During the summer of 2016, it was clear my time on Lincolnshire’s Manton New Lake had come to an end. Although one or two of the A-Team had eluded me, repeat captures were becoming the norm. I’d wanted the Black Common and Diamond Scale for a while and bizarrely caught them both on the same morning. This cemented my decision to search for pastures new.
It was at the Northern Angling Show that the big pit at Girton was brought to my attention. Jamie Clossick put a band together for the after-party and kindly invited me to play my guitar. Before we set up, I checked in at the DNA stand to see the guys. When the following season was brought up, one of the team said “You should take a look Vinny, it is right up your street”. We blasted a few songs out and it was great to play with the guys. Due to logistics, we only had one rehearsal. We were a little rusty, but after a couple of pints I think the exhausted exhibitors enjoyed it all the same. I left Manchester with a little seed in my mind and a bit of digging to do.
The Girton complex is run by Classic Carp Limited and one of the partners is Anthony Sylvester. I’d met Anthony previously as he conducts fishery management and had actually netted my own fishery previously. I have to say that Ant is one of the good guys in carp fishing and is involved in some stunning venues. After a few messages and having had my references checked, I paid my subs and became the proud owner of a Girton ticket for the spring of 2017.
There are four lakes on the complex: the Sailing Lake, George’s Lake, the Cove and the Main Lake. The sailing lake is a huge, sparsely stocked and very wild lake. George’s is around 20 acres and again is a little unknown. The Cove is 10 acres and was originally part of the main lake, but was backfilled and separated; with this now being an exclusive day-ticket. The main lake is 70 acres in size and the one that most members target. Having only been involved for two years, I’m not an expert on the lake’s history, but as far as I know, this is the general idea… Whether it was stocked, or fish migrated through floods (the River Trent is close by and severe floods have been reported), there are a small number of originals in Girton. For some time a group of anglers had fishing rights until the site was purchased by AJS. I’m not 100% sure on the numbers, but AJS stocked some fish after the purchase, but without question the most talked about are the Pendle View trio. These came from a fishery just north of Blackburn that turned into a holiday complex. The three fish, named Measles, Tutti and Butthead were safely moved to Girton at weights of 38lb, 39lb 14oz and 49lb 10oz respectively, I’m not sure then if they realised just how the fish would thrive in their new home. I’d like to add at this point, without the Pendle fish, I would have still joined the lake as there’s so much I liked about it from day one.
As previously mentioned, the main lake is 70 acres, but it’s also deep – very deep. Most areas are around the 20ft mark, but down in the main bowl 36ft of water is present. The north end is the lake’s narrowest section and as you travel south this widens as the west side opens into a large bay; we refer to this as the Boating Lake Bay. From the bay the lake narrows again before opening up into the main bowl. This lake is not for the fainthearted as cliff faces, huge muscle beds and snags are present.As a newbie, I was excited, but then I didn’t realise the challenge ahead.
My first visit was in the spring of 2017. I’d had a chat with Ant who gave me a heads up on the previous few weeks and he suggested looking at the bowl down towards the south end on the lake. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, it was more of a recce mission than anything. Although I spotted a couple of fish, the rods remained silent; it was to be my first Girton blank. My next visit was to be very different. There were a few members scattered around, so after a few laps, I settled in the Boating Lake Bay. The fish were crashing reasonably close in and naively, after setting my traps, I expected imminent action. It’s probably a good time to explain a few things here. Girton is rich, and I mean very rich. The natural food in this lake is something I haven’t seen in 25 years as a carp angler. Literally every reed in the margins is covered in aquatic life. The snail, mussel and shrimp population is unbelievable. After seeing some underwater footage, I know the depths are also littered with natural larders. This, coupled with the crystal-clear water and wise fish means crashing fish does not mean bite time. My boating bay session was to teach me my first Girton lesson; assume nothing. I watched the carp’s acrobatic display while my alarms stayed silent. Later that afternoon, the fish pushed out of the bay and moved out into the main area of water, I wound in and made a move to one of the point swims that are situated by the pylons that run down the lake’s westerly bank. Again, I targeted showing fish with a scattering of the ever-faithful DNA Secret 7 without so much as a bleep to show for my efforts. It wasn’t until the early hours of the following morning that my first Girton action happened. I received a fast drop back on the left hand rod and although I hit the bite and hooked something, it didn’t feel like a heavy fish. After an almost bream-like fight I was surprisingly presented with a big common in the net. The common went 33lb and was a known fish called One Pec – I was very happy and also a bit lucky to be fair.
