At the end of the last piece Christmas was approaching and time on the bank had been limited over the latter part of the year. Results for the year had been patchy at best and I’d certainly not spent as much time on the bank as I would have liked but commitments at home had to come first. The problem was that I seemed to be doing a few sessions then having to pull off to do more work at home, then when I got back on a water I needed to get my eye in again.

Come December the latest bit of work had been done on the house, though I knew much more was to come over the next few months. Irrespective of this I was determined to get back up on the Top Pool as I’d not really set foot on the place since Birch back in August. The best time on the Top Pool is usually during the autumn and I’d missed the lot! As such, I was eager to get back on and see if I could rattle out a couple of fish before the end of the season.

Winter fish from the Top Pool are very few and far between and it can get a little soul destroying when you keep going up, doing everything right, and still blank. Part of the problem is that the woods on both sides of the lake are closed for shooting from October until the end of the season. This means that you are effectively fishing about half of the lake for the latter part of the year.

The other problem is spotting the fish; during winter you can go for weeks without seeing the slightest sign of a carp, the complete opposite of summer when you can follow them round all day! Nonetheless, I was full of determination and eager to get back on and hopefully get amongst the fish.

I still had lots to do around the house but had made time to do a few quick overnighters during the first few weeks of December. The first session on Saturday December 6th saw Chris and I fishing the Point Swims. These swims give a good vantage point across the bay and the hope was that if fish were active; this area offered the best chance of spotting them.

A chilly -3ºc meant frozen rods and icy margins!

The conditions were worse than had been forecast and a heavy frost came down overnight dropping the temperature to -3ºc, this left the fields behind us solid white and a layer of ice formed around the margins of the lake. The night passed without event and come the chilly morning I was only to happy to pack up and go home!

Even though nothing had developed I felt much better for just getting back on the bank and we’d seen a few encouraging signs during the session. We spotted a good number of fish topping further into the bay, and whist sure they weren’t carp – they were fish nonetheless.

The following weekend I was under orders to finish decorating one of the bedrooms at home as we had some friends staying over Christmas. I was eager to fish the following weekend if at all possible so I cracked on with the decorating like a man possessed to ensure the following weekend would be spent on the Top Pool! The plan worked. In fact, it worked so well that Lisa gave me an ‘away pass’ for both the Friday and Saturday night – result! However, I think the real reason for letting me go was that she didn’t want me moaning my bag off whilst doing the last bit of Christmas shopping around Leek!

As I would be arriving in darkness on the Friday I had decided to set up in Robins as this would give an easy flick to the spot where we had seen the fish topping on the last session. When I arrived at the water Chris was already set up in Left of Point and was ready for action. It was cold, although not as cold as the last session, yet a frost was definitely on the cards. I set up as quick as possible and flicked out single B5 hook baits in PVA bags filled with a few crushed boilies and some B5 active breakdown pellets.

I was soon settled in and got some tea on the go to warm me up. The frost came down and the wind dropped completely although there was quite a bit of cloud moving overhead. Rain was due to move in the next morning and stay throughout the day, though at least this would raise the temperature a little.

The night was pretty unremarkable in that absolutely nothing happened. A couple of liners were all that woke me as night turned to early morning and not long after that I heard a light pitter-patter on the bivvy as the rain moved in. I stayed snug in the sack with a brew and watched as it became light. The swim, nicknamed Robins, lived up to its name and within half an hour of waking I’d had three different robins around the front of my bivvy looking for some breakfast. Brave as you like, the fattest of the three even came into my bivvy to have a good look around for crumbs from my meal the evening before, he found a few morsels to his liking and stayed on the floor inside the bivvy for another three or four minutes whilst I watched with my head perched over the edge of my bedchair no more than 18 inches away.

The rain sets in for the day on Robins

The day passed without event and the rain continued throughout. Geoff Hayes, the Society’s Fisheries Manager paid us a visit during the early afternoon and we had a good chat about all things fishy. The rain eased for an hour or two after that so I used the opportunity to have a plumb about and find a few spots for the bait to go out on for the night ahead.

