I had been looking for a fresh venue, slightly ‘off the radar’ as it were, after fishing the very busy Horton complex. It would need to be somewhere which I could consider a challenge. Somewhere that held something special, but wasn’t filled with bivvies every 20 yards – quite a tall order in current times. I was aware of a couple of waters that could fit the bill. They would both entail a commute, but would be well worth the effort. In the autumn of 2015 the capture of a particular fish confirmed my next destination.
The colours and shape of the fish (the lake’s largest resident) and one of around 12 or so fish, really clicked for me. And so it was that enroute to the next Sandown show I stopped by for an initial recce and managed to go for a walk around the lake at the end of November. It still had the remnants of an algae bloom in the margins, something that the lake was known for.
The lake was really snaggy, there were lots of fallen trees lining the margins, it was like a mini Wraysbury Two, somewhere I had fished in the past, and at around 18-acres in size, just perfect and right up my street as it were. I contacted the owner and paid for a winter ticket the following Monday. Over the course of that winter I did several recces, trying to get a feel for the water and just maybe get an opportunity to spot a fish in a snag, or a margin.
I was busy elsewhere during the following spring and didn’t venture to the lake until June, when I dragged the Mrs around the nettle and bramble infested lake on our way home from a holiday after landing back at Gatwick early one morning. We actually spotted four fish in a weedbed just off the side of what was called The Point swim – three small mirrors and a mid-20 common. I was later to find out the common was called the Boggle-Eyed Common – an original. I pointed them out to the Mrs and then we carried on making our way round the lake which was devoid of anglers, before making our way home to sleep off our jet lag. Seeing those four fish buoyed me right up and I was shortly making plans for my first trip over the following weekend.
I arrived on a hot, sticky Friday, after work, to a find a few cars in the car park. I loaded up the barrow and marched across the field, then across a green bridge that spanned the little river that runs along one side of the lake. I dropped my barrow into the first swim, named The Garden, which is situated in the middle of the northern bank, before going for a circuit of the lake to see if I could find any fish, with an idea of heading to the point where I saw the fish the previous week if I didn’t find anything of note. I headed west towards the narrower part of the lake where I went past someone setting up in The Terrapin and left them to it, and then reached the end swim where there was an angler already setup with his rods pointing upwards above his inflatable boat which was sitting underneath. He kindly put the kettle on for us and we had a cuppa and chat. I decided to not walk any further, as time was ticking by, and to return to my barrow and setup there for the first night. It gave me a good view of the lake, there was also another angler on the motorway bank on the eastern side of the lake. I had a lead around and found quite a lot of grass-like weed, but there were a couple of gravelly areas around about 60 yards out. Again, to refrain from causing too much of a disturbance I settled on these spots for the night and then peppered the area with 15mm Complex-T boilies with the throwing stick. With the house up and kettle on, I could sit by my rods watching the lake as the evening drew in. I didn’t see much in the way of fish activity, just the swifts and swallows swooping down across the lake, occasionally dimpling the surface as they scooped up whatever was hatching through the film. Around 4am I was awoken by the gate to the bridge over the river, closing behind me. Not being sure quite who it was, I got up and stood at the back of the swim. The angler from the end swim walked up and said, “I’ve got her, mate”. It was the big girl of course and the main reason we were all there. “My mates will be here soon to do the pics if you want to come and give us a hand?” – “Yeah, I sure will. Well done!” I replied. I made myself a cuppa to clear my fuzzy head, before walking up to give him a hand with whatever he required. In the end, the needle settled on a weight in excess of 50lb – what a result. He then unzipped the retainer and revealed one huge and stunning creamy-coloured carp for all those present to see. What a fish and with the photos done, I got the job of carrying her to the next swim, so the captor could get a rest and be ready do some returner shots. What a moment to share, it was truly something else witnessing an English 50 and once the dust had settled, we all packed up and headed off to a nearby café to celebrate with the lucky captor.
I was back the following week, always having it in mind that you need to learn and that there are other fish to catch on the journey. Sadly I couldn’t believe what I was looking at, from a crystal-clear lake just seven days prior, to being presented with a lake glowing green and thick with algae. I leant down to the margin and disturbed the water with my hand to see how bad it was. I couldn’t see the lake bottom just a couple of feet below. I pushed my barrow back to the car and headed off to another venue. If I had spots going or knew where the fish fed, I would have carried on, but with just the solitary night under my belt so far, that was not enough for me.
