|It had been a tough decision to leave Coombe Abbey, but having spent four years on the lake, I felt that my time was done & a fresh challenge was beckoning. In many ways, I was desperate not to fall into the trap of chasing myths & shadows, but ultimately, there are very few uncaught carp around & although this is the area of the sport that is of most interest to me, it’s very rarely that I ever get the opportunity to take advantage of this scenario, if indeed it ever arises. Having arrived at a crossroads in my own fishing & with pretty much all of the issues in my personal life sorted, it was time to dust off my rods, polish the Techniums & give some consideration to getting back out onto the bank again.
By pure chance a good friend had presented me with an opportunity to fish a very exclusive water on a limited membership ticket. The lake in question is approximately 30 acres in size & purely out of respect for the organisation & members that also fish it, I am not at liberty to reveal its name or location. After viewing the lake one evening & being brought up to date with the progress so far, I was itching to kick my season off on this ‘virgin’ water. Little is known of the lakes original inhabitants, but it had been recently stocked with a healthy number of upper-doubles & mid-twenties – mostly commons, but with some absolutely stunning mirrors of a good strain. With a small band of elite anglers fishing the water, I simply had to take the opportunity to join, mainly because I felt that it was important to get to know these guys & the fact that it could potentially open a few doors for me in the future. Additionally I would be angling for fish against some very capable anglers & I considered this a good test of my ability… With my application submitted in early June, in no time at all my ticket arrived through the post & the next chapter had begun.
As soon as I was able, I made a few evening visits to the lake after work so that I could spend a bit of time getting to understand the water & the behavioural patterns of its residents. Ultimately I had to begin putting some rod hours in & with my first session planned for a Friday in late July, I made my way to way to the lake after work & arrived shortly before 2:00pm. After a quick circuit of the lake, I came across the only angler that had ventured out for a short, quiet day session. Once we’d introduced ourselves & had a quick chat I opted to drop in on the very end swim along the south bank that had a particularly inviting bay to the right of it – an area where I’d seen activity on my previous visits. I was aware of the general topography of the swim, which had a gravel bar running around the periphery of the bay at a range of about twenty yards that deepened off in front of the swim & a couple of quick casts with the marker revealed the presence of the bar & that there was five foot of water directly in front of the swim & a large bed of algae that was abundant in water snails & natural water insects. I opted to fish two rods at short range to an area that was significantly less weedy than the surrounding area & the third rod was positioned to a small strip of clear sand just to the right, employing simple helicopter rigs, 5” combi-links & a balanced tiger nut presented on my usual ‘blow-back’ style of hook arrangement. I then proceeded to put six small spods of tiger nuts, hemp & corn spread loosely around each of the spots. As I readied camp for my first night, I sat back with my first cup of tea & savoured the ‘carpy’ atmosphere – something I had missed for so long. The everyday hassles of life were a distant memory & I was at one with my surroundings at last. During the afternoon, I spotted a couple of small fish out in the bay that had drifted along the edge of the bar & over my spots – they were aware that that there was a meal to be had… With the mosquitos becoming almost unbearable by the late evening, I gave up watching the water & retired for the night, listening intently for signs that fish were in the area. I certainly heard a definite ‘crash’ around midnight & a couple of liners had me awake during the early hours of the morning on a couple of occasions. The next thing I remember was a screeching Neville & it seeming like an eternity to get my boots on… The left hand rod was away & the fish had charged through the weedbed & round to the left of the swim. With very little fuss, I inched it back purposefully through the weed & I realised that I needed to take the bail arms off the other two reels & drop the rod tips into the water to avoid the fish getting snagged up in the other lines. Once I had done this, I noticed that my line had caught in the overhanging tree branches & with the fish up on the surface & beaten, I simply just had to free the line. A couple of gentle tugs to free the line & the lead plopped into the margin right next to me & there was a big swirl beneath the tree as the fish realised that it’s escape was complete. Closer examination of the rig revealed that the hook had opened out slightly which indicated that the hook-hold wasn’t good. I reasoned that the line ‘pinging’ free from the tree had caused the weight of the lead to simply bounce the hook back out of its mouth. As I was concerned that by putting a new rig back out would cause too much disturbance should there be any fish still in the area, I chose to leave the remaining two rods to do their bit, but alas, as I watched the early morning sun rise, no further activity came my way & I left feeling a little gutted at the loss of a fish on my first session & that there was still some work to be done. Certainly, I had to ensure that the lead had to come away on the take & the leader material I had chosen to use was actually quite blatant when on the lakebed.
An area where I'd seen activity on my previous visits...
My next session coincided with two weeks holiday from work & I arrived back at the lake one week later on the Monday morning & continued my usual walk around the lake. With nothing else to go on & no sightings forthcoming, I opted to drop back into the swim where I’d lost the fish on my very first session. This decision was based purely upon the fact that I’d seen fish in the bay on all of my previous visits & with a gentle wind favouring it bay during my planned forty-eight hour stay, that they simply had to visit my spots at some stage. The session turned out to be fruitless & I didn’t see a single sign of anything in the area in front of me. By the Tuesday morning, I toyed with the idea of reeling my rods in & going for a walk around the lake, but opted to stay put. This turned out to be a huge mistake… Once I’d packed all my gear into the car, I went for another excursion around the lake & found a number of fish in a small bay on the back of the wind. By the look of it, they’d been in the bay for some time & I understood the implications of not scouting the lake when I had the opportunity.
I was back twenty-four hours later for my third session & it soon became apparent that there were still fish in the area. I set up in a swim directly opposite the small bay that enabled a simple forty yard cast in order to intercept anything that passed in or out of it. The edge of the bay had a small sand hump on the edge of it & less than ten yards to the right of it was a clear area that revealed a depth of around seven foot – perfect. As I cast the rig out to the spot, it landed with a firm ‘donk’ that gives every angler that gut feeling of it being perfect. Again, five small spods of the particle mix were placed accurately over the top & during this time, two fish crashed out behind the sand hump – I couldn’t go wrong…. To my left was a small weedy bay that had a clear channel at the entrance. A quick plumb around this channel revealed around ten foot of water with a light covering of filamentous weed. It was at this point, disaster struck! As I swung the rig to hand, I caught the line just above the lead. As I turned around, the line was caught in a small bush & as I pulled it in an attempt to free it & with the rod tip under compression, the line slipped out of my hand, catapulting the lead through my fingers & the trailing hook buried itself deep into the little finger of my left hand. I felt sick! Fumbling around for a pair of scissors, I cut the hooklink & the bait from the hook & tried to tease it out with a pair of forceps, but it simply wouldn’t budge. Eventually, I had to admit defeat & reluctantly I had to pack up & make a visit to my local Accident & Emergency unit to deal with my dilemma. Subsequent x-rays of my finger, identified that the hookpoint was actually lodged into the bone & I was told that had I tried to remove it myself, that there would have been a real risk of snapping the point off the hook & leaving it in there! With the hook unceremoniously dragged from my finger under local anaesthetic, I was advised not to get it wet or go fishing for at least two days, so with the weekend ruled out my next trip was planned for the following Monday morning.
It was at this point disaster struck...
