I looked round one or two local venues, but it soon dawned on me that this year my carp fishing may well be limited to long distance venues. For the past few years I'd become accustom to fishing on my doorstep, as it were. I'd just moved from a very interesting part of the countryside, well as far as fishing was concerned that is! I was used to looking round numerous waters during the evenings and targeting my fishing according to what I'd seen, this had been very successful, but it was to change.
I was now confronted with no challenging waters within easy driving distance, and by that I do mean none. I was lost. I'd moved with the assumption that sooner or later a few interesting waters would become evident, but try as I might, every lead was followed up and I just could not find anywhere local to settle. It was at this point that I decided to have a think about my back up plan.
I'd had this one up my sleeve from the very beginning, but due to the distances involved, was reluctant to take up the challenge simple because it would mean weekends only. The back up plan consisted of a large near 100-acre mature gravel pit that had recently produced an 'unknown' 40 common and was about ninety miles away from my new home. Ninety miles is not a very long way for a weekend fishing, but to nip down to for a couple of hours walking round in the evenings, that meant a 180 mile round trip!
The lake itself was BIG, 90 acres. Ninety acres of open water doesn't actually look that bad, but if I tell you that the lake is incredibly broken up you'll begin to understand that 90 acres felt more like 500 acres. Open water is easy to get your head round in comparison with the numerous bays, islands, headlands, dead-ends, spits, unfishable areas, tucked away little hidey-holes and the rest. This means that you might be a mile away from fish, or a few metres and you'd be none the wiser. But if I say that just to walk a circuit looking in all the major bays, nooks and crannies takes the best part of three and a half hours, you'll understand just what an undertaking this was to be. If you were really starting from scratch, then that time could easily grow into 5 or 6 hours, once you've sat up a few of the better trees for a while or found a few smaller fish and waited to see if any of the bigger residents were amongst them.
I've been interested in the famous Wraysbury One for a number of years, and consider it to be the king of carp waters. Over the years I've visited the water a number of times and even had the pleasure of observing a few of its inhabitants at close quarters during the close season. Here was a lake that offered an equal challenge, but also had an element of the unknown about it. I e-mailed the lake's head bailiff, and received some very good news. The lake was very quiet as far as anglers were concerned, and also appeared to have a few myths and legends attached to it, ideal! It appeared that angler pressure had been very light for a few years, and given the nature of the lake, had never really been that intense at any time anyway. He also confirmed what I'd heard, the lake was sparingly stocked with 'original' fish that dated back to the 1950's, but also it appeared that a recent escape from a nearby lake had resulted in a number of small young 'stockie' fish also being present. At this early stage it seemed that the originals numbered 30-40, with about 100 stockies also being present.
I feared that the publicity the 40lb common had generated would see a host of new anglers on the lake that spring, however I didn't know that for sure, and decided to play it by ear and just see how things developed. I enjoy fishing waters that are clear from angler pressure, just because I like to compete with the fish, and not other anglers. Although the common had appeared in the weeklies, the angler hadn't named the water. Now I don't confess to be the most connected angler in the world, but it hadn't taken me long to find out where it was from, so I guessed that others would also have little trouble tracking down the venue. Time would tell. I decided to start on there early and just see how things panned out.
My first visit was at the beginning of March. It was Friday evening, and arriving in the dark I got hopelessly lost, reading the map wrongly I fished that first night on completely the wrong lake altogether! Once morning dawned I soon discovered my mistake and made my way to the right lake for a first look around.
The first swim you walk into at the northern end is a spot called the shallows. This first bay of about 8 acres is all about 1-2 foot deep, hence the name, and very beautiful, reed fringed and inaccessible on one bank the whole area is a haven for wildlife, especially fowl. Kingfishers darted this way and that, grebes dived and swans cruised. Cracking.
I began exploring, the lake was still fully in its winter colours but it still took my breath away. Very mature and overgrown. I was surprised at how much it reminded me of another water close to my heart. I think it only took me about 5 minutes to come to the conclusion that unless something very unforeseen should happen, then I'd be spending a considerable amount of time on these banks in the next year or so.
On that wander I soon bumped into Phil, the head bailiff I'd previously e-mailed. He was a very friendly chap; not what I'd been expecting I must say. We walked for a while as he pointed out a few areas and put names to various bays and parts of the lake that appeared in front of us. The conversation soon got around to the fish, and as well as the publicised common, key target fish seemed to include the following. A big mirror nicknamed 'half-tail' or 'cut off' last caught 18 months ago at 38 , a few 30 mirrors and a mythical grey headed mirror that had never been banked but was estimated at near record proportions! It seemed that most of the originals were in the 20lb bracket, and hard to come by. Phil said that a good year for a good angler would be three or four fish, but he had known anglers fish the lake for 8 years solid without a fish!
