I was staggered, but highly excited by the fact that I would be fishing all through the following day. I arrived at dawn, as usual. A gale force south-westerly still blew from the previous day, and there were bits of trees floating all over the lake. We had found that though the fish would often move on a summer north-easterly wind, the south westerlies didn't have the same effect, so I set up with my back to the wind, behind a small island. It just so happened that this was the swim John had caught his fish from! I was fishing the triple particle bolt rig on one rod, and I cast this tight to the island. With the lowering of water temperatures, I had decided to switch to the HNV on the other rod. I was fishing two baits on the hair, one grilled to make it float, the other a normal boiled bait to give a balanced effect. These were attached to a size four Au Lion D'or by a one inch length of 3lb Maxima. I was intending to fish this rod "clipped up" and was using the relatively stronger line to prevent tench making off with the baits by breaking the hair.
The strong wind was really stirring up the shallows, so I cast the second rod there. I was just attaching the clip when the line pulled from my hands and the rod nearly went into the lake! I struck into a fast moving carp, which I played for a couple of minutes before the hook came out. I hadn't really been able to form any impression of the fish's size. Very shakily I re-baited, and cast out to the same spot. I hadn't yet put any free offerings in, but now fired out about four handfuls of the particle HNV's. An hour later the same rod was away again. Another carp was hooked and I almost had it in the net when the hook pulled out. This was not good! I re-baited with a single bait, balanced to sink slowly, and shortened the hair to a quarter of an inch. Only twenty-five minutes had passed when I had yet another run on the same rod, this time just as I was cooking my breakfast. You can get away with beans or sausages, but a run while frying an egg really spells disaster! I had one hell of a fight with this fish, and the egg was a write off! The carp tried to get around the other side of the island, but once again the old Mk IV did its job, and after a few more minutes the fish was mine. As it flopped into the waiting net, it looked straight at me, and I'm sure I heard it say "Happy birthday!". It was a mirror, and weighed 18lbs 14oz. It was well hooked in the bottom lip, the usual result of the bolt rig, and had another hook link in its mouth as well as mine.
Steve was fishing in the next swim, and he took the photos for me before we returned the fish. I re-baited, re-cast and sat down feeling very happy with my birthday present. But the peace didn't last. Before another hour had gone by I was in again, and once more on the HNV. The fish felt quite good, and powered off the shallows. I applied some pressure, and the hook came out. My despair was tempered by my anxiety to get a bait back out there. After doing so I fired out another couple of handfuls of boilies, and sat down and put the kettle on. I almost managed to finish my cup of tea before the next run, yet again on the HNV. This time the fish stayed on, and turned out to be a nice mirror of 13lbs 3oz. Once again Steve did the camera work before the fish was slipped back. Poor old Steve - he was only fishing a little way along the bank and hadn't even had a twitch. He'd only been gone for 10 minutes when the sound of my buzzer and the swoosh of the rod as I struck brought him scuttling back again. But this time the strike failed to connect, and I reeled in to find the bait had gone. I recast and was just firing out more free offerings when the particle rod pulled out of the clip. No run followed, and the bait was intact. I put fresh baits on anyway, and recast a little further from the island, into a deeper channel I thought the fish might be moving through.
Not surprisingly, the next few hours were very quiet, and just after 3 p.m. I thought it might be safe to cook a meal. I should have known better! Just as I was tucking into a plateful of spaghetti bolognese, the HNV rod was in action again. My diary entry says "this fish fought like an electrified pig!" It did too! I really thought I had hooked the lake's mythical big common. It tore off the shallows into the deeper water, then swam along the bottom of the ledge. Pressure from me slowed it slightly and it then kited back onto the shallows and carried on towards the margins where it got stuck in a large reed-bed fifty yards to my left. There was little I could do from my position, as there was a large tree reaching over the water on my left. I asked Steve, who had once again come up to watch, if he would go down and crash about in the reeds and try to frighten the fish back into open water. I didn't want to lose that fish - it felt massive! Steve set off, but before he reached the spot, the fish, as if it had heard our plan, came out of its own accord and once more ran fast across the shallows, this time stopping in the deeper water in front of me. This was where I wanted him, and it wasn't too long before I was drawing him towards the net.
