Well friends, Ruffie arrived in the Netherlands on the seventh day of the seventh month. Right out of the box, he was ready for action. In his previous adventures, he'd accompanied some master anglers, and seen many species in different scenes and different seasons. I felt it was my duty to explain a few things to him about angling in the Netherlands... I told him this little country is not as species-rich by far as the places he had already visited. I told him blank days are more frequent here, and great, open spaces and peaceful spots are hard to find. Ruffie thought I was just covering my ass, in case our time together would turn out to be a bit of a come-down after his grand times in the Great American Outdoors. He was right, of course. And so I manned up and promised him he would get to meet some Dutch species, or else I was not fit to call myself a proper angler! Them was fishin' words, and much more to Ruffie's liking. Thus, we set forth to search still waters and mighty streams alike, with adventure and enjoyment our only sure rewards, but with hopes of some encounters of the piscine kind that might just send a rattle up and down our boy's scutes...
As luck would have it, Ruffie and I were kindly invited by Freek to join him in his boat for an unexpected outing on the River Lek. Here's where we're off to:
I had fished this river several times before, but never from the boat. Freek's stories of days when both he and his guest caught all five predatory species (Perch, Pike, Zander, Ide and Asp) were enough to keep me up all night, so it was a good thing Freek was the designated driver as he picked us up at 05:30. The river was high when we arrived, but the wind was a bit stronger than we would have liked. We trolled small diving crankbaits at a fair clip and waited for events to unfold.
Action was slow, and the river was even slower. The Lek is the tamest river in the land; the many locks and dams ensure that there is seldom any serious current, but this day it just looked like a big canal. Freek said he had never seen such a quiet day here, and he was pretty disappointed. Still, both he and I managed a few fish: three or four Zander and three or four Perch for Freek, and four Perch and a tiny Pikeling for me. No Ide or Asp then, which was a shame because those were the species I most wanted to catch; true species of moving water. There was cause for jubilation, however, as one of my Perch was, at 42 cm, the best I'd ever caught!
Ruffie was impressed. He'd seen Perch before, but never such a specimen!
Plans were already in place for another outing two weeks later, so we might yet see some Ide, and maybe even one of those fantastic Asp...
Time to plan our next trip, and rising temperatures set my mind to the mighty and mythical Wels Catfish. A native species of the Netherlands, the Wels was almost driven to extinction some decades ago. But they are tough old beasts and they seem to be re-establishing themselves very nicely. The oldest native population of these mysterious beings is somewhere on there, Ruffie, but it must remain a mystery to the general public...
My buddy Olof and I loaded up his boat and set off with great anticipation. We arrived to find we had our pick of spots, as there were no other fishing boats to be seen! We settled on a place amongst the reeds where we hadn't dipped a bait before. It looked very, very promising, and there seemed to be an almost tangible energy in the evening air. Of course Ruffie wanted to have a go at watching the rod.
He made sure the reel was in freespool and kept his eyes peeled for any twitch or tug on the line. The bait was positioned perfectly, right tight up against the reeds. It wasn't long before not Ruffie, but Olof got a very good bite. And as he struck both Ruffie and I leaned forward, expecting the rod to swoop round in a deep and living curve. But the rod stayed straight; the bite was missed. A rare occurrence in Wels fishing, but so it goes. Things stayed quiet after that, and so we chose to move to a spot where just weeks before we had experienced the most ridiculously spectacular Wels session ever. We settled in and dropped the baitfish in the trusted spots, but there was no further sign of Wels, or any other fish, for the rest of the night. We did, however, find true peace next to the gently swaying and shifting reeds, with Reed Warblers chattering away in the darkness, and bats showing off their effortless agility all around the boat. I told Ruffie we'd get a Wels on our next trip...
The next trip came very quickly. Olof was going on a two-week expedition in search of Barbel, so we crammed in one more Wels night before he had to leave. In the few days since our failed attempt, temperatures had remained summery, so the water had warmed up very nicely. We gave ourselves a very good chance of connecting with a Wels or two this time around. Dr. Flathead personally wished us good luck, and to add to that I had taken my Species Contest Button along. Surely now we couldn't miss...We arrived very early, and many pleasure boaters were still out on the water, but we saw no other Wels anglers. We settled on our trusted spot, and it wasn't long before I got a great bite. Well before dark, I got to introduce Ruffie to a real Dutch Wels Catfish.
