All sorts of crossroads were meeting, avenues opening up, doors closing and other well-documented clichés. I had just turned thirty and in retrospect, had wasted most of my life on alcohol, women and fishing. I needed fresh challenges and a new direction. After much soul searching and a brutally honest self-assessment I set three new targets to aim for, to finish off this bottle of whisky, get it together with the blonde at No.12 and call Andrew in the morning to arrange a fishing adventure; we didn't have fishing trips, we had adventures. The fact some people pay thousands of pounds to counsellors to sort their lives out has always baffled me. Waking in the morning with renewed vigour I felt like my old self again, hung over!
I had heard about a fishery in Sussex that contained large catfish. I had never caught one before but had read all the tales of hooking one being akin to hooking up to the bumper of an ageing mini, not the worlds fastest but impossible to stop. So, with my fascination of all things predatory I had to investigate this further. Selling the idea to Andrew would be a different matter, he is not a fan of anything aggressive and so I had to give the old 'armour clad bronzed flanks' speech; that always does the trick.
"Twenty pound carp eating from your hands?" he repeated back, enthusiasm taking over from common sense, "Are you sure," he asked, logic creeping back in.
"Fairly sure" I lied.
All the plans were made, time booked off work, tackle sorted and mortgage arranged this was not the cheapest place I had ever fished. Andrew was okay; he is a single man and, as such, had money. Unfortunately, I do not have much luck when it comes to women, my first wife had left me and my second one wouldn't. The other trouble with my women was they seemed to keep on having babies, consequently I was in a permanently impecunious stateor bloody skint as my dear old Grandma would say.
We pulled into the car park at the end of an hour and a half long journey, with Andrew getting more excitable with every mile. I did hope I hadn't overly hyped this place, it would be like Christmas morning with no presents for a five year old if Andrew blanked here. The fishery owner, a colourful character who was not short of a few adjectives, even if they all did start with 'F', welcomed us. We handed over our respective monies and went forth to 'make some memories'.
Andrew chose a swim, plumbed around, baited up then proceeded to expertly cast out two pre-tied inline combined slow sinking, popped-up snowmen rigs with fruit based glycerol flavoured baits. I slung out a worm and opened a tin of 'Tennants Super'. I always found it ironic that the favourite drink of the homeless should be called not only 'Tennants' but 'Tennants Super'. The makers must have thought 'Homelessness Comfort' would have been a marketing nightmare, but I digress.
"Rule 4 states no alcohol allowed," Andrew interjected. Normally this would have meant a premature end to the trip but as we had come in Andrews' van I was trapped. Welcome to Hell!
My depression was lifted as the left hand indicator fell back sharply, bringing the optonic to life. Catfish County here we come. The initial reaction to the fight was disappointing, it felt more like a pike than a catfish, as the net slid under it, also it seemed a lot greener than I had anticipated, oh, it was a pike. Still at nearly 'twenty' I should be pleased, if it had been pounds rather than inches I would have been.
The amount of movement from carp in front of me whetted my appetite so much I had to bring in one rod and replace the set-up with a boilie and bolt rig set-up; it felt good.
Whether it is E.S.P or experience I just seem to know when I'm going to get a bite and this time it was no different. Within five minutes of 'that feeling' the right hand rod burst into life, the steady thump through the line and the dogged determination suggested a solid fish was doing its utmost to break my heart but I won the day and netted a short, squat lump of carp that pulled the scales round to 24lbs. 12oz. Not a bad start in my first hour at the venue. Andrew and I really share each others joy in the capture of all fish, no petty jealousies and the celebratory cup of tea after a good result has always been my favourite part of fishing with Andrew. The recent trend for not smiling in photos and acting nonchalant about captures amazes me, this is fun; enjoy it.
"I think we're in with a shout of another one," said Andrew positively, "There still having it big time."
