The closed season had just kicked in at the end of the last piece and I’d managed to sneak a couple out before the close, in-between days spent building a new kitchen. I was keen to get out on the bank on a regular basis during the closed season to keep my hand in. Last years results on the bank had been quite bad, and I felt much of this was because there was no continuity in my fishing. Work on the house meant I had taken sessions in between big projects and it meant I would do a few sessions then not wet a line for ages, which definitely made it harder when I did eventually get back on the bank.

Not so for the season ahead then; I’d decided that I would make a determined effort to try and get out at least one night a week for the whole season, and if weekends were not possible then I’d do a midweek overnighter instead.

Sunset on Wingham Carp Lake

The closed season went really quickly. Usually the eight or so weeks really drag but this year they seemed to fly by. I think this was because we did quite a few work parties up on the Top Pool and I was also managing to get out and fish other waters. My first trip was a few days spent down with Elton on Steve Burke’s Wingham Carp Lake. Words cannot describe how nice the lake and surroundings are, and even though neither one of us managed to bag a fish, it was a pleasurable few days spent in the most relaxing of environments.

Once back ‘Up North’ I was keen to keep the momentum going and start the session a week routine. Through a few contacts I, along with another angler, had a kind of invite to fish a large water with an unknown quantity of carp present. The water was a reasonable distance from home and would do fine for a new challenge until The Top Pool came round again. As such, over the remainder of the closed season I spent a good deal of time on this new water trying to get amongst some uncaught fish. I can’t really say that much about the place as someone else did most of the work to get us on and it’s his wish to keep ‘mum’ for a while. What I can say is that at over 2miles long and half a mile wide – there was a lot to go at!

Adventure fishing was certainly the word and each night spent fishing the place was quite exciting as you never knew what would come next. We had the use of a boat so it was a case of rowing out hook baits and dropping over big beds of bait. Again, I can’t really say too much about the fish, but I had some cracking carp during my time on there, most of which had never been on the bank before. All the fish were taken on the ever consistent Shellfish B5.

Two miles long and half a mile wide – plenty to go at!

As the new season neared on the Top Pool I was high on confidence and as most of my sessions on the big water had been midweek overnighters I was already into the groove and keeping to a least a night a week fishing. The Stoke-On-Trent AS waters open on June 1st for members who have carried out the required number of work parties, so come Saturday 29th May there was only a couple of days to go before the off. I’d arranged to do a bit of work on the water on the Sunday with a few of the lads. Most of the work had been done and all that remained was to cut back the lily pads on the Paddock and New Boards swims.

The work needed to be done by boat as it’s way too silty to wade out, and as we pushed off from the Boat House the water looked picture perfect. We drifted up past the woods side and looked for signs of movement. The water was gin clear and with not so much as a ripple on the water I hoped I’d spot a few fish on a few swims as I had no idea where I wanted to start my attack when the season started the following week. We did not have to wait long. As we slowly went past the Black Hole a cracking fully scaled mirror of about 26lb-27lb was mooching around right on the edge of the padline. I could have reached out and touched the fish by the time it finally realised there was a boat above it and it bolted into mid water.

An April Work Party on the Top Pool

The bottom of the lake looked perfect throughout and there was surprisingly little Canadian Pondweed, although I knew that would soon change as the weeks went on. We spent the rest of the night clearing pads from the swims and by the end of the evening I’d decided that given the choice and if conditions were similar, I’d start on the Black Hole and see what developed. After spotting a number of fish during the evening my confidence was high and I could not wait for the off. What surprised me was how the water now seemed quite small after my recent sessions on the inland sea! Again, this just fuelled my confidence as they should be much easier to track down, or so I hoped!

We were allowed on the water at 8.00pm on the 31st of May, and as usual I was full of anticipation and raised hopes as I arrived at the water. I met Chris and Joe on the footpath and come the allotted hour we were onto our chosen swims. Chris went for the Board Walk in the hope of repeating his big fish haul the year previous.

