Jeffrey's Swag is a twenty five acre gravel pit located in Staffordshire, in the Midlands. There is another lake adjacent to it, which is around two hundred acres in size, known as Kingswood Lake, & they are separated by a causeway. Their exact origins are unclear, but it seems that it may have been one complete pit originally.
The swag was first brought to my attention in the mid nineties, when I was fishing the local canal system at the time. I’d caught many of the canals residents, including four twenties, & the two biggest fish at their best known weights, & the challenge of the canal was starting to wane a little. My mates Dave Williams & Royston Butwell, who were also fishing the canal, had planned a night session in the middle of the causeway bank, after hearing reports that a big eel had been caught from the area. I arranged to pay them a visit on the evening of their session. The lake itself was an absolute breath of fresh air to see after all the time spent fishing canals, & although my friends didn’t catch, I was somewhat captivated by the place. I was unsure whether it held carp, but if it did, then what an interesting proposition it would present, as it didn’t receive much angling attention & wasn’t too far away for me to keep a close eye on.
I kept in contact with the swag during the autumn of that season, but failed to locate any carp, & I moved onto a couple of busier waters, where I could get to grips with some bigger fish. After a degree of success & a new personal best of 26lb 9oz to show for my efforts, I got tired of the syndicate scene & the pressures of catching a lot of fish under the noses of the regulars on a day ticket lake who considered the fish to be ‘theirs’, I decided there were no new challenges to face, & so my appetite for catching carp disappeared.
Periodically, I continued to visit the swag, hoping that maybe one day, I would see something, but I never saw anything that resembled a carp. Even Dave Mallin of ‘black country duo’ fame, had fished a session on there after being tipped off that there may be carp in its depths, but caught nothing. My friend & other half of ‘the black country duo’, Wayne Dunn, who had also been fishing the canal system that I had, had given it the once over too, but had dismissed it, as Mallin had. This was all to change one Friday afternoon, after a chance conversation with a chap at work, who lived locally to the swag. This guy had said that indeed there were carp in the pit, & that you could quite easily find them on the right day. He went on to say that if it was a warm day & there was a breeze pushing into the South West bay on the road bank, that they’d be in there, sunning themselves. The afternoon in question was exactly the conditions he had described, & he agreed that they would be there now as we spoke! I duly finished my shift & raced to the lake as fast as I could. It was warm & sunny with a gentle breeze as I stood, staring in the south west bay. For a good half an hour, I’d seen nothing, & although looking very ‘carpy’, not a thing stirred. As I turned away, dismissing the guy as nothing more than a dreamer, I spotted in the corner of my eye, a back gently lift out the weedbed in front of me. Upon closer inspection, there indeed appeared to be some fish in the bay, but I couldn’t tell what they were, until one fish lifted far enough for me to clearly tell that it was a mirror carp! At last! They were in here, & I’d found them! After all the hours of looking, it finally seemed worth all the effort. When I finally did leave, one of these fish bow-waved out the bay with its back breaking the surface, & it looked like a labrador in the water!
After going back on many occasions, & visiting the bay, I concluded that the area was unfishable, unless using extreme tactics. The waters edge was un-accessible due to the dense bankside vegetation, there was excessive weed growth & the bay had little more than 18" of water in it. I decided that the fish must visit other areas of the lake at some time, but never actually saw them anywhere else. As the weather began to cool down & autumn approached, their visits to the bay became infrequent, I suspect being due to the cooler water temperature in the shallow bay. So I left them to be for another season, but did spend some hours with a marker rod trying to map out features, & get a general feel for the lake & attempt to locate suitable areas that would be worth targeting.
As the spring came round again the following year, & the temperature steadily improved, my thoughts turned back to the swag, & the fish that I’d seen there. Perhaps this year it would be feasible to fish for them. I made many visits, without seeing anything, but I knew deep down that it wasn’t warm enough yet to wake them from their winter slumber. Eventually, after some prolonged warm spells, they reappeared as they did the previous year. I reasoned that there were approximately fifteen carp in the bay at any one time, but would often lose count as some fish would enter the bay, as others drifted out, making it difficult to identify individual fish. The best fish that I’d seen in all the visits I’d made was a low twenty, but was convinced that there were better fish that I hadn’t seen. I also paid a lot of attention to an area that I call the south arm. The wind seemed to blow into either here or the south west bay on most days, so I was convinced that the carp would have to visit this area too. In all the years of looking at the south arm, I’d not seen anything. I did wrestle with the idea of introducing bait & keeping an eye on it, but was sure that the ducks would eat it first. During this period, I started to purchase bits of gear to build a three rod set up aimed at having a go at these fish. My first session was an afternoon dabble on the causeway bank for just two or three hours, but it was more of just a hopeful cast into the blue, rather than the start of a sustained campaign. I left with my tail between my legs, & decided to leave it alone for another year, convinced it was too much of a project to contemplate putting into action effectively, with such little time to actually spend fishing.