I left Phil and continued on my walk. The weather was okay, temperatures just into double figures with a gentle south-westerly wind. Walking past some snags, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a fish 'head n'shoulder' in the margins. I was sure it was a carp and not just my eyes playing tricks, so I slowly crept down to the waters edge for a closer look. The water was gin clear. In the margin to my left was a large tree fallen a few feet into the margin, and to my right was an old snag tree going out about the same distance from the bank. Looking closely I could make out the tangle of branches under the surface and quickly a small common of about 12lb came into view. Immediately I was sure this was the fish I'd seen minutes earlier, and just to prove me right, it repeated the performance right in front of my eyes. Soon after, a mirror of about 16-17lb came into view, swimming amongst the snags. I'd already guessed that these must be stockies, both looked young, fresh and not as dark or old as the picture of the common that I'd gazed at so many times.
It was enough for me anyway, it was getting to late afternoon, and temperatures would soon be falling so I dashed back to the car for some tackle. Returning to the spot proved harder than I'd thought. After a few wrong turns I was completely lost in another part of the lake. I had to retrace my steps more than once before I was once more alongside the snags. The swim itself was unfishable, but the left-hand edge could be reached from the next swim down. Baiting in amongst the tangled branches, the plan was to feed them where they were, and perhaps give them the confidence to come out into open water enough to make fishing for them feasible. I placed two rigs a few feet away from the snags both surrounded with little piles of crushed boilies and hemp. Into the snags went more of the same.
Soon after 6pm it was dark. The temperature had fallen to around 5 degrees, a little warmer than the previous few nights and my confidence was high. A short burst of bleeps at about 8pm had me bending the rod into a good fish. It moved around slowly and I was convinced I'd hooked my first carp, I was not impressed when a pike of about 16-17lb hit the surface. Pike on a boilie, well they were salmon flavoured I guess! A tench was the night's only other capture. I spent the next day exploring the rest of the water, baiting a few likely areas.
My next trip was in similar conditions. After a wander, I settled into a previously baited spot. A close in bar produced two runs on the Friday night with one fish banked, my first carp from the water, a stockie mirror of 17lb 6oz. The next morning I sat out some rain in the same spot, and after it cleared, I packed up and made for the shallows.
The forecast was for the warm south-westerly to strengthen and bring with it sunshine and temperatures up to 18 degrees in the next couple of days. Because of this I'd booked Monday off work with the knowledge that this opportunity could not be missed.
The first temperatures towards 20 degrees of the year are the one time you can be sure of seeing some fish and see them at their best. This time brings the carp out of the woodwork and into the margins or shallow areas allowing not only excellent stalking opportunities but also a real chance to see what you're fishing for.
Walking into the first swim on the shallows I climbed the tree and right before my eyes were a number of good-sized carp. A few stockies up to 20lb, but the odd larger fish, heavily plated long mirrors and long dark commons to near 30; these had to be the 'originals'. I ran back to the car, grabbed the gear and made my way back. Putting the rods together I quickly put fresh baits on the rigs and flicked the two hookbaits onto a couple of slightly cleaner areas of silt amongst the silkweed. Both rigs were only a couple of yards out and climbing the tree I made sure both were sitting right before flicking a few broken baits around them. No fish were in view at the time, so I returned to the ground to set about tidying up the swim.
Phil came along the path and mentioned that he'd seen fish here earlier. Looking from up the tree I watched an upper 20 common come into the margins and go down on one of the spots. The silt clouded up around it for about a minute, all the time I was convinced I was just about to get a take and had already planned a quick exit from the tree. Just then a smaller common came alongside and also began to feed. My alarm sounded and the smaller fish shot off taking line from the slack clutch. Picking up the rod a few seconds later the fish took line steadily. I called to Phil who was walking about in the next few swims, he arrived just in time to net the fish, a deep dark common of 13lb 8oz. A small one, but an original none the less.
I fished on until late evening, seeing fish throughout the warm afternoon, but nothing fed on my baits. That evening I'd arranged to go out with some friends in the nearby town, so I packed up eager to return the next morning. The night out was a right laugh and after a meal and a few beers I finally crashed out on a sofa at about 3am. I'm not normally terribly keen on getting out of bed early in the morning but this time was an exception. Up and out before anyone else had stirred, I was back on the shallows by 7am. The areas looked a lot bigger this morning and the bait I'd put in last night had all gone. I was convinced fish had been feeding in the areas over night. I flicked the first rod out and climbed the tree to look for a second spot. Looking out I could see some disturbance on the water a line was flicking across it. MY line was flicking across it, down from the tree; the rod that had only just been cast out was off. I bent into a scrappy fish and soon banked a small stockie common of about 8lb.
With rods out I spent most of the morning up the tree watching fish. A few big ones showed themselves, 'cut-off' came into the swim a few times - she looked massive I put her at low to mid-forty. A few low-mid 30's also turned up, one I specifically remember with a tatty dorsal that I have never seen since. Fish often fed on my baits but every time it was a stockie. I must have had over a half dozen fish that day up to 17lb plus. After dark I continued to catch, 2 x 15lb stockie mirrors. As dawn broke a number of fish crashed out in the bay. Then at 8am I had a run and hooked a hard fighting fish that stripped yards of line off the reel. In the net she was a long dark common weighing 24lb 8oz. A immaculately proportioned and scale perfect fish.
I fished on all day taking a couple more stockies. Very few fish were seen that day and I packed up in the evening as the rain started to fall.