It’s impossible to try and encapsulate in words, just what a special time I enjoyed during my three years, on what I truly believe will one day, rightfully be considered one of the greatest UK history carp waters ever. Since moving onto pastures new from 1st June 2019, it’s been like going through an ugly and bitter separation from a loved one. You know that it’s for the best, when you decide move on, but at the same time you love what you have. I have literally grieved, which sounds mental, but for me it really was that special and for so many reasons too. I know Wellington Country Park (Welly for short) is not everyone’s cup of tea, a bit of a marmite water. Luckily, we are all different, but I can honestly say with my hand on my heart, that as a member I personally never saw anything not to love…
My deep-rooted affinity for Welly all stems back to growing up, and specifically going camping with ‘The Royal Berkshire Caravan and Camping Club’ with my parents and my two younger sisters in my pre-teen years. Long summer school holidays pitched up in the deer park in the Duke’s estate, with many hours spent wandering the site after closing time. I guess that everyone has a ‘happy place’ in life, and Welly has always been mine. Camping there as a young boy was ace. I think one of the main reason was the fact that we were locked inside the park after closing time and it felt like being one of the privileged few to be able to play in the park, without hordes of other kids to compete with. It was our private country playground…
Back then the lake was also used as a boating lake, resplendent with a large wooden boat house, which used to be situated where the current syndicate angler’s lodge is. This where you could hire a long wooden rowing boat and oars for long periods. When out on the water I remember my dad rowing from one side to the other and being just being fascinated with peering over the side of the boat to see what I could spot down below in the mysterious depths. Back then the lake was lined with the mature trees like it is now. The banks were also more natural, without the firm paths that have circumnavigated the lake since then, but clearly the outline shape and walk around has hardly changed apart from growing in maturity and the fishing pegs being more defined as the banksides have matured. Welly is where my dad also first introduced me to angling, by float fishing for roach at dusk. I vividly remember walking back to our caravan after dark, with that infused roach slime smell all over my hands and clothes. A very evocative scent indeed.
It was always the plan to returning one day to fish, but only when everything felt right to do so. My appetite to fish there genuinely had nothing to do with the immense fish sizes; it was purely driven by the desire to go back to where fishing all began for me as a small boy. So, when in 2009 I received the offer of a syndicate ticket it was an incredibly tough decision to decline the opportunity to fish there at that time. The sole reason for declining, was that our eldest son, Ellis, was due to arrive in early 2011 and my life priorities had to be focused at home.
I elected to remain on the waiting list, but typically during the subsequent years the popularity of the syndicate grew and few if any members were dropping their tickets. Then, going into the 2015/16 season, I knew that I was second on the waiting list and not one person dropped a ticket! I was so close…
After another 12 months had passed, I was finally given another opportunity to fish at Welly when I received a phone call from the resident ground keeper and head bailiff, inviting me over for an informal meeting. After an hour talking, I was offered a ticket. The emotion I felt walking back to the car was indescribable. That day we had a family BBQ with close friends, and I spent most of that day and evening just shaking my head in pure overjoyed disbelief. I was going back to fish my happy place! OMG.
Finally, on 17th June 2016 the waiting was over, and my first session back at Welly had arrived. That first 48 hours passed with no carp, but I fished four different pegs to start off getting a rapid feel for different areas of the lake. This is generally my approach with any new water; purposely staying mobile, meeting syndicate members and learning along the way. I will always remember fondly the friendly and informative walk around the lake with a now sadly departed syndicate member, John Patterson. After a firm handshake when I first met John, he then invited me for a walk around the lake, providing me a swim to swim insight of his hard-earned knowledge. Within ten months, I felt I had validated some of this helpful information myself; though I had fully digested and believed everything I had been told at the time it’s still important to match information offered to day to day experiences. Big Jon was a true gentleman and I will never forget that day. Thank you John, RIP mate.
Lots of articles have been written about this now famous water. As a rough guide it’s around 35 acres in size with an average depth of around 4ft, which clearly means water temperatures can rise/drop rapidly within hours of big weather changes. It’s made up of large open areas of water, bays, islands, tree lined snaggy bays and shadowy canopies. Just how these canopies transform from winter to spring/summer is truly a sight to behold.
The lake now holds approximately 100-120 carp, with a good proportion of them being over 40lb! The stock includes a dozen or so 50lb+ fish, with the current King of the Pond being a carp named ‘Scruffy Bob’, that recently turned the scales round to a new lake record 61lb 12oz (Oi Oi Finny). They are all home-grown monsters, which is simply amazing and quite astonishing in the context of English carp lakes. Some swims are perfect for a stealthy down the edge approach, but in others you could easily need to cast 120-plus yards to get near the holding areas.
The big historic carp are clearly a huge draw, but there is also the appeal of being marooned in 350 acres of coniferous and deciduous woodlands, In fact, from the moment you drive through the main gate, the abundance of wildlife and the smell in the air, ensures it is like another world, just a few minutes from the suburban hustle and bustle of downtown Reading.
