Stuart Medway gets lucky – in more ways than one!
It all started when I had a ticket for the lake next door, though I hadn’t done a lot of time on the lake throughout the year, as it was notorious for being a headbanger. I fished the lake a little bit in May, but with only tench to show for my efforts. Throughout the summer I was invited to fish various different lakes elsewhere and because of this I didn’t go back until after Christmas.
I did not manage any carp until I had couple in February due to the unseasonal warm conditions, but whilst I was fishing the lake I noticed the syndicate lake next door had done a few decent fish up to mid-forties. After the spring there were only a couple of lads putting in the effort to fish it throughout the year, resulting in some lovely looking fish. After seeing them do so well, I thought I’d have a go and hopefully I’d see some of these stunning looking fish myself. As it wasn’t very busy, I knew I could get the bait going in and maybe lucky enough to catch one or two of the A-Team.
Two days before the start of the season in April I made a phone call to the head bailiff and fishery manager and asked him how many people had renewed their ticket. He told me just two, and I immediately thought, “That settles it then. No competing for swims in the first month or two, just like last year. I’ll get the Spotted Fin Catalyst going in and start catching a few.”
However, by the end of May approximately 15-20 anglers had joined up, which I wasn’t expecting. Suddenly it felt really busy and everyone was as keen as mustard trying to catch their first fish, just as I was. As the two lakes are almost joined together, every time I looked over to the old lake there were only a handful fishing it. The membership had been dropped to 30, so that was probably the reason. Thinking, “That’s bloody typical!” I could have almost kicked myself.
On the lake I had joined, a couple of fish really caught my eye. One was called Boomerang, which was an old Yateley looking fish around the 39lb mark. It was one of the originals, as old as the hills, with a short wrist to the tail and not many scales. The other, called the Leather, was a stunning creature with a small heart-shaped tail and a long sloping head. That was my target fish at around the low 40lb mark. When I first saw the pics of the fish a few years ago I knew I would one day dangle a line for it. These two fish were not the biggest in the lake, but two of my most wanted. There are two mid-forty mirrors at around 44-47lb called Chunks and Cluster. They are not the best lookers, but are the biggest in the lake.
The lake is around 20 acres with not a big head of fish. There are probably 70 small commons which rarely get caught, then there are probably a dozen known mirrors and some small stockies which are making good weights into mid to low twenties, all mirrors, plus the odd surprise, so a few targets to go at. With the lake being shallow (an average depth of around 3-4ft) and silty, it was always going to be a challenge; not only angling wise, but also with the birdlife. The lake is pretty barren and out in the middle there are a few deep holes spotted around and a few harder gravel patches, but the main feature is the slightly deeper margins which the fish like to drift into from time to time. The key is to keep your eyes open. There are plenty of climbing trees in most areas around the lake, so it’s just a case of walking around and seeing if I could find them.
As soon as spring arrived and the water temperature rose, the fish could always be seen in the shallows, milking up the bottom and flanking up. I was in the shallows one day and I could see some of the small commons around the mid-double mark and one mirror around the mid-twenty mark with its whole right flank covered in clay, so it was obviously rubbing up somewhere. They seemed to love that area for chilling out, almost like a kids’ play area, and they were always seen but rarely caught there.
So, overall I had a little bit of knowledge on the lake, some info off some of the lads that fished it the previous year, and most of the lake had done captures at some point in the year. It was time for my first session. Most of the time, as long as the traffic’s not too bad and I’m working in my local area, I do quick overnight fishing. As the lake is a 30-40 minute drive from home, it allows me to fish a Wednesday night.
