I made my first visits to Blackroot pool - a twelve acre estate lake located in Sutton park in the West Midlands, in the early nineties, when a couple of friends of mine (Wayne Dunn & Lee Evans) had been targeting the 30lb mirror that resided in there at the time. I never had any real desire to fish there, as it was considered to be very hard & the stock of carp was believed to be around just a dozen fish. This, coupled with the rumours of tackle thefts, discouraged a lot of anglers! Wayne had already had the original thirty on his very first visit to the lake in the mid 80’s, but had returned some years later to catch the 'original 25' at just over 30lb. I made a lot of visits, but only to look around, & to get my head around what a ‘hard’ water was really like. To my knowledge, Lee didn’t catch anything, & he was a talented carp angler – that was enough to keep me away!
A chance conversation with a friend then asked me whether Blackroot was worth fishing these days, to which I replied it really wasn’t worth much consideration. Later, the more I thought about what he had asked me, the more I thought about how feasible it might be to have a go at Blackroot. I got to work, doing some research on the internet & enquiring on the grapevine as to what was happening there these days. The information was sketchy, but it seemed that the lake’s biggest resident (the 'old 28' - now demised) had been as big as 35lb, & it held a few twenties too. Night fishing was not allowed, but was not enforced by the park ranger service. With the information I had from Wayne & Lee, & the belief that I was capable of catching carp from even the hardest of waters, convinced me that it was worth a go. I also knew that I had to make a move away from the Swag, as I had serious plans for the lake, but they’d have to wait until next spring, as location was getting harder as the weather turned colder. I had to find another venue to target for the winter, & Blackroot was half the size of the Swag, & had the size of carp I was after.
I quickly arranged a visit after work one Wednesday evening, late September to familiarise myself with the lake again, & to brush up on any new rules that may have been introduced. I proceeded to have a look around. There were no anglers on the lake, which was a good sign – as I’d made up my mind that if there were loads of guys on there, then I wouldn’t bother. Many of the swims had been tidied up & had flat areas to fish from which would make life comfortable. The fence – from where Wayne had last caught the thirty from, had been removed, & there was no weed visible. I planned my first session on the Friday following that visit, heading straight down after work at 1:00pm.
I arrived that afternoon to find a cool wind pushing into the swamp area of the lake, so I decided to set up in the main swamp peg itself (now known as 'simons peg'). After twenty minutes or so of casting around with a marker, I located a couple of slightly firmer areas around forty yards out in 4ft of water. The rods were soon cast out to these spots, & received twenty baits round the left rig followed by a good amount of tigers around the right rig. Then I settled back to make myself a drink. I noticed a guy bivvied up in the 'middle sandys' swim & he was soon up for a natter. His name was Nick & he'd been there since Friday morning, & hadn't caught or seen anything. His session was planned for the entire weekend, & he wasn't too confident of catching! To cut a long story short, neither of us caught, & no fish were seen, but he filled me in on the lake's current form. Nick believed that there were now approximately fifty to sixty fish (I now believe there to be around thirty fish) in here a the moment, with a lot of them over 20lb (including a few commons!), with the biggest fish a classic shaped mirror that was normally around the 30lb mark. I eventually hauled myself off the lake, bidding Nick farewell, & returned the next day. On Saturday morning, I dropped in on Nick, who hadn't caught during the night, but had a fish crash over his right hand rig in the early hours. I settled into a swim three down from him on 'the sandy's', & we spent much of the day chatting. Around 3:30pm Nick had a pick-up on his middle rod, & he duly played out & landed a very odd looking, sandy coloured 22lb 4oz mirror. The fish had a small stumpy tail, & a small cluster of scales on its left side, & I noticed that he was using 15mm Dynamite Spicy Chicken baits fished snowman style on a combi-link & a size 8 longshank hook. After a few pictures, he recast the rod to the same spot, around 80yds out with a six bait stringer & we carried on chatting. All too soon, my time was up & I was heading home again, fishless, but a little bit wiser about the methods & techniques I'd need to employ to crack this difficult water.
I did another two sessions following the capture of Nick's fish, fishing the ‘hole’ swim & the near corner of the dam, & although I didn't have any action, I felt as if was starting to put the pieces of the jigsaw together. It seemed, from talking to the guys that knew the place, that the majority of the lakes residents would spend most of their time in the brook, where in places it opened out into small pools, as it flows down from Bracebridge Pool. The brook provides a constant source of natural food, so why should these sought after fish bother coming out into the main body of the lake to feed on these uniformly shaped baits that they get caught on? It increasingly seemed that the key to catching these carp was not only location & using the right bait & rig, but being fortunate enough to be fishing when the fish entered the main body of the lake to feed.
My next session was planned for Saturday 14th October, where I arrived at 8:00am sharp for the gate to open. I raced down to 'simons peg', which was the one swim that allowed the shortest cast to the brook entrance. Fortunately, the swim was free, so I hurled three maggot rigs toward the entrance of the brook, & sat back, anticipating some form of action. After around twenty minutes, I had a drop-back on the left hand rod, which turned out to be a bream! I put the rig straight back out, but nothing else happened until early afternoon. Around 3:00pm, a carp launched itself out along the far bank tree line, so I quickly reeled in the rigs, & swapped two of them over to snowman rigs (as I knew I couldn't get the range with the PVA bags), & cast them out as far as I could. I also reeled in the right hand rod & swapped it over to a pop up fished directly off the lead & whacked it straight out towards the mouth of the brook. Within minutes, the right hand rod dropped back. Stunned, I hit it straight away, & was somewhat amused when it turned out to be a small 'jack' pike that had decided that it liked 18mm Dynamite Tiger nut floaters! Nothing else happened that afternoon, but I left with a little bit more confidence that what I was doing was along the right lines. I decided to go lighter with the leads, & had come up with my own style of 'silt leads'. These I had modified from FOX 4oz 'elevator' leads, & they now weighed 1.75oz each, & are similar to the old 'trilobe' leads that I used to use, years ago. The other change I had employed was to remove the 45lb Kryston Quicksilver snag leaders, & spool up my spare spools, with 10lb FOX Warrior mono (replacing the 15lb GR60 that I'd been using through the summer months), & added 15lb mono shockleaders. This enabled me to cast much further distances, should it be required, while still keeping everything pinned to the deck. My next session found me set up in the 'middle sandys' swim, early Saturday morning, of the 28th October. It was overcast & reasonably warm, so I was reasonably confident of action. I used the new silt leads on Nashy lead clips, & they casted beautifully, & could be feathered down onto the surface of the water with ease, & I could even feel them landing on the silt - perfect! After placing all three rigs around 40yds out in 5ft of water, I put a couple of small spods of hemp, micro pellets & Fusion baits right on top of each spot, & sat back, anticipating some kind of action. After a couple of hours, one 'boshed out', right in the corner of the brook, in front of 'simons'. I spent a couple of minutes weighing up the options of whether to move or not...I then gathered up my gear & frantically ran to 'simons'. As quickly as I could, I cast a single Mainline Pineapple juice pop up as close to the spot where the fish crashed out as I could. I then hit the other two rods out at slightly shorter range, where I could catapult a few freebies out. Quick as a flash, the sky was amass of seagulls, waiting for the next tasty Mainline Fusion bait to be fired out. At nearly twelve quid a kilo, I decided feeding the gulls was not a good idea, so I sat down & waited for them to clear off, but worse was to follow. The gulls could see every bait on the bottom, & promptly formed an unorderly queue, & began diving from great height into the water to get the baits off the bottom - including my pop ups, & especially the bright yellow pineapple one! This made me realise, just how shallow this area of the lake was, & I went home feeling gutted, having been battered by the gulls. They should stick to the seaside, & robbing the chips off old women on the promenade!!!