I returned to the Wyrley & Essington canal that I used to fish, to get some carp under my belt & get back into the swing of catching carp again. After catching twelve fish in a short space of time, the best being just a 13lb 4oz common, I was reassured of my carp angling ability & that the rigs & bait I was using were sill as effective as they used to be, but I grew tired of catching doubles, when I knew that I wanted to be applying my time to pursuing much larger fish. Catching the canal fish was never easy, & many anglers have failed on this circuit. They have produced some good carp anglers of our time, namely Wayne Dunn & Dave Mallin, who both served their apprenticeship on this very circuit. I have always been of the belief that if you can succeed on here, you can catch carp from anywhere. I’d spent many years carp fishing, & had always had a passion to catch a twenty pound common, & a thirty, & in all my time, I’d only ever fished one venue with that calibre of fish in it. I realised that I needed to get back to the Swag, or move on in order to satisfy my goals.
A local carp angler notified me of a 42lb ‘uncaught’ common coming out of a large midlands stillwater, & assured me that it had come from Kingswood. I decided that now was the right time to have a go at it. I now felt that I’d rather sit behind motionless indicators for many sessions, with the excitement of what might be, rather that sitting reeling in double after double at the nearest day ticket lake.
On a recce visit one Saturday evening in August to Kingswood, I noticed that a lot of the weed in the Swag had died back, & there were some prominent clear spots in the south arm. I decided to begin re-introducing the tigers into both lakes again. The next day, as I visited the south arm of the Swag to check the feeding zones, I found a carp feeding on one of them! The fish was an orange tinted koi / common of around 18lb. As I checked the other feeding zones in the Swag & Kingswood, I noticed that all the bait had gone! I continued to introduce the tigers onto the feeding zones in the south arm of the Swag, & the corner of the causeway bank of Kingswood every morning & evening for two weeks, before & after work, until I got time to have my first session on the Swag.
I arrived at first light in the south arm of the Swag on the morning of Wednesday 23rd August. There was a light cool breeze blowing out of the arm, & the sky was overcast. I fished balanced tiger nut stack rigs on the two feeding zones I’d been prebaiting, & a balanced boilie bottom bait (18mm Dynamite baits Monster Tiger Nut with a cork insert) on a clear area about eleven metres out on the right hand rod. All three rigs utilised six inch lengths of 15lb Kryston Merlin, three ounce flat Korda pear leads on safety lead clips & size six Drennan Barbel hooks with short lengths of shrink tube added. I was also using 45lb Kryston Quicksilver snag leaders on each rod, as I was all too aware of the amount of thick weed that was in the area. All three rods were backleaded to keep the lines out of the way of patrolling fish, & each received a decent handful of freebies around the hookbait. After three or four hours, I eventually saw a fish. It was the Koi. It slowly ghosted onto the clear area where the right hand rig was positioned, & promptly upended & fed right on top of the rig. I was convinced that the right hand rod would hoop over at any minute, but then it suddenly lifted its head & slowly drifted back out of the swim again. I could only fish until 1:30pm, & the koi only made two other visits to the area, both times eating a couple of baits, then drifting out of the swim again. As I packed up & returned home, I reasoned that I'd probably introduced too much bait. I'd actually fed enough bait for five or six fish, & would have stood a better chance of that fish picking up the hookbait, had there have been less free offerings available. I returned the next day, at first light again to find the lake had risen by five or six inches after torrential rain & thunderstorms had hit the region during the night. I had formulated a new plan for this session. I carried an old eleven metre 'roach' pole with me, complete with a cupping kit & my idea was to put small amounts of tigers & pellets into PVA bags, along with the rig, then ship the whole lot out to the clear spots at 11 metres, where I could observe any carp that entered the swim, by standing against a bush to the right of the swim. Despite a warm wind blowing into the South Arm all day, nothing happened. I was gutted, as I knew that had a carp entered the arm, the chances of having a pick up were extremely high. It was clear that no fish had visited the Arm, & I figured that after the downpour of the night before, the water temperature had dropped quite considerably, enough to prevent the carp from going through their daily routine of visiting the South Arm. It seemed as if just as I was getting close to catching some of the lakes residents, that something would happen to ruin my chances. I couldn't get back to the lake for at least another week, as I was off on a family holiday. This would give me chance to sit back & re-analyse my approach, ready for the next session. I decided to continue prebaiting the feeding zones in the two lakes, in a bid to regain their confidence.
