Unfinished Business

One paddle, one vision.

Although time has been limited due to growing my bait company and working full time I’ve still made sure to get out for 1 night a week consistently and managed to fish a few different waters with quite a decent number of interesting old carp caught, along with a pair of very special commons from one of the most challenging waters I’ve ever fished. This year I’ve had far more bites than in the last few seasons, mainly due to really getting to grips with the aforementioned water that I had only ever dabbled with in the past and luckily ended up meeting most of the stock in a few weeks angling during the height of the summer. After dipping in and out on this water over the last few year in dribs and drabs I had been reasonably successful landing around what I knew to be half of the existing stock including the biggest of the ‘known stock’ (around 20 fish mainly small ones with just one or two known to be over 30 lbs) but, had also suffered a crushing loss of big fish, which I’m sure was one I had also seen show way out in the pond a couple of years previously, on an early morning recce. That fish was far bigger than the others and as far as I knew had only been seen a couple of times by two individuals and never as far as they or I was aware had been hooked let alone banked. I won’t say too much about this water but, it is large, deep and snaggy which at the time had around 1 carp per 3-4 acres (from what I have witnessed over the previous summer). I decided to drop back on during the autumn after being away from the place nearly 3 years after finding a big fish dead during spawning I had weighed up the odds and decided my time was best spent elsewhere, and during this time away although I found other projects to concentrate on I had always known I would be back at some point. The decisive point came on a recce during the summer as I could see that no one had been angling there and further more I had seen what I believed to be the uncaught one which was considerably bigger than any of the other residence I had seen.. So, I thought that it was well worth 4-6 weeks of effort over the course of the autumn in an attempt to really see what this relatively untapped water actually held now.

It was the 1st week In October and I had done 1 night already and a new southerly was due to come in on the Friday night/Sat morning… low 1000s and a solid 30mph SSW with a lovely bit of drizzle for good measure.. Text book big pit conditions and I knew exactly where they would turn up. So, under the cover of darkness I made the long walk with the old seahawk and two 10k buckets of bait ready to lay out a banquet of the finest fishmeal boilies, pellets and particle known to man. It was hard graft getting out to around 100yds in the rain with my trusty, single lightweight paddle and building headwind but, it got done, and the next day at work I just couldn’t help but keep smiling every time I glanced out of the office window. The rain was smashing into the glass and the trees were performing their autumnal dance reminding me that they would be there, in numbers and feeding freely, building in confidence as the conditions grew stronger and the pressure fell away urging me to create an opportunity to leave the office early and get them hinges cracking down on the shelf as soon as possible. Around 6pm I arrived at the edge of the lake out of breath and sweating from the long walk in… As I stood trying to catch my breath before making my way to the edge of the water, looking over the baited zone it was obvious that there were carp in residence with a slick on the surface covering the whole zone the size of a 4 bed house. Once I got the water’s edge I didn’t rush, I knew the carp where there and I didn’t want to smash my 4ozers on top of them just yet.  Knowing that they would usually melt away as the sun went down, away from the shelves across the pit over into vastness and relative safety of the deeper water the which frequent otter predation had no doubt instilled in them in recent years, I bided my time and got the brolly tucked up with all my kit stashed away nicely with just the clips to hit on dark.

