“OK, awards time!” announced Rob with a grin when we were all gathered. Fi slipped in next to me. “Awards?” Fi whispered to me. “Yeah, we do it every year. Deadly serious stuff,” I informed her. She looked suitably impressed. A general hush fell. “Right. I have gone to a lot of expense and trouble with this year’s prizes,” Rob read from his sheet. “Oh, sorry, that should be ‘I have not gone to a lot of expense and trouble with this year’s prizes’ – had myself worried there for a minute. They’re all crappy things from my shop that didn’t sell!” “Cheers mate,” groaned Andy.
Chapter 12 Awards Ceremony
My phone chirped. Adam probably. I frowned as I pulled it out of my pocket. But it was a text from Mitch Bradley, the Best Baits rep. In all the recent excitement I’d completely forgotten he was coming tonight, bringing the evening’s food and drink with him. He said he’d be with us fiveish. Perfect. We’d be finishing up at six so in theory we could all start getting packed up and get a good night’s sleep before the journey home. Somehow drink usually got in the way and we all headed home wrecked. But the intention was there.
Mike and Phil were into fish an hour later, and our 45 lb lead became a 13 lb lag. Then I changed tactic and decided to go for grass carp. We were catching them accidently, rather than by design at the moment. There was a good stock of them in the lake so, if I could tap into them, even at this late stage, I might be able to pull enough in to bump up our total.
I brought my rods in and changed the rigs for something much lighter – a size one hook with just a couple of split shot pinched onto the line above the hook. Grassies don’t like too much weight on the line. I loosened the drag on my reel too to better cope with the long, strong runs they made. I’d be less likely to lose them now. Then I nipped up to the cabin to see what food we had left. There wasn’t a great deal of anything, but I grabbed a tomato. Chunks of that might work well. And earthworms were always worth a try, so on the way back to my bivvie, I kicked up some leaf mulch and pounced on some victims.
Fi wandered past on her way to get some lunch. She was still on a high from her mirror and looking very pleased with herself.
“What are you up to?” She crouched down next to me to watch.
“Adapting my rigs for grass carp,” I told her. I glanced up at her but then couldn’t pull my eyes away. She was glowing and that made her more gorgeous than ever.
“What?” she asked, self-consciously after I’d been staring at her for longer than was comfortable. “Uh oh, I’m grinning like a cretin, aren’t I?”
“Maybe,” I teased, “but it’s nice!”
She blushed a tiny bit and I concentrated on my task.
“I thought they were herbivores. Will they go for worm?” she asked.
“They’ll certainly take them. I’m hoping I’ll hook them before they spit it out. The tomato is what I’m putting my shirt on though. Cherry tomatoes are the very best, but this is closest I’ve got.”
Fi nodded thoughtfully. “Good move. I might do the same.”
“This is the last of the tomato, but try corn or some bread. And cast long and loose, they’re lots more skittish than other carp and spook easily. Leave your bail open so when the grassie takes the bait, he doesn’t feel any resistance, and you’re more likely to set the hook.”
“Cheers,” said Fi. “I will see what I can do.”
I watched her march off to the cabin. Liam and Nat suddenly found the need to go there too, damn them. But no time to be jealous, I had fish to catch.
Nothing happened for an hour and I was beginning to wonder if I was wasting my time when, bingo, I got my first grass carp. Two and three followed quickly after, then a couple more. I racked up sixty pounds of fish in forty minutes. Fi began to catch too, and Andy pulled in a sizeable mirror so we were going great guns.
Not so Rob. He was looking puzzled. He seemed to think there were plenty of fish out there and was casting out and reeling in way too often. He was all over the place and looking pretty pissed off. Derek did a high five with me as he walked past back to his bivvie after a long, liquid lunch. Slacker.
