The evening sun paints the horizon red and a palette of pastel colours create a surrealistic atmosphere. I left Belgium sixteen hours earlier at dawn and at this moment I am in the geographic centre of Italy. A wild boar is crossing the street and it shows no interest in the car that is closing in on it. I passed by Lago di piediluco about ten minutes ago and I still wonder why the biggest lake of La Valle Sante does not receive more attention from carp anglers. Not that much is known about this lake in the Holy Valley. Maybe this is good, and maybe it will produce a monster carp one day, but until then there will be a cloud of mystery hanging over this beautiful lake....
There is nobody in the streets in the little village of Morro Reatino and this makes it look like a ghost village. Looking at the horizon, I see the contours of the Apennines giant, il Terminillo. Locals also call it il Monte Pantanni. The CD in the car plays the music extremely hard, my favourite Pink Floyd classic 'Coming back to life' thunders out of the speakers. Insiders call this music Psychedelic Rock.
The moment David Gilmour's Fender Stratocaster sends its melancholy into space, I am also in another atmosphere. And just like in this lyric am I lost in thought and lost in time. Thoughts and memories of a little charismatic cyclist of Cesenetico is flashing through my head. I remember how he took the tifosi to cloud nine the moment he danced a la ballerina on the flanks of every Alps giant.
His nicknames, Il Pirato (the Pirate), Il Elefantino (the baby elephant) and Il Diavoletto (the little Devil) are very colourful. Italians are very nice people and very often they can create a god out of somebody, but they can also be very hard on their idols and then is it a matter of being mentally stable or you will get seriously sick.
I like The Pirate; it’s because of him that I have followed the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia with more than a normal level of interest. For me, he was, is and will always be the most colourful cyclist of the nineties. Yes, he had his dark side too. His drug history and his lonely farewell to this world will always be a black page in his book, but heroes live a more intense life than you and me and that makes them just what they are ... simply heroes! Forza, Marco!
Down in the valley I see Lago di Ripassottille. Straightaway I have a flashback of an October day from a couple of years ago when I caught a 24 kg fish from the Red House Lake. Since then the lake became part of a nature reserve and fishing here is forbidden nowadays. I was very fortunate to have fished at this lake a few times a couple of years ago.
The central part of Italy is the place where I feel most at home. The last time I was here, I was accompanied by my Anglo-Dutch friend and colleague Derek Harrison. We fished the lake and enjoyed it so much that we stayed eight more days. This is the 'heart' of Italy and one day I want to live here permanently, far away from the pressure of our Western-European world. I would like to chat with the boys on the bridge of Fiumata about our daily problems and if they want, we'll talk about the world’s problems too, but I am sure we'll soon lose interest as the bottles of Montepulsano get emptier. Dreams like these keep us going...
Tonight I am a guest of my Italian friend, Sandro di Cesare. La fagmilia is very important in Italy so there are certain social aspects you have to deal with when you are part of an Italian family. This only means I cannot drive to the lake immediately after dinner.
Friday May 26th I arrived in Bracciano at 2pm where my Italian friend, and protégée, Emiliano Gabrielli is waiting for me. He will be my guide.
Before going to the lake Emi made us stop at Marco's first. Immediately I know what it means to be well-known in Italy. 'What an honour that you pass by Ronny. I've seen you on the television so many times and now you are here in my house.' says this big fellow. 'Don't mention it! Television is just showbiz, mate.' I try to calm him down. But Marco (aka Chizo) is not convinced about that and I let him believe what he wants to. I will learn to know Chizo during my stay as a very hospitable and great guy. Together with Gianni (Gigi) they form an inseparable duo. They look like 'twins' just like Danny Devito and Arnold Shwartzenegger, but more about this later...
