I spent January making my plans and getting all my gear ready, with new lines on all my spools, bait ordered, and plans made. By the end of the month I was really fired up, even more so when I heard a strong rumour of a very big fish coming from a local water that I already had a ticket for. I’d fished the other lakes on the ticket, but had held back on this one for some reason. I had a few walks round, but it was apparent, that as with everywhere, it was pretty badly flooded. Being so close to the Thames it was probably worse than others, and only one bank was fishable, the rest of it was over ankle deep all round. I didn’t let that put me off, as it was small enough that you could reach all of it in any case. I did half a dozen nights through February, but it was cold and the lake was still lifeless, still in proper winter mode. I never saw a sign of a fish. I enjoyed it though, and it was exciting to fish somewhere new, that was nice and close to home.

The first week of March was when I saw my first fish, as late one night I heard one crash out in the darkness, and the following morning another showed in a snaggy corner. That same week the level had dropped so much, it was possible to walk round the entire lake. It was all building nicely, and then the lockdown came! It was frustrating, but in the scheme of what was happening in the world, far less important.

During the lockdown I got the news I had been waiting a long time for, I was offered a ticket on an Essex lake that I had been desperate to get in for some time. I had been guested over there a couple of times over the years, so I knew what to expect. I paid for my ticket and couldn’t wait for lockdown to end. It was May before it did, and I had heard the Essex lake was busy, so my first trip was to a Kent water which I had also just got into. It had a booking on system so at least I knew I was fishing when I got there. I was extra excited, as for the first time in at least 10 years I had changed bait. Essential had recently released the new K5, and Mike had kindly sent me down some to try. I have used the famous B5 for so long, but it was exciting to get on something new early, and being a krill-based mix, it was a lovely light brown colour and smelt awesome. Sadly, it didn’t start too well, as let’s just say the Kent lake wasn’t for me, and after one night I was packing up at 6am, and on the M25 heading for Essex. I had another night left, and when I got to the lake there was only one other car there. It was hot, with the temperature in the mid 20s even that early, so I left all my kit in the car and went for a look round.

The weed was well up, and I could see big weed beds all over, with a large amount only just under the surface. The lake was shallow anyway, and the water clear, all pointing to it becoming savage as the summer went on. I’d only been there 10 mins when I found a group of fish in one corner. They we feeding on a shallow bar right in front of a swim, in what I guessed to be about two feet of water. There were 5 commons up to mid 20, and a single grey coloured mirror that looked in the upper 30s. As I watched they would drift over the sandy bar, tip down and feed before slowly moving off. They never went far though, and were soon back and feeding! That was enough for me, and I raced back to the car to get my gear. I was a sweating blob when I got back to the swim, but the fish were still there. I quickly put together a single rod, with a 5oz in line lead fished drop off style, with the Camflex leader looped over the lead, a size 4 mugga with a single K5 bottom bait. It was difficult to get the rod in though, as the fish were still there, and seemed less likely to even want to move off. The disappointing thing was the big mirror wasn’t there anymore, but eventually I was able to flick the bait out underarm on to one end of the bar. I put in a dozen or so 12mm baits and sat as far back as I could, not daring to look. It only took 5 mins and the buzzer was screaming as the fish took off in the shallow water, hard to the left towards some trees in the corner. I played it firmly with this in mind, and when I had it in front, was pleased to see it was the grey coloured mirror that I thought had gone! At just under 39lb it was a great start on somewhere new, and a fast one at that!

It still looked good for another chance, and as the day wore on the odd fish started to come back in. I put a second rod out, with one on each end of the bar, and baited up between them. Being so close in, also right in front of the swim, I stayed back under the brolly. That day I had 3 more takes, a tench and 2 low 20 commons. It was exciting fishing, and the next morning I had another decent common with a touch of ghostie in. It was a great way to start and I couldn’t wait to get back.

I was back up the following week, and once again found fish sat out more in the middle in some of the thicker weed. I could see the banks of weed, but could also make out a couple of darker areas that I hoped may be clear, between the walls of weed. With just a light lead and kinetic marker braid on, I had a few casts. The right-hand spot was especially clear, and I even got the gentle tapping of gravel, but the spot straight out was tiny, a foot either side hardly went down at all, and when I hit it, I didn’t dare pull back at all, just had confidence in the firm thud I got when the lead hit bottom. That was two rods sorted, and I wrapped them up and made a note in my phone. The swim was tight, with a bank of reeds across the front, and just enough room to poke the two rods through. That week I had spooled up with the new Mirage Platinum fluorocarbon, and being a massive fan of Mirage, I could see this line was superb, soft, strong and with excellent casting abilities. With the shallow clear water, I wanted as much line sunk down as possible, as I knew line lay over the weed was going to become more and more tricky. I knew the fluorocarbon would sink into the weed, helping disguise it more, and with the swans’ present, hopefully stop them wiping me out! I’d learnt from my first trip that the fish seemed up for a bit of bait, so my plan was to put a decent amount straight in, and just top it up after that with smaller amounts. To that end I set to work, putting out a good hit between the two spots, some crushed bait, 12 and 16 mms, before I cast out my rods, this time both with pop ups on. I had two takes that trip, one sadly shedding the hook after finding the heavy weed, and the other an upper 20 common.

