He assured me buoyantly we were six minutes past the hour, though he gleefully failed to mention what hour, he then proceeded to invite me, (more like warn me, pal!) to enjoy with him three of the greatest songs from the ‘Spice girls’. Excuse me, but great songs and spice girls should not be used in the same sentence, a contradiction of terms if ever there was one; right up with ‘Best Bitter’ and ‘nice eel!’
"I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want..." Yes, for you lot to shut-up and let me sleep! I hit the snooze button a bit too vigorously as all the lights on the ageing machine faltered, blinked then died as I lay back to rejoice in that five extra minutes of sleep we all know is edged with disaster, this turned out to be the second mistake of the day.
I had arranged to be picked up at six o’clock sharp to fish a new water that reputedly held monster carp (even though no one seemed to be able to bank any of them) by Jack.
Jack is an elderly friend who had only discovered the joys of angling after his retirement at sixty-five, he was as keen as any ten-year-old and he was desperately trying to catch up on his ‘wasted years’ spent working all the hours that God sent to do the right thing and provide for his family; y'know, the sort of stuff that really gets in the way of your angling pleasures. He couldn’t understand ‘yoof culture’ but realised that fishing with a wild at heart, anarchic young punk like myself (his words, not mine!) might improve his chances of catching and so he put up with me and my little foibles in order to ‘do the impossible’. (His words again).
I looked out of the nicotine clammed window, mainly because I was nauseous and felt unable to make it to the bathroom. A night (and some of the early morning) enjoying the dubious delights of several pints of super strength lager were taking their toll (mistake no.1, I’d suggest). Gazing on to the lamp-lit street below I spied Jack in his pristine blue Triumph Dolomite Sprint (circa 1970) waiting patiently below. Damn, this boy was keen!
I fell into his car, full of apologies over lying in, he reassured me we had not missed anything; I would need a few trips yet to overcome the wily leviathans lurking in the depths of this pool... Yeah, whatever...
On arrival at the venue I was not the least un-phased. Carp, and a few BIG carp were hitting the surface amidst a sea of bubbles everywhere I looked (sitting and ducks were two words that immediately sprang to mind!).
"They’re often like this at dawn," said Jack interjecting my thoughts. "But they soon calm down when the sun gets a bit higher."
Now, as you may know from my previous articles, confidence is paramount to my catching and seeing that these monsters were so obviously ‘up for it’ meant I didn’t need any of Jack's pessimistic premonitions about the whole scene changing imminently disturbing my train of thought. I set about tackling-up as fast as I could and trying to put all feelings of self loathing about the hangover and subsequent over-sleep out of my mind.
With the rods sorted in record time, cast to perfection first time, I sat back in eager anticipation. Now fully focused I reached for my cigarettes, shit, I’d left them in the car. I duly borrowed the car keys and set off back to the car park with Jack keeping an ear out for my buzzers, (mistake No. 3!)
On my return, a spring in my step with cigarette burning brightly, I looked across in horror to see Jack winding away furiously at my reel with all manner of line curling and looping off of the spool. He explained that in my absence I had had a screaming run that he had struck at but despite getting a feeling that there was something there, coupled with some huge bow waves in the middle of the lake, my reel seemed to have packed up. I gently explained the workings of the Shimano’s rear drag system that I’d slackened off to nothing as I was away from my rods, then set about dealing with my new found ‘birds-nest’.
After stripping away 30 odd yards of line, retying the entire end tackle and finally, after four aborted mis-casts this time, sat back with my baits primed in position. It was then I realized Jacks ‘prophecy of doom’ was totally correct. Half an hour of daylight had seen everything disappear, not just the carp but the ducks, the ‘mozzies’, the general ‘life’ of the place just switched off as surely as if someone had just flicked a switch off.
The problem was obvious to me, with the landowners ban on night fishing it meant that the second it became light, the place was suddenly subjected to at least half a dozen cars pulling up, usually ten or more anglers clumping around the bank armed to the teeth with everything the ‘glossies’ deemed necessary to catch a fish, closely followed by all manner of bivvies, brollies and day camps being erected before twenty-plus leads smashed through the waters surface then finally six kettles being put on in unison amid shouts of "D’ya take sugar, Fred, Bill etc."
Now the problem was easy enough to spot - but what about the solution? (I know ***** would answer "Simple, poach it during the night!") But an effective, legal solution would be trickier to achieve. One idea I thought of was to get there early and put up a ‘road closed’ sign, hopefully buying enough time to bank a couple before anyone twigged and arrived just in time to smash my face in!
None of this helped my present predicament though. How do you catch a dormant carp that is hiding up contentedly waiting for their sunset feed-a-thon after several disgruntled fishermen had slung in the remainder of their bait in the margins and cleared off home?