Lago di Bracciano is a volcanic lake with a diameter of 7 to 8 kilometers. The lake covers and area of about 9000 acres which is a bit more than what I am used to. Near the village of Aguilarra the lake reaches depths of more than 170 metres. In most areas around the lake you will be forced to fish close to the bank as the drop offs will have an incline of about 45 degrees which means that 20 meters out it is between 15 and 30 meters deep. During this time of the year I am looking for an area were the majority of the carp population will have their annual party. In the vicinity of Bracciano there is a big shallow plateau and it is clear that this area is their spawning grounds.
The water in the lake is crystal clear which is ideal for under water vegetation. Needless to say, ninety-nine percent of the plateau is covered in 2 meter high weeds and 50 cm high silkweed. It’s obvious that I won't be able to find a weedless spot without the help of my friends, a boat and a depth sounder. In the middle of this underwater jungle, at almost 300 meters from the bank, I find a big 50 by 60 meter opening and, hurray! There are no weeds! A hundred meters further from the bank I find another small weedless area on the pateau. I had to make a very important decision. Will I stay and fish here or will I look for another place to fish? The only other option is to fish on the steep slopes and there it would be difficult to stop a carp or school of carp if it or they pass by. I realize that this won't be easy so I decided to stay and fish the shallow plateau.
When fishing big lakes, I like to prebait for two reasons. Firstly, I want the carp staying in that area, get to know my bait and secondly, I want to encourage them to start looking for my bait. As a result, they will become more active and sooner or later they will find my traps (hookbaits). But as there are only two 'weedless spots' in front of me, I cannot use this tactic. My results will depend on the number of carp that will come into the two weedless spots I am about to fish. It is not an ideal situation, but not that many things in life are ideal.
Marco goes to his car and comes back with a bucket of maize. He insists that I use this as bait for the fish. I rigorously, but politely refuse. I tell him that I want to try it with a boilie-only approach. I brought 100 kg of Dynamite Baits Fresh Fish boilies in 20 and 26 mm. I still can make the switch if I run out of bait later during the session. Chizo doesn't understand my way of thinking. 'We all catch carp here this way', he says. 'Don't worry, mate. I appreciate your help, but I have a little plan in my head and I want to see if I can bring the pieces of the puzzle together', I try to explain to him. The logic behind my ideas is in fact, very simple. I have travelled to this lake, especially in the spring, to have a chance of catching one of its giants.
The last thing I want is fishing with 'visual' bait, such as maize, and attracting small carp in the area. The golden particles are one of the best carp baits of all time, but it is also the most visual one. The smaller members of the carp family are known to eat with their 'eyes'. I want to create a situation where the bigger carp have more time to find my bait and I certainly do not want a situation where they have to compete with their smaller and faster cousins. No, or at least as little as possible, food competition for the big fish while I am fishing! This is one of the most important choices you have to make at the beginning of your session. The maize will only be used to feed the swans and their chicks during this session...but that is another story.
At 5 pm my rods are in position. I don't have to wait long before the first carp picks up my bait. A low double comes from the plateau at 8 pm and that night one more carp made the mistake of investigating my baits close-up. After a couple of seconds I lost the fish because it got stuck in weed which resulted in a hook pull. Something tells me that it was a proper carp. It was then that I decided to bait up the swim and make some necessary changes in the morning.
I woke up at 9am. Emiliano was sleeping in his bed-chair a couple of meters further down the bank. He had been very busy the previous night on the PR front for his mother. Mama Gabrielli is one of the two most important candidates who stand for mayor in his home town. Because the expectations are very high, Emiliano’s nerves have been stretched to their limits during the last couple of weeks. I let him sleep and start to put 25 meters 30lb PB Products Red Ant snag leader on every rod. Together with a bigger, and stronger, hook would bring me in a position where I am able to land every carp without too many problems the moment they get stuck in the weed.
At 3 pm I get another chance. A 31lb (14 kg) common goes for the weed, but because I keep pressure on the line, the weed releases the carp quickly after which it’s just a matter of time before it finds its waterloo in my landing net. I was out on the boat and of course the action attrated some attention from others on the bank. Members of the local diving club are watching from a distance and their support is heartwarming. I love to play a carp while the tifosi are shouting and supporting in the background.
