From The Privvy – Chapter Nine

Big Fish

Fish that avoid capture are far more common than we imagine. I know of several fish in various lakes that don't get caught. Not all of them are large fish but, of course, some of them are. Some are never seen, some are seen occasionally and some swim round for all to see, but none of them ever get caught. One of these fish probably exists in a lake that I occasionally fish.

About ten years ago a friend of mine was fishing this lake with floaters and a large common was eating some of his freebies. As the common started to move towards his hook bait, a little mirror of about twelve pounds swam past the common and snatched his hook bait. When he landed the small mirror he was more than a little surprised to find it weighed twenty-four and a half pounds, he then realised that the big common he had seen was considerably larger than he had estimated. When he told this story I asked him how big he thought the common was and he told me that it was at least twice as big as the mirror but not to tell anybody because they wouldn't believe him. I didn't believe him! Even now a fish of that size would be a monster and no one else had ever seen anything like it in this water.

A few years after this I was fishing this lake with a friend for a few days in the Christmas holiday. It was very slow, but on the evening of the second day I had a take and landed an eighteen and a half pound common. The next morning I had a take on the same rod and caught another common of nineteen pounds twelve ounces, both these fish were landed in a few minutes. Like most fish hooked at about seventy yards range they were quite tired by the time they arrived in the margin. I told Terry I'd had enough and was going to go home. Two fish from this water was as good as you could hope for. He told me to chuck it out again in case there was another fish out there. I left the same bait on and cast back to where I had caught the fish and set it up on the optonic, as I turned to pick up my catapult the optonic bleeped, the line slowly tightened so I wound down on the fish and struck into it.

At first I thought I had hooked the bottom but the fish slowly moved off and ran about thirty yards up the lake. It was swimming very close to some snags so I put as much pressure on as I dared, the fish turned and came back with very little resistance until it reached the deep margin whereupon it spent the next ten minutes swimming from one side of the swim to the other. It hugged the bottom continually and every time it turned I felt the line ping. A lot of people have written that the line pings on their dorsal fins but in this lake where the water is clear and the margins deep I have seen the line catching on their gill covers and pinging as the fish turns and the angle of pull changes. The carp seemed to be winning, it was as strong as it was when I hooked it, I had my two and a quarter multi range locked up, my arms and back were aching and I still hadn't got the fish of the bottom. I said to Terry, "I'm going to have to do something, if nothing else I'm going to have a look at this fish." I put the butt between my legs and leant back a bit. The fish lifted about two feet in the water but I still couldn't see it, the rod creaked and the fish slowly started to swim back to where I had first hooked it. It nearly got there before I managed to turn it. Again, it came back with very little resistance and I was getting quite hopeful of landing it until it got back to the margin and started swimming up and down and hugging the bottom again. After another ten minutes the fish seemed to be speeding up and I was exhausted, I felt the hook tear and catch again and said to Terry, "It's coming off". As I said it the rod sprang straight, I was too tired to be upset and I had started to think with all that power it had to be foul hooked, but the way the line had pinged as the fish had turned and the way the hook had pulled and caught again makes me think that it probably was hooked in the mouth.

Two years after this another angler, a very capable angler at that, hooked a fish in this lake that swam around his swim hugging the bottom. He could make no impression on it and after forty-five minutes it just took off and straightened his hook. Did we both hook the same monster common that Lawrence had seen or had we both foul hooked more normal sized fish. I like to think the monster exists but until it is caught I will always be uncertain.

Another huge fish that avoided capture was the Chilham fifty. I fished Chilham Lake fifteen years ago and when it was turned into a club I was amongst the first to join it. I spent a long time walking round Chilham and sometimes rowing round it in a boat but I never saw anything like that fish. Chilham Lake is about twenty acres in extent and has dozens of places the fish can hide, so it wouldn't be hard for a fish to avoid contact with humans.

