I had already been lucky enough to have one incredible session on the Church, landing 13 fish and some of the lake’s biggest carp to boot. I was sure it was just a one-off trip, one where the stars had aligned and everything simply fell into place. Those sorts of sessions don’t happen often on the Church, or anywhere, so I knew I must have fallen on some carp and got the tactics right.
There are only 90-odd carp in the lake, so to hook over 10% of the stock in one trip was pretty surreal. The following week the weather had gone bad and it was really quiet. It was good carp fishing weather, but the cooler winds and not being able to get on the fish made the stay a quiet one. On my third trip though, the weather had turned and it was warm again. I knew the fish would be visiting the plateau, which was the area that I had caught from on my original trip. Unfortunately though, the swim was on lockdown since those captures and I just couldn’t get back in there. The guy fishing it was off in a couple of days though, so it meant fishing elsewhere and waiting for my chance to get back in there.
I decided to set up opposite and keep an eye on proceedings, willing to sacrifice some rod hours just to watch the water. For two days I watched the fish show all over the area. Early on the second morning the chap was packing up. I had already folded the kit down, extra early, and wrapped all the rods to the marks, balanced the pop-up rigs and was ready to go the moment he left.
I got in the swim and both rods went out perfectly. I put just a couple of spombs of my Manilla mix out there and within five-minutes one of the rods was away. Not two minutes after landing that one, the remaining rod was away, resulting in a brace of 30s. Little did I know what was to follow over the remainder of my allotted time there but it turned out to be another one of those incredible moments in fishing, and over the next few nights I managed to catch a further 13 fish.
Amongst them were some really special ones too – the biggest being Hercules at over 48lb. I also had a fish known as the Little Leather at over 39lb, which is my biggest leather carp to date and what a stunning creature it was too. The pick of the bunch for me though, was an old Longfield common, known as Thick Tail. I know that Horton is known for its big fish and, believe me, there are a lot of big fish in the lake nowadays, but the older ones really are something else – ancient creatures that have been around for years and so to catch one was such a buzz.
I had fished the same tactics as before, with no rocket science involved – just hinge rigs over the silkweed and a little top-up on the spot after every fish with a few spombs of mixed-sized Manilla and a few broken baits. It just kept working and some of the bites came soon after baiting, so if it went quiet for a few hours, I would put a bit more bait out and it often tempted a bite.
The lake was becoming increasingly busy and before long a bucket-game started, insomuch as people were now putting their names in the mix for a particular swim, long before it was available. I couldn’t get anywhere near the fish for the next couple of trips as a result and it was to be a few weeks after that, that I could get back on them in the same area.
Amazingly, the fish were still spending a lot of time on that shallow plateau and, having bided my time, I nipped back in there. Knowing the swim so well, it was a simple process getting the rods out and it didn’t take long to get back in the action. It was crazy – a true example of needing to be on the fish, as that trip I had another ten bites, with four fish over 40lb, the biggest being Scar at 48lb 12oz. As silly as it sounds, it was frustrating that the fish only really wanted to be there, as I was getting known as a bit of a one-swim wonder. It didn’t help the following week, when I got back in there again and had another six too, topped by Spotty at 49lb 14oz and Buddha at just over 47lb. At the end of that session, the fish started spawning and they shut the swims where the fish were getting on with their annual ritual.
I decided to leave the lake alone for three weeks, giving them a bit of a break and catching up with a heap of work. It had been an incredible spring and one that I never thought I would have. I couldn’t wait to get back down and prayed they would be happy to venture around the lake a lot more.
On my first trip back, I found some fish at the opposite end of the lake in an area called Dog Bay. It was in a swim known as the Slope, and there were a good few fish just lazing around in the weed and cruising at various ranges out in front of the swim. I dropped my bucket down and went off to get the gear, looking forward to trying for some carp with a change of scenery, away from The Plateau. After a brief lead about, I found a nice area in front that gave a good drop on the rod, with a bit of silkweed coming back on the lead, perfect for the hinges. I got everything sorted and by the end of that trip I’d caught three fish, with two twenties and a repeat capture of Fingers, the biggest fish in the lake. It wasn’t ideal, being a repeat, but it meant that I had caught a few fish from another swim and it slowed down the banter getting thrown my way!
I was back the following week and there still seemed to be a big group of carp in the Dog Bay. I couldn’t get back in the Slope, but I could get in the Gate Swim that accessed a similar slice of water, without interfering with any other angler’s fishing. It was a warm, calm day and with the fish cruising around, I decided to chance my arm at some floater fishing. They took the floaters with confidence and I soon had a hookbait cast among the feeding fish. With that, a common’s lips poked through the surface film, engulfed the whittled down pop-up and I was in. It was great fun on the floater tackle and it turned out to be one of the Longfield commons known as Reggie.