The end of October arrived, & along with clocks going back, the arrival of the first frosts made the lake go gin clear. I walked around it one Sunday afternoon with the wife, just to see what was happening now the cold weather had really taken hold. Apart from a couple of pike anglers on the dam, & three noddys crammed into 'simons', no carp anglers had ventured out to have a go at it. The lake seemed completely lifeless. This had been my first weekend off from fishing here, but had made plans to return the following weekend. I concentrated on the dam wall for my next session, on the first weekend of December. The weather was unusually warm – 10°c in the daytime, & a total of ten anglers were fishing; three on the ‘sandys’, four on the 'fence', & three on the far side. On arrival, I paid a visit to Nick on the 'fence', who said that a 27lb fish had been caught by one of the guys on the ‘sandys’ at around 4:00am. Nothing else was caught, but Nick & I spent much of the time musing as to which was the best way to approach this difficult lake. We’d come to realise there were two obvious factors about the few fish that had been caught so far this winter: they had all come out after dark, & they’d been taken at extreme range, over very little bait. Due to the fact that Nick was consistently getting action on the ‘spicy chicken’, I decided it was time I reluctantly got on it, especially as Nick reckoned that most of the fish had been ‘done’ on ‘fusion’. As I had progressed on this winter campaign, I had made many changes, in an attempt to make something happen…which had all failed! I therefore decided to sit on one approach, with only minor deviation, until it began to reap rewards, or required some fine adjustment. I settled on simple 8" long hooklinks of 15lb ESP ‘sinklink’, dotted down with 2 small wraps of lead wire, with a single 15mm bottom bait mounted on a standard length hair from a size 8 ESP big-T raptor hook. The only issue I had with this rig was that due to the suppleness of the braided hooklink, the hair could wrap around the back of the hook. I have now come up with a unique way to get around this problem. Using the Korda boilie funnel web system, I cover the hookpoint to avoid snagging on the PVA & pull the hair through the PVA using a long stringer needle passed through the tube. I then attach the bait as normal then pull the hooklink back though the tube – this then leaves the hookbait inside the PVA sock. Fill up & compact the stick mix as normal, then tie off the bag, & nick the hookpoint into the top of the bag. Because the hookbait is encased within the stick, it cannot twist around the back of the hook, giving excellent presentation. This also allowed me to fish much shorter hooklinks as the hookbait doesn’t get pulled down into the silt. The sticks consisted of method mix & ‘indulgence liquid’. I returned again for a typical Saturday day session, to find Nick & his mate bivvied up on the 'fence'. He’d had five bream & a 19lb carp in the early hours of the morning. As usual, nothing happened that day, & again proved my theory that they weren’t feeding in the daylight hours. It also backed up a theory that wherever the bream were, the carp weren’t far behind. Somehow, I needed to trigger these fish into feeding. The sticks were employed to keep the feed in close proximity to the hookbait, as the fish won’t want to move too far between food items. My initial stick mix just lay there in an uninteresting pile, which I wasn’t too excited about. I’ve experimented further by adding dry crushed hemp to the mix at the very last stage. This made the mix 'explode' from the PVA, & helped to spread the mix over a wider area. I'd also added some chopped baits too, to provide some food items, & also included salmon oil, as it remained reasonably thin, even in the very coldest of water.
With the passing of Christmas, & the availability of few days holiday over the festive period, I kept a close eye on the weather forecasts. The last days of December saw a marked increase in air temperature – up to 9° at night, & I planned a 24 hour session for the 29th December. I arrived at around 9am, to find no-one else on the lake. It was raining heavily, & the wind was increasing steadily. I settled into a swim, one up from the ‘middle sandys’, as the wind was blowing into the shallows, & the swim had a nice firm base to peg the bivvy down. Within an hour of casting out, I had a drop-back on the right hand rod. This turned out to be a bream – not what I’d hoped for, but encouraging nevertheless. This set the tone for the rest of the session…I had ten of them & lost one in a session where the indicators were rarely ever still. In the morning I lay there, staring at the rods, absolutely amazed that I hadn’t had a carp. So much for my theory! As I made my way home, I evaluated the session. Although I hadn’t caught carp, the revised rig, bait & presentation were clearly working fine, as the only guys catching carp, were also catching bream, conversely, the guys who weren’t catching bream, weren’t catching anything! I therefore reasoned that the carp simply hadn’t been in front of me. I wasn’t despondent. I just needed to apply this approach to the correct areas of the lake.
I managed to get another three 24 hour sessions in before the end of January, & apart from plenty of bream, the carp continued to elude my capture. The few carp that were being caught were mainly coming from the centre of the lake, by casting towards the 'raft', & despite my best efforts, I left each session feeling somewhat deluded. I’d now reached a stage whereby if I could get bait into the lake during the hours of daylight without the gulls getting it, then the tufties would move in & eat it all. If any bait remained uneaten, then the bream would almost certainly beat any carp to the bait. The bream seemed to feed exclusively at night, which was the only time the bait was safe from waterfowl. The closed season was only six or seven weeks away, & I had to come up with a new plan of action.
I decided to fish glugged three bait stringers for several reasons:
1) By not catapulting bait, I wouldn’t be attracting the gulls attentions.
2) I could still achieve the required casting range with stringers.
3) A small group of baits would hopefully go unnoticed by the tufties.
4) The loading of natural attractors would hopefully be enough to attract any carp to the area, without using lots of free offerings.
I carried out some tests to check that the PVA didn’t dissolve when I added the glugged baits, & this proved to be okay. The stringers were coupled with standard bottom baits on 10" braided links, used simply because of the ‘confidence factor’ - this would hopefully offer a more natural presentation. The only remaining problem regarded bait selection. The bream loved the Active-8 & spicy chicken, & I’d been tempted to use good old tutti’s, in a bid to avoid them. I eventually settled on sticking exclusively to the spicy chicken, as it was the only bait that I knew for certain, that the carp were happy to eat.
The next available weekend was ruined by the worst snowstorms to hit the region in nearly ten years. I managed a quick overnight session the following weekend, fishing in the 'swamp' swim, hoping that the excess water that was flowing from the brook, following recent heavy rainfall, might hold some carp in the area. Apart from one bream & losing two, the night was largely uneventful. At least I didn't encounter any tufties! Early that Saturday morning, Preston Turley, a Blackroot regular, paid me a visit before settling into the '35' swim for the day. I noticed he was using pop-ups & 12" braided hooklinks - totally the opposite to me, & he wasn't catching either! Neither of us caught & I later found out that a 19lb fish had come out from the 'middle sandys' the night prior to my arrival.
With only three weeks left of the season, I arrived for my session on Friday afternoon, to find three anglers on the lake. One guy was set up in the 'pads', & another in the '35' swim. Preston had also arrived & he was set up on the 'block', but hadn’t caught or seen anything. I decided on a move back to the middle 'sandy’s'; my theory being that the water was slowly warming up, & if the fish were moving to & from the shallows, then this area was the ideal place to be situated. I opted to fish at around 60yds range, in 4½ ft of water & fish pop-ups on combi-links around 8" in length, putting around twenty freebies around each rig. The forecast was good for the next 24 hours – less than 1000mb air pressure, 11°C in the daytime & 6°C at night with light rain & a south westerly wind pushing steadily into the 'sandys'. The rods were all in position by around 4:00pm, & Nick arrived to fish just down from me on the 'sandys'. Around 9:30pm, a cheer was heard over the far side of the lake, & after a few minutes, the flash of a camera could be seen. Apart from Nick catching the obligatory bream, neither of us had any action, & I woke to the news that the fish caught that night had been an 18lb linear by the guy on the 'pads'. Nick commented that he knew the guy that had caught it, & that usually, he didn't use much bait. I had to leave early, so I bid Nick farewell, & made my way home. Later that evening I received a text from Preston saying that he'd had a 14lb 9oz mirror just as he was packing away, on a three bait stringer cast towards the 'middle sandy's'. I figured that perhaps the reason why they had caught was that they were using such frugal amounts of bait. Closer inspection of my winter campaign had also led me to believe that I may have been approaching the lake totally wrong all the time, as it appeared that the guys that were putting plenty of bait in, weren't catching carp, but having plenty of bream. I now believe that the carp were spooking off large areas of bait, but were willing to inspect small quantities of lightly coloured food items. I'd been putting bait in all the time I'd been there, & although I'd not used loads, I'd still put twenty baits per rod out. Preston further backed up this theory by phoning me the following weekend to ask me to take some pictures of a 16lb fish that he'd caught from the '35' swim, caught using a four bait stringer.
With only one more session available to me before Blackroot closed for the season, I resorted to fishing my all time 'get-out-of-jail-method' - Richworth tutti's & three bait stringers fished at long range. I arrived at Blackroot on Friday 9th March for the last 24 hour session of the winter to find three anglers already bivvied up on the 'fence'. I decided to fish the '35' swim as it seemed that most of the latest captures were coming from this area of the lake. As I made my way round the lake, I bumped into Nick's mate, who had just come off the 'block', & he told me that Nick had fished the '35' swim the night before & had taken a 29lb mirror. He wasn't too sure whether it was the 'original 25', but from the description he gave me, it certainly sounded like it. I knew that Nick wouldn't have used loads of bait, so I was still happy to fish the swim. Another change I employed on this session was to use lighter indicators to minimise tension on the lines, & to ensure they didn't rise off the bottom. I lost one bream & netted another around 7:00pm, & I retired to the sleeping bag around 9:30pm. I was woken in the early hours by a single bleep on the left hand rod. I leaned out of the bivvy & shone the torch at the indicator, which had risen to the rod butt & stopped. Convinced that it was a bream, I put on my boots & got out of the bivvy, by which time the spool had started to pay off a bit of line. I picked up the rod & leaned into the fish which felt like a big bream that was just plodding around at range. It wasn't until it got to around 30yds out that it started to take line from me & I realised it was indeed a carp! From here I played the fish gingerly making sure that it didn't snag me up, & the hook didn't pull. It went into the net first time, & on first impressions it was only a small fish, but when I tried to lift the fish out, I realised it was much bigger. I put it on the mat & realised immediately that it was the same fish that Nick had caught back in September. It weighed 22lb 4oz then, & the needle of the scales settled on 22lb 8oz this time. I was over the moon with the capture, & I sacked the fish in the margins for pictures in the morning. Preston arrived for a session at 8:00am that morning & I informed him of the news. He duly helped me take the pictures in the early morning sunshine, & I returned it to the water. Nothing else happened during my session & I left 'the root' for the last time that winter, satisfied I'd eventually succeeded on this head-banger water.
