ISSUE 1 ARCHIVES - Bart Spruijt 'The Silent Sanctuary' Pt2

Part 2 of Bart's re-telling of a unique little spell of angling, in the most unique of environments

Nothing is what it seems

Although I realised the task ahead would now be far more problematic, I comforted myself with the thought that undiscovered, almost virgin waters were often not the hardest. This water was, in fact, the opposite of the waters that I usually fished. In contrast to the well-known circuit lakes where the carp population were under angling pressure all the time, there was no pressure from fellow fishermen here at all. These carp had never had quick and easy food in the form of a boilies, and they’d rarely had a bad experience with a hook, either. Despite that, there were some complicating factors that would make it a difficult water for other reasons; the sanctuary had a number of elongated arms containing a myriad different bays that were all full of features in the form of submerged trees and branches. These bays acted as a safe haven for the carp and were inaccessible to me, and due to the geography of the lake, that applied to all the bays except for the area that had brought me my first carp. From that spot it was possible, with some difficulty, to reach some of the snaggy areas and bring the fish out toward me, but not only had the unfortunate encounter with the ranger forced me to give up that swim, but also a much more fundamental and pressing problem was the acquaintance with the phenomenon of angling pressure.

'much more fundamental and pressing problem was the acquaintance with the phenomenon of angling pressure'

Within an amazingly short period, it seemed that even the reserve carp had grown wise to my tricks. It became increasingly difficult to force a bite, and once I had managed to observe how the carp had begun to feed in a rather strange, and uncomfortable way, the reason became painfully clear to me.

Now, it seemed whenever they picked up a boilie, it was followed by a spooked response, and a flick of the tail to take them to the safety of the middle layers of water. The fish would usually return a while later, but only to repeat the process, picking up a new boilie and then spooking away again. I watched intently, and the process kept repeating itself. It seemed that the fish now struggled between the temptation of a new food source, and fear of danger.

I needed a new plan, and so I started a baiting campaign in the middle of the central part of the lake in the hope that I could condition the carp in a positive way by baiting up this area every other day. These additional, and regular baiting trips obviously meant an additional risk, as every second day I had to trespass into the sacred domain of the gamekeeper. I was always on edge now, and at the slightest unusual sound I was quick to look around me, searching the woods for signs of movement. A number of times I barely avoided the clutches of the forest guard, but one time it went very wrong.

I had just finished baiting up and was walking out of the sanctuary, back to the civilized world, but before I was even halfway back, I spotted a person far too close to my liking, and when our eyes met I knew enough; it was time to run! Like two Afghan hounds, we started, and when we both reached the road just outside the sanctuary, we were completely spent, but the gamekeeper had the upper hand yet, and shot towards his car. Since mine was parked on the outskirts of the village, a race on the public road was not an option that was either possible, or one I wanted to consider.

When I heard the engine of his car start I realised that my own engine was about to give up at any moment, and it seemed I was left without any hope; on a long straight road flanked by a ditch, options were limited. Behind me in the distance, the car had already spun around and came hurtling in my direction. It was an unequal struggle that I could only escape from by literally taking the plunge. From his car it must have looked very clumsy, but I jumped the ditch, not quite making the distance and ended up momentarily stuck with one foot in the water, and one across on to safe ground. Without looking back, I pulled myself free and used the last of the air in my lungs to sprint deeper into the neighbouring forest located next to the sanctuary. A couple of miles further, I knew a few things for sure; I had lost the forest guard, I was happy that my physical condition was better than that of a 30-year-older man, and today the carp had been treated to some more free delicacies.

After a diligent baiting campaign and ‘free food’ for several months, surely my targets would not suspect any more danger, and with that thought I headed back to the water. It soon became apparent that the baiting campaign would bear fruit, and during a limited period of time on a couple of short, morning sessions, several fine specimens would see the inside of my net. During one of these morning sessions, just as the moon passed the baton to the sun, a memorable moment was created and for a moment I imagined myself in a scene from Jurassic Park; the dinosaurs were exchanged for red, long-haired bulls and not even the presence of Spielberg was necessary to complete this beautiful picture.

'During one of these morning sessions, just as the moon passed the baton to the sun, a memorable moment was created and for a moment I imagined myself in a scene from Jurassic Park'

If the lens of a camera had been there that morning we would have been able to witness a fight between man with all his technical ingenuity, and an animal with only his basic instinct at its disposal. The target that had been hooked in the middle of the lake was giving me a slow, but incredibly determined fight and the unseen colossus wanted to turn to the safe haven of the bay filled with branches to my left, leaving me no other option but to the wade in up to my waist in an attempt to regain some control on the situation. Once the fish had made the sanctuary of the bay, I could feel the sensation of the line grating on a branch and it seemed the fight would be a hopeless exercise, and the outcome inevitable. In spite of the fact that I already broken a rod in a similar situation, I continued to keep the heavy pressure on the fish, and slowly but surely the victim was led out of the wood-filled bay as I recovered my line from him. Whenever the fish wanted to head in a different direction, I kept my hand firm on the already locked up clutch and spool.