Autumn soon arrived and although the visibility was still poor, I had to give it a go. The green algae had turned brown which really was not good at all. In the end I did four weekends that autumn for a single tench. I did see and hear a few signs over that period, mapping out the lake during the quieter periods. With only one other angler present during my visits it was all worth it, but I don’t think anything came out that autumn. Sadly, during this time, the lake let go of two of its residents. I assumed that perhaps the lack of oxygen had led to their downfall. I kept an eye out over the winter, popping down for a circuit and keeping the paths clear. The far side, in particular, took a couple of weekends to clear all of the brambles. It was getting so bad in places that I had to crawl through tiny gaps to negotiate a route. I wanted to be able to get around and possibly move onto a sighting without having to fight with the undergrowth.
A tree had fallen across the path near to the social swims on the river bank prior to me joining. Everyone would barrow up to it, unload their gear and pass the gear over the tree, and then reload their barrow on the other side and carry on. So, I came down with a chainsaw and cut a section out so you could get your barrow through. Most just wouldn’t put the effort in, but I felt I needed to. Also that winter I had a good lead about from a swim called The Second Dugout. The swim was terrifically overgrown. The front of the swim had two rotten planks left of what was a platform, so I measured the scaffolding out and made a new platform at home, then brought it down, all made up, and tied it with wire to the existing scaffolding. Now, that was an effort, even though it was a cold February night I was sweating buckets, just trying to lift the thing into the boot of my car, let alone then barrow and push it around half the lake was hard work.
That spring I was determined to put the effort in and catch my first fish from the lake. I started back in March and the water levels were still up from when the river had flooded into the lake and the colour was still awfully brown. I wanted to get the bait going in and hopefully see the first signs of any carp movements. The first couple of trips I spent in the Second Dugout with the lake all to myself. My first sighting was a common, in a reedbed in the eastern corner of the lake, where the springtime sun lingered the longest. Come April things started to warm up and a few more anglers were now about. The first fish I believe to come out was the Boggle-Eyed common, over the Easter weekend, from the motorway bank. I was more than happy to assist with the photos of such an old and rare creature. By May there were five or six of us fishing the lake, the busiest I’d experienced it thus far and pretty much on cue, just before the algae descended on the lake the big girl put in another appearance. Once again she was over 50lb and once again the capture was from The End swim. Only the week before I had been sitting with the lucky captor, having a cuppa in the same swim, when we saw her show, my first real sighting in the flesh if you like. I’d been seeing quite a few shows at night or early morning over the past couple of sessions, but could never be sure if any were her or not. Once again, I assisted with the weighing and photos, hopefully doing the captor proud as I got behind the lens for him.
A fortnight later and I was sat in the same end swim myself, getting to know its layout. I’d fish the swim the previous autumn when it was brown, now it was green. It was if the big girl knew the algae was on its way, and had a big feed up just beforehand, two springs on the trot. Point noted. Following that, I’d been on our summer hols and a trip to the Belgian canals, so I didn’t return until July. It was a hot Friday evening when I did. Two things surprised me. Firstly, there was only one other angler on and secondly, the algae had gone, the lake was like tap water and you could see everything. I initially setup in The Garden, while Al was in the First Dugout. I placed my rigs on the same humps I’d found and fished on my very first session, they still felt the best place to put them. During the early hours of the following morning, I could see a top lobe of the tail wavering around next to a weedbed to the left of where I was fishing. It was either on, or near, a known raised plateau. I watched for several hours through my binoculars – it wasn’t alone. I could see a couple of other fish joining and leaving the fish that liked to poke its tail out, toing and froing from another larger weedbed some 20 yards further out. As the morning wore on, the fish drifted off. I had stood where I would cast from, while watching them, so I knew by lining up the treeline on the opposite bank exactly where to aim for.
It took three casts and I popped the float up exactly where I had watched the tail wafting around. The range was exactly 65 yards out, or 16¼ wraps in today’s parlance. It was bang on the shallow plateau in around 2-3ft of water. Rightly or wrongly, I chose to fish a pink pop-up on a chod and scattered a few free offerings by throwing stick, although not enough to put them off should they choose to return. I couldn’t sink the line as it was lying on top of a large weedbed, midway between the rod tips and the spot, so after casting the rig out I held the rod up high, and slowly paid off the line, hoping it was laying on the deck near the rig and only coming up as it met the weedbed in between. It was a full moon that night and I lay there watching outside as the bats darted around my bivvy and rods until I fell asleep. I was woken by a twitchy take, the hanger dancing up and down, before ripping off. It was around 3am. Finally, my first run! I struck and made contact with the fish, athough it continued to power off and soon weeded me up. I didn’t have my boat with me and the lake’s boat had actually been stolen the week before. Thankfully Al, down in The Dugout and had his with him, so I had to run around and wake him up and ask to borrow said vessel. Very sleepily he let me and I paddled off avoiding the area he was fishing. Once out there I loosened up the clutch and had to grab hold of the line and free it of the weed as I couldn’t with the rod alone. The line popped free and suddenly shot off, with a blur of cream charging off below me, I thought it was her – the big girl. I played the fish for a few brief moments before it weeded me up again. I had to grab hold of the line once more, ripping the weed away, when once again the light-coloured fish shot off. This time I was quicker with grabbing the rod resting on the boat and kept the fish up higher in the water. After a few moments with the boat spinning around in circles, I netted an angry fish thrashing around in the net trying to escape. I knew the net was not as full as I was expecting – it was half the size and not the big girl after all.