Convinced it was a bream...
I had anticipated a return to the Swag, in the spring of 2007 & begin where I left off in September 2006, in the south arm. I had to admit though, it looked like I’d return to Blackroot in the summer...I hadn't given up on Kingswood, & the elusive fish that reside in this huge expanse of water, I just haven't seen any concrete evidence of fish activity. As I write, the rumours are rife that carp angling ‘superstars’ Dave Lane, my mate Wayne Dunn & Dave Mallin are in residence at the two hundred plus acre venue. If so, I look forward to bumping into them again. Further research however, has revealed that Wayne is actually doing some time on the Car Park lake at Yateley, tracking down a certain huge common from a large Berkshire water & reportedly even finding time to target some large fish from a couple of publicity shy, but well known Midlands syndicate waters. What a busy chap! I’m sure he’ll move on to Kingswood at some point. Good look mate - I know that if anyone can catch them, Wayne can!
The last weekend in April 2007 saw me return to an old haunt of mine - Pool Hall in Wolverhampton, in order to hear what my Delkims sounded like again! The lake had now been divided into two; a ‘runs’ water containing smaller carp, & the better fish were resident in the ‘specimen’ lake. I set up on the canal side of the specimen lake, anticipating plenty of action, but after I had been informed that the fishing had been pretty slow, & that they’d spawned the week prior to my arrival, my anticipation soon dwindled away. I placed three ‘chicken sticks’ at varying ranges in silt in three - four feet of water, & spent much of the afternoon scanning the lake for fish activity. The evening passed without event & I retired to the bivvy for some much needed shut-eye. A 19lb common put in an appearance to a guy on the opposite bank at around 2:00am, & the carp were crashing & rolling everywhere. I was amazed that only one fish had been caught. I drifted back off to sleep after the commotion on the road bank & was woken around 5:45am to a one-toner on my right hand rod. After a short, spirited fight I put the net under a nice looking common of 12lb - not what I was looking for, but gave me some extra confidence in the new rig (that I’d developed for using at Blackroot), as the hookhold in the bottom lip was solid! I took a couple of token pictures before slipping the fish back & recasting the rig back to where it had come from. Nothing further happened, & as I reeled in the rigs to head off home, the reason why the carp were feeding & not getting caught became apparent - each of the three rigs came back with fresh bloodworm wrapped around the bends of the hooks. They’d been in a feeding frenzy all night, for sure, but on the little red perils!
Again, I drifted between Blackroot, the Swag & Kingswood, to keep an eye on fish movements, whilst planning my next venture. I struggled to spot any real fish activity until a warm spell in the early weeks of May, where right on cue, the carp became visible on the surface at Blackroot. I had also gradually begun introducing my chosen bait into ‘the root’, reasoning that the carp could safely feast on it without finding a sharp implement attached to one of them! Originally, I hadn't intended fishing there until June had passed, as I’d allow the initial fascination of the place to wear off from the locals, but if the opportunity presented itself, I would consider fishing it right at the start of the season.
Rig wise, I was than more than happy with the effective hooking arrangement that I believe I’d perfected, along with a silt lead type set-up. I was now chomping at the bit to see what the Blackroot residents would make of it! The rig I have now settled on for much of my fishing is hardly ground-breaking, it just serves its intended purpose. I don't want to get bogged down wondering whether it's mechanically sound or not, I just need to have 100% confidence in it. I can think of a few times when I’ve caught fish on it, whilst those around me have blanked, & I have belief that it has something to do with this effective rig. Without wishing to reveal to the world how it's constructed (I don't want someone else on the lake I’m fishing reaping the rewards for all the hard work that I've put into its conception), it’s basically a ‘D’ rig, popularised by Rob Maylin & Roger Smith in the late 80's, using a standard style hook, & a combi-rig utilisising a mono boom section & a fine braided hooklink. This rig has come about through years of trial & error, & has many advantages over normal 'strippable' hooklink presentations. The braided section allows freedom of movement for the hookbait, & a good degree of separation between hook & hookbait upon ejection. Another advantage is that the mono boom doesn't collapse, this ensures the braided section is always in direct contact with the lead. This is then fished on a silt lead set-up which I would describe as half chod / half standard helicopter style. I also use an in-line olivette behind the leadcore as a flying backlead.
On one of my evening visits to Blackroot during the middle of May I located around ten - fifteen fish in the 'pads' area of the lake whilst beginning my baiting programme. I drifted a small handful of floaters over their heads on the prevailing wind, & the carp promptly came up to the surface layers to take them readily. I could identify one particularly clean-looking, mid-twenty common that was taking floaters extremely delicately. This fish I presumed to be 'cookys common'. I duly introduced my bait into the quiet area of the lake that I’d planned to target, & left the carp to share the floaters with the mallards. I returned a couple of days later to find carp all over the lake! They were in the 'pads', in front of the 'fence' & swimming along the tree line of the shallows at the entrance of the brook. It was quite apparent that these fish were well aware that they weren’t being fished for. I flicked a couple of baits in front of a group of fish in the pads area of the lake, & their behaviour changed noticeably. The baits were approached with extreme caution, & were taken eventually, but they were on their guard straight away. I text Preston & informed him of what I'd seen. Later that same evening, Preston replied to my message & said that he'd seen the fish too, & had witnessed them feeding heavily in the 'pads'. I continued visiting the lake as & when I could, to keep the baiting strategy in motion, but I was all too aware that this softly-softly approach would have to gain some momentum, around the time I planned to do my first sessions. I also now had come to realise the impact that lines, leads & bait had on these fish. Sure, all carp aren’t happy about being fished for, but these fish were super-cagey. Having relatively little experience of slack line fishing, I was becoming increasingly aware that this tactic would need to be employed. I’d thought long & hard about incorporating running leads & light indicators into my set-up, but had concerns over their anti-tangle & bite registration properties. The popular opinion lately is that a clued-up carp uses the lead to help rid itself of the hook. If this is the case, then I was convinced that a running lead set up would present a confusing proposition for such fish. Using featherweight Indicators used low to the ground would then be the order of the day. I wont adopt these tactics blindly, as I have the option of incorporating these elements into my fishing if required at a later time. I am also wary about changing a proven & effective setup that I have a lot of confidence in.
As the season fast approached, & with the Swag fish still not putting in an appearance in the South West Bay, I made the decision to devote my immediate time & attention to planning my next assault on Blackroot. I headed down straight from work on Friday 15th June, & planned to fish just twelve hours through until Saturday lunch time. I arrived to find many of the 'sandys' & 'fence' swims taken, along with one guy on the 'pads' & one on the '35'. I settled into the 'swamp', & managed to set up my bivvy before the torrential rain began. The lake had received an awful lot of rainwater during the night & that set the tone for the rest of the session. A guy on one of the 'sandys' swims took fish of 13lb & 22lb, on the Friday afternoon (the 15th...& I thought the season started on the 16th of June...), & these were the only fish taken that weekend. During the first week of the season, the lake produced seventeen fish - with six being over 20lb, including a 25lb common from the fence. Many regulars stayed on the lake from the previous weekend until Thursday morning, & by the time that afternoon had come round there were only two people on the entire lake. Preston had been fishing the 35' swim & text me at 4:00pm to say that he'd caught. I headed straight down from work to assist in the photographing of the fish: an 18lb 9oz linear. A forty eight hour session was quickly arranged for the last days in June. There had been more heavy rainfall & flash flooding in the region during the week prior to my session, & more was predicted to come. The forecast had envisaged a constant south westerly wind for the duration of my session, blowing straight into the shallows & the 'sandys'. I figured with the amount of water washing natural food from the brook into the lake, this is where the carp would be. I pulled into the car park at around 4:15pm on Thursday afternoon & raced down the 'fence', to see if anyone was on the lake. 'Simons peg' was free, so I barrowed my gear round to the swim before anyone else arrived. I quickly got the bivvy set up before the rain worsened, & cast a single balanced tiger nut rig over a heavily spodded area of particles at medium range, on the left rod. The middle rod was cast to an area 3ft deep at around 70yds & was given a liberal dosing of fifty baits. I then launched the right hand rod towards the brook entrance with a hybrid hookbait & a three bait stringer. The wind steadily increased throughout the night, but I had no action until around 8:00am, when a ‘one-toner’ from the right hand rod had me scrambling out of the bivvy into the rain. Upon lifting the rod, the fish powered out into the middle of the lake & was soon plodding up & down the margins. After ten minutes or so, it was ready for the net & I caught my first glimpse of the unmistakeable gold coloured scales of a good common, & new that I’d finally achieved one of my long-standing goals…As I hoisted her up on the scales, I recorded a weight of 23lb 8oz, & I stood & admired the fish whilst I chuckled to myself like a little kid! After texting what seemed like the whole world to inform them of the event, I took some self-take pictures, then slipped her back into the lake, none the worse for her ordeal.
