Slovakia Sept 2019

I love the build up to a foreign adventure: the buzz of arranging Eurotunnel, prepping bait and tackle and meeting travelling companions. It’s just like the run up to Christmas when we were still nippers. Nah, on second thoughts scrub that statement as utter balderdash; it’s bloomin’ better than that. It’s fishing!

Mama G (our esteemed Director Michele Gardner) had asked me to go out to Slovakia on a work trip to support our distributors and angler teams in the region, and I was only too pleased to say yes, as supporting the international teams is of pivotal importance to the company (*sorry for going all corporate for a moment!). I accepted the prospect of a long-haul bad-ass solo drive sat in my Berlingo, chugging across the middle of Europe as one of those things, and hoped that the marathon slog of a drive would be incident free.

Unbeknown to me at the time Peter, out in Slovakia, had also contacted members of other European teams and it turned out that the Benelux Team leader Chris Vandenhaute was also going with another team member, Belgian canal ace Niels De Temmerman, and there was room in his lovely new capacious LWB Transporter van. Ooo la la!

That meant no solitary-van confinement and time spent with two of the nicest people you could ever hope to be incarcerated with. Happy days indeed.

The kilometres (oh, how very ‘continental’) ticked by and Chris ‘beasted’ the drive, with Bettsy his van chugging steadily across Germany, through Czech and then into Slovakia fairly painlessly, except a slightly numb arse. Our progress was so good that it was decided (unanimously by Chris) that we may as well just get to the lake.

So an hour after dark we pulled onto the track to find the carpark for Green Lakes and came to a halt beside what looked to be a nice mature reed lines lake. We were met by Peter our distributor, Patrick the owner and a couple of other guys that had arrived early. A BBQ was fired up and we dined on meat and swigged very nice beer. All of a sudden the journey was forgotten and we had a stroll around the main lake, named The Commons Lake, listening to fish sloshing out in the darkness.

There was quite a chilly Northerly wind blowing across the lake and it seemed apparent from the activity and small fish plipping in the darkness, that a lot of fish seemed to be sheltering in the lea of the wind. With a draw for swims due at midday the next day, all of this was duly noted by the group of us walking around, enjoying the fresh air and the prospect of what was to come.

A night spent snoozing under the stars and an early start found us watching carp throwing themselves out the lake with gay abandon – and it looked like anyone fishing on The Commons Lake would be filling their boots as carp after carp acrobatically flopped out.

As more team members from Hungary, Czech and Slovakia arrived for the event, it became apparent that a lot of them had access to some amazing peach liquor type moonshine that appears to be very popular in the region! This was starting to feel a lot like a holiday rather than work and I just hoped I wouldn’t end up having to join AA afterwards! And I don’t mean the Automobile Association.

In the meantime, we also had a quick walk up to a second lake, The Mirrors lake. In total contrast to the main lake this one looked quiet – and we only spied a couple of ‘maybe’ shows despite having a good look for an hour or so! I had a little bit of a wobble at this point as the last thing you want to do is drive across Europe to be out fished or even blank when you have the choice of either water – as I was being treated like a VIP, rather than a slightly portly and mildly eccentric fishing tackle employee, I had choice of which lake. Go in the drawer on The Commons Lake that looked good for a bite, or man it up and fish ‘Mirrors’ with a chance of a monster; and with the big harvest moon due on Saturday night if ever the big one was coming out, this had to be a good window.

It turned out that this lake held the biggest carp on the complex, a pukka looking long mirror called Patricia, that had been out at weights to just over 30kg and Peter had offered to swerve it so I could fish on there with him and one other angler. Unlike the Commons Lake this pit was a little younger and we were allowed to cheat (use bait boats), whereas it was all conventional fishing on the main lake and would entail use of spod and stick to get baits out there… Proper fishing some may say.

In the end the draw of that big old mirror was too much (that and Peter’s excellent company) so after the drawer, in which Chris and Niels chose a swim called ‘Sahara’ on Commons Lake I took Bettsy round to my chosen swim and started setting up.

Did I mention it was warm? Sweet j’sus it was bloody baking, and I soon worked out why so many continental anglers use high topped vented shelters – as the atmosphere under my little Tempest Brolly was stiflingly hot! So the setup was slow and I regularly sat in the shade on the side of the swim just to maintain the holiday vibe – and quite unbelievably, in the heat of the day, the fish had started showing in numbers and the once dead looking lake was transformed, as one fish after another (some sizeable too) flopped and rolled all over the place.