Joe went for the Sticky, in between Chris and the Black Hole where I pitched up. Conditions were warm and fine, my fear being that they might start spawning at any time. We eagerly set up, then had a little social as we waited for the magical hour. Shortly after 1.00am the alarm on the channel rod burst into life as a run picked up. I was a little surprised to get some action so quickly and thought it could be ‘tench attack’. Sure enough, as I lifted into the rod there was limited resistance and I gently coaxed the fish away from the pads. I netted a nice tench of around 5½lb and after unhooking slipped it straight back to the water.

Although not a carp, the tench gave me confidence that my presentation was good and the spot was clear from weed. Having clipped up and marked the line before the initial cast, I was easily able to place another single Shellfish B5 hookbait right on the same spot. After the cast I tightened up the bait
runner a touch and bent down to place the rod back on the rest. As I did so the line seemed to snag on something and seemed to lock up a little. I lifted the rod tip to see if the line was on some weed or something and then to my amazement noticed that the rod tip was bumping away, I pulled the rod back slowly and heard a fish slap the water over on the channel – I was in again! Although it felt like another tench, this fish had a little more life in it and gave a good account of itself. After a brief tussle I drew the fish over the net and landed my second tench in five minutes! This one a little bigger, weighed at 6lb 8oz.

6 ½lb tench taken within ten seconds of casting out!

Although everything was perfect, the remainder of the night passed without incident and we were all carpless come the next morning; that’s when we all knew we were definitely back on the Top Pool! At first light we heard a few of the carp thrashing about in front of the Dugout. Closer inspection revealed members of the sprat pack trying to persuade some of the bigger fish to get involved in spawning, but few seemed interested. There were quite a few fish milling about up in the shallows but signs of fish on our chosen swims were very few and far between.

I’d made a decision to be much more mobile this season, and rather than sit behind idle buzzers I hoped to go off stalking to see if I could pick anything up. After another couple of hours of inactivity from baits placed in the margin and the far channel I decided enough was enough. I’d picked up some worms from Jim at Trentside Tackle on my way up to the water and felt now was as good a time as any to give them a go.

I pulled out my tackle pouch and made up a rig using some Hutchy Edge 2000 15lb braid; at first I tried it with a hair but presentation was terrible so resorted to hooking a worm directly on the hook. I then got all my stalking gear together and reeled in my rods, and leaving Chris and Joe on their swims I headed off up to the top of the lake.

I soon came across a number of good fish and set all my gear down so I could watch for a while. I find it helps to watch for a period of time rather than chucking baits straight out, because if you put the bait it in the wrong place you are increasing the chances of spooking them if you need to keep moving around and recasting. I sat up a tree for a while and got a feel for their patrol routes. Over a period of about fifteen minutes I watched around eight fish come up from the neck area and skirt a small weedbed about half way out. After milling around between here and the point about half would then head back the way they had come and half would skirt back around the edge of the lake.

I settled on my target spot for an all-out ambush and carefully climbed down the tree to prepare. It would need to be a good underarm flick to get out to the spot, not that it was far out, rather because of all the overhanging branches, most of which came right down to the water. The easiest way to flick it out was to attach a half ounce lead which would allow a quick flick through some of the branches. I slowly made my way through the thick sedges around the margin. The cast was difficult and the first one landed a little short of where I really wanted it. There were still fish in the area and as the first cast had not spooked any away I decided to just leave it for a while before recasting to see if anything came close. I climbed the base of the tree again (which was right next to my rod) and kept watching.

