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Back In The Day

After the conclusion of my Blackroot campaign in March 2009, I had intended to focus my attention on the Swag, but with the lake being very close to a large council estate & with a lot of youngsters loitering around the pool during the late evenings, I had some serious concerns over my safety. I therefore needed to spend my precious fishing time on a more suitable venue. I got to work straight away doing lots of research & it seemed that the majority of the local lakes were all struggling to fit the criteria I craved – it was paramount that any lake worth consideration had to have secure parking, contain fish to 30lb+ & not be too expensive to fish… & let’s face it, unless you live in the Southern counties there aren’t too many places around like this! Trying to find a suitable venue was proving to be an almost impossible task & at times I felt as if I was banging my head up against a brick wall. After spending some time mulling over the few options available to me, there was one particular venue that I’d had in mind some years previously, & after some in-depth investigation, I realised this venue would fit into my plans perfectly. The lake in question is approximately 80 acres in size & has a reputation as being very hard – due mainly to it’s low stocking levels. My knowledge of the lake was very limited, but I was aware of the presence of some original leney strain fish, known to be in excess of 30lb. There has even been the occasional rumour of fish over the magical 40lb mark & after a few phone calls & some sustained research, I eventually managed to secure my ticket for the 2009/2010 season, along with my good mates Ben & Chris.

The lake itself is relatively shallow & whilst it is very well matured with large reedbeds, lilly beds, & heavily tree lined banks, it is set in the backdrop of a busy road network. After spending countless hours searching the internet & speaking to close friends about the lake, what information about the carp fishing I could unearth was painfully minimal. All I knew for certain was that it was not going to be an easy water to fish! With my impending trip to Lac Desire in France in the first week of July with a party of eight lads, we were unable to get our campaign underway as soon as the season had begun, so by the time we’d returned from France, the new season was already four weeks old. However, the following week we headed down to the lake for our first session at the new venue.

Without knowing enough about the fish stock, we were unsure of exactly what the lake would be capable of producing & ultimately, this was the added extra spark required to fire us on. Our first session during early August, was planned for twenty-four hours & after spending an hour or so in the pouring rain looking at swims & trying to find the best place to start, we opted to set up in an area on the fringe of a large weedbed, where we felt sure that fish would be close by. However, once I’d taken to the water in waders, I realised just how severe the weed growth was, & I actually struggled to find any suitable areas to position a rig. After spending a lot of time trudging up & down the margins, I eventually found a couple of areas that I could present a rig on. Once the traps were set, I spent the majority of the day sheltering from the rain & trying to dry out. As the evening approached, we sat & discussed our individual tactics & mulled over ideas for the future. Certainly, I’d underestimated the weed growth & I’d arrived with a preconceived idea that I’d be fishing at range. Armed with 12lb mono & 3oz distance leads, it was a bit of a wake-up call to be fishing the margins amongst dense weed! Needless to say nothing was caught, but we did see several signs of carp activity within the area we were fishing, so we were pleased that we’d got the location right. Before we left, both Ben & I took time to scout around the opposite end of the lake, where we were fortunate to spot more carp enjoying the afternoon sun. From this, we identified a number of areas worth targeting for future sessions.

I was back at the lake just four days after our first session, & this time my tactical approach had undergone a serious overhaul… the 12lb SUFIX Synergy had been replaced with 20lb DAIWA Sensor mono, 30lb NASH Armourbraid leaders & inline dung leads were incorporated & fished ‘drop-off’ style. I had to ensure that any fish that was hooked ejected the lead straight away & that I had the best chance of extracting them out of the dense weedbeds. I opted to set up in a tight swim that allowed access to what Ben & I believed were potential night patrol routes for the carp. Clearing some of the weed in the margins revealed a couple of clear spots where I could position my rigs, which was done with minimal fuss & each spot received a token handful of hempseed in an attempt to draw any passing fish to investigate. I had been fortunate to spot some subtle signs of carp activity at short range in the early evening & I was even lucky enough to witness two seperate commons close by, the first being a dark fish of around mid twenties, with the second around low twenties... they were certainly in the area! Heavy rain began at sometime around 3:00pm & apart from having to reposition the left hand rod after about an hour, when a feisty pike got its prey stuck in my line, nothing happened until dark, when I started receiving liners. At one point, the indicator on the left rod lifted straight up to the rod butt & stayed on a tight line. As I was unable to reposition the rig at night, I opted to just slacken the line off again & hope the rig hadn’t moved. The rain relented at around 3:00am & after twelve hours of persistent rain, I was glad to eventually get out of the sleeping bag in the morning & dry everything out before I headed off home. Evaluating the session, I knew that my line / leader wasn’t as tight to the lakebed as possible (it was still trailing over small patches of weed), & although I’d employed the use of two backleads, I felt certain that any feeding fish that came into contact with my lines would have ‘done the off’. In the future, I had to make 100% certain that my lines were firmly on the bottom & undetectable as possible.

The following weekend I returned to the lake around 4:30am on Saturday morning & met up with Ben on the car park. Chris was already in situ, having fished the Friday night so with cup in hand, we made our way round to Chris’s swim & persuaded him to get the kettle on. Chris proceeded to fill us in on the events of his session & after finishing our early morning brew we left him to get a little more shut-eye, before we went for a scout around round the lake. Despite not seeing any positive signs of fish, we decided to return to an area of the lake we had both fished last time, where we’d seen fish on previous visits & there were certainly one or two small ‘dinner plates’ (small clear patches within the weed), where we felt we could present a rig. Due to the severe Canadian pondweed infestation that had dominated two large areas of the lake, my thoughts regarding swim selection would often revolve around areas where the weed growth was visibly minimal. However, I came to realise that the majority of the lakes carp population had an obvious attraction to the denser areas of weed growth & interestingly, seemed to prefer areas where there was an abundance of silkweed. For certain, I needed to be fishing in these areas, but I had to come up with an effective approach for this type of fishing. I got to work making a small weed rake that would screw directly into a spare landing net handle & I also constructed a small cup that would fit the same handle. A method was beginning to take shape - by wading out with a ‘prodding stick’ to find suitable areas to present a rig, I would clear the area with the rake & make a small channel back to the rod tips so that the leader could be kept out of the way of patrolling fish, which I was able achieve with some tiny 1/8oz backleads which I had made specifically for this purpose. After raking, by leaving the area to settle for a while, I could lower a rig into position & by substituting the rake head for the cup, I could then deposit a bed of bait very accurately. I arrived at my swim knackered after pushing a loaded barrow with a flat tyre - a word of advice here - I’ve learnt a good lesson… keep the tyres on your barrow correctly inflated. Mine had deflated since the last time I used it & then I’d pushed a full load round on a flat tyre. When I tried to inflate the tyre for my next session, the inner tube had been damaged. It took some searching round on the internet to locate a new one & fitting the damn thing is a two man job!!! Having chosen to fish a swim a few yards down from Ben, I spent ten minutes or so clearing two small areas that looked almost ‘natural’, then I left the water to settle for a while I set up my camp & sorted my rods out. After about half an hour I returned to the water & the right hand rig was lowered into position & was followed with a good helping of chilli hempseed, the left was positioned with great care & received a small amount of whole & chopped baits. Taking great care to ensure the leaders were as inconspicuous as possible, the traps were now set & all I needed now was for Mr carp to come & dine at my dinner table! As it turned out, the session was largely uneventful, aside from meeting & having a very long conversation with ‘the legend’ (local angling ‘hero’ & specimen hunter extraordinaire…), & being fortunate to receive a visit from the young bailiff who showed us some pictures of some of the resident fish. From what information we could gather, we knew there were a few 30lb commons & mirrors in the lake with the rumour of a forty, but my appetite was whetted further by the news that there’s also a fully-scaled mirror believed to be well over thirty!


I set up camp & sorted my rods out...

The following morning I made a grim discovery… With not so much as a bleep during the night, I presumed no fish had visited my ‘spots’. Following an early morning cup of coffee, I slipped on my waders to sneak out into the water to take a peek… All the particles, chopped baits & the majority of the whole baits had gone - I’d been cleaned out! Worse still, was that I could very clearly see the leadcore leader trailing over a small shelf to the lead & was perhaps as much as four inches off the bottom. This was not acceptable & although I was confident that what I was doing was along the right lines, the method still needed some ‘refining’.

I managed to fit two forty-eight hour sessions in during late August / early September & as a result of this time spent at the lakeside, I felt as if I was still some distance away from formulating a positive plan of attack. It did seem however, that the majority of the fish spent much of their time in & around the southernmost end of the lake closest to the car park. In the latest session, Ben managed to get in amongst the bream & whilst this was not what we were trying to achieve, ultimately it turned out to be an extremely valuable lesson for us all – that his rigs were presented in an acceptable manner in an area where the carp spent a fair bit of their time. Unfortunately for me, this presented another problem – I was using 20lb mono to combat the weed which seriously hampered my casting & although another re-think was needed, I was beginning to get a positive picture in my head of what we needed to do to catch these wily old creatures…

After a quick overnighter the following weekend yielded just one tench, it was another two weeks until I was able to get back to the lake for a full forty-eight hour session. During my time spent away from the lake, very little (if anything) had been caught & it was time to re-assess the situation… The regulars were focussing most of their efforts on one area in particular, which had good form from previous seasons. Similarly Ben, Chris, Rich (a new acquaintance) & I had spent the last month fishing an area adjacent to it with no success either. With approximately ten anglers fishing hard in an area covering about an acre of water with nothing to show for their efforts, I felt it was pointless returning to the same area unless carp were evidently resident. With this in mind & no positive signs of fish to go on, I opted to move further round the lake to an area where the weed began to thin out & I’d seen carp activity earlier in the season. I selected a swim that had access to a small weedbed to the left & a number of small silt pockets at various ranges & after spending a great deal of time with the marker float, I opted to fish all three rods at around ninety yards over a minimal scattering of baits. The first night was uneventful & I spent the bulk of the following day watching the water intently & deliberating long & hard over my next move. The bulk of any fish activity that I had seen was limited to the odd patch of bubbling & the occasional casual ‘bream roll’ at long range. I had a little ‘lead around’ at that range to determine the bottom make up, & after realising that the weed wasn’t too bad, I chose to remove the leadcore leaders & fish two rods with long fluorocarbon leaders. After depositing a kilo of bait over the area, I went to sleep feeling as confident as I’d been so far. The next morning a heavy mist gave the lake an eerie feel & just as I was preparing to make the first brew of the day, the middle Delkim burst into life. On lifting the rod, in a split-second it hooped over everything went solid. After ten minutes or so of trying to get the fish moving, I put the rod down to let everything go slack. Every now & again it would take a couple of inches of line & it was clear that it was just sulking in a patch of sub-surface weed, with the occasional shake of its head betraying its presence. I called Rich who was round in a flash, & he summoned Jake (the bailiff) who arrived with the boat around forty minutes later. Observing the safety guidelines, we donned life jackets & interestingly, although the lake was crystal clear, as we made our way over to the spot where the fish was lying, the water began to colour up heavily & it was evident that there had been fish feeding in the vicinity. Once we were right over the top of the fish, I applied heavy pressure & as the rod tip pulled down the fluorocarbon leader swiftly parted. Upon close inspection, there was no evidence of fraying & the break was clean, indicating that it may have been cut on something sharp. I was understandably gutted, but with thoughts going through my mind of possible fish size, I was pleased that my rigs were set up safely & I knew that the lead had discharged immediately, leaving just a short hooklink for the culprit to get rid of. Reflecting on the situation, I was confident that using a fluorocarbon leader was the way forward, but it needed to be ‘bombproof! To compound my problems, the 12lb mono main line made it almost impossible to put any pressure on the snagged fish, due to the amount of stretch in it. Ultimately, I knew the answer was to use a braided mainline, but with the excessive cost associated with spooling up with large amounts of this material, it was important that I made the correct selection… 


An area where I'd seen carp activity earlier in the season...