Soon, my actions had the right effect and the colossus was now deep under my rod tip. After a few rounds, the carp was exhausted and impressive sets of swirls and deep vortexes rocked the margins before my eyes. Controlled by the adrenalin, I scooped the net up around it and cried out with satisfaction. After some nice shots, with the self-release the broad-shouldered linear disappeared back to the depths, with a few powerful kicks, and only the photos and memories still bear witness to the event. After catching a few more of the incredible Jurassic-looking mirrors, I was feeling confident that the success could continue from this spot, but as ever, nothing was what it seemed here at the sanctuary.

One morning, I heard the unmistakeable sound of a carp crashing, and recognised it is as the sound of one of the heavyweights jumping out of the water and wallowing on to his side. The repeated crashing made me get up to see what was going on, in the assumption that the shows were over the area I’d baited with boilies, in the central part of the lake. I scanned my eyes across the water in search of waves and swirls, but to my surprise, the water was still as calm as glass. It wasn’t until I turned around further that I could see where the sounds were coming from. In the bay situated beside me, in between the branches and snaggy haven of safety, the carp were jumping continuously. Suddenly I realised that it was not me tricking them, but them tricking me and although close, they were elusively far away. The carp in the sanctuary appeared to have a very good sense of instinct when it came to avoiding danger. They had already fled to a safe place in amongst the wood, making it almost impossible to force a bite. Even despite all the baiting, after only fishing the new area a few times, the carp were on to me again already.

The incomplete puzzle

On a beautiful, spring day, on the eve of a new fishing season, I was at the sanctuary again, this time accompanied by a good friend who had never even seen a carp in real life. We stepped through the landscape cautiously, because although he was well aware of the high sanctions that were placed on the entire area, my stories had made him far too curious to stay away. Like me, he was overwhelmed by the beauty of the nature reserve and now realised all I had to endure and overcome for those precious few of my captures. He said, “They must have been satisfying moments for you out here in this natural environment, with all those catches you have had, but now when I see all that you have had to endure, my satisfaction would have disappeared” He does not understand that the true essence of my passion is the fact that so much effort is required. To get paid back in the form of such beautiful moments when all the pieces fall together, is as much as any man could wish for. Meanwhile, I showed him a puddle with some fresh frogs spawn, a little further along a turtle lay basking on a tree stump, and everything was at peace.

Suddenly the spell was broken, and we heard the rustle of footsteps behind us, a sound that has given me a few bad memories in the past. A man, this time in an official-looking uniform, looked me straight in the eye and spoke to me, to my surprise using my name and surname. The birds had given my presence away, and had alerted him. Calmly, he listed a number of specific details about me. I start to think that he knew me better than I know myself, and then the shock hit me straight to the heart; this officer had obviously done his homework and proceeded to explain to me that I already had multiple fines resting on my name. One of them is still to this day, a burden for my bank account. From his bag, a book appeared which I recognised as I had seen it before when in the possession of one of his colleagues. He listed a number of articles from the law and the corresponding infringements and penalties, and then with one finger in the air, he pointed out to me that an earlier penalty to my address was cancelled because of some administrative errors. Hearing the accuracy and clarity in his voice, I knew this wouldn’t happen with this man.

For the umpteenth time, a gamekeeper was telling me that simply being present in this area was an offence, and that a man, even silently, could disturb the peace of this fragile nature. The conversation was going completely the wrong way, and I hoped my story would rescue me once again like it had done the last time. The forester and I were both nature lovers; that much I knew, and after some discussion alerting him to some hidden natural phenomena in the reserve that he did not know about, I watched as he tried to veil his excitement from me.

Because I hadn’t got any rods with me, he brushed off the 'little' violation this time, and I had somehow escaped by a whisker once again. He escorted us out of the sanctuary, and concluded with the final assertion of, “This IS the last time I will see you here. Is that your car?” I answered his question as convincingly as a liar, with a confident ‘Yes’, putting the ranger off the trail once more because I knew all too well that this water was still home to several more pearls that would make my fishing heart beat faster every time I visualised their presence among the sanctuary of their snaggy home.

The journey to find that one moment, the moment when the puzzle is finally complete will be pursued yet. I am willing to be silent in this sanctuary, but to stay away was not an option for me.

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