Thursday 26 December 2019

A piece of old England

Although I love to go fishing anywhere, I must say I have a fondness for targeting carp in the old historical waters of England. Unfortunately, I live in the north of the country so it isn’t as easy to fish the well-known circuit waters in the Colne Valley that are four hours away. Instead, most of my time is spent on lesser-known waters up north where I live in Yorkshire and the surrounding area.
        One particular venue I’ve been a member of since the beginning of June 2018 is an old gravel pit close to Lincoln. I’d been keen to a get a ticket for a couple of years. I was actually offered one in 2017 but I ended up turning it down because I knew I’d not get the time to fish there that year. I always feel guilty joining a water and not fishing it as it’s taking up the place of someone who would.
        The lake in question lies very close to a busy railway line. It has been carp fished for nigh on forty years, and in its hay day contained a mirror over forty-pounds which was a massive carp for the north. These days the stock comprises of some fifty-odd fish to upper-thirties, all battle scarred beasts that are very hard to come by. A dozen or so of them are over thirty-pounds, but it isn’t the size which interests the anglers here, it’s what the carp represent in terms of credibility. Some of the oldest fish are close to fifty-years-old, and with the water being gin clear, they are jet black in colour, making them very desirable to the northern carper.
        At almost ten acres in size, the pit has features galore along its long narrow length. It’s a beautiful looking venue with mature woodland surrounding both sides, one half littered with fallen trees which make a great feature for the carp.
        For one reason or another I didn’t get the time to fish or even visit the lake until early September 2018. My life has been a bit all over the place this summer as I’ve changed job and also moved house. However, I was keen to get down when the conditions were right towards the middle of the month.  
        A low pressure front was moving in, alongside strong westerly winds, light drizzle and warm overnight temperatures. Experience told me I’d timed it right, and with three days ahead of me I was brimming with confidence. The only thing going against me was I knew nothing about the lake and there was no-one else fishing!
        After a couple of quick circuits I’d narrowed it down to two swims. Both had fish close by, tucked under some snags along a no fishing bank. One had decidedly more than the other so in the end I went for this one as there were a few decent chunks amongst them. I knew the bait I was using, SLK, was known for its big fish pulling power and once I was set up ready for the first night, I just knew something was going to happen.
        All three rods were fished tight to the no fishing bank at varying depths. One went at 2.5ft, another at 4ft and the third at 6ft at the bottom of the marginal slope. I’d walked to the opposite bank and spread 5kg of 20mm freebies all over the snags. The plan was to fish all three rods along this area, each on single matching bottom baits. These were offered on size 6 hooks, Avid Captive hooklinks and 4oz leads.
The first night passed uneventful. I was surprised I’d not caught, but then at 10.30am I was away with a fast drop back and a spirited fight from a mid-twenty mirror. I was absolutely made up to get off the mark on my first trip and knew there was more to follow. The weather was looking good for a biggie and I sat there well into darkness hoping it would come my way.
        I went to bed restless. It was too warm to be anything else. Another couple of lads had turned up to fish the night. One had been telling me how he’d been chasing a fish called Arnie for quite a while, having caught everything else from the lake. Arnie was a common and known for getting caught from the exact spot I was fishing. What a stroke of luck it would be to catch that fish on my first session, I thought. I suppose I could dream, like all carp anglers do. I never thought it would ever happen, but the next morning just on first light my right-hand rod tightened up and I was woken by a single bleep. Straight away I knew it was a good fish as it almost yanked the rod from my hands in a bid to get into the snags. I’d been fishing locked up and the rod was at test curve as I tried to hold on. Luckily it did the trick as the fish headed to my right in an arch on a tight line.
        The next ten minutes saw me having a right tussle with whatever was on the end. It ploughed into weedbed after weedbed in a bid to free itself from the hook. When it eventually hit the surface I could see it was a massive common, almost too long to fit into the landing net! Thankfully it did, as I slid its lengthy body inside before flicking the net to get its tail safely in too. It had to be Arnie!
        It was so long it only just fitted into a large-sized sling! I weighed it in at bang on 36lb, not knowing a great deal about it other than what the lad had told me the previous night: it topped out around 35lb+ and hadn’t been caught for over twelve months. I felt extremely lucky, and just as I popped it into the water ready to sort my camera gear, my middle rod was away in similar circumstances!
        The line tightened like a bowstring as a heavy fish hit the surface right on the edge of the snags. This one did quite the opposite of Arnie; it came in slow and heavy. It plodded all the way in until it was right under the rod tip where it kicked a couple of times before rolling onto the surface ready for netting. It was another big fish, only this time a jet black mirror with battle scars all over its flanks.
        When I joined the lake there were a couple of fish I particularly had my eyes on and one was this fish! Known as the Sergeant it was a regular thirty, usually around the 32lb mark, but on this occasion it went a healthy 34lb. I text the syndicate leader Tom Denton as soon as I caught it, and he confirmed there had been a lot of bait going in recently and it looked to be having an effect!
        I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my time on the lake. My second morning had seen me land two of its most wanted fish, one of which was certainly its biggest common and potentially its largest resident. I couldn’t wait to get down the next week, when hopefully I could get amongst some of the other awesome fish the lake contained.
        Conditions looked perfect for the three days I had ahead. Rain continued to fall gently in the area as well as a nice south westerly breeze. Arriving late on the Sunday night after the weekend anglers, I had a feeling the lake would respond to the drop in angler pressure. I knew from texting one of the other anglers it had been busy and very little had been out.
