This year was always going to be a difficult one, in fact I can honestly say it has been the hardest of my life. Towards the end of 2018 my family suffered a double tragedy when we lost both my father, and 3 months later our 10-year-old son, Matthew. As a family we took time to rebuild, but being a strong unit we did it one day at a time, and tried to carry on with as many normal things as we could. It hurt though, and it still does every day.
During the many dark days in the early part of the year I would often look at my rods in the study, and wonder if I’d ever have the motivation to use them again.
What bought me up was the friends in carp fishing that I am lucky enough to have, and whilst at my lowest times, these rallied around and gave me the lift I needed to get out on the bank again. Therefore, one cold day in late January I found myself with a loaded barrow walking round a local club lake, without much expectation to be honest. That all changed when within minutes of arriving I found a couple of fish drifting in and out of the branches of a big snag tree. This lake was exceptionally shallow, and the bottom completely covered in a green slimy blanket weed that stuck to the line like glue. However, I could see small clear gravel patches very close to the snag tree, a matter of feet from the bank. In no time the excitement was back, not only was I fishing, I was also on the fish!
A quiet night followed, but the next morning I had two takes within an hour up against the tree. Firstly, a mid-twenty, and then a stunning plated fish that tore the rod of the rod rests on the take, being in such shallow water and so close to the bank. That was the tonic I needed, and the following week I was back, again landing another 20lb mirror from the snaggy spot.
In February every year I have a weekend social with some of my fishing friends, ones that although I see regularly, we don’t actually fish together for the remainder of the year. This time we had booked the Blue Pool, and never having seen the lake before, I was really looking forward to it. We had hit it perfectly with the weather too, and as we arrived in mild temperatures, it didn’t take long to find several fish swimming along a snaggy margin in what was the first real warm sun of the year. I went into a corner swim that had a long bank to my left with no swims on it, and where we had seen several fish cruising along under the canopy of overhanging trees. It looked a really tricky cast, but with my friends help, I pushed the baiting pole out from that bank, cast over it from my swim, and drew the rig back in before placing it perfectly in the margin. It was deep though, I guessed around 10 feet as the lead went down. I was on my favourite Mirage fluorocarbon main line, which was ideal in the crystal clear water, and with its superb sinking ability it gave me the ultimate in stealthy line lay. The other rods I put out in the main part of the lake, on nice silty spots that I found. That afternoon I had a nice mid-twenty from the poled out margin spot, and early the following morning a stunning 32lb common in the fog, along with another mirror from the spot out in the lake.
That afternoon we sat round the iPad, balanced on a few buckets to watch England v Wales in the 6 Nations rugby. That didn’t go too well, and having a Welsh wife, it was certainly a good weekend to be away! We had a huge BBQ that evening, and Wayne knocked out a couple more fish that night, making it a brilliant trip for us all. It was great for me too, confidence wise I was brimming now, and I took that form to another club lake soon after, with several short overnight trips yielding half a dozen fish up to low thirties. I felt like I couldn’t put a foot wrong, and one trip I couldn’t get into my favourite area, so found a few bubbles right up the other end, set up, and had a 33lb mirror within an hour!
It’s funny though how fishing can as easily bring it all down though, and from around then my results started to nosedive! During the time I had taken out from fishing, I hadn’t really chased any tickets for this year, and while I was hopeful one I dearly wanted may come through, it didn’t, and I hastily obtained another, on a big 70 acre boating lake I had fished for a season a couple of years previously. I had really enjoyed it then, using the boat to fish off the islands, and in the week it was nice and quiet too. This time however, that had changed, and from my first trip down I knew it was going to be much harder to get on the fish that Spring. What made it hard was the lake has three or four swims that have big areas of far bank snags, and these swims held the fish up until the weed comes up in the main areas of the lake. The fish seldom move far from the snags in April and May, and indeed the rest of the lake looked totally barren with no weed in, just acre after acre of clean bottom, with nothing to hold the fish. It was no surprise that the snags were the place to be, and being much busier, I simply never got in them. Each week with those swims taken, I would boat round, but rarely found anything, and often set up in hope of the fish turning up, rather than actually finding any!