The next visit was also to be productive one. I managed another named fish from a swim known as Popular Point. At this time I knew very little about the fish habits in the lake. Popular Point faces out in to the main bowl and commands a large area of water. The swim’s popularity is based around the fact that the depths here are significantly shallower than the norm. Prior to spawning, this swim along with a couple of others in the bowl, are prime areas. Once the fish spawn, things change, but of course I knew none of this at the time. Ben, one of the bailiffs came for a chat that afternoon. I explained I’d seen a few showing at range. He said “I’m working down the track, if you get one, give me a shout”. Within minutes, the middle rod was screaming – this was a different battle to the last one for sure. Eventually the fish was netted; it was another 30lb-plus fish and an absolute belter too. I retained the fish and grabbed Ben’s attention. I think my exact words were “If you wanted a fish to illustrate a common carp for an encyclopaedia, you’d use this fish”. After a few pictures, the Block Common, at 32lb, one of the lake’s gems, was safely returned. I know what you’re thinking, three visits and a brace of 30s, yeah, that’s what I thought too, but things soon changed.
The rest of 2017 was very hit and miss for me. It felt like I was fishing a big pit with no real game plan. The use of too much guesswork and inappropriate methods on a pit like Girton is quite simply suicidal. If memory serves me correctly, I had 11 fish from 60 nights. All that said, I am a very reflective angler; that time was not wasted entirely, I was piecing together the puzzle. That season the Pendle commons came out once each around spawning time and both swims were duly noted. My only occurrence with the big ‘uns came in the September. I was perched up a tree down at the north end, watching a group of low-20 commons clouding up a marginal spot. Unaware of my presence, a huge chestnut-brown mirror moved out from the reeds to get in on the action. I’d stumbled upon an opportunity to get Measles. As quietly as possible I lowered a rig into place. Measles’ tail was clearly visible above the clouded area when the rod screamed off. After a short battle a low-20 common was sat in my net. I’d blown a real opportunity with a stunning upper-40. On the positive side, I’d created a chance and that’s a rarity on this lake. Looking back there was little I could do – the area was clouded and it was 5:1 against. That season, during a big baiting campaign and a lot of graft, my pal, Lee Metcalfe, nailed Measles from that same area.
I’m trying to forget the season of 2018! I had a respectful return in banked fish, but was unlucky with fish weights. I’ve always maintained in carp fishing that not only do you need a little luck, but most of my chances resulted in the capture of a younger stock fish (the previous winter, Girton saw its first batch of fish introduced). I did manage some lovely 20s, but the big fish outwitted me more than once. Again that season, Tutti and Butthead made mistakes in similar areas to the previous year. It was a season that tested my nerve as a carp angler. I’ve seen so many anglers succumb to the frustrations of a challenging venue when things get tough. It would have been so easy to jump ship, but I stuck to my guns, took a step back and assessed how I could increase my percentages.
During the winter of 18/19, things began to fall into place for me as I developed some consistency. That winter I did some serious marker work, something I’m not a huge fan of during prime fishing time and following on from my findings, I settled on some spots off the south bank to start feeding and opted for the latest bait from DNA. The Switch is a highly digestible, non-fishmeal bait, that was doing some real damage right around the country. Girton saw a large stocking of young fish that winter and they were getting straight on the bait.
I was catching mostly stockies, but I had original fish in December, January and February. I was having multiple hits most visits, even despite the very cold water temperatures; Girton is very deep and takes some time to react to ambient changes. Through a bit of trial and error, the most productive method seemed to be a salt-cured Switch pop-up through the night and a Milky Malt fluoro throughout the day, with both being fished over a generous spod mix including plenty of crushed Switch. Looking back at my Vlogs, during my first two seasons, I was an angler working hard, but not quite at the races. Those spring Vlogs were different; it was clear to see I was an angler full of confidence, expecting things to happen.
The spring soon came around and it was strange to see anglers arriving again after having the place practically to myself for so long. Having noted previous big fish captures, it was obvious the main bowl was the most productive area. Due to casting distances, there are three main swims to be in; my winter area being one of them. That swim was doing me some serious hits. I was getting some real consistency and honestly felt things might happen for me. I also noticed my spots were becoming polished; the lead was landing with a real thump. The Switch was clearly working and remained my bait choice through April and May. I’ve previously mentioned the dangers that are present on this big pit. During this period, I was meticulous with my rigs, hooks and most importantly, my main line. Fishing at range with bowstring tight lines means some of the mono is still touching the lake bed. I had a spool of fresh line on soak with me; one tiny bit of damage from the plentiful mussel population would involve an instant re-spool.
