As another winter predator season fades away for another year, I find myself in limbo, whilst I wait for the first signs of carp having come in off the river and into a 90-acre lake complex, ready to be fished for.
All the pits are connected and as they’re also joined to the river it means that the head of carp in there is unknown, simply because they can freely move in and out of all the lakes, and back into the river. Thankfully, we can fish whilst they are in the complex, and that means I can target them in the lake I can fish during what would be the close season out on the main river.
I’ll start my story when I was a kid, aged about 5 or 6 years old. My dad and I used to always walk this lake and go there looking for different wildlife. This is the place where I saw my first snake, otter, bittern and plenty of other rare creatures over the years. I always knew about the fishing on there, as my dad had fished it all his life and used to tell me about the massive pike he witnessed on the bank, when he was a kid, and the days he used to spend on the islands just to get away from it all. Back then I was more interested in pretending to be a dinosaur in the overgrown forest than thinking about fishing the place, but every fishing story that my dad told me stuck with me forever.
Throughout the years of my youth this lake was an adventure. I would head down with my friends and explore, finding old railway carriages and boats to climb about on and basically just be boys. It wasn’t until I was 14 or 15, when I was getting in trouble at school and finding life hard, that I was drawn to the lakes in a different way. It became my sanctuary; my place to relax and to get away and sit by the water just thinking about things. It was then that my dad’s stories of fishing the place came to mind and I started to look at it in a different light, but it wasn’t for a few years I would start fishing the place.
I was 21 when I started looking extremely closely at the lakes. I started off pike fishing one of the lakes and lost a big fish, but that’s not the enduring memory of that day. You see, I kept seeing swirls close into the edge, where there was a load of fry. The fry surprised me a little as this was the middle of January and if I can remember rightly, the lake was half frozen and extremely cold. After about the 3rd or 4th swirl I went to investigate what was going on, so being stealthy and staying close to the edge after 30 minutes of watching, I had witnessed carp fry-feeding! This was unthought of for these lakes, I knew they were connected to the river, but carp never really entered my mind, so I went home to really think this through. My conclusion was to fish for them in the spring, and I couldn’t wait!
The spring came and went, the summer came and went and that was really the end of my first season on there. I had caught sweet FA, apart from a few Bream. Describing it as a baptism of fire comes to mind. After that first season, having learned so much about the lake and watching the carp that I had found loitering in certain areas, I was confident that the next spring would be a little bit easier.
I’ll describe a bit about these lakes, so you understand what I was up against right from the start. The lakes are 200-years old, with snags, out of bounds areas, lily beds everywhere, shallows, deep channels, eroded islands and bays, all in a single 90-acre complex.
After all the years I have fished there now, I now realise that the fish I’m after are visitors to the lakes and they are truly special. I’ve had anglers come to me and show me pictures of carp that have travelled 30 miles along the river between captures, so these fish really are nomadic. I have also found out that some of the fish stay in the lakes all of their lives, so there are definite residents and definite visitors to the lakes. The carp can freely move in and out of the lakes and they do whatever they want.
Now back to the story. The next spring came and on my first session back, I believe it was an Easter bank holiday, I had set myself up just off a group of lily pads, with a few pellets and boilies scattered around the edge of the pads. I was using a simple bottom bait rig with an extra-long hair, with 2 20mm boilies slightly separated so that they could move independently on the hair. I find that this minimises the chance of catching bream, and hasalways has worked for me. My hooklink was made from Gardner Sly Skin, in the silt colour, with the hair stripped of the coating for flexibility, and I was using a size 4 Mugga Continental hook (the only hook for river carp).
What I can remember from that evening and night, was it was very warm and muggy, so I was sleeping on the ground on top of my sleeping bag. I was rudely awoken by a one toner at about 2 in the morning, my first run on the complex. After a short but explosive fight, where I learnt very quickly how powerful these fish were, I lost it in the pads! I was gutted.
I went back to my sleeping bag and just laid there hoping for another chance. A couple of hours passed and then there was another one toner, but this time I was knew what I was up against. An epic battle ensued, and it took me 20 minutes to subdue my first carp from the lake. By the time I had her in the net it was dawn and wow what a dawn. After 45 nights, I had my first carp from a lake that has always held a special place in my heart. It was 21lb exactly and this meant more to me than any other carp than I had ever caught before. On top of that it was probably the best looking common I have ever caught. That morning was something else. As I wound my rods in, I could see splashing in the edges. The carp were beginning to spawn, and I was privileged to witness hundreds of river carp coming into the lakes to spawn. It was truly incredible.
That morning was the start of something truly special for me, as there was possibly only 6-10 anglers fishing for carp on the whole complex, and none of them were doing any real time, so every time I went I basically had it all to myself.
The next 5 seasons were really special, and I only ever fished the place in the spring. I had over 70 different carp out and my targets came and went, but the real target that I really wanted was a 30lb common and 30lb mirror from the lakes. These are river carp, so a 30lb river carp is a truly special creature.
