This year hasn’t exactly been the best in my fishing life, with very few opportunities of actually getting out on the bank in the early part of the year. However, a huge opportunity came up that in no way shape or form could I turn down. This was to compete in the first ever European Carp Angling Championships (ECAC) at Abbey lakes in France with the winners scooping a massive 20,000 Euros!
During the middle of September a decision was been made that my good friend and long term fishing partner Kevin Grout and I would now be competing together. Both of our previous partners were unfortunately unable to commit themselves anymore, so it was time for Kevin and I to become a force to be reckoned with. Competing as a pair is always something we had both always wanted to happen at some point in our fishing careers. Kevin is the current UK Carp champion and is a very talented angler. We have fished together for over six years and have been best friends for a very long time.
After many excited phone calls, we entered into the ECAC just three weeks before it was due to start. This didn’t give us much time really and there was definitely no chance of us getting over to Abbey for a practice. Knowing the lakes we were fishing on allowed us to spend literally hours and hours researching the internet and chatting to friends who had fished the venue before. When visiting a water for the first time, speaking to anglers who know it well can really help. We made several lists and finally possessed the tackle and bait that we required for the match. Loads of time was spent tying rigs and preparing lots of bait. A six night long match was ahead of us, so we made sure we had a wide selection of rigs and bait to cater for the various styles of fishing we were expecting.
The night before we were due to set off I made my way over to Kev’s house, so we could get the van loaded. After a couple of cans of beer and plenty of cups of tea later we decided to get our heads down. That night was the first in a long time that I couldn’t sleep. The alarm clock sounded at 4:00am and it was time to get up and make our way to Dover. Before long we were sat on the ferry full of hope and expectation and chatting all things carpy. Not only were we fishing up against some of the best anglers in Europe, we were fishing for a life changing amount of money and a place in the history books. We also had the chance to angle for some truly amazing fish, which Abbey Lakes is well known for.
We arrived in France and set off again in the van for the final part of the journey, which took around three hours. Arriving at any new venue is always exciting, but this was something else! The lakes looked awesome with loads of bays, weed beds, overhangs, islands and good looking margins. It was a weird thought to know we were looking at lakes that hold a massive head of big fish, loads of 40s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and an 80lb + fish lurking in the depths somewhere. By this point I just wanted to get my gear out of the van and start fishing! The arrangement for the night was for everyone to bivvy up near the club house as Simon Bennie, the organiser of the event had kindly put on a BBQ for everyone. Kev and I decided to call it a night around 10pm so we could be up bright and early at 6:00am for the draw at 7:00am.
I awoke to my sounding alarm at 6:00 am and all I could hear was the pitter patter of rain on my bivvy and a few tired carp anglers talking in the distance. Some nerves and anxiousness started to creep in by this point. All 29 pairs of anglers, the marshals and organisers gathered outside the club house ready for the draw to commence at 7:00am. You could feel the tension in the air amongst all of the readied competitors. The draw was ‘out of the hat’ with one bag containing all of the names of the anglers in individual canisters and another bag with 30 pegs numbers divided up of each lake which were numbered one to ten. Whichever lake and peg you drew, the group of anglers you were with would be the group you would fish with the whole week. As there were 29 pairs, it would end up resulting in two groups of ten and a group of nine with one spare peg on the lake of nine pairs. We would then fish each lake for 45 hours then draw again after each match to determine your peg for the next lake.
The draw was soon underway and we had to wait patiently for our names to be called out and unfortunately We ended up being called out very late. Kev went up and drew our first peg and it was peg four on Heron Lake. We were soon informed that this was a very good area of the lake, so we jumped straight into the van and eagerly made our way to the swim to have a look at our home for the next forty five hours. We were based at the south end of the lake situated in a corner full of weed beds and areas that were looking very carpy to say the least. Some signs of fizzing appeared and instantly we looked at each other with a huge smile on our faces. We soon had the gear set up and patiently waited for the noise of the claxon. I stood watching the water and low and behold a carp of around the 30lb mark threw itself out of the water about forty yards out in front of us! As the match got underway, we started by flicking light leads and small PVA bags to where we thought the fish might be patrolling. We wanted to keep the area quiet for the first hour or two and give ourselves the best chance of picking up a quick fish in the early stages of the match.
Three or four hours passed with little action, so we had a rethink and started get a plan together. We had seen another two or three fish crash in our water to the far left of the swim in a very large weed bed, so it was decided Kev would fish to the edge of this in the clearer areas. We both took in turns to find our spots with a bare lead and several casts later we were very happy with all four spots we had found. With a couple of areas being very clean we decided to carry on fishing standard bottom baits and we opted for solid bags on the areas which still had a light covering of weed. The mainline I chose was Pro XM light blend and the rigs were made from a four foot Mirage 25lb fluorocarbon leader, a Covert Lead Clip setup, a Covert Anti Tangle Sleeve attached to 10 inches of 25lb Sly Skin. A small piece of Covert Shrink Tube was placed over the eye of a size 6 Covert Continental Mugga – a set up that has caught me so many fish in the past.
As the lakes are predominantly fed with boilies the chosen hookbait was a 18mm Live System bottom bait tipped with a piece of fake corn. This rod was fished at around 40 yards into the corner of the right hand side of the swim, where the fish we had seen earlier on and I spread the best part of 50 freebies out with a catapult. The other rod was cast to a nice looking spot in between two weed beds at around 60 yards. I opted to fish this rod with a solid bag and the rig was made from a 4 foot Mirage fluorocarbon leader, a safety drop off inline lead set up attached to a 3 inch hooklink of Trickster heavy and a size 6 Covert Incizor. The hook bait for this rod was a 10mm Live System pop up. I spodded out a mixture of pellets which consisted of 4mm betaine, 2mm trout pellets, salmon fry crumb and 10mm, 15mm and 18mm boilies. Kev went for a very similar approach, but fished two rods on solid bags just to the side of the massive weed bed on his side of the swim.
Darkness soon began to fall and several more fish crashed in the main weed bed and we thought it was only a matter of time before something materialised. The night passed quietly, which was something we weren’t expecting. Only minutes later Kev’s alarm came to life and his right hand rod was away! After a kind fight we slipped the net under what looked to be a mid-forty pound common. We were elated to be off the mark! The fish tipped the scales at 51lbs 8oz – wow, what a lump! It was the biggest fish I had ever seen on the bank, a new foreign personnel best for Kev and a great start to the match. The fish put us into second place and things were looking very promising. We did some great shots and then returned the fish safely back to its home. This gave us great confidence going into the second day and set us up nicely for the match, surely there was more to come?