I found a couple of nice clear spots and made a mental note for later. As I watched the water during the hours before darkness I saw fish topping a couple of times over the area I’d plumbed. They looked to be tench or bream but anything would be welcome in such conditions so I decided to bait up for the night on these spots. It was 11.00pm before anything happened, at which point I received a series of bleeps on my right hand rod as the swinger bounced up and down an inch or so – very tench like. I gently lifted into the rod and was met by a strong tap-tapping as a tench tried to escape with my hook bait. Although it was easy enough to coax the tench to the margin for netting I had a feeling it might be a decent one, and as it slid over the cord of the landing net I estimated it to be a good 6½ lb.

With the rain still coming down and me without coat, I quickly unhooked the tench whilst still in the water and returned it straight back, I watched in the torch light as the large male slowly fanned its large pelvic fins before moving off into the darkness and I felt
quite pleased that at least something had decided to pick up my hook bait! I quickly dried off and prepared another B5 stringer, clipped up the rod and cast out to the exact same spot. Within an hour the same rod was away again, resulting in another tench, a nice female of around 5lb.

By first light the rain had gone completely and the sun came up from behind the woods bathing the water in its warming rays. I stuck it out for an hour or two and then started a slow pack up; happy in the fact that I’d at least had a couple of fish on my last session of the year.

Packing up in the bright sunlight on Robins

After the Christmas period was over I was keen to get back on the Top Pool as soon as possible. I’d had an email from Dan who’d been doing a few sessions on there during the day. He’d done seven day sessions without so much as a bleep, but he’d spotted a couple of fish, so this at least gave me the confidence to get back on and find the fish.

Saturday 10th January and I was back on the Top Pool. I arrived at the water around 11.00am and a light South Westerly was blowing into the dam end of the lake. I quite fancied the Rodie Bush, but this had been where Dan had done the seven sessions without success, which put me off a little. After a look around the Point and the bay, Chris decided he fancied the Boathouse so I decided to go and have a look at the Stile Swim. I climbed the tree on the Stile and looked out over the water to see if there were any signs of activity. I thought I caught something move way out to my left; conditions weren’t great for spotting fish but I was sure I’d seen something over by the margin in front of the New Boards Swim. I climbed back down and quickly got my Polarized glasses and went back up the tree. I carefully scanned the water and then spotted the movement again in the same area – Two carp were moving very slowly up the margin on my left between the New Boards Swim and the Black Hole. I climbed a little higher to try and get a better vantage point and was able to make one to be a decent 20lb with the other perhaps high double.

After spotting two carp I set up in the Stile Swim

After watching the two fish until they went out of sight I climbed back down and begun setting up in the Stile Swim. My confidence was sky high and the conditions were perfect. The sun was out and the temperature held at around 8ºc with the water only a few degrees lower in the margins. Hitting the spot where I’d seen the fish was going to be quite tricky as the Stile has loads of overhanging trees all around the swim. It took several casts to get it right over to the margin in front of the New Boards; I opted for single hook baits and fired in about 10 freebies over each bait. As the day drew on everything seemed perfect and I had that feeling that action could well be on the cards.

As darkness fell it still felt really warm and I was on edge, full of anticipation. However, knowing that things were perhaps too good to be true, at about 1.00am a really strong wind picked up and driving rain soon followed. This really seemed to knock it on the head and it was no surprise that by morning nothing had developed.

The next few weekends were spent removing the old boiler and radiators at home as we got the next ‘house project’ underway. We’ve decided the kitchen is next on the renovation list. In order to do this I’ve got to strip the walls back to brick, rewire the whole room, rip out the old boiler & tank, install a new combi and radiators, then get a new back door and windows built, board up some internal doorways and hatches, plaster all the walls, and then fit a new hand built wooden kitchen… easy as that… cough!

Another project begins… Help!

