2018 was always going to be a difficult one for me. Due to my family circumstances I knew I would have to stay close to home for the most part, and unless things were settled could only venture out to fish for short sessions.
To that end I dropped a couple of tickets that I knew I wouldn’t use, leaving only those that realistically I thought I would fish. One I wanted to keep was Vinnetrow, as I had got this ticket the previous year, but not fished it at all, and it had taken me a while to get membership in the first place. I knew of its rock hard reputation though, and one of my closest friends had spent the last year on there. I wasn’t too worried, even knowing that my time was going to be limited, as I felt that with a fair bit of luck and right place, right time, I may have a chance. One bitterly cold morning in January I drove down there to have a look around, and familiarise myself with the route. Unsurprisingly there was no one there, and as I stood facing the wind the cold air made my eyes water, as a huge North Westerly wind whipped across the open water. It was exciting though, and I did several laps, before driving home with a few ideas bouncing around in my brain. That was one for the warmer weather though, so I set my sights on a lake near to home.
I’d fished the lake off and on before, and not really knowing the stock, I was just content to see what came along. There were a lot of fish in there that I did know, and to be honest I wasn’t used to getting so many takes. Early on I was fortunate to figure out with the large stock present, that they liked a fair bit of bait. Even on short work nights I would bring 4 or 5 kilos of my favourite Salami B5, and once I’d found a spot, I’d put it all in straightaway. Apart from my pop ups I’d have nothing left, so I would mark the spot using the distance sticks, and then just re chuck a new hook bait if I had any action. This really seemed to work, and I’d glug up my baits using GLM with squid the day before going and the action would often come quickly after casting out a coloured pop up over the top. This method had worked well in the autumn, and in a lake where I would say the average size was around 23lbs, I had taken 3 fish over 30lb and a 28lb in a row the previous November. I had enjoyed my short session fishing over there, as I mentioned, was quite happy just to see what I caught. That changed when a friend showed me a picture of a mid 30 he had caught, a stunning half linear type fish, and probably the biggest that I had heard of in the lake. I dearly wanted this one, and having a challenge was exactly what I needed.
I started in January and I had a 28lb mirror that first night when it was cold, clear and frost welded my landing net to the ground. I had tried to come up with a game plan as to how to single out that fish, but I knew nothing about its past captures, only that my friend’s capture had come from right up the far end in a little bay, that I never really fancied. All I could do was to keep catching and hope it came along, there really was no other way. I was happy they liked the bait, and my favourite Ronnie rigs tied with the seriously sharp Covert Dark Incizor hook was giving me an outstanding hooking to landing ratio. This was despite one of my preferred areas being close to a large set of snags that required hit and hold tactics to extract any hooked fish. On one of my trip to Gardner Tackle’s HQ I was shown a new leadcore substitute called Camflex Leadfree. I had said some time ago that I’d never use leadcore again after discovering Mirage fluorocarbon in 20lb as a leader, and I had always added a couple of rod lengths onto my GT-HD line. The Mirage was invisible, strong with the fluorocarbon sinking properties that pinned it to the bottom, as well as casting easily through the rings even when chucking long distances. I loved it, but the Camflex Leadfree opened my eyes to an alternative. This was really thin, strong but most importantly, super supple, having none of the rigidity of the old leadcore’s I remember seeing hanging up on weed beds and not matching any of the contours on the lake bed. I was really impressed and straightaway could see it having high value in my fishing presentations. The best bit was it came ready-made, being perfectly spliced, and saving me lots of time, I began using the 3 foot lengths from then on, just tying the ready done loop onto my main line.
I had two swims that consistently held the fish in mind, and as both had given me takes I concentrated on these. Both held decent features that were easy to find, and were nice and easy to hit even in the dark. The second swim had a big raised series of bars at various ranges, but the first bar at about 30 yards had a lovely silty gully behind it before it came up rapidly to another harsh one behind. I would pull a lead over this silt between the two bars, and I knew it was perfect when there was absolutely no resistance, and it felt like the lead had come off, so smooth was the bottom. The fish used this route to exit the bank of snags in the late evening, and again in the early morning to return. It was a perfect ambush point, and a decent amount of B5 would be enough to get the fish to stop and feed. Therefore, I’d fan out 3 coloured pop ups along this gully, and bait up in a long line. I had learnt the value of chopped baits the year before when baiting up from the boat on another lake. It wasn’t so much that the fish were less suspicious of the crushed baits, it was more that they simply liked them with the higher attraction properties. On this lake, and on watching the other anglers, I think this tactic worked so well because it hadn’t been done much before. I used to bring my pre glugged B5 baits down in a big bag, and dance all over it in my fishing boots until I was left with flat baits, half ones and even completely powdered ones, before I’d load the spod and put it all out in one go.
I preferred the first swim more though, as I seemed to take the better fish from it. It was closer to the snags, and as a result had a longer lifespan in terms of takes, they really could come at any time, however as I said before there was more risk of the fish making the snaggy tree line, and I had lost a couple by having to power them away. I began to fish further away from these snags, and although every take made hard for the trees, it gave me far less problems. These spots were subtler, smallish gravel patches that had silt behind, and I’d try to present my rigs almost on the join of the two. I liked this though, and once each spot had produced for me I recorded the details, and didn’t bother looking for anything else. That way I could arrive just before dark, and be out fishing in next to no time.