Back in my swim and after calming myself down following all the adrenaline pumping through my veins, I cleared all the weed from the net and was met with a lovely looking linear, which I later understood had not been caught for two years, and possibly not at all before that! The scales read 22lb. It was passing eggs on the mat, not that I had noticed until I was slipping her back. Obviously I thought she was the tail waver, but a couple of hours later the tail waver was back out there on the plateau. It wasn’t doing much, just sitting there slowing waving its top lobe from side to side, occasionally moving a foot or two, but would return to the same spot further off in the weed, only to return a short while later. This went on for three or four hours, until it got really hot and the fish melted away into the weed, or snags elsewhere. Also during that morning, I’d been watching a very pale, grey looking mirror that was probably a mid-double, making work of something under a fallen tree to the right hand margin of my swim. That fish also eventually moved off and I slipped in a few whole and crumbed up boilies under the tree, in case it chose to return to that spot as you just could never tell with these fish.
I usually fish every other weekend, but obviously having had my first fish, I was back the following Friday, only for a single night, but I was buzzing all the way. It didn’t matter if the motorways slowed me down at all, as I knew I would arrive at the lake eventually, what I didn’t expect was someone sitting in the swim I had previously caught from. I was later informed he had been camped in the swim for three nights already, with all three of his rods on the plateau, although without so much as a bleep. To make matters worse I’d forgotten the wheel to my barrow, so I had to make four or five trips to the motorway bank, where I could reach some other shallow water. I had spotted a few fish amongst the pads in what was called Daisy Corner. One of the fish was actually resting against a coot’s nest made on a branch next to them. The coots were shrieking and giving the game away, I was surprised the other anglers already in situ hadn’t noticed. I actually thought the fish might have spawned, they looked a little lethargic and not bothered about me watching them from only a few feet away. It then started to bucket it down and I left them to it so I could get setup.
I have to admit I was shattered, carrying my bedchair, etc. under my arms, across a field and around a lake along the now slippy and muddy wet path, had taken its toll. I cast the first rig on the nearest gravel hump at 40 yards, and the other two rigs onto another hump some 10 yards further out, sprinkling both areas with Complex-T boilies in a mixture of sizes. Then, rather damp as I didn’t have any waterproofs with me, I put the kettle on which was getting covered in mud as it bounced up from the ground in the heavy summer rain. That coffee invigorated me as I sat there staring at the lake in front of me, being able to see about 90% of the lake, watching like a hawk for any signs of movement. At around 5am and after watching some bubbling on the nearest hump, I received a stuttering take and as the indicator was rising off the ground for the second time, I struck into thin air. I felt nothing, the line had parted on something instantly. A rock, or brick, perhaps? Those shallow areas were not the friendliest I’d fished. I knew it wasn’t a bird, but an eel, tench or carp? With the peculiar bite I just didn’t know, anyway, I put it down to a tench at the time.
The following day, the big girl came out from the End Swim spawned out at 42lb. The algae was taking hold again, but this time I was going to continue on, as I had a few spots going.
The next trip I was back in the Garden, with one rig on the plateau, and two on the hump straight out in front of the swim. The weather was a mixed affair – sunny with showers all weekend. I didn’t see a great deal but I had an occurrence as I was packing away. I don’t know what it was. I was placing my bedchair on the barrow on the path at the back of the swim, when I received a short screamer. When I got to the rod it had stopped. I picked it up and struck, but nothing was there…
I was down the following weekend too, managing to get back in the same swim as well. I actually saw two shows over the hump straight out in front as I setup, which was a good sign but nothing occurred for me. I found a couple of fish in the snags on the motorway bank as well. At least I was finding them, and no one else was on the lake either which was a bonus. I then headed to the Great Lake in France for a week, coming back on the August Bank Holiday with the Mrs – we’d had a great trip and I caught my target on my first trip. How you actually target a fish in a foreign country I don’t know, but it was the one I dearly wanted anyway. We got back home on the Saturday. It was a blistering hot weekend, well, about 25ºC anyway, and I was keen to get back down the lake. The other half thought I was mad. I asked nicely if I could do just the one night – Sunday to Bank Holiday Monday and she agreed. I just had a feeling the fish would be in and around the shallow plateau.
