Looking back on my captures in recent years, they largely fall into a few different categories. There are those where I have been plain lucky, those when I have gone with the crowd and caught, some that I have really had to work hard for, and then those from which I’ve learnt different things. I feel that those where I have learned something are the most important, and they take both your angling ability and confidence forwards. In relation to this, I am going to look at 2 captures that I felt I had learnt something, and more precisely what worked and why.
The first one goes back to late summer 2016, when I decided to fish a notoriously tricky lake of some 15 acres holding about a dozen fish. One of these was a true prize though, a big 40lb old fish that carried considerable kudos with every capture and therefore the campaign was always going to be about that one fish. Two close friends had fished the lake, and it was from them that I began to pick up my first fragments of information.
We were well into August by now; not the ideal time to start somewhere new, but I had already learnt that this fish was well known for doing an autumn capture, and indeed one of my friends had caught her the previous October. I had also worked out that, with the fishing being so hard, it would be easy to burn out as it were. So, in starting at this time, I knew I would only have a relatively short window before the weather closed in and I would call time on it until the following Spring. Starting relatively late meant that, hopefully, I was not giving myself enough time to lose heart with it if it was as hard as I expected.
In order to feel my way in I began to take a few walks round, and with the massive algae bloom on there I could immediately see why the autumns seemed to be more favourable. It was an awesome place though, having a really old feel about it, with big snag trees in the water, exposed bars, vast areas of savage brambles and nettles, and exposed tree roots crossing the narrow paths. It was eerie too, and as some of my sorties over there took place in the dark, it was quite creepy, but after a while I began to feel more comfortable and almost accepted by it.
The best piece of intel that I had been given was that the big mirror seemed to prefer the far end of the lake, and indeed both people I knew had caught her from down there. To that end I spent much of my time focusing my attention down there and began to take the marker rod with me along with a bucket of bait. The two end swims were the ones for me, and I spent ages mapping them out until I had good spots in each swim. I meticulously recorded these, knowing that I would be able to get my rods out with minimum disturbance when the right time came. Once I had these areas mapped out, I began to apply my favourite B5 boilies. Not loads, but enough to hopefully beat the savage birdlife on there.
Of the two swims, the furthest end one was my favourite, as I was certain that the spots I had found seemed much better; not too big and blatant, and without too much else in the swim to choose from, hopefully more selective. I focused my baiting on these features and was always careful to avoid the eyes of any other anglers.
As September came, everything began falling into place and I decided it was time to actually begin fishing in earnest. I had necessarily held back until now, as the green algae stained water didn’t look right at all. But as time went on it slowly began to clear, and some big winds stirred it all up, steadily making the lake appear more alive.
By now I had spent so much time down there that I was more than ready, and as the hot summer temperatures began to cool, and the leaves began to turn, I made my first visit with all my gear. I went straight into the end swim and having made hundreds of casts to my three spots already, had my rods out in no time. Even knowing how hard this place was, I had a massive sense of anticipation, and my confidence was boosted further when the following morning I saw a couple of definite shows, but most importantly, one of the shows was definitely the big mirror. This gave me a massive confidence boost, as I knew for certain that I was in the right area, and that she was there. It was frustrating too, as when I left that day, I knew I could not fish again for some 10 days, due to night shifts at work. I used that week well though, often visiting in the very early morning while it was still dark, picking my way carefully along the overgrown paths to the far end, to sit and watch as daylight gradually filtered through the ancient trees.
I topped up the spots on most visits and was counting down the days until I could return with my gear. By the time I was back it was mid-October and the days were noticeably shorter. The lake had that really carpy autumnal feel about it, with the onset of winter not being far away. During the first 24 hours I saw nothing, and that night we had the first frost of the year, causing the sloe berries in my swim to fall, turning my groundsheet purple as I trod them into it. At the time there was a big NW wind that was blowing over my head, and to be honest it looked so bleak that I thought of cutting my trip short. However, I was buoyed by a phone call from my friend, who told me he had caught her the night after the first frost the previous year.
I put the rods back out that afternoon, using my ultimate in stealth step up of Mirage fluorocarbon line, chod coloured leads and a stiff hinge rig with an extremely sharp Chod hook, that looked invisible bar the B5 pop-up as I tested it in the edge. I can remember how hard the left-hand rod smacked down on the cast, a crack that I felt all the way through the rod as the lead hit bottom. At 6PM that evening the left-hand rod was away, and soon after I was standing there in awe as the big mirror was in my net after a savage battle, and a bite completely out of the blue.
