My Life in Retrospect
Sitting here with my thoughts, listening to the sounds of the Ebro I think back over the last decade of my life in an attempt to capture, on paper, the chain of events that has somehow landed me in the here and now. The question is where to start?
It was June 2001 when I visited America for the second time. On behalf of my father, I was sent to help set up a new carp fishing holiday business for a local entrepreneur along the stunning St. Lawrence river. This is an important factor because; it was during this time, in the summer of 2001, that I met the woman who in a few years would become my wife, the mother of my three beautiful children. And, as it would soon turn out, prove to be the seed from which my venture grows.
After four years of taking our turns crossing the Atlantic we were soon fed up with the situation and decided to get married and begin our life together. The next few years found me harvesting the bounty of the almighty Saint Lawrence River. Pulling thirty and forty lb. carp easily on a regular basis, I made many friends as well as a favourable reputation. Things were going great and escalating. I thought I had found my place in the sun, sort of speak, But as I sat in my mother’s kitchen in the UK in the cold grey march of 2006 after being sent back to England and not being allowed back in the U.S., (I will spare you the details) . I could do nothing more than await some good news in regards to the visa application that, with hope, could rapidly return to my family, my fishing and my future back in the States. Two years later I found those hope destroyed with just four words… “You have been denied”. Devastated, I tried my best to make a life for myself in England without my family, working as a labourer and fishing the overcrowded lakes of the Essex carp fishing scene. Fishing only on the weekend and whenever it wasn’t pouring down with rain the best swims were always taken by the crowd, I was lucky to land even the smallest of fish. I travelled around and was able to find a small estate lake that produced a few twenties and the odd thirty pounder here and there but with the problem of overcrowding, with fifty bivvies’ around a ten acre lake, looking like a circus with their trapeze lines running three rods to a person into the water, I found myself feeling frustrated and my fishing stilted. Enviously I would stare to the end of the lake at a nature reserve void of people, where only the bailiff and the farmer were allowed to fish. Figures! Most nights a majority of the carp would stay in the reserve deeming the rest of the lake fishless. In sheer desperation, I threw caution to the wind and set up on the end swim artfully casting out into the reserve, reeling in some good fish while the others stood still and quiet. I felt a slight rush whilst stealth fully landing the fish out from under the wide eyes of the looming moon but my slight success did little to satisfy my longing for larger fish full of fight and the lonesome quest for that one big catch. After eighteen months I managed to catch only a handful of fish and landing very few big enough to speak of.
The next October fate intervened, in the form of “The Credit Crunch”. Now, like a lot of Brits, I was laid off. With little money available to send to my family back in America, I felt even lower than I thought was possible. I searched for consolation in the lake. I fished from Sunday night to Friday morning packing up just before the circus arrived. During the week, when the pressure was down, I could see the carp patrolling confidently around giving away much more than in my previous visits. I set up on the middle swim where an old riverbed ran close to the bank I would cast out on the other side, avoiding snags, laying plenty of particles along the route they were taking up and down the lake. Over the next month or so I managed to catch twenty-eight carp over twenty lbs. the largest being a twenty-eight lb common. I started to feel it again. The excitement was not unlike that on the St. Lawrence. I was unemployed and no closer to my family but at least I was fishing. As the season progressed and my technique perfected, my confidence started to flood back and I wanted more. Once upon a time I was fishing for a fifty pound wild river common and the thought of that kind of intensity left me knee deep in nostalgia. Dreaming of bigger carp I was drawn back to my time spent fishing on the Ebro in northern Spain.
I had once owned a fairly successful business carp guiding with my father In Spain along the River Ebro so I thought I would give the old man a ring.
When I was a boy, before I can even remember my father would take me fishing. It is the bond between us. Now here I am, a grown man, calling my father and asking him to go fishing with me. How the wheels of change befall us. My father, a great fisherman in his own right agreed that it was worth another go. For old time sake perhaps or maybe, like me, he too need a change of scenery. Whatever the reason I now felt hopes where once despair was and now, for my fading future a dim light started to glow.
As winter eased its way slowly in the thought of facing yet another Christmas away from my family was agonizing. My son Andrew was then five and Mary-Rose was just three years old. I have already missed so much of their life. I just needed to see them so they would know me and recognize me as their father. Mandi, my wife, was amazingly patient. So I begged and borrowed any money available in the hope that we may be reunited if only for a few months so I could feel what it was like to be part of something again. In November my prayers were answered as I stood at the arrival gate in Heathrow airport gazing in anticipation, and then, in a moment, there they were. I will pretend for the sake of masculinity, that I stood strong as I stared into the eyes of my beautiful wife and tiny kids, but I am just a mere man after all.
