Up until August of last year everything was going fine; I was getting plenty of fishing in on the Top Pool, the 20’s were coming to the bank on a regular basis, and the plan was that it would stay that way until the season ended. However, that plan was soon to fall apart when on the last day of August Lisa and I picked up the keys to our new house - The plan had been to do a little decorating here and there whilst aiming to get out on the bank for at least two weekends in four through the autumn and winter... Ha!
‘Decoration’ soon turned into ‘renovation’. Not that the 100 year old town house we had bought was in a bad state, just that we wanted to do the job properly, and with ‘her-indoors’ being a designer this meant restoring the property to quite a standard. What’s more, I took on most of the work myself; ripping out modern fireplaces to replace with originals, plastering walls, restoring wooden floors, restoring tiled floors, etc, etc.
New house equals no fishing!
Needless to say, from September of last year to March of this year I only managed to get out on the bank on two occasions. I could have gone out if I’d wanted, but to be honest I just wanted to get it all out of the way so the 2003/4 season would be ‘full-on’. Although I’d not been out on the bank fishing, the Top Pool was never far away in my mind. Most of my thoughts over the winter period were devoted to bait; whilst last years results had been good using Brazil’s as hookbait, I’d long been looking for a ‘quality’ bait to establish as a long term food source on the water.
For me, bait is all about confidence. If you are confident that the bait will catch you’ll give it time to work and reap the rewards. If you doubt its effectiveness, you’ll start swapping and changing from the off, and before you know it half the season’s gone and you’ve hardly had a fish on the bank. As such, picking a bait to stick with for the whole of the 2003/4 season was never going to be an easy task, especially when it wasn’t my decision alone; Mart would also be using the same bait throughout. We started receiving a few samples back in January; making a few mixes here and there, but nothing really leapt out at us. At around that time I was beginning to develop a bit of a relationship with Mike Willmott. I’d spoken to Mike a few times in the past in relation to Anglers’ Net and found him to be one of the nicest blokes in the business I’ve met to date.
What’s more, after just a couple of conversations I had with Mike talking about bait before the launch of his first book ‘Carp Life’ it was easy to see why his bait was rated by some of the countries most respected anglers as the best in the business. After discussing the Top Pool along with our requirements for a High Nutritional Value (HNV) bait with Mike, and moreover, after reading (and re-reading) the bait chapter in his book - my ‘juices’ were beginning to flow. The discussions continued and after a while we made the decision to go with Essential Products Shellfish B5 for the season ahead on the Top Pool. I make no secret of the fact that I’ve since been invited (kindly) to join Team Essential, but I should point out it’s the bait that made the decision for us - and nothing else.
Knocking up the first batch of B5
You see, as I mentioned before, its all about confidence; after seeing the base mix and all ingredients in the raw and after reading Mike’s book, it was clear to see the guy’s devotion to sourcing ‘only the best’ in terms of raw ingredients. Basically, I knew I’d be happy to sit and wait for as long as it took for a take - Happy in the knowledge that the bait was, for want of a better word “sorted”. Mind you, as it turned out we wouldn’t have to wait for long!
April saw me dusting off the rods for the first time in months, the work on the house was by no means finished but I was eager to get out and test the bait! We knocked up a mix of the B5 and headed up to Blackwood Pool (a little club water we run) to have a couple of nights fishing. Conditions were still a little cool, we had ground frost each night but it was nice and sunny in the day getting temperatures up to double figures.
Fishing at lastFishing at last
The session turned into more of a ‘social’ than anything else, as unbeknown to me all the lads had turned out to celebrate my first session back out since the previous August! The B5 did not disappoint. Only a few hours into the session and Mart drew first blood taking a lovely mid-double mirror on a pop-up over a little patch of B5 pellets. Within the hour he was in again using the same tactics and not long afterwards I started to hit the fish as well, taking two welcome fish during the night on B5 bottom baits.
Mart with a nice Blackwood double
I was striving to get the house finished for June in order that I could concentrate all my efforts on the Top Pool, though in reality, as we wanted to do a fair bit of work on the water over the close season I wanted to be finished before this. As such, I bugged out of the following weekend’s trip to Blackwood, though I was happy to hear the B5 had done the business again. From memory there were five fishing that weekend and the only one to catch was Mart on the B5 - things were certainly looking good on the bait front!
The B5 ‘nails’ another!