I’ve made a detailed plan of what I’ve got to do each week in order to have the lot done for the start of the season in June – will just have to see how it goes! I’d also built a few sessions into the plan as I wanted to keep my hand in on the bank. I think this was the mistake I made last year – Throughout the winter and the closed season last year I cracked on with the renovating and only managed about two sessions between January and the start of the season in June, this meant that I was hitting the water cold whilst all those around me had been fishing and were high on confidence. It took a while to get sorted and hit the fish and I think if I’d been on the ball from the off I would have had better results. As such, although I had a lot of work ahead of me on the house, I planned to make time to fish every couple of weeks to try and keep my hand in.

That said; it was now over a month since I’d been on the bank. Most of this was down to me however, as in addition to doing work on the kitchen, I also took ownership of my new Scooby and spent a couple of weekends blasting around the open roads of the Peak District – it’s compulsory when you buy such cars:-). Car aside, I was eager to get the rods back out and decided I could fit in a night on Saturday 21st February. I had some jobs to do in the morning and I also had to pick Lisa’s mum and dad up from Manchester Airport in the early afternoon, but I finally made it up to Blackwood Pool at around 4.00pm, where some of the lads were having a bit of a social.

A new addition to the family!

All of the gang were already in and fishing when I arrived. Shaun and Darren had been there since the day before but as yet, had had nothing. Most of the usual swims between Pegs 2 and 6 had gone and the rest were set up along the dam from Pegs 10 to 13. I decided it might pay to keep
away from the crowd and so set up on Peg 17 where I could stretch my legs a little if I saw any movement in open water.

As darkness fell I was all set up with rods out; a single B5 hook bait in the margin and another single hook bait in open water. It was getting colder and we would definitely be in for a frost but I was confident nonetheless and was just happy to be back out fishing. After a bit of a social I tucked up in the sack and hoped I’d be woken by a Delkim before morning arrived.

The night passed without incident and I stayed tucked up in the sack with a brew the next morning and wondered when I’d bank my first carp of 2004. As the thought lingered the swinger on my right hand rod flew up and hit the rod as a belting run picked up and started taking line from the Baitrunner. I flew out of the bivvy and lifted into the fish which was heading out from the margin into open water. The rod gave a thump as a good Blackwood double tried to make its escape. The fish put up one hell of a battle and kept ploughing up and down the margin whilst making powerful lunges but a good hook hold ensured he could go nowhere and I eventually slid a decent mirror into the waiting net. Once on the unhooking mat I was eager to see which of the Blackwood contingent had picked up the B5 and pulled back the folds of the net to see the unmistakeable linear markings of the Parrot.

The Parrot on a frosty February morning

The fish looked in great condition and I was well happy with my first carp for 2004. I did not have a camera with me so I quickly weighed the fish (at its best weight for Blackwood) and slipped it into a sack for a moment in order that I could go and rouse Chris to take a few photos. When I got round to the other side of the lake Chris and Rob were already up and about and Rob informed me he’d also had a good double which upped his Personal Best. All in all, a good little session.

Although only one fish and a double, the Parrot gave me a confidence boost and I was eager to get back on the Top Pool to see if I could rattle one out before the season finished at the end of March. However, the next weekend I was busy ripping out the old boiler at home and getting a nice new Combi installed. The work at home was ahead of schedule (unbelievably) which meant I was able to fish the following Saturday, 6th March on the Top Pool.

I arrived at the water at 2.00pm expecting to have the place to myself, but as I made way around the lake from the Stile swim I spotted a bivvy on the Point which I recognised as Andy’s and so made my way round for a chat. Andy had only been set up for a few hours but had already seen quite a few fish topping in the bay. As we stood chatting there seemed to be quite a bit of activity in front of Andy’s swim with fish topping in mid-water. I saw a fish roll out in front of the Rodie Bush which looked distinctly ‘carpy’ and then a few minutes later the same thing happened but closer in, right by the overhanging branches of the rhododendron. That was enough for me and I was away to move my gear into the Rodie Bush Swim.

After seeing a fish roll I decided on the Rodie Bush

Shortly afterwards a new member that I’d been talking to via email came down to the water to have a look around. I chatted with Joe about the water as I set up and prepared to put the baits out. I got everything ready but refrained from putting the baits in as the swans were active and were waiting for the slightest sign of food two rod lengths out from the bank. As such I went back round to chat to Andy for a while as I hadn’t seen him since the previous September.