One morning in May I woke up at first light after an uneventful night, to see at least a dozen show on a shallow plateau I knew was there, right down at the bottom end. That in itself was interesting, as being the shallowest feature, it was also the first place the weed had started to grow, and the week before I had noticed the first few strands of Canadian appearing there. By 6am, and after a few more leaping clear of the water, I was throwing my kit into the boat and on the way, as fast as my battery powered motor would go. Being my first chance that Spring, I didn’t want to mess it up by boating straight onto the spot, so I hastily tackled up with a couple of chod rigs and 1.5oz leads, and even though the plateau was around 120 yards out, I boated at least 20 yards short before flicking the rigs gently out and moving away, sinking the line as I made my way back. I knew the fish wouldn’t tolerate the boat, and I smiled to myself knowing I’d not ruined it at the first hurdle. Both rigs had gone down nicely, with gentle soft thuds so I knew they were presented well on the shallow area. I didn’t bother with any free baits, and spent that day in anticipation of them returning the following morning, and actually having my first chance. I was up well before first light, cupping mug after mug of steaming tea, as I waited for the show to start. An hour into daylight and I knew they weren’t coming back, sure enough not a single fish showed anywhere in that bottom end, and I sat there deflated, knowing any chance had long gone as the morning passed. It showed that setting up on the fish, other than in the snags wasn’t the answer. The trick was to anticipate where they were going to turn up, and have traps set in advance, something I just couldn’t seem to master, even as the summer went on.
As the weed got up I felt the main areas of the lake would start to come good, and one week in early June, after fishing the night in the snags, I had a walk up to the best vantage point nearby and sat and watched. Immediately I saw a couple show, long right behind the back of the second island, where I knew there was a huge weed bed, and an area that hadn’t to my knowledge been fished so far this season. As I sat there, a huge dark mirror launched itself completely clear of the still lake, and I was in no doubt which one it was, even at that range, the king of the lake. It was at least 30lbs bigger than anything else that I’d seen jump, and again I was packing up as fast as I could. The swim next door to me could reach this channel, but it was a long tow out. Being the quickest option, I moved in there, and took 3 rigs out there one at a time. It was a seriously long way, but with the Hydro sink braid on, I wasn’t worried as I had 200m on each spool. I’d coupled this with a rod length of 20lb Mirage fluorocarbon as a leader, and placed all my rigs against this weed bed, on clear sandy areas I could see easily from the boat, with a few handfuls of broken up B5 baits. That day I had three ripping takes, landing two, and the following morning another, before I had to pack up. Nothing big, but all very welcome after struggling so far. It showed how straightforward it can be to catch them, when you’re actually in the right area!
I was back the following week, and after finding nothing to go on, I went into the only swim on that second island as I was sure that the big one hadn’t gone far. Not only was this area reasonably neglected, that fish had a past history of captures from this part of the lake. This swim made life much easier, instead of a massive tow out, it was only 30 odd yards to the big weed bed, and I could easily space out my 3 rods alongside it, on the same spots as the week before. The only real issue was the swim was home to all sorts of creepy crawlies, and in vast numbers too. Being cut out of the dense vegetation, and sloping down to the lake, everything seemed to make for the little clearing. Within an hour I was removing red ants from parts that you really don’t want them and the following morning I woke up with a huge orange slug crawling over my face! Throw in the mosquitos, and an army of wild coloured spiders that bite, it wasn’t exactly pleasant. It was easier fishing, and that evening it looked good again, as the odd fish rolled, and I caught another low 20, the same scaly one as the week before. I knew with two good mornings in front of me, which were traditionally the bite times, I was super confident.
It didn’t go as planned through, as by 8am I was loaded up and on the way home after my wife had been in an accident, and two days later the big one did indeed come out of there, at over 60lb!
