What can I say, when I left the house last night I had no idea what was to come. I’d been watching the weather out of my office window (at home) all day but had not been outside. I live in an old Town House and my office window faces out north so its afternoon before the sun comes through the window, and as such it can be deceiving as it often feels colder than it is until the sun pokes through. It was about 3pm when I nipped outside to speak to a neighbour and I was gob-smacked at how warm it was.
Within minutes my head was racing ahead with the possibilities, a few of us from my Northern-Monkeys site had decided on a floater fishing challenge - trying to take a carp off the top during each month of the year. It stemmed from a fascinating article I’d read whilst at Birch about this guy that just fished off the top who’d had some absolutely stunning results. The upshot was that he had caught fish off the top in every month of the year and so came about the challenge.
In the past I’ve had fish from April to September so the challenge is to take one in each month from October through to March. With the last few weeks remaining quite warm I thought it was going to be a much easier proposition than it has been, time fishing has been the main problem, and it’s getting too dark too quickly after I finish work. In all honesty I’ve only had about two or three day sessions over the last few months.
Hence my eagerness to get out for a couple of hours last night. Elton was kind enough to give me a few hours off so I was out of the house just before 4pm with a couple of hours fishing ahead of me before it went dark. I decided on a little day ticket venue a few miles outside of Leek. I’d been doing a little bit on there a month or two back and had managed a cracker of 17lb 2oz and had even lost one much bigger at the net. I’d only fished the place four or five times so I felt there was much more to come. Whilst one always dreams of big fish, the main reason for choosing this venue was the fact that that there were a couple of pools to go at, and whilst I’d been concentrating on the upper pool where I’d taken the better fish, there was also a bottom pool that contained smaller fish that seemed easier to get going when the upper pool fish did not want to play. On arriving at the water my plan was to start on the upper pool, and if nothing developed move on to the lower pool.
When I arrived at the water my plan was immediately flawed. I had not taken the wind into account. I had checked on the web before leaving and it had said 15mph winds, but as the pools are in a valley I did not think it would be so bad – I was wrong! Most of the upper pool looked like the North Sea! The little bay that had provided the goods on previous occasions was the best sheltered area but was still getting hammered with the wind pushing straight into it. As it was a fresh wind I knew there would be fish about but could I get them going? I put out a healthy amount of mixers which went across the lake in minutes. During that time three fish crashed clean out of the water so they were definitely there, but after fifteen minutes not one mixer had been taken. I tried a few other spots where the cover was better but still no joy.
I decided on a switch to the bottom pool. The area that offered the best chance was already taken, a point swim behind a large island which was well sheltered from the wind. The only other area free was a small bay in the South-East corner so I settled in there. There were two young lads fishing down to my left, lots of noise, lots of commotion, and lots of bait flying – the joys of day ticket fishing. I was not to be put off however, as time was running out.
I set about the business of trying to get a few fish feeding. By 5pm I’d not seen one definite sign of a carp, the wind was making it very hard visually and to be honest I was almost at the point of calling it a day. But then unexpected happened – the guy on the point had packed up and was walking back round with his gear. Within seconds I was off around the other side of the lake and dropped into the swim. I timed it so that we passed on the path and politely asked how he had done?
“Crap, nothing all day, mate.” his reply.
I immediately went about getting some mixers out. In my excitement to get out of the house I’d forgotten to put my catapult in the bag so could only fish at ‘chuck-distance’. Even so I could get most of the way out to the point just off the island and started feeding mixers to another area to my right in open water; I had the whole side of the lake to myself but was governed by wind as to where I could fish. After ten minutes there had not been a swirl, apart from a few over excited silver fish trying to wolf down a dog biscuit in one go. I was beginning to get that sinking feeling in my stomach and had visions of having to wait until next October for another chance when out of nowhere came that beautiful sound… ‘Schooooooolp’. Something, somewhere, had just nailed a dog biscuit! My head whipped round to trace the source of the noise and my eyes fixed on a small circular flat spot rapidly extending outwards where a carp had just boiled on the surface. In that instant my heart lifted and a grin spread across my face… time yet my boy, time yet!
I immediately unhooked the dog biscuit and hook from my rod eye and cast to the spot where the fish had appeared, applying a few more mixers soaked in Essential Shellfish Plum. Minutes later another floater disappeared and then another. I kept feeding the two patches and making casts back into the zone as the wind was pushing the controller through the area much quicker than the free baits. Many prefer to cast over the baited spot and drag the controller back into the zone, which is fine. However, I prefer to cast right into the zone and feather the cast so it lands with just a tiny plop. It’s often the case that if you get your cast right you will get a hit quite quickly, as was the case when after a cast to the island patch a carp attacked the dog biscuit almost immediately. Either through lack of skill on my part or lack of conviction on the carp’s, I failed to connect – gutted. This is often the case with surface fishing and to some extent goes with the territory. This is one of the reasons why I like to feed two spots, so that when you have a fish or spook one from one area you can work on the other for a while, feeding both as you go.
Over the next thirty minutes I pulled out twice more. These losses were more than I would usually expect but I put it down to the wind making things difficult. By now it was turning dark and time was running out. Mixers were drifting right across the bay by now and fish were picking them off all over the place. I’d also been feeding a few down the margin just inches off the bank – many a time the fish think these have been swept in and are safe to eat – until they get nailed by the hookbait . Some of these had made it down to an overhanging Hawthorne bush in the bottom corner and were getting mopped up from the safety of submerged branches. As darkness neared the wind was dropping and the bush area was now fishable so I quickly and quietly changed spots and got a bait back out in front off the tree. Obviously on 7.9lb hooklink I did not want to let it drift too close into the bush as a big fish would make light work of snagging me. However, I wanted to give the illusion that the hookbait was out of harms way and so let it drift in as far as I could until I felt it was too dangerous, at which point I’d wind in, recast, and let it drift in again. The freebies were getting picked off and the fish were slowly moving further out of the snag. It was too dark to see their size but that was unimportant – I would have been ecstatic with a 2lb’er!
Then it happened, nothing spectacular, nothing out of the ordinary, just a little swirl and the biscuit was gone. The controller immediately slammed forward as the hooklink tightened and I gently lifted into the fish, this time the hook had been set and battle ensued. To be frank, I nearly wet myself. It was obvious from the outset it was a good fish, a very good fish, and all through the fight I had visions of it making the bush, snagging me and leaving me to pack up and go home thinking about what might have been. However, happily (very happily) I can report that everything held and I soon had a rather large carp wallowing in the bottom of my net! By now everyone else on the lake had given up and gone home, so I was left to investigate my prize alone, just the way I like it to be honest – just me and the fish!
The scales registered 24lb 4oz - ‘Ecstatic’ doesn’t do justice to the way I felt but you get the idea! Technically it’s not my biggest surface caught fish as I had a 25lb plus mirror off the Main Lake back in June with a free-lined worm off the edge of a lily pad, but it’s certainly my best floater fishing capture to date, and to class it as anything other than a personal best would seem to be splitting hairs!
So, my October surface capture is firmly in the bag and I couldn’t be happier – roll on November! The picture was a little disappointing but it’s the fish that counts. The rechargeable batteries on my digital camera seem to have given up the ghost overnight. They have given over two years of trouble free service and usually last for a week or more with constant use, but since my trip to the Main Lake last weekend they now last for about five seconds! The first effort with flash switched off the camera as it took the image, and registered nothing. I managed to get two more without flash before it was game over. I’ve fettled with the better of the two in Photoshop and although the contrast is a bit ropey you can at least see the fat old girl on the mat.
No matter though, it will remain pin sharp in the memory for years to come.