I chatted for an hour or so with Andy and caught up on any captures I’d missed during the previous autumn. Not that I’d missed much, since the two twenties in a session Andy had caught the previous summer, one of which I’d helped him photograph, not much had been off. Andy had taken a couple of doubles since then but it had been hard going. Irrespective of this, we were both confident for the night ahead. Conditions were the best they had been since I’d been back on in December; the temperature was a decent 7ºc with a light 7mph South Westerly breeze. As we chatted a couple of blokes came on with some pike gear and bounced a few deadbaits across the bottom and picked up a number of jacks over the next hour. I made a mental note to chuck a trace and a couple of lures in my tackle bag. Shortly afterwards the swans climbed out of the water by the Boathouse and waddled off behind the swim down onto the Main Lake – time to get my baits out.

I waded out a couple of paces from the bank and flicked a single B5 hook bait out in front of the Rodie Bush, the bottom had a lot of leaf debris and a few strands of fresh Canadian pond weed, but not enough to make me want to bag-up. After a couple of underarm flicks I lobbed a good cast which dropped about an inch of the edge of the bush – Perfect.

I bagged up the right had rod and gave it a good underarm flick to the edge of the padline, Although only March the pads were already starting to sprout on the bottom and I dropped the bait on a spot where I’ve had a good number of twenties in the past. Both rods had gone out perfect and conditions looked spot on – so much so that I decided to ring Chris and wind him up by telling him that fish were definitely on the cards, as he had gone up to Blackpool for the weekend with some friends and could not make it.

With baits in I sat back and soaked up my surroundings. As evening drew on the temperature remained warm and come Ten’ O’clock a full moon bathed a completely flat calm Top Pool in moonlight. I could clearly see fish topping just out in front of the Rodie bush to my left and felt confident it was only a matter of time before one of the resident carp paid a visit to the shallow water under the branches of the overhanging bush – I just hoped that one of them would fall for my hook bait.

After a couple more hours, tiredness got the better of me and I hit the sack. I remember waking to a liner off the bush rod at about 5.30am and immediately noticed that a very light rain was now falling on a completely flat calm surface giving almost perfect Top Pool conditions. I dozed for another hour or so then made a brew and
got back in the sack as it became light. Fish were still topping out in front of the bush and just as I was beginning to think my chance may well have passed, the swinger on the bush rod went right to the top as line was immediately pulled from the tightly set baitrunner. Seconds later I lifted into a powerful fish that was off towards the Boathouse at speed. I felt the line pinging off some of the submerged roots and then started to damp my finger on the spool to slow its run.

The fish kept thudding away and tried to change its direction several times; eventually deciding that it wanted to get back to where it had just come from – under the rodie bush. Although powerful, I had a feeling the fish was not a massive one as it didn’t prove too difficult to turn it away from the bush and I was soon able to coax it back into open water in front of the swim. As the light rain continued to fall I gently eased the fish over the top of the cord and saw the flank of a beautiful fully scaled mirror slide into the deep folds of the net – My first Top Pool carp of the year.

First time out – Spot, surely to become one of the Top Pool’s most sought after residents.

I felt like a little kid as I moved the fish and unhooking mat up behind the bivvy. I had a feeling this fish was going to look a little special when I pulled back the net and on doing so I was not disappointed, the fully scaled mirror looked absolutely stunning in its full winter colours. As I examined the fish I suddenly noticed an area of what looked to be white cartilage on the top of its head right between the eyes and it slowly dawned on me that I’d caught ‘Spot’.

When fishing the Black Hole back in 2002, Martin and I kept seeing this fish sitting in the weed out to the right of the swim. During the hot summer days it would appear in the exact same place each mid morning and would quite literally not move an inch until late afternoon when it would drift off up towards the shallows. The fish was a Stockie introduced from Fanshawe a few years previous, easily recognisable by a large white spot on the top of its head between the eyes. The fish became quite a character, as concerned anglers quite often came round to see us reporting what appeared to be a dead fish. Mart or myself would always ask if it was out in front of the Old Boards Swim, and when they said yes, would tell them not to worry as it was just Spot having his daily nap!