I arrived to be greeted by an empty lake – happy days. With two captures of the largest resident, there were four of us left at this point and I think the others had pulled off until the autumn. I changed my rigs and setup over from what I had been using in France, going back to leadcore for this lake. I was running out of time, light and energy for the third rod, so I stuck with the fluorocarbon leader setup from France. I placed one rig on the plateau, one on the hump and the final rig just down the slope, off the plateau. I put a couple of Spombs over each of the first two spots and the rod down the side of the plateau I left it on its own, with just a four-bait stringer and a small PVA stick.
During the early hours, the rod down the side of the plateau signalled another jittery take, with the bobbin dancing up and down, but as I got out of the bag, the line was still ripping from the spool. I cupped the reel and struck, feeling a solid, heavy resistance on the end and the fish started to kite hard to the right. I made a couple of pumps on the rod, then suddenly the rod was ripped from my grasp – the fish’s power flat-rodding me and then it was gone. The line hung limply from the tip ring and upon closer inspection it had parted above the leader. I checked the clutch, and it was still locked tight from fishing that lake in France which had been festooned with heavy weed. It was a major schoolboy error that still haunts me today. I pieced together a new end setup, but just didn’t have the heart to cast it out and I made my way back to my sleeping bag to sulk and reflect on what could have been.
I overslept and awoke to a run on the rod placed on the hump. It was just after 7am – a second bite in the same morning, unheard of surely. I got to it and the fight didn’t actually take long, pumping the fish all the way into the margin. The fish made a short dart for the fallen tree to my right, but I coaxed it back into my waiting net. It was the light grey mirror I’d watched and fed under the same margin tree only a couple of sessions previously. At 15lb it was a scant consolation, but you take anything from this lake. After a couple of quick snaps on the camera for posterity, I slipped the fish back into the murky green water.
Buoyed by my recent success I made it back down the following weekend. The fish were obviously visiting my spots and with the algae taking hold again, it might be the chance I needed before any other anglers returned for the autumn period. I initially started with two rigs on the plateau and one on the hump, casting two large Spombs of boilies and hemp onto each spot. During Saturday morning the flat calm surface permitted me to make out some fizzing on the hump spot. I dug my binoculars out of my bag and watched for the next few hours until it finally stopped. There appeared to have been two fish moving about with a couple of subtle rolls during this period. I had a few single and double bleeps, but no pick-ups. It slowly got brighter and hotter as the day wore on, up to the low 20s. It was now the first weekend of September. I topped up the hump spot with two more Spombs and moved one of the rods from the plateau to the side of the hump. A little after 6am I received a full-bore screamer on the hump rod. The fish didn’t do much, if there were any in the lake, I would have thought it was a bream if I was honest. With the algae taking hold I didn’t see the fish until its head popped up above the surface in the margin and I slipped the net under what looked a mid-20 common. This was no typical common though, this I was informed was as old as the hills and one of the originals. It was the Boggle-Eyed Common, weighing 25lb. As one of three, or possibly four, originals left out of the 10 remaining as we understood it. I was elated, as you could well imagine.
I put in a couple of overnighters to keep the bait going in and to keep in tune with the lake. At the weekend I was back down and back into the same Garden swim, at least to start with. Always conscious that if I see anything elsewhere, the gear is on the barrow and I’m on the move. Also during this time, I was trickling in a little bit of bait in the end swim each week, ready for a week session I had planned for the end of September.