I had seen some nice fish in there though, both before and after it was stocked. There were certainly a couple of thirties in there before it was stocked, so the water had the potential to grow a big fish. There weren't very many carp in Chilham, so I suppose with virtually no angling pressure on them they would have grown to their maximum potential. Despite rumours of where the fish had actually come from and adverse articles in the press, a fish could have grown to that size in Chilham Lake. Shortly after the fish had turned up I was fishing Chilham Lake with Jeff Tarrant, an excellent angler with an enormous knowledge of carp and their habits. It was about five o'clock in the morning when Jeff woke me up and asked if I could help him. He had hooked a fish and had been playing it in and out of weed beds for about twenty minutes. I didn't know how I was supposed to help so I made a cup of tea and sat on a step behind his swim offering advice. The fish would get itself into a clump of weed and when Jeff got it out it would swim straight into another clump. It was deadlock, the fish was a hundred yards away and Jeff couldn't get it any closer so I suggested he went out and got it, which didn't seem to appeal to him one bit. I couldn't understand his reluctance, as the winter before he had stripped off and dived in to retrieve a rod that had been pulled in during a blizzard! I held his rod while the fish was having a rest in a weed bed so that Jeff could roll a cigarette, as I handed the rod back to him the weed bed that the fish was in lifted up and an enormous back could be seen. The fish bolted out of the weed and the line broke and fell away slack. Huge ripples rolled across the surface of the lake made by the water that had been displaced by the fish as it had surged off. Jeff asked if the line had broken while I had been holding the rod but I realised it was just his disappointment. A little later he said "You sometimes think that you've lost a personal best, but this time I think I've lost everybody's personal best". It certainly was huge and almost certainly the fifty-one and a half pound fish that had been netted a few weeks earlier.

This does of course raise a very obvious question, Chilham Lake had been regularly fished by carp anglers for about three years before this fish was discovered, why had Jeff hooked it so soon after it had been found when prior to that no one had any idea at all that it was in there? The fish had been netted from a very quiet part of the lake and returned to the area that had the most angling pressure on
it so that could have had something to do with it. Chilham is a lake that in angling terms has only just had its surface scratched, however it has had a lot of the stocked carp die over the last couple of years and may never make it as a carp fishery, when the club was first formed work parties were organised to clear bank space and to remove weed from the water. Every armful of weed that was pulled from the margin contained lots of small fish, almost all of them were carp, both commons and mirrors, so what carp were in there had spawned very successfully that year.

The club's first season started in early October and ran through to the middle of March. I fished the lake for just one night that season and caught a common of twenty-two and a quarter pounds. I had, however, spent hours walking round the lake and sitting up trees to discover where the fish would feed. I had also thrown about twenty pounds of boilies into the lake to give the fish a taste for them. My fish was the only fish out the first month, but by November another angler had a common of twenty-six and three quarter pounds. Around Christmas time Roger Smith had the same fish as I had caught at about the same weight and no other fish came out until the last weekend of the season when a fourteen pound mirror and a different twenty-two pound common were caught. I had only fished the one night because my time was spent on another water that I had been fishing that season.

I arrived at Chilham lake for my first session of the next season a few days after the season had started in mid June, I knew the lake had been stocked with a few small carp but was totally unprepared for what was going to happen. I started fishing two rods against the side of an island about fifty yards out and put my third rod along the margin to the left of me. Clive moved into a swim to the right of me and fished the main body of the lake. I put about a gallon in total of hemp round the three hook baits and about fifty boilies around each of them. We started fishing at about seven o'clock in the evening and within an hour Clive had landed a twenty pound common. It was the same fish as I had caught but was in very poor condition, most of its mouth was now missing and it had a job swimming. During the close season long lines had been found in the lake and the injuries to this fish were probably the result of having been tethered until it had managed to break free.

