21 April, 2017 |0
This spring, I had set myself the challenge of trying to single out a very special carp to me, an old mirror that resided in a lovely large gin clear gravel pit in Cambridgeshire that I have had a ticket for on and off for some years. There were five carp that originally stood out for me when I first saw cuttings back in 2006, the big 5, all of them different shapes, colouration and characteristics.
I managed to catch four of the ‘big five’ along the way, but one was still missing and she had always been the number one on my list.
But, I decided to give it one last spring on the pit to try and bank her. She is instantly recognisable, with a characteristic wrinkly, leathery, scarred flank and no doubt older than myself. I just couldn’t walk away without giving it my all one last time, so I gave myself until June to finish the job. I would then move on, whatever the outcome.
The lake is fairly pressured these days so I needed to step up my game. The problem being that carp only tends to get caught once or twice a year – and usually to a bait-boat angler, fishing at range. This prompted an early start to the campaign, so I began baiting and fishing overnighters from February onwards.
Working in the building trade, as a draughtsman, spring is always the busiest time, so I was reduced to quick ‘overnighters’, mostly. My primary objective was to increase my casting range, so I could lead around thoroughly at much longer distances. I also wanted to apply bait from the off on decent feeling areas.
Having narrowed down three areas of the lake by her past known captures, I began creating ‘feed spots’, looking for a hard thud, as the lead landed on a clear spot. I wasn’t looking for blatant, large clean areas, as this would likely have been somebody else’s spot from the previous season and it may have ‘blown’. I wanted to create my own fresh dining table.
The pit isn’t highly stocked, but with around 30-ish originals left and some stocked fish dripped in over the years, I must have looked crazy spombing bait in February. A time when the carp were clearly holding out in the middle of the pit, still in their winter slumber. My idea was to feed the tench though! The lake is crammed with them. At a guess, they outnumber the carp 10:1? It’s also very weedy, so I planned to use the tench as hoovers, to clean the ‘spots off’. So, when the carp did wake up and the other anglers started to turn up again, I would hopefully have the advantage of fishing ‘primed’ swims.
By mid-March it was apparent the plan was working. I was getting hard drops on the new spots and beginning to catch tench. I had thought long and hard about the baiting strategy and guessed by ‘her’ lack of appearances she wasn’t the type of character to go storming in on a bed of 18 millers, gills blazing’! So, when the day would come that the carp did show up, I needed to get their feeding confidence high. This is where small baits came into play.
Chops tangents were a key ingredient in my mix. Carp know they won’t get snagged on a little piece of tiger, right? So, they went into the loosefeed, along with some Dynamite Baits’ Complex-T boilies. These I also chopped. This bait just screams carp and has been claiming a lot of good captures since its release. Added to this was some Betaine green pellets and Amino groundbait that would blend in with the bottom as well as producing a potent flavour trail. The mix was finished with hemp, salt, corn and maize.
I use bright baits a lot as firstly they work well in the spring, while the fish are still in a docile state and secondly, it would help take the suspicion out of my half Complex-T Fluro hookbait. This I had balanced with half a tiger, to create a wafting hookbait that settled gently; hiding the hook. I nicknamed it the ‘Fluro Nut’.
It is small enough not to scream danger, but still durable enough to withstand nuisance fish. Anyone that fished a clear pit will know that the wildfowl can be a nightmare and this lake was no exception. I didn’t want to be worrying my hookbait had been pulled off, constantly having to wind in to check.
As we were nearing the end of March I caught my first carp. Albeit a small stocky, I was happy to know they were waking up and finding my spots. All I needed now was ‘bank time’. It was driving me crazy being stuck at work, whilst the early warm weather was coming upon us. But, I kept on persisting with the overnighters and kept topping up the spots with my ‘carpet’ bait mix.
Whilst I was at work, the lake started to ‘kick off’ as anglers started catching regularly, including a couple of the bigger ones. I knew the one I wanted was due out and the swims I had been priming were now getting attention by other anglers!
