Well, the brief from the Gardner office asked for a quick round up of how my angling went in 2018 so here goes. Somehow, I don’t think a sentence saying “I caught loads of carp and 4 of them were over 45lbs the end” will be enough, so I best expand on this and try to keep a long story fairly short.

At the start of 2018 I vowed to myself that I’d bring an end to a long run of smaller fish captures. God only knows why but the previous 18 months had seen me regularly catching carp, but struggling to get through to the bigger ones. I suppose carp fishing can be like this at times and that’s what makes it exciting, but a run of 40 fish under 30lbs had started getting irritating, especially when other anglers are catching chunks all around me for no apparent reason.

Anyway, I had a plan and part of that plan started during 2017 when I did a few sessions during the Autumn on a Reading water that I had been interested in for a few years. During those few sessions I learned a lot and knew what I needed for a serious campaign and I felt I had identified the general areas I needed to be targeting to hopefully catch one of the best mirrors around at this current time, a carp known as Baby Black!

All through the winter whilst catching more 20’s from Frimley my head was ticking over as I was plotting and scheming my attack. Also, during this time, virtually all my gear had been upgraded ready so all I had to do was keep in touch with the lake from the depths of winter up until I started seeing them, which is just something I’ve always done when targeting a new water.

Whilst doing this I had a stroke of luck in January and actually caught a cracking 30lb fully from Pit 3. Was this a sign that 2018 was going to be different to the previous year or so? That I didn’t know, but I certainly hoped so, as I craved the capture of a big carp again.

On from that capture, I kept on doing my bit over Frimley hoping to catch a fish known as Gregory Pec and managed a few more carp as the weeks ticked by. I also kept walking the large Reading pit as much as possible and from my relentless walks throughout January, Febuary and into March I didn’t see a great deal of activity; and the only other anglers I saw were pike anglers which seemed to frequent the Cottage Bay. Other than them there was only one other sign of anglers and that was a set of the same boot prints I kept seeing around the lakes muddy paths. These prints seemed to be everywhere so someone else was keen but I was yet to meet them. This became a bit of a laughing point between me and a good friend, John Bartley, who’d given me some wicked info on the lake over the winter. In fact I even witnessed John ask another angler (who was also interested in the lake) what boots he wore, just to see if it was him! Well I thought it was quite funny at the time as the chap didn’t realise why he’d been asked such a question at a fishing show.

Anyway on from that, my relentless walking finally paid off and I found a group of fish close in, in the bay where I’d actually planned to start my initial attack based on a mate called Billy’s capture of the Baby Black. As soon as I saw those fish on the end of a 10 degree southerly soaking up the mid-March sunshine it was game on!

That sighting instantly stopped my winter fishing over at Frimley and after mine and Hampshire Graham’s 50th social I was chomping at the bit to get back over to the big pit and start fishing on my already pre-baited areas in Billy’s Bay.

As always, on a low stocked 50 acre pit, things weren’t as simple as turn up and haul. A few weeks of relentless preparation took place and the window of opportunity opened up for me just after Baby Black had been caught by another angler along the road bank early in May. That capture did me a right favour and all the competition dropped off so I upped my baiting and the following week opened my account with a mid double mirror. Yep it might have been another small fish but it was from a big lake with a reputation for being rock hard so I was buzzing. Like you do, I took my own pics and kept the capture quiet. At the end of that session the fish started spawning so I gave the swim a massive hit of bait and knowing The Baby Black to be a male there was every chance it would be well up for a feed after going through that ritual.

The following week I returned for a long stay and I was armed to the hilt with bait. Luckily the Black’s capture and the fishes spawning antics had kept the lake quiet so I got straight back into my swim in Billy’s Bay. The first night of that session I filled the spots in and once again fished chods over the baited areas. Although carp were about in the bay nothing of consequence happened that night. The following day when I wound in I noticed the rigs came back cleaner than ever and my 2.5 oz leads weren’t plugged in to the bottom, which indicated the areas had been heavily fed on during my absence. With this in mind I swapped over to D-rigs made with the new Silt Trick Link. Having not had any action, I opted not to re bait and just fished fresh new hook baits on rigs over the spots.

Not long after the recast a big fish showed 3 times over one of the spots and as my eyes were glued on that spot I saw which one it was. It was none other than Baby Black! The hours that followed were just so intense, and that evening I lost count of how many times he showed in the bay and then, as the light started to fail, the line bites started. Some were so aggressive I actually considered re-recasting as I was convinced he’d have shifted the leads. Although this was a hard decision to make I managed to sit on my hands rather than risk spooking him with a recast.

Well to cut a long story short that was a good decision and just before first light I had a typical big pit take on the ATTs. The animal I was attached to just kept taking line, and after it eventually stopped flat rodding me it seemed to take ages to coax it back from God knows where out in the lake. Once I’d gained all but 30 yards it went on another 50 yard charge before giving up and coming in like a dog on a lead; this was quite handy as there was a nasty bank of snags to the left of my swim. At the point of netting it I didn’t really think what it might be, which was quite strange after seeing Baby Black constantly showing over me all evening. Maybe that was a good thing and I managed to keep my cool and everything went smoothly.