It was my first overnight session and I had settled in a swim called the Point, which covers a lot of water with plenty of spots to fish. When there’s no weed you look for it, but when there’s loads all you want to do is find a clear spot. At this point there was not a single bit of weed – typical! I found a couple of decent spots, wrapped up and cast the rigs out. I threw about 3kg of 18mm Catalyst boilies over both rods and it wasn’t long before I received my first take on the right-hand rod. I looked at the bobbin and it was tight up against the blank. It turned out to be a tench of around 8lb. This was not long after baiting up, probably only a couple of hours later, so I knew that I was just feeding up the tench if I’d had one that quickly. The remainder of that night proved uneventful, but I thought I’d put in the remaining bait over the spots and then consistently fish that swim. The next night came around quickly and I headed for the baited swim, only to find another angler in there. After a night in another swim it turned out he had about nine tench within 24 hours, so it looked like my baiting was cleaning off the spots, but not feeding the carp. The tench seemed to get on the bait first.
As the weeks went by, the lake got busier and busier with more anglers joining. I couldn’t even get in the same swim two nights running, but that meant I ended up getting a feel for the place. Some of the A-Team had been caught already. Cluster had been out at 45lb-plus. Over the next few weeks I was very persistent, but with just a lot of tench into double figures. They would be decent captures if you’re into that sort of thing, but they were just hoovering up the bait I was putting in. It was a case of trying to find the fish rather than the bait, and just waiting until the lake became a bit quieter.
In the previous week, I had seen a lot of the fish gathering up in the shallows getting ready for spawning. I could see most of the lake’s stock including a few big guns in there too. They weren’t feeding, just cruising in the upper layers or sitting below the surface. It’s lovely to watch the fish you’re angling for up close and personal. The fish began to spawn as the week went on, which resulted in me receiving a text to say that the lake was closed for spawning.
I decided to fish one of my day-ticket lakes where they were not spawning. I finished work by around midday and headed straight for the lake. I got set up, put the waders on and found some nice spots in amongst the weed. Rods out, I was happy and all was going well. At around 7pm I was cooking my chicken in the RidgeMonkey when one of the bailiffs came around and asked what I was doing there. I told him the lake was closed for spawning. Then he said that Dan and Daz were around the back and that the lake was indeed open… wound up is an understatement! I had wasted all that time and bait only to be told the syndicate lake was open. I could have been fishing and settled in! Rather than paying for a day-ticket, I packed up and moved to where I should’ve been.
I packed up as quickly as I could, but it was a race against time for light as well as trying to find the fish. With the Carp Porter loaded, I decided that by the time I unloaded it, put it in the van and drove around to the syndicate car park, too much time would have been wasted, so I opted to walk from where I was. By the time I got there I was hot and sweating. There was a slight wind blowing into the southerly bank, so that was my first port of call. I’d got all of the gear off the barrow, put the banksticks in and the rods together when I suddenly noticed a lot of clouding up over on the other side of the lake. I could only see this because of how the light was shining down on the lake; you couldn’t see it as you were walking down the main path, only once you got on to the bank I was almost set up on. The swim I was in is on the path that divides the two lakes, and I had a quick chat with my mate Dave, who was fishing last year’s water. I told him that I was moving. He commented how I hadn’t even set up yet, but I told him, “They are milking up over there and I’d rather be on the fish than just chucking and hoping.
By this point the weed was about six inches below the surface, so finding a spot was crucial or you may as well be slinging it in the bush. I loaded up the barrow again, wheeled around to the bank where I’d seen them. They were at about the 60-70 yard mark. There was only half an hour of light left and no time to spare; I needed a presentation that required no leading about, as the fish were obviously feeding hard on the bottom. There was no room for error or recasts that would spook the fish off, but I thought choddies or pop-ups would be too high up in the weed and get caught up. So, I cut off the lead core and threaded on some Tungsten Rig Tube, a 2½oz lead drop-off style, size 8 ring swivels, some Finskin stripped off to expose the braid at a length of 3-4 inches knotless knotted to a size 6 wide gape hook with a Catalyst barrel bottom hookbait. All of this was put into a PVA bag of mixed Premium Pellets and broken boilies, and tied off with a length of PVA string. I had not really fished PVA bags since the nineties on Broadlands, but I felt there was a need for it in this situation. The bags are the smallest Spotted Fin makes, so hopefully it wouldn’t be like a brick going in.