Again, upon arrival I did my normal clockwise circuit of the lake to find that there were two anglers in residence. One guy had done a twenty-four hour session in a swim in the middle of the north bank & the other had just arrived for a forty-eight hour session & had opted to fish the swim adjacent to the bay that I had fished on my first session for much the same reasons as myself – the conditions favoured that area. After a quick chat & introduction with them & with none of us seeing a single sign of fish, I dropped straight back into the swim where they had shown last time, but this time I’d gone with an out-&-out boilie approach. The night passed quietly & it was evident that they had vacated the area completely. Not wanting to waste forty-eight hours in an area devoid of fish, I reeled in early the next morning & set off along the west bank in search of activity. As I reached the area, the angler that had spent the night in the opposite bay had also followed suit & as we stood discussing the whereabouts of the fish, a fish ‘boshed’ clean out in front of us at about sixty yards range. As we stood & enthused over the next fifteen minutes or so, we had seen another five or six shows & we both knew that most, if not all of the fish were out in front of the west bank. As quickly as we both could & after a quick discussion, we packed up & moved swims. I opted to go into the very end swim at the left end of the west bank & the other angler plumped for a swim in the middle, approximately seventy-five yards to my right. It soon became apparent that the fish were showing over heavy weed & I became concerned with the fact that they were feeding intensely on natural items. A few casts revealed that the weed began at around thirty yards range & with this in mind, I fished all three rods to the very edge of the it & scattered baits along that edge. Another two anglers arrived mid-afternoon & set up in the middle of the north bank, adjacent to the area where most of the fish were showing regularly. During the day we must have seen thirty or forty good shows at range & as darkness fell, I hoped that they would venture closer in. At 10:30pm, just as I was about to climb into bed, my middle Neville one-noted & with very little fuss, a small common of around 8lb was netted. I couldn’t help feeling a bit gutted that my first fish must have been one of the smallest in the lake! Still, I was pleased that I had broken my duck & with a fresh rig positioned back to the spot along with another sprinkling of baits, I retired for the night. I was up again at first light with a cup of tea when I became aware of a commotion… I looked out to see the angler to my right up to his knees in water holding his landing net that was full of weed. I made my way over to help him & with the pictures & weighing completed, a chunky common of 15lb was returned back to the water. I packed away during mid-morning, said my goodbyes & returned a day later for a twenty-four hour session. One of the guys that had turned up to fish the lake whilst I was fishing last time had stayed on for forty-eight hours & was all but packed away when I paid him a visit. Although he’d not had any action, he was fishing his right hand rod to the back of the area where they had been showing & another rod in three feet of water just off an island at seventy yards range. As we stood talking, his middle rod to the island ripped-off, but the hook soon came adrift. He continued to advise me that although he’d seen only a couple of shows, that most of the visible activity had been to the left of the swim that he was in at range. This area had two large gravel bars running parallel across the lake to the other side & to a swim in the centre of the south bank. The area to the left of this was where the fish had been seen on many occasions having chatted to some of the guys that had been fishing it however, I still had a gut feeling that they were still in the weedy spots out in front of the west bank so I opted to fish a swim in the middle of that bank, but had gone for a solid PVA bag approach because of the heavy weed. As The guy I had spoken to earlier made his way off the water in the afternoon, I sat watching the water when I saw a fish crash out at long range in the aforementioned spot. As I watched, I saw it show again & within the hour I was standing in a swim in the middle of the south bank hoping for another show. Ten minutes later a fish heaved itself clear of the water on the near edge of a large weedbed giving away its location. I hit out three solid PVA bags to the edge of the weedbed at around eighty yards range, then scattered a kilo of baits around the spot. From the drop on each of the casts, there was clearly a good depth of water & with very little weed. The rods were set with the tips high to keep the lines clear of the algae that had collected in front of the swim & I felt supremely confident that something was going to happen… Once darkness had fallen, I received a couple of bleeps on the left rod before going into meltdown… Within seconds, the middle rod followed suit & I realised that something wasn’t right! A swan had picked up both lines with its feet as it made its way around the margin & eventually I managed to free both lines. With the carnage sorted & two new bags rigged-up, I hit them both back out to the approximate area & dropped the rod tips to avoid a similar occurrence. The night proved to be very uneventful, despite having a number of liners & with my gear packed away by 10:00am, I decided to go for another circuit of the lake before I departed. The wind had all but disappeared, the lake was like a millpond & although there was hardly any activity to be seen, the bulk of any signs were still out in front of the west bank, indicating that perhaps my decision to change swims in the late evening was perhaps a little hasty…
My next session was planned for the following Friday, but with the forecast predicting non-stop rain for the entire day, I chose to put off my arrival until the Saturday morning & I was surprised to find that I had the lake all to myself. As I made my way along the west bank in the warm & sunny conditions, I spooked a group of coots in one of the small bays & as they exited the bay, there were a couple of huge swirls beneath the collected marginal algae that gave away the presence of a few fish. Upon closer inspection, it was clear that there were in fact quite a lot of fish in the area. I watched a number of small commons patrol the margin area & significantly, one good upper twenty common that dwarfed anything else around it… Despite walking the remainder of the lake, it was quite obvious which swim I had to be in. At the very mouth of the small bay was a weedbed that was visible from my swim at around thirty yards to the right. A couple of delicate flicks with the lead revealed a reasonable depth of water & only a very light covering of weed. With this seeming to be the perfect spot to intercept them as they made their way in & out of it, I flicked three chod-rigs out into the mouth of the bay, approximately fifteen yards apart & loosely scattered a kilo & a half of 14mm baits across the general mouth of the bay. As soon as this was done, it became apparent that despite doing this as quietly as I could, the disturbance was too much for the carp & they swiftly vacated it. In the late evening, I witnessed a number of good shows out towards the back of the first island from the swim in the middle of the north bank – an area where they had shown previously & I rued the fact that it was almost certainly too late in the day to make the move, however I was well aware that the warm & sunny conditions that greeted me upon my arrival were predicted to be the same the following morning, so I decided to stay put, knowing that there was a very good chance of them returning. The following morning at 5:00am, I peered out of the Ultralite to watch the early morning mist meander serenely off the still lake surface. I lay there for a while hoping that the carp would make an appearance in front of my swim once the sun had risen & noticed a fish thrash itself clear of the water at range out towards the middle of the south bank. At the time I remember thinking to myself just how surprised I was that they could locate to different areas of the lake in such a short period of time & as it was bitterly cold, I snuggled back down into the sleeping bag & drifted off to sleep for another couple of hours. I woke around 8:30am to a single bleep from the left hand rod & as the sun was warming the west bank margins quite well, I slipped my boots on, put the kettle on & donned my polaroids to see if the carp had returned. Within a few minutes, I watched a good common drift right onto the marginal shelf, then turn & disappear into the deeper water where I’d positioned all three rigs – thinks were looking positive. Despite seeing a number of fish over the next hour or so, it was obvious that they weren’t actually feeing in the area I had been targeting, preferring to visit the shallow margins of my swim instead. Reluctantly I quietly reeled in the left & right rods & positioned both of them close in. The left rod I left as a single hookbait, whilst I loosely scattered about twenty baits over the right hand rig. Over the following hour or so, crouched down low I watched a number of fish visit these spots & observed their reaction. Clearly they were aware that something was amiss as they seemed interested, but were perhaps spooked by the fact that on their previous marginal excursions, there hadn’t been any bait in the area… I watched a good upper double ghost-mirror enter the swim on several occasions that didn’t seem particularly alarmed. It was easily identifiable by the two large scales on its left hand flank & whilst it didn’t appear as if it was in a feeding mood, it did look as if it spent a fair amount of time checking its surroundings. Unfortunately, I had to leave before 11:00am & reluctantly admitted defeat once again.
