In Search of Specimens – 2006 Part One

January 1st was the start of what I hoped would be yet another good year for fishing. Last year had brought four new personal bests across various coarse species and so I hoped for more to come. I'd started a little campaign after Christmas to firstly catch a carp in the Christmas period, but failed, so my next target was to fish shortly after New Year and bag a carp early in 2006.

Easy I thought, get on a 'runs' venue and bag up. I soon realised that this wasn't to be the case. Although stable, the weather was cold with regular frosts killing any chances of a take as I fished both conventional bottom bait rigs on ledger set-ups, as well as trying to continue with the surface challenge that I had started mid-way through 2005. Both methods were failing to get me a take. I was trying hard and sticking it until to dusk, doing short midweek sessions after school. On one particular evening, I had Salters' second-biggest Mirror on the surface. I was sat behind some stalks that remained from the previous summer which offered a natural barrier to camouflage me against the fish. I could see through the gaps however, which enabled me to watch the freebie mixers introduced into a small little bay that I had concentrated my efforts on. I chose that particular area as it saw the last of the sun, which meant it would be the warmest part of the lake at the time of my session. I had several mixers across the bay, both mid-way across and near marginal features, to try and get an indication of fish location, as I was yet to see signs of fish at all. After about an hour of watching and replacing mixers that got blown out by the wind I eventually saw 'Split Pec' come up from the depths, and gently break the surface, as she silently took a mixer before disappearing back to the depths. She did this once more, and I was a little slow on the uptake, as in hindsight I should have lowered a bait right onto her nose - but didn't. She took one more mixer before disappearing not to return. First sign of a fish for the year, and an opportunity wasted.

Incidentally, that was the only sign of any fish that I saw, for the whole month, despite being on the bank for as many hours of daylight that I could manage. This meant that I had certainly failed on the surface challenge for this particular month, and still no carp for 2006.

After that, I lost interest in the surface challenge, as it wouldn't have been a full success anyway, and I had mock exams to deal with as well as work, so fishing became my third priority. Consequently, the only fishing I did in February was the odd Sunday here and there. A friend of mine, Ross who generally fishes in matches, had asked me to take him 'proper carping', so all was arranged and we got geared up for a session in February, where I hoped that my first carp of 2006 would show itself. We arrived at a local heavily stocked pit and decided to vary our approach across each of the rods. I opted to fish the bottom of the marginal shelf and my other rod was placed next to a bush where a deeper hole runs parallel to the bush. Ross fished a rod to 'the point' which was on the edge of the bay that I had surfaced fished in January, and fished the other rod on the marginal slope off the island. The next thing to sort was the brolly; my Aqua 60 inch is ideal for keeping out of the wind, rain and sleet during winter and makes the whole thing more comfortable and enjoyable at such a gloomy time of year. We'd opted to fish bottom baits on either stringers or small PVA bags containing pellets, hoping to pick off odd fish here and there, as we didn't expect that the fish would be eating a great amount, if anything at all.

A lovely winter’s day…

Ross's ‘Point’ rod was the first to rattle off, with the fish madking an attempt for the far bank. Ross was soon doing battle and with a little guidance soon had her in the waiting net. As I lifted the net the water made my hands numb and within seconds of laying it on the mat, ice particles has started to form. Nevertheless Ross had a nice mirror of 7lb on the mat, which was a good start! Now for my fish I thought, as I placed his rod back out with a fresh bait and PVA bag. Next, Ross's island rod ripped off as he slipped down through the mud and ice mixture to hit his rod. He bent into the fish and noted to me that it was less powerful. After a few strong runs the fish was soon up on the surface and it was once again my job to net it with numb fingers. It was a smaller common around 4lb, and I soon slipped her back, as Ross carried on with the cooking of the bacon butties. Mist soon set as the day passed, and as the temperature dropped we decided to call it a day, a good start to the campaign, but it was too cold for us!

