I can’t believe it’s been almost two years since my last Carp Journals piece. Time certainly has flown and things are very much different than they were back then. I decided to take a break from the journals as I was not doing much fishing at the time, what with my up-and-coming wedding, renovations on the house and a million and one other things I was involved with at the time. I had always intended to return to them when things got back on an even keel but I never imagined it would take this long!
To cut a long story short, as soon as we got back off our honeymoon last July, we found out that Lisa was pregnant, which meant I had to pretty much complete all the jobs on the house before the imminent arrival. This meant fishing was put on a back burner for most of last year. In total I think I did about three trips to the Top Pool, a few socials on Blackwood and one session on the syndicate lake – fishing time was certainly scarce.
Our firstborn, Izaak Frederick Grattidge, arrived on the 2nd April 2006, and it’s a good job he was a few days late as it gave me time to finish painting the nursery! Despite my best efforts to pre-bait Lisa during the pregnancy with HNV boilies he didn’t quite make double figures and had his first weigh in 7lb 10oz. He’s just turned six months old now, and our lives have certainly changed forever. The old cliché about not knowing what you did with your time before the arrival of a child certainly rings true, but despite all that, the little fella is without doubt a personal best and our lives are much the richer since his arrival. More interestingly, the limited time I now have available means I’ve had to totally revaluate my whole approach to fishing. It’s been an interesting journey which has honed my skills even further and I’ve really learnt to appreciate my available fishing time more than I ever have before.
I knew long before Izaak came along that my session fishing days were over, for a good while at least, so it was a case of trying to find a way around the problem to ensure I was always around when needed, but also able to get out for an hour or two fishing if the chance arose. In a perfect world I would have concentrated my attentions back on the Capesthorne estate. The epic Top Pool mission had pretty much come to an end after banking Victor in 2004. The wise old devil had evaded my hookbaits for so many years that I wondered if I would ever catch him, and having banked virtually all the other Leney originals within the lake, he was typically the last one I caught. With that capture came a feeling that it was time to move on to pastures new, well, sort of. The intention was to drop down onto the day-only Main Lake to begin a new campaign and although I only managed a few trips during 2005 I managed a number of stunning fish to mid-twenties. The problem now however was distance. The return journey from home was over an hour and with available session time being limited to the odd hour here and there, I needed to find something much closer to home.
With no specimen waters close by I decided to take a sabbatical from targeting specimens during 2006, preferring to just try and ‘do a bit’ whenever I had the chance. There are a number of small club waters and day ticket lakes within a ten minute drive of home so it was a case of re-visiting a number of these waters, many of which I’d not set foot on since my youth, to see which might suit. Some had not changed a bit, others were far removed from what they once were, and not always for the better. There’s a little country park just up the road, literally within a four minute car journey, which I’d walked around hundreds of times, but never actually fished as it contained mainly small stuff. That said it’s a really picturesque little place so I was keen to do a few reccies. I learnt early on how taking Izaak out for a walk was a win-win situation. It allowed me to walk around a few lakes, spend a bit of ‘carp-time’ with my son, and Lisa liked it as it gave her a bit of a break to catch up on some sleep. As such, we did no small amount of reccies around the park lake during the closed season to see what potential it might have.
Early reconnaissance visits showed potential!
It looked good from the off. Ideally I was after a doubles water with the outside chance of something unexpected, and on the very first visit just as I was giving Izaak his first ‘this, son, is a carp lake’ talk, a lovely mid-double mirror leapt clear out of the water not more than three rod-lengths from the bank, and within the hour I’d spotted another half dozen over the ten pound mark and many more a little below. Several reccies followed during the coming weeks, and each time I learnt more about their patrol routes and where they tended to show up at various times of the day. I knew it might all change come the start of the season once bombarded with lines and leads, but it was a start at least. Ever one for the challenge, I decided that my only means of capture would be to surface fish for the carp, which would also hopefully allow for me to target some of the larger inhabitants.