With my appetite well & truly whetted following my previous session, I spent a great deal of time considering my next move. As I was the only angler present during the previous weekend, I figured that it was unlikely that many would have ventured to the lake during the week & having regularly witnessed positive feeding activity in close proximity to the island nearest the swim in the middle of the north bank (now referred to by some of the anglers as ‘cobble point’), I really fancied spending forty-eight hours in the swim & giving it a good hit of bait, especially as they seemed to spend a fair amount of time feeding comfortably in that part of the lake & I set to work in the early part of the week rolling five kilos of bait & kept a close eye on the weather forecast. There were no discernible changes predicted in conditions other than the onset of rain on Wednesday afternoon, so it did seem reasonable to assume that they would still visit that area. As I made my way home after work on Wednesday evening, knowing that I had both Thursday & Friday at my disposal, I loaded the car & set off to the lake. I pulled into the carp park just as the rain begun & hurried round to the swim knowing that the rain was going to worsen as the evening progressed. I quickly set up the Ultralite & once I’d rigged-up all three rods, I had a few exploratory casts around the island to get a general feel for the area. The island itself was only very small in size & was easily accessible with a cast of approximately fifty yards. The adjacent area to the right of it where I’d seen most activity, shelved-off to a depth of around eight feet & was heavily weedy, but a clay strip ran across the very front of the island revealing a depth of around five feet & I felt certain that this was the area that the fish had been visiting regularly. I positioned all three rods along the clay strip, approximately twenty yards apart & after getting good drops on each one, I spread two kilos of bait liberally over the area with the throwing stick. Whilst the rain continued, the night passed swiftly & uneventfully & the following morning I opted to switch from using pop-up presentations to bottom-bait rigs on the clay strip by virtue of the area being clean & devoid of any weed & debris. It wasn’t until around midday until I saw the first signs of fish activity & over the course of the following few hours, it became evident that numbers of fish had ventured into the vicinity. It was approximately 3:00pm when the middle rod signalled a steady take & despite being on it virtually straight away, it had made the sanctuary of a weedbed & with very little pressure applied, the hook pulled only seconds into the fight. The same scenario was repeated at around 10:15pm & during the early hours of the following morning to the left rod – all hook-pulls in weed, just seconds into the fight. With this having happened three times, I knew it was pointless putting the same presentation back to the baited area without incorporating a change. Eventually I increased the hooklink length to twelve-inches & repositioned each rig to the clay strip, depositing another 2 kilos of bait to it for the remaining few hours of my session. With only half an hour of the session remaining, a steady take on the right rod eventually produced a welcome double-figure mirror. This fish had also made the sanctuary of a weedbed, & I whilst didn’t apply much pressure to it, the mouth tissue was extremely soft & tearing to the hook hold was evident.
A welcome double-figure mirror...
Over the following weeks, I managed a handful of overnight sessions fishing swims mainly on the west bank, where the fish seemed to spend much of their time holding up in the thick weedbeds that were abundant in that area. During this time I managed to hook several fish, but all were lost due to hook-pulls in the heavy weed. It seemed quite ironic that even though I felt as if I was beginning to get to grips with the lake, that I felt as if my next capture was miles away & the odds were increasingly stacked against me. On one particular session, I arrived to see a fish show in the small car park bay & I opted to set up in the very first swim on the south bank that allowed a short cast to the entrance of it. Unfortunately I hadn’t realised that the resident male swan was determined to prevent a rogue male swan from the neighbouring lake from seeking sanctuary in the bay & spent all hours of the night chasing him backwards & forwards along my near margin, splashing & hissing as they went. This resulted in all three rods being wiped out on two separate occasions. This, coupled with the commotion that ensured that there wasn’t a carp anywhere near the area whilst this was taking place & the lack of any subsequent rest left me wondering what I had to do to in order to get back amongst the fish.
In my time away from the lake, I mulled over the hook-pull scenario further – there simply had to be a solution to the problem… I considered every aspect of my setup in order to come to a satisfactory conclusion & having mentioned it to a few friends, various suggestions were presented to me including using softer rods, changing the hook pattern, & lengthening the hooklink. None of these convinced me that they were a solution to the problem & eventually I got it straight in my head - I was certain that the problem lay with the lead. In simple terms, most of the losses appeared to be due to a fish making the relative sanctuary of weed & whilst trying to inch it back through, the hook would quickly come adrift. I could visualise the scenario – as a fish was being brought back through the weed, whilst it is trying to pull back & turn its head, it is pulling against a short braided hooklink & a lead that is embedded in the weed & with no ‘give’ in the hooklink, it’s only a matter of time until the hook hold loosens & comes adrift. If the lead were to be taken out of the equation, in the same scenario, it would be pulling against the monofilament main line running through the weed & subsequently, the hook hold would be cushioned by the inherent stretch within the main line. With my mind made up, I decided to employ inline pear leads fished drop-off style that would come away from the rig on the take, even modifying the leads to such an extent that the ring swivel would pull from the lead much easier than normal – I wanted the lead to discharge before it even had chance to catch in any weed. With the particle approach being suitably different to what everyone else was doing, I chose to stick with it & present the rig in a solid PVA bag. With renewed enthusiasm in my approach & being desperate to get back down to the lake to test my theory, I arrived once again on the following Friday afternoon, heading straight down after work.
After arriving on a cold & damp October Friday afternoon, directly from work, many of the swims on the more popular west bank were taken. With this in mind, I embarked upon a quick tour of the lake & despite seeing nothing, I opted to drop into ‘Shaun’s point’ for the duration of my session for no reason other than it just felt right & allowed me to view a large portion of the water. After a few minutes of plumbing, I located an area around sixty yards to the right of the swim where there was a large, clean area around eleven feet deep. With all three rigs despatched to that area & liberally scattering a kilo of bait over it, the first night passed without event. During the early stages of Saturday morning, I watched an area to the right of this through my binoculars & became aware of some sustained activity around a shallow plateau. Unsure of exactly what was causing the activity, I reeled my rods in during the late afternoon & walked around the corner to get a better view… With the plateau at around fifty yards range, I saw several shows, even managing to take a photograph on my phone as one fish crashed out around twenty yards to the right of it. Hurriedly, I repositioned my rods to the front edge of the feature & hit one rod long to the edge of the area with a small, pink pop-up fished around six inches directly off the lead. Again, Saturday night passed uneventfully apart from a few single bleeps from the pop-up rod & I was amazed that I hadn’t had a take on it. As I had to vacate the lake early on Sunday morning, I reeled in the pop-up rod to discover that the hookpoint was buried into the hookbait & I cursed my bad luck… During the following few days, I studied some aerial pictures of the lake & it became apparent why fish liked that area… The Plateau was sheer-sided on the right hand side, whilst the rest of it sloped steadily down to around eight foot. At the back of the plateau ran a gravel bar from the islands into ‘chairman’s bay’, effectively creating a sheer-sided, fifteen feet wide channel at the back of the plateau. As it was almost unfishable from the east bank as it would be almost impossible (& unsafe) to get a hooked fish up & over the bar, the area was only accessible from two swims – ‘Shaun’s point’ & ‘chairman’s’. ‘Shaun’s point’ allowed a seventy yard cast to the left of the plateau, but there was a very real risk that a hooked fish could go around the plateau & along the deep channel, however from the ‘chairman’s’ swim, a direct cast of around sixty yards would allow the very front edge of the channel to be fished effectively & a plan was beginning to take shape…
It just felt right...
