ISSUE 1 ARCHIVES
A lovely long read this one, a story of somewhere forbidden, magical and carp that are the stuff of dreams. Told in Bart's own unique way and language, a unique piece in all senses of the word. You know the drill. Kettle on, kick back, and enjoy.
Waters which possess the wealth and beauty of untouched nature are rare in the Netherlands, and by chance, such a water crossed my path. It is a unique Dutch water, practically the only one of its kind, and it made an overwhelming impression on me; the mysterious mists on this untouched water embraced every fibre of my body, a timeless and unspoilt environment that had not yet been formed or altered by civilization. It inspired an almost mystical feeling; a primal feeling stirred in me... Notwithstanding the fact that it concerns a nature reserve and access is strictly prohibited, the blood is thicker than water and not fishing here is not an option. I could do nothing but surrender to my desires. While there, I seemed absent. A silent period began.
I consulted all the information sources I could think of, but it soon dawned on me that I am on my own, and I would have to tackle this water almost without any prior knowledge. The only thing I did manage to find out is that the prehistoric-looking lake was created in the eighteenth century by a dam failure, and the carp population found their origins in a channel located nearby, which in late 60s was stocked with carp characterised by their distinctive linear scale patterns. The idea to have a nice stock of carp on the channel came to an abrupt halt when they were facing a complete fish wipeout and some heroes tried to save as many carp as possible. The rescued fish were transferred to the sanctuary...and so began the formation of a carp angler’s paradise.
'The rescued fish were transferred to the sanctuary...and so began the formation of a carp angler’s paradise'
In the 90s, some creatures of extraordinary size and of an exceptional strain were caught in this paradise, and remarkably, all the mirror carp that were caught had a beautiful scale pattern. At that time there were rumours adrift that the area would be fenced off, and so a part of the population was transferred to several neighbouring circuit waters. Since then, these dazzling pearls have grown on to be some of the most famous and largest specimens in our region and the potential that these great fish held is now clear. That was all I knew; any further information I wanted, I would have to collect in the area itself, with my own eyes, and so I visited the reserve numerous times, until one day while I secretly crawled around the lake, I finally stumbled upon some of the lake’s carp population.
Climbing up through the decrepit boughs of an overhanging oak tree, I gained some height so I could observe them better. It was a warm spring afternoon and it appeared the heat from the first rays of sun had woken the carp from their hibernation, giving me an excellent opportunity to observe their stature and behaviour. I watched as these monuments of grace and history moved around slowly between the shadows and safety of tangled branches of the tree lying in the water beneath me. Interestingly enough, I didn’t spot a single common carp amongst them, it appeared they were all mirrors. Transfixed by the ones below me, from the corner of my eye I spotted a dumpy carp with a remarkably high back working its way through the water towards me, with another long, but broad and incredibly beautiful fish swimming in tow; the diversity of frames the fish exhibited was phenomenal, but one thing all these underwater inhabitants appeared to have in common was their beautiful linear-like scale patterns. Finally, after months of dreaming, I could now witness these beautiful creatures with my own eyes and it seemed like one of the great masters had been at work here; like my eyes were being cast over a painting of the highest art there is; nature.
'I watched as these monuments of grace and history moved around slowly between the shadows and safety of tangled branches of the tree lying in the water beneath me'
Even as a small child I had already been touched by nature, and to this day I still have a childlike fascination for everything that is green and living. The feeling of freedom from my childhood came flooding back while I sat on that branch; back then, everything I saw was new. The view and atmosphere of the sanctuary made a deep impression on me, and the area exuded the aura of a jungle, and everywhere I looked there were different types of tree; oak, birch and even pine alternated and vied for space in the canopy overhead. These old trees, surrounded by skeletons of dead wood and carcasses of bark, felt like they had been here for eternity and the vast stretches of time that this place had lain untouched became apparent. I felt alone in this place. Suddenly, I was struck once again by the realisation that I was not allowed to be there. The authorities had decided that no man should enjoy this nature but stubborn as I am, I did it anyway. The intoxication I felt suddenly made way for fear and nerves. I knew the warden could appear at any moment to help me out from my dream, and even without his presence, the mental image of a man in uniform made me leave the tree.
'These old trees, surrounded by skeletons of dead wood and carcasses of bark, felt like they had been here for eternity and the vast stretches of time that this place had lain untouched became apparent. I felt alone in this place'
With my visions of thick-shouldered and scale-covered mirrors still firmly haunting my mind, I did what I came here for - setting up the rods at the edge of the unknown. Just that simple act was easier said than done in this jungle, and fully loaded with all my gear I walked, zigzagging between the trees, towards the bay where I knew it just had to happen. Although sweat was running down my spine and I was starting to get tired, the thought of a massive carp being cradled in my arms kept me filled with perseverance. The deer and boar looked at me in surprise, as if I was an intruder into their world. Here, deep in the jungle, the authorities would not find me easily, and I was alone, once again.
Once I had arrived at the spot, I quickly plumbed the section of the water in front of me to find that the lake had a fairly hard bottom overall, with a firm, gradually sloping margin made up from clean, yellow sand. In the middle, it appeared to be relatively deep, as well as under the overhanging trees that lay in the water over on the far bank. The interesting thing about this particular bay was that throughout the day the sun would heat up this part of the lake fairly easy, because it was tucked away in the shelter of the woods so the cold north winds could not get to it, but a warm south westerly would blow in to it freely.