Ruffie really wasn't impressed. He got fresh and tried to steal the baitfish! He gave me a look that said: "Really?! Really, man?! This is that mythical beast you've been carrying on about...?" I told him that this was the second smallest Wels I had ever caught, and my smallest from this spot. I told him that any and every Wels is a special catch for me. I also told him he should maybe watch it with the attitude, because the night was still young. But he turned up his whiskers at the little Wels as I released it. Bad move, Ruffie! It didn't take long before I got another great bite (on the same baitfish!) and this time my rod doubled over and something took me for a dusk-shrouded dance around the boat that lasted about twenty minutes. Ruffie was in my corner.
Here he is yelling in my ear: "Put your back into it, man! You can take this guy!! He's got nothin', nothin' I tell ya!!" My awesome adversary had a lot more than nothing, but in the end I managed to emerge victorious.
Now that's more like it! Ruffie wanted to get a closer look, of course, and he almost paid very dearly for his juvenile attitude of earlier in the evening!
I managed to pry the little guy loose, and send the beastly Wels back to where he came from, with apologies for disturbing his evening.
Ruffie was very quiet after that. Olof got a great bite that turned out to be a very anticlimactic Zander, I got one more bite that quit on me, and then it was time to go. As we raced home over the empty waterways, we stole a fleeting glimpse of freedom as were treated to a stunning light show by Mother Nature. Lightning bolts of all shapes and sizes zipped down in the distance. The 45 minute boat ride was over before we knew it. Olof and I put the boat away in quick and orderly fashion, got on our bikes and pedalled home. As I locked my bike, the first rumble of thunder sounded. And as I unlocked the front door, the first heavy drops of rain began to fall. A perfect night.
Soon, it was time for our second trip to the River Lek with Freek. Maybe we could get one of those wonderful Ide or Asp (or preferably both) in the boat this time. The weather at dawn was pretty horrible, but as we drove to the river, we headed for blue skies. Very nice, except that the weather was hot on our heels! By the time we slid the boat off the trailer, the cold rain we had left behind caught up to us. No worries though, that's what the waterproof apparel is for. We set out undeterred, and the rain soon passed. It wasn't long before Freek got a great bite on a little Salmo Hornet. A mighty, thumping fight ensued, with Freek's ultralight bending deeply towards the rain-stained river. Soon, we saw flashes of what looked to be a stunning Perch. Freek slid it over the net and carefully lifted it into the boat. My sleepy eyes struggled to focus on this dream of a Perch; easily the most beautiful and impressive specimen I had ever seen.
No personal best for Freek, though, but he was very pleased. After a quick photo, the proud, striped warrior swam off with fins flared. A good start!
The strong rain of the night and early morning had colored the water, which wasn't great, but also added some current to the usually lazy Lek. Asp hunt in swift currents. Might we see an Asp today...? I got a few decent Perch, and Freek got some more Perch and a little Pike. Then the bites stopped coming. We covered a lot of water, but all our little lures were ignored. Freek did get one mighty THUMP of a bite that made us both jump, but the fish didn't stay on. The explosive nature of the attack suggested it might have been an Asp, but maybe that was just wishful thinking on our part.
As we rounded a wingdam, I got a great bite on a small Rapala Taildancer. I connected to what felt like a good fish. It stayed down and put a nice bend in my light rod. Too big for a perch, not fast enough by far for an Asp, but still a strong fish. It could only be a Zander. Indeed it was, and I was a little disappointed that it wasn't something more exciting. Ruffie didn't want anything to do with it, so the spiky critter went straight back. I could tell Ruffie was getting a little impatient, and I couldn't blame him. Surely we couldn't go two trips without seeing a proper river fish...
