Whether it was down to fate, the stars aligning, or whatever, this particular winter session will not be forgotten for a long time and for a number of reasons. The DNA Winter Series was well under way by the time this trip came about. Paul, in the office, had told me I could have a couple of months off to do some of my own angling. Now, whilst I was extremely grateful, he could have picked a more consistent time on the calendar! Anyway, I’d been pre-baiting a lake in Shropshire which had some winter form. I’d only managed one small fish in three nights, so was seriously considering a quick trip to France should the weather hold. I didn’t want to plan a trip if it was Baltic, as it was just as much about the enjoyment, as it was catching something, so with my head all over the place, the phone call from Paul kind of made my mind up for me.
DNA had booked out Pullens Lake down on the Elphicks complex in deepest Kent. If truth be known, the whole Elphicks complex is littered with big old carp, but Pullens has some particularly large fish to more than 50lb. The actual reason DNA had booked Pullens was to shoot another Winter Series episode with Perry Alabaster, who always does extremely well on Elphicks over the course of the winter, catching an abundance of big fish. So, when Paul suggested I should tag along, it didn’t take me long to make my mind up! I suppose my thinking was at least it would be a few nights’ fishing for some big fish in the UK, without me having to drive all the way to France.
I called Perry for a chat and to get some information about the place. He had done well on various tactics down there over the years and knew there had been a hell of a lot of maggots chucked in over the past month, which wasn’t what I wanted to hear really. Now, I know maggots can trigger fish into feeding when nothing else will, but in fairness, I’m an out-and-out bait man. I always have been, and by that I mean I want to catch them on boiled food, not stinky bits of maggots bred on rotting flesh – it’s just not carp fishing for me. I actually thought to myself at the time, if loads of anglers are putting maggots in, what harm would it do if I fished the same way as I’d done for most of 2018? Or if the pressure went through the roof, I’d work the water column with zigs. I knew I was going to do it my own way and see how it panned out.
The original plan, due to the fishery rules, meant we’d all be meeting at the venue at 7 o’clock on the Sunday morning. Elphicks is about 220 miles from my house and a 3am start wasn’t really what I wanted for a relaxing session. I took the time to call Elphicks and had a chat with the owners, who reliably informed me the lake was free from the Saturday morning, which was perfect. He said it was absolutely fine for me to arrive on the Saturday afternoon, as I could leave Stoke mid-morning and arrive fresh with a couple of hours of light left to get set up.
Mozza and Perry had earmarked where they wanted to fish, as there was a spot where Perry had caught a 49-pounder from in the past that understandably he loves to fish, so I was happy to let them double up there. That basically gave me the rest of the lake to choose from. The whole drive from Stoke to within about six miles of Elphicks was fine, with good temperatures of around 9ºC and no rain, but then the heavens opened with about 10 minutes driving to go and didn’t stop all the way through setting up! However, it was mild and looked very appealing for a bite.
I’d sussed out the swims Mozza and Perry wanted, so chose a swim tucked back in the bay, slightly to their right and opposite, giving me loads of options – including both tips of an island and some very nice-looking dying reeds to my right. James, the second cameraman, was due in a couple of hours. He also had a long journey, so was also taking the opportunity to get to the venue the night before the lads. It also meant I’d have a bit of company for the evening, which is always welcome on long winter nights. On the subject of James, he was invaluable as the second cameraman throughout the Winter Series. What the viewing public don’t see is the work that goes on behind the camera. For example, all of the DNA Open-Access Series is Mozza filming me, but for the Winter Series, Mozza actually hosts and leads the show – so having a second cameraman there is great for Mozza, as he gets more time to focus on the actual fishing side of things, rather than having to do all of the camera work too. I, for one, like to see this, as Mozza is a great angler in his own right.