I was about to reply that I was happy with one 'twenty' a day but I didn't get a chance, my right hand rod was again snaking in the rests, the John Roberts' butt grip clinging on fast like the anchor man in a giant aquatic tug-o-war. The optonic whistled out its one note with increasing desperation.
I calmly dropped my tea down my lap and tripped headlong over the chair before gracefully lowering myself into the nettles whilst trying to maintain a certain decorum, easier said than done. I struck firmly, lady luck was smiling, the fish was still there and powering forcefully AWAY from the lily bed.
"You must have trod in something today," said Andrew.
"Trod in it, I've just landed my face in the bloody stuff!" I replied.
Andrew did the honours with the net, "Looks bigger."
The scales pulled round to 26lbs 2ozs. I felt elated. I had read the book 'Red letter days' and taken for granted that you only ever get one but this was beating my first two. Fifty pounds of 'armour clad bronze flanks' within an hour was too much to take in. We didn't have time to put the kettle on for the second celebratory cup of tea before Andrews' Delkims (he has more money than me) were singing. His practised strike looped the rod round into a fighting curve. "This must be a 'thirty,' I've never known a fish run so solidly." Nearly twenty minutes later and one of them was starting to tire. It wasn't the fish. "I can't do a thing with this" Andrew exclaimed.
I waited in eager anticipation, as he slowly brought the lakes' secret monster of the deep to the net. I stood there with the net poised as I had done a hundred times before when a giant whisker broke the surface. I had netted countless fish for him before and shared in Andrews's elation as each new goal had been achieved but this was different.
"Ughh! It's a bloody catfish!" he exclaimed in horror.
"Yes, my bloody catfish" I thought with enough composure to keep it under my breath. The netting took three attempts; 'cats' swim backwards with as much ease and determination as going forwards. I wasn't trying to knock it off, honest!
The scales must have thought they had been lent out to a fruit and veg trader as they swung past the twenty-pound mark for the third time that morning. Petty jealousies out of the window I managed to take the 'trophy shots' whilst he complained about 'ugly, slimy predators' invading his baits and probably scaring the carp away. This has been the only time I have ever been envious of a capture of his. Ordinarily I would have been pleased as punch for him - but this was different as he continued to whinge. It wasn't the fact that I wanted this fish and he didn't but I felt a truly magnificent specimen wasn't getting the appreciation it deserved. Funnily enough, since then he has grown to love them and has even gone out of his way to catch more of them.
We sat back dazed, I had initially felt a twinge of guilt selling my grandmother to finance this trip but I felt fully vindicated now and hoped in time she would understand.
'Beeeeeeeeeeppp!' Andrew and I stared at each other in disbelief, there couldn't be morecould there?
Andrew was down the bank and striking all in one motion with the grace and athleticism of a gazelle, albeit an ageing gazelle that had been ravaged by the odd lion or two.
"This is a carp," he affirmed knowledgeably, "Much slower, more methodical," he continued, happy to be battling a 'proper' fish again.
The carp stayed deep, huge boils were erupting on the waters' surface, the fishes immense power and strength built over centuries of evolution exhibiting the fishes whereabouts. The water was turning a reddish brown as the leviathan churned up great masses of lakebed in its frantic struggle for freedom.
"I'll go and have a pee and pop back when your ready, shall I?" I teased.
The fish started to tire and after a couple of last gasp lunges was safely enveloped in the net. Andrew grinned like a cat who had the cream. And the mouse, cat-food, ball of string etc. etc. The scales just stopped short of the thirty-pound mark. We would have to get them checked out obviously. My friend Geoff would tell you there was no such thing as a 29lbs 14oz carp but here was living proof and I'll tell you it didn't matter one jot, we could not have been happier.
Andrew caught a mid-double common carp later on in the day just to round things off nicely. No matter how much planning and how perfect conditions seem, sometimes you can't do right for doing wrong, then again some days exceed your wildest dreams. There is so much more to fishing than catching fish. It's all about being there and enjoying it, as the famous philosopher Nietzsche (or was it Nike) said, "Just do it."