The next week Ross was raring to go again, and funnily enough he chose the same area by the bay where he caught his fish previously. Same bait and same approach was the order of the day as confidence was already high, and we had already seen a fish 'bosh' as we arrived. Rods in, brolly up, and bacon on. Before we knew it, we had the first run of the day – and yet again it was Ross's rod - I was being 'done' by a match angler.... Top Guide I say (..Or something like that) Ross kept the rod on the spot, kept the bait going in….and kept the fish coming! The day went from sunshine, to showers, to snow….and before we knew it the ground was white, the weather was misty and the session now became rather eerie as in the distance we heard the siren of an emergency service vehicle. It got to the stage where I could not see when netting fish for Ross, and my hands were unbearably cold. Then almost cartoon style, it stopped snowing and the sun came out - very odd! Just as we were discussing the weather, his rod ripped off again and he bent into the fish. It kicked and just gave moderate pressure. It allowed itself to be wound as far as the rod tip before giving Ross a right old scrap and as I held the net out ready for it , it’s head popped up and it was a greeting with an old friend in the shape of ‘Split Pec’ for Ross at 11lb

Matchman Ross with Split Pec

Next was my first outing of the year with another friend, Steve Baker, he suggested a few sessions in the colder months, so firstly we went to Biddulph Grange for a day session. An early start was in order and we arrived shortly after first light as the mist rose off the water and we began to see exactly how much of the water was frozen. We opted to fish by the rear end of the island, with the main body of the lake to our left, a good ambush point for fish travelling between the main part of the lake, and the snags. A few hours passed, and we’d had a few indications, but nothing positive. The only activity around the lake seemed to be the endless amount of dogs, that love running through the margins of your swim, and going to the toilet right next to your rods – nice…

The temperature never rose that day, but out of the blue Steve had a flyer, and within a minute or so, he had a nice little ‘Jonny Chub’ in the bottom of his net – at least something liked the bait! That was the only action for the day, but sick of it? No chance, we were back two weeks later, ready to go for it again. This time we fished slightly further down the bank, with myself fishing to The Boathouse and Steve covering both the far and near margins. Again, the chub were on the feed, as Steve had a ripping take on his left hand rod, and thereafter became known as ‘Chub Man’. Things were looking like another blank, when my left hand rod slowly came to life, the indicator lifted slowly and the take steadily increased in speed. The fish took
a few yards of line before I picked the rod up. I lifted the rod, and expected to bend into a fish. Nothing. I don’t know what happened; I guess it was those rubber hooks again! I genuinely felt ‘done’ and knew that that could well have been my only chance. And it was, before long we were trekking back through the woods toward our respective parent’s cars.

Fishing toward the Boathouse at Biddulph Grange

My next outing was a short trip down to Ross-On-Wye, where I aimed to go pike fishing on the River Wye. The river was totally different than expected. As we arrived I went and looked at the nearest stretch of river, a massive walk of 150 yards. It was low and clear and the water had a slight green tint to its surface. After unpacking, the first night I basically lazed by the log fire and turned in, ready for the start next morning. I was up around 6am walking the two local stretches with my lure rod. I’d found a nice little feature that was basically a raft, held up against a fallen tree, which created a great hide for both predators and prey fish, whilst also creating a massive area of slack water – perfect. I Spent time in every swim, and cast to every feature over and over that day, in search of an early result, but nothing to come of it. Depressing to say the least. I retired in the late afternoon, and sorted the kit for the next day’s assault. Two float-ledger setups were constructed, and I was off for another early night. Next morning I was up at a similar time, and opted to fish a handful of features for an hour and a half, before ‘frog hopping’ to the next feature, this way hopefully sneaking a fish.

I awoke to find the level a little higher and the river with a little more colour – perfect, I thought. Big baits little baits, fast water, slow water. No success. Different swims, different depths, nothing. Another exploratory day and still no action – I had yet to even see my intended quarry.

Next morning was to be a little more relaxed; a sort of ‘laid back’ day with not so much fishing. An hour in the morning and an hour at dusk was all the fishing I did that day, and only with a lure rod. The ‘early and late’ theory seemed to work though. I walked to the swim that had the snag and the raft. A dead sheep had now floated down and become entangled among it all, and with my polarising glasses, I could see a nice depth of around 9ft about 3 feet from the bank. A few casts around the snag and suddenly on one of my retrieves I saw something in the clear area of slack water. A Pike around 8lb was on the follow. It stopped, looked and wafted its fins a little more. It drifted within a foot of the bank, enabling me to see its vivid markings. I stood there and edged my lure past its nose but it turned and bolted. At least I’d had some interest!