Phil and Josh caught 48 lbs between them, then it went quiet. By five we were still 76 lbs ahead. An hour to go. Rob’s team could still catch us up. We were all focussing hard so barely noticed Mitch arrive in his flashy 4x4. He said a quick ‘hi’ to me but picked up that there was a lot of tension in the air and busied himself quietly emptying the contents out of his vehicle. He unloaded an impressive amount of beer but was left to start drinking it alone. No-one moved from their peg. But it was Fi and Greg who got the last fish, just before six. Fi got a 20 lb grass carp and Greg a 3 lb tench. So we ended up 99 lbs in the lead. Awesome.
At bang on six Andy let out a loud whoop. “Losers!” he bellowed across the lake. OK, it wasn’t very mature but it summed up our feelings perfectly. We all brought our rods in, did a cursory bit of sorting out then hit the refreshments. I cornered Rob.
“You lost your touch today,” I observed.
Rob frowned. “Technical problems,” he muttered.
“Really?” I was all wide-eyed innocence and concern. “That’s too bad.”
Rob looked at me suspiciously and thoughtfully for a moment. “Nah,” he concluded.
“Come on. Help me feed this mob,” I said.
We mooched over to the barbie. Mitch joined us and we got it fired up, then smoked and chatted while it heated up. Rob cheered up. “We’ll beat you bastards again next year, so don’t be too damn smug.”
“Whatever,” I shrugged. I’d remember my grass carp tactic and use that earlier in the week next time. I was feeling pleased with myself for coming up with it. I could write a self-congratulatory blog about it when I got home. And a column.
“You should blog in real time,” suggested Mitch when I told him my intention. “Report the action as it happens here. That would go down well.”
“3G doesn’t work down here,” I explained. “No signal. And Julian doesn’t have Wifi yet. I’d keep having to invade them to plug into their phone line. I left Graham in charge of the blog this week. He was dead chuffed about that. God knows what he’s been writing about, but I know he’ll have given it a good shot.”
“It was something to do with boilie size on Wednesday,” Mitch told me. “Very well researched and written. You’d better watch your back, mate! He’ll outblog you.”
“Thanks for the warning,” I smiled.
“Time for prizes, I think,” announced Rob. “Let’s get this rabble organised.” He cleared his throat and shouted. “Lady and gentlemen, well, blokes. Gather round.”
I slapped some burgers on to the grill as the others ambled into the clearing by the cabin. Rob fetched a rucksack out of his van and put it by his feet.
“You’re in charge Mitch,” I told him, handing over the tongs and fork. “Don’t let them burn.”
“As if.” Mitch looked hurt that I could suggest such a thing and opened another bottle of beer.
“OK, awards time!” announced Rob with a grin when we were all gathered. Fi slipped in next to me.
“Awards?” Fi whispered to me.
“Yeah, we do it every year. Deadly serious stuff,” I informed her. She looked suitably impressed. “Hey, and great fishing today Fi.”
She smiled proudly. “Thanks for the good advice.”
“Shh!” hissed Derek. “I want freebies.”
A general hush fell.
“Right. I have gone to a lot of expense and trouble with this year’s prizes,” Rob read from his sheet. “Oh, sorry, that should be ‘I have not gone to a lot of expense and trouble with this year’s prizes’ – had myself worried there for a minute. They’re all crappy things from my shop that didn’t sell!”
“Cheers mate,” groaned Andy.
“Our first award – overall angler of the week goes to Norm for the catfish. But since he’s not here, I’ll keep it!”
Rob put a small packet back into his rusksack to a chorus of boos.
“Oh go on, then, one of you give it to Norm for me.” He tossed the prize to me. It was a wodge of several packets of a good make of microbarb hooks sizes 6, 8 and 10 and a few packets of bait bands too. So he hadn’t been quite as mean as he was making out. Nearly, but not quite.
“Next up, most consistent angler – Josh with his 44 fish. Way to go Josh!”
We all applauded as Rob tossed something to Josh.
“What you got then?” asked Mike.
“Lead safety clips and cross lock links,” replied Josh, sorting through his bundle of packs. “Cool, cheers Rob.”
