It was early February, and as the days were starting to draw out that little bit longer, there were the first very subtle signs that spring was just around the corner and everything was starting to come to life once more; and I found myself once again hatching plans for a full on no holds barred Burghfield campaign!
This year, after thinking long and hard about my previous campaign over the winter and experience and knowledge gained from the previous year’s fishing on Burghfield, I decided that I would approach it slightly different from the start this year. I would try to target one area full on and try my best not to chase them unless I was forced to by other anglers being where I wanted to be fishing. With this in mind I started prepping the same area that had served me well on previous years, priming it with a little and often baiting approach, but electing to not actually fish it until I felt the time was right. In fact, the pre-baited area was within my casting abilities, as I wanted to be able to fish it once the bait boat season finished at the end of May.
This can appear to some to be the lazy man’s approach, just simply camping or ‘baiting and waiting’, but I can assure you the mental torture of late night drives to bait up with the constant worry that someone will reap the rewards of your hard work, certainly keep you on your toes!
It was late March before my first bite, which was a beautiful old two-tone golden common of 33lb. It was a relatively early bite for me too, as the previous year I think we were well into May before my capture. After that, once again the pit bit back and the following few weeks were hard going for me and just kept hearing little snippets of what was coming out around the pit, wondering whether I was doing it all wrong!? However, I kept to my plan and carried on trying to block everything out. In fact, I really did not want to know what was happening around me unless it was the common herself that had made an appearance.
I managed another couple of bites off the zone before the end of May, and by now the weed had taken hold of the pit and as usual the bait boats had been stopped until the 1st of October and with it the angler pressure had dropped off big time.
My area was just starting to ripen and had seen regular bait now for almost 3 months, with minimal fishing pressure, so from now until the bait boats came back into play I would fish my area with two rods on the bait, and use the other as a roaming rod if I saw any signs of fish elsewhere in the swim.
Things started brilliantly with a 3 fish hit on my first 4 nights angling that left me feeling confident and buzzing to get back. I came back down for a bait up midway through my working week to keep everything prepped. Thankfully the coast was clear and an hour and a half later and two buckets of bait lighter, I found myself driving down the m4 with a huge smile on my face and buzzing to get back!!
The next few weeks seemed to go by in a blur with a few more big hits and plenty of blanking, it certainly seemed like the fish would just turn up on you out of the blue, and all hell would break loose and then just they’d disappear as quickly as they appeared!
We were now into July and the hot sticky bug-ridden nights were horrible, as I seem to get bitten by anything that moves. With dogged perseverance I kept at it, as the common herself had still not made an appearance, and it was still all to play for!
What happened next is an episode which may well haunt me for the rest of my days… I arrived at the lake early evening, after pulling out all the stops to get the extra night in that this would give me, on pulling into the parking area I noticed a van which I didn’t recognise, but figured it was getting late so I may as well load the barrow and get to the swim, as even just walking down to check it was empty would inevitably put me back time wise, as darkness was looming and I wanted to get everything bang on for the morning.
On walking down the path, I was greeted by none other than the lovable (Norza) Lewis Read! After a bit of banter and a chat I decided that I would not fish that night, as Lewis was in the swim, but as luck would have it he was only there for a work night and would off very early the next morning, so ‘happy days’. I left my barrow in his good hands wished him luck (not!) and made my way round to see a friend of mine, northern Gazza, who was fishing in the Murders Swim, with a plan to ponce a few cups of tea off of him, then grab a couple of hours kip in the van before heading to my chosen swim early the next morning.
The next morning, I was up before my alarm and wandered over to a little viewing area, a spot where I could see my fishing zone from. I didn’t want to go and put pressure on Lewis to go so just kept an eye on him from my little vantage point. My area was alive and I could see the fish were literally ripping up the bottom and I saw Lewis wrapping up his dry net and start pushing his barrow towards the car park and a day in the office.
It was now or never, as he slipped past me, I literally ran to the swim and pushed two banksticks into my bankstick holes and flicked the already baited and wrapped rods into the danger zone. I then turned around and put the next rod together, and no sooner had I lent it against the tree the first rod was away!
After a spirited battle a mid-20 mirror was quickly in the net, I transferred him into a sack while I got myself sorted, checked the hook and rig, then started to wrap the rod back up. Before I could finish that the other rod was away, this one turned out to be a pesky Tench, so I finished wrapping the first rod and quickly got it back on the money first chuck. I then methodically checked the rig and wrapped the Tench rod up, lined myself up for the cast and the rod which I had just cast out was away again!
As soon as I lifted the rod up, I just knew I was attached to something special. The lead had already dropped off on the take and the fish was up on the surface, with a huge great big set of shoulders and frame to go with it. For a few seconds it was stalemate and nothing moved, then she decided that she would kite left which would not be good for me! As luck would have it I was already in my waders, so quickly jumped in and worked my way down the left margin to straighten up the line angle; luckily it worked and the fish then decided to start kiting very powerfully to my right. This was perfect and it was just a case of holding on and gaining line as she made her way to the right side of the swim, however the first had other plans and proceeded to have a couple of very powerful runs of around 30/40 yards but thankfully straight out into open water.
Around 80 odd yards out in front of me was a savage bar which was choked in weed. I couldn’t afford for her to get behind this. as that could spell serious danger, and by now the fish was a good 70 yards out and heading that way and up until this point I was just holding on for dear life. I put the pressure on and while she was still kiting she started to come my way, ever so slowly; then with literally just inches to spare she came my side of the bar, but was now heading straight for the island to the right side of the swim.
As luck would have it there was a wall of weed that had built up on the island margin, from top to bottom, which quite clearly was impenetrable as the fish seemed to just bounce off it! After that last gasp effort for freedom she was almost beat and as the fish came closer towards me and back into the centre of the swim, gliding just under the surface, I saw the huge frame of a common. I was still in the water at this point, and without the aid of glasses on and with the sun in my face my vision was down, but I must admit at that point and by looking at where my lead core was in relation to the tail I thought this is it, I’m free!!!
The fish decided to have one last bid for freedom and buried itself in the weed that was growing on the marginal shelf, but steady pressure soon had her back up on the surface and she was now turned and looking straight at me. We sat there looking at each other in the morning sun and I could see the perfect mouth and white insides of her throat. This was it. The net was a mere 2ft from being slipped under her… I remember looking at my hook hold, which was in the left-hand scissors and thinking ‘that don’t look that well hooked!’, and then with a quick flick of her head the hook was free. At first the fish didn’t realise what had happened and just slowly sunk down into the murky depths, I quickly tried to get the net under it, but it was too late and as quickly as it started it finished right there.
Now while I’ll never be absolutely 100% sure what one it was, I think in my heart of hearts I know and I’m really not ashamed to say I cried that day. In fact I feel myself welling up as I write this, carp fishing can be so cruel at times!
After that I tried as best I could to dust myself down and carry on, doing my best to try and convince myself it was one of the other big commons (which it could well have been) and I managed a few more bites. In fact, up until the time of writing 17 in total, with a couple of nice ones thrown in.
It’s now late December and I feel the chances for the Burghfield common for this year at least have slipped us all by, but it will soon be time to come up with another cunning plan!!
Happy Christmas 🐿