The bite I had so dearly wanted came one morning in late April. The longest rod, fished to a bar running parallel with the lake’s deepest section just dropped back to total slackness. I wound down to a right thump and a fish kiting over the deep area. Then things went a little pear-shaped – the fish dived into the depths. I just couldn’t do anything about it as it rested behind a steep ledge. It was locked up and to this day don’t know how I got away with it. That ledge is savage, but after 40 minutes of very tender persuasion and wading 40 yards down the margin, to open up the angle, the rod kicked. To my amazement, it was still on and I was gaining line. I’ve lost a couple on Girton in the past and felt I hadn’t got the rub of the green, maybe this was my turn to win a 50/50. I worked my way back to the swim, being super gentle with every movement – at this stage I was unsure on how much damage the line had taken. Before long I was battling with an absolute lump of a mirror. Huge and chestnut brown, without any question I had Measles on. I would say it was comfortably my most heart in mouth moment in 25 years of carp angling. I felt sections of grated line coming through the rod-rings more than once during the final stages, but eventually I got it in the net.
It seemed surreal, after so much effort chasing down one of the trio. I just closed the net and sat with it in the margins, taking in the moment. The Lake’s owner and bailiffs weren’t far away and before long the swim was crowded with photographers and mobile phones ‘going live’. Measles weighed 48lb 12oz, but I couldn’t care less, come to think of it, I don’t think I even looked at the scales. For me, the important part was just outwitting one of the big three, although it hadn’t sunk in, I’d done just that. For the record this fish came to a single Milky Malt. I’d seen them over that bar and decided spodding wasn’t ideal in that situation. In fairness, Measles makes more mistakes than the commons. Little did I know at that point, something even more magical was to happen…
My next visit saw me fishing a different area. My ‘banker swim’ was occupied, but I was happy to get in to one called Tipping Point. Still in the bowl, it faces the south bank and forms the channel that enters the bowl. My main spot in here is a mussel-riddled feature that I like to put two rods on. One is fished at 100 yards, with the other a shade further, using a swim in the distance as a marker. I dropped my baits in and put a good 5kg of Switch over the area. That visit, the stockies absolutely smashed me. As beautiful as they are, they mopped up my bait throughout the session, leaving me little chance of a bigger resident.
Unusually for me the next visit was on a weekend – something I rarely do. Generally, weekends are spent with my wife and I squeeze my fishing in around my working week, but on this occasion though we had decided to spend a night in our little VW camper. I’d got the Friday off and Joanne followed me up on the Saturday morning. I could not believe the south bank swim was empty. I camped up and placed my rods on the same spots I’d been fishing since the winter. The fish were showing on the bar I’d had Measles from, but much longer, in Popular Point’s water. This time the spot got some bait as countless times in the past, I’d seen them follow the bar down to my area. Seven Spombs of whole and broken Switch were dropped on the spot in anticipation that they may push down. That afternoon and night, I caught well off the left rods placed on a close-in bar, whereas the rod fished long to the main bar had only produced an upper-double original common. In the morning the long rod signalled another take and due to the tightness of the clutch, that was spinning at an alarming rate, I knew I had a proper one on. I can’t remember much about the fight other than it was like playing a bag of cement all the way to the net. It quickly turned into a Groundhog Day moment – same spot, same bait and all of a sudden I’m sitting in the margins with a huge common safely in the net, trying to make sense of what’s just happened. At this stage, I wasn’t sure which one it was, but without doubt, one of the big commons was in my net. Ironically I’d just been messaging my pal, Stef Radymski, about the commons. Stef’s a member who had Tutti before I joined and we’d just been discussing their whereabouts. My first message after safely retaining the common was to Stef. “I know where one of them is mate… in my sling!”.
Before long my phone went into meltdown with messages. Again, like the Measles capture, the owners and bailiffs weren’t far away. A hoard of photographers arrived in my swim so we lifted the fish onto two unhooking mats. Once the sling was opened one of the most stunning commons I’d ever seen was glistening in the morning sun. Drew, one of Girton’s bailiffs, confirmed it to be Tutti – for many, the most desirable fish on the complex. For the record, she went 54lb 4oz, but again, I cared very little about the weight. I still pinch myself as I write this – I’d caught Measles and one of the commons within two weeks. That night my wife and I had an awesome lakeside BBQ and those that know me will be astounded that I didn’t put the rods back out that night, choosing just to enjoy the moment with Joanne.
I’ve said it before and I still feel the same now – you need a bit of luck in carp fishing. Yes, I’d done my homework and ensured my rigs, line and casts were spot on. That said, it was definitely a case of ‘right place, right time’ – fishing long into a deep lake, you certainly can’t choose which one picks you up. Nobody’s had two of them before and I’ll savour that moment forever.
I’d like to say a huge thanks to the awesome Girton team, first and foremost for giving me the opportunity to fish this lake in the first place and it goes without saying, a huge thanks to DNA Baits for supporting me through the bad times, the good times – and the very good times.