The fish were moving close but I felt I needed to slow them as they passed by in order to get them rummaging around more. It was time to apply the particle mix. I only wanted the particles to go on the spot I’d targeted so I ever so slowly reeled in and managed to get the next cast spot on. As those who have read previous pieces will know, I’ve been working on a particle mix for some time now and I made some subtle changes to the blend amounts over the closed season. After soaking and boiling the mix I now blend it completely rather than leaving any whole beans, peas or maize, before adding to the hemp and Thaumatin-B. I’d made up a monster batch about three weeks before and had been itching to try it out on the Top Pool. I decided to catapult just a single pouch of my special mix over the worm and left it at that. I flung it out and it splayed a nice amount a couple of feet around the worm. There were bits floating down from the surface, bits floating up from the bottom, and bits clouding just off the bottom – in a word, perfect. The reaction was amazing and immediate. The bait was now right on the patrol route and the next fish to come along stopped dead over the bait and immediately dropped down to feed. My heart was pounding – literally thumping at my chest; the buzz from this kind of fishing for me is better than any other and I stood hiding behind the tree as the carp started mopping up the particles on the edge of the patch. Conditions were perfect for observing fish; warm bright and no wind. The carp was about 5 yards out in around 18 inches of gin clear water. The rod was placed in amongst the sedges with the tip in the air and a slack line gently dropping down to the water. I held my breath as I watched the carp moping up the particles. The high double figure fish gently wafted its tail just out of the water with its head clouding up the bottom as it sucked in and blew out the tasty mix. After a minute or so the carp slowly moved off out of the area but was almost immediately replaced by two others, another good double and one that looked a good 20lb.

The intensity was amazing and my heart was still pounding away, at which point I reminded myself that I should breathe before I passed out! I adjusted my position to get a better view of the proceedings; the two fish were all over the bait but I could only see their backs and tails now as the bottom clouded up. They kept circling and criss-crossing the area and I knew they could only be inches from the bait. Then I noticed the line twitch, then again, and after a final sharp tug the line started to lift from the water. I bent down, picked up the rod and gently lifted into the fish, setting the hook before the carp even knew what had happened – at which point all hell broke loose as the fish bolted and tried to make its escape back down towards the neck. I let the fish take some line and then slowly began firming down on the spool to stop its initial run. I then began to pump the rod and gain some line back. The fish gave a cracking battle and there were a few moments where it could have gone either way. However, I was eventually able to tease the fish over the net and my first Top Pool carp ambush of the year had paid off.

‘DT’ at 21lb 4oz, stalked from the shallows

I was aware quite soon into the fight that I’d hooked the bigger of the two fish and as I lifted the landing n
et onto the unhooking mat there was no doubt it would go over 20lb. I was all adrenalin and grins as I set about unhooking the fish and transferring it to the weigh sling. As I got my first proper look at the fish I suddenly realised it was ‘DT’ or ‘Double take’, a fish I had caught a few years back from the Black Hole twice in two weeks, hence the name. Back then the fish was just over 19lb, but this time the scales carried on round and settled at a weight of 21lb 4oz – Result!

After a few pictures I slipped the fish back to the water and punched the air. I was so happy the mobile approach had paid off and was eager to get straight back up there and try and bag another! After relaying the story of the capture to Chris and Joe I was off again. Once back to the spot I realised the site of the capture was now a bit of a bombsite; the water was still all clouded up and no fish could be seen in the area. As such, I left it to settle for a while and went back down to the lads for a bit of a social.

After leaving it for an hour or so I arrived back to find the silt had settled and one or two fish could be seen on the fringes. I carefully baited up and applied another single pouch of particles over the spot. Within twenty minutes the fish were back up in the area and it did not take long for them to find the particles again. A couple of fish passed by, a few having a sample, others passing straight over the baited area. I noticed a decent 20lb plus carp a good twenty yards away from the baited spot but he was moving right along the patrol route I had targeted. The fish slowly made its way up towards my ambush by the side of the weedbed and as it got to the point where I knew it had to pass over the bait my heart started pounding again!

The fish approached the area and then stopped-dead right over the particles. It stayed there motionless for at least a minute, and then it slowly tipped its head downward, its tail breaking the surface as it began sampling some of the particle mix – my heart rate increased. It was a cautious feeder and kept picking off particles from around the edges rather than passing through the middle – and this was just one pouch of mix! After a while I felt the fish would never pass through the middle of the baited patch where the worm was and sure enough, the fish soon moved off and up towards the point.