In the back of mind, I’d always considered the lure of Kingswood to be very strong, as I’m sure that what few carp reside in the lake must be very big, but the sheer size of the place makes it considerably difficult to plan a strategy of attack. Having gone over some areas of the lake with a marker rod, I’ve been amazed at the amount of natural food that is abundant in some areas. The weed is abound with masses of tiny water snails – a large part of the diet of naturally big, english carp. News of the 42lb common from a local carp angler, & a mate of a friend, was backed up via a copy of CARP-TALK magazine, in which it didn’t name the venue, but all the clues pointed to it being Kingswood. Local carp angling ‘hero’ Jon Jones, had reported it, & stated: "Some of us have had our eyes on a very big local water which could contain some very big carp." I was convinced that this was Kingswood, especially as I’m certain that I’d seen the guy that had caught the forty two before, walking round the lake.
Initially, I decided to concentrate purely on introducing bait to the Swag, but I reasoned that whilst I was there, I might as well introduce bait into Kingswood too. At first, the tigers remained uneaten, but as the wind turned & blew into the west corner of the causeway bank, the bait began to get cleaned up, & pronounced clear spots began to appear where the tigers had been placed. The question still remained: were carp responsible for clearing up the tigers, or was it waterfowl? I didn’t have the answer, but continued introducing them in a bid to find out. I reasoned that if the wind blew into the south arm of the Swag, then that was the place to be as that same wind would be blowing out of the railway bank corner area of Kingswood. If the wind turned, then it would be more feasible to fish Kingswood.
I continued to introduce tigers & pellets into both lakes twice a day from the end of August. I’d get down there at 7:00 in the morning on my way to work, & return around 5:00pm on my way home. Most times, all the bait would have been eaten, but not always. In the Swag, I think this was due to the fact that not many of the lakes residents were visiting the bay. I’d still only seen two different fish in the south arm, although I was sure there were more that I just hadn’t seen. My next session was on Saturday 9th September. The conditions were far from perfect, as a cool wind pushed out of the arm, & it was very warm & sunny. I arrived around 8:30am & quickly got the left hand rod onto the first clear area at around eleven metres with the use of the pole. I was using the tiger nut stack rigs in PVA bags as before, but this time I’d gone for a smaller, streamlined, tubular shaped bag, with the hookbait at the bottom, a few pellets & some dried off tigers, & some groundbait, with the 3oz inline lead sitting on the top of the lot. I’d spent some time thinking about how to put the rig in PVA bag & to keep the hooklink stretched out, & this was the method I settled upon. I then put the middle rod out, again at about eleven metres. I clipped on the backlead & slid it down, into the water, just in front of the rod tip, then began to tighten the line to the backlead. All of a sudden, I felt the rod pull & the line pick up, & it took me a second to realise that I’d got a fish on. I wound down to the fish, & it powered off towards the weedbed to the right of the swim. It gave a brilliant account of itself, & I was convinced many times it was going to come off as I had to give it lots of stick to prevent it reaching sanctuary in the surrounding snags. I then realised that I hadn’t set up my landing net, so I decided to ‘beach’ the fish in the weedy shallow water in the margins in front of me, while I set it up. As I got the fish to the margins, I was half expecting to see I’d got the koi, but was surprised to find that in fact it was a decent mirror, & I certainly hadn’t seen this fish before in the arm. On the scales it went 17lb 6oz & it was a beauty. The relief I felt at getting my first fish from the lake was incredible. I inspected the fish very carefully, & could see no real signs that it had been caught before. I took some pictures & duly returned the fish back to its home & concentrated on getting all three rods out. Nothing else happened that day, & I packed up & left around 4:00pm. I’d left some more bait on the clear areas, & would continue the prebaiting in the week.
It took me a second to realise that I’d got a fish on…
Again, I continued to visit the Swag twice a day, when possible. One evening I decided to have a look around the road bank area of the lake, which is a place where I think some of the fish frequent during summer evenings. I donned my waders & went out for look & was amazed at just how shallow this area was. It was no more than 1ft deep at twelve metres out, & gradually deepened off the further I walked out. The silt was up to 18" deep in places, & I could find no definite signs that the carp had visited this area of the lake recently. This find also stiffened my resolve to concentrate solely on the causeway bank section of the Swag, as the weather from now on was only going to get colder, forcing the fish into the deeper water of this area.