James arrived at around 6pm. Obviously it was pitch black by then, but I’d got my rods in situ in plenty of time. The lake bed on Pullens is reasonably flat with zero weed – so more or less wherever you chucked a lead, you get a good drop, which was fine by me. It was a simple case of fishing all three rods on large Milky Malt wafters, with little mesh bags of Crayfish Mini Mix pellets for attraction. With all the fishing being at relatively short range, I could pepper the area with a couple of catapults full of Yeast Extract 8mm Switch boilies. I do distinctly remember feeling very content with the world as darkness fell, as all three rods went out perfectly first time, with good drops – the rain had stopped but the temperature was still nudging double-figures, and I was angling for some big old pigs. All was good in Tong’s world on that first evening.
James and I were chewing the fat for a couple of hours until he decided to go and get set-up a good 100 yards to my left. As normal, his truck was utter carnage with fishing kit everywhere, then camera equipment on top of that, but eventually he was sorted and actually chucked a couple of rods out for the night. We’d all agreed there was plenty of room for him to fish at night and, in all honestly, it would help us all, especially if the fish moved down to his reedy area away from the angling pressure once Mozza and Perry arrived in the morning. I’m guessing we turned in around 9pm, but it felt like it had been dark for a month! The long winter nights can be soul destroying at times with 15 hours of darkness.
I was woken a couple of times during the night by the sound of crashing carp, and with a couple of liners on the right and middle rod, I was optimistic of a bite. I’d been fortunate enough to have a very good autumn on the big-fish front and I’m convinced this sort of confidence can spur you on through the winter. The temperature was still relatively okay considering the time of year, and even on first light when I swung my legs out of the bag, it wasn’t too cold at all. The kettle went on for the first time, and as I sat there watching the flat-calm surface with my first coffee of the day I distinctly saw the line on the right hand-rod twitch. It instantly got my attention, even to the point where I put my coffee down so I didn’t end up with it all down my front should a one-toner materialise!
The one-toner didn’t happen, but the line did continue to tighten slowly until the bobbin was tight against the blank of the rod. I lifted into the occurrence and was met by a resounding weight on the other end. I now started to shake a little… There are fish nudging 50lb in Pullens, so I really wanted this in the net, and quickly! James was still in the Land of Nod, so I tried to remain calm whilst the fish did its best to plough through both other lines and every dead reed, until eventually a rather sizeable carp was bundled into the folds of the net. As I was admiring my prize from above, I saw the rig gently fall out of the fish’s mouth. It’s a barbless-only rule down at Elphicks, but judging by the bite being ever so slow, I’d say I was a lucky boy to land him, as he was obviously feeding very, very gingerly.
With the fish safe and sound in the deep mesh, I quickly got another German rig out on the spot with a few 8-millers over the top for good measure. The feeding times in the winter can be so short that you just never know your luck. Daylight was just breaking, so I woke James to tell him the good news. He was a little sleepy, but after he’d seen the fish in the net, he was actually as happy as I was. These filming sessions really are a team effort, and when it all comes together the feeling of euphoria really is felt by all involved, despite the pressure of trying to catch for the cameras.
Moments later, Mozza and Perry then came bundling into the swim, and in fairness, at that precise moment, there was no place I’d rather have been in the world. We weighed the fish at 36lb 8oz, and man alive, what an unreal carp! It had it all, from dark flanks to scattered starburst scales, so to catch one like that to open the show was a dream, plus it looked stunning in the wintry morning light, down in the middle of Kent. The lads then headed off to their chosen swims to get set up. I could clearly see them opposite and to my right, and as I was looking across, generally being nosey, I saw a fish stick its nut out twice, and right over my right-hand rod that I hadn’t long recast after the 36-pounder. James was round there too filming the boys setting up when all hell broke loose. As one of my alarms ripped off, I looked down fully expecting to see the right-hand rod shaking in the rests after seeing that fish – but it was the middle rod! It wasn’t a million miles away, just off the right tip of the island to be exact, but on more or less the same line as the right-rod fished off the dead reeds. I lifted into the fish and shouted for James. I saw them all look over as I was bent into another one, but by the time they’d legged it round with the cameras, they only managed to get a bit of playing action before the fish was in the net. Sometimes the fish almost seem to perform when there are cameras about, and by that I mean they’ll give you a good tussle under the rod tip, sending huge boils up and splashing their tails on the surface. It makes for great viewing, but when you’re fishing a tough lake like Pullens in the middle of winter, you really want the fish to behave (or at least I did), and this one did just that. It didn’t look as big as the last one, but at just over 27lb, it was very welcome indeed. We did the piece to camera and the lads then drifted back around to the other side to carry on with the filming.
