Well as the title suggests it’s been a rather slow start to 2014 for me. I decided that I was going to spend my winter on the water I had been fishing all season, even though it was not known for much if any winter form. Last year I had fished the other lake on the syndicate and to be honest it was too hectic for the depths of winter! Despite my best efforts and seeing fish on basically every trip, I could not outsmart them enough to produce a take and my last capture was in the middle of November.

Netting the Top Lake fish at FLE.

During January I didn’t fish as much and took a few weekends off from it all as I was also very busy at work with a big project to remove all of the top mouth gudgeon from our fishery. It was a lengthy process and hard work, but I’m pleased to say we are now free from the little buggers and the fishery is now better than it has ever been. We also have a new feel to the top lake with a pre-booked weekend pass available for up to four anglers each week. The lake will only contain 15 fish but all of those will be 20lb+ and a couple should be 30lb+ by the time we open in June. The lake will also be closed mid-week to allow time for the fish to recover and mop up any leftover bait in peace. I would like to thank everyone that was involved in the whole process, without your help none of this would have been possible.

Myself and fellow GT angler processing fish at FLE.

I also had the pleasure of joining fellow GT anglers Alan Stagg and Calum Kletta on a trip to the awesome Abbey Lakes in France to try and get some filming done. We started on Lake Kingfisher after some advice from Rupert the fishery manager and all fished from a massive swim in the middle of the lake known as peg 5. We saw a few fish almost straight away and decided to introduce a bit of bait on the spots from the off, fishing with maize stack rigs with size six Covert Wide Gape Talon Tip over the top. We got some rest early that night after the early start and busy afternoon and when we rose the next morning we were surprised that nothing has occurred, especially after the sightings from the night before. Rupert explained it normally takes 24 hours for the fish to get on the bait, so we remained confident and remained bivvy bound as a result of the weather that seemed to whip through like a monsoon and then disappear as quickly as it came.

Vlad baiting up on Kingfisher.

After another night of undisturbed sleep, we all had cold feet and went for a look around Lake Heron home of the mighty Shoulders caught only a week or so previous by Max Cottis at 94lb! We were all keen on a move as it looked prime for a bite and on walking into my chosen swim a fish launched itself clear of the water down to my right! Confidence was high as I set up and I even put a solid bag where the fish showed whilst getting everything else prepared for my final night. We were fairly spread out that final night and all felt confident, so we settled in as we had another early start to catch our returning tunnel crossing. Throughout the night I could hear what sounded like cow’s being tipped in to the lake out in the middle to my right. As it started to get lighter the fish were getting closer and closer to my areas and as I started to pack away one showed over my right hand rod. A few minutes later Alan walked in to my swim and told me I had to reel in right away and with that another one showed on the right hander! I may have thrown my dummy out of the pram at this point but Calum had caught one and we had to get the filming done before we set off at 7am. Calum had managed a sweet upper 20lb mirror and I was pleased to see a carp after the difficult few days we had. Abbey was an awesome place to fish and I can’t wait to go back at some point for another go at the incredible fish that reside in its lakes.

Doubled up on the main water.

Once back in the UK I did another blank weekend trip and even squeezed in a mid-week overnighter on the other lake. It seemed even the water I had said was too hectic was fishing was slow, with many anglers blanking on weekend trips let alone a quick 12 hour session between work! I did manage a couple though, fishing with simple snowman rigs using size 10 Covert Mugga’s, 25lb Sink Skin and small Micromesh bags of Little Gemz pellets. At least it was worth the effort and I was off the mark for 2014 and more hungry than ever to get back over the other side of the road the following weekend. With two weekends left before March I had a strong feeling a bite was due as it was around the same time last year I had started so well.

I fished a central area of the lake where I had last seen them and doubled up with a friend, so we could have a bit of a social. We saw a few that night and went to bed confident and extremely full from the greasy take away. We woke up the next morning and spotted a few in the area we were fishing, but within an hour the wind turned bitterly cold and the fish pushed off the back of it on the opposite bank. I wound in after a while and went for a look to see how they were acting up close and was pleased with what I saw. There was a group of around thirty, possibly more fish in a sunny corner on the back of the wind and they were all in the upper layers thrashing around and cleaning themselves off as well as feeding on a natural hatch. They were definitely waking up and I did try a zig in the area for a few hours but they were not interested.

The pop-up maggot combi-rig.

The following weekend I knew exactly where I wanted to be and fished a baited area at around 70 yards where I hoped they would pass over during the weekend. I used my favourite pop-up maggot combi-rig over a bed of maggots, Carp Company Caviar and Cranberry groundbait, chops and Little Gemz pellets. I had a take around 8pm that first night but unfortunately lost it due to the fish finding a cracked off marker and 5oz lead attached to 30 yards of braid someone had left in the lake. The following morning as the day got hotter the fish started to appear in the upper layers, so I tried a zig eighteen inches under the surface where they seemed to be. I had a take after around an hour and I was gutted when it fell off after around 20 seconds. The hook had simply pulled and it can sometimes happen on zigs so I didn’t let it get to me too much.

The winter-early spring bait approach.

After no more success on the zigs I got my rods out for the night ahead and added another three spods on each of the spots. The night remained quiet but when I woke up I could clearly see that the fish were destroying a hatch around 30 yards out and slightly to my right and it was too good an opportunity to overlook. I quickly reeled in my left hand rod and attached a zig and managed to get it within the group of feeding fish without spooking them. I clipped on the bobbin and by the time I had walked the ten yards to my bedchair it was stripping line from the reel. On lifting the rod my middle rod also melted of with a separate fish that must have been feeding over the bait. I was on my own and there was little I could do so decided to focus on the fish I was already playing as it felt like a decent one. The fish on the other rod was still taking line and I almost had the fish on the zig in the net, when all of a sudden it took off to the left and became tangled with the other hooked fish. To say I was stressed was an understatement and it got no better as the fish on the zig bumped off! I quickly lifted in to the other fish after cutting the line on the zig and getting out of harm’s way and to my surprise the fish was still attached. Fortunately everything went well and I netted a stunning 27lb 8oz scaley mirror on the maggot rig tied using 25lb Trick Link, 20lb Trickster Heavy with a size 6 Covert Wide Gape Talon Tip hook.

It’s been a tough start to the year but hopefully my luck will change and I’m looking forward to starting on a new water too. With it now being the start of March lots of catch reports are starting to appear in the press again and with predicted mild weather it can only get better!
I netted a stunning 27lb 8oz scaley mirror on the maggot rig tied using 25lb Trick Link, 20lb Trickster Heavy with a size 6 Covert Wide Gape Talon Tip hook.