The warm Southerly wind increased and the slicks eventually subsided

As the sun fell away below the horizon the warm Southerly wind increased and the slicks eventually subsided enabling me to get 3 rods out, spread evenly along the shelf with a few baits pinged out in the stick just before the cast, to clear the zone in case they were still mooching around out there. All 3 went down with a nice crack on the edge of the cleaned shelf where the depths fell away from around 20 feet, steadily to around 40ft where, due to the constant clarity of the water the candy floss like weed was still present and zebra mussels were in abundance even at 40ft plus. In fact I’d never seen anything quite like it; every cast retrieved there would be bright green, candy floss like filamentous algae and a mixture of onion weed encased mussels. Not just one or two, they were there in vast numbers, attached to the hook, lead, leaders and rig putty, the whole floor of the clear, gin like water was sprinkled with this tiny, razor like mussels which looked quite bizarre from the scope and explained so much of my previous sightings. Watching at first light from way out in the pit with the dingy, they would show aggressively and repeatedly over the deep water. Being in excess of 35ft and feeding on the deck (or on the weed just off the deck) they were most definitely flushing the mussel shell debris from the gills as they feasted on the abundant natural larder that the small family of wild carp were blessed with. It was around 10pm as rain started to fall and I retired to the shelter of my brolly, the warm wind hypnotically bellowed the internals of my brolly in and out like huge lungs every few seconds and not long after had I drifted off dreaming of the unknown I was interrupted by the left hand rod going into meltdown. The tight clutch did doing nothing to aid my cause to stop the fish making a getaway around one of the many submerged trees that would be getting closer by the second.

Savage Garden

As I lifted the rod I was pulled forward and had to release my hand from the spool as I was flat rodded several times as I attempted to lift the rod leaving me in no doubt this was not one of the mid double self-breeds but most likely one of the two original fish that I had set my mind on meeting. As the wind and rain hacked into my face I struggled to see the angle of the singing line against the horizon but I knew It was close to getting behind the a sunken island to the left, so I clamped down hard on the spool, sh!t or bust time and pulled the fish up through the layers. It kicked hard twice and then came towards me quickly, with the line grating through something I tried to gain line but the tip juddered and within a couple of seconds everything had ground to a gut-wrenching halt. I quickly waded along the shelf, up to the right and managed to get things moving again once I had changed the angle, the tip juddered backwards and the mainline held firm and the fish kept coming just wallowing, heavily from side to amongst the foam capped waves.. As the slow moving, dead weight neared the shelf I caught a glimpse of the leader knot above the water with a small clump of weed around it and then an explosion and a huge flash of golden flank as the spooked fish bolted out of the shallowing water ripping line of the clutch and flat rodding me again.. I struggled to lift to rod as every thrash of its tail ripped the tip downwards and line tore line from the spool as it powered its way back out over the deep towards the dreaded snags again.

Only accessible by boat.. which was nice!

I cupped the spool and tried to slow it down but there was literally nothing I could do as the fish powdered across the surface with the top lobe of its tail sticking out as it thrashed violently trying to gain depth as it kept it on a tight line trying to turn it.. She had already travelled around 50 yds until I managed to make any impact and slow her progress, she paused for a second and turned slightly. Yes, I thought as things seemed to be going to go my way until she powered off to the left rapidly, down deep again circling back round towards me as I applied as much side strain as I dared trying to bring her up through the water.. Again the line started to grate and I knew what was coming, the tip started to judder again as she found sanctuary by circling round a branch or twig sticking out of the submerged island. I managed to get her back probably 6ft then again stalemate ensued.  She would take line and then I would pull her back into the snag. I had to do something before the line was shredded by the mussels or the hook hold gave out to the increased pressure of the snagged line. I tightened up to the fish and placed the rod in the rest with a reasonably tight clutch, I had to get out there and the dingy had been deflated and stashed. Out it came and up she went in double quick time, soon I was on the water winding against the wind and rain out to the spot where she had found refuge. Once I was out there it became apparent nothing had changed and even after 15 minutes of see sawing and spinning about like a cork in the waves she would just get to same point and lock up, taking line and gaining it back over and over.

