St. Ives is a picturesque nine-lake complex, that offers everything that any carp angler could ever want. Within the beautiful complex of lakes, there is Andersons, Fjords, Ivo, Long Reach, Lowries, Meadow, Shallow, Tricor and the large and unspoilt water, that is the legendary St Ives Lagoon.
St. Ive’s itself is a venue steeped in carp angling history, and is home to some stunning original big carp that have grown up to the 50lb+ bracket, a stock that also include a few very elusive up and coming fish which have barely seen the bank. In fact, ever since I saw Dave Lane holding the awesome ‘Fat Lady’ I always dreamt about fishing St Ives Lagoon, and having a go for the magical fish that lurk beneath its surface.
After having my name on the waiting list for around about a year, I got the phone call from Big Gordon to inform me that if I wanted a ticket it was mine. At the time I was still chasing a fish at Manor Farm in Essex, named ‘The Annie’. However, I knew that if I turned the ticket down then the opportunity may not come up again for some time, so I decided to purchase a ticket and put it on the back burner. As luck would have it, ‘The Annie’ came my way a few months later, but I did not want to start on St Ives in the depths of winter, so I fished elsewhere until the following February.
Although I was really excited and looking forward to starting there, I must admit I was also a little nervous. I had never fished a water with such low stock, and this prospect caused me to doubt my own ability. During the winter months I had done a lot of homework on the Lagoon, spending many days and hours just walking around and having a really good plumb about, methodically noting down as many spots, areas and depths as I knew this would stand me in good stead when the weed took hold of the lake later in the year. This way, if I saw fish in a certain swim, I had a really good idea of where to present my baits. I could simply walk them out to the required distances and get the rods cast out with minimum fuss and disturbance.
I spent the first few trips really trying to get to grips with the lake and trying to move onto any signs. The lake was very busy, and it seemed that there were a few guys that were pretty much full-time. However, the ‘Fat Lady’ was a typical greedy big fish and she liked her grub. She was also predictable, and I knew if I could get into the right areas, at the right time, with my style of fishing I had a good chance of capturing her. I did a lot of research and looked at her past captures and worked out that she preferred certain moon phases to others. Although, I couldn’t pick the days I fished, I could pick the time I took off as leave, so based this around the good times.
There was a really friendly atmosphere on the lake that year. I knew a lot of the faces already; Sean Leverette, Johnny Mac, and one of my oldest friends Alex Preston and I was also lucky enough to meet some great anglers, which have continued to be good friends to this day. This was a big advantage, as we seem to have our own little click, and even when I wasn’t fishing it felt like I was there, as I never missed a thing (well may be a few sightings!).
It was late May before I had my first break through. I remember coming back to my swim after popping round to the opposite bank to see a mate and there in front of me was at least six or seven fish, all milling around. I decided to catapult out a pouch full of mixers and almost immediately one disappeared, then another, then another. Pretty soon I had them pac-man’ing the mixers. Was I really on St. Ives??
As I always carry my floater rod, I was ready to go straight away and seized the opportunity. I flicked out a mixer, way beyond the fish and slowly teased it back into the pack. It could only have been seconds, as I saw my mixer disappear and the controller float went skating across the surface. I lifted into the fish and it started to tear line off my spool. My heart was in my mouth and all I could think about, was I’ve just f**king hooked my first St Ives fish! Please, please don’t come off.
After a few heart stopping moments, the fish buried its head in one weed bed, followed by another… By this time, I was in the lake up to my waist and Sean had kindly grabbed the net and jumped in too. With firm pressure I eventually managed to get the better of the fish and get its head up, as Sean expertly slipped the net under the fish. On the scales it went 28lb 2oz, and was a fish known as ‘The Leather’.
To say I was happy with my first one from the venue was an understatement; but there was no time to rest as they were still taking the mixers. A new rig was tied and flicked back out into the pond, along with a few more pouches of mixers. It wasn’t long before I hooked my second St Ives carp, they are like buses it would seem!! This one didn’t put up as much of a fight as the first fish, however I did not care, as after doing the hard bit I just wanted to get it in the net. I don’t think that my underpants could take no more. This one was a lovely clean Common of 23lb 10oz.
After that fine brace I did have one further chance that afternoon. I had been up a tree watching which fish were lurking around my swim, and to the far right I could just see a fish. This was one known as ‘The Big Common’ and would usually be a mid-high 30lb’er. I slowly got down from the tree, and due to the fact that the fish was well close in, I perched myself behind some reeds. Carefully, I flicked out three or four mixers, and after a short while one got taken. It was a bit of a slow affair getting her to take the mixers, but after a while she too was slurping them down. I decided for this one I would only free line a mixer and got it out bang on the money first flick. With the hookbait in place I sat and watched with my heart beating faster and faster, as one mixer after another they were disappearing into a great big set of lips. The next one was mine, and just as the lips re-appeared within a split second of taking my mixer I felt a hand on my shoulder and someone shouted “the pig’s in your swim, the pig’s in your swim”. With this there was a huge eruption as the fish spooked and swim off at the rate of knots, taking pretty much everything with it.
I just sat there with my head in my hands, absolutely gutted at what had just happened. For a while was really pissed off, but I couldn’t really blame him, as he was genuinely trying to help me out. After sitting there sulking, I pulled myself together and decided that I should be happy with what I’d just caught, and there would be other chances.