In between reccies on the park lake I was off out looking at lots of other waters whenever I got the chance. To be honest it was a refreshing challenge, the hard grind of the Top Pool had been the norm for so long that it was nice to have something new to excite the mind. My other challenge for the year was to try and target a carp from the Caldon Canal. The Caldon runs from Etruria, Stoke-on-Trent, for around 18 miles before ending in Froghall. It was originally built to carry limestone from Caldon Low but now sees only boat traffic from tourists. There is one branch off the main canal which runs for about three miles and ends about half a mile from my house where a feeder stream from Rudyard reservoir meets it in order to supply the whole of the canal with water. The canal has quite a place in my heart, when I grew up as a kid down in Consall Forge our cottage backed right onto the Caldon – I could literally dangle a rod out of my bedroom window into the canal! There have been many reportings of carp to mid-twenties at the far end of the canal where it meets the Trent and Mersey, but I much prefer the stretches around Leek, Cheddleton and over towards Froghall. In years gone by clubs used to hold leases on most stretches and bankside vegetation was whittled away to nothing as club matches took place week in week out, but with most clubs relinquishing stretches many years ago the banks have turned into a carp anglers heaven, overhanging trees, rhododendron bushes, huge beds of marginal reed mace and lilies – what more could you ask for? Well, fish I suppose! That was the only unknown quantity – were there any carp in the stretches I wanted to target?
Initially I was looking at the three mile stretch close to home. I’d done my homework and had traced captures of carp to just under 20lb about fifteen years ago. After a great deal of asking around in all the local tackle shops and speaking to nearly every angler I knew locally, I decided on one stretch that it appeared had produced a few in the past. The only problem was that the captors said they were old fish back then, so there was a distinct possibility they were no longer, and the prolific head of jack pike might have put paid to the emergence of any offspring, but what the heck, nothing ventured… Besides, this was the challenge – I was not bothered about how big they might be, I just wanted to try and find one and then catch it – even if it was only a pound!
The reccies continued apace throughout April, and although there was no closed season on the canal I decided I would wait until June 16th before fishing it, which would give me time to try and select a few choice locations. By this time I was pretty confident I had the measure of the park lake fish. On arrival at the water, and after taking stock of the wind direction, time of day and conditions, I could pretty much determine where the fish would be, particularly if the sun was shining. As such, I reduced my trips to the park lake and started walking the canal stretch as often as possible in the hope of spotting some fish.
There was one main area where I was confident they would show as soon as the water warmed up, a winding hole just under half an acre before you approach Leek tunnel. The water shallows almost to nothing on the far side and there are a few weedbeds in the summer which I was sure would hold the carp. I started walking the stretch at least three or four times a week with Izaak in the hope of spotting something to pinpoint my attentions but there was nothing doing. I saw everything but carp, some cracking shoals of big bream, rudd, roach and pike galore, but no carp. Even though I had spotted nothing after almost four weeks of observations I was sure they were in there – I just had a feeling they were a little better and hiding themselves then I had first given them credit for. I then started a system where by I would walk half the stretch from either end chucking in a few mixers to likely looking spots, and then after a mile and a half, turn and walk back to see if anything was having a go at the mixers. For a few weeks nothing developed, then on one occasion after passing back past a lovely wide sweeping bay I heard a big ‘slosh’ sound behind me. I turned to see ripples emanating outwards from the far bank where I had put some mixers but after waiting several minutes more nothing came of it, but on that long walk back to the house I was almost certain it had been a carp.
The bend in question was much further from home than I had hoped to fish. The idea initially was to walk from my house when fishing but this spot would mean travelling by car. No real problem but it then got me thinking about other possibilities at the far end of the stretch. I knew when it came down to it that pre-bating would be the key, and in doing so it might help with the observations – assuming I was doing it in the right place! I decided enough was enough and that I had to pick a few locations to get the ball rolling. Over the next week I selected three locations including the ‘bend’ as I called it, to pre-bait, with the plan being to bait the spots at least three times a week with mini-boilies and particles.