This was getting me nowhere and I had to make a decision, quickly. For a few seconds I contemplated taking the life jacket off and swimming down to free her but that was not a sensible option given the situation and I knew it, no matter how much it meant to land this carp. I was miles from anyone; it was dark and savage down there with the fish tethered to a snag potentially 40ft down. Suddenly I had a brainwave; the island was only a couple of feet underwater and well within paddling distance. If I could get out there behind the snag maybe I could bring her out of the back of it.. I chose to gamble and loosened the clutch pointing the dingy towards some rocks that stuck out of the water some 50yds from me on the submerged island and paddled like my life depended on it.. After what seemed like an age i made it to the rocky outcrop and a mild sense of relief washed over me as I took the slack up and bent back into the fish. As soon as the rod compressed It immediately dawned on me that it was free and moving but within a few turns of the handle it all became apparent.. Whatever it was, had come off. I reeled in an old, black tree branch around 4ft long covered in mussels with my hook neatly embedded into it, with the hooklink looped round it. The fish had no doubt been just caught round the branch and had eventually thrashed its way out leaving me there after an hour since the bite, on the sunken island out in the middle of a huge pit 150yds from the bank, up to my nuts in cold water, p!ss wet through, exhausted and beaten.. It really hurt and deep down I knew I’d quite possibly just blown my one chance for that year.

I fished on through October and November, baiting and watching only ever seeing a few shows way out long as the fish avoided the shallows and spent much of their time out over the deep water. And as the ever increasing otter activity escalated due to flood water and I eventually threw the towel in after the full moon in December. With only the loss to reward me for my considerable efforts I was burnt to a cinder and physically drained so I took my foot off the gas and headed elsewhere for some much needed social trips to ease the pain along with some chilled out angling to recharge the batteries and remind me that it’s not good to always fish as though your life depends on it. Winter came and went with just a few noteworthy captures of lovely old carp from fairly quiet, old pits that are a pleasure to angle on, lost in time away from all modern life’s distractions. But, there in the back of my mind was always that big pit loss from the autumn niggling away at me every day, at some point I would curse my luck and truthfully I was just waiting for the spring to come so I could get back to it and cleanse my soul, so to speak.

During this time Dave at ESP had sent me a few bits to tide me over for the winter and some new bits to test. Notably the new Trig Hammer hook and a new seriously tough coated braid both of which I really liked the look of.  The long shanked, needle sharp, straight pointed hook being strong in the wire and super aggressive lent itself to my typical approach. As I played about and caught a few with my balanced hookbaits coupled with these new bits over the winter I started to formulate a plan in my mind’s eye for my spring/summer attack on the big pit creature that had evaded me thus far. In my experience the big, deep, wild pits don’t usually do much in the way of bites until May/June, depending on the early spring temps obviously but, I wasn’t interested in anything else and got back to the big pit during the first week of April. I genuinely didn’t expect to see much until may time but, on that 1st morning the conditions were perfect for spotting signs and I actually saw 2 shows very close to where I had a rod, out on a south facing plateaux off the back of the wind, a text book spring zone really. It was just a huge buzz to know I was already on course  after being absent for 5 months nearly and I could now hopefully track their movements week by week until they started to feed in the edge  where I was sure an opportunity would arise to single out the one I wanted. I wasn’t interested in trying to wade through the stock as with limited time it can take too long and the effort required to fish this place with any consistency was immense, due to the logistical challenges involved and the every apparent uncertainty of access and otter predation in the area. This meant that the rug always felt like it could be pulled from beneath me at any moment which made it seem like a relentless race against time to catch this one carp and leave it just the way I found it.

Some beautiful old carp were caught in the depths of winter

Take nothing but pictures and leave not even a footprint

As the sun strengthened and the nights stayed milder i saw a few more subtle shows but nothing materialised. The time wasn’t wasted though and as i had built up a picture over the previous week and managed to pinpoint their day/night zones and the routes they were regularly taking going to and from their favoured spring areas. From the opposite bank now hidden up in the trees i could get down before light and sit on the point in peace, have a brew whilst looking for the first signs of the day. This was a much needed relocation from where I had first started as I was far to exposed out there. I had been told to leave a couple of times previously from a self-appointed bailiff and threated to be arrested for fishing his lake; he had even destroyed a couple of my pokey swims with his 360 digger, leaving huge cut-outs 10ft deep in the bankside. I just carried and on regardless as I far as knew I wasn’t breaking any laws but chose to stay hidden for peace of mind. I needed to be consistently baiting an area and the old punisher want going to make it easy. So, I managed to stash some kit up and started to use my Rib and outboard to bait and get into position from. I trekked in with boat, rucksack, bait and rods on the barrow, up to the water’s edge, loaded it all up into the small Rib and chugged out to my new plot, only accessible by water, which was nice as I knew the old 360 wouldn’t float. From my new plot i could see most of the lake from various trees dotted around the close vicinity.
To the left was the main body of the lake and to the right a shallow snaggy bay which was full of sunken trees, telegraph poles and fences.