A brief shower roused us from our biteless slumber. We passed a lone fly fisherman who asked how we were getting on. "Lousy," Freek told him. The fly fisherman said he wasn't faring any better. But just before we rounded a corner, I saw him bring in a small Ide. No more than a minute later, I got a tremendously aggressive take on my little Lucky Craft CB Mighty D2R. Big name for a little lure. My rod whipped round and the fish zipped back and forth at great pace, thumping and bumping and ripping drag. This felt more like it, and Ruffie ruffled his scutes in anticipation. As I got the fish close, it was still a good while before we caught a glimpse, but a lovely glimpse it was: shooting about beneath the surface was the beautiful, plump, pale gold shape of an Ide! I got it over the net, and Freek lifted it in, finally!
I'd caught Ide of this length before, but never on a lure, never this powerfully built, never this aggressive. A very pleasing fish. Of course Ruffie wanted to pose with him as well.
Not much later, Freek also got a beauty of an Ide, and that was the last action of the day. Only five fish each, and four species in total, the Asp had eluded us again. But two beautiful Ide and a memorable Perch made it worth the trip. And being out on the river with a fellow angler is a treat in itself.
OK then, next stop was my favorite, top secret, spring spot.
This spot is near and dear to my heart; there is true tranquillity, and it has rewarded me with many memorable catches over the years. Wonderful Carp, including my best Mirror and a stunning Orange specimen, both caught from the surface on floating bread. And four of the five Crucian Carp I've caught (little treasures, all) came from this spot. Only once or twice a season at most do I encounter another angler there. We set off on the thirty minute bike ride, and when we arrived the water looked ominously quiet. Still, ain't it pretty?
We didn't get any bites, and didn't see any sign of Carp. But an evening on this spot is never a waste. Swallows and Common Buzzards kept us company, and Ruffie enjoyed just resting on the lilly pads and watching the float in this quintessentially Dutch landscape.
Where now? I'll tellyewhere: to the River Waal. The biggest, roughest, baddest river in the land. There she is:
Since the spectacular Asp had eluded us on two boat trips on the Lek, I thought we could try walking the wingdams of the Waal to see if we could find one or two. Asp love to hunt in the strongest of currents, and no Dutch river has a stronger current than the Waal. The great eddies and current seams created by the wingdams are perfect places for little fishies to lose their way. Asp territory. It sounds very exciting, but the Asp is tough to catch. You need to be at the right place at the right time, and unless you're there several times a week, you need some luck! I explained to Ruffie that we might be casting and stumbling on the boulders all evening and not get a single bite. I explained that, so far, I had only caught two Asp in my entire life. I also explained that, although I'd allowed him to take a dip in all the waters we'd visited, he could not do so in the Waal. If he did, he'd be swept away and we'd never see him again. Ruffie understood, and couldn't wait to see the big river. I called Olof to ask if he would join us, and that evening we drove off with some apprehensive anticipation...
We arrived to find the river looking impressive as always, but could we get a bite? That question was soon answered: on the second wingdam we fished, I felt a mighty thump and brought in only my third ever Asp!
There he is, Ruffie: the fastest predator in the land, the Silver Arrow, Aspius aspius, the Asp! Only a little guy, but boy was I happy to see it.
The Asp is not native to the Netherlands, it hails from the eastern parts of Europe. The completion of the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal in 1992 cleared the path for these exciting fish to find their way down the big river and eventually into our little country. I, for one, welcome them wholeheartedly. They got here by their own fin-power, not stocking or (intended or unintended) import. Most importantly, they hunt almost exclusively in the faster and more turbulent parts of the rivers. Our other predators rarely if ever set fin in such places (maybe the occasional big Perch), so the Asp occupies a niche that heretofore went unused. I have personally observed that many of the tiny fishies hanging around near the boulders of wingdams, and occasionally being blasted apart by a violent Asp attack, are in fact baby Asp. So far, there are no signs that the Asp is anything other than a wonderful addition to the Dutch angling experience.
A few wingdams farther along, I got a tremendous crack of a bite as I rushed my little lure (an X-Rap-8) through the current seam. A few seconds of ripping drag and bending rod later, the fish tossed the lure. I was left deflated; that was definitely another Asp, and definitely a better one. Well, so it goes. Nothing to do but keep casting. In the orange light of the setting sun, Olof was treated to a similar bite and similarly wild fight. His fish stayed on, and so he could cradle a beauty of an Asp in front of the camera.