My next session was planned for the following Friday / Saturday night, but after negotiating the muddy track through the field & with more rain forecast during the night, I knew that by morning there was a very real threat that I may not be able to get my car off the lake via the track & so despite setting up camp for the evening, I reluctantly decided to pack away just thirty minutes later & head home.
It wasn’t until the third week of March until I returned to the lake & during my enforced break, the excessive amounts of rain that the UK had endured during the latter parts of February had caused the lake to flood on a couple of occasions. As my proposed winter campaign had failed quite miserably (due to the fact that I couldn’t actually get to the lake via the muddy track), I felt that it was somewhat pointless returning to the lake while the conditions were against me, deciding to leave it until there was a marked increase in temperatures that would effectively get the carp actively looking for food resources. Despite the fact that the winter had deprived me of any opportunities to get out onto the bankside, thoughts of returning to the lake were never far from my mind & I’d invested in a few items of equipment that I felt would help my 2016 campaign – in particular, my purchase of a set of 10ft rods would make targeting one or two areas of the lake much easier due the nature of some of the swims. As the original car parking area was now closed, I had to employ the use of a barrow & with little information to go on, I headed straight round to the opposite corner of the lake, planning to spend the night fishing to the channel that I’d found when I’d last fished the lake. Although the weed had predictably disappeared, I still opted to fish drop-off leads on a tidy home-made lead clip arrangement with reverse combi-rigs. It didn’t take long to identify the presence of the channel after a few casts with a lead & I was pleased that the shorter 10ft rods made life much easier as I cast out the fifty yards or so to the very front edge of the plateau. With all three rigs positioned at the front of this channel, I liberally spread a kilo of baits along the channel & up to the area where my traps were set.
With a cool night in prospect, I chose to use a brolly & travel as light as I could & before the light begun to fade, I was soon armed with a fresh brew & a degree of enthusiasm for the hours ahead. With nothing more than a succession of single bleeps from my alarms during the night, although I felt as though I’d got my location correct (made evident by a well-known angler banking two upper double-figure fish from ‘Shauns Point’), I was convinced that I’d got my presentation completely wrong. I had employed the use of very long hooklinks by virtue of my previous experiences with poor hook-holds & with the lack of weed growth, in hindsight I should have used a much shorter length rig. In the early morning sunshine, I shared a quick brew with said angler as we discussed the nights events & packed away to assist with the Saturday morning work party before heading home around midday. The following weekend a fish-in was hosted at the lake & I chose to postpone my next visit until the following weekend. In my time away, I had purchased a new bedchair, brolly, rucksack & quiver from the NASH Scope range that would enable me to omit the requirement of a barrow & with a predicted increase in air pressure, drop in temperature & a brisk easterly wind forecast for my next session, the conditions were far from ideal, but not to be outdone I arrived at the lake & completed a quick circuit before making my way round to the south west bay after seeing what appeared to be some sustained ‘fizzing’ at close range. With my rigs placed on clear spots at the base of the peripheral gravel bar, I deposited a small amount of free bait over each spot & fished the lines as slack as I dared to ensure my lines were as inconspicuous as possible. Over the next few hours, I watched the water hoping to see something that would convince me that my swim selection was justified, but with no positive signs forthcoming I was becoming increasingly apprehensive that the fizzing was due to carp feeding activity. As the light levels faded, the thin easterly wind increased in strength & I was certain that had any fish ventured into the bay during the daylight hours, that they’d soon have vacated the area such was the drop in air temperature. An early frost gave way to bright sunshine early the following morning & I packed away swiftly to assist with the work party before saying my goodbyes & leaving around 1:00pm.
I managed another quick overnight session the following week, but with freezing cold north easterly winds & air temperatures dropping as low as -3 degrees during the night, I wasn’t overly surprised that I didn’t catch or see anything. Additionally, there had been blue dye added to the water in a bid to counteract the excessive weed growth that had choked the majority of the lake over previous years & historically, this is believed to have an effect on their feeding habits in the short-term & so it proved to be in this case. With similar conditions the following weekend, I chose not to return. Ironically, I had seen it stated that the cold spell at the time was in fact the coldest sustained temperatures seen at this time of the year in over three decades… In my time away from the lake, I incorporated a few tweaks to my setup that would increase my mobility & ensure that I would be spending my time on the bankside fishing as effectively as possible whilst I waited patiently for conditions to improve.
With another couple of sessions completed in preceding weeks – one of these resulting in an aborted take from a very shallow area of the lake, my frustrations were evidently compounded by my unfortunate knack of being one step behind fish movements. It seemed that each time I arrived at the lake & upon identifying an area where I believed that they would frequent given the conditions, that in each case they had actually been there & vacated the area swiftly only a short time before my arrival! It was time to analyse my overall approach to fishing the lake… As its location wasn’t such a long distance away from where I live, I decided to ‘up my game’ & begin prebaiting an area of the lake that wasn’t receiving a lot of a attention. My chosen bait would be my original fishmeal mix that had been so reliable in the past & once I’d managed to complete the purchase of the last few remaining items for my compact set-up, I was happy that I would be fishing as effectively as I possibly could. It was simply a case of putting in a bit of extra effort in order to make things happen.
I began my prebaiting campaign on a Sunday evening prior to my planned session the following Friday. Having considered my options, it was imperative that I selected an ‘unfancied’ area / swim, so that I could hopefully go about my business relatively unnoticed. The simple reason for this is that I don’t like the idea of ‘tying up’ a swim simply because I’ve chosen to introduce bait to it. Whilst some anglers are happy to label the swim as their own, I prefer to have more freedom when selecting swims to fish & I believe wholeheartedly in the first-come-first-served principal. After considering various areas, I chose a compact swim on the south bank that required a fifty yard cast to the point of an island & that had a gravel bar running parallel with the nearside margin. I was sure that the carp used the far margin of the island as part of their regular patrol routes & after a bit of work with the marker rod, a firm clay area was revealed with a depth of eight feet. With potential feeding spots pinpointed as accurately as possible, I spread approximately a kilo of bait across the front of the island, up to the point. This procedure was continued for successive weekday evenings leading up to my usual Friday overnight session the following week, a total of five separate visits. Ultimately, I didn’t want to put huge amounts of bait in – my aim was to put just enough onto these areas to keep fish visiting them regularly in the evenings for a quick feed. With my quick evening detours to the lake every evening on my way home from work, I felt quite happy & confident that my plan was gaining some momentum, but I was also quite wary that the tufties might be getting in on the act! Ultimately, the baiting campaign would be reviewed following my first session, where I would evaluate my findings & consider any future plans. Certainly a few fish were now being caught, yet I still felt out of touch with the lake. If my baiting ‘campaign’ didn’t work, then perhaps it could be applied to other areas of the lake, or maybe even switch to a particle approach as there seemed to be an ever-increasing tufted duck population in residence…
With work commitments completed in the early afternoon, I made my way down the dusty track to the lake to find one angler already bivvied up in one of the usual west bank swims. Laden with luggage, I hurried around to the island swim as quickly as possible & tucked the brolly into the trees as tightly as I could so that my presence would be as discreet as possible. In the preceding week, I’d managed to get my hands on some original Daiwa SS3000’s that I’d been looking to purchase for some time. Whilst these were not in the same league as my Techniums as regards quality, the size of the Technium reels upset the total balance of a 10ft rod setup, whereas the SS3000’s were perfectly suited. With the left hand rod positioned just off the point of the island & the right hand rod twenty yards to the right against the far margin, I spread a kilo of 14mm baits between the two areas using a catapult. Flying backleads were employed whilst I positioned the rod tips high to keep my lines from running over the gravel bar in the event of a pick-up. With my traps carefully set, I still remained a little apprehensive about my chances of receiving any action during the course of my session, such was my scepticism & so the evening proved to be. Within minutes of putting out bait, the tufties moved in & begun feeding in earnest & I began to realise that most, if not all of my prebaiting efforts were effectively conditioning the tufties to feed in specific areas as opposed to the carp. To say that I was unimpressed was an understatement! The following morning was ushered in with a gentle north-easterly breeze & bright sunshine & as I watched the water during the remaining few hours of my session, I’d noticed a couple of fish cruise along the top of the nearside gravel bar & head back out into the deeper water. Barely an hour before I had to leave, I quickly reeled in the right hand rod & had a few exploratory casts on to the top of the bar to establish the condition of it. Certainly there was a light covering of weed & a definite area of clay identified by the small deposits that came back on the lead. With the rig positioned to the clay spot, I didn’t feel at all confident as I could visualise the hookbait buried in the weed. As I was aiming to manufacture a quick last minute bite, the hoobait needed to be identifiable. I hurriedly tied a short pop-up rig & flicked it back out to the top of the bar & positioned a small backlead at the base of the bar so as not to spook anything that ventured along the nearside of it. With everything packed away apart from my rods, I made a final brew before heading home & as I stood looking out from the swim, I noticed a delicate disturbance right on top of the bar. A sudden single bleep from the right hand rod caused me to glance down & as I looked back up, the rod tip hammered round as the fish charged along the bar to my left & then turned & headed out into open water. Luckily, the lead had ejected & it was soon under control & bundled into the landing net at the first opportunity. Although it wasn’t a huge fish, I can’t even begin to explain how relieved I was to finally bank my first fish of the year. The distinctive mid-double mirror was two-tone in colouration & further research proved it to be one of the Viv Shears strain fish that had been stocked a couple of years previously. With a couple of pictures taken of each side, we returned him to the water & I headed off home with more than just a sigh of relief.