Both bites came from the tiny silty spot, whilst the right-hand rod on the gravel didn’t give a bleep, even though I was sure I had seen fish over it. I liked this area of the lake, it was less fished, and with the heavy weed around, an area no one else could get near from any other swim. I gave it another couple of kilos before I left, and again began counting the days until I could return.

I was back a week later, and to be honest I went straight back into the swim from the last trip. It was an easy decision, as with one cast of a lead I found the tiny spot to the left was now far bigger! The bait had done its magic, and within an hour I had a 22lb mirror on the bank. I had 3 more too, including a dark 36 lb mirror that was my only take from the right gravel spot.

By now the weed was seriously taking hold, and with that fish I only had a few bleeps, and upon picking the rod up it was solid from the outset. Luckily, there are several boats available for extracting weedy fish, and after getting above it, clearing huge rafts of weed from my line, eventually I managed to net it, only a few feet from where I had originally hooked it in the first place.

It sounds funny, but I wanted to learn more of the lake, so decided that I would try some new areas in an effort to get more familiar with it all. However, I knew my original swim would still be good for a few more bites and indeed, after I vacated a friend Dan went in and had a couple of great results. There were several new areas that I fancied, but they were all in the weedier end of the lake. I avoided the popular swims, and enjoyed the challenge of finding spots in the less fished ones.

Bait was key on there, and by mid-August I had already used something in the region of 70 kilos of the new K5, and was back on the phone to Essential for more! I had learnt the bigger fish seemed to prefer the silt, and I had made some rig changes to my favourite stiff hinge in order to try to get one of the bigger ones. My rigs had worked well, but I seemed to get on a run of smaller stockies. By now the weed was covering the surface. I began fishing a little margin swim, and took a couple of commons from here on nice underarm placed rigs in little holes in the weed. Even at that range I was still out in the boat for them.

One week I found fish in a central area of the lake, again in the thick weed, but in a swim I’d not fished before. I leaded it for a while as it was tricky to find anything I liked, but eventually I had 3 baits fishing. Even with the fluorocarbon on I had at least 15 yards of line strung over the top of the weed on the surface, but there was nothing I could do about it, except be satisfied my last few feet were pinned down.

The lake seemed quieter that week, with very little showing, and I always find August to be a difficult month, with both the weed up and angling pressure taking its toll. At 4pm I had a take on one of the rods, the bobbin pulling up and the rod tip nodding up and down as the fish tried to take line from the locked-up spool. I was using Covert Chod Safety Clips to discharge the lead, and fishing locked up this way immediately made the fish come up to the top. It felt decent and kept coming back through the weed as I kept constant pressure on. This fooled me, as any minute I expected it to become stuck, then the next thing I knew it was wallowing in the margin in front, and I quickly found my net and scooped it up. It was a cracker too, 44lb of dark leather and one I had seen a photo of years before, prompting me to find out where it was from. I did some self takes with no one around, and that proved to be my only action of the session. [INSERT IMAGE 9]

The next few trips I fished a local lake, just doing single nights as the weather was scorching. I enjoyed it though, and in 3 nights I caught 8, the best an old looking 32 lb common, all on quick overnights when I would be on the way home by 0900.

In mid-September I had a week on Spitfire Pool in Norfolk. I was really looking forward to this, as although I had been up there before and seen the pool, I’d never fished it. I was with my friend Adam, and one night during the week was my birthday. That night we sat with the owner Rich and had a big Indian takeaway, watching the sun set over the pool, it was truly superb, and a special birthday treat.

The lake is awesome, and unlike anywhere I’ve ever fished before. It had a magic about it, and being able to see the fish most of the time, super exciting. I fished well that week, and felt I was close a couple of times. It is mega tricky though, but the prize is so great it makes it all an amazing experience, but one that has to be earned. I don’t think you could ever fluke one out of there! To round off a great week my good friend Jim Hepper phoned one morning with the news he had caught the baby black at over 50lb, indeed it was still in his landing net! We celebrated that too and I can’t wait for next year’s week already.

After that I was back to Essex, and carried on having action most trips. In fact it wasn’t until October I had my first blank. The fish became more localised, and I persisted in an area, only as it had form for producing the big one in autumns past. I was right, as my friend Lee had it from there at over 50lb, a fantastic and deserved result. I had a couple more 20 lb commons, but one week in early November the lake flooded, putting paid to my plans on there until next year. It was here that I had met fellow GT angler Jim Chisnall for the first time, who became a good friend as well as being a like-minded angler to share ideas with.

Whilst I was disappointed with the flooding so early, the timing did work, as I had kindly been offered a winter ticket on Mustang Lake, next door to Spitfire, and I was keen to get up there before the harsh weather arrived. That takes me pretty much up to the end of the year. I’ve done 3 trips to Mustang, without success as yet, but I have seen some of the huge fish on the bank, it truly is the lake of giants. It is tricky though, but each trip has found me tweaking a few things and leaving encouraged that I’m getting closer! I think so anyway.

One bite will make my winter, I know it!
Be lucky and a Happy New Year, Rick Golder