Away from the modern worlds distractions

A game changer!

This area was a proper safe haven and an place that i had done well from a few years previously on the couple of nights i had fished one late summer before losing two fish on the bounce and swearing to myself never to drop a rig in there again.. No matter how tempting it was, not being able to see the bottom at that depth was suicide, you just never knew what was down there hidden away 40ft below the surface. I had spent a lot of time thinking about this year and I had a plan. I knew they tracked along the opposite margin of an evening, moving in and out of the bay at will as the water warmed and cooled as it does in spring. I figured with any luck i would potentially have two bites of the cherry, one at first light as they entered the shallows in the morning and then again as they left in the evening to move to the safety of the much deeper open water.

I had been out in the dingy regularly at night with the leading rod and lamp looking for likely areas without any snags between me and the spot.. And there was just one but, it was perfect. A hard area in 16 feet of water rising up out of mid 20s and surrounded by weed with still just dusting of onion weed in patches indicating it was a natural feeding area and big enough to sneak two rigs on. Although there were snags behind the spot i could fish it long from where i was, fishing locked up with braid hit and hold style, hoping they would swing right or left as it was only 20yds or so from the far margin and a good 80-90 yds. from my bank. After baiting 3 times during the week with a 10kg mixture of AminoMarine chops, tigers and hemp the spot was glowing, i could literally see it from 20yds away as i approached in the rib.. It was ready and i was full of it. We were now just into may, it was warm, lightly drizzling and there was a steady breeze pushing into the bay, as the leads cracked down for the first time with rigs on i literally couldn’t have been more confident. One was on a Marine cork balled hinge and one on a balanced tiger/cured Marine barrel with no free offerings, as i wanted to gauge what sort of rate they were clearing the bait and had baited with 10kg just the day before. The drizzle was fine and warm but, just enough to wet everything, so I sat back into a small hole that Id cut into a bush at the front of the swim so i could sit at the and watch over the spot which just about kept me dry for a short while. I had been there about 15 minutes when a flat spot appeared over the rigs and as i was about to mutter the immortal words ‘come on you f..’ the left hand rod whipped round to the right and buckled over smashing into the RH rod with the braid sending every bit of power directly into the old Vertex blank making appear as if it was about 1lb test curve.. As I lifted the rod it was grating on a snag immediately and as the fish powered right at speed i thought it was going to be all over and then suddenly it was free again as the braid pinged off whatever it was and i was in direct contact with the my first bite from the pit since October.. This fish was on a mission for the bay entrance and it was literally a choice of losing it in the snags or clamping down and praying everything held firm. My 30lb braid, 40lb snag leaders and the size 4 Trig Hammer was tested to the max that day as i gave it everything i could, just turning her in time and literally weaving her still powering across the surface through some marginal bushes and piling her into the net with the momentum before she gained composure. It was over in an instant and a long powerful common of around 28lbs lay beaten in the net, i wasn’t concerned one bit with the numbers though, the capture itself was more than enough and the relief i felt cannot be put into words. Just a week’s prep with 20 minutes on the new spot and the deadlock was broken.