I cast the rigs out to their usual spots to begin with and then cooked myself a lovely curry, followed by a nice cold cider to wash it down with. I was then up and down the bank watching for signs. All was quiet that night. I went for a couple of circuits of the lake in the afternoon, but with the thick algae, unless they were leaping clear, I was not going to be seeing much and so I stayed put. I had a bit of a nightmare getting my final rig on the hump. There was only a slight crosswind, maybe 9-10 mph, but it took me 13 casts to get it on the ‘spot within a spot’, if you know what I mean. I was fuming with myself and I felt I had ruined my chances. I was thinking of a move but didn’t in the end, as I didn’t really know where to move to as I had nothing to go on. Something occurred that night on the hump rod, but I have no idea what. I woke up to the line on my right-hand rod lying limp over the two lines to the left. It had been fishing 60 yards straight out and it was now apparently to my left somewhere. I picked up the rod and started slowly winding in hoping maybe something was sulking in a weedbed. However I felt no resistance at all, and so started winding faster. There was an old rotten tree 30 yards to my left and I thought the fish might be in there, but this was way past it, somewhere in front of the social swims. It was some way to my left, possibly 50-60 yards. The rig was still attached, the hookbait still there, but, the lead was gone. The bite alarm worked fine when I checked it. I can only think a fish picked up the bait and had managed to kite the whole distance without making a bleep! Something I’ve never experienced before and I still wonder what it was…
I was back down for the end of September all excited at the prospect of my week-long session. I was going to head for the End Swim that I had been priming up for over a month by now, driving the 60-odd miles each way just to bait up, as it was a known autumn area for the big girl to make a mistake from. On arrival there were two new cars on site that I didn’t recognise. I found out they had sold a handful of winter tickets early and one of the new members was in the End Swim, while the other was in the left hand social, so I went back to what I knew for now, the Garden, again. Two nights in, and with nothing seen, or heard, and with the new face now leaving the End Swim, I moved in there. I managed a single night before I had a call from my local hospital. Sadly, my mum had taken a fall and had broken her hip and shoulder. I packed up there and then and headed off to see what I could do – be a cat-sitter basically!
I got down for the odd overnighter from there on, which is all I could really do at the time. With two of the anglers from the spring back on and the two new anglers spreading baits far and wide, I had a feeling nothing was coming out that autumn, there were only 10 fish in the lake, but bait was going in for 10 times that amount. One evening I watched one of them baiting up an area by catapult with maybe a couple of kilos of boilies. In the morning I graciously informed them they had baited up right where a sunken truck lay on the lakebed – obviously they had never heard of a marker rod. At the beginning of November and with the lake’s water level up a couple of feet, due to the silly amount of bait going in, I changed my plans. Instead of my rescheduled week-long session, I headed out to Belgium and had a lovely time on the canals with fish to 46lb. Nothing did come out that autumn, so I think it was a wise decision to make in the end.
With the success I’d had the previous year I was keen to make an early start, and my first trip was during March. It was bitterly cold, with a dusting of snow. But even more shocking was what I arrived to see. Major changes were afoot – part of the bankside had been ripped out and The Garden now looked like the surface of the moon. We knew something was happening as the landowner had a group of paddle boarders on the previous autumn. A few weeks later on that spring we all received an email, stating the fishing was ceasing and the lake was being leased to a leisure company, turning it into ‘aqua-park’ with an inflatable course and paddle boarders to start with, with even bigger plans for the future! The email did end hoping they will come to some sort of arrangement where the fishing could continue.
We were up against it. A couple of anglers saw their old ticket out up to April and that left three of us to continue on in the hope something could be sorted out, or we got thrown off. To begin with I had concentrated on The Garden, but I wasn’t seeing much, so started to move about while all the work was going on around us. I was even having to put my waders on and barrow my gear across the little river to access the lake – I was determined they were not going to stop me. One of the other three anglers had three fish in quite quick succession from the Second Dugout after years of struggling to get a bite. I was really made up for him. But with the aqua park taking shape, suddenly the use of the boat that he had left on the lake all year, was gone. He couldn’t face sitting opposite 100 screaming kids, all splashing about in the lake. I couldn’t blame him as I was having quite substantial doubts myself. I had to get back in The Garden though. I knew I didn’t have long, as that was where the aqua park was going to be setup. Only a week later the divers came in with tyres filled with concrete attached to long metal chains to hold down the large inflatables. I did manage a rare one just before that all took place. It was only a mid-double, but fully scaled on one side and as far as we could work out, it might have only come out once previously to an angler who had braced it, along with the big girl, some six or so years previously. I had seen this fish several times in the snags during my time on the lake and had asked people about it, but no one was much the wiser. So to then go and see it sitting on my mat was a great feeling. Like I say, it was only small, but it was another very rare one.
Then as quickly as that, The Garden and Social swims were gone forever – the aqua park was being setup in front of my eyes. For the remainder of the summer I concentrated on the motorway bank, but nothing came of it. I knew fish were visiting my spots, but I couldn’t get that bite I so dearly wanted. There were only two of us left now – the other being another Dan, but I won’t say anymore as it is his story to tell, should he choose to do so. Everyone I’d met on the lake during my time was a good angler, all of whom clearly knew what they were doing. I’ve read some of their other tales in books and magazines, so I won’t steal any proverbial thunder here, hence my not mentioning any names.