After milling around at the point the fish then headed left and started skirting the margin. As it came down the margin near to where I was standing, it suddenly did another sharp left and headed straight back to the baited spot at speed. The anticipation built again as the fish neared the area, and as the big fish sat at the edge another carp slowly came over towards the spot from the far side of the lake. The smaller fish hovered near the area, it was obvious it knew there was food there but it looked as if it was waiting for an invite off the larger fish. One way or another, it decided enough was enough and moved right over the patch and upended. This seemed to stimulate the larger fish (which was still on the edge of the patch) into feeding. I then watched as the bottom began to cloud up as they really started to mop up the particle mix. The larger fish then gave into temptation and made a pass over the middle of the baited area. I saw its tail right out of the water like a whale as it hovered up everything in sight. The worm must have been right in its path as it sucked everything up, for as it got level with the location of the worm the line immediately started to lift, no twitches or shakes, just the slow lift of line as the fish kept feeding.

I was able to knock off the bait runner and lift the rod before it had the faintest idea it had been hooked, but when it woke up to its predicament the fish erupted on the surface and reared out of the shallow water almost tail walking before splashing back down with a ‘bosh’ and heading off at speed. I spooled down and slowed the run and the rod took on a fantastic curve. The battle was protracted and the fish tried to make the snags on more than one occasion but having already landed one from the spot my confidence was high and I played the fish firmly and soon had her in front of me wallowing in the margin and ready for netting. As I lifted the net I knew this was a decent fish and let out a whoop of delight; two twenties in less than two hours!

On pulling back the folds of the net I easily recognised the linear like markings of the Warrior. This is one of the waters most sought after residents and here she was on my unhooking mat – unbelievable! The scales bounced round to 25lb 4oz and I could not stop grinning. The lads did the honours with the camera and I slipped her back to the water. She soon found her feet (or should that be fins!) and slapped her tail covering me in water as she swam of to sulk. I was not sure who was more amazed, me or the lads. A brace of twenties on worm – get in!

‘The Warrior’ at 25lb 4oz; two twenties stalked in two hours!

I decided to rest the swim now as the last battle had really messed things up in the shallow water. Instead I decided to just enjoy the surroundings and sat down on my swim soaking in all that had just happened.

The fish were definitely up in the mid area of the lake and the Black Hole seemed devoid of fish. If I’d have had the energy I would probably have moved up the lake, but I’d already had two decent fish and all the adrenalin used during the afternoons stalking had worn me out. As such, I decided to chill on the Black Hole for the night and assess the situation in the morning.

Andy turned up late on in the afternoon and set up in the Top Boards swim up in the shallows, I was sure he would have fish and it was not long into the night when I heard his alarms sounding, unfortunately the hook pulled after a brief tussle but it was only an hour or so before he was in again. I stood on the boards listening to the battle unfold and when all went quiet I asked if he’d got it in. Yes, came the reply and I quickly wound my rods in and made my way around to his swim with the camera. I forget the exact weight but it was one of three low twenty pound fish Andy took over the next 48 hours, along with two other good doubles, a cracking result, all came out on the Essential Products Shellfish B5.

Andy with one of three twenties on Shellfish B5

On our side of the lake the night passed without incident and I was fully refreshed the next morning and eager to find the fish again. I reeled in the rods and went in search of some kippers leaving Chris and Joe still sleeping. I did not have to travel far; as I reached the Paddock I
came across three good fish about three rod lengths out from the margin. This was the peg we cleared all the pads from a few days earlier and the fish seemed eager to investigate the newly formed pad lines on each side of the swim. I carried on up the lake and saw a couple more mooching around in the top swims; enough to get me cantering back down to my bivvy to pack up and move swims. Within the hour I was all set up in the Paddock. Years of observations had taught me that the fish always show up in this area through the early evening onwards and so I set up with that in mind, and I could sneak off up to the shallows again in the hope of repeating the previous days exploits.