I got the rods out on the bottom for the night and caught a cracking 37lb mirror, followed by a scaly stocky. It was a warm but successful trip and to keep catching a few was a great feeling and I felt one step closer to my ultimate reward, which was the Woodcarving.
My tactics had remained the same throughout, lead clips with hinges and I would adjust the boom depending on how bad the weed was that I was fishing over. The beauty of the chopped freebies was that they would sit on top of any light weed and so would my critically balanced pop-up.
The following week I had seen a few fish in the weedy bay and caught three twenties, close in to a channel in the weed. I was finding the carp quite easy to locate for a number of reasons. If I turned up on a Sunday, the busiest area of the lake is where the bulk of the fish were, but with it being warm, they would often be cruising about or giving off a good display at dawn.
On my next trip, I turned up on the Sunday and the weedy bay was the first place that I looked. As soon as I walked up to it, I could see fish straight away. I plonked the bucket down, but I wanted to still do my lap of the lake. I trotted round looking to see if there was a better opportunity and I continued round to the Church Bay. It is an odd area because it never has big numbers of fish or the larger mirrors, but, if you do see fish in there, it is usually one or more of the older fish. The first poke-hole I looked in, I could see a common feeding on a spot right in the edge. I would say that 90% of the commons in the Church are the Longfield ones, so I knew it was a good chance that I was looking at one. I carried on walking around and at the last little poke-hole, near a swim known as Phil’s Corner I could see two fish grubbing around on the gravelly margins, right up the marginal slope, with their tails lopping out the water.
It was really shady under there, so I was straining for a better look at the fish. It took a few minutes to work out which ones they were. I ascertained one of them was Black Tail, while the other one kept circling the area. As it swam along, it reached a beam of light coming through the trees and my eyes were met by a full, linear set of armour plated scales – it was the one I wanted, the Woodcarving. I had joined the lake, not only for the amount of big carp it held, but for the slim chance of getting close with what I see as one of the real history fish that England has left from the period while I was growing up. I had read about it for years and to finally see the ‘Carving’ feeding made me a nervous wreck.
I walked back round to grab my bucket, desperately trying not to make it too obvious of my hasty move. I got back to the swim to secure it, but the Woodcarving wasn’t there. I bumped into Vince, the head bailiff, while I was round at the lodge and I had explained to him what I had seen. He just told me to hurry up and catch it, which was sound and optimistic advice.
Luckily, I had been bringing my baiting pole with me for such a moment, knowing that the Woodcarving often gets caught close in, and this was my opportunity. I could have fished from the poke-hole, but I wanted to set a trap from the swim with one rod and sit it out. Every fish I had caught that season was on my hinge rigs, but with the spot being in shallow water, over a clean, gravelly bottom, I wanted to fish something a little subtler. I knocked up a slip-D rig and trimmed a Manilla wafter down to the point that I was happy with its look and buoyancy. I had also caught most of my fish on White Manilla pop-ups, but in this instance, I went for a match the hatch bait.
The Woodcarving would circle the bay, but Black Tail would not leave the spot. It was approaching dusk and I was losing the light. I had to flick a couple of small pebbles on the spot to move Black Tail off in the end, and thankfully it worked – it waddled off slowly and not too disturbed.
I very carefully dropped the rig, shipping the pole out to the spot. It was slightly down the shelf on a flat and polished-off area. I had a piece of foam on the rig and after I had dropped it, I ran around to it, to see how it was sitting. By the time I got there the lead was perfect and the foam nugget popped off, kicking everything away nicely. I then dotted a few broken boilies around the area, not baiting too tightly and the trap was set.
That night was still, very warm and muggy. I couldn’t sleep, not only because of the conditions but also due to the anticipation of catching one of those special old carp. Hours of broken sleep had passed, when the alarm finally went off and the rod sprung round just as it was getting light. The fight was short, but I could tell it was a good fish. In my head I thought it could be one of the two and I nervously landed a carp in the half light. I flicked the torch on and there it was – the Woodcarving – in all its glory. The weight was an irrelevant 38lb-ish, but to hold it in my arms was a special moment and one that I will forever cherish. I felt that the way I caught it had made my season, that moment eclipsing all the others.
After catching that one we went for breakfast and a few beers. I moved swims when I got back, this time to the Weedy Bay, and I managed to nick a low-20. The following week ended up being my last trip to the lake. I fished on a shallow hump, with a warm wind hacking down to the swim. I got a bite during the early morning and it was a low-30. I had to really think about things though. I had caught 55 fish all told, including all the 40s bar one, as well as the biggest fish in the lake. I wondered why I was still there and, after catching that 30-pounder, I actually packed up and moved to Kingsmead One, saying goodbye to a lake that had been so kind to me.