“OK, I usually give a prize for best newcomer i.e. the one who catches the most fish, which would be Liam, but this year I thought I’d change it to best looking newcomer, in which case it would be Fi.” He threw her a float which she caught laughing.
“I’m good looking too!” protested Liam.
“No you’re not,” Rob told him, “but I’ll give you a prize anyway.”
Liam got a float as well.
“Award for the best cock of the week. Marcus.”
“You’re quite right, but how did you know?” I wondered as everyone cheered and sniggered.
“You did all the cooking, didn’t you? Whoops, didn’t I say cook first time round?” Rob chucked me a notebook with a fish on the cover.
“Dopehead of the week – Liam.”
“Far out man,” smiled Liam, accepting a pen.
“Don’t set fire to it and stick it in your mouth, will you now?” cautioned Rob.
“Pisshead of the week. Josh again.”
Well, he was a big guy. He could put it away. Mousemat for him this time.
“Dickheads of the week – Andy and Derek. They were the only two contestants, as usual!”
They got a pack of plastic worms each.
It went on for a while. Everyone got something for real or imagined reasons.
“Last few now,” announced Rob. “Angler with the nicest butt, best-dressed angler, angler everyone would most like to share a bivvie with, and best knitting angler – and they’re all Fi. Here you are, girl, you have the rest of the goodies!” He threw the rucksack to her to lots of applause.
“Thank God that’s done,” grinned Rob. “Now, let’s party!”
Mitch was good fun and he’d come very well laden with beer, plus a couple of bottles of vodka so it was a merry evening. He had managed to burn all the burgers, but with plenty of ketchup on, no one noticed. Julian and Carla came down. Carla and Fi got chatting. The younger lads from Rob’s team gathered round them and showed off for the rest of the evening. I was left talking to Rob and Julian, feeling old and boring, and jealous of the youngsters who were receiving Fi’s smiles and attention. But after a few more beers it didn’t matter so much.
“Both of you back again next year?” asked Julian.
“Like a bad toothache,” I smiled in reply.
“You bet,” added Rob.
“Good. It’s fun having you guys around. You know what you’re doing, you handle the fish carefully and you’re here to enjoy yourselves. You take things as they come. You wouldn’t believe some of the dickheads and whiners we get here. Drives you nuts!” Julian confessed. It was the vodka talking.
“Spill the beans,” urged Rob, sloshing another generous shot of vodka more or less into Julian’s plastic cup.
“Christ, this year was the worst. We had a group who hardly knew one end of a fish from the other. Their equipment was totally unsuitable – bloody landing mats the size of handkerchiefs, piddly little nets, and one of them hadn’t even brought waterproof footwear with him. And of course it pissed down all week. Had to lend him everything and I made them hire proper mats and nets off me, which they moaned about all week. Some other arsehole dropped one of my fish on its head on the bank, right in front of me. I’d helped him land it. I was about to help him put it back in, and he just fucking drops it. It bounced off the bank with a thud, poor thing. Guess what, found a floater two weeks later. Bloody imbecile, it was definitely the fish he’d dropped.”
“Like I said yesterday, get them chipped,” I suggested. Oops. I hadn’t meant to hint at yesterday’s events. But Rob didn’t worry about the fact Julian and I had been talking.
“Yeah, I’ve heard about microchipping,” Rob nodded. “Don’t think I’ll be doing it yet, though.” He only had a very small carp lake. His was very much a trout fishery. “But we’ll see. Plenty of carp theft and smuggling going on by all accounts.”
Julian and I tried to look nonchalant.
“Well, they’ve got so bloody expensive, haven’t they?” remarked Julian. “My first lot seven years ago, the big ones, were only ten euros a kilo. And up to six kilo were a couple of euro per kilo. Next batch, a couple of years later, they’d gone up to fifteen euros a kilo for specimens, but my top-ups last year were forty-five euro a kilo! Half the guys that come here haven’t got a clue that a 40lber represents a grand of fish. They’d be a bloody site more careful if it was them paying for it!”