The summer seemed little more than a distant memory as almost overnight, the trees turned to a vibrant shade of gold & the seasonal temperatures had begun to reflect the arrival of October. Despite this, the lads & myself still managed to maintain our bankside presence, despite the lack of carp action. Poor Rich had even suffered the unfortunate event of having a blow-out on his barrow that sounded like a gunshot when it exploded – in fact, so severe was the force that it completely shredded the outer wall of the tyre! Our results had been limited to picking up the occasional tench or bream, & I even had an extremely bizarre event of lassoing a pike around its tail after casting out to around eighty yards. Despite not catching much between us, we kept ourselves highly entertained by playing several games of ‘conkers’ after the many Horse-Chestnut trees around the lake decided to rain its produce down on us in the adverse weather! You’d be amazed at what lengths we went to mount them on short lengths of ‘Kryston Quicksilver!!! Whilst we were only a few short weeks away from December, the weed was still causing us a lot of problems & although the bulk of the Canadian Pondweed growth had subsided, large surface areas of the lake were covered in thick blanket weed that rendered some swims almost impossible to fish.  My main concern with this was that much of this weed was abundant on the surface close in. This was present in the majority of the swims & in most cases it meant having to drape your main lines over it to the rig. Whilst this in itself would seem not too much of an issue, a slight breeze would cause your lines to pull up tight, making line lay to the rig far from ideal. On top of this, not only did the false bleeps created from the ridiculous amounts of dead leaves drive me crazy, but the ever-increasing tufted duck & mallard population seemed to have an attraction to these areas of blanket weed & inevitably, they’d have me half out the sleeping bag in the dead of night with my heart pounding as they waddled merrily along picking up all three lines at the same time with their feet! Something had to be done & as I wasn’t fortunate enough to own a pair of ‘chesties’, I dug out my old eleven metre pole & rather crudely managed to strap a small rake head to it. I was certain that if I could clear the path for my main lines & get the line lay correct, I’d be increasing my chances of a pickup quite considerably.

Throughout the summer, we’d met all the guys who were targeting the lakes carp population & it had taken me until only very recently to realize that Ben, Chris, Rich & myself were in fact the only carp anglers on the lake. By this I mean that as winter had arrived, the other lads had all switched to angle for the lakes predators – therefore technically they were specialist anglers, as opposed to out-&-out carp anglers. I had a conversation with a specialist angler one afternoon that gave me plenty of positives regarding the lakes winter carp fishing potential. He’d said that he’d seen a lot of carp during the colder months & that he’d never known anyone enter into a sustained winter campaign for them. In addition, he was convinced that he’d witnessed two fish that were in excess of 40lb during the previous closed season! I managed to get one more forty eight hour session in before the end of October which turned out to be a bit of a nightmare for various reasons including having all three main lines weaved together one afternoon following the effect of strong winds & drifting blanket weed, then during the early hours of one morning, the wind direction swung round 180° & the rain arrived forcing me re-peg the brolly & turn it round in the increasing wind & rain. However I did learn some very interesting things about some of the clear marginal spots amongst the weed. After wading out to one or two of them, I scooped some of the silt samples up to see what they contained – it was full of broken mussel shells & alive with bloodworm! No wonder these spots were being kept so clean. Both Ben & I knew that this was a natural food source that we had to tap into for the winter ahead…

I managed to get another three sessions in during November, two spent fishing an area that was known to have some decent form from seasons gone by, followed by a return to the swim where I’d spent much of the summer. Although I didn’t catch on either of these sessions it was another useful learning curve in as much as I was able to identify one or two areas that looked as if they’d been fed on by carp in recent times. Although much of the area was unfishable during the summer, the weed had given way to some prominent clear areas that gave me confidence that fish were responsible. After a good ‘lead around’ I identified a pronounced area of gravel at around sixty yards, where I was able to position all three rigs. Whilst putting a kilo of bait onto the spot, a fish rolled in the half-light of dusk giving me a real confidence boost. Although I couldn’t guarantee it was a carp, at least it backed up my theory that fish were clearing these areas consistently. After getting a series of ‘liners’ during the early morning, I left to consider my options for the remaining months of the season & to come up with a plan of attack. After analysing the bigger picture, it was evident that the carp stubbornly chose not to play by the rules – it seemed that they were unwilling to follow the wind in most situations (at any time of the year), & invariably they’d often turn up in an area of the lake where technically they should not have been, so swim hopping & moving around the lake appeared to be quite pointless in retrospect.  I decided on a plan of action for the winter, I planned to target just one area of the lake & keep the bait going in regularly on the same spots. I knew that the carp visited the area frequently during the summer months, so I had no reason to believe they wouldn’t continue to visit the same spots during the winter. With the cold weather really starting to bite, I’d finally decided to ditch the oval brolly in favour of my Ultralite, & after purchasing the ‘Duvet’ sleeping bag from AQUA, I was suitably prepared for cold nights ahead. All I needed now was a ton of bait & the fish to succumb to my plan…


All I needed now was a ton of bait & the fish to succumb to my plan...

After much deliberation, I decided to take a week off from the relentless pursuit of the ‘Coombe myths’ during the final week of November in order to keep the wife happy. After all, I’d fished virtually every Friday night straight through September, October & November without taking a break, so I figured now was the right time to give it a rest. However, I did manage to do a short day session on my local canal after a short spell of prebaiting & although I didn’t catch, the new bait was being cleared off the spots regularly & this gave me some extra confidence in it.

I returned to Coombe the following weekend with renewed optimism & after plumbing the area I intended to focus on for the winter, I decided to prime the swim first before beginning to fish it the following week & I opted to fish another swim further along the same bank in the meantime. My main target swim revealed an area of firm gravel that sloped steadily into a clean silt pocket just few yards to the left of it at around fifty yards range & five foot of water. I clipped the lead rod up at this range, then proceeded to spod two kilos of whole & chopped baits onto it, where I hoped it would clear sufficiently before my next session & give me a good indication whether fish had been feeding on it, or not. I arrived back at the lake five days later to find Ben already in residence a few swims further along the same bank. After a brief chat, I continued to my swim & quickly cast a lead out to the clip to find that the spot was still a little weedy, but sufficiently clear enough to allow me to present three balanced bottom-bait rigs on eight inch hooklinks presented ‘blow-back style’ with 3oz leads. With very little indication of fish activity during Friday night & Saturday morning, the clear skies meant that the lake received a good deal of sunlight & at one stage I noticed a few bubbles appearing right on ‘the spot’. Within minutes of this, I had a series of single bleeps from the middle rod, which eventually prompted a rig change. When I reeled the rig in, the hair was twisted several times around the shank of the hook (I had prevented this from happening during the cast by using foam), which left both Ben & I to question, had I been done??? I hastily tied up another rig & gave it two hours in position before heading off home, & although the session was another blank one, one thing was certain… something had been feeding on the spot, which gave me a much-needed confidence boost. Before departing, I spodded another two kilos of chopped & whole baits onto the spot & planned to get back to the lake as soon as possible...

The final few days before the festive period allowed me to squeeze in a couple of overnight sessions, the first of which saw the temperatures plummet to –5°C, that prompted all eighty acres of the lake to freeze solid. A few days later, a small area of the lake thawed enough to enable a return… then it promptly froze for a second time, forcing me to leave my gear to gather dust for a few weeks. Although no takes were forthcoming from these two sessions, I did receive a few positive indications after introducing some pellets in sloppy form & using small pellet hookbaits. I was certain that there had been fish in the swim up to the point the lake froze & I was disappointed at not being able to get back into the swim following a full four-week freeze-up. I returned to the lake in mid January & I’d opted to revert back to using chod rigs, but after a long discussion with Ben, I chose to use leadcore instead of the long fluorocarbon leaders I’d employed earlier in the season – the reason being that I felt that fish were ‘grubbing’ around in the remnants of weed & coming into contact with the leader as it was draped loosely over the small patches of decaying weed, possibly spooking them off the spot – hence the slight indications, with no positive pick-ups. By employing 45lb ESP leadcore leaders, hopefully I would avoid spooking any feeding fish from the zone. After getting good drops on all three casts, around half a kilo of bait was pulted out to the spot whilst I got the bivvy set up in the worsening rain. Once dark set in, I began getting liners & sometime around 6:00pm, I received what seemed like a typical bream bite on the middle rod. However, I lifted the rod to find nothing there & the rig looked fine. Once recast to the spot, I topped up with another quarter of a kilo of bait & the liners continued through the evening, eventually grinding to a halt around midnight. During this time, I’d seen no signs of fish showing & I left somewhat amazed that I hadn’t hooked any of the culprits. The following weekend I was able to do a forty-eight hour session & with temperatures dropping down as low as -4°C, the lake again froze on both nights. This session also turned out to be a bit of a headache too as not only were the tufties learning that the small round balls that we were heaving into the lake quite tasty & nutritious - the seagulls were beginning to cotton on to it too… With only six weeks left before the lake closed, I was becoming increasingly dubious about any potential opportunities arising before the season end, largely due to the instability of the prevailing weather conditions.

I managed to squeeze in another three sessions from the last week of January to late February between periods where the lake had frozen up on several occasions. The last of these trips was in marginally better conditions with cool winds & light rain for the duration of my twenty-four hour session. After receiving a series of single indications in the early morning that was now becoming a common pattern during these sessions, I swapped over to 2oz running leads, long fluorocarbon hooklinks with a single grain of imitation maize fished over a couple of small spods of corn in a desperate attempt to work out what was happening in the swim. After around half an hour the left rod was away & for a moment or two, my heart was in my mouth... However, the minimal resistance on the end of the line soon revealed the culprit – a small bream. The picture of what had been happening in the swim over the last few months was now much clearer. I believe the bulk of the ‘liners’ to be these shoals of small bream that are attracted by boilies, but are not able to physically get them into their mouths. In all fairness, I don’t believe that my approach to fishing the area of the lake that I had chosen was wrong, I simply think that the carp weren’t visiting the area as often as I’d like to have thought they were! After all, textbooks would have us believe that the area was simply perfect for the winter, but almost inevitably it seemed that the carp steadfastly refused to adhere to basic carp law… With only one more session left before the end of the season, I was left to consider what my final move would be. Although the session was to be a bit of a ‘knees-up’, hoping to end the season on a high was top of my agenda.

For my final session of the 2009 / 2010 season, I had hoped to fish a different area for my final ‘throw of the dice’, but when I arrived at the lake with Ben on Saturday morning, there were already two anglers in situ so we headed back to the swims where we’d spent the bulk of the winter period. I finally managed to arrive at my swim at around 9:00am completely exhausted after pushing my barrow loaded with what seemed like more food & cooking gear than tackle! Being in no hurry to get started, I set up the Ultralite, then rigged up both rods with chod rigged Tutti’s. Once I’d made a couple of casts to get a feel for the lake bed, I hit both ‘choddies’ out at around seventy yards, getting nice firm drops on both. I then proceeded to spread around 100 baits over the area & it wasn’t long until the kettle was on & Chris was down for a brew. Needless to say, nothing was caught, but we had a good social with plenty of good food a couple of bottles of France’s finest for good measure that ensured we got a good nights sleep. During the evening whilst we filled our bellies, we evaluated the season coming to a close: All the reports suggested that only twelve fish had been out all season. Talking to the other anglers, they actually believed that in fact, it was probably closer to seven or eight! On top of this, we didn’t get started on the lake until late August & most of these fish were caught prior to our campaign getting underway. So although we’d not caught, we’d hooked & lost three fish between us & while this doesn’t represent an achievement by any means, considering the minimal amount of action received by the other anglers, our ‘failure’ could be brought into true perspective. The most important thing was that we’d learned some very important lessons & even after suffering all of the blank sessions, we were still supremely confident that we would make it all count the following season. On a personal level, I was happy to leave the lake to be, knowing that my next return to the lake would be in three months time when the lake would return to life, the trees would be in full bloom & the long, cold nights would be long-forgotten. It seems quite strange that after eight months of blank sessions, that I was looking forward to having another season chasing the lakes mysterious inhabitants! I can fully empathize with anglers that come to this lake in an attempt to ‘unlock its secrets’, then after a few weeks decide it’s not for them – it’s a tough test for the mind & the soul!

