River Adventure | Sam Robb

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It’s been too long (I always say that) since I sat beside a river and cast a line. I have spent so much precious time there, gliding mysteriously through many dreams and waking thoughts. I have put in the hard miles, endured the lean times, carried out emergency flood evacuations, enjoyed a few legendary barbecues and booze-ups with friends,and caught some pretty big fish in the Rhône Valley. I can sum up how I feel about the place by adapting the words a legendary Russian climber once used to describe mountains: ‘It is not simply a stadium where I take part in my sport, it is a cathedral where I practise my religion’. Even as I sit writing this introduction in February, I can close my eyes and immerse myself in the sights and smells of springtime by the river. Kingfishers flash past tree-lined banks, the vegetation is fresh and fragrant, and the air is full of millions of tiny fluffy white poplar seeds, many of which end up as a fine mist on the surface of the water.

Preparation

Big snowman presentations are the order of the day

Big snowman presentations are the order of the day

My good local friend and fellow carp-worshipper Laurent has got several sets of kit (kindly supplied by Avid) at his house, so it’s just a question of taking some bait and terminal tackle for a short trip. Having said that, these are arguably two of the most important things to get right, so I always take great care in preparing the business end. Below the silky surface, the aquatic environment is generally savage, so at least 15lb mainline, long 45lb leaders and 14insrigs of 50lb Armacord seldom let me down. I use 5-10oz leads and big, strong, sharp hooks with a long Hair so that 25mm bottom baits or multiple large tiger nutscan be presented Snowman-style with 20mm pop-ups, and it has been a winning combination. This might seem a bit simplistic and one-dimensional, but it is essential to withstand the savage environment, and resist the attentions of massive chub,barbel, crayfish and other nuisance species.Fishing like this means there is a presentable bait in the water for as long as possible, and if a 40lb+ fish takes the bait, there’s a decent chance of getting it in.

Bait

Rosehip Isotonic has caught me more big river carp than any other bait, so that’s the first thing on my shopping list, in 25mm. Also, this year I will be using the new Spirulina, as it is probably as close to the carp’s natural food as a boilie can get. It is a total contrast in colour and flavour to the Rosehip, so it will be good to see which one works best on the day.A good glug, some mixed pellets, and a few kilos of tiger nuts and hemp complete the menu.

The Trip

Fortunately, my friend Roman could come on this trip. He drove down to my house in the ColneValley the night before so he could take the same flight as my wife Roxanna and I the next day, from Luton to Lyon. Armed with some Yorkshire tea bags and copies of Carpworld for our French friend, we arrived in France, jumped in the hire car at Saint Exupery(airport), and headed down the hallowed road towards Avignon. By early evening we were sitting in our favourite bar sipping cold beers, and feeling very excited to be close to the place where we have had so many adventures in years gone by.

Some years, the conditions and water temperature came good early; other times it was late. This year, it appeared that although the air was nice and warm and the trees were in leaf, we were a little premature in our arrival, and the notorious mistral wind was lining up to give it some large. Not a disaster, but far from ideal.

We opted to start the session near another friend’s (Nicola) vineyard, and a big dinner at his place, with wild boar and copious wine on the menu, preceded the fishing.The section wasweedy reed-lined shallows with a few dead trees. It was a common area for spawning and the only real feature for miles and miles of river, so we figured we couldn’t be too far away from some carp. As it turned out, there were one or two mid-20 commons around, but not in the same numbers as the catfish, of which I caught three up to 60lb. One of the cats had come at first light; I hoped I was into a big river carp, so I hopped into the small inflatable boat and promptly disappeared, causing Roxanna to think that I had drowned at sea. She was relieved and angry with me by the time I returned an hour later!The mistral had set in and a move was called for.

We decided to meet Laurent at the favourite bar I mentioned earlier, and had some lunch and a few beers. Then we made the decision to try a stretch of river that was nearby, and relatively easy to get to where I had first-ever fished the Rhône some 15 years previously. We had even more beers to celebrate this decision, and by the time we arrived at the swim, we were, frankly, very drunk. Having said that, ‘pub chucks’ were more than adequate to get us fishing because it was all margin spots – considering the violent wind that was now rattling down the valley. Nothing happened that night and the whole of the next day, and we saw no fish bosh out, so it was time to hatch an emergency plan because I only had 2 nights left.

Laurent our host, Rox, my wife, and Roman

Laurent our host, Rox, my wife, and Roman

Rox had to go back to work in London via Marseilles airport, so once I had dropped her off, I headed back up the mighty valley to meet Roman and Laurent in last-chance saloon. Laurent dropped us off at a bridge where he thought we might get some shelter from the wind, and Roman and I got six rods set up and fishing on good spots before bedtime. A run at around midnight woke me from slumber, and I bent into a heavy fish. A few minutes later, as I was trying to apply enough pressure to stop the thing from reaching some dead trees, the hook pulled. Feeling gutted, I rebaited and cast back to what I thought was about the right place. Nothing more happened that night, so again we made the decision to move for what would be my last night.

This really was the last-gasp session for me, and with only a few catfish under my belt (and one mid-20 common for Roman), we needed to do something fast. Fortunately, Laurent had agreed to pick us up at an old favourite swim a few miles downstream from the drop-off point. This swim had been the place from where I caught my first river 40 and 50, so I was pleased to be finishing the trip in such cherished surroundings.

Roman went out in the boat and confirmed some good areas, while I got the camp set up and the rods ready. The wind had decreased moderately, and by evening time all was ready. We were just preparing some food, when one of the rods started shaking and bouncing in its rests. I leapt up and pounced on it, praying it wasn’t a catfish. With the boat standing by, just in case, I managed to pump the fish carefully all the way back to a waiting net. Yes! It was a lovely-looking upper-20 common, so a blank was avoided.

I wasn't going home without a carp under my belt!

I wasn't going home without a carp under my belt!

During the night, Roman had a mid-30 common which we (carefully) sacked up for photos the next day. In the morning, I managed another common similar to the previous one, so I thanked it for the fight and slipped it back without inconveniencing it further. In terms of testing the new Spirulina against the trusted Rosehip, it is hard to judge; I had one on each of them.

In conclusion, I guess the fishing wasn’t sensational, but that’s the way it often goes, andsometimes it can take a big effort to save a blank (we fished different and difficult swims every night). But these trips have become about more than just putting lumps on the bank. They are about socialising friends and general adventure. They are always different and exciting, with much to learn and reflect on afterwards. Of all the places I have worshipped the carp gods, this is the best.

Roman with his mid-30 common

Roman with his mid-30 common