The first bite, after only two nights and she was mine! And although with some captures there is always the element of right time, right place, with this one it was not just about the actual fishing time, but what had gone with that. The countless recce trips, the baiting, the information gathering, including the history and pattern of her captures. All of that had all played a massive part, and something I learnt that would always help me again in the future.
The second capture… I had been having a few trips to a busy local circuit water, one of those venues where there were a few popular swims that are invariably occupied for long periods of time. In all honesty I had struggled to find fish on a few trips; a situation that was made harder by the fact that it was late summer, when the fish had been subject to constant pressure for some time. Despite the fact that the weed was right up the lake frequently appeared pretty dead. Even the most popular swims were slow, and any bites were well earned. I arrived early one morning and having done several laps round, once again the lake was quiet, and nothing gave itself away by showing. The weed was all over the surface and the lake was flat calm, with sunny days; typical high air pressure, weather, so generally poor conditions, which I knew was probably going to make it a struggle.
As the morning wore on, the only sign that I had seen was a small patch of fizzing out in the middle of one of the bays, in front of one of the popular swims, that was actually free for a change. I carried on looking around for a while, but on my return to that zone the same patch of bubbling was still out there, in the exact same place. I immediately memorised this and hastily went to fetch my gear. By the time I had my kit the fizzing had stopped, and the sun had fully risen, promising another warm day. I knew that this swim had one prominent feature that everyone fished, it was no secret, and with most of the swim covered in weed, this feature was one of the few clear spots, making it even more obvious. That said, the fizzing I had seen was nowhere near this, and with bite time long gone, I had a few flicks around with a bare lead attached to Kinetic Marker Braid. I always find that this is consistently the best method in weedy situations, as without a marker float to get trapped in the weed, the lead gives a much better feel. Sure enough, the main spot was easy to find, but it was too big and blatant for my liking.
However, the area the bubbling had come from took longer to locate. With thick weed around it, it took me a number of casts before the lead hit firm bottom, between two weed beds that reached up to the surface. It was just a thin silt strip between the weed, and to land on it I had to clip the weed behind it, before holding it gently back, swinging down the lead so that it would touch down just behind the weed that was in front of the spot. It was tricky, and to be honest if it weren’t for seeing that bubbling, I wouldn’t have found it. Indeed, I wondered if anyone else had fished there before me, as on pressured waters these spots can be goldmines.
I put my favourite hinged stiff rig out. As usual I was using a good strong Mirage Fluorocarbon boom and Tripwire hook section, with a B5 cork ball pop up mounted on the ‘D’. After several casts I felt a firm thud that told me I was on the silt strip. Every miss cast resulted in a rig covered in weed, so it was a lengthy process, but I knew I had to be absolutely precise. Nothing else would do.
The line lay was not great, due to the heavy surface weed, but there was not much I could do, except try to ensure the last few feet was down on the bottom. With nothing else found, I put my other rod onto the obvious spot, and sat back hoping that the following morning would give me a chance, as by this time of the year the bite times were fairly predictable. The next morning was once again warm and flat calm, and from first light onwards I saw nothing at all out in front of me. The lake looked dead, and I was on the phone telling a friend how lifeless it all was when the rod on the new spot pulled up and held there. With a huge wall of weed behind the spot the fish wasn’t going to go far, and I kept steady pressure on to keep it moving, confident that the Drop Out Chod Clip would have discharged the lead off the helicopter rig early on.
Eventually, a big ball of weed pulled free and began coming across the surface towards the net. All the time I eased the clump of weed back I didn’t feel the fish once, and just netted the entire lot. As I began pulling the weed out of the net, I felt the unmistakable smooth flank of a fish cocooned inside the weed and my net. It was a cracking upper 30lb mirror, and a capture from which I learnt a lot. That one small patch of fizzing had shown me where to fish, and had I not seen it I doubt I would have ever found the spot or had the bite. It also showed, however hard it can be to find anything, one little sign is enough to get rewarded. I left later that morning, but as I packed up someone else arrived to go in after me. He didn’t bother to look round, and as I was loading the car I looked back and saw his marker popped up on the big known spot!
Be lucky and stay safe.