During the three-month lay-off of the closed season, both Ben Chris & myself continued to make regular visits to the lake as soon as the weather had begun to improve in early April. The plan was relatively simple – to note fish sightings & to keep plenty of bait going onto those spots - the theory being that as they were beginning to become more active due to the increase in water temperature, their search for food prior to spawning & the weed taking full hold would hopefully enable them to recognise these feeding spots throughout the forthcoming season. By sticking to the same area that we’d spent much of the season before, we saw plenty of fish sightings to give us confidence that what we were doing was along the right lines. Throughout the previous summer, we had tried to fish around the weed, whilst the carp were content to stay held up in it. This season, the plan was straightforward – we’d got to fish in directly into it! Ben, Chris & I had booked off the 15th & 16th of June so we could be on the lake on the opening night. I pulled into the car park at 1:30pm & soon had the barrow loaded up as I began the arduous journey round to the swim I planned to fish. I arrived to find Ben & Chris already in residence in their respective swims & after a quick chat & a brew I continued on to my swim to get everything ready for the start of my session. The weed was not as severe as it had been the previous summer & after a 'lead around' over the area that I’d been priming, I was relatively pleased to find that there were some small clear areas within the weed – a good sign that the spots had been fed on regularly. This discovery forced me to alter my plans slightly. I had intended to fish balanced bottom-bait presentations, but as the area was still a bit weedy, I decided that chodernoster presentations were just what the doctor ordered. After a few casts to pinpoint the spots with accuracy, both rods were clipped up so that I could get them ‘on the money’ at midnight. In conversation with Ben, he had decided to put a lot of bait onto his spots earlier in the day & just fish small sticks once it was time to cast out, which I agreed was a good idea so with that in mind I pulted approximately three kilos of boiled bait out to the spot & left it to be for the day whilst I observed it closely during the afternoon. As the afternoon lazily progressed into the evening Ben, Chris, Rich & myself enjoyed a couple beers whilst we sat around discussing our thoughts for the season ahead. To bring in the season with a bit of style, we fired up a couple of barbecues & popped open a couple of bottles of France's cheapest. With our bellies full of burgers, chicken & red wine, we enthused further following a couple of possible subtle 'shows' during the evening – the excitement was growing! The following morning, I awoke to a series of single bleeps from the left-hand rod & I peered at my watch - it was only 4:30am. I strained to look further round the reeds & spotted a coot diving right over my baited area - great. After sending the offender on his way by casting an empty spod towards him, I climbed back in to the sack for some desperately needed shut-eye. Within minutes of drifting off into the 'land of nod', another couple of bleeps signalled the coots' return. Once again I was out of the bag & the spod was despatched with a little bit more aggression! After this continued to happen about a dozen times over the following half an hour, I reluctantly admitted defeat & fired up the kettle. I sat by the edge of the lake for around two hours watching the water like a hawk & consuming copious amounts of tea where I may have seen the occasional sign of fish activity at extreme range amongst the hoards of ducks that frequented that part of the lake. Ultimately, due to the hot, sunny weather & the fact that the bankside activity was very busy compared to quietness of the preceding three months, there was no concrete evidence to suggest that any carp had even ventured into our area of lake at all during the period that we were there. I decided not to return to the lake the following weekend - largely due to England's second World Cup group match being played against Algeria on the Friday evening & having too many things to do up until then to keep the wife happy. With this in mind, & having seen what effect the start of the new season had had on the lake, I decided to give it a miss until the following weekend where I could fit in a full & uninterrupted forty-eight hour session, when hopefully the bankside activity would have died down a little bit. Admittedly, after watching England's abject performance in their respective group game, I did wonder whether I should've made the effort after all. Despite this, Ben maintained his bankside presence & with a single tench to show for his efforts, this reassured me that I had made the right decision.

The following Friday I left work at 1:00pm on the dot, packed the car & made my way down the M6 towards the lake of my obsession to the sounds of Kasabian. After pulling into the car park, I quickly loaded up the barrow & headed off in search of carp. On my way round the lake, I stopped a few times to check a few of the large lily beds for signs of life which I figured would be a good bet, considering the hot & sunny conditions at the time. In one particular swim, I spotted a couple of pads lift & on closer inspection, I could just about make out the frame of a large, bronze coloured common that looked simply huge! I watched for a few minutes before continuing my journey looking for the closest fishable area to the lily bed where I had earlier seen the big common. Just two swims further down, there was a gap between two lily beds that looked like a perfect place to ambush these fish. Once I'd noticed that there was another angler set up in the swim that I had been priming through the closed season, my mind was instantly made up - I'd have to fish the swim between the pads & in all fairness, it was an opportunity I simply had to take. A quick plumb around with the lead rod revealed a light covering of weed on the bottom, no more that eight inches thick all over the area, & I decided to use 12" long braided hooklinks set up blowback style with balanced snowman hookbaits & two ounce flat pear leads mounted on lead clips & leadcore leaders. With a nugget of foam on the hook, both rigs were swung into position & two kilos of freebies were liberally deposited onto both of the spots. The bailiff arrived moments later & was curious to know why I hadn't wanted to fish my usual swim. When he looked over to the guy who was set up in it, he said "he can't fish it anyway - he hasn't got a ticket" - "I'll tell him he has to leave". With that he was off. Eventually, the guy packed up & made his way back towards the car park, stopping behind me for a chat. He introduced himself & explained that he was from Lithuania & that his English wasn't too good. "You drink beer?" he asked, to which I explained that I didn't want a drink & thanked him all the same. "No, no, you drink beer with me" he said, so I accepted his offer, thinking that he would then carry on his way & leave me in peace. "You like food?" he then asked & I again told him that I had plenty of food & I didn't need any more, but thanked him for his kind offer. At this point I should have known better - he was 'buttering' me up for something. He again said, "No, you eat - I insist" & he opened up a small plastic tub revealing some small spicy snacks. "Eat, eat” he said so I took him up on his offer & sampled one whilst we stood watching the lake drinking a can of lager each. Then he started... He looked straight at me & asked "I watch you catch carps tonight?". I said that I didn't understand what he was asking me. "I stay here behind you, watch you catch carps in night?". This guy was going to set up his tent behind me, rather than get kicked off the lake because he didn't have a ticket to fish. Very quickly I text Jake (the bailiff) to tell him what was going on & within minutes he arrived. Jake very politely explained that he had to leave as he was going to lock the gates to the fishery for the night. "No, I stay & watch man catch carps tonight" he said pointing at me. "He say I can stay", but Jake was having none of it, telling him that camping was strictly forbidden & that he had to leave. Very reluctantly, the guy made his way down the track towards the car park, tossing his empty lager can into the bushes on the way & Jake hit the roof. He ran after him, telling him not so politely this time that he'd had enough & after his littering act he needed to go sharpish! Fortunately, the chap didn't reappear, although I fully expected him to, & I was eventually left alone to continue my session - what a fuss! I managed to get a fish taking floaters in front of the lily pads in the late evening, but only very delicately & I eventually retired to bed after listening to the Chile v Spain World Cup match on the radio. I woke at around 3:30am after a fish noisily rolled at close quarters & the sun was just beginning to appear over the trees. I lay there for a couple of hours watching the sun slowly getting higher in the sky, when out of the blue, the tip of the right hand rod hammered round, the Delkim let out a one-noter & the reel clutch was whizzing at high speed. I leaped out the bag & as soon as I lifted the rod, there was no resistance revealing that the hook had actually pulled during the take. At first I wondered if the fish could have been foul-hooked, but considering one of the hoobaits had come off the hair, I assumed it had been hooked ‘fair & square’. Within a couple of minutes, a new rig was lowered into position & I deposited another kilo of freebies onto the spot. Almost straight away, large plumes of bubbles started heaving to the surface right on the bait & not long after there were sheets of bubbles coming up in an area covering about a meter square. I couldn't believe that I was not getting a pick-up in this situation & I was becoming increasingly concerned that the rig had buried deep into the weed after the heavy feeding activity & after watching the spectacle for two and a half hours, seeing the slack line flicker & lift all the time reducing me to a near nervous wreck, I decided enough was enough, something had to be done. As I feared the hookbait simply wasn't visual enough, I quickly reeled in the left rod & set up a chod rig. I lowered the rig into position, alongside the right hand rod as quietly as I could & slid a backlead down the line to pin it out of the way, left the line slack & switched off both of the Delkims. After parking my backside down on the chair, I turned round to tidy up my tackle box only to hear the clutch on the rod I'd just positioned going into meltdown. Straight away I leaned into the fish & it didn't take long to get it into the margins where I could clearly see that a small common around 8lb was twisting & turning on top of the leader trying desperately to shake the hook & just as I went to put the net in the water, the small common achieved its objective - the hook unceremoniously came adrift. At that point, around mid-morning, the sun was baking down on the lake signalling another very hot day & I decided to rest the swim by reeling in both rods & putting in another kilo of bait. Ben arrived around lunchtime & dropped in two swims to my left & we spent the day trying to keep cool whilst we continually scanned the pads for signs of carp activity. As the evening approached I put each rod back on the spots, this time fishing chodernosters as after I had lost the common that morning, I felt that if the lead had ejected I'd have stood a better chance of the hook holding for longer during the fight. Whilst sitting in Bens swim around 10:30pm, my receiver signalled a blazing run on the left hand rod & once in the swim & I was horrified to see a swan furiously shaking its head after it had somehow managed to pick up my hookbait. Ben very calmly hand-lined it to the bank where he managed to hold the swan long enough to retrieve the hook from the edge of its beak & then releasing him again! Around midnight, I retired to the sleeping bag & no sooner had I taken off my boots, the right hand Delkim bleeped a couple of times & the line pulled up tight that turned out to be a small bream. With a fresh cork ball pop-up tied on, I repositioned the rig & concentrated on getting some shut-eye. A much bigger bream put in an appearance at 2:30am & I woke at around 5:30am sweating like mad as the sun blazed down on the Ultralite. With the kettle on, I sat & watched the spots intensely as the fizzing begun again, but without the intensity of the previous morning. Ben came down to see me & I told him that I reckoned tench were to blame, which was confirmed around half an hour later when one rolled lazily on the surface. After we'd consumed a couple of cups of coffee & a hearty bacon sandwich, I decided that it was time to start packing away. As I was loading up the barrow, the spool on the right hand rod began to spin purposefully & the back of the pads started to shake & I dived on the rod fully expecting an angry carp to be responsible, but instead a good-sized male tench popped up on the edge of the pads with a very guilty look on its face. Once I'd made my way off the lake, I evaluated the session; I'd had six takes (albeit one of them wasn't from a fish...), resulting in two bream, one tench & two hooked, but ultimately lost carp – perhaps as much action in two days than I'd received during the previous season! I now knew that it was imperative that location was of upmost importance on my future sessions instead of blindly waiting for the fish to come to me.

I managed to fit in a quick overnight session prior to my trip to France in early July & it was another four weeks until I was able to return to the lake, where I planned a forty-eight hour session during the first week of August – twelve months to the week since our very first visit to the lake. Having noted that the area where I’d hooked & lost the two fish some six weeks earlier was ‘stitched-up’ by other anglers, I opted to return to my usual swim, where a warm wind was pushing steadily into that corner of the lake. In my absence, the weed had not grown on too severely & my normal spots were still relatively clear. Once I’d positioned both rigs & set up camp, Ben arrived to resume residence in his usual swim & we spent the evening discussing the potential of a feature that Ben had located whilst out in a boat some weeks earlier – a silt channel that progresses from one corner of the lake out into the middle. Early Saturday morning Ben spent a lot of time with a marker rod trying to plot the exact position of the channel & after positioning two rigs & depositing four kilos of bait via the throwing stick, we enjoyed a ‘bostin’ bacon sandwich whilst we whiled away the hours discussing all manner of topics. Around 7:00pm, a good common pushed its head out of the water at around eighty yards range to the left of the channel & all of a sudden, we were much more optimistic for the night ahead. Around 10:30pm, I bid Ben goodnight & decided on an early night. Sometime around 12:30am I heard a fish crash out in front of my swim & after a couple of bleeps from the right hand Neville, I jumped out of the bag to discover that that fish had shown right over my spots. During the following couple of hours, the right-hand Neville continued to bleep periodically & I was sure it was only a matter of time until it rattled off. The next thing I remember was Ben shouting me… I looked at my watch again – it was 3:30am & I hurried round to Bens swim to find him standing in the water holding his landing net & looking somewhat bemused - he just looked at me & said “I’ve got one!” As he relayed the events of the battle, I handed him his head torch while I sorted out the sling, mat & scales. As he lifted the fish out onto the mat, we marvelled at the stunning, but old-looking common & once a weight of 23lb exactly was recorded, we quickly took some pictures before fully inspecting the fish. It was in immaculate condition with no evident mouth, fin or body damage. In fact, there were no definite signs that it had ever been banked before. Once Ben released the fish, we fired up the kettle for a celebratory brew whilst we discussed the significance of the capture. Without doubt, whilst the fish was not huge by normal standards, it still represented a massive achievement & any fish from the lake – regardless of size – was a major result. However, the real merits of its capture undoubtedly lay with the discovery of the silt channel & with a big piece of the jigsaw now fixed into place, the future looks extremely promising. In addition to this, it proved very useful to my own swim. I’d had my doubts about the spots that I had been targeting for some time, as although I had seen signs of carp within the vicinity, I was far from convinced that it was a definite feeding area. Once the sun had risen high in the sky around lunchtime on Sunday, I observed what appeared to be a large clear area at long range in front of my swim – possible the continuation of the silt channel? Before I left for home, I deposited a couple of kilos of boiled bait out to the spot & planned to return the following weekend...