With the close season now in effect on the Top Pool, the work parties were upon us once again. We’d been asked to do the first one on the Top Pool which was handy as we were able to get on and have a look around. After our observations from last year, we’d seen a few spots that looked like definite fish holding areas. These spots would have to be reached from swims which had long been overgrown and not been fished for years.
We knew it would involve a great deal of work; re-boarding swims, cutting back the bankside, mulching paths, removing tons of lily pads, but in all honesty it never crossed our minds - we just wanted more o
pportunities to get at the fish! We put forward a plan to Geoff Hays, the Fisheries Manager and on approval got stuck right in.
Clearing weed off The Point
In addition to Martin and I, this year the Top Pool had claimed another victim - Chris Knapper. Chris is a member on our club water and got into carping a couple of years back. Although he’s only 15, he’s a really quick learner and shows all the qualities needed to be a ‘proper’ carper; determination, patience, and ingenuity. Chris was determined to beat his personal best of 14lb, and was eager to join us on a ‘big-fish’ water. As such, we decided to take him under our wing and get him on the Top Pool with the B5 to have a crack at some bigger fish.
Looking back I think Mart, Chris, and I, spent at least six or seven weekends up there during the closed season. The first couple of weeks we concentrated on the bankside work; pulling up the old swims and making new ones with boarding then mulching areas for the bivvy’s, etc. After a few weeks working on the pegs we then started working out on the water. The hardest part was cutting back all the pads, the roots were a real nightmare to get up. However, a few weeks later swims that had not seen the light of day for years were ready to be fished again. All that was left was to rake out some weed and wait for the start of the season!
Another new swim finished
The other good thing about being on during the close season is that we got a good feel for what the fish were doing in advance of the kick-off. The Top Pool has loads of climbing trees and vantage points, so during breaks we would climb the trees and watch the fish from above. Over the weeks we saw some cracking specimens and noticed a few fish that had evaded us in the past.
The other thing we noticed was how all the smaller inhabitants seemed to be shoaling up. All the carp under about 10lb seemed to be sticking together, along with a couple of the doubles. We counted around 10 of the ‘Sprat-pack’ and saw them each week up in the shallows. Three new fish were also stocked between 8lb-9lb so we kept a good look out for these.
One weekend in early May we went up to do a work party and found all the ‘big-uns’ stacked up between the Stile Swim and Boathouse. As luck would have it, Mart had just purchased a new digital camera, so I snuck up one of the trees right over the fish and rattled of a few shots. As far as we know this is the only photo of ‘The General’ reckoned to be around 34lb. The fish in the background is known as ‘Warrior’ whom I’ve had out at around 26lb, this gives some idea of the size of carp in the foreground!
Although the traditional season starts on the 16th, those who have completed work parties can get on the club waters on the 1st. With this falling on a Sunday, I informed Elton there was ‘bob-hope’ of me working the Monday and I was up to the Top Pool well in advance to procure a decent swim!
Ideally Mart wanted the first new woods swim we’d opened up (New Boards) whilst I was after the next one up (Black Hole) where I scored most of my hits last year. With Chris having spent no time on the water I earmarked what I thought would be a good swim for him (Board Walk). It was a swim which was un-fishable the year before so we had top cut down a load of undergrowth at the front of the swim to make it fishable. We then cleared some weed to a couple of likely spots to make presentation easy for the first few weeks.
We got up to the water prior to the off and met up with some other lads who were planning to have a crack at the Top Pool this year. Luckily we all got the swims we wanted but as the day drew on I had a feeling it would not really matter anyway. The day got warmer and warmer and it was no real surprise that only a few hours after casting the rods out at Midnight, the buggers started spawning! Try as we might they showed zero interest in food for the following three days, which just left us to watch them frolicking around in the shallows!
The following day I got a text of Miffer who was across the road fishing Redesmere to say he’d banked a 20lb’er. Miffer’s been through something of a lean patch lately, so it was nice to see him catch a nice fish, especially from a venue such as Redesmere. As such, we went over to see him for an hour to celebrate his catch. We stayed for a while watching all the fish action on the mere before going back across the road to more spawning activity on the Top Pool. Nothing more doing.
The following week we were up there early to secure the swims, each of us landing our chosen spots. With spawning apparently over, we were all full of the anticipation we’d had the week before prior to the off. Things were looking up; carp could be seen moving around with much more vigour and we all felt pretty confident for the session ahead. We all had rods in for about 8pm and after that things start to get rather blurry. All I can remember is taking lots of photos of fish; spending most of the session with my rods wound in whilst celebrating both on Redesmere and the Top Pool, and then going home not having caught a thing!