Scrambling out of the bivvy into the rain…
I had then noticed that there were now quite a few fish in the area in front of the brook, so I decided to position all three rods in that area, to maximise my chances. I recast the middle & right rods, & whilst I was changing the rig on the left rod, the indicator on middle rod dropped back. I hit it straight away & the fish powered towards the trees on the far bank. As I clamped down hard on the spool to slow it down, the hooklink inexplicably parted. I threw the rod up the bank in disgust, & returned to setting up the other rod. Within five minutes, the Delkim on the remaining rod burst into life. Fortunately I’d got my waders on, so I jumped into the margins to force the fish out into the middle of lake. This fish was clearly heavier than the first one & when it eventually kissed the spreader block, I could see it was a good mid-twenty. At 25lb 12oz, this was my best fish from the lake to date, & I later learned that this may have been ‘The Medes fish’, although there is still some debate over it's identity. I gave the shout to Preston, who arrived in the afternoon to take some pictures, while the rest of the day passed without action, due to the wind turning & blowing out of the area, followed swiftly by the carp.
I could see it was a good mid-twenty...
I woke to heavy rain the following morning, & noticed the indicator on the right rod was moving up & down very slightly. Curiously I lifted the rod & wound down to the rig to find that a fish had snagged itself around a stump, thirty yards away from where I’d cast the rig! After several minutes of pulling & giving line, I had to pull for a break. Bewildered at how this could have happened, I opted to recast the rig with a running lead, in attempt to prevent the situation from reoccurring again. Five minutes later the same rod was away! I positioned myself in the margins again, & after one or two hairy moments, the fish was in the landing net. I recognised the fish instantly as ‘Humpy’, one of the great characters of the lake, & one of the originals. At 20lb 6oz, I was delighted to have caught four fish in three sessions from this very difficult venue, & all them twenties! I quickly departed the lake following the capture of Humpy, because of family commitments, but I’d learned a valuable lesson, & I felt that I’d need to employ a running lead system into my set-up on future sessions. The mechanics of how a fish can pick up a rig on a semi-fixed lead set-up, move thirty yards & only give a single bleep from the Delkim, is quite a frightening, & I was left to ponder just how many times I have received a single bleep & thought “I’ll leave it”? I still wanted to use a leadcore leader & tie the stringer to the lead, but I was concerned about the anti-tangle properties of the system, & I had to make sure that the flow of the leader through the lead was not impeded in any way. I came up with an idea which involved using leadcore leader braid, but instead of having one length of leadwire running the full length of the leader, I removed most of the lead wire core, & retained three equally spaced short lengths & glued each of them into position, to ensure that it would still be pinned down, without the excessive weight.
I opted to recast the rig with a running lead…
I was dying to get back out onto the banks of the lake that I felt I was starting to get to grips with. My next session was a short overnighter planned for Friday 13th July (I'm not superstitious...!), & I managed to get on 'simons peg' again, in similar weather conditions to the last session. All afternoon, the carp were crashing, rolling & bubbling in front of the brook, but I spent the entire session without so much as a bleep, & wondered if perhaps I'd made a mistake by switching to the running lead system too soon. I reasoned that although I'd lost a fish in a snag on the previous session, that I'd also had a positive result by catching three good fish, & perhaps I shouldn't have changed a rig that was clearly working. The decision was made to return to the original set up, & also to begin re-introducing the food packages (four baits in a PVA web sock) when leaving the lake, in an attempt to establish my presentation through the coming months.
With a weeks holiday coming up at the end of July that coincided with the automotive industry shutdown, I was itching to fit a couple of sessions in, despite having a lot of home improvements going on at the same time. I had been warned by Preston that as the schools were on holiday too, that Blackroot was usually a nightmare with lots of kids during this period. To provide myself with an alternative venue to target, I decided it was time to return to the Swag for a while. (Covered in the ‘Jeffrey’s Swag’ page of this website).
Whilst I was on the Swag I’d kept in touch with Preston who had fished a day session in 'simons peg' at Blackroot & had suffered the same situation as I had when I was there last; with fish cruising, rolling & fizzing over his baits, without getting a pick-up. I figured it was time to return to Blackroot, especially as the 'original 25' & the 'big common' had still to visit the bank this season. Further thoughts on the issue of having feeding fish in front of you, but not getting a take has led me to believe that the rigs were still being dragged down into the thick silt. Using a silt-lead set up that enabled the hooklink to travel up the leader whilst the lead slides away into the sludge, was successful when I used it on 'simons' last time out, with five takes in thirty six hours, which is an incredible amount action for this lake. As soon as I switched to a running lead set-up, & Preston used his standard helicopter rigs (in both cases the hooklink will be dragged down into the silt by the lead), neither of us caught. Was this just a coincidence? I resolved to get onto 'simons' again & to prove the theory to myself. The one good thing about this situation was that apart from my hit on Simons peg, no one else had caught off it, so most people were steering well clear of the swim. I got back to the swim for my usual Friday overnight session when it was again empty. Apart from one guy on the 'sandys', the lake was devoid of anglers. There was a gentle breeze blowing into the 'fence' area of the lake, but I knew that at some point during the evening that it would turn & blow back into the shallows. I got all three rods into position, & sat back to await events. True to form around 5:00pm, the wind swung round into the shallows & increased in speed. Within minutes, two fish had crashed out against the trees on the far bank, & the occasional carp could be seen moving along the channel. This pattern continued into the dusk, but as the light faded, so did the breeze & the lake went flat calm. I retired to the bag after the mozzies had had a good feed on me & I could stand it no more, & the rain arrived sometime around 1:00am. I was woken at 8:00am when the local nutter had arrived for his early morning dip, swimming several circuits between the dam wall & the raft. Disappointed at not getting a pick-up, I recast all three rods to find that two of them were tangled quite badly. After repositioning them, I began packing my stuff away before the rain returned. With everything packed away except for the rods & the net, I stood at the top of the bank watching the water over the next half an hour, when right on the stroke of midday, the indicator on the right rod hit the rod butt & the rod tip whipped round. Upon lifting the rod, I was bemused to find there was nothing attached. On retrieval the hooklink had been sheared clean in half, & I was left to rue what appeared to be a badly tied leader knot. I hung around for another hour or so after that episode, but there was no more action. Following that session, I was extremely concerned about the rig tangling & the hooklink parting now having cost me two fish. On reflection, I'd fished four sessions this season, resulting in six takes, with three fish landed, two lost due to badly tied knots & one fish lost in a snag. If I was going to stand a chance of catching any of my target fish, then I could not allow these losses to continue, & although I'd got lots of confidence in the hooking effectiveness of the rig, I had some major concerns with its performance. I was convinced that the only way to prevent the situation from reoccurring again was to find another way of tying the knot joining the mono to the braided section. I played around with different hooklink materials to try & rectify the problem, & after some initial testing, I found that a three turn leader knot was enough to secure the two sections. The addition of a FOX anti-tangle sleeve & a small PVA 'sock' of baits helped alleviate the tangling situation.
One midweek evening, I paid a visit to Blackroot, finding one guy set up in 'simons peg' & another angler setting up on the next swim along the 'sandys'. As I walked back along the lake I noticed there was a group of kids on the 'fence' making an awful lot of noise. As I got closer, I began to realise what all the fuss was about...one of them was playing a fish & as I got closer to the group, I realised it was a carp. I stood & watched the comotion, to see how big the fish was. Their screams of “its over 30lb!" & "it's got to be 40lb!" made me fear that they'd fluked catching the 'original 25'', & I was even more mortified when they netted what appeared to be the 'big common'. One of the lads said to me "how big do ya reckon this one is then mate?", to which I guessed it's weight at around 25lb. They proceeded to weigh it rather clumsily at 26lb. It was a fat bellied fish, but was in great condition. I observed his set up; a bloody cage feeder with white crumb & a boilie on a mono hooklength, small hook & short hair. I text Preston to tell him the amazing news, & continued to look around the lake. The breeze was blowing into the 'fence' area of the lake, & I had to say, it looked really 'carpy'. I congratulated the young guy on his capture, & continued to explain to him how fortunate he had actually been, & it turned out that it was actually his first visit to the lake! Although I was genuinely pleased for him, I couldn't help feeling jealous of his result; after all, I'd spent all winter on here for one fish - what a weird lake this could be sometimes!
It was another three weeks until I could get back to the lake, following a two week family holiday at the end of August, during which time I was able to keep in touch with the lakes form & very little was being caught. I’d managed to fish three twenty four hour sessions, in the 'pads', the '35' & one up from the 'middle sandys', with nothing but bream to show for my efforts. My time away from the lake was spent searching long & hard to find a common thread between captures, & could only compare results between Preston & myself, that I knew were factual. I had fished around fifteen night sessions with six takes to show for my efforts, all on bottom baits, as opposed to thirteen day sessions for just one fish taken on a pop-up. Neither of us were using the same bait, & the only similarity between our presentations was the type & length of the hooklink & the size of lead. Was this the reason for the lack of action? I had always felt that I needed the weight to get the distance, along with the longer hooklink to allow for good presentation above the silt…& if everyone else was doing the same, then maybe we were systematically conditioning these fish & giving them an easy trap to avoid along with a safe, free meal? Was it time for a drastic rethink?