He just looked at me & said "I've got one!"

Ben managed to fit in another session the following week – banking a low double-figure mirror, proving that we were at long last well on our way to putting the pieces of the jigsaw together. Whilst I had been unable to return to the lake following Ben’s captures, the ‘green-eyed monsters’ that had convinced us that they were our friends & encouraged us to stick at the area where we had concentrated the bulk of our efforts had effectively ‘stabbed us in the back’ when one angler in particular decided to jump on the back of our hard work & effort. Knowing full well that both Ben & myself were only able to fish weekend sessions, Rich went for a stroll around the lake midweek to find the guy in question bivvied up in Ben’s swim! Being an eighty acre lake with hundreds of swims, we believed there was an ethical code & even though a person does not have sole access to one swim, the angler knew very well that Ben had put vast amounts of time, effort & bait into that particular swim. He’d even complained to us on one occasion that another angler (not a regular) had been fishing ‘his’ spots in the past & he considered it to be unfair. Understandably, Ben was furious & the guy was also on my hit-list for a good dressing down! Although I understand that it’s just fishing & that it’s not worth damaging friendships over, when a code of ethics has been established between a group of people & one blatantly breaks that code, I believe it tells me enough about that individual’s character. For certain, it proved that we had been far too ‘green’ & ultimately, it has had the effect of forcing us to go ‘secret squirrel’ in relation to any information we might have about the lake in the future – back to the bad old days of carp fishing... Following many conversations with Ben about what to do next, we vowed not to be beaten & it was time to ‘up our game’ in order to stay one step ahead of the ‘pirates’...

Some four weeks after my last session at the lake, I returned once more, deciding on a change of scenery following the unsavoury events that had gone on in my absence, opting to relocate to the Lindley bank for my planned forty-eight hour session. After some extensive plumbing, I found a reasonable area at around eighty yards range where the bottom was heavily silted & any weed presence was at a minimum. I spent the first evening watching the water through binoculars & apart from the occasional bream-roll, I saw nothing of real note. I woke early the following morning & after a much-needed cuppa, I reeled in my rods & went walkabout, looking for signs of carp. The only activity that I saw was on the opposite side of the lake - an area that has an island to the left of the swim. By 8:00am, I decided enough was enough & I hurriedly heaped my gear onto the barrow & began the arm aching journey round to the opposite side of the lake. After stopping several times to check out some of the other swims, I arrived at the island swim & after a couple of hours of leading around, I positioned one rod out to the margins of the island & the other to a close range gravel spot. The remainder of the day was once more spent watching the water intently & after seeing nothing, the evening arrived & my confidence of a getting a bite was understandably very low. Once the rain decided to put in an early appearance the next morning, I made the decision to spend the final few hours of my session on the windward bank, so again I loaded up the barrow & made the move round to an area that seemed relatively weed-free. As I approached, a good fish head-&-shouldered right off the area & I quickly flicked two rigs out to the spot where the fish had showed & followed them out with around twenty freebies. Laying both rods on the floor, I stood to the side of the swim next to a tree to take shelter from the wind & rain & within five minutes, another fish stuck its head out of the choppy water... At this point, I was somewhat angry at myself after spending two days in what was clearly the wrong place, but here was an opportunity that was too good to miss. At one stage, the line on the right-hand rod pulled up tight & I fully expected it to rip off, but alas that was all that happened during that period & within the hour the rain stopped, the sun found its way through the clouds & the lake went as flat as a millpond! Despite the lack of action, I was still eager to make another return.


The remainder of the day was spent watching the water intently...

With the usual daily pressures of work & family life, my session fishing had taken a bit of a back seat & it was again another fortnight later until I was able to muster a return during the first week of October - a time that coincided with probably the worst weather of autumn so far with a new weather front arriving over the entire UK on the Friday morning bringing strong winds & driving rain throughout the day. As I was not able to select my fishing time at will, I was not going to let it stop me from getting a line wet & I duly arrived to find a warm wind 'hacking' into the north-westerly corner of the lake. Once I'd spent an hour or so getting a good soaking & watching the water hard for signs of fish activity, I reasoned that this had to be the best area to target & I set about getting the Ultralite up in the ever-worsening conditions. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried to scour the area with a marker rod, the entire corner of the lake was heavily choked with silkweed & the only spots that seemed as if they had been cleared by feeding fish were at close range, forcing me to position three rigs in a line at around twenty yards range on the very fringe of the thick silkweed. Being virtually soaked to the skin, I dived into the sleeping bag in the late afternoon as I was getting colder by the minute & whilst I lay there huddled up in my bag in the monsoon conditions, I scanned the lake in front of me for every flat-spot that dared show itself. Once the darkness had descended, I soon drifted off to sleep & before I knew it the early morning sun was rising over the trees & I woke to a clear & cool sunny morning realising all three indicators were hanging in the same position that I had set them in the night before... As soon as the sun dried the my bivvy out, I decided to get off the lake as it was blindingly obvious that there wasn't a carp within miles of where I was fishing & just as the barrow was almost loaded, the right hand Neville one-noted... a swan had swum along the margin picking up one of my lines around its body. "Bloody charming", I thought to myself as I managed to free the line from the silent assassin - it seemed that even if fishing the lake wasn't difficult enough, the lake would often decide to give you another swift kick in the teeth when you least expected it! Jake then appeared to tell me about the latest happenings at the lake. It transpired that no carp had been caught in my absence & indeed, nothing had even been seen. He went onto add that there were some huge bream shoals heavily colouring the water up in front of the Woodland bank & he reasoned that it was possible that carp were amongst them. At this point I had a bit of a 'shining light moment'... It was ironic that I'd spent over twelve months fishing this vast lake - famed for it's bream capabilities, yet I had only managed to bank a handful of them. By steering clear of the bream, had I inadvertently been steering clear of the carp too? Maybe it was time for another change of direction? Perhaps it was time to begin actively searching for the bream shoals & being content to fish amongst them until the carp appeared. Further research has lead me to believe that by locating the bream was potentially a step in a positive direction - the one fish that I'd lost in September of the previous year was after seeing various signs of bream during the day before & the two fish I'd hooked & lost back in August were also followed by the capture of a couple of bream the day after. Even thinking back to my Blackroot days - the capture of a bream early in the session was always a good sign, so although reeling in lots of 'dustbin lids' was not high on my agenda, If nothing else, it would be nice to get a bite from time to time! Knowing that it would be at least another two weeks until I could get back to the lake, I had time to consider my tactics for my move...

On my next return, I had purchased & pre-soaked three kilo's of Vitalin & I arrived at the lake to find a good, stiff wind hammering into one corner of the lake. Although it was an Easterly wind, it was actually quite warm & it didn't take me long to realise that the unaffected part of the lake was gin clear, yet the water directly on the end of the wind had a distinct tinge of colour to it, almost certainly indicating the presence of feeding fish. I chose to set up on the very edge of the coloured water, as I knew that the area where the wind was having most effect was still very weedy. I must have spent at least an hour with the marker rod trying to find a suitable area to present a bait & eventually I found just what I was looking for - a large clear area directly in front of the swim at around sixty yards range. Here the lakebed was rock-hard & was almost certainly made up of gravel along with a very sparse covering of weed. With the marker in place, I completed the spod mix by adding a kilo of fishmeal, one tin of corn, a kilo of boiled bait & a good dose of CSL in liquid form & I spent the following hour depositing the lot onto the gravel spot, which proved to be tough work in a strong wind. Once completed, I hit both rods out to the spot with 12" hooklinks & double-bottom bait hookbaits. By fishing with the rod tips up high & the lines bow-string tight, I was sure that despite the strong wind, I would get positive indications should any fish wander onto my baited area for a feed. The night passed uneventfully & I woke to find a big raft of loose Canadian pondweed gathered on both lines. Knowing that this would not help my cause, I hauled myself out of a warm sleeping bag & reeled in both rods in for a recast. It was at this point I realised that both distance markers that I had placed on the lines had somehow come off & I knew it would be difficult to get them back out to the spot with any accuracy. Still, after getting good drops on both casts in the approximate area, I sat back with my first brew of the day, when the right hand Neville bleeped a couple of times signalling a drop-back. I soon had the fish in the margins & it turned out to be a good male tench of around five pounds. I quickly returned it to its home, tied on a fresh rig & hit it back out to the spot. Around half an hour later, the same rod indicated more action as the rod tip kicked over, revealing the tench's slightly smaller brother. Before long, it was time to pack up & oddly, I felt really pleased that the tench had put in an appearance, realistically because I hadn't caught many of them previously - in fact I'd only had three in all the time I'd been on the lake, & largely my experiences have taught me in the past that wherever the tench are, usually the carp aren't far away... With another few kilo's of vitalin & fishmeal purchased from my local pet shop, I couldn't wait to get back to the lake for another go & whilst catching tench was not particularly high on my agenda, getting bites was enough to give me faith in my ‘new’ approach, after all I was certain that much of the lake at times was virtually devoid of all fish life. My plan for the winter ahead was now to take a twist - rather than undertaking the almost impossible task of trying to find the carp, with some simple location work prior to fishing, hopefully I would be able to dismiss large areas of the lake where there were simply no fish at all. Technically I wasn't trying to identify where the fish were, my focus was identifying areas where the fish weren't.

With the arrival of the first frosts of the season, action of any kind seemed to have ground to a complete halt - even the predator anglers were beginning to struggle! I managed another three sessions from mid-October to early November targeting an open area of the lake where there were evidently some feeding fish, albeit these were likely to have been mainly bream or tench. In that time I banked a huge bream & a 'tuftie', but I was pleased that my location theory seemed to have been correct, as news filtered through that a 23lb common had been caught just a few swims down from where I had chosen to fish just days before my last session. With Ben for company on one of my twenty-four hour sessions, we noticed some subtle activity at long range that we reasoned could possibly have been a clue to the whereabouts of the carp. Fishing at extreme range was one tactic we'd never really given a lot of consideration & as nothing else had really made a serious impact upon our results, Ben was eager to point out the merits of such an approach & the more we talked about it, the more sense it made... It seemed that the majority of carp anglers would often target the the lake by fishing at the usual comfortable 50 - 70 yard range & as very little was being caught, by fishing at 100yards plus range might just give us an edge for the rest of the season - besides, thinking back to virtually all the sightings of carp that I'd seen, at least 75% of any definite 'shows' were at long range. During the following week, I removed the 16lb Pro-Clear mono that I'd been using through the summer & replaced it with 10lb DAIWA Sensor mono & added 20lb shockleaders. My only problem now was that I couldn't get my normal baits out to that range by use of the throwing stick. By increasing my bait size to 18mm I was able to overcome this minor issue. In this situation I opted to revert back to using chod rigs as my presentation of choice as I have always had serious reservations about my normal rigs tangling when launching them out at very long range. By using 'choddies', I could at least guarantee that my hookbait would be presented perfectly at all times. These were coupled with my own cork-ball pop-ups that I make myself.