        Like the first trip I had a quick scout of the far bank to see if there were any fish on show. This time, there were more down one end in a swim called Polo so I dropped in there. One resembled The Trent Mirror which was the biggest in the lake. I knew I’d be pushing my luck after the first trip, but if I could get that one in my album I’d be absolutely buzzing as it hadn’t been out for quite some time.
        The rods were set before dark, all locked-up tight to the snags on the far bank. It was the perfect night to be fishing, the forest behind me was silent and I was buzzing with confidence. Light rain began to patter onto the bivvy as a heavy fish showed itself out in front. It was too dark to see it but the noise it made was enough to tell me it was a big fish. Slowly the rings it left on the surface began to waft back into my margins and I was able to locate where it was. It looked to be slap bang over my middle rod! I can’t explain the feeling I had as I drifted off to bed that night just knowing I was going to be woken by a take.
        It took a bit longer than I expected, but at 4am the middle rod tightened up as another big fish twas hooked! I had to act on my senses as it was still pitch black to see what I was doing. The fish splashed away on the surface as the lead came off on the take. It really didn’t want to come in, but I held tight and didn’t give it an inch. I could feel the line grating on something. It was obviously just inside the snags. I heaved as much as I dare without risking the hook coming out and everything held strong as the line pinged free! It was now a 50/50 battle as it headed out into open water, with just a big weed bed to contend with. I sensed the line was well away from the direction of the weed and eventually in the margins at my feet I could see the shape of a long mirror in my torchlight. My mind started to run through the pictures of the residents I had on my phone. Nearly all of the mirrors were short and dumpy, apart from one…The Trent Mirror! Surely I’d not got lucky again so soon into my campaign?
        A few moments later, the fish was in my net, and sure enough it was the biggest carp in the lake! What a stroke of luck. Some venues you work so hard to get the fish, and others you drop onto something which makes it look easy. The lake had a reputation for being tough but this time it was my turn to get them quick. Less than an hour later I was in again, with another A-Team member known as Wrinkly, perhaps the most ancient-looking carp in the lake! It looked almost as old as me (nearly 50!), with barnacle-like growths all over its flanks. It was an awesome fish and I felt honoured to be holding it. I finished the session with another couple of smaller residents the next day.
        I was on a high with the way things were going. I couldn’t seem to put a foot wrong so I planned another three days the following week. I repeated what I’d done on the previous two trips, beginning with a circuit of the lake and settling into a swim where I’d seen the most fish. Once again, this was in the Polo where I sprayed 5kg of SLK all along the edge of the snags. The noise of the baiting moved the fish out but I knew they’d return. I had a bit more time available on this occasion so I sat and watched. Only a few minutes later they returned and almost immediately started upending on the bait. I was like a kid at Christmas as I raced back to the opposite bank to set up!
        There was nothing fancy about my approach. All I did was fish to the palest areas of bottom as tight to the snags as I could safely get. When I climbed the trees to get a good vantage point, the pale areas stood out like a sore thumb amongst the surrounding black. They’d obviously been cleaned by the fish, and were likely the spots where they entered and left the snags. I needed pinpoint accuracy to hit them, but after a few goes I had all three rods right on the money!
        I think the saying goes ‘When your luck’s in, your luck’s in’ and that’s exactly what happened the next morning. You could set your watch for bite time at first light as I went on to land yet another brace of thirties! I’d obviously dropped on something that the fish loved. I now had six of the top seven A-Team members in my album, including all of the biggies I wanted when I joined. The only fish left on my Most Wanted list was The Woodcarving. It didn’t make the top ten when it came to size, but as its name suggests, when it came to looks, it was number one!
        The Woodcarving is one of the oldest carp in the Lincoln region. Its reputation stretches well beyond the local area too, and it was seeing this fish in a magazine feature that had originally drawn me to the lake. It hadn’t been caught for well over a year and its lack of appearances had shrouded it in mystery. Rumours were circulating that it had passed away. However, my next circuit of the lake in the afternoon saw me face to face with it in one of the snags. It was all on its own, well away from the main shoal of fish. I had to make the decision of staying in the Polo where the majority of the carp were or move to the middle part where I’d seen The Woodcarving. Intuition told me to stay put but before I knew it I was packed down and set up in The Point opposite where I’d seen him. As I settled into the evening it felt the right thing to do. I even turned on the video camera and filmed some footage of me talking about The Woodcarving.
        Some things in life are just meant to be. I’m a big believer in fate, more so as I grow older. This was one of those moments. That night I had just one take. It was right on first light, when after a spirited fight there in my headlamp was one of the most gorgeous carp I’ve ever laid eyes on. The Woodcarving was resting in my net, its gills gently wafting away as its beautiful scales glistened in the beam light. What a capture to cherish.
        From the moment I first stepped foot on this historical lake, everything went according to plan. I couldn’t have written a better script. I had caught a season’s worth of carp, including all of the fish I wanted, in only nine nights of fishing! It wasn’t ever about size on this occasion; it was only ever about their history. Special carp don’t come around very often, and for the north of England, these beauties were of the highest pedigree. It was a chapter in my angling that I’m unlikely to ever repeat, and one I will cherish for many years to come. Watch the video blogs about my fishing on this venue here: and

