The Top Pool Diaries, Part 1, The early years…

You know how it is; you’ve spent a few seasons on a water, had a few fish, and moved on. Well that was the story with the Top Pool, Mart and I did a couple of seasons on there a few years back, and bloody hard it was too - one of those places that really did your head in, but for some reason you kept going back for more!

The water is classic estate lake stuff, set in the heart of the Cheshire countryside. It’s surrounded by a few other good waters on the same estate, but for some reason the Top Pool has always been overlooked, you could often go for weeks without seeing anyone on there, partly because the other waters have a bigger head of fish, but mainly due to the fact that it’s so hard going.

More margin features than you can shake a stick at!

It’s the kind of enchanted carp water you dream of finding, enclosed around most of it’s banks by heavy woodland, covered in thick sets of pads with overgrown bank side vegetation, old ewe trees fanning out over the margins, and massive rhododendrons which over the years have grown out into the lake to provide fantastic margin features.

The downside is the weed. Over the years the lake has become heavily silted, and the thick Canadian pond weed has quite literally taken over, growing right up to the surface throughout the whole of the lake, add to that the thick algal scum that forms across the surface right through the summer months and it becomes a nightmare to fish.

That said, it has a strange addictive quality, and after each blank session when you’re telling yourself “never again” you somehow find yourself planning your next trip whilst still on the drive home! The main attraction for me, besides the fact that I’m always up for a challenge, was the fish stocks. Only a handful of the carp were less than twenty pounds, and as for the biggest, well that was anybody’s guess!

The fact that it was hardly fished meant that nobody really knew what was in there, whilst one or two mid-twenty fish had been taken over the years, much bigger fish had often been seen but never outwitted.

The mid-shallows.

After a fair amount of research we reckoned that thirties could be a realistic possibility, and that was good enough for us, the thought of banking a big lunker which may not have graced the bank for years (rare in our neck of the woods) had me drooling - tickets were purchased and the love hate relationship began...

If only we knew then what we know now, what a season that was. We fished virtually every weekend from June to September without so much as a bleep! We tried everything, clear spots, raked spots, in weed, on top, on bottom, and don’t even get me started on baits..!!

The fish were certainly in there; they took great pleasure in taunting us on a regular basis. They would boat up on top during the day sending huge bow waves out behind them, when viewing the lake from up in the trees it looked like it was an open day for the local boat club! The fish were cute, very cute, we often saw them come in over baited patches and move off without so much as sniffing the bait, then after a few hours they would return, sample a freebie and move off again. They would keep repeating the process until all that remained was the hook bait, they’d then bugger off and leave it with you. If it wasn’t for the tranquil surroundings and the idyllic nature of the place I’m sure we’d have committed suicide long before, but we kept going back, time and time again, we hadn’t given up on a water before and we weren’t about to start now - although it now became all to clear why we rarely saw anybody else fishing it! We kept telling ourselves that no fish were uncatchable, and it was only a matter of time - and we had plenty.

Mart waiting for action in the Boathouse swim.

Through process of elimination we made subtle changes to approach, tactics, and bait, in the hope of finding the key to success, after all we were catching plenty of other specimens; bream to 7lb, and boat loads of tench to near double figures, all of which were made welcome whilst we waited for the elusive carp to make an appearance. Early September and the unthinkable happened - we caught one! I remember waking to the sound of a Delkim at full-chat, a proper one-toner. The only problem was that it wasn’t mine! Somehow I knew it was a carp, and on arrival at Mart’s swim saw him bent double into a good fish that was doing it’s best to make it into the nearest set of pads.

Mart’s face was a picture, not least because he never looked too clever when he first woke, but because he looked scared to death. He need not have worried, after a good tussle I slipped the net under the fish, and Mart let out a battle cry! The fish was a perfect mirror, which went 20lb 2oz on the scales. After a quick photo the fish was returned and a grin appeared on Mart’s face that stayed firmly in place for over a week!

It was quite strange really, all that wait and it was over in a matter of minutes. It was only about five in the morning, but it seemed as good a time as any to open a couple of bottles, and we just sat for a while savoring the moment, beer in hand. The sessions over the following weeks gave no sign that our luck was about to change, as we went back to a series of blanks, but our mood was lifted when I hit into a good carp early in October, only for the hook to pull (Grrrrrr). We only managed a few sessions between October and December as we decided to take part in a winter carp league arranged by a mate on another water (seemed like a good idea at the time), which ran every other week.