Three days were left, and myself my dad and my godfather decided a new area was in order. We travelled some two miles downstream to a place known as Symond’s Yat. More features and more prey fish were visible. Things looked right for once. We managed to catch some livebaits and so both live and deadbaits were tried. Static and on the move, open water and snags were all covered between the three of us, and the Pike were still eluding us. The low-and-clear conditions were doing us no favours, coupled with the low temperatures, and it meant for some tough Pike fishing! We all fished as well as we could, and at least we knew they were in the area after a Pike struck around Dave’s livebait at dusk, although it didn’t take his bait, it was still a sign, and one that was to bring us back the following day.

Next day I was back with the same approach, we were confident in our rigs and methods, it was just down to timing; matching our fishing times with the timing of the pike’s feeding spells. Same approach, livebaits static and moving. I placed my baits near two snags and hoped for the best with such little action to learn from. As the day passed we’d still had no action, and I’ll be honest – this was getting boring, same river, same spots, seeing fish, but not catching - boring, yet frustrating. We just needed a little more water in the river to give us prime conditions. The water never came, but at dusk a fish did, as my right hand alarm signalled line leaving the spool. I immediately bent into the fish as it headed straight for the snag. I signalled to my dad that a fish was on and he came with the net to offer support as I tried to get the fish out of the snag. All went solid, and I was sure the fish had gone. I stood with the rod, keeping pressure on, praying that it was still there, but after a minute or so I got the distinct impression that it was a loss. But then I got lucky and the fish was out and doing battle once more. She was soon on the top and a spot of good netting by my dad meant that we’d got one! At 14lb I was well pleased – size was irrelevant! I held her for some shots as darkness fell, slipped her back, and we headed for home!

The final day, and our prayers had been answered – more water in the river. The only problem was that it was in flood – great. This basically meant that the fishing trip was over; thankfully we’d sneaked one fish! The rest of the holiday was spent relaxing and watching the numerous Military Aircraft flying around the valley in which we were located. A lovely trip and I look forward to returning.

Hard work but worth the effort, my 14lb Pike!

After my river exploits, Steve Baker and myself again pitted our wits against another heavily stocked fishery; in the shape of Moreton Fisheries, just off the A34 in Cheshire. We arrived and ended up being pushed for swims due to a match, and therefore opted to get well away from the commotion on the far bank. It was bright and sunny and not ‘overwarm’. Steve banged out some flouro’s on a number of different rigs and explained how previous success led him to persevere with this method. I opted for bottom baits to begin with. Steve was doing battle with a fish after a ripping take just a couple of hours into the session. A gruelling battle took place as she fought well, not well enough against Steve though, who soon led her to the awaiting net. A mint upper single was just what the doctor ordered and I hoped for more as Steve slipped his prize back to her watery home. This capture had converted me to flouro’s, and as if this wasn’t enough – he went on to bank another; a really chunky lightly scaled mirror that was a scraper double, well in mate. I was soon rustling through my bag finding all different colours and flavours of pop ups, and this was before the whole ‘rig decision’ had been made. I was sure to catch one now, same bait as Steve, who was two fish up. Not quite. The action became non-existent after Steve’s second fish, and as we toyed with rigs and baits, we failed to achieve anything more. We were soon packing up, looking forward to our next planned session just a week or so later.

The next planned session was back on the hunt for specimen carp, and was in the month of April. After finally finishing off my coursework at school, I was able to create some fishing time in my Easter holidays, aside from revision that was. Steve and I planned a 48-hour session, which began with us seting-up camp on The Marshes for the first night. The wind blew rain straight into our faces, but nevertheless we had a good social, and turned in at around midnight. Other than a few wind-bleeps and the occasional bleep from passing waterfowl, the night passed fishless and it was soon dawn, with Steve up fish spotting. Not being one for early sta
rts I didn’t bother with the fish-spotting after watching for around 10 minutes, only to see showing fish at least 200 yards out of range. After the kit was slightly drier, and I’d had more kip, we decided to go for a walk in search of the fish. As we got to the front of the sailing centre Steve spotted a fish. Then another, and I spotted another, then we realised we were looking at masses of fish, that had me and Steve staring in amazement for at least 20 minutes. As we watched the fish swim and would then jolt, trying to clear their gills of sand. We knew that this had to be a good chance of a fish and duly moved to the pegs to the right of where we’d seen the fish. A friend of Steve's, Dan Goddard came down for a chat shortly after setting up camp, and before we got the rods in, we went back for one last look. The three of us sat watching, picking out the better fish, although mainly small commons, we noted a few better fish; one that stuck in Steve’s head was a fully scaled, with a white mark on the lower rear end of its left flank. Needless to say, this and another mirror with a cluster of scales midway along its flank were the topic of discussion once the rods were in. Steve opted to fish a couple of margin rods and a third on a Zig that we’d planned to use for a few days prior to the session. I fished one rod along the marginal shelf, one with a small stringer at around 60 yards, and one on a Zig-rig.