My overnighters were tiring due to the tench, but I persisted with as many nights as a self-employed, single father with joint custody could get away with. Weekends were also tricky, as I sing in my band most Saturday nights. Finally, I had a window of opportunity for a session early April that coincided with a full moon. The forecast was set unusually fine for April, with clear blue skies and sunshine and temps hitting mid 20s by the Sunday.
The first thing I did was go stalking on a neighbouring pit. This is my favourite style of angling and I quickly found a group of four fish patrolling up and down one bank, on the end of the gentle southerly wind. I knew a little gravel spot close in, so lowered a sweetcorn hookbait tipped with a white Dynamite Source topper over a small handful of Frenzied hemp. As expected, it didn’t take long to nail one of them. Not the biggest in the group, but a smaller angry common. A quick photo and it was back to the business at hand, targeting the big girl.
Initially I couldn’t decide what swim to start with. The forecast was due for an evening wind to start hacking down to one of my favourite swims from the previous season, but for some reason, I was drawn to one of the swims I had been priming on the east bank of the lake. Choosing to take the gamble, nothing occurred that night. The wind was colder than I had hoped and I knew carp wouldn’t turn up on it This prompted a move to the opposite bank on a more central swim.
My eyes kept fixing over to that same swim on the east bank and a niggling voice in my head kept saying ‘get over there!’. Then, only maybe 60 yards in front of that swim, a huge back ‘dolphin’ out of the water. The first thought that popped into my head was ‘that was her!’ Either way, it was clearly a big fish. Move time again!
Just as I was putting the rods in the motor, another member passed and stopped for a quick chat. He had just arrived and been up that side of the pit, only to be turned away by contractors who had just started work on the otter fence an hour earlier, shutting the entire bank to anglers until further notice.
My heart sank.
I was straight onto the phone to the bailiff, pleading he has a word with the fencers to see if I could blag access to fish a swim on that bank as long as I kept myself and vehicle well out the way. They kindly agreed and I was over there in a shot.
I wouldn’t normally hassle the bailiff, nor dream of fishing a swim with all that noise going on usually – with a JCB only a few yards away, banging in posts – but with carp-shaped pupils, I was insistent I got that swim.
Getting the rods settled, I spombed a little loosefeed over each spot and began catching tench from the off. This went on into the night and by 3am I was exhausted. Lifting into yet another twitchy bite, I played it pretty hard, as my patience was wearing thin. This fish was banging its head all the way in from the spot, typically ‘tenchy’. Around 20-yards out, a big push of water swirled on the surface, then the fish began to kite.
“This must be one of those doubles”, I thought, in my half asleep, dopey state. Keeping the pressure on hard, not allowing it any ground, the fish erupted on the surface, close to the net. It then started to dawn on me that I may have been mistaken! Reducing the arc on the rod and loosening the clutch a little, the fish circled close in for a minute or so, before popped up to the surface in front of the net. I could see under the light of the full moon it was no tench. Straight in the mesh she went and I peered in to see the outline of a big fish. Going to fetch my head torch, I could see the back of a big leathery mirror…clearly a forty! It could have only been one of two fish. I reached down and ran my hand across her flank and felt a little cluster of scales towards the tail, much like the scales I had been looking at on the photo for all those years. My heart began to pound at the realisation it could be her. Sure enough, as I unravelled the net on the mat, I saw that stubby tail…she was finally mine. How I would have played her more carefully if I had known what was on the end; lucky boy!
Quickly and safely she went into the retaining sling and I was dancing around my swim like a madman, laughing. The couple of hours wait for first light was electric, I was like a child on Christmas Eve. A truly magical nights’ angling and one I hope I never forget.
In the morning light, as I laid her on the mat, I could see the striking colours of her old leathery skin that an artist could only dream of replicating. She weighed 42lbs 4oz and looked immense as I lifted her for the self-takes.
The capture really is testimony to what effort will return. Doing both your legwork and homework, plus the power of pre-baiting the right areas really can pay off. I also feel I owe a lot to the bait.
Dynamite’s Complex-T boilies, plus the use of the chopped tigers and Frenzied hemp to get them grubbing around means they were more likely to trip up. That’s why I always keep a few jars in the motor!
She finally gave herself up and now I am free to open another chapter of memories in my angling.