I arrived on the evening of Thursday 14th September, to find that as normal, all the tigers had been cleared from the feeding zones in the south arm. I was becoming increasingly aware that the carp were not holding up in this part of the lake, content only to visit the south arm at various times of the day to feed. There had to be other areas of the causeway bank that they were visiting more regularly. I walked to the opposite end of the causeway bank, by the bridge, & began to clear some of the weed away in the margins. Beneath the weed at around six or seven metres out it was about 3ft deep, with the bottom fairly clear. I put a small amount of tigers in & turned to head back. Suddenly, I noticed a carp swimming into the gap in the weed that I’d created. He spotted me & quickly departed the area. Behind him was another fish – it was the koi. He swam straight up to the tigers, & began feeding on them. I watched, stunned for at least ten minutes before deciding to dash off home to get a rod. I returned to find him still there! I got into position quickly, & lowered the tiger nut stack rig as soon as the fish had wandered off enough to allow me to lower it into place. As soon as this was done, I never saw it again! I returned the next day, assuming that all the bait would have been eaten, but it was still there. The area was apparently not visited as frequently as I’d hoped. The more I thought about what had happened that evening, the more convinced I was that those two fish must have been in the area, & curiosity had got the better of them, as they came to see the commotion of my weed clearing. Clearly, they must have been close by, so I decided to pay the area a little bit more attention.
As October progressed, the nights began to draw in & the mornings were too dark to prebait the feeding zones before work. This coupled with the fact that the carp were getting harder to locate, as their movements were getting difficult to trace, & the weather was getting progressively colder. I had therefore decided to move off the Swag, to Blackroot Pool, knowing that I planned to return in 2007 to pursue these fish when they move into the shallows of the south west bay.
After heavy rainfall during August 2007, the lake was still above normal levels, & the carp were now resident in the south west bay. I stood & watched them for a while before leaving to put some plans into action. My intention was to get some bait into the south west arm & monitor it closely over the week prior to my holiday. I managed to get some sort of baiting plan together, & by being able to visit the lake at least once a day, I was able to keep something going in, despite finding it difficult to see if the bait was being fed on due to the extra colour in the water. I checked the weather prior to my twenty four hour session, & the forecast predicted a continuous north westerly wind during the period of that time, this meant that the wind would be blowing straight into the south arm & I decided that this was too good an opportunity to miss. I arrived around 9:00am, Monday morning & barrowed my gear down the narrow overgrown path that led to the south arm, & set up swim three down from the end of the arm. I checked the areas where I'd been introducing bait & they were all clear. I positioned the right hand rod to a gravelly marginal spot & fished a single balanced tiger nut over a bed of hemp & corn & a handful of tigers. The left rod was fished just off the bush on a single bottom bait over a bed of hemp & corn, along with ten freebies. I placed the third rig - a standard bottom bait - at thirty five yards range on a clear silty area that I'd located with the marker rod, & this received fifty baits in an attempt to hold the fish if they entered the arm in numbers. Despite the wind pushing into the arm, nothing stirred until around 9:30pm when the light began to fade & the wind dropped to a light breeze. Small fish began to top, bubbles were visible & a better fish rolled close to my right rig & I eventually gave up watching the water at around 11:00pm when I could no longer keep my eyes open. I was continually kept alert by occasional single bleeps which convinced me that the carp were now in the arm. At just after 2:00am I had a one-toner on the right rod which resulted in a strike into fresh air. Confused at what had just happened, I regained my thoughts & repositioned the rig in the margins & clambered back into the bag. I was then dragged from my slumber some two hours later by a blazing take on the middle rod, & I felt the satisfying 'thump' of a proper fish as it powered along the right hand margin in its bid for freedom. After twenty minutes or so of a truly awesome scrap, I finally put the net under the fish. I placed her on the mat, & checked to see if this immaculate common showed any signs of being caught previously - it didn't have a single mark! At 20lb 4oz, this was my first twenty from the water.
I felt the satisfying 'thump' of a proper fish...
I followed the capture of the twenty common from the Swag with three quick overnight sessions during a two week period in the same swim. Apart from a few liners, I had had no indication that carp were present in the arm, & I promptly returned back to Blackroot.
