For years I’ve questioned why I put myself through winter carp fishing. Yet, as so many have discovered, the positives can far outweigh the negatives. The banks are quieter, the fish are in tip-top condition, and then, probably the greatest lure of all is the pure satisfaction when we beat the odds and a plan comes so wonderfully together.
This particular plan saw me fishing the winter on the Road Lake, chasing the much sought-after Clover. I’d seen it several times on the bank, always looking magnificent whatever the season. My wife tired of me boring her to death about that fish, and even my extended families were aware of my obsession. Yes, it’s sad, but we know I’m not alone with this, don’t we?
Many stories have been written about the Road Lake and its wonderful stock. This combination of all that’s enjoyable in our sport attracted the very best and most determined carp anglers, and the warmer months often saw most of the top swims occupied. The lake covers only a couple of acres, so it was obvious that the carp had seen everything at least three times and that no ‘friendly’ fish swam through its weedy corridors.
I’d been fortunate to catch a few of the original Rimini syndicate stock fish during the past few seasons and also managed to lose a few during that journey. Despite the consistent pressure the lake received, and its daunting combination of horrendous weedbeds and gin-clear water, where the carp could see everything without being seen, the Road Lake suited me down to the ground. I could only fish one to two nights a week and an intimate lake with a fantastic bunch of lads willing to divulge any information was ideal. Yet, despite having all the facts and catching relatively well in the summer months, I had always struggled as soon as the colder weather kicked in. I had to keep going, though. I had a date with Clover!
I often arrived in the dark from a long day at work, packing up early in the morning to return to the real world. The odds are always against you when your exposure to a venue is so limited, but Clover occasionally tripped up in the winter, and often in the most extreme of weathers. I remember the previous year, I had put myself through all sorts of ridiculous conditions over the cold months without so much of a sniff from any fish, when I finally decided enough was enough after looking out of my office window. It was minus 3, with snow being driven by gale force winds down the high street where I worked and my gear was in the back of the car, waiting for me to finish work, drive down the A3 in the dark and unload it in the more-than-likely empty Road Lake car park. I hadn’t missed an overnighter all winter but I couldn’t put myself through that and decided to sit in front of the TV, bored but not stupid!
The next day I couldn’t believe it when a friend of mine, Little Dave, who was also punishing himself over the winter, had bagged Clover at well over 40lbs that morning from the Hump swim. It was nothing short of superb angling by Dave. He’d seen a fish poke its head out forty yards out at 11pm, put a bait on it and the rest is history. You may think it’s no big deal, and that he should be watching the water, but believe me, the only place he should have been that night was in the sleeping bag!
I took inspiration from that capture and really focused my attention on catching Clover. Nothing else mattered, in my carp fishing life anyway! In the summer, I did rather well on Mike Willmott’s Essential B5 in Squid and Black Pepper taking a number of fish up until the end of September. I continued with this bait throughout season, simply changing to the excellent winter version come November. The Road Lake could really switch on to a bait, and let’s be honest, they swim over it enough times when the lake is as small as that one.
Gardner stable.”” title=”My rigs were kept simple, yet strong, dependable equipment from the Gardner stable.” width=”300″ height=”452″ class=”alignright size-full wp-image-10377″ />
In November, I had a change of jobs, albeit with just as many stupid working hours. This change meant I was no longer angling mid-week. I was actually happy with this, as although I didn’t have the lake to myself on most occasions, I could keep an eye on what others were doing with regards to baiting, making sure I wasn’t fishing over other anglers’ spots, or over quantities of bait. With my new job I also had the advantage of being able to pop in during the week to put a little bait in and observe. A similar pattern ensued during the months of November, December and January with me not getting so much as a twitch, only this time, I was learning something each time I wet a line, which I’d failed to do any seasons previous.
I’ve always been a firm believer of light levels being the catalyst to the fish ‘turning on’ in winter and although I’ve had my share of results during the low light periods, if I can get my preparation right during January, I feel it bodes well for February. During December and January, I noticed a pattern forming where the fish would poke their heads out of the water in one particular area in front of two swims that were opposite each other, known as the Reeds and the Launch. This happened at 15:30 every time I visited, usually involving up to three fish at a time in an area of around 10 square feet. During the week I’d trundle down the bumpy track to see the car park empty, allowing me to watch the spectacle when no lines were in the water. On one occasion a fish known as the Pug did something I’ve never seen before, where it would snake across the water with half its body out, most peculiar. Armed with no more than 20 boilies, I sprinkled the bait to the area in line with a bush I’d used as a marker before making my way back up the car suspension-breaking track.