A sigh of relief...
With a full week of holiday at my disposal, I was surprised to find that I was the only anger on the lake when I arrived the following Tuesday morning. As heavy rain had been forecast to arrive during the afternoon & having completed a circuit of the lake & seen nothing, I set up on ‘cobble point’ because I knew that the fish could often turn up on the back of a cold wind & furthermore, my location would allow me to watch as much water as possible, knowing that I could move at any given time. A couple of fish showed at range during the late evening & as predicted, the tufties completely wiped me out the following morning. With a potential move on the cards, I’d just made a fresh brew when another angler arrived to have a look around. As if someone had just flicked a switch, carp began showing heavily in an area out in front of the west bank swims & I hurriedly relocated back to the swim I’d been in on my previous session with Dave’s help. I watched the show for another fifteen minutes or so & within a short time the activity had all but stopped. My gut feeling at the time told me that I needed to be in the ‘left-hand point’ swim & in the late evening I managed to get set up, locate a couple of suitable spots at medium range & position my rigs before the light begun to disappear. I completed another two nights in the point swim & despite not seeing anything, I felt confident in my approach & swim selection. During the period of time I was on the lake, I had begun to formulate a season plan based largely around a particle approach for a number of reasons… Having evaluated my results so far, the bulk of my successes were largely due to employing a particle approach, albeit in the majority of cases, these fish were subsequently hooked & lost. Additionally, it was becoming increasingly apparent that there were a head of larger fish that simply weren’t being hooked whilst the smaller fish were frequently putting in an appearance. As I could only attribute this to the incredible amount of natural food that was available freely & that perhaps many of the lakes residents had probably not even seen a boilie before, I decided that the best approach was to drop back down the ‘bait pyramid’ in an attempt to trigger their most basic instincts. Whilst employing a more ‘standard’ approach of locating spots via a marker rod, casting a rig to the marker, then spodding bait to the marker is often favoured by many, it does mean that you have to carry five rods – something that goes against my recent compact philosophy. Personally, I prefer not to use a marker float as I believe it can hinder the feedback that is transmitted through the rod blank when utilised. With this in mind, I decided to revert to using a lead only for identifying potential feeding spots. Once a spot has been located, I clip this up at the correct range & replace the lead with a spod to despatch my free bait to said spot. In the majority of cases, I don’t adjust the distance between the lead & the spod range to allow for depth (unless it is significant), as the spod will naturally land just past the spot – in theory ensuring that it deposits its contents to the back of the spot, rather than directly on it (ensuring that fish aren’t feeding directly over my lines). Once this has been completed, it’s simply a case of clipping the fishing rod up to the same range, making a note of it, then casting out to the same spot. Bait-wise, the plan was simple… Tiger nuts (whole & chopped), hempseed & corn would be used, with more emphasis placed around there being fewer large items within the mix. The final part of my approach would involve using a short hooklink, a simple blow-back hooking arrangement & utilising a small PVA stick approach to prevent tangles & to ensure that the rig was presented unmasked in any weed. To increase the effectiveness of my approach, I had spent a great deal of time trying to source a ten foot lead / marker rod that could be integrated into this setup without success. Eventually I decided to modify a twelve foot 4lb test rod by reducing the length to suit & refitting a new spigot to the blank in the new position. This proved to be an enormous success & ensured that my entire setup was perfectly balanced for what I was ultimately trying to achieve. This was coupled with a DAIWA Emblem reel & loaded with Power Pro braid. A 3oz pear lead was employed for feature finding & a midi Spomb was perfectly suited for despatching small amounts of the particle mix to each area with the minimum of fuss.
My next usual Friday night excursion was hampered by the unusual amounts of heavy rain that much of the Midlands had experienced during the early part of the week. This had caused the nearby river system to flood & the access road into the fishery was completely underwater. Despite the fact that I was gutted at not being able to get out onto the bankside, I was more concerned about potential escapees, or indeed influx of fish into the lake once the river levels had subsided.
Having opted to employ a stick mix into my approach, I chose to make my own & adapt it to the fishing situation that I would be presented with. My initial mix included fishmeal, molasses meal, crushed hempseed, liquid liver & a proven appetite stimulator. This would be fished in conjunction with a balanced black tiger nut hookbait, simply because it would be less likely to be spotted by diving waterfoul & that I hoped that it would look more like a natural item on the lakebed.
