When one of the blokes you have been fishing with for the last week writes: ‘This was the best week of my life’ in the guests comments book*, it says something about the way this magnificent fishery, just 3 hours from Boulogne is run and managed by John, Ben and Magda.
But, I hasten to add, the fishing can be very tricky….
Lots of words can be used to describe the last week for me and my mate Martin ‘Squealer’ Wheeler, among them: frustration, anticipation, disappointment, frustration, divine intervention, luck, good fortune, hysteria… you name it.
And if you’ve been fishing for a while you’ll probably know exactly what I mean.
This was trip number 4 to Etang des Royales, and I have to admit that this place has changed my outlook on fishing. After 6 days and 6 nights with one run which amounted to nothing last year, mercifully followed by 1 gorgeous 31 pounder in the last few hours, I went through every emotion under the sun. Everyone else on the lake was catching. Not much, but they were catching.
At each meal time back in the welcoming lodge, John or Ben would utter the immortal words.. ‘Right, who’s ‘ad wot?’ Round the table it went with each angler proudly announcing the weight and species of his haul until it came back to me.. ‘Nothing John’ or ‘Nothing Ben’ was starting to sound a little too familiar as the days dragged on.
I just dug in and kept faith in my abilities to start with, checked and double checked my rigs, took welcome and expert advice from John and Ben and kept telling myself it would happen.. tonight it would happen… today it would happen… tonight’s the night… today’s the day… but nothing.
Then the doubt started to creep in and grow larger and larger in my head.. was I baiting too much? Was I fishing in silt instead of on gravel? Was my gear okay? Should I change tactics, recast or leave it where it was, or even change where I was fishing completely?
In the end I just sat back and resigned myself to the fact that I was going to blank and enjoyed the weather…and eight or nine cold beers from my landing net fridge.
Then, on the last day, I was stood reading a lads magazine, checking out Angelina Jolie’s curves with my back to my rods, contemplating the ferry ride home, and the right one simply roared off like a bat out of hell. I stood watching it for what seemed like ages, delighting in the sight of line ripping off the reel, the bite indicator screaming for mercy as it begged for the strike. In slow motion, I picked up the rod and lifted and was finally rewarded with the beautiful sight of a rod bent double in my hands… the perfect parabola. One glorious fight later and I had banked a 31 pound mirror and I went home happy…….
It was with all this in mind that Marty and I arrived outside the infamous green gates this year and we drove quietly down the central track to the lodge for the draw. Heads full of all the tips from an encyclopaedia of fishing mags, hoping they’d give us ‘The Edge’.
After securing the conifers peg (a lovely double swim), we elected to just rig up the rods and drop them in straight away, rather than banging about hammering tent pegs in and the like. Ray (alias the great Chef Raymundo) who we had met last year also followed suit two pegs down.
I gave Marty the choice and he took the left half of the swim, leaving me with the right. This tactic (given by Ben last year in a Masterclass of Watercraft) of just casting quietly in, suddenly seemed like a great idea as first Ray, then I both got into a fish within an hour or two. To say I was over the moon and elated with the beautiful 45.4 pound mirror that tipped the scales would be an understatement.. It could be the biggest fish I’ll ever catch and it all happened in the blink of an eye. Ben and John came down the road in the beast that it is John’s Landrover and couldn’t believe I was already drinking a bottle of champagne with the words ‘The First 40’ written on it in bright, white tippex.
Later that night a cheeky 31.8 came rolling in and by Wednesday my haul had grown to 6 fish including two 40’s and a scale perfect 32.2 common, glistening gold in the 28 degree sunshine.
One problem, though.. Marty had blanked so far and I had already started to run out of encouraging phrases to my fellow angler. ‘You’re next, mate’, ‘Tonight’s the night’, ‘It can’t carry on like this, chap’ were all wearing a little thin, you could say…
After the usual Olympic breakfast on Wednesday.. 2 eggs, 2 bacon, 3 sausages, 2 tomatoes and beans (just for the record).. Mart put a proposal to me.. ‘How about swapping sides mate? I’ve blanked so far and I’d do it for you’.
I was happy to oblige. After all, this was the same mate who had handed me his rod in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico on the last day of our holiday late last year with a 150lb Marlin dangling on the end. We had gone out there with the sole intention of catching the strongest fish in the sea, pound for pound, and he had caught one already.. He let me have the final fight and get the certificate. We were both there to catch a lifetime fish and it happened.. just, thanks to him.
Rod rests got moved. Hell, I even swapped our chairs over too.. anything to change his luck and arrest the frustration. But you can guess what happened.. within an hour my left rod sparked, then fired into life. Marty’s reaction… a somewhat glum, Victor Meldrewesque ‘I don’t bloody believe it’ as a weighty 39.4 hit the net. Another hour later and Mr Micron M’s trill screeching announced a perfect 34lb specimen.. this time on my other rod (which was in the exact same position that Marty had been fishing for the preceding 4 days). He just laughed hysterically this time.