That first glimpse of a fish is always exciting, especially when you are sure you have a big one on. I suspect as many fish have been lost by anxiety to see them as anxiety to get them in the net! I was especially careful with this carp, and didn't actually get a good look at it until it was safely enmeshed. My first reaction was "where's the rest of it!" It was a superb carp, a nicely scaled mirror, long, lean and powerful, almost like a barbel in shape. It weighed 11lbs 13oz, and I've rarely had a better fight from a fish, even fish three times bigger. If I had lost it I would have sworn I'd lost a carp in excess of 25lbs!
I had to wait another two hours for the next run. God that sounds terrible in the context of the type of fishing I do these days, when you may have to wait all season for a run! This one was on the particle, and turned out to be a nice common of 14lbs 5oz. It had a massive tail, and had used it to good effect during the fight.
At 7 p.m. I packed up. But what a day - four carp landed, and three more hooked and lost. And this on a water that had previously been producing around eight doubles in a season to the more successful anglers. And it was significant that most of the action had been on the HNV that had been going in since the start of the season. That was most encouraging. I had quite a celebration that night!
The following Tuesday evening saw me on the Park lake, fishing the particle on both rods. The weather had turned quite cold, with a very fresh westerly wind. I wasn't too optimistic - a cold wind usually spelt disaster on this very shallow water, especially if it persisted after darkness fell. I cast the left hand rod close to a large reed-bed, and the other into more open water, further out. Just after 6 p.m. there was a rustle in the reed-bed which didn't match the wind pattern. Carp! I grew more attentive. The fish was moving towards the baits. I sat upright on the chair. The fish moved to the edge of the reeds, then the rustling stopped. He must have found the baits, or at least been aware of their presence. I moved to the edge of my chair and was poised for action. But five minutes passed, then ten, then fifteen, and nothing had happened. Gradually I relaxed, and after half an hour had reached the fully reclined position again! Almost an hour later a carp picked up the left hand bait and before I could even blink had run straight into the reeds. I held on, and the fish thrashed about, three feet inside the reed-bed. Trying the old ploy, I slowly walked backwards. It was working - the fish was coming out, when quite suddenly the line broke. I didn't feel there was that much pressure on it - perhaps it had cut on the reed stems. I had no more action that evening, and left at 8.30 p.m. after baiting the swim for the following morning.
By 5.45 a.m. next morning I was set up with baits cast to the same areas as the previous evening. After an hour I noticed some movement in the reed-bed. I was fishing this rod tightly clipped up, for two reasons. Firstly, I thought I would get more time to grab the rod before any line was taken, and secondly, I hoped that providing a strong resistance close to the fish's safe area may actually spook the carp away from the reeds. It was now forty minutes since I'd seen the fish in the reed-bed. All was quiet and work time was approaching too quickly. Also approaching though were some bubbles, moving towards the left hand bait from the opposite side of the reeds. They stopped over the baited area. This looked encouraging! After ten minutes rooting around, he picked up the hook-bait and shot away from the reeds, out into open water. The clip had worked. I knew he would try to get into the reeds if I brought him back that way, and it was too early in the fight to start pumping. So I walked him up the lake, not giving any line, and when he eventually kited towards the bank he missed the reeds by a good ten yards. I soon had him after that - a nice mirror of just over 19lbs.
By the time I'd sorted out the photographs it was time to leave. Still, work wouldn't be so bad that day! It would though be of little use trying to infect my non-angling work colleagues with my excitement - all they would say would be "What did you do with it - throw it back again?" And when I told them that I had put it back carefully, and asked them how far they thought they could 'throw' a 19lb carp, they would reply scornfully "What - you wait all that time to catch one, then put it back again!" And what do these office heroes do in their spare time? They play golf. So I say to them "And what do you do after you've spent all that effort trying to get your golf-ball into that little hole?" to which they reply "Why, take it out again!"
Some of them might understand, but today I would keep my joy to myself.