Chris with Victor at 26lb 4oz
All the catching was done by Chris, the Top Pool ‘newbie’ and Miffer across the road on Redesmere. Not long after casting in on the Top Pool, Chris’s margin rod roared off resulting in a nice tench of around 6lb, and soon after he was in again. However, this time it was something rather larger! A decent thump in the rod signalled a better fish although it came to the bank pretty easily. Only when the fish had been netted did Chris have the first idea of his achievement - a massive lump of a carp that would easily take him over the 20lb barrier. As the scales whipped round past 20lb the look on his face was a real picture. His PB had just jumped form 14lb to 26lb 4oz!
Chris with Meldrew at 23lb 12oz, and a 15lb 10oz mirror
I rattled of a few pictures of the great fish, and Chris then returned it to the water, the beam on his face unmovable. Chris was quite simply over the moon. It doesn’t end there, mind. Saturday mornin
g and he’s in again with a mirror of 15lb 10oz, shortly afterwards he banked another mirror of 23.12. An hour later and the mobiles ringing in my ear; Miffer’s on the other end telling me he’s just banked ‘The Male’ at 33lb of Redesmere - Safe to say Miffer’s lean spell had defiantly now come to an end!
Back on the Top Pool Chris sneaked out a further two fish during the night; Red October at 19lb 12oz and another mirror of 25lb 5oz! Just one of those amazing sessions you look back on in complete awe. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few similar sessions in the past, so for me it was nice to be able to just reel in, sit back, and share the moment as two close friends had sessions they’d not forget in a hurry.
Even though my rods had not been in much, I did notice a distinct lack of fish over the margin that had provided most of the action last season. During the close season I’d seen fish after fish in the usual manner, but since I’d been back on I’d only spotted maybe two fish. The new swim we’d opened up to my right had seen us cut into a massive pad line that stretched from the Stile Swim right up to mine. However, it now finished on the next swim down. This was enough to get me looking to implement a change to get amongst the fish on our next session. One thing we all had confidence in was the bait. Single B5 bottom baits had given Chris three good 20’s and two good doubles in less than 36 hours, all of which boded well for the season ahead.
Friday 13th and I arrived at the water determined to have a fish. As I was the first one on, I dumped my gear in the field and went in search of the fish. The bay looked pretty quiet so I made my way up to the shallows finding all the fish up on top. The new swim we’d made in the shallows on the Top Woods side would give me easy access to them, so I grabbed my gear and set up accordingly.
With it being a new swim I wasn’t entirely sure where to place the baits. I had pads to either side of me and a clear channel in front that we’d cleared of lily pads. The water was about 18inces deep to about three rod lengths out from the bank, it then shelved of to about three feet. I thought they may be a little shy feeding in the shallow water as we’d only pulled the pads out the week before, so decided to bang them both on the shelf.
Mart and Chris soon arrived, both setting up in the same swims as the week before. A new lad we’d met on the water called Tom set up in between them on The Sticky Swim. Tom was another relatively new to carping though he’d already had a few nice fish out of the Main Lake during daytime sessions.
Tom with a nice Main Lake 20lb mirror
The night passed with no action to me or anyone else on the water and as the sun came up on Saturday morning the carp decided to spawn again! Within a few hours the carp were splashing and thrashing and showing no signs of feeding.
I decided to try something different so went on stalking tactics. I had some soaked mixers, so decided to reel in and have a wander up into the shallows where they were spawning. I was able to apply a few to the carp as they came away from all the commotion just following up the edge of the sedges. Presentation was the problem as the pond weed was up to the surface and the algal scum was in full bloom. After about three hours I’d managed to get just two fish to take a free mixer. Grrrr. I was in two minds to go home but should the bizarre happen and a carp be caught I’d have been kicking myself. I stayed on for the Saturday night but nothing came of it - not for me or anybody else.
The following Saturday a friend had arranged a Barbeque so I was only able to get on for the Friday night. I got up to the lake and found all the fish up in the shallows again, and so decided to fish the same peg as the previous week. Having seen a few fish really close in the week previous I decided to pull both rods back and fish them right in front of the swim. There were still loads of cabbages on the bottom that we had missed when clearing the pads and weed, but it gave perfect cover. I was able to drop both single hookbaits between a couple of these cabbages, weaving the shock leader around them to get a decent lie.
