So, back in January I had started to make my plans for the spring ahead. Now Burghfield was always going to be my main focus for the year ahead, but after photographing the Baby Black mirror back in the autumn, at 49lb, it had given me the itch to go back and catch the Baby Black before Burghfield really woke up. Bearing in mind the 2 lakes are right next to each other it meant that I could keep in tune with the both.

Now there is a saying “never count your chickens before they hatch”, and as we all know a worldwide pandemic started and the country was put in to lockdown, which psychologically the whole country had to deal with and it proved to be very difficult times for some people. Of course, it was good to spend time with the family, but it certainly put things into perspective and how much we take for granted in life.

During lockdown I stayed in contact with some good close mates, sharing our plans for the season ahead. Unfortunately, a big part of those plans changed very quickly, due to some pretty stupid reasons really, but morals are morals and I felt that I had to stand by mine. To be frank, I was a bit disheartened by the whole thing but luckily I had my good mate, Nigel, urging me to crack on and just forget about the whole ordeal, so I was now left with fishing for the Baby Black, which in all fairness it’s not a bad second best!

After all the negativity was pushed aside, we were finally nearing the restrictions being lifted, so a trip to Reading was being planned with my son. It was a chance to have a reccie and see how busy the home of the BBM was going to be, what with everyone rushing to get out angling after being cooped up for all those weeks.

Luckily, the club had made a very good move by initiating a 48 hours on and 48 hours off rule which gave everyone a chance to get out; and it meant the swims would have a quick turn over, which was perfect so after a night on another of the clubs waters I could see that next week I could return to start the campaign for the Baby Black and have a very good chance of getting on fish if I picked the right day to return.

It had been 3 seasons since I had been back and I had shared some info with some good friends and they had all had their own special moments with Baby Black, the only thing I had concerns about was going to be the chance of repeat captures, which for me is one thing I hate, but I had no choice. This time round I was going to stop at nothing, that carp had to be mine!

I returned before first light and walked the pit, I had this amazing buzz about me, which had been missing for a while. I could see where the other anglers were and it soon became very apparent that the fish were held up out in no man’s land, a quick look at what the weather was doing and I knew the fish would turn up in one of the bays. I jumped in a swim, which is one that I had done a lot of time in because the other bay was often very busy.

I knew very well it was going to be a blank before I got started but it gave me a chance to see how the campaign was going to go. At midday I was up a tree watching a couple of fish, I had a call to say they were spawning in the other bay and all the fish were round the other side. I laughed to myself as I saw the Baby Black glide past me under the tree and head to a clay spot where she flanked on the bottom. That trip showed me what I already knew, but it gave me even more confidence on how I was going to catch this carp quick with all the knowledge I had accrued about this fish. I only did the one night this time round.

When I arrived home, I knew that everyone was fishing braided mainline so I decided to strip all my braid off as I believed braid could potentially cost me bites. Instead I spooled up with Gardner’s 20lb Hydro Tuff, you could metaphorically pull a tree out the ground with this mono, and as well as being strong and resilient to punishment it sinks like a brick.

My bait was an easy choice as my confidence in the Mainline Cell and Hybrid combo I could catch any carp swimming, so a bucket of boilies were coated in Cell and Hybrid Activators and left to soak plus a bucket of hemp and crushed nut was prepared.

I was back 48hrs later and we were now leading up to a peak moon phase. The excitement was building, and frankly I was going crazy waiting to get started. Doing the same thing, I elected to turn up before first light, see where the other anglers were and then find the fish. Low and behold the fish were doing their usual, showing long out in the middle. I wandered round to The Point to see when the angler in there was leaving and there was already another mate camped up behind him waiting to get in there; desperate times I suppose. I knew the lad waiting to get in the point could definitely reach the fish out long where they were showing, so after a quick bit of small talk off, I went and sat in a swim that gave me a good chance of seeing where they were showing.

Fish after fish were showing, but I knew that when he started chucking his lead 160 yards the fish were going to move. Just then I saw a very subtle show out the corner of my eye at 50 yards. I was almost in disbelief, but I knew I had to act quick before the rest of the fish turned up, because when Mr Big-Chuck starts throwing his leads at them, they wouldn’t be staying put for long.

I was getting my kit sorted and the Tench were going crazy. I chucked a bare lead in the area where I had seen them showing earlier and found that I got a very nice firm donk through the eel grass, a bit further left, and the spot was found. A quick 6 Spombs of bait put on the spot and 2 rods with simple Mirage D-rigs Cell cork dust wafters attached and I was fishing.

A mate popped in for a catch up and we were watching the zone and the Tench were showing all over the spot, he said to me “you’re going to catch one”. I laughed and replied, “I might even get lucky and catch one that I haven’t had before”.

That evening we watched leads being launched into no man’s land, followed by Spombs full of bait. I sat back and rubbed my hands with a wry smile on my face.

At 10AM the next morning, the middle rod pulled up tight and sounded the war cry; it was time to get the waders on sharpish. Straight away, I knew it was a good fish and it was now heading towards a buoy, so the brakes were put on and the fish steered towards the waiting net. I quickly waded back to the swim, rung a mate for assistance with some help but he was miles away. I had a look in the net whilst talking to him and he asked, “which fish is it?”. I looked again, and I was a bit gutted as I thought it was The Long Fish. In fact, I very nearly unhooked it and let it straight out the net as it would have been a repeat. As I was doing this I explained to him and he said “check the dorsal”, and as I looked I soon realised it was the Big Leather which without doubt as good (and some say better) than the Baby Black, and it was bigger than I had ever seen it!

I hate having swims full of people when I have a fish on the bank, I like minimal fuss. Just get the pictures done and get the fish back. I rang Sharpy, and I was honestly buzzing as I was telling him what I had in the retainer.

He had some visitors doing some filming and I was a bit nervous when he said they were on their way to help but I can say one thing it was a pleasure to have them there to help and get things done with the minimal amount of fuss and a true big carp buzz, so a big shout to those two for the pictures and footage.

With the fish returned safely we had a bit of chat about the capture, and I spoke a bit about my plans and told them the Baby Black was next. In fact, I even predicted the time window that it would get caught in! I probably came across a bit arrogant, but when you know a place that well and you know the target that well too your confidence is going to be sky high and with these things sorted in my head nothing was going to stop me!

I still had another night on the lake, but the pit became very busy and the weed was proving a challenge for the angler who had decided to go right in between me and another angler, so I knew the moment had passed, but I still stayed the night in the hope that the fish stayed in the zone but they didn’t. I walked the pit before leaving and I took the opportunity to spread a couple of kilos of bait with the throwing stick into a quiet area further down the pit, so at least I knew that I had a couple of options on my return in 48hrs…

…to be continued

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