As the morning wore on a wind picked up and a few showers came in. This made conditions more difficult for spotting but I was confident of more action on the Sneak. I was able to spot a few fish in the same area but more now seemed to be hugging a spot no more than 10 inches from the bank – this was fine by me as presentation would be perfect and they were easier to spot here as the rip on the water was not so bad.

I soon had a worm placed right on the spot with a single pouch of particle mix. Not long after a group of three fish came around the edge of the margin and right over the baited patch. The line twitched a few times over a period of a few minutes but nothing came of it. The same pattern followed for much of the morning, not helped by frequent heavy downpours and a constant wind pushing hard down the lake making visibility difficult. After dinner things picked up and the wind dropped a little so I went back up to the sneak for another try. An hour later and I had fish boiling all over the particles and it was no surprise when the line lifted and a big fish headed off at speed down towards the snag. I hit in and the rod quickly went to full battle curve. The fish had taken quite a bit of line and was now kiting around to the snag down the margin to my right, I exerted more pressure and stopped the run but I knew if the fish wanted to, it could easily make the snag. I kept the rod arched and low to the water and the fish boiled on the surface and turned way down to my right. I then started to take line back and the fish started to come back up towards me. With the hardest part now done it was then quite a surprise that the hook pulled when there was hardly any pressure on. I was that surprised that I did not really get angry about it. It was a real shame though as the fish would definitely have been another good twenty pounder, but hey, one can’t get greedy!

With most of the battle fought away down to my right, the baited area had remained pretty untouched and there were even a couple of fish still in the area. After checking the rig and hook, which were fine, I quickly baited up and dropped the worm back out to the same spot and dropped one handful of particle over the spot. Having had a couple of fish from the spot there was now a small gap in the sedges which allowed you to see fish as they passed right in close to the sedges which were about four feet tall. After another ten minutes or so a group of three fish could be seen milling around up by the point about 20 yards to my left. After a while they made their slow meandering path down the margin on my left and after what seemed like an eternity they passed the gap in the sedges where I got my first proper look at them. All were mirrors, two low doubles and one fully scaled scraper twenty which was so close to the bank I could only see its back! As they disappeared past the gap in the sedges to my right I knew the bigger fish was dead in line with the bait which was now only two feet in front of them, almost instantly the line started to lift and I lurched forward to lift the rod. The fish knew it was hooked and bolted straight out into open water scattering the two smaller fish. A spirited battle ensued, during which the fish lifted its head out of the water a couple of times to reveal a massive hump of a shoulder – It could only be one fish, ‘Red October’.

‘Red October’ at 19lb 8oz.

I soon had her in the net and I let out a little whoop of delight. I’ve only had the pleasure of catching this magnificent fish once before and she free-wheels between 19lb-20lb, not that weight is that important with such a stunning fish. Later discussions with the fisheries manager revealed the fish to be 14lb back in 1976, and when you consider it had to be a good few years old then, it probably makes it older than me!

On the scales she went 19lb 8oz and I was thrilled. I had the camera with my stalking gear so took a couple of quick shots and slipped her straight back to the water. After that I felt a bit of a celebration coming on so I went back down to my swim for a few hours. A few of the lads turned up during the latter part of the afternoon to say well done on the previous days results so I stayed put on the Paddock for a bit of a social.

Set up in The Paddock

One of the new members of the team this year, Rich, called down to say hello, and it was whilst we were sat chatting that a worm plonked over a handful of particles on my right margin was picked up. Line spewed of the spool at quite a rate and somehow whilst clamping my hand over the spool to slow the line I managed to get it wrapped around my finger resulting in a bit of a birdsnest around the reel. It took only five seconds or so to sort it out but by that time the fish had already managed to spit out the hook; such is life.

Late in the afternoon Chris decided to move around to the Dug Out, more or less opposite to me in the Paddock. There were a number of fish showing between us and he hoped the move might bring him his first fish of the session. Joe had packed up and gone by this point which just left three of us on the water!