‘The Bend’ – As nice as any stillwater you’ll ever see.
The confidence grew once I started applying a bit of bait. Not that I saw anything over the spots, other than some clonking bream, but I just felt I was able to concentrate my efforts. That said, it was a bit daunting having to pick just three locations on a three mile stretch with no locks – they could be anywhere! I just drew on my watercraft skills from elsewhere and based my decisions on security, available food, and underwater features. My main focus however was the bend. The spot just seemed to scream carp; overhanging trees, deeper water with shallow shelves, weed, and even overhanging rhododendron bushes – it was like a mini version of the Top Pool!
Everything went well with the baiting up throughout May until a chance sighting elsewhere. I’d been on a family day out down in Froghall, having a look at all the development they have done to install a new marina where the Caldon ends, and with Ice-cream in hand we looked around a few of the boats and I watched huge shoals of perch moving around the basin area – absolutely thousands of them! We then walked along the canal for a while past Froghall tunnel and just as we rejoined the footpath I saw it – a stunning mirror of about 9lb just moving around on the surface sampling anything and everything in front of it as it skirted a large weed bed in between some moored boats. I watched it for a good five minutes and had I had a rod and a bag of mixers with me I honestly reckon I could have bagged it there and then.
All this time looking for them near to home and a chance visit further down the canal brought a sighting within a minute. I’d been bowled a googly! Straightway I started to run the possibilities in my mind; how long would it take me to get here, who controlled the fishing, how would I approach the spot, etc, etc. To be honest it turned out to be a bit of a dead end. I chased up various clubs that had leased the stretch at one time or another only to be told they no longer controlled the fishing. Eventually I tracked down the lease holder through British Waterways and it turned out a local business had taken out the rights for the sole purpose of stopping fishing on that stretch. The interesting thing was that in the week or two it took me to get to the bottom of it, I walked that stretch several times a week and never spotted the same fish or any others. This actually gave me more confidence about the spots I was baiting close to home.
A few surface fishing trips to Blackwood also proved productive
Whilst waiting to get to work on the new waters I kept my hand in up at Blackwood Pool when I had the chance, again just fishing off the top. I mainly fished short sessions after work and snuck up perhaps once a week when time allowed. We made some sweeping changes to the way Blackwood was being run at the last AGM and the place certainly seems to be a lot better for it, and this lovely little water has returned to the tranquil little pool we all knew and loved. The fishing was amazing too. I used a stalking approach in the main, keeping on the move and banking fish from around the margins. It was exhilarating stuff and some of the scraps were superb!
A typical Blackwood mirror, stalked on short two hour session
As June 16th approached I readied myself for my new waters, full of enthusiasm for what might lie ahead. I was like a little kid on the eve of the 15th and hardly slept a wink until the alarm finally bleeped at around 3am the following morning. Not being able to decide which water to hit first I decided to have a dabble on both! The plan was to get down to the canal for dawn, do a few hours, then head over to the park lake to see how many turned up for the first day of the season. After a brief drive down a few country lanes I was soon parked up and walking along the towpath towards the bend. The mist was rolling off the water in great wafts and the eerie silence was only broken by coots squabbling in the margins amongst the reed beds. The expectancy increased with every step, and by the time I got to my desired location some ten minutes later I was on tenterhooks. I mused to myself how ironic it would be if after all this pre-baiting how funny it would be if when I got there to fish it for the first time there was somebody firmly in my spot having the session of a lifetime, but as the enveloping mist cleared as I got closer and closer to my mark I realised I was completely on my own, miles from anywhere - just how I like it.