To be fair, my approach to fishing the lake during the last few months has varied quite a lot - including an out-&-out boile approach, using particles at close range & spodding copious amounts of vitalin in an attempt to make something happen by reacting to each situation as it happens. In effect, I have been trying different things in an attempt to put the pieces of the jigsaw together. I have very firm belief that at some stage, there will be one particular element of my approach that will unlock the secrets of this lake - my only concern is how long it will take me to figure it out!

The proceeding few weeks saw a return to freezing temperatures, further compounding any efforts to return to the lake. However, the first weekend of February saw a marked increase in air temperature, with a new weather front bringing strong south-westerly winds & heavy rain to the midlands region. As luck would have it, I'd built up enough 'credits' & the wife gave me her blessing to fit a forty-eight hour session in. Not being one to 'look a gift horse in the mouth', I made plans for my session straight away. Unfortunately, the ridiculous waterfowl situation on the lake made presenting a bait virtually impossible & somewhat reluctantly, I made the decision to leave the lake alone until a marked improvement in weather made location more possible.

As the summer of 2011 ceremoniously arrived with temperatures in excess of 20°C within the first few days of April, my thoughts began to wander back to the tricky Warwickshire estate lake that had been the cause of so many headaches over the previous two seasons. At one stage I will admit to contemplating not even returning at all – after all, hooking & losing three fish in all that time hardly represents a great level of success  does it?! I had also made some enquiries into a couple of syndicate lakes close by, but after failing to get a response from one (& discovering that the lake in question had been designated an official site of KHV by DEFRA) & finding that the other was virtually a ‘closed shop’, I opted not to pursue these matters any further. In many ways, this was perhaps the wake-up call I needed – Coombe Abbeys’ residents are pure, clean thoroughbred English carp in every sense & housed in a beautifully matured lake, free from idiots & drunks – why on earth would I want to spend my time angling anywhere else? With my fire subsequently re-stoked, it was time to analyse my previous methods & to work on an approach for the season ahead. One thing seemed painfully apparent… the more bait that was applied, the more likely action was to occur. However, introducing large amounts of bait had a serious downside to it… the lakes excessive waterfowl population would invariably find your baited spots & continue to dive on them until every last morsel had been consumed. To emphasise just how bad the situation had become, the ducks had even learned that a spod had food in it! I had even noticed that the mallards had been taking lessons from the tufties & although I would not normally consider them a diving bird, they had realised that by following the tufties example that they could be provided with a substantial & free meal. Interestingly, the females seemed to be more adept at diving – a situation that appeared to be getting worse with the passing of each season. On the negative side, I’d heard a rumour of an angler being a victim of a tackle theft & although the fishery bailiff knew nothing of the incident, I was certainly a little more apprehensive about fishing certain areas of the lake. For sure, there are some parts of the lake that are easily accessible from the surrounding road network, whilst the Lindley bank was significantly ‘safer’ & harder to get to for any would-be thieves.

My first return back to the lake was during the closed season of 2011 with my mate Matt Green, who had been on the look-out for a new water & challenge for the season ahead. Unfortunately, both Ben & Chris had fallen along the wayside for contrasting reasons – Chris had opted to rejoin a syndicate lake that he used to be a member of some years previously & Ben had endured some major personal issues that had sapped much of his appetite for fishing. Nevertheless, Rich was still buzzing & ready for another go & Matt was equally up for the challenge of a tough new water. During our evening recce, we spotted a couple of fish out in front of the corner of the Dam & Woodland banks & the occasional ‘show’ at long range in front of the middle swims of the Lindley bank – an area where I intended to focus much of my attention for the forthcoming months. Evidently, there was much less weed than there had been in the previous two years & as we made our way off the lake in the fading light, I was once again itching to get my campaign under way for a third successive year. Ultimately, I figured that this would be my last season on Coombe & this decision would be influenced largely by my level of success over the preceding few months. As much as I didn’t want the failure to catch from the lake to be a black mark on my carp fishing CV, life is simply too short & besides, I like to catch fish every once-in-a-while! As captivating & beautiful as the lake may be, it’s still the hardest venue that I’ve ever fished & although it does contain some awesome fish, the fishing can mentally destroy you at times…

I’d invested in some good quality fluorocarbon main line during the closed season – 17lb X-Line now adorned my reel spools as I needed to get ahead of the game – my presentation needed to be 100% perfect. In retrospect, I fully believed that I hadn’t given these fish the respect they deserved & I’d always figured that once I could get them to feed, that they’d be easy to catch. Now it was time to ‘up my game’ & to make sure every aspect of my approach was thoroughly thought out & applied correctly. With bait being such a major part of the jigsaw, I had decided to start the season with a vitalin & corn approach & see if the ducks were still as bad as before – the only change being that I’d go back to using tiger nuts in the mix – hopefully to cut down on the amount of bream I predicted would get on the vitalin. My intended method was to identify areas at close range that had been visited by feeding fish & to apply the vitalin mix heavily to these spots.

I arranged to meet Matt at the lake on the morning of the 15th June & as we made our way down the pot-hole ridden track to the car park, we loaded up our barrows & tracked towards the middle swims of the Lindley bank. I had initially feared that this area was going to be ‘stitched-up’ for the start of the season, but as we were the first anglers there, we were permitted the luxury of having the pick of the swims. After ‘parking’ our barrows in the first swim, we begun to check out the swims & despite seeing no real signs of fish, we opted to settle into adjacent swims where we could at least fish in comfort for the duration of our session. To my mind, the session was purely to just get a feel for the lake again as I fully believed that nothing would be caught due to the relative quietness of the closed season being unceremoniously shattered by lots of bankside activity, followed by leads & bait being liberally heaved into the lake & this proved to be the case with not a single carp visiting the bank in the opening forty eight hours. Despite catching several bream between us, I returned just a day later for a forty-eight hour session with the same method & after I’d been informed by the head bailiff that some carp had been seen a few swims further along the Lindley bank, I headed straight down to that area to find the swims in question free. With two days of heavy rain forecast & a stiff breeze favouring the area, I hoped it would put off most people from venturing out & that it would be quiet enough for any carp to venture into the area I’d opted to fish. The only changes to my approach were to darken the vitalin mix slightly with some dye as the tufties could spot it very easily in the shallow water. The swim in question was very tight with a small overhanging bush to the left & dense reedbed to the right. A quick feel around with a lead revealed a firm strip of gravel at around thirty yards – perfect for my plan! As the heavy rain had now fully settled in, I concentrated on getting the Ultralite up first & keeping everything as dry as possible. I then introduced around three kilos of vitalin to the gravel strip, deciding to retain the bulk of the mix for the second night. With three rigs in position I fired up the kettle & made myself as comfortable as possible in the near monsoon conditions. As the conditions deteriorated further, I lay on the bedchair listening to the deafening sound of rain pounding onto the Ultralite whilst I watched the lake intently for signs of carp activity. The rain relented during the late evening for a short period & I took the opportunity to stretch my legs. The lake had gone flat-calm & there were large patches of ‘fizzers’ all over the lake, but were most prominent at around seventy to eighty yards range. I quickly moved the left rod to one area in particular & introduced ten spods of the vitalin mix right on top of it. With only the odd liner to show for my nights efforts, the next morning I repositioned all three rods to the same range & Matt arrived & settled into the swim to my right for the remaining twenty-four hours. Just as I had become convinced that I had outwitted the ducks with my cunning ‘dye trick’, in the afternoon they eventually sussed me out & spent the day mullering both spots (the one at range & the previous nights deposit on the gravel strip). I was seriously down heartened by this – there had to be a way to get around the problem. I was aware that the occasional pleasure angler had hooked one or two big fish & had been ‘seen off’ - I was in no doubt that carp had been responsible & I asked myself the question: why were the ‘bream anglers’ catching bream throughout the day when it would be very rare that we would even catch even a single one? I reasoned that by fishing a groundbait feeder, there was a consistent supply of bait going onto the same spot on a regular basis – there had to be a better way to recreate this baiting scenario in a carp angling sense. Immediately I knew what I had to do… by using solid PVA bags set up for distance work, this would fit very nicely into a more mobile approach. On my next visit to the lake, I chose to fish a similar area where I’d seen a few fish close to the surface in the warm & sunny conditions of the day. By using tiger nuts & micro pellets in a small solid PVA bag, I felt reasonably confident that something would happen during my twenty four hour stay & I wasn’t wrong… During the night I was plagued by tench & bream that rendered any chance of sleep almost impossible! This action completely wiped out my plentiful supply of PVA bags & left me to question why I had even added the mini ‘grubber’ pellets at all – I was certain that this was the reason I had received so much ‘nuisance’ action. Although I had taken a real battering from the bream & tench, I was still reasonably pleased that the solid bags ensured that the hookbait was presented in an acceptable manner (I’d had my reservations as I had never considered myself to be a PVA bag fishing expert…). I was still confident that using particles would be the best route forward, but the ‘bag mix’ still needed some extra consideration & for certain I wouldn’t be adding any more mini grubber pellets to the mix! A couple of mid-double stockies had been caught from close proximity to the area of the lake to where Matt & I had been fishing & from what I understood, had been taken tight against the overgrown margins. Having spooked a fish (I was uncertain of what it was) under a tree during the evening of my previous session, I reasoned that by targeting likely looking marginal areas, that this would be as good a place as anywhere to start. With a new plan hatched, I decided to unearth my old baiting pole & bring it into play. By employing drop-off inline leads in solid PVA bags, I could get a rig tight under the branches of the trees, ensuring the rig wasn’t tangled & that I was fishing as safely as possible. The rig could then be followed with a small ‘spoonful’ of tiger nuts & hempseed – the perfect marginal trap… The rig I had chosen to use was simple, robust & more importantly safe. 3oz inline pear leads fished drop-off style with short leadcore leaders were incorporated, along with three-inch 25lb KORDA Supernatural hooklinks & size 6 KORDA Curve hooks set up with a short length of shrink tube over the eye of the hook. A balanced hookbait was used with a small wrap of lead wire on the hooklink to make sure it didn’t ‘loop up’ once the PVA had dissolved. The rig was then added to the PVA bag with a small piece of foam covering the hookpoint. The ‘bag mix’ was made up of chopped tiger nuts, chopped peanuts & crushed hempseed & the small, solid PVA bag could then be dropped into position with the aid of the baiting pole.

Luckily for me, in the three week period I was away from the lake, I managed to secure a place on a syndicate lake for the following season, that has a reputation of being notoriously difficult to get access to. With the decision to take up this offer being a no-brainer, I now knew for certain that this would indeed be my final season on the lake.