“Good investment, though,” nodded Rob. “You’ve got a nice little nest egg swimming around in this lake.”
“Provided morons don’t kill ‘em off,” muttered Julian angrily. “Oh, you won’t believe it. A mate of mine, Will, with a lake up in Champagne found a Dutch guy sticking sodding tags in the fins of his fish! ‘What the hell are you doing?’ he yells. ‘Well, I want to know if I’m catching different fish,’ says the Dutch git. Will went nuts and threw him off the lake. But to even think of doing that! It’s un-bloody-believable!”
That set me and Rob off with our own tales of behaviour that beggared belief. The mutual outrage and incredulity was cathartic and bonding.
Carla appeared after a while to separate Julian from the vodka bottle, which she gave to me, and steered him round to mingle. Rob and I chatted some more then Mitch came over. Rob smelt pot again and moved in to make sure Liam didn’t offer any to Carla – or her father.
“Had a good week?” asked Mitch.
It had been knackering. I couldn’t remember being this short of sleep on previous holidays. But yes, it had been good. And promising Fi-wise.
“Yeah,” I nodded. “We won!”
“By a good margin. Nice.”
“We had good bait,” I grinned.
“You bet. You provided our bait and gave us beer and burgers, I’m your number one fan for life. Cheers!”
We slugged down the last of my vodka. A bottle didn’t go far, did it?
“Seriously,” I said, “I like your baits. They’re well priced, they’re good quality, the right sort of flavours. Impressive.”
“Impressive enough for a mention in your column or on your blog?” Mitch wanted to know.
I looked meaningful into my empty cup. Mitch rolled his eyes.
“I’ve got Pernod in the car. Any good?”
“Perfect. Column and blog,” I smiled.
“You’re easily bought, Marcus,” Mitched laughed and went to fetch the Pernod.
Christ, I’d have a sore head tomorrow.
“True, I have no morals,” I called after him.
“Now that’s interesting information!” Fi had appeared and was looking at me.
“But top secret,” I winked.
“Don’t worry, shan’t tell a soul! Now, do you want some coffee? I thought I’d brew some up.”
“That would be a very good idea. Put me down for extra strong, please.”
“OK. Are you going to play your guitar tonight?”
“I’ll let you know after I’ve had the coffee,” I smiled guiltily. “I’m probably a bit too drunk at the moment.”
“You’re a sad man,” Fi teased me.
“No, happy man at the moment, sad man when the hangover hits.” I put her straight. I’d also be very sad when the holiday ended and I didn’t see Fi every day. But we had our crimebusting trip coming up in a few weeks, assuming Fi could make it.
“Nitwit.” Fi turned with a laugh and headed toward the cabin.
I watched for a second then decided to follow, but Carla sprang on me. She wanted to get the memory card from my camera so she could download the photos onto her dad’s laptop, which she’d brought down with her.
“You’ll be too busy and hungover to do it in the morning,” she remarked, truthfully.
I went to get the camera and handed it over. Carla oohed and aahed appropriately over the photos.
“Julian will be thrilled with all these,” she gushed. “He’s already splashed the catfish catch all over the website and as many forums as he could get onto. I think he got it into the local paper too.”
“Yes, it’s been a really good week. I know our team hasn’t caught that much weight of fish before. Not sure about Rob. He hammered us a few years ago when he got nearly 300 more pounds than we did.”
“Do you think Fi will come with you to Bellevue and Malval?” asked Carla, slyly. Julian had clearly filled her in on the plans.
“I certainly hope so,” I said impassively.
“Oh for goodness sake,” Carla laughed. “Anyone can see you’re crazy about her. Go for it, Marcus. You’ve already been in the shower together, after all!”
“I’m not going to live that down, am I?” I sighed. “But it wasn’t what it looked like.”
“No, of course not. Everyone has showers together.”
She nudged me in the ribs giggling and went off to harangue Greg for his photos.
I frowned into the last of my Pernod. I did intend to go for it. The trouble was, did Fi?