Mainline maestro, Dave Lane recounts a tale of two fifties and the birthday kid!
What a year 2014 turned out to be, for me at least. I had decided it was time to turn my attentions to the mighty Burghfield Lake and chance my arm in a quest to track down, and hopefully capture, the elusive Burghfield Common. This fish has got to be the most iconic carp in the land and for good reason; not only is it huge and perfectly proportioned, but it is a rare visitor to the banks indeed.
Fortunately, I have arrived at a stage of my angling where rigs and bait are no longer an issue; I have ultimate confidence in both, particularly my bait, which I just know is going to be readily acceptable to any carp that swims. I have been a Mainline bait user for over 20 years now and I will happily use anything that comes out of that stable. Twenty years of success certainly removes any doubts and lets me concentrate on the all-important issues of location; something I was going to need by the bucket full at Burghfield.
Throughout the start of the spring it was a case of walking and looking, lots and lots of both, and it soon became clear to me which of the areas were more frequently visited by the carp. Singling out just the one was going to be a different matter, however. After a couple of months and over 20 captures including a brace of 40lb-plus mirrors, I eventually came across the big fella himself, hiding away from the bulk of the fish at the furthest end of the lake – something he was, apparently, very keen to do.
The ‘legend’ at Burghfield was this: if you are catching fish then your next bite is never going to be the Common. Apparently he was a bit of a loner, only having a small group of select friends and avoiding the pack; therefore, he would never be caught as part of a haul.
He was also, historically, only caught in the section of Lake above Barnett’s Point. This is the area made up of small channels and back bays. If you believed the stories, he would never feed out in the open, deeper water.
After spending a few weeks fishing these channels and bays, I decided I had fallen into a trap myself. I was listening to the tales of old and not fishing to my own strengths, which always involve location and bait application. So, I decided on a new plan: fish out the open water and bait heavily in an attempt to catch as many fish as possible, hoping that the Common would be unable to resist joining in.
I had also been campaigning for a new swim to be opened up in this main body of the Lake. It was an area that had been fished in years gone by, but it had grown over and fallen out of bounds due to new boundaries imposed earlier that year. You could fish into the area from an adjacent swim, but due to the positioning of sailing buoys, it was a little tricky to land the fish. In mid-June I was told that if I was willing to do the work myself then the swim could be cut back out and the area fished properly. The following week I arrived armed with various power tools and hand tools, and 10 kilos of chopped and whole Hybrid baits, ready to do battle with both undergrowth and carp alike. I spent a very uncomfortable and hot few hours on the Sunday evening hacking, sawing and chopping until I had created the perfect swim, and as I broke through to the water’s edge my confidence was sky high. I deposited half the bucket of bait over three spots and collapsed into bed for some much needed sleep.
The very next morning I was awoken by a take, a tench being the culprit. A recast soon resulted in a much larger specimen, one of the Lake’s old original mirrors at 33lb. After repositioning the rig, I set up the video camera to see if I could actually film a Burghfield carp jumping, as there were quite a few doing just that. What I captured instead was a blistering take and the fight to end all fights; 10 minutes from the bank followed by another 20 in the boat as he managed to get amongst the sailing buoys. The result was well worth the effort. There in the bottom of the net lay the carp of a lifetime, the incredible Burghfield Common at 55lb, neatly hooked in the bottom lip on one of Mainline’s finest, caught on my own terms and fishing the way I know best!
Incidentally, that carp was part of a six-fish haul from the open, deeper water and, therefore, went against everything I had been led to believe was the only way to catch him.
Birthday wishes do come true!
Later that year I was fortunate enough to gain a winter ticket for a small, shallow and very pretty little syndicate lake called Northey Park near to Peterborough. Once again, Hybrid was the chosen bait, but the problem on there was keeping it in the water long enough for the carp to find it, as the pair of resident swans and the coot life were severe. Most of the lake was under five feet deep, perfect for winter, but terrible for those long swan necks and the insatiable appetites that they seem to possess.
The jewel of the lake was another common, very similar in appearance to the Burghfield fish and almost as big. I started fishing in the middle of October and, by moving about and spotting fish, I managed to capture three of the lake’s residents in a few weeks, including a couple of lovely mid-thirty mirrors.
What I wanted, however, was an area that I could bait and avoid the swans, hoping to actually get something going rather than just dotting about. In mid-November I found the perfect spot. I had seen fish there fairly regularly and even caught a mid-twenty from there on my first attempt. It was just out of swan depth by a few inches, and for some reason the carp seemed to favour the area. It really was nothing more than a small silty depression in amongst thick weed, but I fished and baited it for three weeks on the trot, the last of these coinciding with my birthday on 1st December.
I had seen a couple of fish cruise by during the day and I was feeling confident enough, even though I was approaching my second night in the swim without a bite. Anyone that knows me well will realise that that’s a long time without a move for me. Just as it grew dark and I was beginning to think that the carp had forgotten it was a special day, I received a few bleeps; nothing spectacular, but a definite indication of something in the area. I crouched next to the rod and noticed the line was just slowly moving up and down, as if it was breathing in and out. I was only fishing about 10 yards from the bank and I could easily recast even in the dark, so I lifted the rod and instantly felt that there was more resistance than there should have been. As I swept the rod skywards I would like to say that it was nearly torn from my grasp by the sheer anger and fury of a huge carp, but in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. There was a heavy resistance and a large bulge on the surface as the carp hit the top and then I literally steered him straight into the net! Imagine my surprise and elation when there in the folds lay a huge common carp, a great big birthday present all wrapped in gold; 51¾lb of Cambridgeshire common.
It was the perfect end to a perfect year!