Once in the net I still didn’t twig what I’d caught as in the dim light of my torch I couldn’t see the distinctive markings I was looking for. In fact, it wasn’t until I laid him on the mat and saw the 3 scales by its pelvic fin and the deep lateral line along its flank and then weighed at 45lbs6oz that I realised at that I’d got my target fish! I’d only done a very few nights fishing but it was a lot of prep and observation work.

This gave me mixed feelings because I loved fishing the lake and felt like I was only just getting into it. Anyway in the olden days that would be a red card, but these days it seems nice to bag a few from a lake so with not wanting to draw a line under that campaign, after the photos were done I decided to stay on for a few more sessions to see if I could bag one or two more before the water quality changed. That is exactly what I did with the oldest carp in the lake known as the original common.

On from then we hit the hottest of summers so I just enjoyed some wonderful floater fishing, visited several motor sports event, air shows and helped sort out the charity event at Frimley before having a great time with the Gardner team on the Gold lake at Burghfield. For some reason my epic session didn’t get filmed, but I suspect that’s because I didn’t have a beard or Lewis wanted all the limelight as per usual (LOL). Anyway, I managed to catch one of the few big’uns from that little lake during that session so I was certain had I finally managed to shake off that small fish curse which had haunted me during the previous year?

On from that session the hot summer continued and so did the floater fishing. I wasn’t catching anything of any size but I was enjoying that form of fishing which to me is important. During one of my floater sessions I bumped into a mate and while we was chatting he mentioned how I seem to catch big fish from other venues fairly quickly, so I explained how a lot of it’s down to observation and preparation before actually fishing. He seemed to understand and said that maybe my run of small fish seemed to have come to an end. Well I certainly hoped so and when the weather changed I hoped I’d be able to continue that form.

On from that I did a few sessions on a lake I’ll be targeting early this year. The scenario is a bit like I did last year, before going on the big pit. Those few sessions were uneventful in terms of carp, but once again I learned and have been hatching my plans ready for this Spring (2019).

I may well have continued with that water for a few more sessions but I got distracted by a “quick overnighter” social back down at Frimley. Well, funnily enough, it turned out to be unsociable as the two lads I was to be fishing with fancied an area which I didn’t so I went and fished a known big fish area that held form for the time of year, located on the opposite bank.

To be honest I wasn’t really feeling it and actually nearly went home after not seeing anything after repeatedly lapping the lake for a few hours. Part of me just wanted a good night’s sleep as I was going to Devon the following day. Anyway I ended up putting the rods out, scattered some baits around each D-rig and I simply settled down for an unsociable nights fishing, while the others had a laugh on the far bank.

Literally, just an hour into that session I lost a good fish due to my own stupidness! Dumping a lead near a snag. I had the fish on for a while, but the fish won and disgorged itself on the woodwork. Once that rod was out and fishing again I had a couple of beers and then got my head down for the night. About 1.30AM I received a massive liner on one of the open water rods. This had me up and with the heart rate increased suddenly I struggled to get back to sleep. As the clock was ticking I could hear and see carp showing in front of me and although things were looking ‘cock on’ for a bite I was trying to get back to sleep. I was struggling with, as I was rehearsing in my head what I had to do the following day and the harder I seemed to try to sleep the less I seemed able to doze off.

It was a very similar night to the night I had captured Baby Black when I couldn’t sleep. God know how many times I turned over, but finally at about 3AM I had a take, and after what can only be described as ‘an epic marginal battle’ that seemed to go on for ages, I netted a fish that was definitely not one I could go to back sleep on after banking. There she was, the ‘Queen of the lake’, Charlies Mate laying in my net and weighing in at 50lbs 8oz! And captured from a swim I’d struggled to catch a big’un from the previous year. Well that kept me up after bagging a few photos and begun a very long day which ended up in a cocktail bar in Torquay. I won’t forget that day in a hurry that’s for sure!

After that session I became a little bit distracted from the other water and returned to that swim a few more times and bagged several decent fish with a few mid 30s amongst them.

This definitely gave me the bug and I half felt like I was close to catching Gregory from that area… Well I nearly did but Hampshire Graham beat me to is so with it coming from that area I focused my attentions over to the infamous ‘Double Boards’, an area I thought there might be another chance at that fish from.

The first fish I caught from that swim was an upper 30 so I was feeling that I was moving forward along the right tracks. The only problem with such a well documented swim like that is it’s rarely empty so pre-baiting isn’t an option unless you want to tee someone else up to catch, or instantly lose confidence if you can’t get in there. Luckily, I had managed to drop in there a few times and bagged a few wonderful Pit 3 carp along the way. I wouldn’t say I’ve been ‘hauling’, but part of why I’ve caught less fish is because I’ve been on hinge rigs since the leaves went in and although the hinge is probably the most consistent rig for catching the big’uns at Frimley, over the years it doesn’t seem to catch numbers of carp.

After my previous year I’m happy to take less bites and two of the last 3 bites I had in 2018 were the ‘Big Plated’ 45lbs 6oz and One Barb at 49lbs 4oz! I’ll take that and remember it for 2019. Hopefully I’ll manage to bag a few more nice ones and the ball is already rolling!