My first visit of the year back to the lake was in early April 2008, following the subsequent closure of Blackroot on March 15th. After much excessive rainfall that the region had received at the time, the lake was at its peak level, & many of the areas where I would have expected to locate fish looked almost inaccessible due to the lakes increased size. The water had taken on some extra colour & after some detailed marker rod work, I managed to find some suitable areas that I believed would represent as good a place as anywhere to start. I got to work introducing small amounts of bait on a regular basis, but I soon had to start air-drying my baits to make them rock hard as the ever-increasing coot population was beginning to suss the ‘free meal’ situation. I was amazed to see them diving in nine feet of water, but I was consoled with the thought that if the coots could find the bait, then the carp definitely would. I then made the decision to supplement the boilie approach with the regular introduction of a particle mix consisting mainly of hemp, maize & crushed tiger nuts that I introduced regularly via the spod. I had also made a conscious decision to not overcomplicate rigs & bait for the season ahead – my experiences at Blackroot had me pulling my hair out at times – I was not going to concern myself with those kind of issues here, as I was fishing for potentially uncaught fish of unknown proportions.
With the baiting strategy in full swing, I spent the following weeks allowing it to gain momentum. With all thoughts of bait, rigs & set-ups put to the back of my mind, all I had to do now was wait until the time was right to get the first session underway. After a season spent grafting on Blackroot, I was excited to be doing something totally different - fishing for unknown fish in a place with unknown potential. This had given me back that missing ‘spark’ to my fishing. I continued the baiting campaign through April & into the first weeks of May on two main areas. The main area at the first lake I referred to as ‘the spot’. When I first found ‘the spot’, it was a clear gravel patch around three feet in diameter & could be located within an otherwise silty & featureless area. This patch had now significantly increased in size & was now around two meters in diameter after my sustained baiting, & this seemed to be a good indication that it was being visited regularly by feeding fish. The other spot was created in the same area some eighty yards to the left of ‘the spot’ by introducing the same particle mix onto it. Initially it felt quite silty, but a firmer gravel seam below this was eventually revealed over a short period of time.
As April departed with rain & cold temperatures, the arrival of early May was signalled by a marked increase in air pressure & warm, sunny days were becoming more of the norm. Noticeably, leaves were beginning to reappear on the trees, making the lakes & waterways of the region look much more appealing to the angler in their summer guise. During this period, I maintained the baiting program, & I had become aware that I wasn’t alone in targeting these fish anymore. On several occasions I arrived at the lake to find one or two anglers bivvied up, albeit well away from the areas I’d planned to be fishing which was quite strange as I had only seen the odd person fishing this lake before…
Having spent over two months pre-baiting one area of the lake, I was extremely confident of action during the period of my first session, but with the weather conditions being far from ideal, my early optimism soon faded & all too soon I woke early the next morning to ponder a fishless night - something I should have got used to by now! Apart from seeing a good double-figure pike & having one of my intricately placed rigs picked up by a coot, I didn’t even receive so much as a bleep from the Delkims & the lake seemed totally lifeless. With frequent visits from water rats, bats & ants along with the constant droning sound of mozzies around my head, it turned out to be a very uncomfortable session! I was all too aware that this campaign was not likely to be easy, & a slight change in strategy would be called for. I was back at the lake a couple of weeks later, & I’d opted to employ a slightly more flexible baiting approach for the session by introducing a small amount of carpet feed / spod mix, hemp & corn along with a smattering of 10mm boilies. My theory being that I needed to encourage any carp that were in the vicinity to investigate my baited areas. Using a simple braided hooklink rig & a balanced corn presentation, I introduced bait via the spod, & attached small PVA sticks of the mix to the hook to assist with both attraction & presentation. Some chopped baits were added for good measure & I opted to position all three rods at various ranges to cover as much water as possible. A prevailing north westerly wind favoured the area I was fishing, & during the hours of darkness, I heard several fish crash out, but apart from catching two huge tench, I was again left waiting for my first carp of the summer.
I managed a third overnight session where the conditions were almost identical to the last one, & again I felt as though there were carp in front of me, but not responding to the bait. It also transpired that there were a fair amount of crayfish in the area as my hookbaits were coming back almost pulverised on some occasions! Like a bear with a sore head, I decided enough was enough - I was fishing for fish that I was convinced were in front of me, but I wasn’t 100% certain they were carp.
With the re-opening of Blackroot on June 16th, I reluctantly decided to turn my attentions back there, as I was desperate to get my season off to a reasonable start, knowing I’d be back again later in the year.
To be continued…