Arriving around 6pm, we had a walk along a favourite stretch and put a little bit of bait in our chosen spots, before retiring to the local pub for a few drinks to welcome in the new season.
The river was where I started carp fishing, and still remains one of my number one venues. Stocked in the 50's with Leney strain fish, fishing the river for carp is a unique experience. A run could come from anything, true fishing for the unknown.
We wondered along to our selected swims at about 11pm, and cast out on the stroke of mid-night in the time honoured tradition. I had work the next day, so this was to be a flying visit. I was awoken at 4am by Adam's alarms, and simultaneously my right hand rod took off. Pulling into the fish, it moved very quickly towards me and kept going, forcing me to backwind as it headed off 20 yards downstream. In true river carp fashion the fight was drawn out and very powerful. Adam walked into the swim just after I'd netted a good-sized lean common, carrying his unhooking mat containing a bigger mirror. We weighed the pair and quickly ran off a couple photos of each. Mine went 17lb 12oz and Adams 21lb 12oz. A cracking start to the season.
I began baiting up a few areas along the river in preparation for the coming months. I'd never really carried any serious baiting up on the river and had high hopes of concentrating these nomadic fish into swims, enabling good results in short evening sessions. A few evening and mid-week trips produced a string of hard fighting double figure commons from the river. The plan worked a treat for the first week, but then the river's bream population moved onto the free feed, and the carp had no chance.
It was during one of these evening sessions that I picked up some information that was to lead to adding another water to the growing list of venues I was to fish. Chatting to a fellow river carp angler, this new lake was brought up in conversation. He mentioned that he'd seen a very big fish in the lake during the spring. The water, I'll call it The Dragonfly Pool, was fairly local and one that I'd looked at it few times over the past couple of years, but had never fished.
I passed this information on to a friend who investigated and soon confirmed that a fish of 34lb had been taken there in 1996. Photos of this fish were soon tracked down and what a fish it turned out to be, deep, but not a sign of a gut, and beautifully scaled. It really was a stunning fish, its shape reminding me of the old Silver End lake fish. As soon as I saw the fish I knew I had to have a go at catching it. Bearing in mind these pictures were a few years old, I had no idea how big the fish might now be.
The lake itself was quite small, definitely the smallest venue I've ever fished, and it was for this reason that I felt confident of being in with a good chance of catching it. Location shouldn't be too much of a problem, the lake was small, shallow and choked with weed, I thought a fish of that size couldn't hide away for long. Information about the rest of the carp stock was very thin on the ground, but the figure of about 20 fish in only a couple of acres seemed to fit with what I'd been told, and seen. However with the fish obviously having been caught a few times before, I did think presentation might prove a problem. But, having total confidence in my short little snake-bite stiff links, I decided not to change anything and play it by ear from the start.
I tie these rigs up with size 4 continental boilie hooks 'no-knot' style and flexi ring swivels. With the snake-bite totally covered, I only remove the outer covering from the hair itself and one little ten-millimetre section about half an inch from the hook. This little hinge ensures perfect movement and also forms a bent-hook rig effect. I fish both boilies and particles (tiger nuts) in this fashion with long leadcore leaders and 3oz or 1oz leads, depending on whether fish are already present in the area whilst I'm casting, on safety clips. I find the continental boilie hooks very reliable and have had very few losses on them over the past three or four years. They do tend to lose their sharpness quite quickly, but are so cheap that new ones are normally used every trip, just to be sure.
It was about five weeks later that I first cast a line in search of this stunning fish, but that time was put to good use and saw me regularly visiting the lake a few times every week. During the whole of that time I never saw another carp angler. I found this a little strange and began to doubt that the fish was indeed in the lake. Surely there must be others interested in this little water with such a stunning looking big fish in it? Neither did I ever see the big one in the water; however the few fish that I had seen looked really nice, and some of a nice size as well, with the biggest commons and mirrors spotted being well into the twenty's. I felt that with the lake being nice and quiet it would be a nice place to fish and had a real possibility of containing a huge fish. So, I kept in as close contact with the water as I could whilst still fishing my other waters, just waiting for an opportunity to present itself.
Two areas of the lake really interested me. One was a deep section of margin, often frequented by a few tench, and the odd carp. The other, being a shallow gravel area in the middle of the pit. Not really a bar, more of a plateau surrounded by thick weed growth. And it was in both of these areas that I introduced a small amount of bait during each of my fleeting visits. Firstly cleaning a couple of spots off with hemp, and later introducing 18mm fishmeal boilies in an attempt to keep the little roach at bay.
My first fishing trip was to be a quick evening session. Leaving work early I made it down to the lake for about 5pm. It only took a few minutes to walk around the entire lake. With a few nice climbing trees scaled, nothing could be seen in the shallower areas of the lake, so I opted to fish the deep margin I'd been baiting. After swinging a couple of bottom baits under the overhanging branches of a nice tree and slackening the lines right off, so that the line lay unobtrusively along the bottom, I sat back well up the bank and away from the edge. Just after dark I had a nice tench, proving that something had been eating the bait. Nothing else happened and I left after listening to John Peel spin some of the usual high-quality tunes.