I managed to fit another two sessions in during the end of July that were just quick ‘overnighters’ applying the close-range particle plan & with no forthcoming action I decided to revert back to the approach that I never really put into action the previous season – to fish at range towards the centre of the lake. Following this decision, I fished a forty-eight hour session in the middle of the Lindley bank with my mate Rich & although I still didn’t catch, I did see one fish show on the last day around forty yards to the right of where I’d opted to fish – it seemed I was getting closer… My next session was for another forty-eight hours following a week of of strong winds & gales that swept across the UK. I contacted the baliff asking him if it was worth fishing the island swim that was on the end of these strong south-westerly winds. He replied saying that he’d seen a group of fish ‘ripping up the bottom’ at the back of the island & that there were definitely one or two of the big girls there too! Without any hesitation, I made my way to the lake on Monday evening straight from work & after sitting on the M6 for an hour in rush-hour traffic, I eventually arrived at the lake, made the mad dash round to the island swim & managed to get three rods out before the light dissapered. Matt sent me a text message at around 9:00pm asking me what was happening & just as I was sending my reply, I heard a fish crash in front of the swim at close range, but the fading light made it impossible to work out its exact location – I felt really confident of action. I woke early the next morning to have a good lead around & reposition my hookbaits ready for the remainder of the session. I located one large clear area at around sixty yards directly in front of the swim & another to the left towards the island itself. I fished balanced tiger nut rigs on all three rods & spodded around three kilos of tiger nuts, hempseed & corn onto both of the spots & fished two rods out in front & one rod on the let-hand spot. Matt arrived a few hours later to fit in a twenty-four hour session & fished the swim directly to my right, presenting boilie rigs with PVA sticks at various ranges. When it came to pack up on Wednesday afternoon, Jake offered to take Matt & myself out in the boat for a look around the island & we could see large clear gaps in the weed that had obviously been caused by feeding fish, but for sure they had long since vacated the area. I’d also been aware of a friend fishing the opposite bank further down & he’d reported to Jake that he’d seen a number of positive shows in the middle of the lake only around forty or fifty yards to the right of where matt & I had been fishing… Unluckily for us, the area where the carp had relocated to was out of sight of our swims & with the heavy rain moving in during the second day of our session, it made scouting other areas of the lake almost impossible, with us being confined to our bivvies for much of the time. Typically, it seemed that the carp had moved out from the confines of the island out into the open water approximately sixty yards away sometime during the first night of my session. What is even more disheartening, is that the area where the fish had been showing was the same area that I saw a fish show on my first twenty-four hour session & an area I would have fished had the winds not favoured the island swims! In retrospect, if I’d arrived earlier, I’d have been on them as they drifted out of the island area – if I’d arrived later & after the winds had subsided, I would almost certainly have fished the area where they ultimately settled in! Just to make make matters worse, the same area of the lake produced a 31lb+ mirror & a 24lb+ common to a chap that had cottoned on to what was happening. A few days later, the same spot threw up a 32lb+ common & Jake text me on one Friday evening to tell me that they were still there & showing well at around a hundred yards range. I said my prayers to the ‘carp gods’ that they would remain in the area until Tuesday of the following week, when I had a three-day session at my disposal.

The lake seemed almost lifeless when I arrived at sometime around 10:00am on Tuesday morning. The air temperature had dropped to three degrees during the night prior to my arrival & I was extremely concerned that it had been cold enough to move the fish out of the area where I was sure that they had been held-up for a few weeks. My initial thoughts were to fish the opposite end of the lake on the back of the cold wind, but I decided that with all things being equal, the swim that I eventually settled into just 'felt right'. As the prevailing westerly wind was very strong, there was no way I could reach the area I wanted to present my rigs (over 100 yards range) using 17lb X-line mainline, so after a few casts with a lead, I found a nice, firm area of clay at sixty yards that I positioned all three rods to with a few small spods of free bait placed over the top. At around 5:00pm, the wind was just beginning to ease & I decided to reposition two of the rods at long range. Just as I sat in the Ultralight preparing two cork-balled pop-up chod rigs, a fish crashed out right on the spot I planned to target. Within twenty seconds, the same fish cleared the water again & I made several attempts to wind the rod up enough to get the range. Eventually, after a lot of persistence, cursing & swearing I managed to get the left rod right on the spot where the fish had showed & the middle rod to around ten yards to the right of it. As the baits I'd rolled hadn't sufficiently air-dried enough, I struggled to get more than half a kilo of them out to the spot with the throwing stick & when a couple of other anglers came down for a chat fifteen minutes later, another two fish had shown again in the same area - my confidence was now sky-high! Once they had left, I quickly reeled in the right-hand rod & set up another chod rig. This was positioned another ten yards further right of the middle rod & I jumped into the sleeping bag knowing a cold night was ahead while I tuned into the Champions League football on the radio. Once the match had finished, it didn't take me long to drop off to sleep & apart from a couple of single bleeps from the left rod, nothing happened during the night & I awoke at first light, around 6:30am. Just as I rolled over to get a little more shut-eye, the middle Neville exploded into life & I could clearly hear the spool whizzing at speed over the high-pitched shrill of the Neville. I was out of the bag & onto the rod in a flash & initially, the fish seemed to be snagged at well over 100 yards range, but after some gentle coaxing, I managed to get the fish to within around twenty yards range. Quickly, I dropped the remaining two rods off the alarms & put the tips into the water whilst opening the bale arms of both reels - I didn't want this fish to get caught up in my other lines... When I looked up, to my horror the line had twisted around the tip ring of the rod & with the fish ready & just off the front of the net, I threw the rod to the ground, grabbed the line & hand-lined it over the net cord. With the fish safely netted, I peered into the water & thought to myself that it looked like a decent upper twenty. After a quick call to Jake, he said it was okay to sack the fish & that he'd be at the lake in around half an hour. When I lifted the net onto the mat, I immediately realised that it had to be a thirty & with the fish safely sacked in the margins, I phoned everyone I could think of about the capture. When Jake & Rich arrived, we took some great pictures of the majestic creature in the early morning sunlight & confirmed the weight at 34lb exactly - my new UK personal best & my first fish from the lake after almost two & half years of sheer hard work & persistence!


I immediately realised that it had to be a thirty...

As we released her back to the water, she waddled off slowly along the margins, looking very sorry for herself, but leaving behind one very ecstatic angler. Jake & Rich offered heartfelt handshakes & even a manly hug, then left me on my own to gather my thoughts & savour my moment of glory. With a fresh brew in one hand, I toasted the carp gods & even allowed myself to think "about time... I've bloody earned that one!". My little bottle of Champagne & my big fat Cuban cigar that I'd been carrying with me for years for this very day were unceremoniously dragged from the depths of my carryall & despite the fact that I hate the taste of Champagne, it went down a absolute treat! After a couple more shows during mid-morning, the fish were very obviously still in the area.


One very ecstatic angler...

I fully expected the fish to show again in the evening, but it wasn't to be. With a quiet night ahead, I got to bed quite early & awoke at 6:00am with a dead phone battery. Luckily, the emergency charger gave my Blackberry enough power to receive a few more congratulatory texts & the news that Matt had banked himself a new personal best common of 25lb 6oz (the 'big common') from Blackroot after a nightmare week – well done fella! With a hearty bacon sandwich & a couple of cups of tea consumed by way of my dying gas canister, I packed away nice & early in the warm morning sun whilst I sat behind the rods for the last couple of hours of my session. At around 12:45pm, just as the lake seemed almost lifeless, the left hand Neville pierced the silence as line was being ripped from the reel spool at a rate of knots... As I lifted the rod, the fish rolled on the surface at around 120 yards range & headed left, powering away at speed. I could see a large overhanging tree in the margins that the fish was now kiting straight towards & I began to apply extra pressure, preparing myself to go into the water if need be. Luckily, as it neared my margin, it turned & headed
back out in front of me where after a few more rolls & lunges, I scooped him up in the landing net at the first attempt. Although it was only a small fish, I was extremely grateful knowing that any fish, regardless of size was a major achievement for this lake. Upon reflection, it seems crazy to have banked nothing from the lake for over two years then just like buses, two come along at once! The beautiful little 'cricket bat' common weighed in at 13lb 2oz & after a couple of quick pictures, he was released back the cold waters none the worse for its ordeal.


Just like buses, two come along at once!

It was over two full weeks until I was able to get back to the lake that I no longer had a fear of fishing. My Perception of the lake had now changed quite considerably & for every session up until my capture of the big mirror & the common, I would leave its banks with a head full of unanswered questions. Suddenly things felt much different & I now had a bit of extra confidence that I would be applying the correct methods to the right areas of the lake. In fact, I would even go so far as to say I’d got a little bit of a ‘swagger’ about me – it had begun to get a little bit embarrassing that I’d been on the lake for over two years without banking a single fish & although I had a damn good excuse for not catching & the fact that ultimately the lake very rarely throws up many carp at all during the season, it was all beginning to get a bit much when other anglers would ask me what I’d caught during my time on the lake. Informing people that I’d hooked & lost three fish in that time must have made me look a ‘right Charlie’, but at least the regular anglers have a great degree of sympathy – they know just how hard it is! Having banked what was possibly the best fish of the year so far, I now felt a bit more as if I ‘belonged’. I’d busied myself during my time away from the lake rolling bait, making plenty of cork-ball pop-ups & tying plenty of rigs & leaders, along with removing the 17lb X-Line from my reel spools & swapping over to 12lb SUFIX Synergy monofilament that would allow me to fish at long range much more easily. I’d also opted to increase my bait size from 16mm to 18mm & air-dry these baits for a longer period of time. This was due to the fact that the smaller baits were right on the very extreme when it came to getting them out to the required range with the throwing stick. If it was a calm day, I could just about get them to where they needed to be by being quite brutal with the stick, but with winter fast approaching I didn’t want to go up to 20mm sized baits. The extra time spent air-drying would also help deter the tufties that would dive onto the baited area once they had located them. My impending return was for a short overnight session, where the air temperature had dropped quite considerably & a lot of rain fell overnight. In typical fashion, I blanked & in truth the area that I decided to fish just didn’t look or feel right. This was later backed-up after Jake text me to say that he’d seen a fish show a couple of days earlier at the opposite end of the lake. My next available session was planned for the second week of November & to my knowledge, nothing had been out from the lake since my last session. I got to the lakeside on Monday evening & having studied the predicted weather forecast, I made my way round to an area that I felt confident that the carp would be. The area in question featured two buoys at range about fifty yards apart in the middle of the lake & as the weather looked as if it was going to be a bit drab, I figured I would almost certainly be alone on this side of the lake, allowing me to cover as much water as possible for my session. I picked a swim in the middle of the two buoys & even though I’d got to the lake in the dark, I had a rough idea where the buoys were & hit three chod rigs out into the lake & whacked out a couple of handfuls of bait with the throwing stick. Although my presentation wasn’t correct, at least I was fishing & I set my alarm for first light where I could awake & set the traps perfectly for the duration of my session. In the morning I reeled in the rods before having a scout around the lake. With no sightings to go on, I opted to remain where I was & reposition the left rod out towards the left buoy, the right out to the right buoy & the middle rod directly out in front of me, then I liberally spread three kilos of baits along the line between the buoys. True to form & as always seems to be the case in winter, the tufties demolished a full five kilos of bait & I could do nothing to stop them. I would fire around a kilo of bait in just as it got dark to wake a t first light to see them diving all over the baited area. With no action at all during my session, I had another look at the far end of the Lindley bank before I left & it was clear that there was far more activity down that end of the lake than where I had been fishing.

I returned for a quick overnighter the following week & opted to fish the near end of the Lindley bank – this time I’d chosen to revert back to fishing solid PVA bags & pellets. During summer, the solid PVA bag approach is a complete ‘no go’, such is the nature of the ravenous tench & bream population – I figured it would be a much more viable option in the winter & a good way to get around the tufties. Unfortunately, my optimism was short-lived as just as the darkness descended, the first bream signalled its intent & after landing three of them  in short succession, I reverted to fishing single hookbaits in an attempt to get around the problem. Once I’d made my way off the lake on Saturday lunchtime, I knew I had to continue using the same tactics that had been successful only a few weeks earlier, but I had to come up with a way of deterring the tufties… When I banked the little ‘cricket bat’ common the day after landing the big mirror, the tufties had started to dive on my bait that day & I was able to deter them by casting out a single lead into the approximate area – this would be enough to move them on for half an hour or so. I was convinced that the carp were not put off by the occasional landing of a small lead, so after much deliberation I decided that this would form the basis of my attack – fishing three hookbaits over a spread of a kilo or so of boilies & using the lead rod to spook the tufties from the area when they chose to appear.