Back on the Island lake the next Saturday, it was the day of the small carp. I was fishing the particle on one rod, the HNV on the other. From dawn to dusk I had six runs. Two fish of unknown dimensions fell off, and I landed three carp around the 4lb mark, and a 3lb tench. However, five of the runs were on the HNV - another confidence booster. I went back the next day and had a repeat performance. I had five runs, landed carp of 5lbs 10oz and 4lbs 10oz, two tench of about 3lbs, and lost another carp which I hoped was a small one! But again, most of the takes were on the HNV. Tuesday evening I went to the Park lake, once again setting up by the reed-bed. After a couple of hours, some bubbles appeared just a foot from the left hand baits. Unfortunately they then went the wrong way! By 7 p.m. torrential rain was falling and as I cringed under my leaky umbrella I wrote this in the diary - "If I'm going to get a run, please God don't let it be now! 8 p.m. Buzzers going critical in the rain - sod this - I'm off!".
Back again in the small hours of the next morning. The rain had stopped, and it was mild, overcast and still, conditions I have since found to be perfect for this lake. At 6.50 a.m. a very big carp jumped out in the centre of the lake, and twenty minutes later something crashed in the reed-bed. Two minutes after that I had a scorching run on the right hand rod, and hooked a very large carp. It was heading for another reed-bed about twenty yards away, and I couldn't stop it. I tried to slow it down and seemed to be succeeding; but when it was only a yard from the reeds, the hook pulled out. I was using a strong number four, and it had opened right up! I'll quote the diary again. "This was a big one - my immediate impression on hooking this fish was - Christ - I'll never land it! I had the feeling my Mk IV was totally outgunned!" I left for work at 8 a.m., still shaking, and struggled all day!
Next Saturday I decided to spend the first few hours of the day on the Park lake, as this seemed to be one of the carp's feeding times. Then, if all were quiet, I would move onto the Island lake until dark - with luck this could turn out to be a nice case of both having your cake and eating it. But the 7 o'clock run failed to materialise, and after hanging on for a further two hours, at 9 a.m. I switched lakes.
By 10 a.m. I was set up on the Island lake. There was only one other angler there (the carp boom hadn't quite got going then!) so I had a good choice of swims, and chose one that gave me maximum coverage of the water. The particle rod was cast along the margins, the HNV out to some lily pads. Compared to recent days, this one was very quiet and twitchless. The first action was on the particle, when, at around 11.30 a.m. I struck a fast lift of the indicator, and landed a 2lb bream. Blimey, I didn't think bream could do anything quickly! Then, just before 3 p.m. a fish rolled down the lake to my right, about sixty yards away. I reeled in the HNV rod, set up a six bait stringer - six freebies and the hookbait makes seven, for luck.
You have to try everything when carp fishing! Once when driving round a large gravel pit not having any idea where to fish, I eventually stopped at a swim just because the trip meter in my car read 7777. (I blanked)
The stringer was cast as close as I could to where the fish had shown. I hadn't got a really good look at it, so it may have been a tench, but it was worth a try. My effort was rewarded when half an hour later I had a run on the HNV, followed by a real dogged fight. There were no snags of any description between me and the fish, but I had much trouble in getting him off the bottom. After a timed fifteen minutes a big mirror was sliding towards the rim of the net. In he went, and was weighed at 23lbs 3oz - my best mirror from the lake. It was a fish I had caught before at around 22lbs and I now decided to give him a name - Eric.
That was the last of the action that day, and I went home at 8.30 p.m. By now September was drawing to a close, and my thoughts were turning to other things such as pike and chub fishing, and pheasant shooting. The catches so far had exceeded all expectations. There was though, one fish reputed to be in the lake that I really wanted to catch. That was the previously mentioned and almost mythical big common, which could well have been around the 28lb mark if indeed it was still in the lake. Definitely a fish worth going for! I had about four weeks left for carp fishing before moving on to other things and I decided to spend that time after the common, on one rod at least. In an attempt to be selective I made up some really big baits, each one almost the size of a rounders ball, and for the last three weeks had been baiting one area with them. Baiting was easy - you only needed to put in three or four! They hit the water like hand-grenades, which was by the way, how you threw them! Casting them on the old cane Mk IV's was a bit of a strain though!
This was to be my final effort on the lake, so I decided to do some night sessions at the weekends, instead of the usual dawn 'til dusk. A weak sun was just beginning to reveal the lake-side path as I struggled heavily laden towards the island on the next Saturday morning. I was quickly set up with the HNV on one rod, and the mega-bait, which if memory serves right was a mixture of caseinate, gluten and a carophyll based bird food (not robin red) 'flavoured' with liver extract, on the other. The HNV I was fishing in particle form, on a bolt rig. This consisted of a six inch dacron hook length, a two ounce lead, and a backstop six inches up the line. Hook was the trusty Au Lion D'or, size four, and a buoyant bait, made by grilling ordinary boilies, was attached with a very short hair, probably less than a quarter of an inch. This was balanced by poking small pieces of stone or non-toxic lead into the bait until it sank very slowly indeed. The mega bait was fished on a twenty-four inch dacron hook length and a two ounce lead with a backstop eighteen inches up the line. Bait was attached to the size four hook with a two inch dacron hair.
