The Rhône Reloaded
Roman Buczynski heads off to France...
Things were getting tough in my personal and work life in the UK and I needed to get away. It was a Friday afternoon and I needed to escape the country ASAP. A quick call to the Essex bait baron meant I could be loaded with enough bait for a session. Then I warned the ‘Rhone Partisan’ (aka Avid Carp’s Laurent) that I was inbound, even though the late Alps snowmelt meant that the River Saône had broken its banks and made the Rhône virtually unfishable. I arrived at the River in darkness and, abandoning my car, I ran up the flood barrier and peered into the inky waters as they hurtled past, carrying objects that were crashing into the stanchions of the bridge I was under. This wasn’t going to be a textbook trip...
Luckily I have been in similar situations down here, and I respect and understand the unpredictability of river conditions and the challenges that they create. When I was younger I would have burst into tears and threatened to take a chainsaw to my rods, whereas nowadays I see these challenges as opportunities! I explored the local area for a couple of days, looking for a section that wasn’t as affected by floodwater as the main River fined down.
By the time I arrived she was running through perfectly. I deployed the rods into likely looking areas and sat back. A young kid on a bike stopped to give me his spin on things. We talked and I showed him a few rigs. He went home for his lunch, but came back with a sandwich, chocolate and a cold beer – that was a bit of a result! Over the first night I landed a few fish and enjoyed another cold beer from my new-found friend. In the middle of the day one of my shallow rods went off and I played a fish that held its own in the middle of the River. Undecided whether to go out in the boat I played it from the bank and slid the net under a common over 50lb – I was well pleased with that! I kept on with this area, but as usual the action slowed down and I had to move on.
I spent a day recceing a 6km stretch of River and introduced some bait into a few areas. I refreshed my kit, changed my underpants and socks, then hit the River once again, this time with Laurent joining me. We started at the north of the stretch, fishing the first night on an island and working our way downstream night by night. We moved swims 10 times in less than a week and we caught plenty of fish, but we just couldn’t track down the bigger ones.
One swim that sticks in my mind was a tiny little island with barely enough room for a bivvy, but we both huddled on to this ‘seam of gravel’ that became home. In the middle of the night I received a take that took me around the island, meaning I had to wade 100m up to my waist against the flow while Laurent picked me up on the other side with the boat so that I could net the fish. It was a precarious situation if things had gone wrong and not something that I would recommend.
As always these river sessions remind me of testing military exercises that I had been in when I was a soldier, always covered in cuts and bruises and living in ant-ridden bushes or a bee’s nest! Nevertheless, the fish fed and we were catching steadily. However, we longed to get on to the main River, and we decided to do a quick recce. It had settled down and, crucially, the weed had started to grow!
We packed our gear and headed home for beer and pizza as well as to change boats. The next day we spent most of the day driving and scanning for fish; this would have to be my last night, so it needed to count. Walking through the long grass and rocky wild banks that were full of snakes basking in the late spring sunshine, we found carp but things didn’t feel right. However, one area stood out. It was a place that I had fished near to eight years ago, but due to the strong currents and low banks it was usually too dangerous to fish. However, on this occasion it was perfect. We loaded the kit and somehow made it safely across the fast shallows. The fish were stacked up and I was buzzing; these untrodden banks and wild fish were a dream. After the first night, however, we hadn’t even received a bite, not even from a chub! The fish in this section had never seen anglers’ bait and, as we watched them in the trees, they just weren’t zoned in. Had we baited for a few days it might have been a different story.
As we sat in the afternoon sun, Laurent shouted that I had a take. I ran over to the hooped-over rod and screaming reel (I had forgotten to turn on the alarm) and connected with a fish that immediately took line. The pure power of the fish made me think it was a cat as it held in the current – I couldn’t do anything. Laurent ran down the bank to see if he could see the fish in shallow water, then he ran back taking all his clothes off! Stripping down to his pants he jumped straight into the cold River with the net. Now, this isn’t normal behaviour – not unless he’s had a few drinks! – so he must have seen I was attached to a big fish. At that very moment I saw a big tail slap the surface and I jumped straight in upstream of Laurent. The next few minutes were very tense, as I gained but mainly lost line to the fish, while Laurent struggled to keep the net in position due to the strong flow. By some miracle, and with total trust in my tackle, I managed to get the fish above the net in the current then released the pressure slightly, so the fish could be netted skillfully by the man in his pants. We screamed and yelled as we stumbled back to the bank. I had caught a huge, unnamed, previously uncaught, old and dark River Rhône mirror, and it was immense. I spent the rest of the day and night on cloud nine, as I had managed to catch a brace of 50lb carp from arguably one of the largest river systems in Europe. Only those who have truly endured the many challenges of carping on the big rivers will understand. These two fish were exceptionally special and I am very privileged to have caught them.
The long journey home was made ever more bearable with my success. At Dover, however, I was stopped at customs and tried to explain that the reason I looked like an Afghani shepherd was because I had been living in bushes while fishing on the rivers. The customs lady wasn’t buying it, especially as I had no fishing gear in the car (I have mine stored in France). As a last resort, I pulled out my dirty washing bag and said, “Look – these are my dirty fishing clothes,” as a pair of my dirty underpants fell on her shoe... Disgusted, she looked at me and told me to be on my way!