Looking out to the area where the fish were, I tightened up the clutch. I had one chance of a decent cast dropping my PVA bag into the clouded-up area or I could possibly blow my chance, scaring the fish off the spot. Out it went. I feathered the cast and it landed straight in the middle of the spot – it couldn’t have been any better. I then put the other rod out at the same sort of distance on the cloudy, milked-up line and throwing sticked out about 50 boilies over the area, even though the weed was solid to the surface, just to keep them interested. I clipped on the bobbins, turned the alarms on, and then finished cooking my dinner. Curried chicken with rice – lovely.
After dinner and a drink, it was time to hit the bed. Through the night I was awoken by the odd liner or the odd screeching coot. It must have been early morning and the take wasn’t like any of the previous tench takes where the bobbin hit the blank then dropped back down. This time it hit the blank and started peeling off line from the tight clutch, and I knew it was a carp. I pulled into the fish with steady pressure and started playing it in through the dense weed, keeping the rod as high as I could and keeping it moving, as I knew if it stopped or slowed there would be a good chance that I would not get it moving again. Worst case scenario, I’d have to get the boat and hope the fish was still on the other end. As I played the fish in, I could feel the odd kick as it dove into the weed with every chance it had – it was locking up solid at some points. I didn’t see the fish until it was about a rod-length from the bank, and as it was still dark I was not sure what fish I was attached to, though I knew it had to be one of the big ones. I dropped the net into the pitch black water. I heard the fish wallow not far out and with one scoop in she went.
I grabbed the nearest brolly peg and secured the net, which gave me plenty of time to get the mat, scales, sling, etc. ready. At first glance into the net I thought it looked like a decent fish, so I grabbed my head torch for a proper look. My thoughts were confirmed: Boomerang! I knew she would be around the 40lb mark, as one of the lads had caught her a month or so earlier at 39lb-plus. I collapsed the net to get her out of the lake and something happened that has never happened in all the years that I have been fishing: the fish swam out of the net! It was one of those moments that’ll have me thinking how it happened for a very long time.
I thought it would still be hooked on the end of the rig, so I lifted the rod and wound down to get back in contact with the fish… and the lead hit the tip ring! The fish had dropped the hook in the net and it was gone – what a bloody nightmare! A few swear words later, I checked the net again, wondering how. I put my head torch on again to see if by any chance I could see the fish in the water. About 6ft out I could make out a slightly lighter coloured area. It could have been a patch of the blanket weed that had come up all over the lake, or was it the fish sulking in the weed! With nothing to lose, I decided to put my waders on and have a scoop for it. As I dropped into the margin, it was already up to my waist. I took a step forward and by then the water was just at the top of my waders. I knew I only had one go at it and scooped up whatever I could. I looked into the net and couldn’t believe what I was seeing: there she was! Well, when your luck’s in, your luck’s in!
I got her out and weighed her at a top weight of 39½lb, then slipped her in the retainer and secured it off until I could get someone to do the photographs. I sat back down, put the kettle on and had a quick brew, thinking about the last half hour’s events. I knew it wasn’t long before light, so I messaged Dave on the lake next door. It was early and I knew he would be up watching the water, but if he wasn’t he would see my message when he did get up. He messaged straight back: “Well done, mate. I’ll wind in and come and do your pics.” Not long afterwards Dave turned up. I got the mat, camera and water bucket ready, then slipped on my waders. I bent down, pulled in the string on the retainer and drew her in, checked her fins were against her body then lifted her on to the mat. I’d not had a proper look at her up to this point and she was going to look nice in daylight. I unzipped the sling and she looked old and weathered – what a fish! We did the pics then slipped her back to fight another day.
I went home a happy man with my first fish – just! – and it was one of the ones I wanted Maybe things happen for a reason, some good and some bad, but that day and night was a mix up of both.