The fish, which also became known as ‘Eric’ (Idle) and ‘Rigor’ (Mortis) now looked a good deal heavier then when I’d last seen it in the water and it was good to see it piling on the weight. The fish was a picture of health and was truly spectacular to look at. After speaking since with other regulars we’re pretty sure this is its first time on the bank, and I was delighted that I would be the first to bank what will no doubt become one of the venues most sought after residents in years to come.

I placed the fish back in the water and walked around the bay to see if Andy would do the honours with the camera. On arriving at his peg I noticed one of his rods up against the bivvy and a nice little lump on his unhooking mat. Andy had also scored taking a cracking little double from a lightly baited patch out towards the pad line.

After a quick photo session where Spot duly obliged by keeping his dorsal fin erect throughout; looking every inch the clichéd wood carving, we returned the fish to the water and had a well deserved brew. We then went on to tell each other about our captures. Although not massive by Top Pool standards, we were both made up taking the first carp from the water in 2004.

Andy with one of the Top Pool Sprat Pack at 12lb 8oz

I was on a high for most of the following week after taking such a nice fish and nothing was going to stop me getting straight back on the following weekend, although I’d only be able to do the Friday night. I arrived at the water around 6.00pm and had just enough time for a quick look round before darkness set in. With nothing to tempt me elsewhere I set up on the Rodie again and went about setting up in the dark.

I soon had baits placed exactly as I had the week previous and then settled back to relax. I was the only one on the water and with conditions an exact re-run of the week before, felt confident that something may occur during the night. Although cold during the day, the hour by hour forecast I’d checked online before leaving the house said it would get progressively warmer with each hour that passed during the night as the stiff winds eased, and so far that seemed to be the case. At just a minute after 10.00pm, as I was writing a note in my journal to the effect that everything ‘looked good’, I had a massive liner on the bush rod. The rod was back leaded right under the corner of the rodie so I knew something was definitely mooching around the baited area.

Less than two hours later the swinger on the bush rod started dancing around as the Delkim gave a series of bleeps indicating what in all likelihood was a tench trying to spit out the hook bait. I quickly netted a nice little female of around 4lb and removed the hook which was firmly embedded smack bang in the middle of her bottom lip – my confidence in the small fluorocarbon hook links was gaining ground again with every fish.

I waded out and recast the rod landing it right on the same spot – so close in, that the lead just clipped a leaf on the rodie as it plopped down a couple of feet onto the bottom. Perfect. An hour later and it was off again; this time a better tench, weighed at 6lb 2oz. They were getting bigger!

Conditions felt right on the Rodie Bush, an exact re-run of the previous week

At 2.20am I received the take I was waiting for; again off the bush. A screaming run met with a solid thump as I lifted the rod. It was immediately apparent it was not a biggie – but another decent carp nonetheless. After a brief tussle I netted a decent double and moved it and the net up onto the unhooking mat. As I removed the hook (middle of the bot
tom lip again) from the solid little mirror that lay before me, I realised it was the exact same fish that Andy had had the week before from the Point! This one certainly had a liking for the B5. I decided not to weigh or photograph the greedy little mirror and slipped it straight back to the water to go off and sulk. On later inspection of the photos (of Andy with the same fish the week previous) I matched it to a capture Mart had made back in June 2002, where we took a picture of the same fish at just over 9lb.

The 7” ESP Ghost link now had a little kink in it so I decided to put the kettle on and tie up another before placing it back out in front of the bush, after which I climbed back in the sack. Another tench at around 8.00am gave four fish for the night, all off the same rod. I was well pleased with the result and packed up very happy.

The beginning of the closed season had been moved back to the end of March which gave just two more weekends until I’d have to say goodbye to the place until June. I’d primed Lisa that I wanted to stick it out till the end as I’d had some encouraging results and a bigger fish must ‘surly’ be just around the corner.