The following weekend the water levels had returned to normal, but I still had some concerns regarding potential fish losses from the lake during the recent flooding. Many of the regular anglers were attending an AGM, so I was not surprised that I had the entire lake almost exclusively to myself. Once I’d completed a circuit of the lake, I found a group of fish in an area adjacent to a cluster of small islands & decided to target this area exclusively. The swim I chose to fish had the largest of the islands to the right of it, running parallel with the bank & had a gulley running the entire length of the east bank at just a rod length range, typically being around 8ft in depth. In front of the swim was a single submerged tree at thirty yards & had average depth of around just 2ft. After observing the area for a while, I watched several fish drift into the area & after couple of quick casts with a lead it appeared that the area surrounding the tree was virtually weed-free. With the middle rod positioned ten feet directly in front of the tree on a clear gravel spot, the left out into open water at a similar range & the right to the front edge of a weedy channel, I employed the use of small PVA sticks & a small amount of hemp & chopped tiger nuts were deposited on each of the spots by use of a spod. Certainly, I didn’t want much bait in the area as it was imperative that I didn’t give the ducks a visual indication that there was a meal to be had. Setting up & positioning of the rods was done as quietly as possible so as not to disturb any of the fish that were in the vicinity & it appeared that my actions had successfully gone unnoticed by the carp. To reaffirm that my approach was along the correct lines, several coots had also swum over my baited spots & they had not spotted the free meal - things were looking positive… Apart from a positive liner coming to the right hand rod around 10:00pm, the night passed swiftly, but I was confident that the early hours of the morning could still produce a fish. I woke around 4:00am & got out of bed to look for signs of activity. Although the conditions looked as good as they could have been, I decided to get some extra ‘shut-eye’. I woke again around 7:00am & fired-up the kettle for the first brew of the day. Just as I’d laced my boots, a single bleep caused me to look up at the middle rod, as the tip hooped over & stopped. A large swirl then appeared directly over the baited spot that could only have meant one thing… Fish on! In just a few minutes, the fish was waddling up & down the nearside gulley & was soon netted with the minimum of fuss. Despite its small size I quickly weighed it, treated the hookhold & took a couple of quick pictures before returning it to the water in a short space of time. During my session I’d done some experimenting with the PVA sticks to get an understanding as to how they reacted when immersed in water. By dropping a couple of sticks into the margins, they dissolved quickly in the warm water & I could see the immediate area around them visibly begin to ‘cloud up’. Periodically, small oily bubbles would rise to the surface & the small pile of crumb began to slowly dissipate. More interestingly, I was amazed to see much of the natural insects feasting on the mix. In particular, the large, black water snails loved it & I wondered if that was a contributory factor to catching this fish on a black tiger nut & perhaps it represented one of the water snails?
Just as I laced my boots...
Although I was pleased with my recent success, I still felt as though I could improve my presentation further. I’d noticed that in particular, the most successful angler on the lake at that time was using very short leaders – something I have been incorporating into my setups for some time, yet I’d neglected to do so on this venue & whilst I knew it wasn’t the sole reason for his good results, it did serve as a wake-up call to make me question why I’d moved away from using a proven method that has worked well for me before. Additionally, the shorter hooklink I believed was critical to future results. On my last session, when the fish were not particularly in a feeding mood during the evening, I felt that a pop-up rig that would have been more ‘in their faces’ & would have potentially been a better ploy. Having identified these potential improvements, I planned to incorporate these changes into my setup by reducing my bottom bait hooklinks to around 6” in length, using a leader that was only fractionally longer than the hooklink & having some short pop-up rigs pre-tied should a similar situation arise. Another change that I’d decided to incorporate was the type of tubing used on my hooking arrangements. In most cases when using bottom-bait arrangements, I prefer to use either a blowback or ‘slip-D’ (the name given to the rig by its ‘creator’ Martin Clarke - a presentation I’ve used for some years prior to it being ‘revealed’ in the angling press…) arrangement & whilst this requires a short section of tube to be placed over the knotless knot, most anglers fashionably use shrink tube in this instance. For some time I have been quite vocal about the function of this section of tube & I’ve been experimenting further over a period of time by replacing this with a long length of silicon tube. Although my findings aren’t conclusive, my results have been noticeably better when using the latter & moreover, I think the whole arrangement looks much neater too. So with these small tweaks implemented, I took the opportunity to do a forty-eight hour session the following week after booking the Friday off work & heading down to the lake once I’d finished work on Thursday afternoon.
I’d checked the prevailing weather forecast for my planned two-day session & the now standard British summertime conditions of sunshine & showers with a strengthening south-westerly wind was predicted to prevail. With this knowledge, I felt quite confident that there would be a few fish in & around the islands area so with work commitments completed, I picked up a few supplies en route & arrived shortly after 5:30pm & set up the umbrella low into undergrowth in the swim to the right of the one I had fished last time out. For my session, I’d taken only a relatively small amount of bait – around two kilos of hempseed, a kilo of tiger nuts, a kilo of boilies, stick mix, small pot of black tiger nuts & some home-made pop-ups for hookbait options. As the previous weeks floods had washed out much of the coloured dye from the lake, the weed growth had noticeably increased & as such, many of the clear areas were not as easily detectable as they were before. Not to be outdone, after a bit of leading around I managed to pinpoint three clear areas where I could comfortably position my rigs & each spot received two small spods of hempseed & a few ‘growlers’. Again, PVA sticks were employed along with small flying backleads to keep my lines out of the way of anything patrolling the far marginal shelf. Although I saw a couple of signs that fish were indeed in the area, predictably the night passed without event & I awoke the following morning to find another angler (Dave) had arrived & set up on ‘cobble point’ – a swim that enabled a degree of access to the other side of the group of islands. Before he set up, he came round for a chat & discussed all manner of things & as we stood next to my rods, suddenly & without any warning the left rod tip hammered round as a fish kited on a tight line. As I leaned into it, it careered across the surface in the shallow water & headed for a small group of nearby islands. At this point, I had no option other than to clamp down hard & with that, the fish continued to head round to my left. With the lead discharged & its head covered with weed, it was led steadily to the waiting net where Dave did his bit & commented that he thought it was one of the better ones as he scooped it up into the mesh. As we peered into the net, we could both clearly see that it was a definite mid-twenty & with the hook safely removed, we weighed it at 25lb exactly before taking a few pictures & returning it to the water none the worse for its ordeal.
The left rod tip hammered round...
Later analysis of the pictures proved that this male fish had not been caught before & could possibly have been one of the lakes original residents or it could have migrated during the flooding just a few weeks previously. Once I’d tidied up my swim, I opted to reel in my remaining rods to rest the swim & go for a walk & although I hadn’t seen any activity in any other areas of the lake, I still felt hugely confident that there was still a chance of another fish from my islands swim. Apart from the strong winds causing large rafts of algae to break loose & drift into my corner of the lake, wiping out all three rods on two separate occasions, typically the afternoon passed without event, but I remained confident that the fish would revisit the area the following morning. Sure enough, Around 10:00am, the left hand rod tip bent round very slowly before the line fell completely slack & I lifted the rod to find nothing there. The same thing happened on the middle rod just 15 minutes later & I presumed these occurrences were ‘liners’ due to the variations in the lake bed where I was unable to get my main line to follow the contours of the undulating lakebed without fishing a slack line – something that I was unwilling to do due to the close proximity of submerged trees. A well-known angler offered an alternative opinion when I told him of the strange occurrences, questioning whether water snails or debris on the hookpoint could have been the root cause. Having had this happen to me on one occasion, this also seemed a very plausible explanation.
Due to extenuating circumstances at work, I had to help out & work some night shift patterns over the following few weekends which seriously hampered any opportunities I had to return back to Spoonbill. I did manage to squeeze in a quick overnight session the following Thursday & whilst nothing happened of real note, I did have the gut-feeling that there weren’t as many fish in the island areas as there had been previously. In my absence, the mirror that I’d taken at 25lb made another appearance just two weeks later & had gained another pound in weight, backing up the idea that could quite conceivably have entered the lake via the recent floods. Nevertheless, it was promising that a few of the better fish were now beginning to visit the bank. Whilst I had been happy with my recent results, I was sure that I could improve my success further & I still had some improvements that I felt could be implemented - specifically I believed that the biggest single factor was simply reducing the length of the hooklink & whilst this had an immediate impact, I felt that I could reduce it a little more & incorporate a better suited pattern of hook to make my presentation even more effective. The only other thing I planned to change was the make-up of my stick mix & although my original mix appeared to work relatively well, I wasn’t overly happy with the way it was so blatant on the lakebed. In retrospect, visibly it represented a small pile of lightly coloured crumb. I really wanted to darken the mix to allow it to blend in more with its surroundings, so I began to mess around with alternative concoctions until I had it just how I wanted it via a period of testing. Finally, with the up-&-coming winter months on the horizon, I knew that I would have to start giving some consideration to my cold water approach. Ultimately, I planned to continue to use hempseed, but I didn’t feel confident that using tiger nuts would be as effective in the colder water conditions, so I tweaked my strategy by introducing boilies during my sessions. Initially, this involved producing them in a small size in order to adhere to my small bait philosophy & feeding a small amount whilst fishing, then introducing more when I left the lake in a bid to try & establish my food bait.