Chizo, Gigi and a couple of other friends are waiting for me when I arrive back in the swim. For most of them a fourteen kilogram carp is bigger than their personal best. They are using a lot of superlatives. Just before 10 PM another common of 29lb passes by. My audience starts to believe more and more that this boilie-only approach is not that stupid at all and they start shooting question after question about this approach.
That afternoon the local garde peche visited me. Nevertheless, night-fishing is not allowed at this lake but they will tolerate it as long as I keep a low profile. I love Italy! If you don't mess it up completely, the rules are normally very flexible.
Two o'clock in the morning and I get another run. Within a split second I know that it is a big carp. I trust my tackle and therefore I do not put any pressure on the line. This carp immediately finds cover in the weed so I immediately got into the boat and procede to where I hooked the carp. I am using a 25 meter long snag-leader but I still don't see this snag leader appearing. More than thirty meters beyond the marker point, my line goes in one straight line in the direction of the bottom. My ‘challenger’ has found a weed bed about ten meters under the boat and I am confident that I must be able to bring this carp to the boat if I act well-considered.
I wrap the shock-leader around my hand and I slowly start to pull on it. Bit by bit this 'dead weight' starts to move. It seems that the tentacles of the weeds are losing their grip. A couple of seconds later my rod bends to its limits because the pressure on this carp is enormous, but it doesn't make any impression at all on the bruiser. Unstoppable, it dives into the depths again looking for a safe place in the weed. I am not a weak at all while fighting a carp, but there is no doubt that this is certainly a very big carp!
It takes another five long minutes of outrageous pressure before the carp comes closer to the surface again. I may be very lucky that a hook pull hasn't occurred yet and the longer it takes for this carp to get in the boat, the bigger the chances are that this surely will happen. I want to have it in my net as soon as possible! Slowly its force decreases and I am able to keep this giant in the upper layers. I decide to try whatever it takes to land it the next time that it passes close to the boat.
Nevertheless, I am not a green leaf in the angling circles anymore but I am getting more and more nervous by the minute. But Lady Luck smiles on me and I am lucky to direct it into my net a couple of minutes later. Slowly this giant sinks to the bottom of the net. It feels like a heavy weight that falls from my shoulders and I try to lift it into the boat, but this is easier said than done. This carp is enormous and I am convinced that it weights more than 25 kg.
I want to scream into the night, but I mutter 'Grazie Dio'. Years of doing my own 'thing', years of pioneering and years of gambling with the hope of catching an Italian giant from a non-circuit water, finally pays off. At that moment I must have been the happiest person alive.
Its weight is of a minor importance, but it misses the magical 30 kg (66lb) with just 700 grams (1 ½ lb). It is my third heaviest carp after the former Belgian record mirror 'Den Groten' and the former Belgian record common 'Skup'. I caught both of these carps in the mid nineties at 74 lb + and 66lb +. With a length of 115 cm it is my longest carp ever. But the fact that I have caught this carp from a 9000 acre, big, virgin lake, is more important for me.
The news spreads like a wildfire and at eight o'clock my swim is the scene of some very excited Italian friends of mine. Emilliano, Chizo, Gigi and their friends become very exited the moment I lift the carp sack out the water. Chizo shakes his head and says 'I have been fishing here for years and I am not able to catch them bigger then 17 kg'. 'Boilies, my friend! That is the way you have to follow. ‘Leave the maize and tiger nuts in the closet once and for all', I advise him.
I am winning many souls for the boilie religion, just like a real missionary. Just before I hand this giant back to the local tackle shop owner, a very good friend of mine, Marco Fiotucci arrives. He recognizes straightaway this leviathan. He has caught this carp two years previously at a weight of 28.8 kg, eight kilometers further on the other side of the lake and he confirms its length at 118 cm. I have mixed feelings about this news. It is good to hear that this is the same carp, but on the other hand, does this mean that there are only just a few very big carps left in this immense lake?