Before long February was upon us and I started to get that feeling that something should happen soon. No one had broken the deadlock since way before Christmas and the Road Lake looked set to frustrate its members for another year! Not that you would ever know if anyone was frustrated, such was the atmosphere of the place. It’s the members that make it what it is down there and the social experiences are something to behold, which certainly helps when you’ve got so little daylight!
was returned and I felt good that I’d been the one to break the deadlock and that the past few weeks had not been in vain.
The first Saturday of February 2009 saw me make the familiar drive up the M25 on a glorious cold morning. I’d not spoken to anyone in fear that the swim I had been prepping was already taken. The weather gave me the impression the lake would be busy as the week previous had low pressures, was warm and ideal for the first bite. I neared the final bend of the bumpy track after departing the ‘road to hell’ to discover three cars in the car park. As I passed the Launch swim that sites itself in the car park, I was relieved to see the Reeds swim was free. After a few cups of tea with my friends I hastily made my way to my swim.
The area in front of the evergreen bush was a hard silt area, in front of a slim gravel run. Two rods were placed onto this silt, no more than ten yards apart. My rigs were kept simple, yet strong, dependable equipment from the Gardner stable. Two 14mm bottom baits were attached to a size 8 Mugga hook, Sly Skin 15lb hooklink, 25lb Plummet leadcore, and a 3 oz inline lead. To top it off, I used an Enterprise Tackle stiff plastic maggot in yellow, fished mag-aligner style on the Mugga to give my hookbaits some visual attraction and aid with the hooking arrangement.
Looking out on the water and glancing at the buds forming on the nearby trees, I was shocked when my left-hand rod’s line lifted out of the water. Calling upon the long gone instincts, I eventually pulled into what felt like a carp! The fish came to the net, manned by my friend Rob, without much hesitation and an equally surprised carp, covered in leeches, was weighed at 22lb 12oz.
I couldn’t revisit the lake until the following week and a new pattern was beginning to form where anglers were returning; good anglers at that. Although I managed to get back into the same swim, I knew I’d struggle the following week and that if I was going to get lucky with Clover I had to think ahead. The top end of the lake receives a lot of attention, so, because of my advantage with the bait establishment, I felt confident that I could get a bite with a little work at the other end.
I fished as I did the previous week in the Reeds swim and managed to nick another fish in the shape of the Pretty One at 23lb 15oz. The bite was almost identical as the week before and at exactly the same time as well. A beautiful fish that certainly signalled the carp were waking up.
I couldn’t fish the following week, due to family commitments, so instead decided to explore the idea of finding somewhere I could work on during the final five weeks of the season. Armed with a marker rod, I sneaked off to the lake during the week and plumbed a swim known as the Grassy Knoll. Among a decaying lily pad bed I found one particular hard spot, no more than ten yards out. I baited this with ten boilies every other day. I couldn’t wait to return the following weekend, somehow knowing the fish would find the baits.
I arrived at the lake late in the afternoon greeted by five cars in the car park and despite all the efforts from my good friend Micky Neighbour to get me to have a couple of Saturday afternoon beverages, I paced myself to the Grassy Knoll declining his offer, much to his amazement! I plopped a lead out to the spot and gently pulled it back, which confirmed that fish had visited the spot because it had almost doubled in size. I cast out the same rigs that had done the damage to the previous two fish and visited Micky for a quick natter in the swim next door just as darkness was falling.
I kept telling him that I felt it wouldn’t take long for a take and I know he thought I was being a cocky sod but I wasn’t surprised to hear the Neville deliver a short series of beeps. The bright white light from the alarm pierced the black sky and I lifted into a solid weight that plodded around the margins. I instantly knew it was a good fish but I hadn’t anticipated how hard the fish was to play from the swim I was standing in.
We had only just moved the swim further up the path and the edge of the bank had no sleeper, resulting in me slipping into the icy margins and fighting the fish with a boot full of water. At times the fish made a desperate lunge for a snag in the margins and in the dark moonlight you could see it almost on the bank it was that high up the shelf! I wasn’t too concerned as I knew that the Mugga hook would hold firm and I was using 15lb Hydro Tuff which is just the ticket for hard-fighting fish.
Eventually the fish tired and my friend John Elmer netted expertly it before uttering the words, ‘Roll me over, Danny Boy – it’s Clover mate!’ Jumping around like an absolute nutter, I eventually regained my composure and we recorded a weight at 41lb 1oz. Whilst holding the fish, I remember the moment of looking up and having all my mates around me, genuinely pleased for me while the cameras flashed away. I rang my wife and family who couldn’t understand a thing I was saying, but they knew and were probably relieved as well!
That night we had a fantastic social, which was part of the Road Lake tradition and I awoke the next day with those mixed feelings of jubilation and wondering what to next. Wherever my next quest took me, I knew I’d never forget catching the magnificent Clover in the wonderful winter!