Both baits were no more than a rod length from the bank in about 18 inches of water on each side of the channel. By climbing a little tree at the back of the swim I was able to get a perfect view over the whole swim and the baited spots. I stayed up the tree for a good hour watching the fish slowly moving down from the shallows. I spotted three fish moving right down the edge of the pad line. They slowly made their way down to the clearing on the left side of the channel and came right in over the spot. The first fish was a nice high double. Just behind him a second that was low double, and behind them a fish of around 25lb.
The two doubles came right over the baited spot and the larger fish went straight down and took up a free bait, my heart was in my mouth as the bigger 25 fish came into the area. The fish skirted away under the pads and I lost sight for a second, only for him to poke his head out from under the pads right over my baited patch. My heat was in my mouth as he passed over the spot, slowing and dropping slightly. He glided straight over but quickly turned and passed over again, this time with his head going down towards the bait. Then, one of the doubles spooked on something, it was nowhere near the bait or line so I don’t know what did it, but all hell broke loose on the surface with fish darting everywhere. The alarm sounded and for a split second I thought I’d actually hooked the big fish. However, I soon realised it was liner as the fish left the area at speed.
Carp moved over the spot all afternoon
I was a bit gutted but it was a sure sign I was in the right swim. I could see from the tree that the bait was now completely masked in weed so I went back down and re baited. Just as I was about to cast out the bait I noticed a fish moving under the pads just a few yards out to my left. I sunk to my knees for a second not wanting to spook the fish. Seconds later it cleared the pad line and came into the clearing just few feet from the bank. At this point I nearly wet myself as The Big Common came into view. It was massive! It was in no hurry to go anywhere either and just sat in front of the swim investigating the newly formed pad line. I slowly flicked the bait to the little clear spot and backed away from the swim with the big fish totally oblivious to my presence. I then sat back behind the sedges just watching the swingers attached to my line just praying for the rod to scream off.
Nothing happened for a while and when I looked over the top of the sedges the fish had gone back under the pad line to the left of my swim back up towards the shallows. Gutted! I retired to bed at about 11.30pm and fell asleep shortly afterwards. I was set up with the rods no more than a foot away from the bedchair so that if something did go off I could be on it before it made the sanctuary of the heavy pad roots. An hour later and I got a single bleep on the left hand rod. As The LED on the Delkim lit up the ground all around I saw
the swinger twitch again and a run picked up immediately.
I quickly struck in and the fish immediately boiled on the surface just a few yards from the bank. I felt a decent thump on the rod but knew it was far from a biggie. A few minutes later I slipped the net under a nice mirror that went 12lb 4oz on the scales. My first Top Pool fish of the year!
I was well pleased with the double as it’s always nice to get that first fish under your belt, however, rather than getting the camera which was with Mart right down at the bottom end of the lake I decided to slip the fish straight back, besides, I felt the less commotion the better as the swim looked ripe for another! I rebaited placing the rod back out to the little clear patch and put five more free baits out. I sat back down and decided to have a can of beer to celebrate my first fish off. On this particular swim we mulched an area down behind the sedges for a bivvy which means you are well shielded from the waters edge, but you can get a really good view over the pad line. Although it was still pretty dark I kept seeing the water boil right on the pad line near the bait and so went back to bed shortly afterwards pretty confident.
Seconds later, just as I was getting tucked up in the sack, the same rod developed a single-toner. I was on it in a flash and the rod tip jerked down as the fish dived to my left. For a second I thought it was a decent fish but I started getting the little bumps indicative of a smaller carp thumping away at the other end. I applied some side strain and managed to get the fish back into open water. Although it was only a small fish it gave a very good account of itself so I was pleased when it finally went intro the net. I pulled back the net to reveal a tiny scattered mirror. I weighed the fish at 8lb 12oz and slid him straight back in. Although another smaller fish I was made up at having two in under an hour.
Although conditions looked good I received no action for the rest of the night. A light rain blew in at around 8am which switched the fish on big-time. The tench, bream, and carp all started to show in the shallows and I was tempted to ring up and cancel the appearance at the Barbie, but knowing how well that would go down with Lisa I thought better of it and packed up as promised.
Looking up to the shallows from the Board-Walk
To be honest I was just happy to have had a couple during the night. I went home happy with the session and the B5 and enjoyed a nice barbeque with my mates. I’d set myself a target of having a fish within the first four weeks of the season before I went on holiday at the end of June, which meant I still had over a week in hand to try and whip out a 20lb’er, but more about that in the next instalment.