It was with great relief that Bill and I drove round the M25 to join the A1 on a very early musty morning at the advent of the school holidays. Our destination - Willow Waters at Pocklington near York. My customary needlework and holiday reading material was neatly packed alongside Bill's fishing tackle which as usual took up the majority of the room in the car. However, having arrived with perspiration running down my forehead and the weather man not only insisting that it was just as hot up North as down South (I still don't believe it) and that it was to continue for the whole week, I decided that the tranquil carp lake bordered by plenty of mature shady trees looked a much better bet than being stuck in a hot sweaty traffic jam to the coast.
I was pleasantly surprised at the high standard of accommodation provided. We were staying in one of six detached bungalows with car parking space provided by the side, so unloading and loading the gear proved no problem. Sitting on the double seater settee we could look through the massive patio doors onto the man-made lake around which all the bungalows, including a disabled one, are situated. In the middle of the lake (containing koi carp, mirror carp, common carp, roach, bream and golden orfe) was an island with a purpose built duck house which had obviously been put to good use judging by the large number of baby white ducks that could be hand fed. Not to be outdone, the hens had produced some chicks of their own.
Sunday afternoon found us trying out, with some success, the small trout lake situated just behind the bungalow. Although I have taken trout on the fly to over 41b (Bill does the casting) this water is an any method, catch and release rainbow trout lake and, as such, a new experience. I had fun catching several rainbow trout to just over 31b on a single grain of sweetcorn using a centre pin loaded with 41b line and an 11ft travel rod. The terminal tackle was just a small waggler locked in position by the bulk shot and a number 6 shot down the line to the size 14 hook tied direct to the reel line. The striking and playing of the fish certainly gave me a good feel for the tackle, and confidence to try something else.
2 Burnby Hall
On the Monday, Bill took me to Burnby Hall which is literally just down the road from Willow Waters and apparently houses the National water-lily collection - and very nice too! What they fail to mention in the literature is that it also contains one of the best natural carp collections in the country as well. We purchased a 25p bag of floating trout pellets to feed the fish with our entry tickets. Imagine the surprise and delight as I fed in the pellets and carp that Bill told me were up to about 301b appeared. One large mirror that's called "Buster" would come right up to the edge and almost suck the pellets from my hand. He also appeared to be the biggest fish in the lake. We found out that the lake had been created by Major P.M.Stewart in the 20's - so Buster could have been about 80 years old. I did ask the resident warden if he would allow me to fish after closing hours but he told me that I wouldn't be happy as there would be no challenge - I'm not quite so sure!
Spurred on by our unforgettable visit in the morning, I decided to join Bill at 6pm on the main carp lake at Willow Waters - after all, I had been told that some of the carp were ex Burnby Hall inmates.
Tackle and bait
Bill had reluctantly let me use his spare six piece Shakespeare Travel Match rod (I didn't realise the bard fished as well) with an expensive purist centre pin loaded with 41b Maxima green line. The line was loaded so that it came off the top of the spool, so that I turned the drum clockwise to retrieve instead of the traditional anti-clockwise recovery. This meant the line ran close to the rod and was not affected by any cross wind. I could only use a centre pin to fish with because every time I have tried a fixed spool reel I ended up with all the line unwinding in a birds nest and got very frustrated. I am far more confident with the direct play and superior control allowed by a centre pin. Bill had already tackled up for me and used a rather ancient 20 year old home made pole float with two number 6 shot spaced out between the float and size 14 forged barbless hook which was tied on with a palomar knot. Although Bill set up for me, he made me carry my own chair, rod, tackle and bait to the lake!
When we arrived, Bill had already decided on his swim and left me to choose a spot for myself with strict instructions that he would be over in a minute to "sort me out". I chose a spot not far from Bill with plenty of lily pads. Most fish I noticed at Burnby Hall were far more confident feeding from under the pads rather than in the open water where any sudden movement from the side frightens them away. Anyway, the rod was already assembled in my hand and I knew how to stick the maggots on the hook so what was I waiting for?