I managed to squeeze in a short Friday afternoon session the following week with the sole intention of trying something completely different. I stepped onto the 'fence' & scanned the lake for fish activity. It was very warm & sunny with a light breeze pushing into the shallows. As I walked round to 'simons peg', a fish immediately rolled in front of the brook entrance & that was all the encouragement I needed. Within five minutes I was setting up & I was eager to see what the Blackroot residents would make of my new presentation. I’d opted to use three inch braided hooklinks, with a pop-up & the same hooking arrangement that I was used to. This was coupled with a 1½ oz Korda inline flat pear lead. My thinking behind this arrangement was that it seemed that everyone was using ten – twelve inch hooklinks & leads of 2 – 3 ounces. I figured that perhaps this presentation had been sussed, so reducing the hooklink by over two thirds would theoretically give them a much smaller margin of error. The presentation looked very odd & was completely the opposite to what I was used to seeing on the end of my shockleader! I cast all three rigs out towards the brook entrance with four bait stringers & sat back to await events. Within half an hour, the right hand rod charged off & I held on for dear life as the fish headed for the brook. After all of twenty seconds, the small size ten hook came adrift. Mortified at this loss, I assembled a new rig & put it straight back out again. The question now remained; had I cracked it? Were we being ‘done’ session after session? The answer came less than fifteen minutes later when the Delkim on the left rod burst into life. Again I clamped down on the spool as hard as I dared, & eventually the fish kited left & away from the snags. After a slow dogged fight, the fish was netted & turned out to be a pretty mirror of 18lb 2oz. I departed the lake soon after, but went home with a sense of satisfaction, thinking that perhaps I’d got the makings of a rig that could possibly make my winter on this head-banger water.
The answer came less than fifteen minutes later...
The next week passed swiftly & as Friday afternoon arrived, I again took up residence in the '35' swim, scene of my first capture from the lake. With the temperature forecast of 14°C during the night, a total of ten anglers had turned up in anticipation of action at the lake. There were four anglers on the 'fence' bank, three on the 'sandys' & two on the 'pads'. I cast the left & middle rods out toward the 'raft' again, but at least thirty yards short of it, due to the nature of the new presentation. I positioned the right rod on a firm area at twenty five yards, & put fifteen baits on top of it, & although I’d spent a lot of time getting everything just right, my confidence was unusually low. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that the rigs were either tangled or buried in the silt. I woke early on Saturday morning after a night of uninterrupted sleep, to the news that two fish had been taken from the 'fence' – typical! Why is it they always seem catch on the opposite side of the lake to me? Although location was crucial, it continually seemed that as I was trying to predict where they might be, that they’d invariably turn up at the opposite end of the lake to where I was set up! My reluctance to fish the 'fence' was clearly costing me fish. With only five hours of the session left, I needed to make a change. Upon reeling the two rods that I’d positioned at range, my worst fears were unceremoniously confirmed; they were both heavily ‘chodded-up’ & the hookbaits smelt foul & had taken on a dark colour. Somehow I needed to present a hookbait at long range, which would be clear of debris & not tangled. Prior to the session, I had been asked if I’d given chod rigs a try here, which I had on several occasions whilst trying to manufacture a pick-up – & failed each time. Although I had little confidence in the rig, I realised that it would satisfy the presentation criteria I craved. I managed to locate two from the depths of my rig wallet & hit them both out to good range with fresh 15mm pop-ups to within ten feet of the 'raft', & within the hour, one fish popped its head out right over the top of the middle rig. True to form, I begrudgingly reeled in the rigs at 12:15pm to go home, but was pleased that the chod rigs had both come back clean. I packed my gear into the car, and then paid the guys on the 'fence' a visit. Their two fish had weighed 18lb & 30lb exactly, & despite the captures, they didn’t have a camera, & the big mirror had done its Houdini impression during the night…
With the arrival of November came low air pressures & the first snowfall of the winter. This was subsequently followed by a week of incessant rain & unfortunately for me, my next venture to the lake was planned just as the air pressure had peaked for the week & exceeded the 1000mb mark. The met office website had predicted clear skies & air temperatures of –3°C for the night, & whilst this was far from ideal, I knew this wasn’t enough to cause the lake to freeze & I still had some hope of getting a pick-up. Armed with my thermals, & a second sleeping bag, I headed back to the lake for my usual Friday night session. I was the only one on the lake & I settled into ‘the hole’ & cast all three rods close to the only real feature in the lake – the raft. As predicted, by the early hours of the morning the place looked like a Christmas card scene – white & still, & although Blackroot looked beautiful at night in it’s winter colours under a bright full moon, I knew deep down that no self-respecting carp was going to feed in these conditions! Not to be outdone, I realised that perhaps I’d been a little foolish by fishing in such conditions, but you know what they say… you’ve got to be in it to win it!
December – freezing, but still out there doing it!
During the Christmas holiday period, I managed to fit in a twenty four hour session, fishing the 'pads' swim & I’d opted to go back to doing what I knew best…pop-ups on ‘D’ rigs presented at range over a minimal scattering of bait. My confidence was high & I felt sure that the session would yield a fish due to the increase in air temperature & the drop in air pressure. The improvement in the weather had also been appreciated by some other anglers too, with a total of six anglers turning up during the afternoon to fish the fence swims & with Preston already set up in the ‘35’ swim, there were now twenty four lines in the water… hardly ideal! The only action I received came in the shape of two bream, dragging me from the warmth of my sleeping bag at around 11:00pm & 3:00am, both to the same rod. The freezing temperatures & incessant rain that greeted the new year prevented me from fishing until the second week of January, where I managed to fit in an overnighter amidst heavy rain, strong winds & -2°C temperatures, capped off nicely with the lake freezing during the morning - which made for an extremely uncomfortable session! After this episode, I decided to take a break the following weekend, & this turned out to be a big mistake… Preston fished the ‘35’ swim & took a brace of mid twenties (understood to be the 'medes fish' & the 'big common'), & a 16lb mirror had come out during the afternoon to James on one of the fence swims. That weekend, the weather was as good as it could have been with a mild south westerly wind, overcast & the daytime air temperature holding at around 13°C. I was pleased for Preston, as the brace were his first fish since June, so he was more than overdue a good result, but I felt a little outdone that I hadn’t been on the bank when the fish were on the feed. With only eight weeks remaining until the season closed, I had come to realise that I was back in the same position I was in last season!
I managed another two sessions in consecutive weeks, fishing the ‘wet swim’ & the 'pads', & apart from my fair share of ‘snottys’ I was still yet to put a Blackroot resident on the bank this winter. During each session, I’d stayed up until very late watching the water, & had woken at first light scanning the lake for signs of carp – to no avail. I didn’t feel that the rigs weren’t working or the bait wasn’t effective, I simply believed that I wasn’t on the fish. I’d got one more session left before the festive period, & after a chance conversation with Preston on the morning of my last session, I’d come to realise that there was one area of the lake that I’d not paid much attention to before…Unfortunately, my planned session was preceded by a week of heavy frosts, & as I went to check the condition of the lake on the evening before, I was mortified to discover that it was covered by thick ice, & my last chance to fish the lake before Christmas had been lost.
I was able to fit four overnight sessions into five weekends following Preston’s result, fishing the ‘block’, one up from the ‘middle sandys’, & the ‘35’ swim on two occasions with nothing to show for my efforts but the usual ‘dustbin lids’. As far as I was aware, only four fish had visited the banks in that period – two coming to Nick Kyte fishing the ‘fence’ in the first week of February, taking an 18lb linear one evening & a 25lb mirror in the early hours of the following morning, & he’d also shown me the pictures. The 25lb mirror was the same fish that Preston had taken three weeks earlier (which I’m led to believe is the ‘medes fish’), & the 18lb fish was the same linear that Preston had taken back in June. The other captures were mirrors of 17lb & 19lb taken by Preston during his usual Saturday day sessions (he was on a roll, having caught four fish in four sessions). Ironically, I’d previously believed that the rig & bait were fine… I now think that I’d probably got it wrong for the last few months – perhaps I had inadvertently made some key mistakes? I’d switched my bait for the winter (after I’d run out & struggled to find a reliable supplier), when in retrospect I should have stayed on it. I’d stuck with the same rig too, when I should perhaps have fined down as the water clarity increased & the feeding spells were becoming shorter. During the third week of February, I’d managed to get hold of some of the bait that I’d used during the early part of the season, & I’d fined my rigs down as light as I dared, almost going back to my match fishing roots. The philosophy was simple; I had to worry about getting a bite first - & worry about landing the fish second. The rig is one I’ve experimented with many times in the past (& I was a bit miffed to see a couple of versions of it appear in a recent popular monthly carp rag), but I hadn’t actually employed it here before. Then just as things seemed to be going to plan & my confidence was increasing, during one of my sessions I had another disaster… on re-casting one of my rods, there was an almighty crack as I launched the rig out toward the centre of the lake. Initially, I thought I’d cracked off, but when I found the flying backlead jammed on the end of the shockleader knot, I realised what had happened; as I’d moved the rod back behind me to cast, the olivette had dropped through the tip ring, & when the leader knot hit it, it ripped through the tip ring shattering the ceramic lining & slicing the shockleader in the process. Although I was gutted at the damage & the loss of a rig, being further compounded by being reduced to using just two rods, I realised that the set-up I’d been using was not as safe as I’d come to believe. This has led me to omit the flying backlead from my set-up from now on!
