Wild Waters | Steve Briggs
Steve and Joan set off on a fishing road trip which sees them leave the delights of France and head off to Slovenia to join some friends on some exciting new venues.
It all started off with our annual trip to Lake Cassien in the South of France. Almost on autopilot the van was loaded with all the bait and tackle needed for a three-week stay. We looked forward to another series of day trips in the warm sunshine and maybe a few fish along the way. The weather was great, the lake wasn’t too busy, and it didn’t take long to get a fish or two, but as nice as it was, for us it’s not the same as it used to be. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it there, but each evening there was that same frustration as the fish started to show and we would have to pack up and head back to the campsite again as both night fishing and staying on the lake are forbidden. That’s the rules these days so we’d just have to get on with it – at least that’s what I thought until I received a message from our German friends Meik and Simone who were on a long European tour much further south.
They asked if we fancied meeting up somewhere to fish together. We talked about the possible places, Croatia, Italy, and Bosnia, were all considered but one name really stood out to me, and that was Slovenia! I’d driven through Slovenia briefly before but I’d never fished there and it was certainly on the list of places I wanted to wet a line. We all agreed that we’d want to visit somewhere big and wild and where we could fish at night too, Meik said he knew just the place!It almost seems a strange thing to say but Joan and Iwere both more excited about moving on to somewhere new than we were staying at Cassien. So, after five days in southern France, we found ourselves hitting the road again.
Driving along the coast road past Monaco and into Italy was a joy in itself; it meant clocking up plenty of miles but the scenery was stunning. We passed right through Italy, only stopping for fuel and drove in to Slovenia until we came to the small village that would ultimately lead us to the lake. The road became a dirt track and I wondered how on earth we were going to find Meik, but then as we turned to cross an old rickety bridge there was Meik and his son Beat, waiting for us. They led us down the steep, winding track until right at the bottom the lake appeared before our eyes. It looked great, a typical flooded valley, which had been dammed at one end and surrounded by steep wooded banks on either side. As with most man-made reservoirs in Europe, the trees in the areas to be flooded had been cut off just above ground height and over time the ground erodes naturally to reveal the root systems, creating those natural food havens and also the snags, which we have to combat. Looking around I could already see plenty of old stumps and knew that plenty more would be hidden below the surface. These were problems that I’d faced many times in the past and they are easy enough to overcome with the right gear and tactics. Nash Bullet Braid mainline with a strong mono leader is the starting point and maybe sub floats to keep the line raised and, of course, strong rigs with sharp hooks!
It was the weekend and there were a few people around but I was assured that by Monday we’d be virtually on our own. Meik’s friend Mark was there for a couple of days alongside Meik, and so we set up camp a little bit up to the left. A strong wind was blowing straight down the valley, it’s called the Bora wind and a bit similar to the Mistral winds of southern France, which I’m a lot more familiar with. It made setting up quite difficult but before long the camp was up and the rods were fishing. Only two rods were allowed, which seemed a little strange on such a big water but those are the rules so to get the ball rolling I placed one close to the old river bed in 22ft and the other near to the far bank in 15ft. Meik was already preparing to cook for us all, he’s a great cook and the big steaks he presented us with went down well with a couple of bottles of wine! It was great being with friends and not having to worry about packing up at dusk, we were glad we had made the move.
Meik and Mark both caught fish up to our right while my rods were all quiet, so as soon as Mark packed up on Sunday I took over his spot. I could see straightaway why the fish hadn’t ventured as far as me. The opposite bank dropped sharply into the water and quickly dropped to 25ft, but stopped just to the left of where Mark was and then it shallowed up quickly and the fish didn’t seem to venture out past that deeper area. Even as I was moving the rods into their new positions I could see fish showing along the steep bank opposite. I placed both baits close to the far bank around 180 yards away, one about ten yards off the bank in 25ft and the other just a bit further out in 28ft. As I was just starting I spread about 4kg of Scopex Squid and Key Cray boilies all around the area I was covering; this was just to get going, and if I had to rebait in the night I’d just use a handful or two.
The night was quiet but I felt sure that it was only a matter of time and, sure enough, just as the sun was coming over the hills, my alarm sounded for the first time! Straightaway I could feel grating as the line was being dragged around some underwater object. I jumped in the boat and before I reached the spot I felt the line ping off and that lovely feeling of direct contact with the fish. After a decent battle, I was looking down at my very first Slovenian carp, a common of around 24lb! The first fish from a new lake is always good but from a new country is even more special – but I knew it wouldn’t be my last.
Over the next few days we both caught more fish. As promised the lake was really quiet after the weekend. Perhaps we were getting amongst the smaller stamp of fish but that didn’t really matter. The people we spoke to, including a couple of guys from the local fishing federation, were all really friendly, but they all said that for the bigger fish we should really be at the dam end of the lake instead of the shallow end, but it isn’t always about the size of the fish. The access for cars actually stopped where we were set up and although we could’ve loaded the boats up and set off for the dam it wouldn’t have been easy, especially for Meik with Simone and son Beat to think about. It was actually really nice where we were. During the evening we would all gather around Meik’s camp while he cooked dinner and perhaps watch a film afterwards. These are the memories I remember most – good times with great friends! We were happy to catch what was out there, but we had a surprise or two in store over the next couple of days.