The plan was to fish early morning sessions on the canal leaving well before any boat traffic got going, which would allow me to fish far bank spots on very light tackle without the need to back lead. For the first few trips my plan was to fish one ledger rod and one coarse fished float rod. Not only would this allow for some pleasurable action whilst waiting for the carp, but it would allow me to get a good feel for what else was lurking in the areas I had been pre-baiting. Within minutes I had the ledger rod in place with a mini boilie on an 8lb hooklink, and shortly after I was set up and fishing over the other pre-baited spot with the float rod. Within seconds the float jabbed twice and was away, providing the first of many feisty perch. The morning wore on with bream rudd and roach all making an appearance on the float rod but the ledger rod remained quiet throughout. Come 8am I decided it was time to pack up and head over to the park lake. I was pleased with my approach even though the ledger rod had remained silent, as the fun in knocking out a few nice fish on the coarse rod was a real pleasure and took me right back to fishing the canal over twenty five years ago as a kid.
First time back on a canal in twenty years!
In truth I did not know what to expect when I arrived at the park lake. I knew it was one of the clubs busier waters, so I was fully prepared for it to be rammed. As such, I was amazed to find only two or three people on when I got there. Granted it was a weekday but I still thought there would have been more on. Greeted with empty banks there was suddenly urgency in my step to get tackled up and fishing. Prior planning meant I already had a third floater fishing rod set up in the car so it was just a case of grabbing a few bits of tackle and I was away. I only had a couple of hours before I had to head of to work but the buzz of wetting a line on a new water for the second time in one morning was intense.
The sun was already up over the trees which cocoon the lake, shining down on the water in front of swims on the west bank. There was hardly a whiff of wind and I was confident the fish would be showing off the high-bank swims in the far south west corner. I’d singled out this area as a good spot for floater fishing as you were a good three feet higher than anywhere else on the lake – great for observation and hopefully targeting the larger fish. Once on the high bank I immediately saw a group of three fish about twenty yards out from the bank. I catapulted a pouch of mixers in and went about readying my rod. And that’s when it went mad. Not between me and the fish you understand, it was between the carp and the ducks! I’d obviously spotted a good head of winged wildlife on all the reccies but they’d not shown much interest in the bread I’d put out. They much preferred to wait for Mr and Mrs Sunday Morning to turn up with half a loaf and dump it on the car park bank right on their heads. Today however, they were all over me.
The carp were up for it taking the mixers down with a vengeance. The problem was the ducks were right in the thick of it too so it was impossible to introduce a hookbait. The only option was to reduce the freebies and fish a single baited line but then the carp just drifted off. I decided to change tactics and moved to a type of open water stalking whereby I would spot a fish, try to guess where it was going, and then cast in front and ahead of it, before drawing the bait back into its exact path at the last moment. It was far from easy, but persistence paid off and I took three nice carp to low double figures during the next hour. Just before the end of the session I hooked a good fish out in open water. I played it for some time until the hooklink snapped right at the hook. I was obviously gutted at the loss, not least because I got a good look at the fish on several occasions and it was a nice mirror somewhere between 16 and 18lb. I decided to beef up from 7.9lb line to 10lb at that time as it was not a situation I’d wanted to repeat. It had been a frustrating first morning on the park lake but overall I was pleased with the result, especially as I only fished it for a couple of hours in total.
My main problem was time. I now had two new waters I wanted to fish but could only really get away for a few hours a week. I decided to adopt the early morning approach on the park lake as well as the canal. The main reason being that I was not missed at home between the hours of 3am-9am, so I had around five hours of fishing at my disposal. For the next couple of weeks I spent my time on the canal as my hunger for a canal carp grew. Especially after I managed to track down a local guy who I was told had fished the stretch quite a bit in the past. It was sheer fluke really, working from home my office overlooks the road outside and I just happened to see him walk his dog past the window quite early one morning. I was out of the door in a flash chasing after him in my slippers – I think he got quite a fright when he turned to see a half dressed man running down the road after him, but as soon as I mentioned fishing he was happy to gab away for ages – funny that?