As such I managed to sneak the following Friday and Saturday night. Conditions on the Friday were perfect and I set up on the Rodie Bush again with Chris fishing The Middle, the swim to my right. It was really warm and I felt it was time to introduce some of my special particle mix around the bush. After a healthy amount had been under-arm spodded to my chosen spot just in front of the bush (the sound of a catapult would have roused the unwanted attentions of the swans in a matter of seconds) I also scattered a hefty amount into the bushes from the path, where it would sink down under the branches to reach the safest feeding areas under the snaggy branches.

As the night progressed the winds picked up and by Saturday morning were Gale Force. Chris’s bivvy could not cope with the relentless gusting and by mid morning he was forced to move around to the Stile swim where there was better shelter beneath the trees.

‘Pikefest’ Chris with a Top Pool snapper

The wind increased to the point where it now began lapping at the underside of my Titan and pulling the pegs out of the sandy ground beneath. Although I wanted to stay put I knew I would also have to move. I shifted all my gear around to the Boathouse to find Joe had just turned up and was about to set up, so dumped it with Chris on the Stile whilst I surveyed my options. At this point a very large old tree came crashing down over in the woods – and I immediately rung home to get an accurate weather update. The gales were due to die down around tea time so I decided not to set up and to see how things progressed for an hour or two. The water now looked like the North Sea and distinctly non-carpish. As such, I decided to pull out the pike gear and see what was doing.

A couple of hours later and we’d had about fourteen pike between us to about 6lb on simple lures. A great deal of fun in such conditions and it certainly took the edge of what was otherwise a bad session for the carp. Chris was happy for me to double up in the Stile as the conditions showed no sign of letting me back on the Rodie Bush before dark. As you’d expect, not long after we placed out the baits for the night, the wind dropped and I got the distinct feeling I was fishing in the wrong place. Ho-Hum.

The calm after the storm; Joe’s early morning shot from the Boathouse Swim.

The morning after the night before and I was glad to pack up and go home. As I was doing so, Dan turned up to fish for the day. Now that the wind had gone completely he set up in the Rodie Bush. I went off home to kick in on the kitchen and on walking through the back door got a call on the mobile from Chris who had not yet left. Chris went on to explain that Dan had shouted him round to show him a boat load of carp that were going mental under the Rodie Bush up-ending and feeding away as if they had no cares in the world. Apparently Dan said he had no idea what they were all feeding on, to which Chris replied, ‘I do – Julian’s bait!’ For some reason, stripping back the walls in the kitchen seemed especially difficult that day!

The last weekend of the season was then upon us, and there was a good turn out to see the weekend out in style. After the disastrous conditions the week previous I was eager to put things right in the Rodie bush, but to no avail. Conditions and presentation were both perfect but nothing developed. As such, a good social was enjoyed by all and promises were made to meet back up for the first week in June.

Back down with a bang – Oh great… kitchen time!

Since then it’s been kitchen, kitchen, kitchen, for me. As I write this it’s coming along nicely and although I’ve not been on the bank since the end of March, I hope to wet a line up on Blackwood during the next week or so. I’ve paid several visits down to Chris who’s been spending quite a bit of time on The Swamp. In fact, he’s been fishing it solid for the last two weeks!

It’s a strange kind of water, a bit of a tip really, and at the furthest and most opposite end of the spectrum from the Top Pool. It’s right in the middle of a housing estate with a school on one side and a busy A-road on the other. It has more than its fair share of commotion from the hordes of local teenagers boozed up on alcho-pop’s and god knows what else, but you can’t complain about the fish stocks – It’s rammed full of carp to high twenties. It’s only down the road from where Chris lives so it comes in handy as he has no transport. He’s had some nice results there too; taking several carp including a couple of nice twenties and a sixteen pound pike during recent stints.

Chris with one of his Swamp twenties, this one at 22lb 14oz

I’ve never really fancied the place much myself, but of late, after spending a bit of time down there with Chris, it’s not as bad as I first thought it was. I’ve been tempted to get a ticket for the place myself but by the time I’ve finished the kitchen it will be June and time for the Top Pool again so I don’t think I’ll bother – Unless Chris has any more twenties out of course, then I might just be tempted!

Well, that’s it for this instalment. Good luck with your own fishing adventures and until next time, tight lines.

Julian Grattidge

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