Sunday 19 August 2018

The winds of change

I’d been working at Carp-Talk magazine for 24 years, since the very first issue back in 1994. It then all changed in the middle of June 2018 when sadly the last issue hit the shelves. It was a sad time as I had many great memories of working there. However, as the saying goes, nothing lasts forever, so when the opportunity arose to start work for the growing Avid Carp brand it came at exactly the right time. It was a full-time position in the dream job as a full-time carp angler. Sadly it meant I had to drop my consultancy with Nash tackle and bait which had lasted for many years. I was sorry to leave the brand but we parted on good terms.
As luck would have it there had been a cancellation on Weston Park in the boathouse swims exactly when I had to make my first visit to the Avid office, at the beginning of August. It couldn’t have fallen any better as Weston Park is only down the road from Telford where Avid is based. A quick call to the RH Fisheries office saw me take the Weston cancellation and the next minute I was on-route to one of my favourite venues.
It was to be my second visit to Weston this year. I absolutely love the place. Not only is it set in the most picturesque of surroundings, it is well run with an awesome stock of carp. I’d done really well on my first trip, catching plenty of fish to 35lb 8oz, which turned out to be one of the biggest mirrors in the lake.  I’ve fished there quite a few times now, each year in the boathouse swims in June. One thing I’d noticed over the years was how a pattern was developing. I’d do really well for the first 48 hours, catching multiple fish from the far margin, including some bigguns, before the action tapered off. I knew the procedure well, so set about lathering the far treeline margin with bait as soon as I arrived.
I’d done really well on Nashbait over the last few years, but this trip saw me with a new bait sponsor too. At the same time as joining Avid I’d joined DNA Baits, another rapidly growing company which has produced some excellent catches over the last few years. Based not far from where I live in Yorkshire, I’d been to the factory on the morning of my Weston trip and collected some of their big fish bait SLK (which stands for Shrimp, Liver, Krill). It smelt really good and although I knew it would catch fish, I needed weaning off the confidence I’d built up with Nashbait.
Thankfully I didn’t need to wait long as within half an hour of the rods being cast out I was into a Weston mirror. It was an old wrinkly mid-twenty which looked as old as some of the trees surrounding the banks. Weston is a simply stunning place, with ancient history all around.
The fish was just the start I needed to boost my confidence in SLK. Another followed a short while later, and going into the night I knew there was more to follow. It really was kicking off, just like it always did during the first few hours of being at the lake. The Weston fish are some of the biggest boilie munchers I know, but accurate casting is always a key too. My rigs had to be as tight to the far margin trees as I could get them or I’d be wasting a rod. Too short and they’d be falling into thick blanket weed which caused havoc with presentation. Tighter in was clear from fish activity as they passed through the swim, moving from one side of the lake to the other.
By morning I’d landed ten fish to almost 30lb. The biggest was a common of 28lb. Although I’d caught a lot of thirties from the venue before, I’d yet to have a common over thirty. I’d lost count of how many I’d had around the 28lb mark, and I’d even had two that had fallen only an ounce short at 29lb 15oz. I dearly wanted a thirty common from there as I knew there were quite a few in the lake.
I kept the bait going out regularly along the far margin, landing another couple of twenties before last light on my second day. I’d already gone through 10kg in the first 24 hours. The second night turned out to be a lot quieter than the first, with only a couple of fish landed. However, at first light it really kicked off when a group came through the swim that seemed to be eating everything in their way. At one point I had all three rods out of the water with fish in nets and slings! Once I’d done the photos and redone them all, I then had two fish on at the same time, including the one I’d come for, a 31lb common! This was followed by a mid-twenty mirror, and just when I’d finished the pictures, my final rod trundled off with one of the most prized carp in the lake, the Dark Mirror looking stunning at 30lb.
I’d landed twenty fish in two nights. They’d all come on the 25lb Captive hooklink which I’d stripped to the inner core and tied knotless knot style to size 6 hooks, finished off with line aligners – the same style rigs I’d used for over twenty years but with different components. On the hair I’d gone with 22mm bottom baits straight from the bag, baiting with a mix of 18mm and 22mm freebies.
It turned out to be the perfect day to be starting work for Avid. I was due at the office for 3.30pm and what a way to be arriving, smelling of carp! The dream job with a dream catch, and a new chapter was now open in my carping career.