My thoughts were never too far away from the Top Pool over the Christmas period and come January I was full of determination and enthusiasm for the New Year ahead. I was busy with work for the first few weeks in January but saw that unseasonably warm weather was forecast for the last weekend in the month so we decided to do the Saturday night.

You know how it is when you can feel something’s changed on a water, you just have that confidence when you arrive and you can’t wait to get the rods in, well that was me. We arrived just in time to get set up before darkness fell. We fished two swims next to each other in the bay, and placed the baits out in the usual way. Boilies on fluro links, bagged up with a little crumbed boilie and fresh maggots.

Although warm for the time of year it was still bloody cold, so as evening approached we had a few sips of Scotland’s finest to keep us warm. It was a full moon and a clear night and the place looked fantastic
bathed in moonlight. There was no wind whatsoever, and only topping fish broke the surface as we chatted for several hours, topping up with coffee and spirits, whilst every hour or so I’d put a couple of pouches of maggots over my baited spots.

We retired to our respective bivvy’s at around midnight and after a quick warm over the Coleman, I tucked up in bed. I awoke to the sound of an alarm and looked out of my bivvy door to see the tip of my left hand rod wagging away as line was stripped from the reel. I was on it in a flash and the immediate battle curve signaled that a decent carp was on the other end - at last!

The fish made a headlong sprint through the weed for the sunken punt way to the left of my swim. I eased the drag a touch as I was keen to avoid another hook pull, then gently firmed down on the spool to slow it’s run. I turned the fish at around twenty-five yards and it erupted on the surface out to my left. Mart appeared at my side, offering the usual words of encouragement as the battle unfolded. After a while I got the fish back to the margin, and after a couple of final lunges Mart slipped the net under a good common - Wehey! The scales bumped round to 21lb 1oz - result!

'Crinkle-Tail' 21lb of winter common - result!

I was made up, all the effort had finally paid off, and the result wriggled about in my hands as Mart reeled of a couple of shots on the camera. The fish went straight back, and as I released it into the water it gave one massive flick of it’s tail (covering me in water) and was gone. For a while I just sat on my swim soaking up the moment before baiting up and casting back out. I was well happy, but the best was yet to come! Two hours later and my right hand rod was away, I was still not over the first fish really, and kind of assumed that this one must be a tench, on striking the rod it bent double and I suddenly awoke to the fact I was into another good carp!

After a short initial run the fish just held bottom and wouldn’t move. For a while I thought it had weeded me, but after some gentle persuasion I managed to get it moving again. I was trying not to get carried away but in the back of my mind I could not help but wonder if this was a biggie. After what seemed like an age I got the fish near the net, but each time the fish saw the net a powerful lunge would prolong the tension as she went off down the margin again on another run. Eventually, thanks to a full-stretch affair by Mart, the fish went into the net, and I was finally able to breathe out!

Mart lifted the net onto the unhooking mat and uttered sounds as if to say it were a decent fish, and after removing half a ton of pondweed from the net, a stunning dark mirror came into view - a proper old warrior. By now the weight seemed insignificant, yet I still raised a smile when the scales went just shy of 27lb. Typical isn’t it, you wait all year to catch one fish from a water, then take a brace of twenties in a couple of hours - that’s the Top Pool for you!

Worth the wait? - Not half..!!

After that, work kept me away from the bank till the end of the season pretty much, I managed a couple of trips, taking one good common. All that just made the wait till the following season all that more difficult to bear. Not helped by the fact that there was a very strict policy of no entry onto the estate during the closed season, so you couldn’t even go up for a look around - gutted! The Drinks factory I was running at the time had released a load of new products which began selling like hot cakes, so come weekends I was always overseeing extra shifts or away visiting clients - not good for fishing. Thus, I changed my approach over the following season, rather than doing weekenders, I did a midweek overnighter every Wednesday, getting there at around 9pm, and leaving at around 6am the following morning to get home, showered, changed, and off to work for 8.30!