All the time I spent down there was idyllic, though the wildlife certainly liked to keep me on my toes, especially the muntjac deer who loved to bark in the middle of the night, normally right behind my brolly. They’re as scary as hell when they do that! I loved listening to fox cubs playing in the distance, and I even had a pure black rabbit come visit me sometimes, which was my good luck charm. In the mornings there were no need for an alarm to wake me up as every morning, as dawn broke, a robin would come and sit on my bucket and start singing. In return I would give him a bit of bread or something as a thank you.
The fish in this lake had never really been fished for, apart from the occasional angler who wanted to have a go, so they were pretty easy to catch in the end once I knew what they wanted; and what they wanted was bait, loads of it! At the start of every campaign I would start by putting in a couple of kilos of 20mm boilies every other day, and I would do this for 2 weeks before I even considered starting to fish. Even when I was fishing, I would always put a kilo in at the end of every session, to keep them visiting the spots and build their confidence. Angling wise I would try and fish twice a week and it seemed to work as I had some amazing captures, including a 27.12 ghostie which came on a particularly dark night and I didn’t have a clue what the white creature was I was fighting!
My fishing took an unexpected turn for the better when I finally got permission to fish one of the out of bounds areas closer to the river, where it was extremely snaggy and full of lily pads. This was where I would do a bit of my summer angling for them as I had already seen quite a few fish in this area over the years.
One of the days that sticks out most vividly in my memory, was the day I had one of my targets. I had learnt that this particular area was a feeding spot that the nomadic river carp visited in the late afternoon/evening time, after hanging about in the area just sunbath during the day. I always made sure to get down there about 2 in the afternoon, to chuck in a load of bait ready for the evening spell. I only ever fished this spot when everything was right and I wouldn’t put too much pressure on the fish, as it was only between 2 to 3ft deep and crystal clear. That evening I had taken a single rod, a net, a rucksack and an unhooking mat, which was really everything I needed to fish this very tight area. I set my trap and sat on the edge of an overhanging branch. These fish had got used to me sitting and watching in the evenings, so they were not scared at all by my presence. I had about 3 fish come in and take a mouthful of bait, then they carried on their merry way, but I could also see one just sitting on the edge of my sight, sunbathing. It looked a better fish, but I couldn’t be sure. The baited spot was about a meter away from where I was sitting, so I could see my pink pop-up in the middle of a clear area perfectly, with a few boilies scattered around it. The rig was a hinged stiff rig, made using Invisi-link for the boom section and Tripwire for the hook section. This had worked for me so many times, and the pink hookbaits always seemed to attract a bite quite quickly.
I had sat there quietly for another 5 minutes when the big shape started to move as the sun went behind a cloud, it came towards me and I saw her for the first time. It was a big, scaley mirror. My legs were hanging just above the water and I was just watching her come and have a look at my line, which was crudely placed on top of some lily pads; she even tried to mouth it to see what it was! Then she came right under my feet and my thoughts were how I would love to see her in my arms, as she really was a beautiful river carp. She carried on, moving onto my baited spot, and her head dropped, and she fed on the bait. My heart was pounding so fast, when suddenly she rocked back with a pink pop up hanging from her mouth, being blown in and out, but the hook was in. I don’t think she even know she was hooked, so I jumped up as quick as anything and then she bolted, and my reel went into melt down. Luckily, the fight was over quickly, as she didn’t know what had happened. I got her out and took photos and weighed her; 31lb exactly and I was over the moon. One target achieved.
My second target came, whilst on a social with a friend. I was trying to show him the ropes on the place and trying to get him to catch a few. I was starting to lose my love for the place, as people had started to turn up and I no longer had the place to myself, which was selfish of me, but that’s fishing, and nothing lasts forever. The night in question was a cold night in April, and it was my first night on there for about a year. I fancied a social, so we decided on our swims and within a few hours my mate had a nice common in his net. Then at 11PM he had another run and was greeted by a small mirror. Then at 2 in the morning he lost one. By this point I questioned what I was doing wrong. I had baited both areas as normal and I had put the same rigs out as always. It’s strange how you question everything, even though you’ve done the same thing hundreds of times before. I had a recast and everything was fine, I checked the hooks and baits, and all was well, so I went back to my brolly and fell asleep. Suddenly, I was woken up in the morning by a run. I fought the fish and she gave herself up into my gaping net and when I looked down into the mesh it was a huge common! My luck had come through. We carefully weighed her, and she was 32lb 12oz! Perfect, second and final target achieved.
This was the last time I fished the lakes, due to moving away and the fact that I had completed what I had set out to do all those years previously. In conclusion, I had some amazing carp fishing there and I hope to fish there again in the future. These lakes will always be part of my life as I took my wife down there for walks when we were first dating, I proposed to her and even we got our wedding photos done down there. It truly is a special place.