A new personal best for Olof! Check out those sickle-shaped pectoral fins, that big powerful tail and that angry mug! Ruffie was impressed, and maybe he began to think that us Dutch boys could angle a bit after all... All too soon, the light faded and it was time to go.
As Ruffie looked out over this mighty river, he felt a twinge of ancient sadness shoot through his scutes. He could sense that no more than a century ago (and what's that in Sturgeon years?) his relatives swam up and down this raging stream, rubbing shoulders with huge Salmon and even a few members of the Coregoninae clan. All those fishes are gone from the Dutch waters now. I'm sorry, Ruffie, so sorry.
But on to happier things! After our (slightly unexpected) success on the mighty Waal, Ruffie and I decided to try and ride our luck to the River IJssel the very next day. The IJssel is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful river in the land. Not too big, not too small, always flowing strongly and determinedly, and with the greenest of green surroundings. And, oh yes, Barbel swim in this here stream...
And this is what it looks like in real life!
Pieter joined us for this outing, and we arrived at the river in mid afternoon. The water was at a nice height, but it was a very hot day. With the sun high in the sky, all we got were some very hesitant tippety-tappety bites that were tough to strike at. Still, Pieter managed a small Ide and a lovely Silver Bream (forgot to take a picture with Ruffie!), and I caught a miniature Barbel that wasn't even as big as Ruffie.
When the sun had set, things started to happen. I had been staring at my rod tip in the dim for a good while, when I had to go answer nature's call. When I returned, I saw Pieter with a bent rod in his hands. My rod! "It just got dragged over," he said, "but I'm not sure it's a fish..." He handed me my rod, and I could feel the determined weight of what could only be a Barbel. Soon I had him over the net, and Ruffie could pose with this most sublime creature of the current.
See that beautiful, asymmetrical tail, Ruffie? And that sail-like dorsal fin? His wedge-shaped head is perfectly formed to allow him to hold position in very strong current. And he's got whiskers, just like you!
Barbel are very strong, but, especially on warm days, they need a little help to get going again after a spirited tussle. I held this River Prince steady for a few seconds, and Ruffie said good-bye. Soon, the Barbel stretched his fins and swam off calmly and confidently.
Not much later, Pieter was looking at the windmills on the opposite bank, and I was watching the large bats perform their fluttering aerobatics overhead, when Pieter's rod doubled over. The fight had begun before he even grabbed it! It was clear from the start that this was a much better Barbel.
A real slender beauty, and a new personal best for Pieter!
Shortly after this, I got another smaller Barbel, and then it was time to head back home. We had enjoyed a wonderful evening's fishing, but sadly my beloved landing net finally gave up the ghost for good in the effort. A real shame, but it had been coming. And in the ten years we'd been together, we'd seen many memorable fish. Also, if the end was to come, it couldn't have come in a more beautiful place, or with more beautiful fish.
Whaddayasay, Ruffie, one more Wels trip...? After what happened to him last time, Ruffie wasn't sure, but he did enjoy the boat ride to the spot.
Since the "Wels Area" is pretty huge, Olof and I decided to try our luck on a new spot. Though it all looked great, Olof didn't get a single bite, but I was graced with three Wels before the clock struck midnight. In the mix was this striking, yellowish specimen:
And last to call was this impressive feller:
Ruffie had learned his lesson, and stayed well clear of these critters. Though he might have been half safe with the last one; he didn't have a left eye! The clear night sky also gave us something to look at, with Jupiter and the moon in conjunction and a vast array of bright stars glistening down on this mysterious water.
A few days later, Pieter called to say his casting finger was itching again. He'd been working on his car (a rusty old Range Rover) for the last few days. It was out of commission, but he could borrow his dad's ride. We decided to head to the Waal, to try for Asp. It would be a first for Pieter (and only a fourth for me), so we were raring to go. As we raced to the river, roads were fairly quiet.
Look, Ruffie, we're nearly there! That's the big river down there on the right...
As I hurried my little X-Rap-8 (yes, that lure again!) through the current seam on the very first wingdam we fished, I was dealt the most fearsome, heart stopping bite! The fish immediately flung itself headlong into the mighty current and ripped the 10 lb braid from my reel in rapid fashion as it raced back and forth. I uttered several unprintable words and phrases, and after a very wild and exhilarating fight, I could land only the fourth Asp of my life!