Then… suddenly…. Squealer jumped up from his chair and struck at his left rod.. the indicator going wild.. was he a bit keen, was he a tad heavy, who knows? All I knew was that he had missed his first take of the week. I don’t know who was more pissed off.. him or me? (okay, okay.. it was him, but you know what I mean).
Then, a while later, the same rod blasted into action again and this time he was into a fish. I heaved a huge sigh of relief to myself as the rod curved over, the line taught like a bow string. Marty’s mood somewhat lightened for a few seconds.. all those hours of watching and waiting didn’t seem to matter. I busied myself getting the landing mat ready, retrieved the net and got the camera ready, all the time going against Ben’s advice of never presuming you’ve caught a fish till it’s in the net.
Sound advice indeed.. Suddenly a loud ‘TWANG’ resonated out over the mirror flat swim and Marty’s brand new 15lb line decided to take the side of the devil and snap neatly in two. Fish gone. Head in Hands. Many expletives.
I carried on merrily banking another 35.5 and a whopping 43 and suddenly it was Thursday evening… Marty had turned into my net man, my weigh man, and my camera man.. still jack for him.
Then, John and Magda came down to our swim after another gorgeous meal to pass some time and chat about life.. and fishing. Over a beer, the legend that is Johnny Stirling Hofgartner, the man who invented stalking, said… ‘Mar’in, ‘ave you enjoyed yourself this week?’
Good question. Very good question…..
After careful consideration, Martin replied.. ‘No’. ‘If I’m honest, John, I’m here to catch fish and I haven’t so far, so even though everything else is great, I’m a little disappointed’… I guess he was getting fed up being my ‘Net and Camera Man’ too!
It was also getting a bit embarrassing sharing a swim when I was catching all the time and I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I should have been, because I wanted him to catch aswell.. He was my mate after all..
John frowned a little in the dying light and rolled up another cheeky Golden Virginian master piece as a majestic barn owl ghosted past our swim on silent wings.
Rods were checked… identical, rigs were checked and a minute adjustment over a steaming kettle was made to the anti shrink tubing which set the hook to the perfect angle, but I could see even John was struggling for an answer to help change Marty’s luck.
Then after a while, the tea was drunk, the conversation died and John and Magda got up to leave. As he did so, John reached forward and kissed his fingers and stroked the butt of Marty’s left hand rod, smiling as he did so. I raised my cold bottle of San Miguel in a salute to Ken Dodd the God of the Rod and Marty acknowledged Queen Trish of the Fish with his golden Corona topped with a wedge of fresh lime – (well, you’ve gotta keep standards up – even by the lakeside.) Magda said a silent prayer in several different languages.
Perhaps divine intervention was needed in this desperate time!
Not a great deal happened in the night, but later the next day the blessed rod obliged and the wait was over, a fish at last. Softly, softly this time and after a very unconfident 35 minutes the beast was lurking around 10 feet out in our swim. Suddenly the rod went solid, a jungle of weed engulfing the prize, clawing at the 37.8 Mirror with the Squealers stamp on it. 5 agonizing minutes passed as the slime tried in vain to coax the monster back into the murky depths, but through sheer endeavour and good fortune it suddenly broke free and hit the net.. Happy F*cking Days.
My tally was still growing with alarming regularity.. this time it felt great to be going to every meal time, safe in the knowledge I could announce to all that I had netted yet more fish.
However, lightning struck twice on the same rod and soon after Marty had reeled in his magnificent 37.8, he was in again. This time it was a BIG fish. Marty later described it as the best fight of his life as he scrapped with a huge lump of a mirror, it’s belly reminiscent of Big Daddy, the cuddly wrestler from World of Sport all those years ago. Ben arrived on his bike as Marty and I wound the Reuben “wheel of fortune” Heaton’s round to a very rude 45lb 6oz.
A fantastic water shot ensued with Squealer very reticent to let the giant go, cuddling it until the life came flooding back into it’s body through it’s feathered gills and it lazily wafted back into the cloudy water. Marty decided to celebrate the moment by submerging himself aswell, and then climbing out onto the landing mat himself. Unfortunately the scales only went to 60lb, so no chance there then.. Great moment!
Suddenly it was the final meal and the champagne cork popped as John served up a chilled glass of fizzy to all over a roast meal. What a week. I even managed a last minute 32.4 common the following morning at 7am as Mart had disappeared to go for a shower, I just couldn’t stop catching.
Etang des Royales – it always summons up a story, every time.
A truly magical place.
The final tally’s as follows:
Si ‘Ginger Prince’ Griffith – 45.4, 31.8, 40.12, 32.2 (c), 29.9, 23.10, 18, 39.4, 34, 35.5, 43, 38.6, 32.4 (c)
(The best catch of my life so far…)
Marty ‘Squealer’ Wheeler – 37.8, 45.6
(The biggest carp of his life so far…)