This is not an article about fishing in France, this is the short tale of a memorable night in deepest Essex. I won’t mention the lake, let’s just say it’s 20 acres and has a well known little brother.
Anyway, as I said, the lake is 20 acres and, at the time, had a head of roughly 20 fish that we knew about (quite a number of good fish have since been officially introduced). It had, and still does, have a reputation for being very, very difficult.
The session which I’d like to tell you about was my very first on the lake – opening night, June 16th, a few seasons ago.
I’d spent a lot of time in the previous close season walking around the place, climbing trees, watching fish, out in a rowing boat with the echo sounder, and generally just trying to suss the place out. Fish were normally fairly visible once you’d found them, lazing around the edge of the reedbeds or in the shadows beside the sailing boats which always seemed to be moored up in one corner.
The lake night syndicate at that time had somewhere in the region of 30 members and I knew that a few of them had been piling in a fair amount of bait prior to the off; I just didn’t have the spare time on my hands to do that.
My plan was to not to bother with any prebaiting, but to try to stick my hookbaits right in front of the noses of patrolling fish with an absolute minimum of free offerings tight around each rig in order not to spook them. Rightly or wrongly, I just had a gut feeling that a big bed of bait would spook the fish, and not encourage them to get their heads down.
On several occasions during the close season I’d watched a number of big fish to, I guessed, the high 30 mark, follow a gully and then fan out onto a larger plateau in about 6ft of water. There was a nice little swim about 20 yards form the end of the gully, just before the fish had to shallow slightly to come up onto the plateau.
My plan was to put both hookbaits at the end of the gully, one on either side, so that any fish coming through the gully would have to pass my baits before moving onto the plateau.
My only worry was that I wouldn’t be able to get that swim on opening night. As a back up, I’d another location at the back of my mind as Plan B, but I certainly wasn’t as confident with it.
Anyway, I got to the lake around 5:00p.m. on June 15th. A number of other syndicate members were there already but, thankfully, no one was in ‘my’ swim.
I pulled all the gear out of the car and raced around to the swim double-quick.
Surely now it was just a matter of time….
Before I go on, I should mention that as well as being bloody difficult, this lake is heavily weeded with a lot of fine silt weed covering virtually the entire lake bed. ‘My’ swim also had a heavy covering, so I’d spent quite a long time sodding about with rigs and baits which wouldn’t sink straight into the silt and weed. Because I wanted the hookbait to stand out in front of any patrolling fish, perfect presentation was of paramount importance.
I finally settled on a rig which allows the lead to sink into the weed and the hooklink to follow behind and settle gently on the weed. As double insurance that the hookbait would sit nicely above the weed, I tied an extra pop up boilie to the hookbait, using PVA string. This meant that both the hookbait and PVA bait sat well above the weed until the PVA melted, allowing the very critically balanced bait to flutter down and sit on the bottom weed. The PVA bait, floating to the surface, would also serve a double purpose and act as a marker to ensure very accurate free offerings could be introduced once it appeared at the surface.
Baits were to be a light S.B.S. milk protein base mix flavoured with S.B.S. strawberry jam and coloured a whitey / pinky colour. I had added additional sodium casseinate to the base mix to ensure that they sank very, very slowly and also settled on the weed.
Baits were rolled by hand, 25mm diameter, in order to be big and bold. I’m no in the least bothered about using big baits because I’ve caught a lot of fish in France with single baits up to 40mm diameter, not to mention double and treble 22mm hookbaits!
Back to the story. Quite a number of my mates were in the syndicate and I was fishing close to a good friend of mine, Kenny.
Tackle set up, hookbaits on, and I was just waiting for midnight to cast out.
The evening was perfect, a light wind blowing towards me and not too much moonlight. I was very confident.
At the stroke of midnight, splashes from all around the lake could be heard as baits were cast into position. I flicked both my rods out, stopping the cast when the previously marked section of line hit the first eye. I was buzzing with enthusiasm and sat poised close to the rods.
Several hours passed and I was drinking what seemed like my tenth cup of coffee, when my left hand rod screamed away, it was about 3:00am, I grabbed the rod and pulled gently into a very powerful fish.
Kenny was soon by my side from the next swim. I could see his ‘green eyes’ glowing, even in the dark!
After what seemed like an eternity (probably only 10 minutes!), I slid the next under a cracking, dark common. We laid it gently on the unhooking mat and guessed its weight to be high 20. Kenny did the honours and the scales were pulled round to the mid-20 mark. I was well chuffed, especially with the fish being a common.
The fish was sacked in deep water ready for a photo session the next morning; most of the guys turned up from around the lake to see the capture. I had been lucky and caught the only big fish that night.
Once the fish was safely returned, the lads decided it would be a good idea to try to throw me in! I was chased around the lake with the pursuing crowd yelling,
"Clear off back to France, Woodrow" – or words to that effect….
Chris 'Essex Man' Woodrow - 2001