Over the next few weeks I was gratefully reminded of why I married Mandi and why we struggled so hard through these years to hold our family together. She is an amazing mom and an outstanding wife. Kind, generous and understanding beyond belief. She knew from the day we met that fishing was my mistress that occupied a lot of my time and most of my conversations. I will never know what she sees in me. Mandi has two older children from a previous relationship so moving to another country would be near impossible at this time. At least until the girls are older. It seems a lose - lose situation. Everyone is forced to sacrifice so our family can stay together. It’s brutally ironic.
Over the Christmas period my father and I continued our discussion in regards to restarting a carp guiding business in Spain. We then agreed that we would have to take a short trip back to the Ebro to survey the situation and the reality of what it’s worth. With a little gentle persuasion I left my wife with my mother and my father and I took an eight day trip back into Spain. Again I have no idea what she sees in me.
My father had been given a Sat Nav for Christmas and so we decided to drive down to Spain through France. With all of our gear and tackle it seemed the obvious decision. A two day father and son adventure through France and into the mountains before entering in to Spain. What a brilliant idea. It was a nightmare! We programmed in the shortest route and with great confidence in the marvels of modern technology we set off .Unknowing that the shortest route would take us strait through the center of Paris, during rush hour, five hours later we were still stuck in traffic traveling at a snail’s pace heading the wrong way up sanctorum, getting abused by the locals. Ahhh! I hate Paris. The Sat nave also failed to take in consideration that we would be traveling through the mountains in the middle of January. Fortunately my time spent in northern New York along the Canadian border where the temperatures would fall far below freezing and freak ice storms would turn the landscape to a solid block of ice. This prepared me for the long drive through the boundless snow banks and black Ice that turned our ford focus into a carnival ride.
It was still snowing as we drove into Riba Roja, a small village nestled within the mountains on the banks of the river Ebro. It was cold and the January wind persuaded us into coats and hats but the river was calm and clear. Just as I remembered it. The winter snow brought on the larger fish, with a reported 48 pounder pulled out of a private swim. I was relieved to find my old swim was left virtually unfished. And as I approached my beloved bank I was taken aback by how beautiful it was. Nothing had changed. It all looked just as I remembered. Even the weed beds were unchanged. All the swims were gorgeous. Looking down from a hill top monastery I sat and watched the carp swimming, rolling and jumping out of the water. They were loving the snow.
I was too tired to fish that day but I set an alarm for 6:00am one hour before dawn. The next morning as I pulled up, the mist on the river was magical. The snow had stopped but the surrounding landscape still glimmered in the rising sun. I cast my bait just to edge of a twenty five foot drop off about fifteen feet in. I used the same method I fished with in America using mostly pellets in pva bags. Large amounts of baits don’t work when it’s cold, and size six mugger hooks on a twenty-five lb mantis. Over the years I feel I have perfected my rigging technique using a simple knotless knot. I peeled back the skin to make a hinge rig. On a hair rig I would leave the coating on halfway down and sticking out, turning the hair rig back on itself in a knot that protrudes at an angle. This makes it almost 100% tangle free.
With my baits laid over hanging the ledge and a small scattering of pellets over the top, I took a seat and indulged in the panoramic paradise that surrounded me. As the morning sun arose the wildlife emerged. Kingfishers darted downward across the sky sparkling as they caught the first rays of the sun. Their magnificent colours gleaming as they dove into the still water below to catch some breakfast. Majestic golden eagles soared above, and the admirable array of other bird life set the stage and made for wonderful entertainment while I awaited my first inevitable run. Before long as I watched a cormorant swallowing a fish way too large for his throat, one of my rods screamed off. I hit into it and I knew immediately that I was into a big one. The fish didn’t dart off but pulled line slowly off the reel whenever I tried to pull back. Eventually I managed to turn the beast around. I tried to retrieve my line as it plodded about mid water, favourable considering how snaggy the Ebro is. About twenty yards out she surfaced and I mean surfaced. Coming right out of the water. Tail walking for about five yards along the surface. A truly magnificent sight. The fish about forty lbs. was truly pulling its worth. .It then turned tail and ran for about thirty yards. Heading for the many snag spots that littered the river bottom. Luck seemed to be on my side as I coaxed the fish away from danger and finally she came with netting distance and plopped in with my first try, Yeah baby, I was back! I raised my fist in the air, turned my head to the heaven and gave a yell that echoes through the valley and held within it all the frustration that I had carried with me over the last two years. My heart pounded in exhilaration. My luck had started to turn. On the scales it went forty three lbs. (I later learned that my digital scales were off, the actual weight should have read 46lb. 10 oz.) my personal best Spanish carp.
