Dan Whitford returns to an old haunt
I was thinking about a boating lake that I fished many years ago, though, it was actually the smaller four-acre gravel pit sitting behind the bigger lake that was the main attraction back then, as it had a good handful of 30lb-plus fish and plenty of back-up fish. It was crystal clear, full of weed and a tricky little water. The larger boating lake next door was just a windswept pit filled with mid-double to low-twenty commons and a handful of mysterious mirrors. It was only really fished for a few bites if the little lake was busy or fishing really slow.
Things had changed! It was 10-15 years on and it couldn’t be any more different to its former glory. Both lakes had been victims of fish theft and poaching, mainly because neither was run properly as fisheries, so no bailiffs, no patrols or security at all, and it had been a free for all. The little lake was pretty much ruined; the big ’uns had died off and a couple moved to new homes, so only about a quarter of the stock remains today. The bigger boating lake had become the main attraction. This too had been a victim of theft many times, but being over 25 acres and quite open and windswept they were never going to be able to catch them all. They’d had a good go and lots of fish were taken, but the survivors had caught my attention and I was fired up ready to get back over there and fish somewhere old but new!
I already knew the fish were very mobile and followed the winds like clockwork. They liked to show themselves for fun at distances beyond reach and occasionally get into the windward corners just to tease you before heading back out into the middle beyond the buoys and barrels scattered in the lake. It was fairly quiet angler-wise because most people knew about the lack of stock.
It’s so local that I drive past it every day to and from work, so my plan was simple: I’d always have my gear in the car and drop in on the way home, fish for a few hours before getting home for dinner and bed, with maybe the odd night at the weekends. It started better than expected with my first fish being a 26lb mirror. That might not sound much, but it was the first mirror I had ever seen on the bank out of there, let alone caught. Not only that, but it was an old character rich in colour. I couldn’t help but feel like this was a sign; a prized gem for returning to the pit.
Time went by and I continued to drop in when I could on the way home from work. One afternoon I parked up at the main entrance where there is a pub/clubhouse only 25 yards away from the bank. I remember it being particularly busy, heaving with people and dogs leaping in the lake. As I made the short walk across the car park to the corner that the north-easterly was pumping into I heard a familiar sound of a fish leaping out. As I gained view of the water I was welcomed by the sight of a large golden common rising straight up to the wrist of its tail only 10 yards from the bank – I saw every scale on its body!
Within an instant my heart was pounding and I ran back to the car to grab my gear. I remember a few guys sitting outside the pub tried to talk to me as I pushed my little barrow over to the lake. I just ignored them, thinking, “I don’t have time for drunks today, pal!” Fish were crashing in the corner a matter of feet from me as I frantically tied baits on to the rigs and dug around my rucksack for bits and pieces. I managed to swing a naked choddy out and place it down to my right where I had seen the biggest fish show moments earlier. Well, it didn’t take long at all because as I was walking down to the water’s edge to flick a second rod out, the first absolutely ripped off – I could hear the spool whizzing louder than the alarm cry! It was a mental fight from a very angry carp, but eventually I slipped the net under a muscle-packed common that was clearly over 30lb. I quickly started texting and calling local mates to see who was around for pictures. I had a group of dog walkers, drunks and runners crowded behind me waiting for me to do something with the fish, but unfortunately for them I was in no hurry. The first point of call was to flick out the other rod that had been rudely interrupted by the carp. This was quickly and quietly done, followed by a second rod a little further out in case they had pushed out with the commotion. I was reassured shortly afterwards by the second rod rattling off and I soon had two carp awaiting a trip on to dry ground to say hello. My friend arrived and we photographed commons of 32lb and 27lb in the hot summer afternoon. I returned them a very happy man. As the sun fell and the wind died off, so did the action. They started to show further out to my left, eventually over 200 yards out in no man’s land where they would probably spend the night.
I repeated these events a few times during the summer, getting a bite in very short sessions. Early morning was best, so I started leaving the evenings alone, just doing a couple of hours on a Saturday or Sunday morning.
As autumn approached, I planned to have seven days in a row at my disposal. I had high hopes to string together a few captures and make the most of October! Well, as always, my plans are always the biggest disasters, and I blanked seven days in a row over there, only seeing one fish show on my final day as I was about to reel in. To be fair, the lake had not done a fish for a couple of weeks; it was almost as if it was devoid of life.
As the winter set in I continued to do my short mornings when I could and continued to catch with my chosen approach. Trips were getting fewer and further apart, sometimes two or three weeks without getting the rods out, but the mobile approach of casting stinking Pacific Tuna or fruity Northern Special pop-ups on soft hinge rigs at ‘productive areas, was working more often than not for me.
The next trip that stands out to me was 30th December when I got out to do a night. It was a totally spur-of-the-moment trip and I was feeling very out of touch with the lake. I turned up fairly late and dropped into a swim that had 30mph southerlies smashing into the bank. I had not seen anything, but convinced myself that they had to be down there. It wasn’t a cold wind and there was an island straight out in front of the swim offering a sliver of sheltered water off its furthest left-hand corner. This was the area I liked the look of most. I eventually got a couple of rods out there and went to bed fairly optimistic of a bite the following morning.
I didn’t get much sleep that night due to the wind abusing the brolly and the waves crashing into the concrete bank in front of me, but at around 6am I was awoken by a few bleeps that were out of sync with the constant wind liners. At first I thought a branch or something must be drifting across my lines. As I turned on the headtorch to take a look at what I had to deal with, I was greeted by a bow-string-tight line pointing slightly right of where it was meant to be… fish on! It instantly kited right and tried to swim up the island margin, behind all the boats chained down with concrete blocks, all I could do was hope that I had a good hook hold and nothing would fail. It had gone around a buoy and I could feel the line grating as I inched it back in the darkness. The line was singing in the wind under the tension and I was pushed back a few times by the huge winds. Once it was my side of the buoys I led it gently in and she was pushed straight into my net on the waves. I drank tea after tea, awaiting daylight so I could bring her on the bank and properly see what I had just caught. It felt like forever, but within an hour the sun was up and it was time to see what I had. I was not disappointed with one of the best looking commons I have ever seen. Deep-bodied, immaculate in every single way, an absolutely muscle packed brute of a carp! This is what I go fishing for!