During the following weeks I really struggled to make any ground in the few hours that I was actually able to spend at the lakeside. During this time the lake produced its first thirties - including a lake record fish of 36lb+. I did manage to bank a huge double-figure bream (I believe one of three that had ever been caught at the time) & experienced the somewhat surreal occurrence of having a one-noter & lifting the rod to find nothing there. Another three blank sessions followed where the only action I received was a series of savage liners one evening when I knew my line-lay to the spot I was fishing was dreadful, but there was very little that I could do about it such was the nature of the tiny hole in the weed that I was fishing to. I also met another carp angling ‘superstar’ that was considering joining the lake & it seemed apparent that people were becoming aware of its future potential.
My time away from Spoonbill was largely spent working on potential solutions to the jigsaw puzzle. To my mind, the approach for every water has three main elements, location, bait & presentation. Nothing new in this respect, but put simply by concentrating on the latter two of these elements & knowing that I have total control over them, this would leave me to concentrate on the most important one, location. Having examined my previous results, I decided to tweak the bait mix a little in order to tailor it better to the water by increasing its solubility & nutritional profile in order to improve its long-term effectiveness. Additionally I felt as if I wasn’t introducing enough bait to have an effect on my fishing situations & by introducing a kilo here & there was having little to no impact, so I got to work clearing out my freezer & set aside one evening per week as ‘bait making time’, planning to roll 5-7kg per week.
Presentation-wise, I felt as if I had made good progress over the summer, but I knew it could be improved further. Reverting back to using a very simple, but mechanically sound rig had appeared to work, but I did have the gut-feeling that perhaps I’d gone too short with the hooklink. Furthermore, with the clarity of the water & along with the fact that they were clearly uneasy about lines in the water, I needed to make my presentation more inconspicuous. After all, when I positioned my rig on the marginal clear spot & observed it from close quarters, I’m amazed I ever had a pick-up on it at all – it looked horrific!
The following week, armed with three kilo’s of my new bait mix, I booked a day’s holiday from work & planned a two-night session during the first week of September. Whilst I was convinced that there were still fish in the small shrub islands area of the lake, on my circuit I noticed that in one corner at the back of the largest island, there were some pronounced clear spots that I was convinced had been caused by feeding fish & moreover, that they had been created only very recently. With this seeming a good opportunity to learn something about a rarely fished area, I flicked a lead around to get a general feel for it. There was a large clear spot to the left of the swim around twenty yards along the tree lined margin in around three feet of water, with a number of individual clear spots amongst the weed in the general area. The island in front of the swim could be reached with a short twenty-five yard cast & the margin was around two feet deep & weedy, but shelved off quickly to around five feet & a clean, sandy strip ran along this shelf, parallel to the island for about 30 yards or so, potentially indicating that this was part of a feeding patrol route. Once I’d clipped up all three rods at the correct range, I positioned all three rigs along the strip & spread a kilo of bait along it using a small spomb. I also placed a handful of baits onto the marginal clear spot, so that it would give me an additional option & a visual indication of whether fish had entered into the area. A friend (Dave) dropped into ‘cobble point’ for the night & as the rain arrived during the late evening, the night passed swiftly & uneventfully. Around 7:00pm the next morning, Dave poked his head under my brolly giving me the news that he’d hooked two fish in the early morning, losing one & banking the other - his first fish of the year. With the pictures taken before the rain arrived, we toasted his capture of the heavily-scaled mid-double mirror with a cup of coffee, before I returned back to my swim to consider my options. A quick check of the marginal spot proved that most, if not all of the bait was still there & this convinced me that the fish hadn’t been in the area. Whilst I was considering a move, another three anglers arrived reducing my options & with the rain setting in again around mid-morning, I decided to stay put & in all truthfulness, I was 100% convinced that I was wasting my time. I watched the water carefully whilst it rained & I spotted some subtle movement tight against the island margin & I figured that I may as well reposition my rigs as it was possible that any patrolling fish might refuse to venture away from the safety of it. With a lull in the rain, I pin-pointed three relatively clear spots tight to the island, on top of the shallow marginal shelf & put all of my remaining bait onto them. The early afternoon was ushered in with a stiff westerly wind that caused large rafts of surface weed to drift into my corner of the lake & it seemed as if I’d spent much of the day trying to keep my lines clear of it. It was sometime around 7:00pm when the wind subsided & whilst cooking myself a quick meal I couldn’t help but notice small patches of bubbles appearing on the surface directly over the sandy strip. Although I was certain that in many cases, evident fizzing was not due to feeding activity, it seemed odd that it wasn’t appearing anywhere else but over the bait I’d put in around twenty-four hours earlier. As I’d got two spots covered on the island marginal shelf, I figured that I’d got nothing to lose by repositioning one of my rods back to the sandy strip where the fizzing activity was coming from, so I reeled in the middle rod, checked the hookpoint, added a small PVA sock of three baits & cast the rig out the short distance to the strip. Casting just past it & quickly pulling the rig back, the lead landed with a satisfactory thud & I slackened the line off to let it settle whilst I sat at the water’s edge to watch the fizzing continue. I guess it was around ten minutes later when the middle rod bleeped once & within seconds it was away at full-pelt. The fish hadn’t moved far & began to head to the right, before doubling back & heading to the left of the swim. Knowing that there was very little weed in the area, I let it run, applying hardly any pressure to it when that sickening feeling of the hook pulling was realised. A check of the rig proved that everything was fine. The lead had discharged, the hair hadn’t wrapped around the hook & the hookpoint was still needle-sharp. Noticeably, any fizzing in the area had now completely stopped & although I hoped that something might happen during the night, it wasn’t to be as I made my way off the lake in the early morning rain. I checked the margin spot before my departure & although I couldn’t see it very clearly, it looked as if all the bait had gone.
Looking back, although it was only my first session with my new bait mix, having fish actively feeding on it plus having a take did wonders for my confidence, so I was more than happy with their response. My main issue was that it took twenty four hours for fish to find / feed on it & in effect, this is not uncommon - in fact it is usually the norm & this leads me to wonder if this was a contributory factor to my results. It did seem that anglers that were catching relatively consistently, were doing so quite late into their respective sessions & ultimately I was aware that the more successful anglers on the lake had a major advantage over me - TIME. To back this up further, most if not all of the guys that were doing short evening sessions were struggling to catch, so surely I would have little to no chance of getting in amongst them on my short overnight sessions? Was imitating bait that had been in the lake for a period of time (washed-out bait) the answer? With a well-known angler in residence at the lake & being an advocate of such an approach, it convinced me that if nothing else, I had nothing to lose by trying it for myself. Certainly the method was not new to me, but rightly or wrongly I hadn’t deemed it necessary here.