Over the next four days I tried my new found luck out on a few other spots that looked promising but caught only a few low twenties. Before we left we decided to try out the spot where my father caught his own personal best, a 53lb common. To get to the spot we had to take a tortuous route through the mountains to where a tributary of the Ebro joined the main river. When we arrived we were fortunate to find the swim free and it look like carp heaven. We decided to bait up heavily in order to attract the fish to our swim. My father fished to the right, using mostly pellet and I was using the maple eight boilies that I brought over just for this swim, mixed with a liberal amount of a particle blend. We built a campfire and settled down taking in the pleasures of natural world around us. We could hear the fish crashing in on either side and they were gradually getting closer. As the evening closed in so did the carp. Crashing over the baited area. By midnight we had landed a couple fish weighing in at 26 and 31lbs... After several more hours of active fishing, catching a few more twenties, my father decided he had had enough and called it a night as I set my sights on a trophy. Around five in the morning I hooked into what felt like a monster. It had me under my rod tip for around fifteen minutes ploughing up and down the margins and into the reeds where we were almost at a stalemate until I managed to persuade it out with the old slack line tactic. A risky decision but the thought of getting wet in January didn’t quite appeal to me no matter how determined I was. A few minutes later it was over the drawstring and into the net. Once on the mat I could see in the dim light of early morning that it wasn’t another forty but a mid thirty fish. I felt a little disappointed after such a fight but that was the Ebro carp for you. It weighed in at 37 lbs. still a beautiful fish and in great condition.
We fished on for the next two days the carp really loved the maple eights. Even getting runs during the daytime when the sun was high. In the end we caught in total six thirties and around twenty-five twenties with my father’s best being 35 lbs. and mine the 37.
All too soon it was time to return to England. However, the Ebro river had once again given me back my confidence and, having established a few good contacts in the area it cemented my resolve to start again the business that I once had before my move to America.
Weeks had turned to months and soon it was time for my family to return home. After considerable deliberation my wife and I decided that my son Andrew would stay with me and join my father and me in Spain. Three generations of Shattock men. What better way to start out on a new venture.
After yet another nightmare tour through France, (did I mention that I hate Paris?) We were welcomed back to Riba Roja under the April midday sun. .
We settled in a small flat owned by a friend of my fathers who agreed to rent it to us for a reasonable sum. As my father got busy creating a new website and brochures for our intended venture. Andrew was enrolled in school and I got down to fishing. Most of the anglers on the river had already been catching thirties with the occasional forty thrown in. Things were looking good!
I spent most of the nights on the river. Just after putting Andrew to bed and returning home in time to get him up for school. With Dad making an excellent baby sitter I felt at home on the river bank. Starring at the stars forecasting the pending night’s activity based on the night sky. Falling asleep on my bed chair only to be awoken by the sweet sounds of the alarms screaming off. And waking up in the mist of the morning sunset as the colours arranged themselves in the sky. I scattered a little more bait, some particle and pellet before I had to go. By the time I d return and cast out, the fish were all over it. In the afternoon when my son was off school, he would join me, sometimes with a couple of his friends, and I’d try my best to hold their interest by helping them reel in a few of the smaller fish. But all they really wanted to do was throw rocks in the water, so sometimes he stayed with granddad.
It was in May when Mandi called to tell me she was pregnant again with our third child together. There was a silence as we both tried our best contemplate the effect that this would have on our already uncertain life. It was hard to focus on my feelings when I knew that she had to bring this child into the world alone. When she spoke my heart melted as my admiration for her grew. “Can you believe it? We are going to have a baby.” Where did she find her strength? But what choice did she have? I laughed in reverence. Thousands of miles apart and our family were still growing. I knew I’d better make this work for all of us. So I did what any man would do when they hear they are going to be a father… again. I went fishing.
Andrew was ecstatic at the idea of having a new brother or sister and he was driving me mad with the names that he had been spending all day thinking about. Names like princess and cake. What could you do he was a fisherman’s son and he liked cake. We sat by the bank that after noon waiting for some fish to bite. The swim was fishless so he helped me move further on down the bank and we threw out a couple pellets alongside the weed beds. Within thirty minutes we had our hook into a good fish who took me on a tour through several weed beds after a twenty minute stretch. Turning in the sun, I caught a glimpse of what looked to be a mirror. In disbelief I called to my father for a second opinion. The fish stayed low and he couldn’t get a good look and began mocking me incessantly. Mirrors are extremely rare on this river and he knew the odds of me catching one were slim. The next time the fish surfaced there was no doubt. It was in deed a mirror carp. Afraid to loose such a prize, my nerves peaked and as I soaked myself in sweat as I somehow managed to manoeuvre it into the net and out of the water. My father stood dumb founded as I lured the 34lb. mirror onto the bank. Fumbling for the camera we attempted to take some photos but the incredible amount of milt it was excreting all over the place, mostly on me, made every photo less that desirable. Putting the fish’s wellbeing first and foremost I wasted no more time and quickly released it back into the river. We were gutted. With no really good photo to use for the business. In fact the best of the photos left me without a head so I didn’t even have any real proof that I had caught the fish and the chances of me ever catching another one, especially at that weight, would be against all odds.