The following week I resumed residence in the ‘35’ swim, armed with the new rig & the bait I had lots of confidence in from earlier in the season. The conditions were forecast to be wet & windy, & although I was due for an uncomfortable few hours, predicted temperatures of around 6°C during the night would hopefully give me a good chance of picking up a fish or two. Within an hour of positioning all three rods, the indicator on the left rod dropped back & the now obligatory bream had reminded me how much they liked my bait! I quickly repositioned the rig & set about making sure the bivvy was pegged down securely for the battering it was due to take. I felt sure it was only a matter of time until a carp fell foul of one of my traps & sometime around 9:30pm the right hand Delikm duly burst into song. After a short & spirited fight, the fish was soon in the margins spitting water & although I knew it wasn’t huge, at 17lb I was still reasonably pleased as I was long overdue a result. I checked the hook hold & it was ‘well nailed’ – a good inch & a half back inside its mouth. So with renewed confidence in my rigs & bait, I was looking forward to my final session of the season on Blackroot…
I checked the hook-hold & it was ‘well nailed’…
My final session of the season at Blackroot was to be for a full forty eight hours, & I was full of expectation for my stay, despite the carp taking a bit of a hammering just six days prior to my arrival. A good friend of Prestons’ & Blackroot ‘veteran’, Dave Montgomery, had taken an excellent six fish catch in two days, culminating with the capture of the lakes biggest resident - the ‘original 25’ at 30lb 12oz from the ‘35 swim’. I arrived at the lake on Wednesday evening to find Nick settled into one of the far bank swims. He could normally be found fishing one of the ‘fence’ swims, but with the strong Westerly winds battering that side of the lake, he’d decided to relocate to the relative cover of the ‘block’. I paid him a quick visit, & asked him if he’d mind if I set up next to him in the ’35 swim’. It was dark by the time I managed to get all three rigs out, then Nick & I sat late into the night reliving some of our memorable sessions over several cans of ‘golden throat charmer’. Sometime around midnight I decided it was time to get some shut-eye & after a bit of a stagger I eventually managed to find my bivvy between the trees! With that night passing uneventfully & apart from one big bream doing its best carp impression, that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the session. With nothing to show for all my efforts during that time, I packed up & begun the slow, familiar journey back to the car park whilst I reflected on the past season. Although I’d not caught during my last session, I did feel as if I was more ‘in tune’ with the lake. Having resolved the rig & bait conundrum, I now had an effective approach that could be applied to any area of the lake, & if nothing else, I was able to justify my forty eight hour stay by realising that I’d rather be on the banks of ‘the root’ catching nothing, than at work!!!
With my first full season under my belt at this difficult venue, what started off as being a very promising season, ended up fading out somewhat disappointingly. Oddly enough, it now seems as though my first fish of the season may have been ‘cooky’s common’ after all! It appears there is perhaps a bit of confusion over the true identity of the fish, as some people believed that it was bigger than 23lb (if anyone can confirm this, I’d appreciate it!), & that the ‘big common’ that’s around the 25 / 26lb mark is not ‘cooky’s fish’. This makes the 'original 25', the 'pit fish' & the 'big common' my top three target fish! I have to admit to being a little disappointed that one or two anglers have classed the lake as "easier than it used to be", because it contains more fish than it did twenty years ago... For certain, the lure of catching some wonderful Midlands history fish will undoubtedly keep me & many others going back to this seemingly unfathomable place & although my future plans lie elsewhere, I will continue to venture back to the banks of the captivating, silt-filled, featureless, hole-in-the-ground that is Blackroot Pool.
Looking fine in early June
After a three month lay-off during the traditional closed season, I ventured down to the lake on the afternoon of Sunday 15th June 2008 with two acquaintances – Ben Woodhouse & Chris Naylor, for a general look around & to see what was happening. There were six anglers that had made the effort to fish opening night of the new season with most of the popular swims stitched-up. After a bit of walking & looking, we managed to find a few fish showing in various areas of the lake, as we enthused on different ideas about how to go about targeting the lake’s shrewd inhabitants. I also made the short journey from work the following day to see what had been out during the opening day of the season, & I soon learned that just one fish, a 19lb common, had been taken.
My first assault of the season was set for a full forty-eight hours which was planned mid-week in late June in an attempt to steer clear of the usual weekend pressure that I had become accustomed to & I was accompanied by my old carp-fishing buddy - Ben Woodhouse, who was fishing the lake for the first time. After an early breakfast on Thursday morning, we arrived at the lake to find five anglers already in situ. Having closely monitored the weather predictions for the duration of our session, I was certain that ‘the fence’ was where we needed to be. We’d decided to put our rigs at various ranges in order to cover as much water as possible & my plan of attack for this season differed slightly from my previous campaigns & I was full of optimism after spending much of the previous four months away from the lake trying to hatch a plan to catch the thirty (or one of them…) for the season ahead. In the usual fashion (apart from Ben giving the lakes bream population an absolute pasting), we hauled ourselves off the lake & were left to work out exactly what else we could’ve done differently, for despite seeing plenty of fish show in various areas of the lake, we didn’t actually feel as if we were ‘on them’. As far as I’m aware, only one fish (a double) came out during the period that we were there & the weekend that followed. Although we didn’t catch, I really enjoyed my forty eight hours fishing in the company of Ben (our first session together for around fourteen years), & we were ‘honoured’ to receive a visit from the mighty ‘Gypo’ – a legend up his own garden path. I also finally got to meet Mick ‘Midlands Carper’ Sumner. Talking to him about the place can fill you with inspiration & even though you’re blanking it, he gave me a little bit of extra confidence – I suddenly felt as if the next fish wasn’t far away.
During the subsequent two-week period that followed, I kept in touch with events at the lake as best as I possibly could with the help of my Blackroot ‘oracle’ - Preston. It certainly seemed as if the lake was fishing very poorly with only a handful of fish being caught. Ben & myself were also becoming increasingly concerned about the amount of bait going into the lake in relation to the amount of carp being hooked. After five days of incessant rain & low air pressure, the conditions were far from ideal & I turned up for my second session of the season hoping to get a swim on the ‘Sandys’, where with a bit of luck, I would be able to take advantage of the influx of water coming into the lake via the brook. Despite arriving three hours later than I would normally expect to get to the lake (due to family commitments) I was fortunate, & somewhat surprised to find all of the ‘Sandys’ swims unoccupied. I was greeted at the lake by Dave (Gypo) & I opted to fish ‘Simons peg’ despite seeing no signs of carp activity. Ben arrived during the afternoon & set up on ‘middle Sandys’ – it was going to be a good night!!! Following a welcome chicken curry, Ben, Dave & myself sat well into the night sampling several cans of Carlsberg whilst successfully putting the world to right (who needs a government?)… Although neither of us caught carp, Dave had helped himself to a couple of the lakes pesky bream & I was becoming more & more aware that this year the lake was going to fish harder than it had done previously, but despite our lack of action I was not beginning to panic just yet.
It was over two weeks later that I was able to return to the lake, & in that time (early August), a few fish had been taken off the surface on floater methods – the biggest of which being the ‘medes’ fish at 24lb+ to Mick Sumner. When I arrived for my twenty four hour session, there was a light breeze pushing into the shallows & upon closer inspection, a small number of fish had followed it, albeit most of the carp were simply lazily cruising around on the surface in the balmy conditions. With no one else on the lake, I decided that 'simons peg' was as good a place as anywhere to start & that I could always move if I saw fish elsewhere later in the evening. After a couple of hours spent setting up & getting my rigs in the right place, my confidence had dwindled away as the activity in front of the brook was becoming less & less obvious. Completely ‘out of the blue’, at some time around 2:00pm the right hand rod was away & my first carp of the season was soon bundled into the net with the aid of a friend (Matt) that turned out to be a small common of 14lb. Not exactly what I’d hoped for, but very welcome nevertheless! As the course of the day continued, the wind swung round in a north westerly direction & as I opted for a move in the late afternoon to the opposite side of the lake, I saw a fish pop its head out around twenty yards out off the corner of the fence / dam as I stood watching a group of canoeists. That was all the encouragement I needed, & I was soon setting up the bivvy & making sure everything was ready for the night ahead. As soon as the local canoe club had vacated the lake, I spent a lot of time positioning all three rigs in a line in order to intercept any fish that entered the corner of the lake on the prevailing wind. Unfortunately, the wind died completely by midnight & the lake went flat calm. With this & virtually no carp activity to speak of, I reluctantly got my head down for the night. It must have been sometime around 3:00am when the right-hand Delkim one-noted & I jumped out the bag, pulled my trainers on & somehow managed to grab my headtorch whilst exiting the bivvy. The fish had blazed across the corner of lake, taking a lot of line & was snagged out towards the middle of the dam wall. After some gentle coaxing, the fish eventually came free & after a few minutes I could see in the torchlight that it was a very deep fish. It went into the net at the third attempt, & after a quick, but accurate weighing procedure, I was extemely pleased to have beaten my personal best & at 27lb 2oz was my biggest from the lake so far. Once the fish was safely sacked in the deep margins in front of the swim, I tidied up the carnage left strewn across the bankside, & concentrated on getting the rig back out. I periodically checked the fish was okay in the sack during the night, until it was light enough to do some self-take pictures & that represented the last of the action during my eventful session.