I love the thrill of tackling a new venue, especially one that everybody else appears to be at loggerheads with. The unknown coupled against a self-belief that I could overcome difficulties that others had thought to be insurmountable. All too often though, the first trip just serves as the start of a learning curve and this particular adventure didn’t seem any different.
Undeterred I weighed up the options, Jack wouldn’t want to go home until dusk and I found myself faced with the prospect of thirteen (unlucky for some) hours of inaction, to reel in just as the big girls were warming up.
As I have said somewhere previously, bait doesn’t matter, as long as you have confidence in it - and I stick to that view - but at the time I was obsessed with bait. I had developed a few different offerings dependent on the situations I was faced with. Instant baits for new waters, a scientifically analysed HNV boilie for my regular venue, a carefully structured spice flavoured fish meal delicacy for an over-fished gravel pit on which ANY boilie was blown (Yeah right, I’ll tell you about that one another day!) not to mention all the "can’t be refused" particle baits.
(If your club has a ‘nut’ ban, try maple seed or hemp, it's far superior and it's allowed! A word of warning though, carp do get pre-occupied with hemp, leading to fishing for a cow-in-a-field-with a-blade-of-grass scenario. With maple seeds, cook them at the lakeside and use them ‘hot’, the ‘bronze backs’ can’t refuse them.)
Of this latest dalliance I was a little flummoxed though, just how do you ensnare a fish that knows when it’s safe to feed? The answer lay in realising that the conventional, baited traps were evidently not working, so instead, surprise the targets with something they weren’t expecting. Go away from the accepted feeding areas and hi-jack their ‘safe’ daytime recluses seemed, if not the answer, a possible solution.
I reeled in my rods; I knew nothing would happen unless I made it happen. Remembering Richard Walkers’ words of wisdom, "an hour spent watching is worth five spent fishing" I set about finding out where our piscine counterparts spent their daylight intervals. Jack was unimpressed, he thought I was giving up, there’s no fool like an old fool... I’d show him!
I watched and I waited, then watched and waited some more, these buggers were asleep and knew exactly when it was safe to feed and when it wasn’t. The only conclusion I could draw was that bait dropped in the margins was deemed safe...at night!
Scientists would have you believe fish have a seven second memory, or is it six I can’t recall! But I don’t think those guys allow for primeval senses of survival. Carp rely on instinct more than any sense of thought process as to know when to feed and when to leave well alone.
Jack sat contentedly behind his rods, happy in the knowledge that at any second his indicators would burst into life but blissfully unaware that they wouldn’t. For my part I lay face down in between two brambles staring at a group of five carp swimming idly through a snatch of tight reeds in one of the more inaccessible areas of the lake. I lit another cigarette and waited some more. Twenty minutes later the group appeared again, a further twenty minutes saw their return. Now I’m no Sherlock Holmes but a pattern seemed to be emerging.
I laid a carpet of the most irresistible instant bait, cast a free-lined offering into the middle and wondered how the heck I would ever get a fish out of the sprawling jungle of foliage below... but hey-ho, one step at a time!
The group came back, here we go, I'm ready for fish No.1. Elementary my dear Watson! Oh, change of plan, they swam right over the bloody lot and disappeared again. Next time then, hopefully. I lay, sat and squatted in the most ridiculously uncomfortable positions for the next couple of hours as the same group of fish came and went, no doubt eyeing their night-time feast with relish... What else could I do? If the veritable ‘dogs dangly bits’ of baits could not entice these creatures what else was left?
The answer was a more fortuitist affair than any great moment of inspiration. As I'd lain, sat, squatted etc. for the last two hours scratching my head (and various other bodily parts!) I’d noticed a small snail making it’s way merrily along a piece of sunken wood. I stretched my hand down and gently prised it away, then very un-gently thrust a baiting needle right through the middle of it, shell-and-all. With the mollusc firmly impaled, I cast it towards the danger zone, away from the ‘freebies’, right at the mouth of the small path between the all-encompassing rushes.
With watches synchronised it seemed, the shoal appeared again, the first carp to appear was the smallest of the group, around fifteen-pound I guessed. It immediately went down and took without hesitation. I struck, clamped my hand down hard over the spool and held on for dear life. The fish tried to bolt but the short line and uncompromising force lead it to come clean clear of the water and literally somersault on the spot. I launched the net, knowing that with ‘hit-and-hold’ tactics second chances were rarer than sunny days at Skegness. I scooped up an amazing sea of froth and gold as her four other counter-parts dismissed themselves in an explosion of self-preservation.
Jack came round to take a photo, saying what a lucky beggar I was, but the moral of this story is ‘there is more than one way to skin a cat’...and catch a carp!