I had been lucky to come out on the winning side no doubt about it but, the ball was now rolling and I was on cloud nine. Nothing else occurred that night or in the morning which unsurprisingly was often the case on this water. Being a wild group of close knit pack fish, if one got caught then it would usually unsettle them. Unless you had lots of bait out there and they had been super dialled in over weeks, then multiple hits could happen under the right conditions. But, as I hadn’t long been baiting the spot long this quick capture would most definitely clear them out of the zone for a few days at least. So, as I loaded the kit onto the rib in the morning and made my back to the opposite side of the pit, I made sure to check one of the other spots I had been regularly trickling some marine onto. As I approached the zone, about 30yds out from the spot it was clear that something was going down. The usually gin clear water beneath me was almost white and looked similar to that of a really bad cup of tea. Milky A.F with all bits and pieces bobbing around in it.  Strands of eel grass and onion weed bobbed about everywhere amongst the clouds of clay bellowing out of the margins, streaking its way out into the lake on the heavy undertow. It was safe to say they had found the bait and not just one or two of them by the looks of it. I clicked the motor off and hooked a right, picking up a oar I decided to give the spot a wide berth knowing that this zone had seen bait for over 4 weeks now without any lines or drama to unsettle them there was a real chance of the shy ones being down there. I pushed the oar in as quietly as i could and guided the dingy into a shallower ledge 50 or so yards up the margin. I still had the rods baited and picked the one with the balanced Tiger tipped, Marine dumbell on which had done me a bite only a few hours previously. I secured the boat with a bankstick, hooked on a small bag of AminoMarine crumb to the hook, stuck a  few freebies in one of my pockets along with the rod and net wrapped up togther and waded out slowly into the overgrown marginal foilage. The bank there was inacessible by foot and steep enough that I had to crawl up, keeping away from the edge I got up to about 25 or 30ft as not to disturb them and then tracked across and back down into position behind some trees that I could observe them from in the shade. Where I sat gave the perfect view and although the water was like milk a bit furhter out I could still see several dark sub like shapes moving no more than a  couple of feet from the bank In the
2-3 ft of water. Some were zipping through skirting across the spot in the upper layes but there was one or two better ones stopping occasionally to pick through the bright green candy floss type weed and eel grass.. One shape was much larger than the rest and over the next 20-30 minutes I watched this particluar fish drop onto the same little spot and feed in an almost  upright position, spinning on its head slowly, almost showing off its impressive bulk, twisting and flexing in the sun lit water ripping up the onion weed and eel grass to get out the chops an bits of tiger that had fell through, beneath the weed fronds.

 I was waiting for an opportunity to lower the rig onto this exact spot but, just as I would think the coast was clear another fish would appear out of the depths up onto the shlef and begin to feed.. I needed a window of around 30 seconds but, it just wasnt happening. As a group of 3 smaller fish came in from the left and had started to feed I broke up a few boilies in my hand and started to flick the bits in one at a time just past where the fish were tails up.. It worked and as one of them flinched and rose up from the spot the other two followed and now i had a chance i had been waiting for. I kept hunched over and crawled into position the 7-8ft to the waters edge, totally exposed now my heart was racing and I knew I only had a few seconds to drop my rig bang on the money, get the leader set down between the eels grass and then hide myslef and the rod back from the edge without making a sound or being seen. As I slowly donked the lead down on the spot it felt good and I started to slacken off the line threading it like a needle through the long eel grass. As I took my first backwards step there along the right hand edge came my nemesis.. Ambling along slowly she looked absolutly huge In the shallow water, broad shoulders, so wide and thickset I just knewit was her that had beasted me out on the island that night. I stooped down quickly, even lower Into a ball wishing the earth would swallow me up.. She kept coming almost on top of the rig and then sensed something wasnt quite right, she turned out into the pond and droopped down slowly out of site into the gloom. She hadnt spooked but, I cursed my luck and quickly retreated to the trees to roll a much needed smoke. The next 20 minutes passed without so much as a roach fart and their absence was obvious, I thought I had blown it so decided to relax a bit and scroll through my phone as you do.. Then boom, a large fish rattled out 10yds to my right then another to my left, a smaller one.. They were back in the zone and I felt like Id got away with it but, would the big girl be back inthe edge so soon I wasnt sure. I stayed out of sight but kept my eye on the tip of my rod as I could clearly see the floro leader hanging from the tip Illuminated perfectly by the sunlight as it glistened and waved back and forth in the breeze. Then it picked up and fell back, was it the wind. Then again it picked up slowly and tightned to the tip.. I tensed up about to grab the rod and it fell back. I peered round the other side of the tree to observe the spot and there she was the big girl head down directly over my rig. I almost couldn’t watch and momentarily looked away for some reason and as I did the rod lurched forward simultaneosuly with a huge explosion and the clutch went supersonic.