The fish had blazed across the corner of the lake…ust six days later, I was back at the lake for my third session of the season. A quick look around on my arrival revealed just one angler in residence – James in the ‘hole’. With the ‘pads’ receiving only minor attention during the first few weeks of the season, I decided that this was as good a place as anywhere to start. Although the session resulted in another blank, whilst in the company of Ben & Dave it did turn out to be a useful learning curve. During Friday afternoon, there were a quite a few carp showing around the raft area of the lake, but still no one managed to get a pick-up. My only action was limited to receiving a drop-back on a tiger nut rig at close range during heavy rain at 2:00am & by the time I'd got to it the rig had moved, & the fish had done the ‘off’. Once I'd checked & replaced the rig, I knew my only chance had been lost. Ben had lost a fish during the early hours of Saturday morning due to a hook-pull & Dave had had a fish spook off his lines at close range. The good thing was that myself & Dave spent some time at the end of the session studying our respective presentations in the margins & I was seriously amazed to find that the combi-link I was using looped up of the bottom quite drastically - no wonder I'd had no action on them! Perhaps the thing that both Dave & I were most concerned about was how obviously the hooks on both of our rigs stood out on the lakebed.
I only fished one more session at 'the root' during the month of August, & this followed just three days later after the capture of the 27. Although I blanked, I was horrified to find thirteen anglers on the lake for that weekend & I knew that it was time to leave the place alone - especially as one of my target fish had been banked. I decided to turn my attentions elsewhere & after many hours spent searching the local canal system, I managed to find one or two decent fish worth targeting. I spent one afternoon trying to stalk a known twenty where there was only one other fish (a small common) in residence. Having failed with floater tactics I hastily returned for a night session, knowing that there was a 50% chance of me catching the big mirror. The take eventually came after torrential rain around three in the morning, & yes, you guessed it… it was the little common! I found another group of fish not too far away & managed two fish during successive evening sessions on floater tactics – again small commons, but with some known better fish in the area, I fancied a few sessions on the canal. Unfortunately, the extreme & persistent rainfall that most of the UK had received during the second weekend of September put paid to my planned canal sessions, & with another weekends fishing lost, it was time to I re-evaluate my season… targeting the canal was fun, but was doing nothing for my seasonal plans of trying to catch my three target fish from Blackroot. Having only fished five sessions on the lake so far, I was only mildly happy with my two fish return, & it was time to get things rolling again before the winter set in - especially as we were only a few weeks away from the clocks going back (where did the summer go?). On my return, I fished two short overnighters in subsequent weeks during September, fishing ‘middle sandys’ & ‘the block’, with plenty of fish showing on the surface, but nothing willing to ‘play ball’. This was followed by another visit in early October, where I fished an overnighter in the ‘pads’ - the weather was sunny, but crisp & cool with a northerly wind gusting across the lake, & with the temperature during the night dropping to 4°C, along with fourteen anglers on the lake, I wasn’t surprised at my resulting blank!
The following weekend was also extremely busy with another ten anglers on & although I was unable to fish, I was bemused as to why there were so many anglers in residence, especially with so little being caught! Historically, September through to December generally proves to be one of the most difficult periods on this lake, yet it didn’t seem to be putting many people off. With one of my target fish making its third appearance of the season, I was determined to keep at it. With the availability of a couple of days holiday in mid October & with the wife’s blessing, I gave the normal weekend overnight session a miss & planned my next visit, mid-week for forty-eight hours. Having kept a close eye on the lake during the early part of the week I was aware that despite fish showing virtually all over the lake, that a small number of fish were holding up in the vicinity of the raft, so when I arrived in the early evening, a quick scout around revealed four anglers bivvied up on the ‘fence’, so I made my way round to the ‘block’ (stopping on the way to talk to Matt Murray – Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper), & hurriedly cast out all three rods at mid-range before the darkness descended. Once the bivvy was set up, I made myself comfortable & tuned into the England game on the radio. During this time, several fish could be heard crashing in front of the ‘fence’ & I woke early the next morning amazed to find I hadn’t received any action. After pondering my next move over an early morning caffeine fix, I eventually changed the rigs on the left & middle rods & hit them out at long range. I had chosen to try something different on the right rod & this was cast to around seventy yards. This approach was coupled with a ‘little & often’ baiting strategy – more by accident than design as the gulls made bait introduction almost impossible! My change of tactics were eventually rewarded just after midday when the left rod rattled off & resulted in an odd-shaped linear of 16lb 8oz. Once I’d recast, I decided to change the rig on the right rod & cast it to the edge of the area I had been baiting.
My change of tactics were eventually rewarded…
Some three hours later, I spotted a fish gently push its head out of the water right over the repositioned rig & sure enough within minutes, the right hand Delkim one-noted. After a tremendous scrap, this fish also went 16lb 8oz & was the same fish I’d witnessed being caught from the ‘hole’ back in August. The same rod produced a very rare Tench in the evening & clear skies & cold temperatures put paid to any further action. I was rudely awoken the next morning by a bream & I spent the remaining hours of my session watching the raft area intently, but it soon became obvious that the change in wind direction & the drop in air temperature had moved them out of the swim completely.
I spotted a fish gently push its head out of the water…
Having only done two sessions on the lake during the month of October, I’d tried to maintain contact with the lake as best as I could & it was becoming increasingly evident that when the water temperature dropped by just a degree or two, that it would be enough to put the carp off feeding for sustained periods & would also influence which area of the lake they were likely to hold-up. I had also begun to notice that certain fish were coming from the same areas of the lake & I knew that in order to catch my target fish, I would need to be focussing my attentions on the correct area of the lake, especially as the winter was drawing in. With a busy work schedule & lots of things that needed to be sorted out at home, it was another three weeks until I had another opportunity to fish the lake. With this, I was able to get three successive twenty-four hour sessions in during November & with the temperatures steadily diminishing, so too was the fish & angler activity & just when I thought I was beginning to suss them out, the lakes shrewd inhabitants managed to evade any further visits to my very cold unhooking mat! To put things into context, a good mate of mine had fished more than twenty day sessions at the venue since the beginning of the season & has only recently bagged his first fish of the campaign… & I’ve met people who reckon it’s easy!!! There always seems to be a never-ending pressure cycle on this place, & although it tends to be a bit of a headache, the drive to crack it convincingly is one of the things that keeps me coming back to its banks for more punishment & even though I failed to catch during November, I’ve still learned some valuable lessons for my future sessions.
Cold & bleak - hard times in winter...
December was ushered in with freezing temperatures on the back of a bitterly cold weather front & although many of the Blackroot regulars had appeared to have hung up their rods until the weather improved, I was still as determined as ever to keep at it. On one occasion I arrived at the lake to find it almost completely frozen & then opted to set up in ‘the block’ & wait for the ice to clear – madness! At this time, due to the country’s severe economic downturn & its devastating effect on the automotive industry, I was subject to fewer working hours & was given an extra week off for the Christmas holiday. Although this made general life quite difficult, it did allow me some time to fit a couple of day sessions in, albeit on the semi-frozen local canal. January arrived & continued in the same vane & the lake remained frozen solid & unfishable for a three-week period that coincided with the lowest temperatures seen in the UK for several years. With temperatures plummeting as low as –10°C, all thoughts of fishing were dispelled & it wasn’t until the third week of January, when a milder period presented me with my first opportunity to get out on the bankside for some time. I was unsure of exactly where to set up for my planned twenty-four hour session & after taking the prevailing conditions into account, I opted for 'the block’ purely because the swim allowed me to watch more of the lake. With a mild southerly wind blowing across the lake, I felt confident of some action. All three rigs were positioned in the area I was most confident in & as the raft had disappeared (it had broken loose after the effects of the severe freezing conditions), it made pinpointing these areas a little more difficult than usual. Once this was done, I left the lines slack on all three rods giving them time to settle before I attached the indicators. The rigs had been in place for no more than five minutes, when the middle Delkim bleeped twice & I noticed that the line had gone extremely slack from the rod tip. I speculatively lifted the rod & to my amazement I felt the satisfying ‘kick’ of a carp that gradually began to head out towards the right of the swim & within a few minutes I had it chugging up & down the margins in front of the swim. As the fish rolled on the surface a couple of rod lengths out in front of the waiting net displaying a deep, chestnut coloured flank, I was left in no doubt which fish I was attached to… it was the biggun – the ‘original 25’! She went into the net at the first time of asking & on the mat she looked magnificent in her full winter colours. Although I was hoping she was over the magical 30lb mark, at 29lb exactly it was still a new PB & marked the end of my 2½ year quest for this much sought after character.