At 10 am I am baiting up the swim with five kilogram of boilies. This must be enough to keep my targets busy until I can start to fish again later during the evening. It is weekend now and it is obvious that a lot of other water recreants will be on and around the water. Many predator anglers frequently fill this shallow plateau and I like to eliminate the possibility that they may pick up my lines with their deep diving lures. To be honest I have to absorb all the emotions and rethink what has happened to me in the last ten hours. In the following 24 hours I caught another ten carps. The better ones weigh about 27lb.
It is Monday evening and I receive a phone call from a very enthusiastic Emilliano. 'We won, Ronny! We won!', he shouts. His mother won the election with less than fifty votes. 'I’ll pass by' he screams. 'No mate, now you have to go to the party and stay on your mothers' side' I told him. I am happy for my friend. There are not that many countries in the world where emotions rule and I drink a glass of wine on Mama Gabrielli’s victory.
Over the next few days the weather is unpredictable. Thunderstorms and heavy rain make it a very 'wet business'. After a only a few days the habits of the local carp population became clear to me. I can now predict the next run. I got four to eight runs per day during the rest of my stay. Everyday at least one carp weighed 32 - 34lb. This turns out to be a session that I will never forget.
On Wednesday evening around midnight, Gigi comes to visit me and he asks if he and Chizo may fish one more day with me. It’s obvious that I am positive about this because I have caught the carp that I wanted to catch and now I can help them to each catch a nice one too (with a bit of luck). This is the least I can do for their hospitality.
At 9 o'clock I hear a couple of car doors slamming and a minute later Chizo and Gigi are finding their way through the reeds. Chizo and Gigi are blood brothers, but they are also each other’s opposite. Gigi is about 155 cm tall and weighs 50 kilograms. He is very energetic. Nevertheless, he is 38 years old and he has the innocence of a child. His eyes are always shining. Chizo is a bit 'rounder'. He is about 175 cm tall and weighs more than 130 kilograms. He is also very strong; batteries of 25 kg and more are just toys in his hands. Opposites attract, is a well known saying and this is certainly the case with them.
Chizo and Gigi decide to fish one rod each. Over the last 24 hours all the action came from my right hand. Do I have to tell you where they are going to position their rods? I don't think so.
Gigi is curious about the rig I am using and he asks me if I want to tie one for him also. It’s obvious that I am doing this with pleasure, but I first want to tease him a bit. He shows me a hook like the one I am using (a PB Super Strong hook size 2), but one from another company. 'Is this a good one?’ he asks me. I wink to Chizo and tell my other friend that the hook he is showing me is just a good one for catching smaller carp. Gigi's self-confidence is sinking lower and lower. With the second hook he shows me, I also say: ‘That is not good either.’ His self-confidence is now really below level zero. I start laughing and tell him that I was just joking and a smile appears on his face.
I take the first hook that he had shown me and tie it on a 9 cm long PB Jelly-wire soft hook link. The combination of a short hook link and a line aligner will help that the hook don’t cut too deep in the mouth of the carp. The risk of hooking itself too deep and cutting the mouth will be reduced to a minimum this way. The moment, Emiliano saw the rig he expressed his doubts. Gigi replied: 'If Ronny says that this is a good hooklink then is it a good one!' My Italian protégée was surprised about the reaction of our little friend. I want to make one thing clear before I continue; Emiliano in my opinion is the upcoming man in Italy and he is one of the best all-round anglers that I know. It is just a matter of time before the rest of Europe (and the world) realizes this.
Gigi plays the game very smart and positions his rig less than 10 meters to the right of my right hand rod. Less than forty five minutes later Gigi's buzzer produces a one toner. Within a split second we are in the boat. While we are coming closer to what seems to be a very strong fish, I start to wind up Gigi. Every superlative is passing by and Gigi is on cloud nine. I enjoy it very much to see that our companion is so excited. The moment that I do the honors he screams: 'This hook link is too short! What does Emiliano know about it!'. What a guy! I enjoy this scene more than catching a forty pounder myself. It is great when one can share moments such as these with friends.