A long powerful common of around 28lbs

Hinges out on the shelf

I grabbed the rod and lifted into it with braid still pouring from the clutch so quickly i almost didnt want to touch it but knew before hand if i were to hook one here i would have to be brutal as below the shelf in the 30 odd feet of water could be anything waiting to snatch my dreams away.. again. So I grew some balls and clamped hold of the spool pushing the tip down left into the water, she erupted on the surface 30yds out and kicked hard across the surface sending up a huge spray of water. She went at pace left flat rodding me and causing me to give line, inch by inch she gained a bit then i would gain it back lifting her back to the surface as she tried to gain depth again to submerg her tail fully. I knew i had to keep her on the surface if i stood any chance of landing her and what happened over the next 10-15 minutes will stay with me forever. I would just get her to the shelf and she would take off again stripping 30-40yds of line acoss the surface thrashing  with her tail attempting to get forest of snag trees 50-60 yds away. I would stop her a bit shorter everytime thinking at any moment something is going to give she would power off left trying to make the marginal snags that were covered in mussels everytime just turning her at the last moment. My arms were on fire and I was sweating like a duke in a nighclub but, she was tiring and as i peeled here away from the marginal snags yet again i could see she was nealry ready.. I waded out onto the shelf to clear the ell grass with the net and kept here on a tight line. For another 5 minutes she plodded around under the tip just off the shelf in the deeper water, chugging around in cirlces with the odd surge for freedom ticking the spool a few clicks as I would turn her as she dropped down for another lap of the spot where Id hooked her 20minutes previously.. All this time my heart was in my mouth and i was literally shaking with adrenaline which really doea not happen that often now after all these years. But this fish, from this place under these circumstances with the loss last autumn meant so much i couldnt begin to explain. Closer and closer her laps would get ot he surface until finally she sidled up and layed flat almost granting me permission to net her, i took a step foward and engulfed here with the mesh immedialtly dropping to my knees in an intoxicating mixure of exhaustion and extasy. 

Old males out of the edge

She looked huge in the shallow water

I was literally shaking and i really could not beleive that she was mine. Aftr that 1st sighting was out oin the pond seeing her size from a couple of hundred yards away I just knew all those years in my head, the miles and miles walked in the rain and mud, the uncertainty one year to the next if they would survive and if i could still gain access from one day to the next, it all came down that moment and it didnt dissapoint. What a rush, and exactly why i do what i do. its an addictive drug and this was the very reason for that. We both had a minute but it was hot and there was no shade in the water so i secured the net and waded back to the rib to get my camera and tripod. There wasnt going to be a call to a mate to try and find me it just couldnt happen there, it woud take hours to get to me and to be honest it was all  about me and this fish in that moment and self takes were all  that was required to capture the moment. She was neither the biggest or the most beatiful creature Ive ever held but, she was so, so impressive in stature and the sheer power of her. Most  certainly one of my favourite ever captures and I will never forget every second that I spent in pursuit of her. I did carry on for a few weeks such was the buzz of watching them feed in the edge and take my hookbaits and also had some mega ones from elsewhere that year but, thats for maybe another time. So, here’s to the the wild ones and the journeys we take to hold them just for a second.. Take nothing but pictures and leave nothing not even a foot print. Till next time, be lucky and enjoy,  but most of all remember its just fishing.