I carried on though, but after the lake had closed for spawning, I seemed unable to find any of the bigger fish, they just seemed to disappear. The weed became particularly savage too, and I struggled to get any more chances, despite trying my hardest. Some trips I moved 3 times, and bar another couple of small ones, I began to lose a bit of interest. In all honesty I lost the love a bit, as each week I left feeling I’d fished my best, only to seem to have no luck whatsoever.
As we moved into September, I began baiting an area that had autumn form, and after 3 or four sorties laden with buckets of hemp, chopped tigers and B5, the area started to look good. The bait was regularly going, and I knew it was prime time. I got down one Monday, relieved to find no one in the spot I wanted, and I set about getting myself ready to fish the areas I had been baiting. What I hadn’t factored on was a ripping wind that made the lake resemble the North Sea in a Force 8 gale, and as soon as I got out there in the boat, with the waves smashing against the side, I simply couldn’t locate my perfectly primed spot. I was out there for hours, the wind and rain giving me no visibility, until I just made out a clearing, that I thought had to be it. I dropped a rig on it, and took shelter under the Tempest. The following morning 3 fish rolled in quick succession on the baited spot, except I wasn’t on it, in fact I was nowhere near! In the wind I’d totally got it wrong, and after carefully repositioning it that second morning in calmer conditions I could see exactly how far out I’d been. You guessed it, for the next two days I saw nothing more, again my chance had been and gone, and from then on, any bait I put out stayed for long periods, until suddenly it was gone, but so had I.
I’d lost it mentally too, and needed a change to get some much needed confidence back. A good friend Gavin, carried on though, and with a combination of good angling and hard work, was rewarded with a string of good fish, topped off with a clonking 53lb elusive mirror, testament to watercraft rather than having loads of time in the best swims.
I had often fancied a go at another lake that seemed to be seldom carp fished, but I knew held a couple of old decent commons. Around this time, I began to take a few walks round there, and on some of these I’d see the odd fish show. It was clear it was full of bream and tench though, as they were forever showing. Being local I began to trickle in some B5 salami into an area that I had seen fish on some of my walks. It was exciting, and not long after I ventured out for a quick night. Not fancying being up all night unhooking slabs, I went in with hinged stiff rigs made of 25lb Mirage, and big size 4 Covert Dark Chod hooks sat well up off the bottom. It was exciting, and within a couple of hours I landed a dark 26lb common that absolutely tore my arm off.
I kept the bait going in, and during next four night trips I landed fifteen carp, all commons and like peas in a pod, all between 22-27lbs. They all fought like their life depended on it, and every take resulted in a fish on the bank, without a single loss. Not only did this show how good the Chod hooks are, but also how devastating the hinge rig can be, as interestingly I didn’t have a single bream or tench. I had also become reliant on the Camflex Leadfree leaders, using the ready-made ones a metre in length and spliced at each end better than I ever could myself. Super thin, but with brilliant sinking properties, they enhanced my end tackle by making it so much more covert. I vowed I would never use leadcore again, but this was another level, and immediately became a vital part of my armoury.
It was clear this lake held more fish than I originally thought, and after these few trips I fancied getting into somewhere that I wanted to stay on for the winter. I knew just the place, somewhere I’d not fished for nearly 20 years, with the originals long gone, but the new stock well worth going for. The lake itself was alive with crayfish, and I must admit to totally underestimating how annoying they can be. The first trip I used tigers, and wound in the next morning to find both baits had gone, and a crayfish impaled on one of the hooks. I missed a few weeks, and by now in was November, and with cooler temperatures I felt sure the crayfish population would be dormant, so I went straight in on the pop ups. That was a big mistake, as that evening as the frost was forming, I shone the torch in the margin to see 5 of them crawling around on my spod spill. I wound in the next day without any hookbaits, which was made worse by a good fish rolling right over my bait less rig!
That brings me up to date, and I’m looking forward to the remaining winter now I’m armed with plastic baits, which is out of my normal comfort zone as I’ve always been a boilie man, but another lesson learnt. My lifelong desire for fishing is back, and the enthusiasm is firing again, but I won’t be sad to see the back of this year in fishing terms. It been one of, if not the worst I’ve had. But what I have learnt is that these things make you stronger, one day at a time.