During dinner Meik received another run – nothing unusual there and he said that he’d deal with it himself while we carried on with our meal. When he returned however, he was more animated than usual and I could see why! In the net was a stunning common, certainly over 20kg and in stark contrast to the other fish we’d caught. It was what he’d hoped for and job done as far as he was concerned. We had decisions to make, the permits we’d bought were due to run out in the morning and we could buy more and stay on longer, or we could move on to another lake. Just a couple of hours away was another lake, much bigger in size, and the carp were reputed to be much bigger too. So, it was an easy decision to make, and this was our last night at this lovely wild lake. I was happy with what I’d caught but after seeing Meik’s big common I’d love to have one before leaving. During the night I had another small common, and lost one, and by daylight I had one rod left fishing across to the far side. With an hour to go the alarm sounded again and I expected another small fish but as the battle started to go on for longer and longer I began to realise that I’d hooked a better one. Sure enough, it was my best so far, an 18kg common and the perfect way to finish my visit there.
The usual chore of packing up was made a little worse by the muddy clay banks, which seemed to cover every item of tackle, but we were soon on the road again, stopping off at McDonalds on the way for our burger fix. At least it was only a two-hour jaunt across country this time and we were soon looking at our next venture. As soon as I saw it, I loved it! It was quite a bit bigger than the first lake, with arms and bays spreading out in all directions. This lake came with a difference though. There were designated night fishing areas where you could bivvy up with all the usual comforts, but as tempting as that sounded, we’d given it plenty of consideration and decided not to go there. The night areas were quite busy and we could see the lines stretching out from the swims, whereas the rest of the lake was much quieter. In the other areas we could fish from 6.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m. and although we both liked the idea of setting up camp somewhere, fishing-wise it looked a much better option to fish the day areas.
Unfortunately, the one spot we really wanted to fish was the one spot that was already occupied. The guys were friendly and clearly catching a few fish too, but they were going to stay for a few more days so we chose an area around 300 yards further down to the right where it was totally deserted. That evening all we did was get our spots sorted. It was quite deep out there, averaging about 25ft to 28ft. Boats could be used for baiting up and getting fish out of snags but we had to cast from the bank, so markers were placed at a reasonable range and about 20kg of boilies were spread all over the area. That might seem a lot but we decided just to go for it and hope that we could draw the fish in from other areas by morning.
You’d think with no rods out for the night that I’d sleep better but I hardly slept at all. I’m sure it was the anticipation and excitement of getting the rods out the next day. By 6.00 a.m. I’d already been up and about for some time but, at last, I could get fishing! Fish were showing around the markers and they had clearly found the bait and once the rods were out I was sitting there waiting for one to go, but I had to wait a while, in fact Meik had the first three runs with fish up to 15kg. It was mid-afternoon before I got my first one, albeit a more modest size, and then as evening closed in, I managed a much nicer one of 35lb. I’d persevered with a pop-up to get that bite but all the others had fallen to Snowman setups that day – six in all, and the pop-ups soon got relegated in favour of the more successful method.
The next morning I was as keen as mustard to get going, whereasMeik wanted a lie in and would join me later.He must have known something as by the time he arrived in the swim I’d only caught one small fish but things were about to liven up! I’d dropped one of my rods shorter to where I’d seen more fish showing and I soon hooked into a powerful fish. Meik was into a fish at the same time and after getting snagged for a while, he landed another decent common of well over 30lb. Mine turned out to be our first mirror and a good one of 42lb so we took the chance to do a brace shot before slipping them both back. It turned out to be our best day action-wise with around twelve fish between us but nothing bettered the earlier mirror.
We kept baiting the swim every evening but over the next couple of days things definitely quietened down and we had decisions to make. Time was starting to run out and it looked like we needed to try elsewhere. Thankfully the answer was presented to us when the guys in our first-choice swim left for home. Sure, they had caught plenty from there already but it looked like most of the fish were holding up there, and the bigger ones too! Both of the guys and a couple of other local anglers were really helpful in giving advice on what to do and where to fish, although we already knew basically what we wanted to do, but at last we were where we wanted to be and we had one last chance to get amongst the bigger fish. The lake was much wider in this area and the spots I wanted to fish were nearly on the limit of my casting range with the gear I was using. It took a few chucks before I finally felt I’d got close enough to the marks. One was fished straight out in front in the deep water while the other was placed on a slightly raised area that was much firmer. We held back a bit on the baiting this time hoping to get a quick bite or two.
All was quiet for an hour or two before the rod fishing to the firm spot burst into life! Straightaway this felt different to everything else I’d hooked, it just tried to put as much distance between us as possible, stripping line as it charged off across the lake. Thankfully there was only open water out there so as long as it stayed on I could just try to tire it out. By the time it turned it had stripped over 60 yards of line and gaining the line back was a slow, painstaking process. Meik with more time on his hands was still only just baiting his areas but was a keen spectator, seeing that this was clearly a better fish. Fifteen minutes later I had the fish at much closer range, Meik told me to be careful of the numerous tree stumps in the margins but by then I felt in control. With the light fading I was finally able to slip the net under the fish – and it looked good. “24 kilos!” Meik said, and he was spot-on. It was a cracking common of 53lb (24kg) and believe it or not it was a fish that Meik had caught when he’d fished the lake before in the spring. That time it had weight 60lb! So, it was down to its summer weight but that didn’t matter one bit. My dream for the trip was to catch one fish over 50lb as that would mean eleven countries that I’d caught 50s from, equaling the most that’s ever been achieved. I had left it late but I’d got there in the end.
Although that fish really meant a lot to me, it wasn’t a trip that was all about weights and numbers. We were enjoying it all so much that we stayed on a couple more days than we had planned and we carried on catching with a few nice fish. Without the friendship and company that we’d enjoyed, it wouldn’t have meant half as much. In the end, with other commitments coming up, we had no choice other than to pack all our gear away for the last time and start the long journey back home. In total, we’d covered around 3000 miles since leaving England and that’s something that people don’t always put into the equation when they say what an easy life I’ve got! But it was a great trip – so great, in fact, that we’ve already made plans to do it all again next year! We will be heading for different venues in different countries but wherever we end up I know for sure that it’s going to be fun!