Clive put the fish back and it swam out about ten yards, turned upside down and sunk. There is only one thing to do when something like this happens, we went in and found it and brought it back. After trying to revive it for about ten minutes with no success Clive went and got the fishery manager while I kept water moving through the fishes gills. The fish was collected by the fishery manager and I'm glad to say it recovered although the damage to its mouth made it very difficult for it to feed, it is now in a water where it is less likely to get caught and seems to be very healthy. Unfortunately for the fish, its mouth deformities make boilies the only food it can pick up easily and it does still get caught occasionally. After the fish had gone I changed into dry trousers and settled down for the night. I was awoken by one of my buzzers at about three o'clock in the morning and while I was reeling the fish in one of my other rods had a take. I managed to land both fish and while I was getting reorganised the third rod went off and another small carp was landed. These takes continued throughout the night and the next morning, by lunchtime I had caught twenty seven carp between eight and twelve pounds. This wasn't what I wanted at all, so I went home to have a re-think. After I left, Clive had another common of fifteen pounds. I gave a lot of thought to what had happened, I had caught twenty seven stock fish and Clive had caught two of the native commons. I really only wanted to catch the native fish so I decided to drop the hemp and change the bait to fishmeal flavoured with a mixture of ethyl butyrate and strawberry oil, it was sweetened with a mixture of natural sweeteners.

I went back to Chilham Lake the next Friday afternoon and set up where Clive had fished. Almost immediately I had a mirror of fourteen pounds. It was an old tired looking fish and not like the stock fish at all. I was pleased, this was probably another native fish so I was going in the right direction. I fell asleep and woke at about six the next morning. Nothing had changed. 'Good!' I thought, 'the stockies have left my baits alone'. I made a cup of tea and ate some breakfast. I was just doing the washing up when all three rods went off together. Over the next four hours I caught another thirty two small carp between eight and fourteen pounds. I went home again.

I fished different areas of the lake over the next five weekends but exactly the same thing happened every time. After a quiet Friday night the stockies would move into my swim and eat everything they could find, the strange thing was no one else caught very much, just a few fish her and there. A group of five anglers fished it for a week in July and completely blanked. It didn't make any sense then and still doesn't now. I'd like to be able to say it was the bait, but I tried other things and the results were exactly the same. One thing I never varied was my baiting pattern, after I had cast my rods out I would put a few baits around my hook baits and then put some more all around the area they were in. Finally I would make trails of boilies between the hook baits, perhaps in total using about five hundred, fourteen mil. boilies as an initial feed. In effect, by casting to different ranges I made a line of bait half way across the lake and this may be why I had so much action. By August I had caught nearly two hundred carp, but nothing bigger than fifteen pounds. I could find no way of being selective about catching the original Chilham stock and they no longer showed themselves, so stalking wasn't viable. I moved to another water!

I did return and fish Chilham twice in the winter. The first time was in November when I caught only two fish, but Clive managed to catch about fifteen. I fished it again in January for a night and despite gale force winds lashing the water to foam I caught about a dozen stockies, they were now averaging about twelve pounds. That night there were only three other fish out all round the lake and these were caught by Daryl New who was visiting the lavatory at the time. A friend and I reeled the fish in and re-cast his rods, if he ever reads this he will know that he didn't blank after all. On the last weekend of that season we arranged a social gathering at the lake that comprised of myself and four friends plus Chris Haswell and two of his friends. We all blanked except Ken Rowley who caught two fish and Clive who had decided to fish the other end of the lake to us and caught about six fish. On the last full night of the season Chris and Ken moved to a swim a bit further up the lake. Ken caught one more fish and Chris caught seven little ones. He also hooked one of the larger fish, but unfortunately lost it.

Bait for Carp

Take the flesh of a cat or rabbit and cut into very small pieces, mix these with bean flour (if unobtainable use another type of flour), to this add either sugar or honey and mix into a stiff paste. Should this paste be removed easily from the hook by the fish a little white or yellowish wool can be added. To preserve this paste
mix it with some virgin wax and clarified honey, keep it warm and roll into balls. These balls will keep for more than a year.

lzaak Walton - First published 1653