Moving on from my last article before Christmas I’d left my trips to Glos and Oxford behind me to settle down on a water I’ve been fishing on and off (mostly off!) for a number of years in pursuit of one or two very large commons. It’s a 7-acre estate lake with a substantial stock of fish, albeit 99% commons. There is also no night fishing allowed and this can be a real endurance test in the winter having to pack up all your kit just before dusk, barrow it back to the car park, spend 16-hours in the back of the van and then start all over again! During times of torrential rain and freezing cold conditions, which let’s face it, has resembled most of this winter, it can be very hard going.
However, persevere I did and I was rewarded handsomely for my efforts. My plan was to try and fish two days a week and if I could squeeze a third day in from time to time, even better. A regular baiting campaign was high on my agenda and I introduced a minimum of 15kg boilies per week. Some of this was introduced during my sessions, but I would also try and make separate visits to the lake to bait up when not fishing.
My campaign started on Saturday November 3rd when I arrived for a baiting up session but took the rods along for a few hours just to get a feel for the place. I had a small double figured common during cold blustery conditions before introducing 8kg of 16mm boilies with a view to returning later that week. On Thursday 8th November I was back on the lake for a two day session fishing over my previously baited spots, and to say it kicked off was an understatement! I managed to bank 16 carp, all commons with the biggest going 23lb 4oz. All of these fish fell to balanced hookbaits, Gardner Disruption hooklinks and of course my faithful size 8 Covert Conti Mugga hooks.
This session pretty much set the standard for the coming months and by Christmas I managed to bank no less than 80 carp from the venue, including a brace of twenties on Christmas Eve, followed by a 27lb 2oz common and a 28lb common shortly afterwards. However, despite my best efforts, the small group of big commons that reside in the lake eluded my attentions. I kept the bait going in on a regular basis and continued to catch. It wasn’t long before I reached the magical ‘ton up’, and although I would be the first to say that it was far from a difficult venue (in terms of numbers), one-hundred carp in the winter is one hell of an achievement in anyone’s book and was certainly the first time I had ever done this in 40 years of angling!
In terms of numbers I was obviously very satisfied and there was no doubt whatsoever in my mind that this was down to my consistent baiting campaign throughout the winter months. I was however somewhat bemused to have caught so many carp without connecting to one or two of the bigger carp, the ‘A-Team’ as they are affectionately known, that hovers around the 40lb mark. I could pretty much guarantee that if 100+ carp were caught between say April and August, at least 3 or 4 of them would have been ‘A-team’ members!
My conclusion to all this was fairly simple when you stop to think about it. As any fishery owner will tell you, smaller carp have a much higher metabolism demand than their bigger counterparts and will compete for any available food source with far more vigour than the larger fish that just tend to hold back and very rarely want to compete with the smaller carp for food at certain times of the year. Come spring when the water temperatures begin to climb, the larger carp need to eat and will happily compete side by side with the smaller carp, in fact, more often than not, will even bully them out of the way! This lake, above any other I have fished before, is a classic example of that behaviour.
In short, my consistent baiting campaign had educated 90% of the carp to compete with the available food source being introduced, which in turn amounted to an incredible amount of very consistent action throughout the winter months.
In between my assault on the ‘common venue’ I was fishing a few short sessions on my own lake, ‘Springwood’, and one of them I will never forget! I had one baited rig out in the lake with a scattering of bait over the top and was just tying up a new rig for the second rod. After tying up the new rig I was stood their holding the rod in one hand and the new rig with lead attached in the other contemplating where to cast. All of a sudden the peace was shattered when my ATT alarm burst into life as a fast moving fish tore off in the opposite direction after picking up the baited rig on the first rod. The remote was in my pocket at the time and was also on ‘vibrate mode’, this in turn made me jump and with that I dropped the rig! The lead flew past my hand but the Mugga hook was having none of it and embedded straight into my finger, well past the barb!!!
So I now had one carp tearing across the lake with a hook in it, and I was snared on my other rod!! Quick action was needed and I quickly bit through the line to free myself from the rod I was attached too! I then picked up the first rod and began to play the fish back to the bank with a size 8 Mugga hook, 10” hooklink and a 2oz lead hanging from my finger. Unfortunately every time I turned the reel handle the lead would wrap around it causing severe pain! I somehow managed to extract the lead from the clip whilst playing the carp back to the waiting net without too much further pain. It was one of our mid-double stockies but I didn’t want to risk any possible infection by holding the fish for the camera so just slipped it gently back.
For the next six hours and trying all sorts of different methods we tried to remove the Mugga from my finger, but failed miserably. Eventually I conceded and made the trip to the casualty department at our local hospital to have the hook removed. Not nice at all for anyone who has ever had the misfortune to be in that position, but being a Mugga hook with its aggressive curve, it proved an absolute nightmare to remove! I suppose the moral of this short story is that if you are daft enough to hook yourself, whatever you do, just make sure it’s not a Mugga hook!!!
During the coming weeks the country saw heavy snow falls and this created the perfect opportunity of achieving my long term ambition of a snow caught carp and on 19th January this was fulfilled by catching a lovely 21lb 8oz mirror with 4-inches of snow covering the ground and I was absolutely over the moon with that! However, just as I thought it couldn’t get any better, the following week gave way to yet more heavy snow falls and I was back on the banks of ‘Springwood’ on 24th January trying to repeat last week’s performance! Half of the lake was iced up and I fished my usual slack lines and light bobbins. This is always my favourite method in cold conditions because it allows you to find out if the fish are active in the area. Despite the conditions I started to receive a few lifts, pulls and single bleeps, which told me the fish were active. It wasn’t long afterwards that my right hand bobbin slowly lifted to the butt and I connected to what felt like a very good fish and after a hard fought scrap, finally netted a 30lb 12oz mirror. A twenty and a thirty in the snow in consecutive weeks – this really was ‘winter wonderland’!!
Throughout January and February I continued fishing at my day only ‘common venue’ water and kept the bait going in consistently where I was rewarded with plenty of action. Mainly doubles with a few twenties amongst them, but still no signs of the ‘A-Team’, which further substantiated my earlier thoughts about feeding behaviours through the colder months. That said, I was very happy with the amount of carp I was catching and of course the two snow caught carp were the icing on the cake for me, but little did I know my hectic winter campaign was about to get even better!
Since Christmas I had been trickling in a bit of bait at Springwood. Not just as a supplementary feed for the fish but also as a convenient back up if work was too busy to make the trip to the ‘common’s lake’ and I had somewhere to fall back on. This happened to be the case on 10th February and although I was itching to get back and have a go for those commons, I only had time for a short day session at Springwood.
Dropping on to one of my previously baited spots I placed my rigs into position with just half a dozen free offerings spread over each. Once again it wasn’t long before I started to receive a few short lifts on the bobbins but all of a sudden the wind switched from a light south-easterly to a strong westerly blowing straight into the bay I was fishing and I really thought that had killed any chance of action. Lee was with me and I told him I would give it about another 10-mins before calling it a day, but no sooner had the words left my mouth when the right hand rod was away!
After an absolutely crazy scrap on my 9ft Dymag stalkers we finally netted the fish and it looked absolutely immense! The lake record was currently standing at 35lb 12oz but we both instantly knew this was going to smash that! We weren’t wrong and after settling on a weight of 37lb 2oz it marked a significant capture for the lake and from a personal viewpoint, capped off one of the most amazing winters in my carp fishing life! Roll on the Spring and those big elusive commons!