I stuck with the two areas, and the more bait I began to introduce the more I seemed to catch. It was interesting too as I began to get the odd recapture, in a lake with a lot in, it made me feel like I was maybe getting closer to the big one. One of the recaptures was the famous football carp, a character I’d had at 32lbs the year before, the length of a double, but the gut of a 60! This time it was up to 34lb and excreting my red fishmeal as I laid it on the mat.
One after night in mid-May I arrived in the late afternoon, and after walking between the two swims and seeing nothing I set up in the first one. By now I’d taken more than 50 carp since the previous November, and as the warmer spring weather came my catch rate was only increasing. I wrapped the rods up and with 1½ ounce leads on and flicked them out to my favoured spots. If I got too hard a drop I recast, only happy if I got that dull silty thud that I knew put my bait just behind any gravel. Out went the smashed up baits and I sat back waiting for the first shows as the fish left the snags on their way out. As the light faded I began to see more and more, and I was up at midnight playing a lively low 20lb common that lead me all over the lake in the deep water. This disturbance couldn’t have helped, as despite hearing several crash out in the darkness, it all remained quiet. I planned to be off at 0700, and I was sat up with a cup of tea as my middle rod tore off, with me thinking any chance I had may well have gone. This fight was completely different, the fish staying deeper, with slower but more powerful runs. It’s always hard to tell, but I predicted early on that it was going to be a good fish. Several big boils came up as I finally got it close in, and once I saw it that confirmed to me that it was indeed a big fish. I still had several minutes of a battle in the edge as the fish never seemed to run out of steam, until at last and at the first attempt I pulled it over the cord of my outstretched net. I had a quick look inside and at first I couldn’t tell which fish it was, until once everything was ready and I laid it out on the mat. I clearly saw then from all those times I had looked at the photo, that it was indeed the one I had wanted. I did a few self takes and weighed the fish in at a fraction over 35lbs, my biggest one from all of the captures, and maybe time to start a new adventure.
For the next weeks I stayed at home until things meant I could venture further and it was July before I made my first trip down to Vinnetrow. It was certainly different to my memory of it on that freezing day in January, and with the trees all green and the lake itself a mass of weed beds it certainly looked a tough challenge. My friend Jim was fishing, and we sat for a long while chatting as we both stared at the water. So long in fact I had time to order us both a huge breakfast roll that was delivered by bike to Jim’s swim from the local café. It was awesome too! Jim had given me lots of information about the task ahead, a true friend who despite the one prize we were both after, had no issues with giving me a significant leg up. One of the things I had been told about was the eels, and how voracious they were with boilies. As a result, tigers were the one, and the big fish had a liking to them in any case, as did all of the others. Being a boilie man, this took me outside my comfort zone, and away from what I consider to be one of my biggest strengths. However, I had to deal with it, and good old Jim showed and taught me the way to be honest. I had invested in some superb particle from my friend Dan, and with the tigers I began to grow in confidence as I went along. An early tench capture further boosted me, and at least I felt I had a chance to compete now. The weed was savage though, coupled with the shallow depth (5 feet) that made it all the harder to be quick enough even at medium range to feel a drop. It took some mastering, although weed has never fazed me, this did, it was so brutal. Throw in the birdlife, who once I’d found a spot were on me relentlessly, it really had so many factors that made it hard work.
One morning I saw several fish show in an area that I had fancied on my very first walk round, but also it had a history of producing the big one. As quickly as I could I loaded the barrow and I was round there, only to then lead the swim for 2 hours trying to find somewhere that it even hit the bottom! This is where the ducks helped though, and I waited as they came across the swim, rod poised in readiness, for when they all began to dive on the same spot, before I fired out a cast right amongst them, to feel a satisfying donk. It was the only way I seemed to be able to find anything clear, and although they were a pain, the ducks did help me out in this case. I managed to string together four two night sessions, not only was I really getting into the place, the other members were a really friendly nice crowd and I began to enjoy it as much as anywhere I have fished. On my last trip I was plotted up in the same swim as before, on the spot the ducks had given me, and feeling fairly confident. We were in the grip of the heatwave, and whilst most places had slowed up as a result of the high temperatures, Vinnie seemed to really respond and had been fishing well. Mainly to my friend Jim, who had put in a massive amount of effort and found an approach that was really paying off. Early on my second morning I looked over to see Jim playing a fish, and I went over to give him a hand. One look in the net and we could see it was indeed the big one, a well-deserved capture and the consequence of a lot of hard work. We did the photos and it was great to see the fish on the bank, as by then I hadn’t even seen her in the water. She looked great, and at a spawned out weight, held promise that she would again be massive come autumn.
I packed up that day, excited for the coming months and the chance to have another few goes there. Sadly, before I could return the fish was found dead, another old one lost and a sad day all round. That finished my brief affair with the lake, as whilst it held some other fantastic fish, it was all about that one for me. With my personal situation also changing, and time at home becoming a priority, it also spelt the end of my angling for the remainder of the year.