And so it was that next day, as soon as Louis had finished carrying in the olive boughs that would fuel the great open fire in the restaurant of the Ch�teau, he took me to the banks of the Tarn for a demonstration of his methods.
"Cloc!" His imaginary lure plopped into the water a foot from the edge of the far cliff. "Tic...tic...tic...." He made three turns of the handle of his invisible spinning reel. "BOP!" and the trout was hooked, twisting in the green current. His face split in a Fernandel-like grin and he pulled from his pocket an old tobacco tin. Inside was the device that had made him king of the Tarn.
It looked like the hollow head of a bullet. Two holes were drilled through it and two tiny treble hooks each on an inch of fine nylon hung from the swivel built into the top of the contraption. "Attendez!" exclaimed Louis. His hand dived into another capacious jacket pocket and came up with a white plastic bottle. Opening it with the loving care a sommelier gives to a Ch�teau Lafite he thrust it forward. Within it were swimming half a dozen little gray fish. "Les vairons!" he said reverently. Minnows. I might have guessed. Louis was a drop-minnow king. He did not have to explain any more. Years before I had learned how deadly for trout was a dead minnow mounted with plenty of lead at its head so that it dived like a plummet as soon as it hit the water. You retrieved sink-and-reel and if you didn't take trout this way you could hand in your rod. It all came back to me, the memory of easing the rod tip, with the minnow reeled right up to the top ring, through a jungle of brambles and sally bush that lined the Taff in Wales and, when it was clear, flicking the minnow out to the far bank. If a trout was there you'd get it in the first two turns of the reel.
I made signals to Louis that now, instantly, we would go back to the ch�teau for the rods. He sent back a soothing, no-hurry gesture, pointed to the sun and imitated, successively and with surprising skill, first heavy sleep and then an alarm clock going off. He pointed to five o'clock on my watch face, and I got the full message. Louis and I would make a dawn start. Meanwhile we retired to the bar for a cementing pastis. " Glasgow!" I said, raising my glass. " Glasgow!" responded Louis. The word had achieved a new semantic level. It now meant "Death to trout!"
At first light next morning I raised the heavy iron bar that secured the mighty oak door of the ch�teau and, skidding a little on the cobblestones in my nailed boots, rendezvoused with Louis. We brushed between tamarisks heavy with dew and scrambled over boulders until the Tarn, as gleaming with promise as ever, slid before us. Under Louis' watchful eye I mounted a minnow, threading copper wires through the holes in the lead cap to secure it. He stood back, arms folded, to see if I had absorbed the lesson. I let the minnow swing at the rod tip for the moment to judge its weight, then let it go.
"Cloc!" I said as it dropped in close to the far bank. "Tic...tic...tic" went the reel. And "BOP!" The rod went over, the drag was buzzing and out there, rolling in the current, flashing gold and silver, was my first Tarn trout. A bit over one pound, which sounds better than a demi-kilo. "Bravo!" said Louis, netting it out. " Glasgow!" I said.
We split up, Louis going downstream and I heading toward a spot half a mile up where the gorge closed in completely and prevented further progress. I didn't get as far as that, though. By the time I had basketed my 14th trout the minnows had run out. The best fish would go a pound and a half but there wasn't one under a pound. The fish were not as plump as they would be in July and you could see why they had not been interested in the olives and duns I'd been wafting over them for two days. Meat hungry, they had no time to waste on trivia. I walked back, the creel strap cutting nicely into my shoulder, to join Louis for breakfast. He had caught 18, being more expert than I was at remounting a damaged minnow.
We took them down to the kitchen and tipped them out to annoy the p�tissier, who caught his very large trout at very long intervals on unnatural, still-fished bait. This day there would be no need for me to carry out the shameful task I had undertaken the previous morning. Around the ch�teau was a moat crammed with indolent, hand-fed rainbows bred to figure on the restaurant menu. And, taking pity on my fishless-ness, the chef de cuisine had invited me to catch the day's rations for him (for the information of those who might one day fish the Ch�teau moat, they come readily to a No. 14 Butcher, lightly dressed with a gold-tinseled body. Or to anything else). "Tonight," I told him, "you can serve the real thing."
Now I was eager to get to grips with a fish that at least would beat the pastry cook and his paste out of sight, if not anything like the vast 18�-pounder that held the Tarn record. Besides, that was taken at Ste-Enimie before World War I. No, a simple six-or seven-pounder would be fine. "Plus de vairons!" I said to Louis. Let's get more minnows.
It was now that Louis raised Catch-22. It was a lot easier to catch trout than minnows. At this time of year, he explained through willing kitchen interpreters, they were exceedingly hard to come by. In fact, on our dawn session we had squandered them like a sailor's payroll—in Glasgow. The day could not be devoted to fishing. Instead every effort would have to go into minnow collecting.