Although I was still disappointed I once more set my rods again, Full of self pity and thinking about packing it in and calling it a night , I was slapped back into action once again . The alarms started wailing. I picked up the rod and was met with an unstoppable surge of power reeling out my line. I was into a cat fish. Most of the time any large cat fish will smash up my carp gear. My leaders are 60 lb. power Pro and I use an 18lb. Crystal ESP line. So I wasn’t exactly prepared when it took me on a 150 yard run. But this time, for whatever reason, I manage to prevent it snapping up by playing it as hard as I could. After nearly an hour of painful perseverance I Managed to get it under the tip of my rod but it continued to take me for 30-40 yard runs. A word of advice to anyone fishing for carp in catfish territory… Have a glove on hand (sort of speak), or you may have trouble with the sandpaper texture of the cats mouth if hook into one. Unlike me who was unprepared. So off came the shirt. I wrapped it around my hand and with my son standing by watching on with a few of his friends I grabbed the cat by the jaw and held the rod at the same time. No small feat, let me tell you, but somehow I managed it. Holding on to the fish I let go of the rod and pulled it out of the water. I haven’t landed a catfish in a few years, but I was buzzing. I estimated the fish to be between 90- 100lbs. An amazing achievement on those 18 lb. monos. After seeing the looks of awe on the boy’s faces I called them over to pose with the monster awhile I captured the moment on camera. What a day!
Over the next few months the fishing was tremendous. Snag ridden waters and the formidable catfish made for some interesting days but by the start of summer we were landing bigger and bigger fish out of the bountiful Ebro. My clients were pulling in fish between 35-38lbs on a regular basis. I was fishing everyday and earning some cash to send back to the states. We were getting by. By the end of June the news had arrived, we were expecting a girl. Mandi was crying on the phone as she held up the sonogram pictures and promised to send them to me as soon as she could.
The mid summer heat was unbearable But I still had to fish was and was now faced with a new problem. The Spanish sun brought holiday seekers and they brought camping and garbage and it seemed that my two favourite swims were also their top choice. I was forced to try new areas along the river. But as it would seem, luck was on my side once again, and the fish just seemed to follow me. And I was still hooking into thirties on a daily basis. My father had himself, reeled in a 38, 36 and a 35lb. Carp in a matter of two days.
Gradually the summer passed and autumn came , though, not as beautiful as the abundance of multihued maples and other vibrant varieties of foliage that explode across the countryside back in the States but it still that magnificent autumn feeling.
By mid October the campers had all but cleared out and I was back into my usual swim. The low lying sun set atop the mountains cast a soft hue painting the hilltops pink as it set behind me. I sat eagerly awaiting the call from my wife who had been in labour for several hours by now when I got the call. My new daughter Heidi had arrived and she and Mandi were fine. I was over the moon. After a few moments of letting it all sink in I decided to celebrate with a little fishing. I had baited up earlier with just corn , trying to avoid any catfish that may be in the area I sat back in great content awaiting my first bite to top it all off. After three hours I finally had a hit. It felt like heaven in my hands. I was into a large one. It had me in the weed beds almost immediately where it had grown thick and were heavy with zebra mussels. I was used to losing a lot of fish in this mess and I was happy when it turned on its own accord and released itself from its shelter. It then turned and went right back in. So with my heart in my mouth I tried my best to gently coerce the clever beast back into the open water. When it rolled. I still can’t comprehend what I was seeing on the end of my line. A mirror. A large Spanish mirror. Again I called to my father in baited breath. He was confused as well. Could I really be that lucky with two large and very rare mirrors in six months? As it turned again and re-entered the weed bed I caught another glimpse and was floored. It couldn’t be. It looked identical to the mirror I caught back in April. But the fight was far from over. I was now playing on stricken nerves. I yelled to Andrew to grab the net and my father stood by with fingers crossed. Time had lapsed and I had somehow managed to lure it in close to shore as I sunk my net into the water. Then it simply just swam into the net.
Once on the bank, I could see with my own eyes that this fish was identical to the April mirror and once on the scales it was confirmed I had indeed caught the same fish. I must have created quite a show because as I looked up I could see small crowd had begun to form around me.
There were no failures in the photos this time as I held her out and christened her Heidi after my baby daughter born just hours before. After awarding her with a kiss I happily released her back into the depths.
It’s now five months later and I have just held my new baby for the first time. It’s amazing how much your life can change at the drop of a hat. Looking ahead, I can’t help but wonder what my future has in store for this fisherman and his family. But I’m sure, with my luck, it will be an adventure.