I was feeling confident of more bites, as it was obvious I’d got the location right, as well as the approach, which was pleasing. I know plenty of the regulars shovel a lot of maggots into the lake, but I was determined to catch them on proper bait, and on my own terms.
Nothing else materialised for any of us until the following day. I even remembered saying to James I didn’t think I’d get another bite from that area now Mozza and Perry had got their lines out. They weren’t fishing anywhere near me in reality, but by just having more lines on the path I thought the fish were patrolling could have been enough to put the fish on edge. We carried on getting all the content done that we needed to for the show, only being interrupted once by Mozza landing a really clean fish of just over 25lb – and you can imagine he was over the moon! He works his nuts off on these shoots and at times I can see the stress building up inside him, especially on the winter ones.
We were now heading into the final night, and with the forecast not looking good, I thought we may have used up all our luck. Just before darkness I heard what sounded like a big fish crash to my left. I’d actually got a rod in what felt like shallow water to my left between the left-hand island tip and the bank. Something told me to just leave it be after getting such a hard drop when I’d recast the previous day, which I did.
Another strange occurrence had happened in James’ swim before dark fell. After seeing my results on the German rig, he tied a few up himself and repositioned his rods differently than the night before. He’d actually got the most water out of all of us and moved his rods further right towards me. Over the course of an hour, he started getting a succession of liners. I was actually standing in his swim watching his rod tips ever so slightly bending round as fish were bumping into his lines. They’d obviously moved in front of him, which was confirmed when we saw two shows basically between his lines and mine near the back of the island.
We didn’t have a late night as the temperature had dropped very quickly and everything had frosted over within a few hours of darkness. I slept super-well, only waking up for the call of nature, but it was Baltic come first light, and I mean Baltic! I hadn’t even had a single bleep, which was hardly surprising given the temperature. I swung out of the bag and chucked my warm clothing on to face the bleak sunrise. Then, out of the blue, the left-hand rod that hadn’t been recast for two days bent round and stayed tight. I was on it before the line even pinged out of the clip! I tried to call James, but he was dead to the world, so I just had to concentrate on the job in hand. I hadn’t seen the fish yet, but it was hugging the bottom, twisting and turning, trying every trick in the book to shake the hook. I sort of knew that as long as I kept the pressure on the fish it was mine – the German rig does nail them and rarely do I get a hook pull. My thoughts were confirmed when a proper beast surfaced and took its first gulp of cold winter air, but I messed up the first attempt with the net, which only served to annoy the fish even more. I got it at the second time though, and knew it was a special fish. I rang Mozza and woke James – in fact, I was so happy I wanted to tell the whole of bloody Kent! As you can imagine they were buzzing just as much as I was, and we were even more jubilant when the needle settled at just over 42lb. It now seemed the temperature had dropped even more since daybreak, but trust me I was warm as toast holding that monster up in the sunlight for the lads. It was just the icing on the cake for me – what a trip and what a Winter Series episode!
James had also landed a mirror of over 29lb and lost a fish, so we were 100% right in thinking the fish had drifted off from the line pressure and settled between him and me. It was hard reflecting on the trip as I pointed the van north for the four-hour drive home. These winter projects aren’t easy, hence why nobody else commits to a winter series like DNA does. The venues and weather can be super-moody, the fishing can be hard, and the lakes have generally been hammered on maggots – so to turn up at a lake like Pullens and do it our own way was incredibly rewarding.