Shortly after catching my first two St. Ives Carp, they spawned, and we all decided to give them a rest for a while. It wasn’t long after we returned that I got the phone call from my good friend Sean, that he had indeed bagged the ‘Fat Lady’. I must admit, that when I heard my phone ring and saw Sean’s name at 4 o’clock in the morning, I just knew! I was in two minds whether to give it a rest for a while after his capture but decided that being the greedy pig that she is, she could quite easily slip up again.
I arrived back at the lake on a Thursday morning, just two days after Sean’s capture. The conditions were absolutely perfect, with strong winds and low pressure. I just knew she would be feeding. The only problem was that the conditions were looking really good for a swim called ‘Fatties’, which was one of her favourites, and appropriately named. I sort of overlooked it, as she had only been out of there two days previously. In hindsight I should have gone with head, but went with my heart, and set up in the swim next-door. My friend Alex was coming down for the weekend, to have a good social and so he set up in ‘fatties’ next-door. Twelve hours later, he was cradling the ‘Fat Lady’. Although I was really happy for him, I beat myself up for weeks for not following my instincts. The rest of the season was uneventful, with no further bites coming my way. Yet, I did get to witness the ‘Fat Lady’ fulfilling people’s dreams!
For my second season on the Lagoon, I felt up for it and planned to put everything I had learnt from my first season to good use.
It was a warm sunny morning in early April, but instead of being up at the crack of dawn driving down to St Ives, I was on my way to St Albans. You see I had been a bit of a naughty boy and had been caught speeding, so had to attend a driver’s speed awareness course. To be honest I don’t think that I took too much in, as the four hours felt like four days, and all I could think about was getting to the pond. Eventually, I arrived at the lake having maybe gone a bit too fast in my eagerness to get there. I’d learnt nothing!!!
The lake was busy with quite a few people sat behind static rods. It was a really hot afternoon, so I decided to go for a little bowl about to see if I could find them mooching around on the top. As I climbed a tall tree in an area known as Silty Corner, I nearly fell straight back down – as pretty much the whole stock of the lake (bar the ‘Fat Lady’) was quite happily lazing around. One of them was behaving differently to the rest, moving around sucking in bits of the surface. It was the ‘Pig’!
I sat up watching for a while; she was covering an area about the size of a tennis court. Almost in a circle, disappearing under the trees and re-emerging out in open water. I ran back to the van, to get my floater kit – doing my best not to give the game away. Back in the swim I flicked out a couple of mixers and almost straight away they were taken. They were so close in I decided I only needed to free line a hook bait. I waited until the fish disappeared under the trees and watched a couple of fish re-emerge and start coming straight towards me. Now was my chance!
I quickly flicked the mixer out and teased it bank in line with where they were heading. As they neared the larger back, that was coming straight inline for it, disappeared and a great big set of lips came up, and then almost in slow motion took it. Then all hell broke loose. On the scales the Pig was a couple of oz’s short of 40lb and I was well pleased. Ten days later we were to meet again, this time I caught her ‘off the bottom’ from a totally different area. I did take a weight of 40lb 8oz, but didn’t bother with photos, as I saw little point in stressing the fish unnecessarily, especially as the first round of photos were bang on.
Late May was soon upon us, and I had just started my leave period of three weeks of holiday. I was down fishing and visited my mate Rich, who was next-door fishing ‘The Lawn’. Together we both witnessed the ‘Fat Lady’ show on four consecutive mornings, just 40 yards out in a small clear area between two big weed beds. She was bang on the feed and was due out at anytime. I had to leave the lake the following morning, but we both decided to keep these sightings under our hats for now.
Returning a couple of days later, Rich still had a couple of days left, but had not seen any further show, since I had left. I decided to place my bucket in his swim (The Lawn), and move in behind him, if I didn’t see anything elsewhere.
When I eventually got in The Lawns, I decided that if she was going to return I would give her a feast, so a big bucket of mixed pellet, hemp, corn, tuna, chick peas and kidney beans was spombed out, along with 4kg of boilies. With the bait sorted along with my blow back rig, which was around 7-8 inches long, using a snow man hook bait, 15mm boilie and plastic corn, I settled in for the night. At around about 6AM I awoke to answer the call of nature. No sooner than I sat back down on my bed chair, I had a slow take on my right-hand rod. On lifting into the fish, I just knew it was the ‘Fat Lady’ and I shouted across to Jerry who was fishing in ‘Fatties’.
The fish just plodded around for a while and was fully in control. All of a sudden, she decided to go on a charge, straight into the big weed bed. For around five agonising long minutes, everything was locked up and I was facing up to the prospect that I’d just lost the ‘Fat Lady’. Stressed, I put the rod down on the rest for a couple of minutes and slackened off. A couple of minutes later I saw the line start to pick up again, I was back in contact! This happened a further three times, with me absolutely shitting myself the whole time. Eventually I managed to get her close enough for the net and thankfully she went in first time, so I let out a massive ‘Fat Lady’ roar. I could not quite believe I’d done it! For what it mattered she weighed in at 57lb 10oz!!
That was to be the last capture of the ‘Fat Lady’, may she RIP. When the news came through, I couldn’t help but feel sadness for my mates still left chasing her; especially Rich, as he really did deserve to catch that fish.
Here’s to the Fat Lady!