It was about this time I decided I wasn't fishing enough. A night in a bivvy in near hypothermic conditions was warmer than the frosty reception I could ever expect at home. Unfortunately the venue I had decided to concentrate my efforts on was not renowned for its summer captures and, anytime past October, you were in serious danger of men in white coats coming around. There had been some very capable anglers on this lake, trying and failing. The people that were "having it away" were lucky to bank ten fish a season, such was the small head of carp and the enormity of natural food.
The biggest problem was presentation of bait. The lake was an old clay pit and any more than an ounce of lead left your end tackle in two feet of blanket weed and slurry that the locals laughingly called 'the bottom'. I would rate myself a 'thinking man's angler' but after two years perseverance had only three runs to show for my efforts. One resulted in a 2lb tench, the second in a 14lb 4oz mirror and the third in heartbreak. This lake was harder than an out-of-work male porn star at a festival of free love.
The thing I really love about carp angling, if you avoid the 'circuit' waters, is that you can set your own dreams, your own targets and try to make it all a reality. My own goals have varied over the years; I learnt my trade at a small water stacked with 3-5lb carp, my sole intention was to catch a 'double'. It took a couple of years and around three hundred carp before my scales settled on 10lb 6ozs but that fish still rates as one of my favourites. The 'glossies' would have you believe anything less than a 'thirty' is not worth photographing - but don't get caught in that numbers game. If the lake record where you fish is 8lb and you catch a nine pounder then shout it from the rooftops, for you've cracked it!
I always like to set myself an achievable aim each season but a combination of patchy results thus far and sky-high confidence that I'd ironed out previous problems (coupled with the domestic situation) left me in a quandary; what could I realistically hope to achieve? Would ten fish be over-ambitious? Would ten runs be more conservative? To hell with it, try my heart out and look back and wonder if I could have done better seemed to be the logical answer.
Opting to miss the opening week and let a little of the early optimism die down appeared to be the best solution. I chanced upon a week in Holland with a man I half-knew through my father. Through this week a couple of monster carp were caught, a good few ideas exchanged, the odd dodgy curry shared, but more importantly an indelible friendship was founded (I also had to have two teeth removed, but that's a different story!)
Returning to 'Lac du'Impossible' I'd discovered little had been caught (quelle surprise!) and decided upon a quick one-night-stand. This resulted in a plump 16lb mirror. So far so good.
Then came the masterstroke, the local council in its wisdom decided to make a large gypsy encampment on the ground adjoining the lake. Amidst fears of tackle thefts and car vandalism (that never happened) the syndicate was reduced by around two-thirds virtually overnight and several disgruntled anglers demanded their subscriptions back. By late July there were days that I was the only angler on the lake. Seventeen acres, all to myselfheaven.
By mid-August I had landed 9 carp, the biggest a common just over the twenty-pound mark. I was using a 50/50 combination of Hutchy's protein mix and Nash's Sting, flavoured with leaf spice and RH1 essential oil. Rather than boiling them though I opted for baking them at gas mk.1 for approximately 50 minutes. This gave the bait almost neutral buoyancy with the weight of the hook often required to make them sink. These were fished on a paternoster rig with a 3/4oz. lead tied to a long length of 'rotten bottom'. All this critical balancing seemed to be overcoming the other 'rotten bottom'; the lake bed.
One night in early September I had lain awake in bed listening to a ferocious hooligan of a wind blowing. Whilst my neighbours were probably wondering if their fences and greenhouses would still be standing in the morning, I had only one thought on my mind; carp. I got up and smoked a cigarette in the garden. The sheer force and warmth of the south-westerly pushing me back got my mouth watering and the fleeting glimpse of a new moon through the broken, swirling clouds completed my sense of expectation. Come in No10. Your time is up!
I was just reeling in my fourth 'thirty' of the night when my alarm clock sounded. Normally five o'clock in the morning is not a good time for me. I'm either comatose with drink, trying to find where the hell the bathroom had moved to in the night, or sneaking in the door trying not to wake the wife As an aside, it never fails to amaze me with women when they say "What time did you get in?" You reply "about 1 o'clockish" and then they say "No it wasn't, it was 4.37" I mean, if you already know the answer but I'm straying from the point.
By 6 o'clock I'd set up in the corner bay, confident that every carp in the lake must have been driven here by the prevalent wind. I cast both baits into the reed-fringed margins before me. It was nearly fifteen minutes before I got my first take, a nine-pound common, but what the heck, carp No.10! I was still chuffed. No time to put on the kettle as the left hand rod roared away, 18lb 12ozs! Cloud 9, here I come!
I made a cup of tea, re-baited both the rods, returned them both to their original positions with delicate under-arm lobs and sat back. Common-sense told me I had had a result but experience (or optimism) had taught me there was more to come. I didn't have to wait too long before the right hand optonic was singing it's one-tone melody to me. I made it cease in a sweeping strike overhead. The solid thump down the line signalled the third carp of the day. It kited hard right towards the over-hanging tree but steady pressure made it rethink it's options. Then the left hand buzzer started to whine. Ordinarily I would have put this down to the first fish swimming across the line but the lines were going in different directions And bloody fast at that! A second strike resulted in the familiar thud. I wound the clutch down quickly and let the second fish run whilst holding the butt of the rod desperately between my knees. The first fish was bullied home and netted, I placed one foot over the landing net handle as I endeavoured to locate carp No 2, a full sixty yards out. Bingo! Still on. Luckily a friend, Phil, then chanced by.
"Good fish is it?" he enquired.
"Better than the one in the net I reckon" I replied.
He duly unhooked the first fish for me and put it in a sack as we guessed at the weight. The other carp had found a weed-bed around thirty yards out in front of me and had become determinedly lodged.
"Don't lose her," said Phil "You won't get a better opportunity to catch two in a day."
The look on his face when I casually mentioned this would be the fourth will live with me forever.
Steady pressure had eased the weed-bed to within netting distance and, after looking at the mass of green with a huge golden tail poking out, we decided to scoop up the whole lot in one.
With the scales zeroed we weighed the smallest fish first. 18lb 8ozs we took a couple of photographs and released hernext! The Avons swung around once, then twice, then some more before finally settling at 24lb 2ozs. Does life get any better?
I felt elated, I made another cup of tea, re-baited the rods and cast out but knew with all the commotion any further chances were gone. Not that I cared, I had exceeded my wildest dreams already and just wanted to lie back and bask in the moment.
I drifted off into contented sleep, all the domestic disputes, financial hardships and other problems melted into insignificance. If I was a doctor dealing with a chronically depressed patient I would write out a prescription advising one very large carp to be taken weekly, there's nothing like it to lift your mood.
Sometime later in the afternoon my sleep was broken by a familiar bleeping sound, here we go again. A short but dogged fight produced a lovely 16lb 8ozs mirror in pristine condition.
I packed away my tackle and headed home a happy man, confident this was the start of really getting to grips with the lake I had struggled with for so long. Unfortunately it was the end. The situation with my wife deteriorated rapidly. I moved out and moved away. That superb morning's fishing turned out to be my last ever trip there but hey-ho, what a way to finish!