The many snags in this part of the lake provided a safe haven for the fish, and looking from the oak tree I had watched the carp lying hidden among the branches of the bay. The snags did involve an added, but necessary risk and this required a special approach so I made the decision to lock up the drags completely and remain on top of my rods at all times. I knew I must be alert and ready at the slightest beep. Creeping around, I carefully set up my rods as quietly as I could and feeling confident for the night ahead I retreated to my night’s accommodation and watched as the silence surrounding this area translated into an inner calmness for me.
Early the next morning, the silence was brutally disrupted by a screaming take. Not only was my sleep disturbed, but it was also as if a hunter had fired a shot, and dozens of birds startled from the tops of the trees as they took flight into the morning sky, clattering through the branches as they went. With the drag locked up I stood my ground and gave the carp no leeway to prevent him from reaching the hazardous tangle of snags; it was stalemate for a minute. The fish fought heavily and it was clear from the start that it was not going to give itself up easily. I found the primal force within me to turn the tide, beads of sweat appeared on my forehead, and I had rarely witnessed such explosive power in a fish.
'it was also as if a hunter had fired a shot, and dozens of birds startled from the tops of the trees as they took flight into the morning sky, clattering through the branches as they went'
Once close in the margins, the carp began to circle and then suddenly rose up in the water. It was only then that I recognised the distinctive, plodding manner in which the carp swam, that I had seen from across the bay when observing them from the oak. With a big, thick set of shoulders behind her head she broke through the surface calm, and at the first opportunity I tried to scoop the net underneath her, but the cord caught behind an unseen branch in the margins and she wallowed just out of reach. With every ounce of effort I could muster, I forced the net deeper into the water until the belly of the fish finally slid over the net cord and my battle was won.
The glorious sight of a characteristic, old, grey linear with a huge back and unusually thick belly lying silently in among the folds of my net was forever burnt into my retina. Once in my hands, she turned out to be very difficult to hold because of her extraordinary frame, not to mention very difficult to photograph and because I was dependent on self-takes, it was a photographic nightmare. The moment was captured, though, and then unfortunately, I had to say goodbye again soon to 'Belly', as I called her from then on. While still savouring every moment of the capture, I watched as she disappeared from my sight.
'The glorious sight of a characteristic, old, grey linear with a huge back and unusually thick belly lying silently in among the folds of my net was forever burnt into my retina'
An unpleasant encounter
With such early success, I wanted to return as quickly as I could and so I was back the following night. When darkness fell once more, I felt completely alone and at peace again. Aside from the noises from the wildlife, the sanctuary lay silent until in the distance I heard the sound of rustling leaves and cracking branches; the sounds seemed odd to me in this environment and suddenly my heart was pounding in my throat and ears. Then I saw the beam from a flashlight; there was nowhere to hide, and I was caught. I looked into the light like a rabbit in the headlights of a car. The old gamekeeper approached fast, and seemed to bear a resemblance to a German Gestapo. He wore a green vest, which was a tight fit and adorned with badges and medals, and while his vest exuded a sense of pride, the man himself did not; his face looked tense, his eyes flickered around, hunted, and his arms did the same.
With an angry expression in his face and a stern tone to his voice, he spoke to me about ‘the animals that could never be disrupted here’. With a deep sense of unease and nerves I listened as he explained to me which rules I was violating, and then when his surly gaze slowly came to glide over my possessions a vicious smile appeared on the face of the public servant; and he threatened to confiscate everything. His words hit me hard and I couldn’t help but watch and listen motionless. Curious to my reaction of his provoking threats, he held his gaze and looked at me for a few seconds. I used those seconds to get a grip on myself, and suppressing my nerves, I tried to give him my best smile and explain how I was also a great lover of this beautiful natural environment, and had no intention to harm or disturb anything. When he saw the sincerity in my face and heard my words, he seemed to calm down a bit, but before I had finished speaking he grabbed his pen and paper, and a hefty amount appeared in front of me. I was happy that I could keep my gear, but he told me sternly to pack up and leave. The silence had been broken.
Being caught felt like a big setback, but the urge and desire I felt for the water and its inhabitants remained high and the risk of fines was one I realised I must take, so I decided to play the cat and mouse game with the gamekeeper; game on. Often, one of the biggest giveaways to the presence of a fisherman is his car, so I asked my mother if I could use hers instead, to offer me some cover; it was a typical woman’s car that would normally just be used to do the shopping and one that nobody would ever expect to be an angler’s. To confuse any prying eyes even further, I adorned the dashboard with some casually strewn lipstick, mascara and even some pink teddy bears for decoration; surely anyone would much rather be expecting a transvestite who is in love with nature to be driving a car like this, and not a smelly fisherman?
I also decided that I would significantly reduce the amount of hours I spent on the water, and just focus on the actual hours that I thought would give me the best chance of a bite; especially the early morning period. My cover would need to be improved as well. When I was at the water, I would have to be sure that no one saw me and so I planned to hide myself away between the bushes, and cover my rods with branches and leaves. I hoped that this way I could remain under the radar of the watchful eyes of the warden and catch a number of these beautiful creatures from the sanctuary without losing my gear.
Head back for the concluding Part 2 tomorrow..