The midweek sessions certainly seemed to pay off. Whilst Mart still struggled at weekends, I was able to average a fish perhaps every four sessions, which for the Top Pool was good going! More twenties graced the net, although none bigger than the mirror from the previous season, not that it bothered me, each fish was absolutely mint and a pleasure to catch, my favorite of the season was a 24lb near-leather taken early in August, a stunning fish.

A stunning Top Pool near-leather @ 24lb .

The other fish of note was a double figure common that I must have caught five times throughout the season, a cracking fish that gave me the fight of my life each time I had it - far better than any of the twenties! - His takes were so violent that he ripped the rod of the buzzer-bar on two separate occasions! We nicknamed him ‘Mental the common’, for obvious reasons, and he was a joy to bank on each occasion. The funny thing with Mental, was that he would only show on a rod that had already banked a fish during that particular session - weird!

Mental the common on one of his regular appearances.

There’s nothing quite like taking a good fish in the night then going straight off to work in the morning - you feel on top of the world all day, especially if some of the lads in the factory are into carping and during the coffee break you can casually drop in the fact that you had a nice twenty earlier that morning:-).

Work eased a little as October neared, so I was able to do a few weekend sessions with Mart. Unfortunately, he’d not had a fish out since his 20 the previous September, and things were starting to get to him. Luckily though, a few weeks later he fished Birch Grove and took a couple of lovely thirties, which seemed to ease the pain somewhat - well it would wouldn’t it!

A brace of Birch 30’s seemed to lift Mart’s spirits, this one @ 31lb 6oz.

Our next session on the Top Pool was a bit of a nightmare, after a fruitl
ess first night and no action during the following day, I’d heavily baited a margin swim for the second night. Just after dawn I had an absolute screamer from the baited patch and struck into a BIG lump that just kept going, and only began to slow after taking me through two sets of pads. It took an eternity to get the fish back near the bank, but finally I was able to make out a big common just a couple of yards out, it was the big common we’d spotted on several occasions during the season and reckoned it to be around 28-29lb. It didn’t like the net one bit, and I cautiously had to keep turning the fish as it attempted another lunge away from the net, then, just as it’s head came over the top of the net it made one final bid for freedom, lunged to my right and slipped the hook - boy, did I swear!

I was truly gutted, and it played on my mind for weeks. I kept reliving the moment constantly going through the “what-ifs?”. In retrospect, I suppose I should have ‘got straight back on’ so to speak, but for one reason or another we didn’t go back on for a while, and before we new it, we’d fished a few new waters and joined a new syndicate!

We did well for the next two seasons on the new syndicate water, mixed with a few outings to Birch Grove and a several weeks spent deep in Oxfordshire, also, by that time I’d left my old job and started working on the Fishooked directory, so it seemed there was always a new water to visit just around the corner. We dropped out of the syndicate at the beginning of this year, the traveling was getting too much. So a new challenge had to be found. We’d done plenty of scouting around since the beginning of the year but nothing had really appealed to us. There are plenty of holes in the ground with 20’s a chuck, but to be honest, they’re just not our bag. Throughout all this, I always knew I’d be back on the Top Pool one day, I say it about a lot of waters, but with the Top Pool it was personal!

Time was marching on and we were still no nearer to finding a subtle venue for the 2002/03 season. My good lady had mentioned a craft fair she wanted to go to, which, it turned out, was to be held on the same estate that the Top Pool was situated on - Hmmm… Fate?

After an hour or so mooching around the craft fair I think Lisa had had enough of me, as I was itching to get down to the lake to have a look around. As I wondered down to the lake I had a strange feeling come over me, as if the Top Pool was reeling me in again.

As I made my way around the old boathouse I couldn’t help smiling as the water came into full view - it was still as breathtaking as ever. I made my way up one of the old climbing trees by the stile-swim to get a better look over the bay area, and what was the first sight that greeted me? - The big fat common I’d lost during my last session there some two years previous!

Need I say more?

The seasons not long kicked off, and where have we been every weekend since? You guessed it - The Top Pool!

Home sweet home!

Just a couple of sessions in and it seems as if we’ve never been away from the place. The weed problem has worsened (if that were at all possible!) and it’s still just a difficult as it always was. That said, we’ve already had some promising early results, and formed a few new friendships along the way, but I’ll cover more of that in part two.

Julian Grattidge