Until that point I had still not had a recent conformation that carp still existed in this stretch of canal, but this guy was soon to change all that. He explained that he’d fished all along the three mile stretch for years, and whilst he’d never targeted carp, he had picked a few up from various locations, the most recent being the year previous. My heart lifted unbelievably on hearing that and my determination to bank one was now at fever pitch. We chatted for a while and I asked about sizes and locations and whilst he’d not seen any big fish for a number of years, he did talk of one he’d seen a few years ago in the water that looked ‘a right big pig’ – which was more than enough for me! Of most interest however, was the location where he’d picked up more carp then anywhere else - Of all the spots on the entire three mile stretch of canal, where do you think he’d had most carp from? Yep, you’ve guessed it – exactly where I’d been pre-baiting for weeks! Right down to the exact same overhanging bush – I was amazed.
The perch provided a welcome distraction on the canal
Each canal session would bring more and more on the float rod as I refined my tactics and changed shotting patterns to suit the species (I was after a big stripey!) but the carp remained elusive. That is until one morning nearing the end of June. I was a good few hours into my session with one rod on ledger and one on float as usual, during which I’d been having a few on the float rod to the far bank shallows between the weedbeds. I always had my polarised glasses on although the fish were a little to small to see from where I was fishing, but I was always looking around the whole area hoping to spot a carp- and then it happened. I had just returned a small perch to the water and was rebaiting the line with red maggot when something caught my eye in open water. I looked up to a beige looking shape glide straight out of the far bank overhanging bushes (where the ledger rod was) and into the clear spot I was float fishing. It was zipping around at a fair rate and then headed right to the back of the far bank margin and sped right along the far bank with its back completely out of the water before turning again to head back towards the clear spot. There was no point in casting out my 1lb bottom – there was no way it would have held this little fella. He was only about four or five pounds but he was charging around at such speed that he would have snapped my link in seconds. It was amazing to watch. He came back into the clear spot mopped up a few maggots at speed and then was immediately off again, backk the way he had come. Time seemed to stand still, but from the moment I first spotted him to the point at which he disappearing again was probably no longer than twenty seconds. I just sat there for ages with a huge grin on my face. Sometimes the catching is not important. The journey is what makes it for me, and at that point, after months of speculation, I was finally able to say hand on heart that I’d seen one – and for now, that was more than enough, I was on a high for most of that week!
It had been a good lesson as well. If the other carp in there were anything like this one, they were not the type to slowly muse over an area, just the opposite, this little carp’s reccie of the spot was more like an SAS mission – in and out – no messing. The truth of the matter was that until I’d spoken to the guy outside my house I’d let the pre-baiting slip, and now I had the distinct feeling that I needed to step it up if I was going to get these fish feeding confidently. I started again the following day, now just feeding the one spot rather than the three I had been baiting previously.
I decided to leave the canal for a while whilst I got the pre-baiting established again, and besides, I really wanted to get back on the park lake as well! I’d done a few walks of an evening to see how many were fishing it and not surprisingly there were quite a few on most nights. As such I decided to try the early morning sessions here also to see if I could get them going off the top. The conditions were certainly ripe and with the hot weather continuing I wondered if targeting them before it got really hot might actually be a good tactic, and besides, the last thing they would expect at that time in the morning would be a floater fished hookbait!
The following week I made my first early morning assault on the water, getting there just as it came light. As hoped I had the place to myself so I would be able to move around a bit if I needed to. I made for the high bank to start off with as I had a feeling the fish would just be starting to move out from the huge sedge beds on the southern edge of the lake. The real result was the ducks. I crept round to the swim leaving most of them tucked up on the car park bank, and in the half light I really don’t think they knew I was there, tucked away quietly in my camo gear shielded by the mist which hung low over the entire lake. Either that or they just weren’t used to floaters that early in the morning! The carp were soon on the scene, and just as I was setting up I noticed irregular dimples on the surface of the water not more then two feet out from the bank. I ever so carefully dropped a few dog biscuits just off the sedges and within seconds one was sucked from the surface. My heart skipped a beat and the adrenalin started to pump around my body – game on! The rod was ready to go within seconds and I just slipped the controller off with the fish being so close in. By the time I carefully lowered the hookbait into place the other two freebies had gone and within a matter of seconds I saw a large head appear directly under the hookbait as a giant set of lips extended upwards and out to engulf the dog biscuit. There was no slack line out so I did not even need to strike, I just pointed the tip of the rod away to my left and the water erupted as the hooked fish swirled and made out into the deep. It was quite surreal as I stood there, the only one on the lake just as it came light with the mist rolling off in huge clouds and the sun not even up over the far bank. I just stood grinning as the rod hooped over and line spewed from the reel – for me, this is what fishing’s all about!