Returning the following Sunday night after fishing the weekend elsewhere, I set up and fished the plateau, after once again being unable to locate any fish. With both rods out I saw a couple of fish launch themselves out of the water close to the area I was fishing and felt confident of a take. However nothing ensued and I packed up for work early the next morning. Before I left, I had a quick trot around, hoping to gain some clue as to where the fish were holed up. Walking into a little swim I had looked at a number of times, I noticed a clean area of gravel close in to the bank. I was unsure why I hadn't noticed this before, being exactly the kind of spot I'm immediately drawn to. I thought that perhaps with it being the morning, the angle of the sun was different from all my previous evening visits, and visibility had improved to reveal it. Alternatively I thought that maybe it was an area that had only recently been cleared by feeding fish. Half a bucket of hemp was quickly deposited on the spot, followed by half a kilo of the 18mm fishmeal boilies. It would be a couple of days before I could fish again, due to work commitments, so wanted the spot well baited to ensure the tench and roach didn't get it all and some would be left should a carp come across the area.
I ambled into the swim later that week to be greeted by a group of fish, heads-down feeding on and around the pre-baited spot. Four fish were right in the margin. A really good-looking, fat mirror of about mid-twenty's, a mid-double common and two smaller commons close to about ten pounds.
Returning a few minutes later I started to get the rods baited and ready to get into position, when I realised I'd left my buzzers at home! Unable to fish the night without them I resisted the temptation to drop a bait in amongst the fish and made the decision to drive all the way back home to pick them up knowing that fish were feeding in the swim. Being very annoyed I sped off, far faster than I should have. Quickly calming down, a safer pace ensured I stayed alive long enough to fish again!
Getting back at about 8:30pm, the same four fish were still in the area. I slowly lowered the rigs into position amongst the fish, swinging two stiff-rigged bottom baits to the clean gravel spot followed by a dozen broken freebies. I had a take right away and lost a fish as the hook instantly fell out. Feeling I might well have scared the rest of the fish off with this disturbance I despondently got the rods back out. Over the next couple of hours fish still seemed to be visiting the area. Well into dark, I had a dodgey 'tench bite' that turned out to be a hard scrapping fish of 14lb, the mid-double common I was seeing earlier I presumed.
I awoke again at 2am by another take, line was steadily being taken from the slackened clutch. I picked up the rod and the fish was solid in a weed-bed at about 15 yards. Slowly a heavy fish came in and just slowly plodded up and down the margins. I thought it must be a carp, but didn't think it was very big at this point, although it did feel very heavy. I netted it in the dark and having not seen the fish break surface once during the fight, had no idea of its size. Looking down into the net, the fish looked good and I could tell it was a mirror. Thinking it must be the mid-twenty I was seeing earlier I went to lift it out and on to the unhooking mat. Only I couldn't lift it!! Quickly fetching my torch, I soon realised it was very big and checking the scaling on one flank confirmed I'd just caught the biggest one in the lake! Struggled up the bank with it, I knew I was looking at yet another personal best. The fish was huge.
Earlier that month I'd witnessed a new county record, and still had the set of Ruben Heaton scales I'd borrowed off a friend in order to weigh that monster. So reaching into the rucksack these big scales were once more brought into use.
I pushed the fish onto the weight-mat, which I know weighs about three pounds. I hoisted it up on the scales and watched the needle spin round to 44 - 45 pounds. Panic quickly set in and I carefully sacked her in the margins before trying to find Adam who was fishing close by. We accurately weighed her then at 40lb 14oz, before sacking the fish once more.
Then the fun started, driving back home to get a camera, phoning everyone to get another cameraman (as well as screaming the weight at anyone who answered their phones) and driving to Tesco to get some film. We got back just before first light and photographed the fish as soon as it was light enough. An absolutely stunning fish. It had obviously been visiting the spot for a while as it was crapping out particles in the sack and I hadn't put any in since Monday morning.
It's funny how things turn out. The season was verging on the realms of fantasy at this point, and whilst the Dragonfly fish was one that I felt I'd put a fair bit of work into catching, it still came very early on, much sooner than I'd expected. The capture of such a huge, virtually unknown, fish was yet to fully sink in, and whilst I couldn't wipe the smile off my face for the next couple of weeks, I was still mad keen for another challenge. I had a bit of a think after the capture. I feared that such a big fish would kill my enthusiasm for getting back out on the bank, but in fact the capture had the opposite effect.
Just before the capture I had started a new job that meant moving away from my beloved local waters. With just six weeks left to fish, and a lot of holiday to use up, I prepared to fish even harder in the coming period. I was obviously on a bit of a roll, and my confidence was sky high. However, decisions had to be made as to the best way of spending this time.
I decided to concentrate on two of the hardest water I knew in an attempt to finally bank a carp from the waters where I'd failed to catch from, for the last 18 months.
Did the roll continue? Find out next month in the final part of Carping Around.