The first take came at 8.30 a.m. It was a bream, and had taken the HNV. But fifteen minutes later I was into the real thing - a run on the HNV turned out to be a mirror carp of 13lbs 14oz. I knew this fish - it was the first fish I had caught this season. Coincidentally, I had caught it on the very same day last season. Funny that - carpy coincidence working again! The rest of the day passed with many twitches, but the only definite movement was when the bobbin on the HNV rod slowly rose nine inches. It is normally my habit to strike indications such as this, and I generally sit by my rods to do so. The diary entry says "Bobbin rose to top on l/h rod - why didn't I strike - 'cos I was having a piddle, that's why!".
Around 8 p.m. Steve came over for a chat. Oh yes, I didn't mention (did I?) that there were two Steves as well as two Johns - this was the other one! He was supposed to be going to work that night, but when he found me fishing, and I told him of the fish I'd been catching, he decided to go sick! Within the hour he was back with his tackle, plus four cans of lager. Conditions that night looked hopeless - it was clear and cold and with a full moon so bright you cast a shadow. It was almost like daylight, and it was nice to sit and chat over a couple of drinks.
By 11 p.m. we'd polished off the lagers, and I decided it was time for bed. I dropped off straight away, but unfortunately had neglected to lay with my good ear uppermost - my left ear is slightly deaf due to an excess of wood-pigeon shooting in my youth. As visions of monster commons filled my head, I became aware of a voice interrupting my dreams - a voice with a note of urgency in it! Slowly stirring, I seemed to hear a beeping mingled with the voice - I had a run, and Steve was shouting at me to wake up! I did, and struck into a good fish. At this point the bedchair collapsed at the front, and almost tipped me into the lake! I hate walking around in the mud in stockinged feet, and was desperately trying to get my boots from under the collapsed chair. As I was still sitting on it this proved rather difficult, especially as I was playing the carp with the other hand! In the end I shoved the rod into Steve's hand, and he held on while I pulled on my boots. I then took over, and eventually landed an immaculate common of 15lbs 1oz, again on the HNV. This fish was sacked up until the morning.
I re-baited, and though I was tempted not to bother with the fiddly business of balancing the bait, I exerted maximum will-power, and made myself carry out this very important operation! I was glad I did! An hour later I had another run on the same rod. The fish came in reasonably easily, then put up a terrific fight under the rod tip, as if he had changed his mind about featuring in the photo-album after all. I felt I knew this fish! It was Eric, now weighing 22lbs 10oz. Like many big carp, he had to eat a lot, and had now become a bit of a mug. He was no less welcome for that though - he was a splendid fish. After placing him in a sack borrowed from Steve, who was now fishing next to me, I lay on the bedchair, and spent the night half awake, or half asleep depending on your point of view!
At 5.30 a.m. there was much drama when I had a run on the mega bait! I hooked into a good fish that kited left, then right around the other side of the island from which I was fishing. I managed to stop him, and had actually recovered about twenty-five yards of line when the hook pulled out. It was no consolation to land a 2lb bream and a 3lb tench in the next hour! With the coming of daylight the fish in the sacks were removed, photographed and returned. The morning passed quietly, but at 2 p.m. I was in action again, this time landing another superb common of 17lbs 6oz. Steve still hadn't had a run and was definitely looking down in the mouth. He'd gone very quiet - most unlike him! I can imagine how he felt. It didn't help when at twenty past three the HNV was taken again, and another carp graced my net, this one a mirror of 12lbs 14oz. There are times when you don't need a fish. That was one of them, and I would much sooner Steve had caught it.
A quiet ninety minutes was ended by another bream, again on the HNV, and just to round the day off I had a 4lb common on the same bait. So ended my third night session on the lake. And so ended September. I left the lake just after it got dark wondering what might have happened if I had been putting in regular night sessions!