It wasn’t until the second week of February until I was able to return to the lake, when an unseasonably warm front of low air pressure presented the perfect opportunity to fit in a hastily arranged overnight session. Whilst I had been unable to get out onto the bankside, I’d been busy working on a couple of new bait mixes for the season ahead & had even purchased a new bedchair & sleeping bag in the process. With a warm south-westerly breeze pushing steadily down the middle of the lake, I knew exactly which area I wanted to fish – the same spot that I’d caught the other two fish from back in October. Luckily, on my arrival I found that I was the only angler that had ventured that far down the lake & I set myself up in an area adjacent to the spot, marked with a buoy at approximately ninety yards range. I set up three chod rigs, two baited with my usual 18mm cork ball pop-ups & one with a 20mm cork ball pop-up made from one of the new mixes. Once I had got each rig into position, I fed around two kilos of bait to the spot comprising of one kilo of the remainder of the old mix & one kilo of the new mix. Around 7:00pm, I got to bed in my new NASH Air-lite SS3 bedchair & after a busy week at work, it didn’t take me long to drop off to sleep. It was around midnight when I started to get a series of liners at regular intervals that continued until around 2:00am that kept me awake & alert during that time. Just 45 minutes later when I’d slipped back into the ‘land of nod’, the middle Neville pierced the silence in a continuous tone & I knew that a carp was responsible. Within the few seconds it took me to slip on my boots & grab my headtorch, as I got to the rod, the take had stopped & the indicator was jammed up against the buzzer. I lifted the rod to feel almost no resistance & I thought to myself that it must be a bream… as I frantically reeled in to regain line, it became apparent that whatever I’d hooked had swam straight towards me & I eventually regained contact with the culprit when it was only twenty yards out - all of a sudden the rod kicked over & I realised that it was a carp after all! Just a few minutes later, I guided the fish into the waiting net & I peered into the mesh to see a lovely conditioned common – result! I quickly weighed her at 19lb 8oz & despite being a little disappointed that it hadn’t been a twenty, I knew that it was still a major result given that it was my third fish from the lake & that it’d been caught in February which is almost unheard of & that it had been the first fish from the lake in over four months!


It must be a bream…

I sacked the fish in the margins & periodically checked on it through the night to make sure she was okay. Jake arrived in the morning to take some pictures & I made my way off the lake at 1:00pm with a little bit of bait conundrum… I had spent a long time working on a new bait mix that was predominantly a birdfood type bait. However, after some thought I decided to change tact & include low levels of fishmeal & tweak the flavour label a bit, just to give the bait a slightly different profile. I had taken the fish over the original bait (the birdfood mix) & now I was unsure whether it would be wise to move off it.

With the weather during the following week predicted to remain reasonably mild & the wife’s blessing, I returned the following weekend to fit in my final session before the end of the regular season. With forty-eight hours at my disposal, both Rich & Matt joined me – fishing the same area as I’d taken the 19lb 8oz common on the previous session. As it turned out, a cold north easterly wind put-paid to any action & I left the lake to be for another season, more than happy with the rewards of my hard work, planning to return during the closed season when the weather had improved & I would be able to put the next seasons plans into operation…

My return to Coombe following the observation of the traditional closed season, was planned for June 15th, the day before the new season began. I made my way to the lake through the frenzied early morning rush-hour traffic of a Friday morning & arrived at the lake fully prepared with plenty of freshly rolled bait. In the weeks leading up to the session, new rigs & leaders had been tied, fresh line spooled onto my reels, food purchased & all the usual preparations had been made to ensure that nothing would be left to chance. The session was planned for a full four days, where normally, I would have just fished the opening weekend, but I’d opted to stay on the lake for another day, in the expectation that most anglers would leave on the Sunday afternoon. This I hoped would give me the best of any opportunities after a busy weekend on the lake, especially after its banks had been almost un-trodden for three months. My mate Rich was also going to be fishing with me & as is usual on our start of season sessions, we planned a BBQ & a few beers to bring the season in with style. During my time away from the lake, I had been kept regularly up to date with any fish sightings from the bailiff & had only made one solitary visit to its banks in the first week of June. It was certainly much changed from when I last fished it in March & it was looking as good as ever in its summer guise. During this visit, I was fortunate to see some positive signs of activity out in front of the Lindley bank & I was certain that this was the area that I would be heading for on my first session. After devouring a MacDonald’s breakfast, I pulled into the car park to find that unsurprisingly, I was the first angler there. I made my way down the path that led to the Lindley bank, ditched my barrow & had a good scout around the area to see if I could locate any fish. With the promise of rain during the day & with no fish sightings to go on, I opted to drop straight into the swim where I’d banked the 34lb mirror from the previous season, knowing exactly where the ‘spot’ was - this seemed as good a place as any to start. As I was still a few hours away from being able to fish, I set up the Ultralite & made myself comfortable & fired up the Primus, knowing that everything else could be done later & there was still a small matter of a certain England v Sweden Euro 2012 group match to be followed in the afternoon! Rich arrived a few hours later & settled in three swims further along the South bank to my left.

The arrival of the rain didn’t take long & we dodged rain showers under Rich’s Ultralite, making a sizeable dent in his tea supplies for the session whilst we discussed our approach & more importantly, how we would go about trying to keep our tactics to ourselves if we were successful. During the day several more anglers arrived & a few of them came down & had a chat with us. Many were new members & had joined for the first time, full of expectation for the year ahead. As usual, we reassured them that it was an extremely difficult lake & that any capture would be hard-earned, but gave them as much help as we could. Many recognised me as the ‘bloke that had caught the 34lb mirror’ & asked me where I’d had it from, what bait, what rig – the usual questions. I explained to them that it was my first fish in over two years on the lake & there were no definitive patterns that we had identified about captures – not specifically accurate, but after all my hard work spent identifying areas & methods, I was not about to gift wrap all that information to everyone who had just joined up. Certainly, I wouldn’t blatantly provide misinformation in an attempt to lead other anglers in the wrong direction, but I preferred to steer clear of providing specific details about areas that I had put a lot of effort into their location.

I’d bought along just over seven kilos of bait with me for my session & a large tub of my own cork-ball pop-ups, & I couldn’t wait to get started. Once the rain relented during the mid-afternoon, I took the opportunity to put a couple of kilos out with the stick, just to give any fish that may have drifted through that area of the lake a free feed with no lines in the water. Once Rich & I had spent the evening enjoying a good barbecue & a bottle of ‘champers’, we cast out at midnight & retired to our own beds for the night. Without a single bleep during the night, I woke around 4:00am to answer a call of nature & looked out across the lake wondering to myself just how difficult it was going to be this year… I climbed back into the bag & what seemed like just a few minutes after I’d closed my eyes, I was dragged back to reality by the sudden & unmistakeable high-pitched shrill of a Neville letting out a continuous ‘one note’. I was out the bag in a flash & I lifted the rod into a dead weight. Slowly, but surely I inched back a large ball of weed across the surface, completely convinced that the hook had pulled & the fish had ‘done the off’, but as the ball of weed neared my margin, I could clearly see my line exiting the other side of it. Quickly, I dragged the ball of weed onto the bank in front of me, slackened the spool clutch, then frantically started the rip the weed from the line. Once I’d removed the ball of weed, I tightened the clutch & regained control to find that the culprit – a small common - was only just a few yards out. Without much more hassle, it was ushered into the waiting net & I went to wake Rich to inform him. We weighed the lovely looking common at 14lb 8oz, purely for record purposes (the fishery bailiff likes to keep a track of the growth rates of the stock fish in the lake) & he later confirmed that it was indeed a stock fish that he had introduced himself two years previously at just over 10lb & was easily distinguishable by some damage to the top lobe of its tail.  After a couple of quick pictures, we returned the fish back to the clear waters & with another three days at our disposal, we evaluated the possibilities of more success during the remainder of our session.


How difficult it was going to be this year…

As is usual on this lake, the remainder of our three days past without event & we reluctantly made our way off the lake on Monday afternoon despite conditions seeming almost perfect, planning my return in just a few days’ time.

My next visit was a planned as a quick overnight session the following weekend that found me heading down to the lake after finishing work at midday on Saturday. Despite the weather conditions being far from ideal with heavy rain & strong winds predicted, I still felt reasonably confident of a bite. With no one in residence on the Lindley bank, I again dropped into my usual swim & positioned three rigs on the spot in the normal manner – one to the front edge & the left & right rods to the edge of it respectively. As promised, the rain arrived in the evening & eventually relented around 8:00am & I woke to find a gang of tufties & coots ‘mullering’ my spot. In fact, they systematically picked up each of my hookbaits in turn, continually forcing me to re-position them & by early afternoon I’d had enough & headed home to watch the England v Italy game. Each of the hookbaits had beak marks all over them bearing witness to their desperate attempts to eat them. Fortunately, my cork-ball pop-ups largely managed to survive the episode, giving me extra confidence in their durability should they suffer the occasional pick-up from my feathered ‘friends’…

The following week I busied myself rolling more bait & I was back at the lake on Friday afternoon fully prepared for a forty-eight hour session. With a brisk westerly wind continuing to favour the Lindley bank swims, I dropped into the same swim again for the third session in succession. By mid-afternoon I'd got three rigs into position, opting to position the right-hand rod approximately twenty yards to the right of the spot as I had begun to consider the possibility that some fish were hanging just off the baited area whenever they would be in that area of the lake. I had no evidence to suggest that my thinking was right, it was simply a gut-feeling. As normal, the night passed without event & at 4:00am, the right-hand rod signalled a fast take, but unfortunately the fish had kited left & took out the middle rod & just a short time later, the hook pulled leaving everything in a bit of a mess. With all three rods reeled in & there not being enough light to accurately position my rigs, I fired up the kettle & sat around for an hour until the light had sufficiently improved to warrant a recast. The remainder of the day was spent watching the water & although the wind was quite strong at times, both Rich & I were certain that we saw two fish 'head & shoulder' in the choppy water in front of the Woodland bank, around three-quarters of the way across. The second night produced nothing but heavy rain & strong winds & ‘bite time’ passed swiftly with only the odd liner to momentarily raise my hopes. As morning turned into afternoon, the bright & sunny conditions convinced us that enough was enough & any chances of a pick-up had long since disappeared. Evaluating my third session, it was becoming clear that I still had some work to do in order to get my approach just right for the campaign ahead. I was faced with two major problems; the first of these being the abundance of low level weed – typically soft algae that clung to the line making the playing of a fish very difficult. The use of backleads was extremely important in my approach, not simply for presentation purposes, but to keep the lines free from the hordes of marauding ducks & geese that frequent the lake. As the algal situation was only getting worse, a backlead would invariably get stuck in any weed that would gather up around the tip ring whilst playing a fish & this had to be resolved in order to keep fish losses to a minimum. I ran my concerns past a friend & he suggested that I used small lumps of plasticene moulded around a short length of looped monofilament. These would easily discharge from the mainline in the event of snagging in weed & would be a cheap & environmentally friendly way of losing a backlead. The second issue was the continual disturbance of the swim by tufties & coots that was seriously testing my mettle. At the end of some sessions, I’d even reeled in my rigs to find no hookbaits attached, where my cork-ball pop-ups had taken a beating, such was the ducks determination to eat my baits! I had long been toying with the idea of applying a green coloured dye to my bait mix to try & match the colour of weed & as I didn’t know definitively whether it would solve the problem, it was time to start doing some experimental mixes in order to find a way around them.

I maintained my bankside presence throughout July & during that time, the lake had produced a handful of fish, including a known big common at 35lb, a couple of mid-twenty commons & one or two of the smaller stock fish. Although the weather conditions at the time were typical of the UK summer period – heavy rain & strong westerly winds, I knew I had to maintain my attendance as it was only a matter of time until one of the big girls put in an appearance. In response to the unforeseen abundance of algae growth, I’d decided to tweak my presentation slightly, opting to change my leaders from a sandy brown colour to a weed green & making some dark brown cork-ball pop-ups that were the same as my normal ones with a small amount of powdered dye added to the mix. Although I knew I would still have to put up with the coots & tufties diving on my regular bait, I hoped that the darker hookbaits might just go unnoticed. For one reason or another, I’d also begun to question the quantity of bait that I was using & more importantly, the positioning of my hookbaits relative to my ‘freebies’. Thinking back to my previous captures, the bulk of them had been when conditions had not allowed me to get baits out to the required range & as a consequence, I’d caught by presenting a hookbait positioned at a further distance than my free baits. What seemed even more interesting was the last pick-up I had was on a hookbait fished a long way off the baited area. Granted this could have been a one-off, but it seemed odd that when my rigs were presented in the correct spot & I’d been able to liberally spread a quantity of bait at the required range, I’d not caught. In contrast, when I had not been 100% happy with my rig positioning, or I’d struggled to get my free baits to the desired range (usually due to the prevailing conditions of the time), I had caught… Were these fish choosing to just ‘hang back’ off the main area of feed or perhaps even have been avoiding large areas of bait completely & choosing to pick up just one or two baits at random? Certainly food for thought & something that I felt had to be applied in future sessions. On one occasion, the lake received such a phenomenal amount of rainwater that it caused the marker buoy in front of me to completely disappear from view & overnight the water coloured up very heavily. The tuftie situation was also getting progressively worse & I’d reluctantly decided to invest in a high-powered laser pen, which certainly did the trick during low-light levels (early morning & late evening) which was when the tufties would feed most prominently. This turned out to be a good investment & they really didn’t take to the use of my new ‘toy’ with much enthusiasm! The blighters were even moving onto my spots during the night & this would be revealed the next day when my hookbaits would be half-destroyed by the ducks. Away from the lake I had begun experimenting with different types of mesh & bait armour shrink tubing so that I could leave a hookbait in position for longer periods of time. After all, it wasn’t necessarily the tufties eating my baits that was so frustrating, it was the fact that I could be sitting there without a hookbait in the water for long periods of time.