I was left in no doubt which fish I was attached to…
After phoning around & texting virtually everyone listed in my phone book about the capture, I eventually enlisted the help of my pal Nik Kyte, to do the honours of taking the pictures. When he arrived, he just handed me a pack of four Stella’s, smiled, shook my hand & said “well done mate”. Another Blackroot regular, Rich’ also turned up just as Nik was doing his David Bailey bit & offered his congratulations. It’s a great feeling to share a special capture in such good company – cheers lads! Following the safe return of the big girl & after a couple of hours of chatting & supping lager, the indicator on my left rod suddenly & slowly dropped a couple of inches, then crept gradually back up to the rod butt. Convinced it was a bream, I leaned into the fish to discover I was into another carp. The fish just plodded around at long range, hugging the bottom & almost refusing to be shifted at times. When it was at close range & almost ready for the net, a big set of shoulders broke through the surface ripple revealing a good common & I knew I’d got the ‘big common’! I was elated to have caught two of my three target fish in one session! I’d seen this fish twice on the bank before, once at 26lb & Preston had caught it during February the previous year at just shy of 26lb, & although this fish was also down in weight, at 24lb I was still over the moon – a PB mirror & a PB common in the same session – what a way to start 2009!
A big set of shoulders broke through the surface ripple…
At this stage, Nik, Richard, Preston & myself begun to question whether my third & final target fish was even still alive. The ‘pit fish’ used to be a fairly frequent visitor to the bank & to our knowledge, it hadn’t been out for at least a couple of years which has lead us to believe there’s a strong possibility that this fish may have passed away. Therefore with my target completed, the only remaining fish of interest to me are the ‘linear’ & the ‘longmoor linear’ (both usually around 22lb). With only eight weeks of the season remaining, I was happy with my seasons work & any further captures from the lake would be a bonus.
I managed one more session at the lake before it froze again for another two-week period following a spell of heavy snow & plummeting temperatures (fishing one of the ‘fence’ swims). A marked return to milder weather in mid-February allowed me to fit in an overnight session before my impending trip to Yateley Pads Lake in Surrey. I arrived at the lake early Friday morning & after a quick look around, I again opted to fish the ‘block’. I was using the same type of rig that I’d taken my last two fish on, & fished three different hookbaits over the top of a light scattering of my own baits. Despite seeing no signs of fish activity, somewhere around 3:45pm the indicator on the left rod crept purposefully to the rod butt & stopped & I’d already made my mind up that it was a genuine take. At first it seemed as if the fish was snagged, but after some gentle persuasion, the line suddenly became free & I soon had the fish wallowing up & down the margins in front of the swim. At 22lb 2oz I was almost certain it was the same common that I’d caught back in August 2007, due to the ‘stub-nosed’ shape of its head & once I’d got chance to compare the pictures, this proved to be the case.
I’d already made my mind up that it was a genuine take...
Having caught one fish & realising that it could be a good time to give my new bait a proper test, I decided to put a decent amount of bait out for the night ahead. In the late evening I had a bream & this was followed by some of the most savage ‘liners’ I have ever experienced. I woke at first light to find Preston had set up next to me in the ‘35’ & Matt arrived a while later & fished the ‘hole’. I was genuinely surprised that I hadn’t had a proper take during the night & apart from a rare tench giving his seal of approval to my bait around midday, I eventually bid Matt & Preston farewell & with a wry smile on my face, made my way home. Deep down, I felt a bit smug that I’d finally found an effective solution to the Blackroot jigsaw. Having spent over two years trying to work out how best to approach the lake, I’d eventually sorted out an effective rig & bait that was paying dividends. The very nature of the takes that I was getting on the rig seemed to suggest that I’d got it right too – none of them were full-blooded runs, just steady lifts or drops of the indicator where I can almost imaging the confusion of the fish upon getting hooked...
With the impending closure of Blackroot on the 14th March, I had intended to fish a final & farewell 48-hour session on the lake during the final week, but as I had lost my appetite to fish the lake, motivation was in short supply! This was mainly due to the fact that I would have needed to book a day’s holiday from work & I felt that the holiday day would be better used later in the season on my new venue of choice. Regardless of this loss of drive, I wanted to maintain tradition, as I’d managed to fish the last weekend of the season for the previous two years I’d been on the lake. With warm Southwesterly winds forecast for the duration of my final session, I was confident of a fish or two. I arrived at the gate early on Friday morning & once the park was opened, I made my way down to the lake to find that there were five anglers on. With only one angler on the far bank & with the ‘block’ swim free, I was round there in a flash. I positioned all three rigs on the spots that I knew were being visited by feeding fish & I spread ten baits over the area with the throwing stick. I didn’t have to wait too long - just after 11:30am the left hand rod roared off & it wasn’t long before I’d got the fish nestling in the bottom of my net. Although I’d estimated its weight at around 14 to 15lb, I was surprised to see the scales settle at 16lb 4oz. Although it wasn’t as big as I’d hoped, it was beautifully marked & so I did a couple of quick self-take pictures & got a new rig back out on the spot, along with another ten baits.
I didn't have to wait too long...
I spent the remainder of the day watching the water & despite the only positive sign being a good fish crashing out in front of the ‘35’ swim, I was still hopeful of catching another fish before the dark set in. During dusk, I was midway through a telephone conversation with Matt, when the right-hand Delkim burst into life. The fish tore off to the right of the swim & once I’d gained the upper hand, the fish was soon swirling & boiling heavily in the margins. In the half-light, I caught a glimpse of a large set of shoulders break the surface & I breathed a big sigh of relief once it was in the net. I hoisted the fish onto the mat & I was surprised to find it was a big-framed common in pristine condition & although I estimated its weight at around 25lb, I was amazed that it was only 22lb 2oz - I was far from disappointed! After calling Matt back & apologizing for cutting our phone call short, he was soon on his way to the lake to assist in taking a few shots for me. Before I returned the fish to the water, we inspected it thoroughly & its mouth had no damage, hook marks or scars. Infact, the small flap of skin in the top of it’s mouth was still intact….This fish actually turned out to be of greater significance to me, as not only had the fish shown no signs of being caught before, it was the final fish of my Blackroot campaign & was my first capture on my own bait.
I was far from dissapointed!…
Following an undisturbed night, I woke early & after a cup of coffee I decided to pack away early. After discussing the day’s events with Preston, I eventually made my way off the lake before midday, possibly for the last time. Although I thought that this would be a quite poignant moment, I actually felt a degree of relief that it was all over & that I could apply all my efforts to potentially more rewarding future projects.
Looking back, my 2½ years spent on Blackroot has added an extra dimension to my carp fishing. This tough water has taught me how the need to adapt to certain conditions cannot be understated. This is also the first venue where I’d experienced the fish holding up at long range for sustained periods & although I’ve never regarded myself as a long-range specialist, I’ve had to learn how to fish at these distances in order to maximise my chances. Ultimately, I believe the biggest single issue to be line detection. In fact, although some believe that the carp will simply spook & back-off their lines… I believe it’s worse than that. I'm convinced that once they’ve detected the presence of a line or rig, that they’ll vacate & avoid the area completely for days at a time. Although I was getting sporadic action, my concern was that by using leadcore leaders, once a rig was in place, if the leader was draped over any bottom debris, it could prevent it from settling properly & a carp could detect it’s presence easily (this is also one reason why I believe some areas of the lake produce more takes than others. Due to the nature of the lakebed, many leaders & main lines can be less detectable…). By substituting leadcore leaders for long lengths of heavy flourocarbon around thirty feet in length, I could be almost certain that my lines would settle among the bottom debris & mould to its contours & therefore avoid spooking fish from my target area. Presentation wise, I needed to use a pop-up rig to keep the hookpoint clear of the bottom & by using a chod rig fished in conjunction with these long lengths of heavy fluorocarbon, this turned out to be a major part of my success. I liked the chod rig for three simple reasons: it casts well at long range, it doesn’t tangle & it would be presented perfectly whatever type of bottom it was on. Initially, a standard chod rig didn’t work as well as I’d hoped – this, I believe was down to the leadcore leader not lying flat on the lakebed. Once I’d come up with a way of using a ‘leaderless’ presentation, I never looked back. The final requirements were a sharp hook & good bait. Although a chemically sharpened hook taken straight from a packet seems sharp, it isn’t! Once I’d got that right in my head, I began sharpening them myself to make them considerably sharper & by using a good quality bait (& ultimately my own bait…) applied sensibly, I managed to complete my mission during one of the hardest times of the year.
To sign off, I’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ to all the guys I’ve met down there & without doubt, I will always have fond memories of the place. It has some proper character fish & even perhaps one or two ‘myths’... & although it’s not an easy water, it does reward good & efficient angling. Long live ‘THE ROOT’!!!