I threw out a couple of handfuls of trout pellets and chose two maggots to put on the hook. I have always been told to choose good wriggly maggots so I tilt the box slightly and I reckon the ones that reach the top of the incline must be the best wrigglers. I literally swung out the line (I'm no good at this loop business) so that the float landed just slightly to the side of the lily pads about a rod length out. I wound in the spare line so that there was not much slack and checked that the ratchet was on, as I had been told that it acts as a bit of a brake.
The float must have been set at just the right depth because it started bobbing almost straight away. By that time Bill had walked round, presumably to see what I was up to, even though he still hadn't finished setting up his rods. When I told him I had already had some touches he tersely commented that it was "Only small stuff". Undeterred, I carried on, after all anything is better than nothing in my book. After about three unsuccessful pulls I struck into something very solid and all of a sudden the pin made what must be the sound of music to every anglers ears - meanwhile I held on tight, knowing that this was heavier than anything I had ever struck into in my rather short fishing career.
Bill immediately rushed to my side shouting "I'll take it, I'll take it" and started fastening his hands on my rod (how dare he) I decided then and there that he had gone far enough and told him so. "I'm going to have this one" to which he replied "You'll drop it, you'll never land it" but he did rush off for the landing net in his swim all the same. I kept my eye firmly on the rod top all the time making sure it didn't bend too far over whilst releasing the line off the spool in my hand if it did. As soon as the rod started to straighten up I started winding the spool to take up the slack line and to bring the fish closer into the waiting net which, unusually, Bill was holding on the jetty of the next swim up. He was convinced the fish would kite underneath and I would lose it. On the odd occasion I managed to look down, I could see the float out of the water rushing frantically from side to side. I found that by tucking the butt end of the rod well into my right side I felt more secure. The longer the fish fought, the more I could feel the strain on my arm. By the time the fish took its first gulp of air I was almost glad it was almost over, as I knew I couldn't hold it much longer - I'm just a tiddler myself at 4'11" (which Bill assures me he wouldn't have taken a second look at, had I been a fish).
The elderly gentleman who had walked round from the other side of the lake commented that it looked a good fish - "No, its only a five" was the reply from Bill, as well as explaining what he was still doing on the next jetty, obviously convinced I couldn't land it. Eventually Bill brought the net round to my side and I was allowed at last to step back a few steps as my first ever carp glided into the net and the blood flowed back into one very tired arm. The same gentleman commented that the fish looked more than five pounds as it was unhooked on the landing mat so I decided that it must be weighed - just in case. If you add on half its supposed body weight you would be correct in guessing that I had actually hooked a 7.51b common carp, to be precise. For a change I held the fish for the customary photographs (usually I'm the one peering down the lens) and I'm convinced he must have known that I was new to the game as he behaved beautifully and never moved at all (I hate it when they flap about) except when I carefully put him back into the water.
As we left the lake that evening - Bill not having caught a thing - I wistfully glanced back at the lake dreaming of the tale I would be able to tell for a change to all our fishing friends, only to discover that I had fished peg 13!
Over the next two days, having been confidently assured by Bill that luncheon meat and assorted meats and cheeses were absolute killers for carp and having heard someone say "All they think they have to do is turn up with some maggots and catch fish" I tried in vain for my next carp. Thursday morning saw us again at Burnby Hall enjoying feeding "Buster" and his friends. It must have been a lucky omen for me.
That evening I decided, still on the same outfit, to switch back to maggots and fish a different swim. I fished in exactly the same way, placing my float alongside some lily pads and sitting very still and quiet. About an hour later I hooked my first double (101b 14oz). This time the pin exploded much slower and the fish disappeared into the lily pads where it seemed to have lodged itself firmly. This time, being a novice, I let Bill expertly play the fish out of the pads, listening to everything he was telling me about letting the fish tire itself out whilst still hidden from view and keeping up the pressure on the line so that the fish cannot unhook itself. I netted the fish and had my photograph taken, feeling slightly deflated because this one wasn't quite all 'mine' but knowing that Bill had blanked again and that there was definitely going to be a next time.