I did a total of 36 nights on the lake up to October for just the one fish that year. I pulled off for the winter to take stock and put a plan together for the year ahead. I had an idea what the other Dan was going to be doing, so I chose to start fishing The End swim, situated at the narrow western end of the lake. I did a couple of overnighters, but with Dan opposite in the field and only 80 or so yards of lake between us, I felt I needed more space between us. Fishing on top of each other was going to do neither of us any favours. I started baiting a couple of spots I knew and had fished previously, in The Point swim. One evening I came down and cut all the old branches and brambles away and removed an old dead tree stump. It gave me about an extra foot of space – not a lot, but it was so tight in there that even that foot felt like a lot of space. I managed to fish it just the once. On my next visit I was confronted with a couple of yellow buoys, no more than 20 yards out – another swim had gone. I had to move to my summer plan early and start prepping up the spots from The Motorway swim I’d fished the year before. I was still to catch from this area of the lake myself, but I knew others had in the past and the big girl had come from that area of the lake three years previously. The first session was a waste of time to be honest. I was fishing on top of huge weedbeds and the spots from last summer were all green and fluffy. More importantly, I had seen the big girl in the snags close to the Second Dugout on the southern side of the lake while I was on a walkabout. She had not been seen by anyone for some time, so it was a relief and I could quite clearly tell she had spawned as well.
The next weekend I brought a heavy metal rake tied to a rope and I tried to clear off the spots from my inflatable boat on the Friday, but the wind was just too strong and the boat kept drifting. I didn’t even try on the Saturday as the wind was even stronger, but on the Sunday morning the lake was flat calm. So before the aqua park opened at 11am, I spent an hour on each of the three humps from around 7am raking them out. Basically I pushed a metal pole as deep as I could at the side of each of the shallow gravel humps, then tied my boat to the pole. Standing up I threw and dragged the rake back to the boat, backwards and forwards, again and again, until I had a huge mound of weed around my feet in the boat, I cleared an area roughly 4ft by 4ft on all three areas. Interestingly, the particles I placed out the previous week were still in the weed I had moved – not a good sign. I placed a load of fresh bait on the now clear spots with a good helping of particles and groundbait. Hopefully any fish, even the small silvers, could do the rest of the work for me and get the spots rocking. Once I was all packed up and the gear had been loaded in the motor, I went for one final circuit around the lake and managed to spot the big girl sitting in a set of snags next to the aqua park on the northern side of the lake, along with The Banana, the second largest fish, nestled side by side under a huge, submerged tree trunk.
I could only get down for a single night the following weekend, but I was keen to see what the spots looked like from the boat. After getting everything set, I cast my marker float out, and rowed out to take a look. The first two spots had been cleared out, and a lot of the weed from the deeper water surrounding the shallow humps had been cleared as well, like little channels – surely only fish would do this, not birdlife?
In the early hours I saw something bow wave off, over the top of the middle rod. Something had popped by for a feed up, so maybe things were starting to look positive. Dan was fishing the opposite end of the lake. He’d stopped by to let me know he had a couple of fish the month prior, while I was in Belgium. I felt with me now at the opposite end, we were not getting in each other’s way, which was good. Things were also about to change in my personal life and quite drastically. I decided to take voluntary redundancy at work and spend the summer chasing after the big girl midweek and be at home for weekends with the wife – what was she going to do with me around every weekend? I told Dan of this, which probably wasn’t that wise, but I’ve never been one for keeping quiet or holding things back – well not for too long anyway.
So the following Monday I arrived for my planned four-night session and made the two trips with the barrow to the motorway bank. First trip with the tackle, the second with the boat gear – this was always my routine, trying to keep any boat time on the lake to a minimum. Unbeknown to me at the time, Dan had baited one of his spots with 3kg of bait, feeling that with me going ‘full time’, he needed to try and get his business on the lake finished as it were, before I messed it up for him. I didn’t see anything on the Monday, even though I looked in their usual haunts. On the Tuesday evening I saw Dan heading off from the aqua park, where we park, heading towards the northern end of the lake on his little black boat. It was another hot and sticky night. I didn’t sleep well and so was up at first light, looking for signs of fish. Around 5am I could make something out in the distance and grabbed my binoculars, and there it was, the top lobe of a tail, waving about in a large weedbed out in the middle of the lake. It was some 200 yards from me and halfway between Dan and myself. Occasionally I could make out a disturbance in the weed, close to the tail. There were a few other fish with it! After watching for an hour or so, I sent a message to Dan to let him know. He then replied with a message I was sort of half expecting if I’m honest. It simply said “I‘ve got her in the net mate”. I wound in and got all the gear to assist him and went to give him a hand with everything. He’d gone and messed up my plans now. He had been working really hard for it to though and fully deserved his reward to be honest.