I had decided I was going to put the B5 on each rod overnight, but during the early part of the evening I left worm on each margin rod fished over some of my particle mix. The rods were just placed in the sedges with tips in the air. Quite often during the day I leave the alarms turned off, not just to cut down on noise, but if you are fishing properly you should be alerted by just a few clicks of the baitrunner, never mind an alarm. I kept low down behind the sedges on the paddock as the fish will often come right in under your feet and every now and then I’d raise my head just enough to see what was going on. I spotted a number of shadows moving around the area between Chris and myself and it was only an hour after the lost fish when the line tightened on my left hand rod and the baitrunner clicked a few times alerting a take. As the reel began to pay out line I quickly lifted into a good fish which was plodding off up the margin to my left. I slowed the line and the rod bent to a proper
curve which signalled a good fish. It didn’t go mad; instead it just held deep on the bottom and went solid. I knew there was no weed and no snags at the point where it had stopped, so I let it sulk for a minute before ever so slowly increasing the pressure to try and get it moving. The fish duly obliged and after a last little bid for freedom about five yards out, it gave up the fight and slid right into the net on the first attempt – result!

I looked into the net to see a stonking mirror fanning its pectoral fins. Chris, who had watched the whole thing from the opposite swim shouted across asking if it was any size. It was a good upper twenty but I jokingly shouted back that it was a good double! Once on the bank I pulled back the net to view my prize, and to my delight saw ‘Victor’ looking back up at me. I’d seen this fish so many times in the water but had never managed to catch it, in fact the only time I’d ever seen it on the bank was when Chris had it the year previous, his first 20lb carp – and what a twenty it is! On the scales she went 26lb 12oz. Chris quickly took a couple of cracking shots on digital camera then we put her straight back, and after cradling her for a moment in the margin she swam off towards the Boathouse to sulk. By this point I was on cloud nine, three twenties and a 19lb 8oz. Things don’t get much better, or so I thought.

‘Victor’ at 26lb 12oz… Worms rule!

It was soon time to put the rods out for the night and I opted for B5 on both. After a hearty tea I decided to turn in and switched my buzzers on. Shortly after 2.00am a belting run picked up on my right hand margin rod and I quickly shot out of the bivvy and lifted into the run. Although not massive, the fish put up one hell of a battle and I was quite relieved when it finally slipped into the net. I lifted it onto the unhooking mat and saw the perfect golden flanks of a Top Pool common reflecting in the torch light. After weighing at 11lb 4oz I quickly returned it to the water and went back to my bivvy, totally amazed at the amount of fish I’d had during the session.

A late night common makes an appearance

The following morning I had another crack at stalking up in the shallows but conditions had changed again and there were very few fish kicking around. Come dinnertime I started a very slow and relaxed pack up. Two of the other lads who I do a bit of fishing with had turned up to say hello, and it was whilst I was stood talking to Shaun that a decent mirror came flying out of the water right over Chris’s left hand bait. It boshed back down into the water and within ten seconds had picked up his B5 hookbait and was away!

After a protracted battle Chris managed to net what looked to be a good sized mirror and after winding my rods in, Shaun and I went round to have a look. By the time we arrived at the swim Chris had already weighed it at 19lb 8oz �" a cracking mirror that none of us had seen before. Chris was made up with his ‘at the death’ fish and it made the pack-up all that more cheerful.

‘At the death’ Chris with a mint 19lb 8oz mirror

It was a few days after that the results of the first session began to sink in. It had been an amazing personal result, helped no end by the frequent stalking sessions around the lake. I was really pleased that my new plan of keeping mobile and moving at the slightest sign of fish had paid off. I only hoped I would be able to keep up the momentum.

If I thought my confidence was high before the start of the season, it was now way up there – The only problem with this was that I was itching to get straight back on. I planned my next trip for the following Wednesday night, and it was certainly eventful, but I’ll cover more about that in my next piece.

Until then, tight lines…

Julian Grattidge

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