A stunning Astbury sunset

After no more than thirty-minutes, my middle alarm bleeped and the big pit reel started to release line. I picked up the rod expecting nothing to be on, then realised it was my zig rod. I wound and wound until I felt resistance, and a fish was on! I couldn’t believe it! Steve had robbed my waders for placing his baits out so I had to wade out in my normal trousers as Steve came to give me a hand to net it. As it neared the net I gave the classic line “its only a little ‘un” as the fish did not give much ofafight; a few short sharp bursts, but other than that you’d think you were winding in an old towel. Steve saw her about 10 yards out and nearly collapsed with excitement when he saw that it was a fully scaled. Then a nightmare; somehow the weed had jammed the mainline in my tip ring, and the mainline was falling slack. I dropped the rod and quickly took up the slack with my hands, as I guided it into the net. We both let out an almighty cheer as it went in the net, followed by my favourite “Get in there Leicester” line (don’t ask!).

As we laid her on the mat I saw the true beauty of this fish; an amazing array of colour among the masses of scales on each flank. It was spotless, its mouth was clean and it was scale perfect, it looked a young, fish, but was very fat in the same respect – I couldn’t believe it. The buzz was immense, if Steve wasn’t on hand the job would have been a lot harder, I couldn’t control the feeling of excitement, it was immense. The rest was a blur; unhooking, photo’s and in no time I was cradling this stunning fish in the margins, and then with one kick, she was off, splashing water up my already drenched clothes – result. The fish had gone 19lb 8oz and I was buzzing.

Buzzing – 19lb 8oz of fully scaled Mirror

I later sat back, made myself a curry and just chilled with Steve, as we had another good social. He soon turned in; in anticipation of more action. Obviously he was not content with the result we’d already had, and went on to wake me at 3am (cheers mate) to ask for assistance with a fish. We weighed a lovely dark lean common at 16lb and the buzz was back. A few shots with a cheesy grin, and Steve was soon cradling another Astbury kipper in the margins. Back to bed and then another wake up call from Steve; another fish!!! This time it was a little fully scaled mirror. The spitting image of mine and an awesome sight so early in the morning. It was a dull day in terms of weather, but we didn’t care, we’d caught! Even the dog vomiting behind Steve’s bivvy didn’t dampen the mood, it just make the whole episode that bit more comical! Within no time, it was over and I was in the car heading home along the A34…

Steve’s awsome fully scaled

Then the hell began……GCSEs. As I sat “Revising” I thought about catching fish (as you do) and needed a water close to home that was worth a few hours stalking and could throw up a decent fish or two. Another friend accompanied me after one of my English exams as we cycled to a potential venue for a look around. Upon arrival, I realised that we’d got lucky, and the fish responded to the warm, sunny conditions as hoped. The ‘peckers’ (dog biscuits) we introduced simply teased the fish too much and within five minutes, big sets of lips were engulfing mixers as we gazed in amazement. We tried to put sizes to some of the fish, but we honestly didn’t know, we just knew that we’d like to catch them! A few stood out from the crowd; one we nicknamed ‘Lumpy’, as the name suggests it had rather a pronounced lump on its left flank, and a mint looking common, both of which we watched take our mixers.

They couldn’t resist…

We regretted not bringing our rods at this point, but vowed to return as soon as possible to try and tempt a lump or two, but more about that in the next piece.

Until then, be lucky.

Nige Weston