I left the lake alone the following week except for a little bait up trip, and then headed across to France for a social with friends the week following. I returned during the first week of July, on a Tuesday. It was still really hot and in the mid-20s every day, with little in the way of a wind to keep me cool. I fished for three nights on the motorway bank and I think for that entire time, a group of fish, including the largest two, never left the snags next to the Second Dugout.
The following week was a repeat affair, except this time they were favouring the aqua park snags. I had decided to clear up a load of bankside foliage from a set of snags along the motorway bank to my left, where I used to see them on my first full season on the lake, but I had not seen anything since the previous summer, and would you believe it, the following day, after clearing it out, I found a fish in there. This was a good sign, as there was a good chance they would go over the shallow humps I was fishing to get to the motorway snags. Rightly or wrongly I think the snags had been completely shielded by the sun, yet once I cleared that small section and the sun could reach in to them again. They would venture back – that was my thought anyway. The next evening, I saw two fish in there. At the start of my session I boated out to my spots. They had been cleared of everything, not a single grain of hemp was left – you could see the areas glowing yellow amongst the sea of green weed as you got close to them with the boat.
I’d hatched a mini-plan over the weekend and decided as the bait was now going each week, I’d go big on the quantity this time around. I arrived Monday lunchtime and made my typical two trips with the barrow, but this time to The End swim for the first night. I had seen the big common waving its top lobe in the aqua park snags when I first arrived and thought they might venture up the same margin towards me. Once I got everything sorted I placed a small amount of bait over my three close-in spots for the night ahead, then boated down to the motorway bank with a bucket filled with around 7-8kg of bait, a marker rod and two bank sticks to do my wraps with while actually in the swim. The first spot was at 13¼ wraps in line with my swim in the distance. With the float popped up I boated out and stood up, and threw around 3kg of bait on to the area comprising a mixture of particles and boilies, all soaked in CSL liquid and hemp oil. I could no longer see the bottom as the algae was taking hold once more as the visibility had started to go the previous week, which was another one of the triggers for me to up the baiting levels over a place I think the fish had been visiting. I then did the same with the second which was at 10¼ wraps, in line with The Point. I’d given up on the third – it was further out and just slightly left of the middle gravel hump, I didn’t like the way the line was now cutting through the side of the middle area though, so I had chosen to fish two rigs on that instead.
Nothing occurred that night, but I did see four subtle shows along the motorway bank at around 7am. By lunchtime the fish had not returned to the aqua park snags. I went for a look at those by the Second Dugout and there she was, the big girl, along with a group of friends – The Banana, The Linear, The Big Common and a couple of other, smaller mirrors. I packed up and made the two trips down. It was all the harder, as since I had returned from France, the aqua park had fenced off the path between the park and the motorway bank, so I was having to barrow right round the majority of the lake just to get to the motorway bank now. Sweaty and tired I finally made it, although not after the barrow nearly went into the lake next to the Second Dugout’s snags – with the fish present! Not what I wanted, but I averted disaster by sheer luck and a large bramble stopped the lot falling down the slope and into the lake. I got to the swim and after downing a whole 2l bottle of coke, I got to work. It was flat calm and I wanted to get my rigs spot-on while the fish were still 150 yards away in their sanctuary.
By now it was early afternoon and although I’d normally wait until the aqua park closed at 7pm, with no wind present, I took the chance. I had developed a process over the previous weeks, something I was using to good effect now. Firstly I cast the marker float out and then I would boat out an H-block and place it just past the marker float, donking it about on the bottom making sure it was spot on. Then I’d boat back and retrieve the marker float, before rowing back out with a rod and swinging the rig onto the spot just short of the H-block. Finally, by slowly rowing back and paying off line and tightening up now and then, I could keep a straight line all the way back to the swim. There was a lot of weed present and if I drifted off, I would have to start all over again, but with all the practice that was thankfully a rarity. I managed to get all three rods flicked out from the boat perfectly without any hiccups. The aqua park stayed open an hour later than usual and at 7pm a group of paddle boarders descended on the lake. Joy. I dropped my rods tips down and slackened off. Thankfully none of them came near me for a change, as usually I appeared to be a magnet and they would all head straight towards me.
