It all stated around Christmas, I had a phone call from Geoff. "We’re going back out to the Ebro in May, do you fancy it?" A short pause followed. "I can’t really afford it," I said without thinking too much about the costs involved. When you work for the Environment Agency as I do this is the typical response to most questions involving spending money! "Come on man," said Geoff, "you’re a long time dead!" I retorted "I know, but no money equals no money, I’ll think about it, how much, when, where, and with whom?"
Last year Geoff had sorted out a trip (my first to the river) with some of the IAC members, five to be precise. On that particular trip we flew out from Gatwick with the minimum of gear as our guide for the week was meeting us at Reus airport, the now infamous Nick Rowe. Nick supplied the bivvies, the cooking equipment, a boat but most of all, the local 'knowledge'. It was arranged in the middle of April, and although most of the gang caught, it was a struggle. Malcolm had a cat of 124lb, Geoff caught a few out to 88lb, Rob Stubbs, 81lb and myself, 91lb. It is ideal to have the use of a boat in that type of situation, on such a large river, but Nick didn’t seem to want to travel very far from the camp which left myself and the others, feeling a little restricted. Next time we promised to do it our way!
"The trip is planned for May. There will only be three of us going this time, me, you and Ian." explained Geoff. This perked me up a bit because although the first trip was a laugh and was also a good easy relaxing introduction to the ways of the Ebro, if you go with too many people you become restricted as to choice of swims - that is, if you want to stay sociable. If you want to move independently and you’ve flown over, you’ll need more than one hire car which will increase the final expenditure somewhat.
"We’ll probably be flying over, and borrowing some of Nicks’ kit, and my small boat is with him to look after, anyway. Ian will be organising the flights and stuff so phone him and find out the SP, on price and stuff. You’ll then have more of an idea whether you can afford to come"
"I reckon I probably can, after all it is over five months away, I should be able to get enough money put away by then, the only other small glitch on the horizon is the wife’s pregnant and due about the end of May, but I should be able to sort it!" I joked, "I’ll speak to you in a couple of weeks."
Ian phoned a couple of weeks later and gave me some idea of what it would cost for the week, I had worked out my finances, so I told him. "Count me in, I’m up for it". He also suggested that we meet up sometime in February for a social fishing session, for a chat about the forthcoming trip, and did I know of anywhere central to all of us. This was very handy for me as I was in the middle, not very far to driveLovely!
I suggested that we could meet on the Great Ouse at Over (near Cambridge) as it was fairly central and a few large pike had been coming out. Phone calls were made and in the middle of February we met on crisp clear day on the Banks of the Ouse opposite the Pike and Eel Hotel.
Ian was already there when I rolled up, he’d overestimated the distance, Geoff as usual was the last to arrive, but to be fair, he had the furthest to travel. The morning was spent mucking about on the river, Geoff and I blanked but Ian (the Pike King) sneaked a couple of jacks out. Things were pretty slow, so I suggested a move to Roswell Pits near Ely. A couple of small pike were caught but nothing special. It was a good day nonetheless and we’d finally sorted out some of the finer details of our forthcoming trip.
It transpired that Nick (in Spain) had disappeared. The equipment we were intending to hire for the week had also disappeared! Geoff, however had managed to track down the boats, an unfortunate chap (more of whom later) was sold the offending articles without realising they belonged to someone else. He bought them in good faith, and was more than willing to help us out when we got over there.
"So we’re sorted then?" asked Ian, "Gordy and I will drive over and we'll pick you up from Reus airport". I must say at this point that if it wasn’t for people like Geoff and Ian I’d probably never get off my bum and organise anything myself. As it was, all I had to do was hand over smallish amounts of cash every now and then when Ian phoned and asked for payment for one thing or another. Hats off to him, he organised most of it and I’m grateful.
Ian arrived on my doorstep at 4:30am, we were to catch a ferry from Folkstone to Bologne at 7:30. The journey to the coast was uneventful, the sea cat was nearly empty, which was nice but most of the crossing was calm. We drove off the ferry at about 8:30.
First port of call (or second!) was the supermarket for some coffee and grub, and the first pathetic attempts to speak French. I must admit Ian seems to have more capacity for that kind of thing, but then again his childhood holidays were partaken in climes a little further away than Great Yarmouth!
Back on the road again heading for Paris. We’d decided to share the driving, my turn was to come just before the Paris ring road, this was to allow Ian to navigate as he had been down this way once or twice before. We drove all day, from 8:30am to 10:30 p.m., watching the thermometer rise steadily the further south we drove, passing through some of the most impressive thunderstorms I had ever witnessed. We finally stopped for the night in the south of France approximately 25 miles from the Spanish border. The sky here was thankfully very clear. Along the main roads all through France there are many petrol stations with large rest areas, and it was in one of these that we bivvied up for the night. We spent most of the night, twitching with every car that passed us on its way into the petrol station.
First thing in the morning, before sun up and feeling very much the worse for wear, we made the first (and very welcome) brew of the day. A bit of yawning and bum scratching later (a beautiful thought!!) we were on our way to the Spanish border.
The countryside throughout the whole journey was impressive but the nearer we got to the border the more magnificent it became. We were of course crossing the Pyrenees. We stopped again after crossing into Spain, then carried on through Barcelona, the yellow haze of the busy city looming and gradually disappearing as we drove into it. Past Barcelona, we started to head for Reus, the small and less than salubrious airport into which we had flown a year earlier and where we were now meeting with our man Geoff, somewhere around midday. We took this opportunity to dry out our umbrellas, which were still sodden from the night before. Geoff landed on time, we re-shuffled the gear in the car (Ian had actually managed to squeeze in a bait boat, which Geoff now had to carry on his lap!!) and set off to the Ebro.
The trip only lasted another 45 minutes. Before venturing down to our intended destination, we drove to meet up with Pete, Dan and Vanessa who were providing us with all sorts of assistance now that our 'previous helper' had vanished. We had a cup of tea and got to know each other. Pete and Dan were intending to set up a guiding service for English anglers, and proved invaluable during the course of our stay (cheers folks). They informed us that the river was out of sorts, due to snow melt from the mountains. Our spirits remained high, however and we left with Pete promising to bring a boat and outboard down to us later when we were settled in. We jumped back in the car and headed for our destination.
Driving down the dusty track we caught sight of some bivvies through the bamboo. "Oh No!!" I exclaimed , with many other profanities thrown in for good measure. We’d travelled over a 1000 miles and there was a bunch of bloody Mancunians in our intended swims! This was just the first setback in a long chain of events, which had us working like marines…. Improvising, Adapting and Overcoming!!!