I had the park lake all to myself on most occasions!
I damped down on the spool to slow the run and slowly turned the fish out in open water. There was a good bend in the rod and whilst I was confident it was not as big as my lost fish from the previous session there was no way I was going to loose it. The 10lb line was just the trick and allowed me to apply a little more pressure at the critical moments. The session was also the first time out for a new stalking net I’d made, which was basically a metal rimmed fly fishing net with a small extendible handle using the material of an old carp net for the mesh. The idea was to make a net that could be carried about easily when stalking from swim to swim whilst also having the ability to land fish in confined spaces. It performed perfectly and I was able to guide the chunky double figure mirror straight into the net on the first attempt.
Once the sun had crept over the tree line on the far bank at around 6am it became much easier to spot the shadows and I was able to effectively pick off fish both close in and at range. Each time I would simply fire a few freebies onto moving or stationary fish and they would lap them up. Then it was just a case of firing out the hookbait, slowly drawing it back into the zone and waiting for action. It would be safe to say most of the fish average about eight or nine pounds, but I was able to target the larger fish by flicking the hookbait out of the way when a smaller fish came up to investigate, and leaving it be when a larger shadow appeared. I was had over a couple of times by smaller fish when I was unable to make out if it the shadow was one big fish or two smaller fish but every fish fought well above its weight so it mattered little. After another three or four fish were banked I stopped to pour a quick brew and whilst I sat supping and soaking up my surroundings I noticed quite a large lump sitting just under the cover of a large overhanging tree a few swims down to my left. I walked down the bank to investigate and quickly realised the torpedo like lump was a good deal larger than anything banked thus far. I was back on the scene in seconds with rod and bait, but I knew it would take a while to coax the fish from cover. I spent the next ten minutes slowly drawing the fish out into a ‘fishable’ area, but even then the cast would need to be spot on between two other branches. I missed it first time but as I had waited till the carp was facing away from me before making the cast I was able to get it right second time without spooking the fish. A few more freebies were introduced and I lay in wait as what was clearly a nice common slowly picked off the freebies one at a time. Eventually the hookbait was the only one remaining and gaining in confidence the fish was happy to come just that little bit further out. I held my breath for fear of spooking the fish but I need not have worried. Lips extended without hesitation and the floater tipped down into the carp’s mouth. I struck quickly and attempted to gather as much line as possible to stop the fish reaching the sanctuary of the tree roots. The rod arched round to signal a decent fish and I kept the pressure up, now more confident on the 10lb line. The fish was no pushover but I was able to guide it away from the snag and out into open water where I was able to ease off a bit. The fish slid into the net shortly afterwards and I knew it would certainly equal the one I lost on my first session. To look at it you’d only estimate 13 or 14lb but I knew it was much heavier as soon as I lifted the net, and my feeling was confirmed when it went 17lb 2oz on the scales, a real belter with not a mark on it, probably the stockiest common I’ve ever had and I was over the moon with it. A few more fish were to grace the net before I went home and I finished up with nine altogether, of which four, including the big common, were doubles.
Probably the stockiest common I’ve ever had, and certainly one of the nicest!
It was now the middle of July and what I thought would be a depressing season before the year started was turning out to be a right little adventure. OK, I’d not banked any monsters but I was having fun, and lots of it, and deep down I was really enjoying the new challenges, particularly on the canal. That said, the early morning sessions on the park lake proved quite addictive, when you have a big grin on your face and you’re filling your boots with fish it can be difficult to steal yourself away, especially when you’re only getting out once a week, although more was yet to come on the park lake, giving me my best floater fishing session ever, but I’ll cover more on that in the next piece.