Most anglers have a special place, a place where they have caught their target, a place that is surrounded by beauty and mystery, a place that ignites sparkling memories, tales of hardships followed by moments of glory.
These places harbour trees and plants, flowing water, wildlife and friends, small swims tucked between reeds and lilies, giant oaks and cattle filled pastures. These are the places of our dreams……but this dream was a little bit different!
In 2013 I was chatting to a friend about a group of reservoirs in southern England that he had been fishing on and off for several years and it reminded me that I had been taken there fishing as a kid to fish for bream and tench.
The banks and surroundings are not like the average fishery as there are very few trees and little vegetation to hide away the anglers, but consist of solid sheer concrete walls with the odd narrow steps to help you get down to the water’s edge. It is definitely not your typical Crabtree type venue!
The surrounding banks are a haven for dog walkers, bird watchers and general public which to be honest, had us all pulling our hair out at times. One guy, whose dogs repeatedly wiped out all three rods and ditched them onto the concrete, was quite famous to us fisherman and it didn’t worry him at all that he had damaged our equipment and even after the head bailiff politely challenged him he still let his hounds run wild and free!
Such were the dramas that regularly happened here that at times you could easily question your own sanity!! However, I always prefer a challenge and lets be honest, the harder you have to work for your goal, the sweeter the end the result will be.
In February 2013 I decided to have a day session along with my old pal Louis Partridge just to see what the lake was like and get a feel for the place.
Well the constant attention from the walkers and joggers did test my patience but we soon learned that if you tucked yourself away, most people just passed by and left you to it. Obviously we didn’t catch anything but I did see a carp flop out in amongst the icy waves and so we decided we would return in April to have a bash.
I was told that it was a tricky lake and that a few bites per season was good going. And so it turned out to be that year, despite putting in over 20 nights and being mobile, being static, being on fish and fishing blind, I only managed a 17lb common and a lost fish!
Looking back I don’t know why I struggled so much, others around me caught and I witnessed my other mate George Norris doing the same thing as me and he had a handful of fish including a lovely 42lb mirror. Marc Cavaciuti also tried being highly mobile and had a similar tally with fish into the low 30s…..i couldn’t get a bite for toffee!
The winter came and as we had been told, the lake simply shut down and didn’t produce a single bite for five months! In the winter I had lots of time to reflect and come up with a few ideas for the 2014 season.
A few factors had been bugging me. The natural food that this lake contains is simply mind boggling. Bugs, bloodworm and snails like conkers are on every strand of weed from end to end so it was clear to see why some fish came out so infrequently and why some have never been out.
I have fished these naturally rich type venues before and I have learnt that if you are going to use a boilie then it needs to be a good one! There are two trains of thought here and that is that if you go down the bait route then you need to introduce it regularly, I don’t think you need huge volumes but being regular with your baiting up is vital. Or you just go down the hi viz single approach and hope that they snaffle it on their travels.
In 2014 I did both! The key was knowing when to do what. I studied the water during my early spring trips and I started seeing patterns in the fish’s behaviour. I watched a hatch one April afternoon so big that every bird, bat and fish within 20 miles seemed completely obsessed with the lakes surface and you could be forgiven to think that the lake contained 200 carp when it probably only contains 60 odd.
I knew that zigs would score during the long May bank holiday and as it turned out I was in for something a bit special. At that stage I hadn’t seen a single angler cast out a zig and my first three fish all fell to black foam during the first two nights. I had passed on my thoughts to Louis and he managed a low 30 on the zig and a 27 on a fluro. I knew that the lakes big mirror liked a boilie as I knew of 3 captures over a fair bit of bait and I felt that although I was going to get more bites zigging, the big one was going to come over bait.
The bait that we were using was a Krill bait, I think that the make-up of this particular bait is highly important here. It’s a spicy fishmeal with krill meal (like many modern baits) but this contains very salty micro sea snails and is a real crunchy tooth breaker along with a very low level vanilla flavour making it have a lovely cake like smell to it. I had been involved in the bait from concept through to testing and along with George and Louis, we had been getting some very encouraging results.
Regular introduction between you and your friends will always result in more bites and its why some of the top guys have been in bait teams for over 25 years. So on the bank holiday various anglers had been and gone and I had managed to keep my zig bites under wraps as two of them were in pitch black darkness and the daylight bite was witnessed by only the walkers and twitchers!
On my only bottom rod I had been regularly pumping in several kilos of very large baits to a smooth silty area and during the fight of the last upper double common on a zig, I had noticed several very quiet shows and big sets of rings in the moonlight coming back from the area directly over the bait. I was so sure that something wasn’t right with the rig that after re casting the zig rod I reeled in the choddy and reset it with a fresh bait which happened to be a matching flavour hi viz!
I was up and about early looking for shows but the lake looked lifeless compared to the day before. At 7.45 the bottom rod pulled up tight and I knew from the take that it was a biggun! The fish plodded around and was like a dead weight for about 15 minutes by which time Scooter had popped round to be the net guardian.
From high above the lake I could see a big grey mirror twisting in the depths but it looked a low 30 to us and Scooter said that it was a fish he had seen at 32 lb the year before. I will never forget his face as he tried to lift over 49lb of perfect mirror carp and pass it carefully up the concrete wall in the unhooking mat! That fish blew us all away and despite a few snide comments about the fish being a mug I revelled in the moment for the whole day and packed up not knowing if I would return. Ironically as I write this that fish has not been caught since……. Yeah quite a mug!!
The lake had another real jewel, a long male perfect zip that Leigh caught the same weekend as I had caught the mirror, at a weight of over 39lb and he was probably the best looking carp I had ever set eyes on locally. We all wanted to catch him but again he was a rare visitor.
In 2015 I had nowhere really I wanted to fish and with the fish being old and the image of that long linear in Leigh’s arms I decided that I would return for one more bash. It started well with a fish on my third visit which fell to a zig after it had been out for 30 seconds! I started baiting very early on and was catching on nearly every trip which makes it all sound very easy but in truth I had the movements of those fish nailed down and the fish were actually easy to understand if you knew what to look for, 25 years of sitting next to water has finally cemented a basic understanding of carp behaviour.
In May it came good again after doing a quick work overnighter I noticed fish showing in a corner of the lake but they were showing after they had fed and were on their way back to the safety of the middle of the lake. I was back the following night and laid out three traps in a line where I knew the fish would pass and spread two kilos along the line.
Again at 7 in the morning a steady take and brief fight resulted in a short dumpy mirror of 45lb 8oz on balanced bait. The photos were taken by some dog walkers who thought I’d landed Moby dick! It was all very funny.
The following week I moved round to fish the same area but at long range as they were slightly further out and after a very windy night and 20 casts to get the donk my decision to return paid off in spectacular fashion. The fight was epic as he snagged me round a chain and buoy but with huge amounts of luck I bundled the ultimate linear into the net….all 39lb of him!
Never have I been so amazed to see the actual fish you have specifically targeted as I was that day. Louis came and did the photos and we were the last two people to see that linear alive on the bank as unfortunately, several months later Marc found him dead in the weed….old age had finally taken him. RIP old boy.
Maybe now I can finally sleep without concrete dreams.