Gigi doesn't realize it at the moment, but it could be a new personal best. The needle stops at 16.2 kg. It is a new personal best for Gigi and, believe me when I tell you, we had trouble keeping him on earth. He is just like an overactive Duracell rabbit. He jumps from one side to the other. I love it! The following couple of hours the action continues for Gigi. He caught several carps that came close to his personal best. 'Do you see, Ronny that my penance from yesterday pays back' he tells me. Oh yes, I winded him up a bit when I told him that some bad ghosts were surrounding him because his hook pulled on one of my rods the day before. I know that it isn't nice of me, I am really bad!
The following couple of hours I laugh at this humoristic duo. I even thought about starting a reality series with them, because they are really funny. They reached their highlight the following morning. It starts with a sad story as they had to go to a funeral of a good friend. Around noon they came back and Chizo was furious. I understand the Roman slang quite well, but as Chizo spoke I could only make out something about 'car' and 'stone'. We tried to calm down our friend and after a while he told me that he has driven his car over a stone. Straightaway he was infuriated again. A couple of minutes later we went to look at his car. His right wheel was totally damaged. I am not a mechanic, but I realized immediately that the axle of his car was broken.
Chizo was desperate. I ask him why he drove so fast on this small road and at that moment I look to the roof of his car, more than half of it was dented. 'Did this happen now?' I ask him. He replies: 'Yes Ronny, I lost my mind and started to hit it!' At that moment he opens his door and hits the roof with his fist from the inside. The light above his rear-view mirror was hanging 30 cm below his roof.
I could not believe my own eyes and I started to laugh. This cannot be true! But my Italian friend was very serious. The door of his car also had a dent of 30 cm diameter. 'If I had continued to hit the roof of my car then it would have been a total loss' he said while shrugging his shoulders. I am laughing and crying. 'You are really mad, mate.' I tell him. What a guy! Nothing can describe the atmosphere at that moment!
I like these guys, because they have golden hearts and they will do whatever is possible to help their friends. It is an honor for me to have them as friends, but they are little bit crazy…
A couple of hours later I drove home with a smile on my face. It was clear that I will return one day, because I have never laughed so much as on the banks of that lake.
Good to know:
Lago di Bracciano is one of the biggest natural lakes of Italy. It is part of a nature reserve and this means that the rules are a bit stricter than elsewhere.
You need a license for all the other lakes in Italy. This costs about 30 Euros and it is available at the local post offices. This will allow you to fish from sunrise to sunset and this is for a period of three months.
The guards will mostly tolerate you fishing during the night as long as you keep a low profile.
Camping is forbidden, so you are not allowed to use a bivy. Don't worry, they will certainly find you! They have visited me every time I have fished there. One day my Italian friends received a fine of 500 Euros for camping. An umbrella is acceptable.
If you ever decide to fish at this lake and you dare to cut reeds or attract too much attention to yourself, you can be sure that the guards will be 'annoying'.
The moment predator anglers come into my fishing area to fish I reel in my lines. I give the swim a rest for a couple of hours.
I will prebait the swim with a big quantity of boilies. This way I keep the carp in my area busy while also building up their confidence to take my bait. Less (fishing) sometimes means more (catching). Building up their confidence and creating a food competition very often means a bent rod.
What can I say about the carp population of this lake? To be honest, I don't know! You will certainly catch some carp if you fish here, but most of them will weigh between 10 and 25 pounds.
Thirty-five plus pounds are rare and carp over forty pounds are scarce. It seems that the carp population hasn't spawned for many years. Nevertheless, there is always a chance of a fifty pound plus carp.
Marco Fiorucci fishes this lake three days a week and twelve months a year which means that he knows how to tackle these big lakes. He has a brilliant season if he catches one fifty pounder every year. So remember that the big carp are extremely rare at this volcanic lake. Nevertheless, it is always good to dream.