A new personal best to boot! The Asp has unique attacking style; they fly past their intended prey at phenomenal pace, do a 180, and charge from the front. The way this fish was hooked was evidence of this: the front treble was in the corner of the mouth, but the back treble had hooked in the lower jaw from the outside. This meant there were a few drops of blood, but Ruffie still wanted to have his picture taken with this Silver Flash.
When I went to release my prize, the Asp only needed a second or two before he bolted off. Good stuff! However, it proved to be the only catch of the evening. As we made our last casts of the night on this wingdam here...
...we did witness the most explosive and spectacular Asp attacks we'd ever seen, but sadly they didn't attack our lures. Still, it had been a very exciting evening.
Next was a quiet evening of float fishing at a nearby spot. We tossed in some sweet corn, and fished small worms and sweet corn on a #14 hook for whatever came along. As long as it wasn't a Bream, we'd be happy.
Success! It's a sprightly Silver Bream. Not to be confused with the regular Bream, the Silver Bream actually knows how to fight and looks pretty stylish.
OK Ruffie, let's try for an Eel! There's a small sandpit nearby that's rumored to hold some monsters...
Zero bites! Another attempt a few days later...
One definite Eel bite, but I lost the squirming devil within a second. Sorry, Ruffie.
Another attempt at another spot...
Zero bites! And so it goes. The Eel is becoming a very rare catch.
I was almost beginning to think that I was capable of catching Asp after all, so we made another try for them speedy critters.
A new personal best (again)! That little lure is quickly becoming a favorite! I could barely get to the water to land my fish at this spot, so Ruffie had to stay in my backpack during the photo shoot. But he caught a glimpse of my silvery prize. I got a leg full of stingy nettles, but that was just fine. Those Asp are very addictive. I also got a nice Perch later in the evening, and another, smaller, Asp at dusk. Good stuff!
For our final trip together, Ruffie and I went with Olof to visit Olof's father, who lives just minutes away from a great stretch of the IJssel. We fished so hard those two days, that I almost didn't think to take any photos at all. Rolling hair-rigged chunks of old cheese, spam and chorizo in the eddies and current seams created by the wingdams brought us a good few lovely Barbel, but no really big ones. Olof had scored some stunners in that area in July, so we had pretty high hopes. However, the first Barbel I landed was my best in two years.
Not huge, but definitely not tiny either! And so beautifully proportioned. With the midday sun beating down on us, I wanted to release the fish as soon as possible, so Ruffie didn't get to pose with him. Ruffie was most definitely on the scene, though, here he is fishing the current seam (look closely):
On Saturday evening, we fished on into the darkness. Dusk gad been quiet, but nightfall saw a sudden spike in activity. Olof got three good bites in quick succession. He landed one lovely Barbel and lost another. Then it was my turn: three bites, three different species. First was a cool surprise: a little Wels Catfish! On a piece of cheese! A very white specimen, too. Very interesting.
And back he goes:
Next came the biggest Silver Bream I've ever caught and measured. I caught a bigger one in June, but was blinded by Barbel Fever and didn't think to measure it! What the heck, here's the photo, even though the camera flash made me look like a sunburned, bug-eyed freakazoid on this occasion!
Last was another nice Barbel, and then we had to drag ourselves away from the river to get some sleep.
And that is it. It's time for Ruffie to move on. We've had great times, and got to meet more of the desired species than I had dared to hope. Even though we didn't get an Eel! Ruffie witnessed three anglers get four new personal bests between them, and got to see some great, truly Dutch waters. I'll miss ya, lil' feller. Come back sometime, and maybe then we will be able to catch an Eel. If they're not all gone by then. Before travelling on, Ruffie sampled some of the other fine things that Europe has to offer as well, with Ol' Hank providing the soundtrack:
So long little dude, and happy trails.
Ruffie and I would like to thank Freek for welcoming us to his boat, Olof for the enthusiastic company, and Pieter for letting us bask in the glow of his Best Barbel. Special thanks go to Olof's father, Bert, for his kind hospitality, his fishing stories, and his great cooking, served on the spot! Good times, good times.