bongo bands beating on wilderbeast skin. they won’t stab you, they’re typsy not paralytic, they say bonjour monsieur if you walk past them in the dark, but they make fishing impossible and you have to collect their plastic art because no one else will:

july evenings on public waters are not for the party squeemish. i was born in the noise abatement society workhouse. and anyway, i had a plan: fish the pit from 4am till 8am when only the litter will be there. this july promised bumper crops. the grow-alone garden doesn’t pick itself. i went for the wheelbarrow and came out with the 2-rod quiver. too hot to pull garlic, just time for a final evening fling on poacher’s pit. one last wild gathering of europe’s finest packaging before the blanching of peas and the bottling of beans for winter stores. 6pm was quiet, but deadly hot and calm. i saw what it is not good for an angler to see; a shoal of 50 rudd, every one of them over 2lbs. they shook me to the core, whopper lust; i took a costly decision. instead of burrowing into my foxhole to avoid detection, i did what i’d always wanted to do. fish the bongo-litter swim where i could wade out and put a bait across the corner to the overhanging trees. i risked being seen, only half-hidden from the road and almost visible from the landowner’s side. it was not a foul weather day so there were delinquants, pikeys and landowners closing in. neopreme chest waders in 30 degrees: you’ve five minutes to live. but the right hand rod clipped the trees on the cast and the bait went down onto a hard patch in clear blue water. i’d seen big fish topping there often enough to stay glued to the rods. i heard the bongos warming up a hundreds yards away, quads and motobecanes snarling round the bushes. i was in their place, and it was a race against time. from my point of view it looked unlikely for a carp before dark:

too hot, and duck feathers becalmed in a glare. then the right hand tip pulled down an inch and sprang back, line twitching. i hit it as it pulled tight again. the fish was under the trees, not the best time to remember you meant to change the hooklink because these new teflon coated hooks rust inside the eye after one session. full lock on the warrior, tug of war rules, no stepping backwards possible and you can’t wind the reel handle on hook and hold. it gained by surges, pulling me and the rod forward like i was roped to a climber tumbling into a crevice below. i had to dig heels. this plunge forward actually gave me a yard to step backwards. perhaps the fish was despondent at losing the yard it had gained. it changed direction and ran outwards. the fight was on, we were evenly matched. me blinded by the sun, frayed lead core where i’d felt it grating, hook with a rusty eye. this was a fish banned from every gravel bar in town, a dirty fighter that even found a pile of old 2cv wheels dumped in the margins which I didn’t know were there. tried to cut me up, then smashed through the other rod. the racket we were making could be heard down the village cafe over the bongos. the calm blue lake was thrashed to slap. five times over the net, trees too low, didn’t have the waders on. it was up to the fish to make an error then, or i’d lose it. it went for the wheels again and i netted it sideways in a foot of water. last carp out before retreat, 41lbs of armour plating:

he must’ve seen the waves, heard the noise. i’m changing the rig when a boat steals into the swim from along the tree line, a bare footed pugwash with a 5ft spining rod he wants to whip me with. he’s screaming at me and it doesn’t make sense: vous pechez de qui? vous pechez de qui? vous pechez de qui? over and over, and he’s stamping his foot and holding onto an oar. who are you? i said. the owner, he said. fishing is forbidden. my logic went across his bows: so he preferred the boy bongos, the colourful litter, the midnight cannibals to one silent angler who picks up all the rubbish? he threw me off. fair cop, i don’t bame him. he said someone had been nicking his carp and selling them for a thousand quid to well known fisheries where british carp anglers call them “runs waters”. guantanemo bays where carp angling is just torturing starving prisoners. i still can’t bear thinking about it… and those rudd, there were three pounders in that shoal.

july began with pulling the garlic after all, ending with bottling broccolli. the larder in the barn is filling.

hardly wet a line all month. on the rebound from pugwash pit i paid wages to fish a private pond, an action de péche. a card on a noticeboard, it said carp, pike, zander. 12 actionaires, and the majority verdict was “big beasts” when i asked how big were the carp. i went to see it, a two acre pond in a lost valley 15 minutes from here. a carp jumped, a big spash. on the rebound you lack judgement. the other eleven are the quiet types who won’t fish in public. the retired dentist, the old vet, a night factory worker, a functionary from paris who comes once a year, the undertaker and his son. they every spring for a friendly drink and a round up of yarns. to them a big beast is an 8 pounder, i suppose. i should’ve asked, but the tranquility of etang de ventelle pursuaded me.

next day i watched it like a heron. dozens of cavorting carp, not one over 8 pounds. year-round float fun, somewhere to go after public showdowns. august comes with a bucket of maize soaking for the seine next week, the boat washed down, battery charged, boilie mix on the rolling table, just for a couple of days on an island watching dubonnet bottles from paris float by.

your old kit bag on the birdtable