I couldn’t help but grin wryly as I recollected Robert (one of the bailiffs) advice that they liked it in the daytime and there were plenty of good fish in the lake. Things were looking up even more. Good food, mind blowing ‘nip’ (that mind-bending Peach drink) and a swim full of active carp!

After setting up we all gathered once again by the log cabin and enjoyed a lovely meal and some more shots of the 52% proof home brew! You couldn’t get away with one though. Oh no! You always had to have 2 shots – ‘one for each leg’ I was told. Without doubt the hospitality shown by Patrick, Peter and the whole team was genuine and heartfelt. Special times for us all.

It was really good to see fish care was treated with the highest priority too – probably more so than any venue I have ever fished (UK or Continental) and the bailiffs were forthright in directing all those present through the procedure and rules – and as the week went on it was apparent from the fishes condition that this approach meant the carp were kept in absolute tip top condition. No tatty mouths and all of the fish were inspected and treated before release, to make sure they stayed pristine.

After lunch we all dispersed back to our plots, eager to catch some of the carp that we’d been talking about (a lot of arm waving and international carp angler gesticulations helped). I simply ran out hookbaits with a handful of boilies and particle in my borrowed little Pro-Cat bait boat, to the areas where I’d seen the most shows. With only 3 swims on the lake we all had loads of water and I was looking for a bite for now, rather than trying to build a feeding area straight away.

Now blind dropping out a boat can be a very hit and miss affair, and unlike the other two anglers who had amazing hi-tech craft that mapped the bottom and steered themselves to GPS spots, I simply felt the big lead drop and hit the lake bed, being careful not to draw the rig back towards me, as the water was between 3.5 and 4 meters deep over most the swim. The lakebed felt firm on all three rods and I guessed that with the stops on my helicopters pushed up 3-4 inches, that even if the rigs landed in thin silt, the Ronnies mounted on Invisi-Link fluorocarbon booms and small foody pop-ups would present OK. So I simply put about 100 mixed 15 and 20mm HNV-Pro boilies out with each drop, confident that the baits would spread nicely (as round baits naturally do as they tumble and fall down through deep water).

There was another factor at play here; my faithful old spod rod reel was suddenly being very poorly; the grease had all congealed inside and the worm drive was no longer ‘worming’, or whatever a worm drive does.

During the night I had a bream on one rod (that somehow wobbled off the barbless hook as I was bringing it to the bank) and then at dawn I had a proper bite that felt slow and dogged in the deep water – battling forever in the 4m channel just in front of the swim. Eventually, with a tired arm (bless) and a few beads of perspiration I wobbled a really nice looking common into the net and thought ‘eh up, this is OK’.

Amazingly the fish was 20kg of pristine common perfection! Obviously, it was a very good fish for the lake, and I was off to a proper fluky pub-chuck flyer! The bailiffs came around and the fish was handled, treated and photographed in the water and the pics came out really superb. Robert was ace with a camera and they are far better than I could have done in the bright conditions.

I followed that one up with another smaller common later that day and then it was 3:30PM it was time to go and feast! There’s something about food in Europe, it just seems to get better the further south you go. Certainly, things like the tomatoes that team member Marian brought along were absolutely delicious, and every day there was something lovely that took my fancy. In fact, even wafer-thin Niels was eating for England (or Belgium) by the end of the week, when the culinary journey metaphorically peaked with the very best spit roasted pig ever cooked. In fact he was like a tiny little carp catching eating machine. ‘Chris-Boss’ was amazed to see him gorging on succulent pig like he hadn’t eaten for weeks. Oh yeah, and then there was always a shot of ‘The Peach’ to follow, one for each leg.

I was once again lucky to get another cracker the following morning with a 20.8kg bulldozer of a common that fought like stink and was in A1 condition. Chris had said that our target should be a 40lb’er and here was another one in the net. Spawny or what!

I had lost a couple at this point and felt the Ronnies were hooking the fish in the scissors for some reason, so changed over to Turbo Germans (still on 25ib Invisi-Link) and this made a huge difference. In fact, I only had one hook pull after this and felt I was getting more pick-ups on the balanced HNV-Pro hook baits that were presented on barbless Mugga hooks.

The angling on the Mirrors Lake was going well, with Roland, Peter and I catching steadily and after a couple of days my one working bait boat battery was low and I still had plenty of particle left so I decided to have a lead about to see what was what and oiled up my worm drive, so that the reel miraculously came back to life. Praise the lord!