It was the night after the full moon, and we were going to get a partial eclipse. Sadly for me it was going to be behind me, blocked by a wall of trees, so I never got to see it. I hardly got a wink of sleep. As it started getting dark, all three alarms would twitch with single, double and triple bleeps, every 15 or so minutes. There were even a couple of full-blooded ‘jump off the bedchair’ liners. On any other lake and you would be rubbing your hands, but this is a lake with only 10 carp and rakes of eels. I had no idea, but I just knew it wasn’t birdlife causing the activity due to the time. Then, at just after 4am and following what felt like the briefest of snoozes, the right-hand alarm’s red LED shone brightly in the darkness and the hanger had fallen backwards to the floor. I got out and approached the rod. With my hand hovering over it, I was in something of a quandary as to whether to risk picking it up and disturbing the spot, or not. With that, the hanger then slammed into the alarm and the spool started whizzing away. I struck to set the hook and I played the fish for a few moments on dry land before jumping into the boat and winding my way out to the fish. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. The bite was just like the one I’d lost two years prior, but this time with experience, and a boat to hand I could remain calm. Oh, ok, slightly calmer.
As I got closer, I could see my line disappear into some weed. I made sure the clutch was loose and the fish could make a run if it chose to – that is if it was still on, of course. I then grabbed hold of the weed with my left hand while still holding the rod in my right and I managed to pull some of the weed off, but not enough. I then had another go and as I was pulling the weed off, the line suddenly changed angle. I immediately let go and lifted the rod up. I panicked for a moment as the fish was a couple of metres past the weed I was now playing with the rod. I managed to grab a chunk of weed and rip it off the line, then the remaining weed slid down over the fish’s head. It made a couple of surges before the fight was quickly over with everything bundled rather unceremoniously in to my net. I didn’t have my headtorch with me, but it looked a good fish in the moonlight. I thought it might be the big girl, as it filled the net nicely.
Once back in my swim and now with the aid of a headtorch, I could tell it wasn’t her, but I was more than certain it was the second largest – The Banana. It is so-named due to a yellow patch and slight curve in the middle of its back. She weighed 33lb 8oz and I was absolutely buzzing. With all the activity I was keen to get the rod back out on the spot. Knowing the distance I tied up another hinged stiff, attached a 15mm Complex-T pop-up and a piece of fake corn and opted to cast the rig back out, instead of by boat. I received a good drop and was happy with that.
I messaged a mate, granted it was a little early, but I knew he was usually up early for work anyway, to let him know the good news. I didn’t want too many people knowing. He called me back and said he would come down and help with the photos. Dan, yes, another Dan, duly arrived and congratulated me. We’d met halfway up the bank and I commented that the fish were still not in the other set of snags, so maybe there was still another chance. Back in the swim I put the kettle on. As our coffees were cooling, we had a look to see where best we could take the photos. I had a place in mind in the next swim down. We were just walking back when one of my Neville’s started screaming away. It was the left-hand rod this time on the nearer hump, fished with a 360 rig with a 15mm washed out pink Crave pop-up. I struck and then let the fish take line. Not too easily, mind, but not too tight either, in case the line caught on something. Previous experience meant that cut-offs were now an ever-present in my thoughts. I jumped into the boat and wound myself out to the fish, just like the previous one. Like before I checked the clutch and made sure it was loose. I had to grab hold of the spool as I wound in towards the fish, to stop it spinning freely. Dan was filming this on his phone as this was all going on. As I approached the area where my line entered the water, I could see a huge patch of bubbles a couple of metres to the left. I just hoped it wasn’t snagged. I initially thought I would gingerly pull up with the rod while cupping the spool and then if that didn’t work, try hand-lining. Slowly I raised the rod tip. Another huge sheet up bubbles came up and then the line started to cut through the surface. I was free from whatever it had been under. I could see a huge patch of yellow now, just two feet down in the murky green water. I switched the landing net from my right to left, managing to momentarily get the end of the handle caught between my rod blank and line in the process. Thankfully it was a minor mishap and I quickly pushed the net forward and down and had most of the fish in the net at the first time of asking. The fish was just about to charge off, when it slid in backwards and charged into the side of the net – phew!
I knew instantly what it was – it was the big girl and I shouted her name to Dan, “It’s Daisy, I’ve got her, it is Daisy”. I still had photos of The Banana to do at this point. So once back in the swim and with both on the unhooking mat momentarily, we slipped the big girl into the retaining sling that The Banana had been in and into the margins, then I lifted the 30 up for some photos, before gently slipping her back home.
With neither of us particularly happy with those images, due to the poor light conditions, we moved to a more open area to get some better shots of Daisy, then released her back and I could afford to unwind and think back over the last three years. They had involved 104 nights of proper effort, to catch six of the lake’s 10 remaining carp. It had been seriously challenging for me, but that’s the type of water I just love, there are others out there I know of too…