In my time away from the lake, I’d looked at each individual aspect of my approach & considered the relevance of each element & the impact that it was having on my campaign. At this stage, I was relatively happy with my rigs, although I’d made one last tweak to improve the hooking potential further & despite the fact that I felt that I was making some positive ground on the bait front, I did have some minor doubts about embarking on a winter campaign using an untried & untested bait at a potentially difficult time of the year. After a bit of thought & with my concerns about winter fast approaching, I decided to get in contact with my old mate Wayne Dunn & asked him to supply me with some of his awesome Marine-1. Having known Wayne for many years & been aware of his development of this bait over decades, I knew that if I had to sit behind my rods wandering if the bait was acceptable that I could dispel any such doubts as there are few baits around that I could possibly have had more faith in. That said, I felt that there was more that I could do to trigger a feeding response & I was acutely aware of the underlying location issue. Further examination of my results proved to be a bit of a turning point… In most circumstances, where I’d employed the use of hempseed in my sessions, my results were noticeably better, particularly during the previous year. I remember talking to another member at the beginning of the year who mentioned that he had struggled to get a pick-up using a boilie-only approach until he started to include hemp into his baiting scenarios & all of a sudden it turned into a bit of a eureka moment. The method of air-drying & rehydrating my baits had not been dismissed, but I decided to analyse my results & do some experimenting with the method over a period of time. With a few days holiday from work at my disposal, I set to work with my plans & with the news that the lake had produced yet another record fish of 38lb 15oz, I was desperate to get back & as the lake had now produced three thirty-plus fish this year, there was a real sense that the big girls were now ‘on the munch’. I dropped by to see Wayne mid-week to have a catch up & ‘chew the fat’ for a while & left a few hours later with a supply of M1 & made plans to return to Spoonbill later the same week.
Having spoken to a couple of anglers, it turned out that whilst the previous week had seen a few fish caught, the immediate few days afterwards had seen four anglers on the lake where not one fish had been seen or caught, further adding substance to my theory that the fish would go on an apparent feeding spree, then shut-up-shop for a few days, or at least they seemed to back-off into the more quiet & unfished areas of the lake. My thoughts drifted back to last October & the deep gulley that I had found in one corner of the lake. As the area hadn’t been fished at all to my knowledge, it was the idea that the topography of the gulley fitted perfectly to the patrol route that I believed that they were regularly using & perhaps more significantly, the gulley lead to an area where I knew they would hold up, as it was ultimately inaccessible. The gulley was a connecting corridor to two prolific areas & I figured that with three nights at my disposal, it was worth spending twenty-four hours in the swim to test my theory.
Upon my arrival at the lake on Wednesday afternoon, I dropped in on Dave who had spent the night on cobble point & he had very little to report. I made my way around to the Chairman’s swim on the opposite bank & once I’d plotted the position of the gulley with the marker rod, I fished two rods to the entrance of it at a measured seventy yards range & one further along the gravel bar, leading into the bay itself. After spending the first night in the swim & seeing virtually no activity to speak of, I was seriously doubting that there were any fish in that area of the lake at all. On several occasions, I opted to reel my rods in & walk the periphery of the lake, but having seen absolutely nothing, I opted to stay put for a second night. In the late evening, whilst standing in the swim directly to my left, I spotted a couple of good shows within the margins of the islands to the left of the swim just as the light was fading & I knew that it was simply too late to relocate, so I opted to stay put for the night & move in the morning if I deemed it to be a worthwhile proposition. Only an hour or so later, another angler arrived & drove straight past me… A few minutes later I heard the ‘thwack’ of a catapult & the sound of boilies raining into the lake that sounded like it was at the top of the gulley toward the island area - the area that I was hoping the fish would venture away from & drift down the gulley onto my spots. In truth, my heart sank & I knew that the angler had no idea that I was actually fishing not so far away. With the second night passing swiftly & without event, I awoke at first light, fired up the kettle & walked back to the swim to my left. Immediately two fish crashed just off the closest right hand island & I was left with a dilemma. Do I stay put & hope they move along the gulley, or do I relocate to this swim where I knew that I couldn’t reach the area where they were showing, but if the fish returned to either the left or right islands, perhaps I would be potentially maximising my chances of a pick-up? I didn’t really have to think about it for long & once I’d finished my morning brew, I had moved all my kit to the swim within the hour. The area where the fish had shown demanded a cast of at least 100 yards & with 10ft rods, 15lb main line & the swim being awkward to cast from because of an overhanging tree & bankside vegetation, I managed to get two rigs out to the area at around seventy yards range. Interestingly, the entire area seemed extremely clear & virtually weed-free & I deposited approximately a kilo & a half of M1 plus half a kilo of hemp over the area by use of the Spomb. The left rod was positioned to a shallow gravel spot at around fifty yards range with fifty baits & a smattering of hempseed. As the day passed, I saw another couple of shows off the right island, before they completely stopped around midday. Around 4:00pm, there was a definite drop in air temperature & a short, sharp rain shower arrived for no more than ten minutes & as the rain stopped, the wind disappeared & carp suddenly started ‘boshing’ all over the island area. The angler that had put the bait into what I believed was the top end of the gulley the previous night arrived in the evening & as we sat in my swim with a brew, we watched at least another ten shows before he asked if it was okay to continue his prebaiting & knowing that by introducing bait into the gulley was unlikely to have much effect on the area I was now targeting, I deemed it to be fine. As he made his way around the lake, within minutes he let fly with the first pouch-load of bait… Expecting to see it land at the top end of the gulley, I was horrified to see it land right on top of the showing fish. At this point, I didn’t see much point in staying & had there had been sufficient light, I’d have packed away there & then, as I knew that my only chance of a pick-up was if they drifted out of the islands area. With a few kilos of boilies dumped ‘right on their heads’, I couldn’t see that happening now. With a cold night in prospect, I climbed into the sleeping bag, zipped it up & despite being in a bit of a sulk, figured I might as well just get a good night’s sleep & planned to pack away early the next morning. Without any prior warning, just after 3:00am I was dragged from my sleep by the single wailing tone of one of my alarms & with my boots slipped on & the slippery slope to my rods negotiated, the right hand rod had been picked up & with very little fight it was scooped up into the net within a few short minutes & to be fair, my relief was palpable. The hookhold was absolutely solid in the scissors & this gave me lots of confidence that my decision to change the hook pattern seemed to be justified. As it was only a couple of hours until dawn, I placed the small mirror into the retainer for morning pictures, tidied the swim up & returned to the warmth of my bed. Just a couple of hours later & with sufficient light available, I weighed the low double figure mirror & took a couple of quick pictures before returning it back to its home & hit a fresh rig back out to the area for the last couple of hours of my session. With the last of my tea making supplies drained & with no signs of activity, I packed away around midday in the incessant rain & made my way home, soaked but relatively happy.
My decision to change the hook pattern seemed to be justified..
Reflecting on my session, the small mirror was actually a bit of an achievement. After all it was the first fish that had been banked for almost two weeks, it was the first session where I’d used the M1 & the hook hold was so good, it gave me renewed confidence in my presentation & reaffirmed my decision to change the hook pattern after it was probably the most solid hook hold I’d experienced since I’d been fishing the lake. Although the lake was closed the following weekend for a fish-in, I made some further plans for my return. I felt that my main line was due for its renewal & with the weed starting to relent, I opted to switch from 15lb ESP Syncro to 12lb, this I felt would give me some extra valuable yards should it be required. With a bait order put into Wayne, some more hooks, leaders & PVA funnel web ordered I couldn’t wait to get back.