I was also now fishing a rod short on a silt area to the left, in which I had seen activity in the mornings with fish bubbling, so was casting stringers short and that nicked a couple of bites with a nice common of about 12kg quickly falling foul to the adjusted baiting approach. I also picked off a cracking 17.5kg mirror on the long rod along with other mirrors and commons ranging from 12kg up – and was really getting into the swing of things.

I got the feeling, as the week wore on, that the fish were getting more on the bait, as the bites were becoming more frequent wherever I put the rods, and the size was higher than average too. Always a sure sign that a good bait is becoming established; they obviously liked the foody savoury balls of goodness. There is zero doubt in my mind that good bait will always catch more in the long run, and using the HNV-Pro seems to cement this opinion over and over. No breadcrumb specials here my old fruit.

In the meantime, the silt gully at about 70 meters on the right, over which I was spodding, suddenly kicked in and I had 3 fish in quick succession off that rod before the bait I had applied was gone. I got the distinct impression I needed to up baiting levels, so on Saturday I put in all the hemp and half the secret particle (Thaumatin-B sweetened peanuts that I had mushed up with a big f*** off stone). Just before lunch I spombed the lot out there, walked out the rods, marking everything up, knowing full they would get back on the spot as it was ‘rocking’ (as the kids say).

Back from lunch, feeling the Peach taking affect, I carefully caressed the hook points with a Hook Stone, tied on new hookbaits and stringers and got the 2 rods on the baited area – sorted in one chuck each. The left rod was consistently being run about 120m straight towards a distant pylon and was just a dropper of boilies and a cheeky German rig.

That night was the full moon, so we were all excited at the prospect of the big’un Patricia making an appearance, but even before dusk I was confused. No liners or shows on the bait. Surely to God, they hadn’t done it all in the couple of hours that we’d been pigging out on the hog?!

I received 4 bites on the left-hand rod and nothing on baited area! What a goof ball. I was kicking myself for being such a dim-witted imbecile and for being overly cautious with regards to rebaiting…

Now during the night something else had happened; something quite extraordinary and superb! Whilst playing a carp I had heard Peter shout “I’ve got her!” in a high pitched hyper excited voice, and he ran down saying he had Patricia!

Obviously, as soon as I netted the fish I was playing I laid the net in the water, put the rod down and rushed to help him with his fish. There it was! An immense, lovely looking long mirror with a beautiful over-slung mouth and huge tail, that literally filled the unhooking mat and then some. When the bailiffs arrived and sorted it all out with Peter, I nipped back to my swim to find the top 30cm of the landing net visible about 5 meters out in deep water and the fish on the rod sulking somewhere next to it!

Oh FFS! Why me!?

Obviously, I needed to get the net first, so I stripped off to swim out to collect the net and then play the fish in again (it was cold night, so I’m glad no one came along). I thought about keeping it quiet, but it was such a funny div-witted goof that I knew it would amuse the guys in Peters swim; and he quickly shared his success and the news of my midnight dip on the group chat he had set up for all of the guys fishing at the event.

Well Peter’s fish was an absolute banger! He’d fished well, focusing baiting on an area it was known to frequent, and the big finger in the sky had pointed down at him. Sometimes seeing a big fish in the arms of an angler that is truly blown away is better than catching it yourself, and so it was with Peter under the light of that blazing big autumnal moon.

Late that morning we packed away and bade fair well to our new friends and headed back on the long road back to Belgium, Chris Boss driving it in one hit. Chris and Neils had endured a harder time on The Commons lake, but they had both caught, with Chris catching a pukka 16.5Kg common called ‘Donald’ on the last night too (which I think was the biggest fish out the Lake of Commons). Through good angling and perseverance the Belgian lads had succeeded.

The whole event had turned out to be the perfect balance of fun fishing at a really well run venue, a bit of work/business (I did some video with David Fort and also met our Czech distributor Miroslav and Lucas), with lots of chowing down on good food and socialising.

I hope the team understood me when I thanked them all for their immense support and efforts. A family business like ours really relies on the teams that offer support, and it’s not always effectively conveyed day-to-day, as we deal with an often-frantic workload.

I really can’t convey how wonderful the hospitality and camaraderie was. In fact, I can only hope that I get to be sent on another similar work trip again next year! I’d be quite pleased if it was Green Lakes again, as I wouldn’t mind having a crack at the mighty Patricia again.