The tuftie situation was also getting progressively worse…

With two full weeks of holiday that coincided with the annual shutdown of the Midlands motor industry, I wasn't able to get to the lake until midday Tuesday of the first week. On my arrival, I spent an hour or so checking out all of the Lindley bank swims & I was surprised to find that the water in front of the 'high bank' area was significantly more coloured than any of the areas either side of it. Luckily, the bailiff had tipped me off just two days earlier that he'd seen one or two carp show in the same area, so with nothing else to go on, I dropped into a swim on the left hand edge of this coloured water. After some light 'leading' around, I soon identified a relatively weed free area at around seventy yards where much of the colour seemed to be coming from & with two nights at my disposal, I hit out three rigs in a line & spread approximately a kilo of boilies across the area. Just a couple of hours later, the indicator on the right rod slammed into the butt & as I turned to look, the rod tip arched round & line was being stripped from the reel spool at pace. As I made contact with the fish, it kited round to the right of the swim & eventually became snagged on a branch close in, when another angler appeared & quickly offered to lend a hand. Without much more fuss, I managed to free the fish from the snag & as she rolled into the net, the angler recognised the fish as 'the linear'. "She usually goes around 19 to 20lb" he said & sure enough we weighed her at 19lb exactly. I later learned that the fish was probably one of the very first fish that was stocked into the lake & was estimated to be in excess of thirty five years old. We marvelled at her big apple-sliced scales & despite having some minor mouth & tail damage, she looked stunning as we rattled off a series of pictures, before carefully returning her back to the water.


We marvelled at her big apple-sliced scales…

With a fresh rig despatched out to the same spot, I topped up the area with another half a kilo of boilies & sat back to watch the water well into the evening. I saw another three good shows before the mozzies made it unbearable to sit out much longer & I headed for the comfort of the Ultralite. I eventually got into the bag sometime around 10:00pm & I continued to listen to the Olympic games coverage on the radio. I awoke at midnight to 'sploshing' sounds coming from the margins of my swim, right underneath the rod tips & as I looked out, I could see large 'oily' swirls that just had to be investigated. With my headtorch in hand, I crept to the waters edge & the light of the torch revealed several large bream clouding up the soft silt in the shallow water. After watching the spectacle for a while, I climbed back into bed for some more shut-eye. A drop-back had me up & back out at around 3:30am & whilst I was pulling my boots on, the indicator rose back up to the rod-butt & dropped again - a typical bream bite. The fish was played gently to my near margin, when suddenly it began to put up a fight - maybe it was a carp after all? As it came to the surface, I could make out a slim silver shape that had me convinced that it was a chub until it was netted & I was astonished to find that it was actually a zander, neatly hooked fairly & squarely in the bottom lip! I knew the lake held one or two, but as I understood it, the lake hadn't actually produced one for around two years. Luckily I always carry a glove & a pair of forceps at all times & after taking a couple of quick pictures, it was returned to fight another day.


Hooked fairly & squarely…

During the following few hours, carp began ‘boshing’ out at range to the right of the swim & once it was light enough to pinpoint them exactly, I repositioned all three rigs to that area. It wasn't long after this I begun receiving a series of savage liners, but noticeably the carp had stopped showing completely. The following night, the liners continued, but the carp managed to avoid my capture once again & I woke at first light & packed away in the warm morning sun, reasonably satisfied with my two-days work.

I managed another forty-eight hour session later the same week, but it appeared as if the fish had vacated the area completely. The following weekend & with the addition of the bank holiday Monday, I planned my return for a full three-nights & on arrival, I continued my normal circuit of the lake, dropping into the Dam bank bay for a quick look, then continuing to the Lindley bank car park & looking at all the swims on that side of the lake. In a similar vain to my last few visits to the lake, the water in front of the high bank seemed to be significantly more coloured than anywhere else. In fact, a known big common had been banked for the second time of the season at 32lb+ along with a couple of stockies from the same area in my absence. After an hour or so of scouting, I opted to drop into a swim on the very left hand edge of the coloured water, due mainly to the prevailing easterly wind & the fact that there was some fish movement at range that was unlikely to have been carp, but was more significant than anywhere else. Before committing to the swim, I fired up the kettle & sat there for a while watching the water before eventually deciding that with nothing else to go on, it would be as good a place as any to start. With darkening skies & the imminent threat of rain, I quickly set up the Ultralite & set up one rod with my usual chod-rig presentation. As I didn’t want to disturb any fish that were potentially in the area, I hit a rig out without a hookbait out to around ninety yards to get a feel for the swim. After a couple of casts, I soon realised out that there was a small, sparse weedbed at around seventy yards that was perhaps ten yards wide & the near side of it was clean & silty, yet the other side of it seemed to be much firmer & judging by the deposits on the lead, it seemed to be largely consistent of clay - most of the fish activity that was visible seemed to be in this area. All three rods were rigged up & positioned at this range, approximately twenty yards apart, with a liberal spread of a kilo of boilies along the ‘clay strip’. With the rain duly putting in an appearance just as I had finished positioning the last rig, I took cover & with a fresh brew in hand, I watched the water well into dark. A thunderstorm put paid to any possible sightings in the late afternoon, but with the increase in wind speed & with the heavy rain helping to oxygenate the water, I was still confident for the night ahead despite not seeing any firm evidence of carp presence in the area. I set my alarm for 5:00am & with the occasional bleep of the alarms during the hours of darkness continually keeping me alert, I peered out into the night & decided to snooze my alarm for a couple of more minutes. Five minutes later & with my enthusiasm for dragging myself out of a warm sleeping bag not at a particularly high level, I snoozed the alarm for a second time… The next thing I remember was the shrill of a Neville & with my boots slipped on, I navigated the muddy slope down to my rods to see the middle reel spool being stripped of line. With deep & powerful lunges, I knew straight away that this was one of the better ones & without too much fuss, she was soon close in kicking up large plumes of silt in the shallow water as she made her final desperate lunges for freedom. As she waddled over the net cord, I could see it was a decent twenty & apart from a couple of scales that she’d lost presumably during the battle, she was in mint condition, sporting a small head & huge shoulders – here was a fish that had the potential to grow to enormous proportions. At 25lb 14oz, it also turned out to be a new personal best common & after doing a series of self-take pictures in the early morning sunshine, I returned her back to the murky waters to re-join her friends.


Mint condition, sporting a small head & huge shoulders…

The next twenty-four hours passed swiftly & as the wind swung round to a westerly, I reasoned that any fish that might have stayed in the vicinity, might have ‘done the off’. On my final evening, I left the recasting of my rods until very late in the evening, opting to position the right hand rod to a gravel patch at thirty yards with a bottom-bait rig, incorporating a simple braided hooklink & repositioning the left & middle rods back out to the ‘clay spot’ & putting another two kilos of bait out to the spot. After successive morning of getting up early, I decided on an early night & after a good curry & a couple of beers, I was in the sleeping bag for 9:00pm. I’d received a number of liners during the night that I put down to the huge numbers of bream that reside in the lake & the next thing I remember was one of my Technium spools clicking at a simply frightening speed. I was out of the Ultralite in a flash to see that the left hand rod was away & such was the speed of the take that it had twisted the front buzzer bar round to the right. On connection, I was almost flat-rodded & I quickly slackened of the clutch to pay off line to it – this was one very angry fish! At this point & by the way that the fight was progressing, I was convinced that this was one of the lakes biggies, but after what seemed like an age I netted the fish to see that it was in fact a double-figure common! As I didn’t want to sack the fish for a few hours until daylight arrived, I took a couple of self-take pictures in the dark & released it to the water & busied myself getting a fresh rig back out to the clay area. Once I’d done this, I jumped back into the bag for a few more hours shut-eye.


On connection, I was almost flat-rodded…

I afforded myself the luxury of having a lie-in until around 8:00am when I was paid a visit by Tony - one of the regulars & after we’d spent some time discussing the events of my session, he informed me of the forecast heavy rain that was due to arrive imminently. With the news of the predicted weather, I decided that it was time to call it a day & after a welcome bacon sandwich & a hot cuppa, I bundled the gear into the back of the car & headed back up the M6, planning to return the following weekend.

At this point in the year, my personal circumstances took a huge turn for the worse & I subsequently conceded that it was time to put all thoughts of fishing to one side. My marriage had broken down irretrievably (not fishing related) & there were lots of relative issues that needed to be sorted out. In light of this, I chose to take an enforced break from all fishing & move all of my gear to my parents’ house in Evesham, Worcestershire so that the temptation to go fishing was removed & I could concentrate on sorting out my personal life. With my impending return to the lake put on hold, I didn’t return to the lake during the remainder of the year. The following year bought unprecedented changes to my personal life. By March 2013, my divorce was final & I relocated to Stafford, effectively increasing my journey distance to the lake by thirty miles. This, coupled with the fact that my new residence was a first floor apartment made the whole process of going fishing particularly awkward. Despite this, I chose to renew my ticket in June 2013 & managed to fit four sessions in total through the summer months – blanking on each occasion. In all honesty, this was not unusual considering the fact that very little had been caught, none of the big fish had been out & I’d been away from the lake for such a long time, it was difficult for me to keep track of what had been happening there. Once the end of the year had arrived, I knew it was time to move on from Coombe & accept that my campaign on there had run its course. I was ready for a new challenge & I felt I had done as much as I could on there – after all, I was fishing for a handful of fish in eighty acres that had barely been seen in years, let alone caught. Evaluating my time on there, I can look back & see that it was very hard & it certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted. For those considering turning up & catching numbers of big fish, this is simply a long way from reality & for me, this is where the magic lies. I can name a few anglers that have not even had a single pick-up during their campaigns. At least it provided me with my first UK thirty & a personal best common, so for sure the rewards are there, but make no mistake – this lake does not give up its prizes easily. So with my time on Coombe concluded, I can bid it a fond farewell & be thankful for the memories that it has provided me with. I’ve met some great people there, made some good friends, come to realise that the green-eyed monsters still exist & will ‘stab you in the back’ at the mere thought that it might help them catch a carp from there. For me, it has been a steep learning curve. Just like when I first fished Blackroot, initially I was out of my comfort zone & I had to work at it, ring the changes & adapt my approach to suit & without ‘tearing the place apart’, I managed to go about my business quietly with more than a modicum of success. For the guys that remain, I hope you’ll forgive my choosing to reveal the name of the lake, but it seemed that most people were aware that it was Coombe Abbey anyway, so I don’t think many will be surprised. I’ve heard it said on many occasions that the regulars are “secret squirrel” & “they don’t tell you anything”… The reason for this is actually very straight-forward. There isn’t a going method, a known best swim or a bait that is being introduced that they’re all on. It’s a jigsaw – you have to work it out for yourself. There is very little knowledge of the lake & it’s capabilities & in realistic terms, it is still in its carp fishing infancy. In order to tackle such a water you need to have a steely resolve. Work at it & discover it for yourself - the rewards are there. Each time it knocks you down, you have to get back up & not let it beat you. I stumbled across a method that worked for me, but by no means was this the complete or definitive solution. It has been my privilege to have spent the time I have fishing this wonderful venue – I’m sure it will go from strength to strength…
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