Sunrise in the east, lifts from behind the Cold Swim and during sunset the big glowy thing drifts away across behind Goose Point and finally drops down behind the Little Lake. The panoramic photo opportunities, with no need for filters, are endless. When the sun rises, the early dawn chorus of song-birds is just insane. Although largely irritating, even the Cockerill in the kids petting farm (set next to the productive southern bay) Cock-a-doodle-doodling at the top of its lungs from 3:30am onwards, has periods of even being almost bearable!
After dark, the silence is a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the park in full swing. At times, apart from the bloody Canadian geese, you could hear a pin drop. This is when you sleep with one eye open. The sound of a huge carp crashing in any part of the lake, echoes throughout the park. It really is something that pricks up the ears of all anglers on the complex at the time.
It’s a lake that really does offer everything, but due to the pressure these fish have faced for years now using distance sticks, avoiding unnecessary leading and spod rockets crashing around, and feeling for the drop are almost mandatory. Developing confidence when landing on what is a predominantly silty chod lakebed was the key. It was also a bit of art to feel a heavy lead down in a very shallow lake when casting at range. Knowing you are presenting a rig as well as you could to fish that have seen it all, and to know it has the maximum hooking and resets correctly increased my confidence to leave rigs out for longer periods.
My arrival coincided with the Ronnie revolution – and as I was already a huge advocate of the 360-rig being introduced to the Ronnie Rig seemed like a very logical transition for me to take, so with a very slight change I had a presentation that I knew was working amazingly well.
My results in the opening ten months were steady, even slow in periods, but the learning process never stopped. June and July were very slow months for everyone on the syndicate, largely because the spring had been very productive following the very mild winter. I started trickling a few captures out from August, including the much sought after ‘Pretty Sutton’ at 38lb 10oz. Sadly though, I lost two very big fish. The first one in the infamous Snags Swim and then painfully, I lost one of the big 50lb-plus fish at the net on a 12-hour work night in October, whilst angling in a swim known as The Wides. It was to be one of those losses that would sit uncomfortably with me for a while. However, I took solace in the fact that I must be doing something right, although it was very hard to stomach at the time. I felt no pressure, as my approach was to move swim to swim and learn the lake with a much longer-term plan in mind.
As a syndicate member, we are all entitled to a five-night session per season. After considering a few dates, and checking with home and work, my first choice of dates for my inaugural 5-nighter thankfully didn’t clash with anyone else’s that had already booked (only one person can have a five-day session at a time) and I booked in the first week of April 2017 – which historically had a good track record with being warm and it was also the run up to a full moon.
As it turned out the weather certainly lived up to expectations, with very warm sunshine and no rain all week. I planned to start the session very early on the Wednesday, just to give myself a reasonable choice of areas to target. I arrived to witness the photos of the stunning Linear at 50lb to David Gaskin, who was the man on fire at the time. Plus, I also assisted with photos for two other 40lb fish only a few hours apart in two different areas of the lake. After four hours walking the lake and only four anglers on, I started my session in a swim known as Goose Point, as I had seen two or three good shows at range.
As the morning went by, another swim that had been very productive was vacated, and two shows across in that area resulted in a swift move into the infamous ‘Hole in the Bush’ swim. Within four hours of casting out my new rig, previously only field tested at home, I was holding up a new personal best in the glorious early evening sunshine, in the shape of the magnificent ‘Small Tail Mirror’ at a jaw-dropping 53lb 6oz. Oh man, what an amazing start and a lovely way to relax into the session, with five nights still ahead of me.
After that amazing start I picked up a fish every 24 hours or so, simply by applying a reasonable amount of freebies after dark and avoiding recasting unnecessarily. On the Saturday, midway through my session, my girlfriend Maxine and our two boys came over to visit me and to play in the park. After spending an hour with me on the bank, they went off to play in the park and I decided to stay behind my rods, because I felt my chances were 50/50. They desperately wanted to see Dad catch a big fish. They came back to my peg around 4PM to say goodbyes. I kissed them all and Maxine was literally about to start the walk back to the car when my faithful left-hand rod let out a one-toner. I lifted into what went on to be another personal best, in the shape of the Big Sutton at a colossal 54lb 6oz (front cover shot). This was one very special, very sought-after carp that didn’t grace the bank frequently, and for my family to witness the whole thing from start to finish made the whole experience ten times better.
To fish at Welly, where I grew up as a child camping in the deer park, really was a dream come true. But now to have my new personal best from this epic venue and with such a historic and old fish had exceeded all my expectations and I love to think that my boys can show the pictures I now have in years to come, and can say they were with me on “that day when Dad fished at Welly and had a 54lb’er”.
The inflow of warm messages of congratulation from other syndicate members was no surprise. Welly has many magical attributes that make it what it is. But being honest, what pleasantly surprised me was that from the moment I joined to the moment I left three years later, is just how approachable, warm and friendly all the syndicate members and bailiffs were. The atmosphere that creates makes being on the complex an absolute pleasure. Everyone is just open to share knowledge and to help everyone, which is just simply lovely. I have made friends for life.