Keith looks back at his time on a relatively unknown, Sussex stillwater located near Chichester
Keith looks back at his time on a relatively unknown, Sussex stillwater located near Chichester
It was way back in 2010 when I first saw a picture of it. As I sat browsing the internet one evening, scrolling through images of carp captures, I was stopped in my tracks. There, in front of my eyes, was this perfectly formed, old looking, scaly beast, clad in golden, apple-slice scales. I needed to know the whereabouts of this fish! After several weeks of digging and some subtle and not so subtle enquiries I discovered this fish was actually fairly local to me, in fact it resided in a lake called Westbourne House in Chichester. I live in Brighton and this was only 30 miles or so down the A27 – so I contacted the co-owner, Roger, to try and get my name down for a ticket.
Roger runs some superb fisheries and guards them closely, and it wasn’t until around a year later that I got the call I was praying for and was offered a tour of the lake. This, in turn, quickly became an ‘interview’ from him. Not knowing if I was what Roger was looking for in a syndicate member, once more I had a nervous wait for his call hoping I had not blown my chances. However, to my relief, I was offered a ticket starting on 1st March that year, which was less than two months away. To say I was buzzing was an understatement and all other plans for that year were quickly binned and I set about doing some proper research on the place.
The lake itself is a relatively young 30 acre gravel pit, sat alongside the A27. From above it is of a fairly uniform, rectangular shape, with two large bays. My sniffing about had unearthed an approximate stock of around 120 fish, four of which were over 40lb with a handful of 30s, and the rest being made up from younger, fastgrowing stock fish. I’d also learnt that the fish in the original image, Scaly, as she is known, was the undisputed queen of the lake.
The plan was to do two nights a week. At the time I usually only did a single night on a Saturday but I felt this could be a long and serious campaign and I needed to put in a bit more time to try and catch this wonderful creature. I spoke to the missus as I’ve got a young family, and she agreed that I could also cram in an overnighter between work as well. I can’t thank her enough for this as my daughters were very young and we both have full time jobs, so free time was at a premium back then. She is certainly a good girl and I count my blessings that she tolerates my obsession.
My first session was to be on a Thursday night which was the opening day of the season. I was as keen as mustard to get down there and wet a line for the first time. I arrived after work and to my surprise and disappointment, the lake was pretty busy with most anglers up around the shallows.
I did a quick lap to see if anything had occurred and it was apparent after a few introductions and speaking to a few of the lads, that the lake still hadn’t done a bite since the turn of the year. I decided to fish a swim called Dean’s as it was at the deeper end of the lake and even though the days were warm and sunny, the night was set to be clear and frosty and the temperatures due to plummet. That first night passed without a bleep and 6.45am saw me pushing the barrow back to the van and I left to battle the A27 and a day at work.
My first take came on my 4th night. I had arrived at the lake mid-afternoon on Saturday and there was only one lad fishing. He was set up in the house swim called Gabriel’s and after a quick chat I set about doing a lap. The day was mild and drizzly with a slight breeze blowing from the south-west. When I eventually stood on the windward bank it looked bang on, with the warm breeze pushing in, so I dropped a bucket into a swim called Sedges and went back to the van for the gear. They just had to be there.
Once back in the swim I had a quick lead about and there was still a lot of dead weed in position from the previous year. I found three clear spots as close to the weed as possible and positioned a rod on each. After accurately placing three medium spombs of Tails Up Pro Crab and some matching pellets over each rod I settled down for a brew. That felt like enough bait. I was sure they were in the area and the spots in close proximity to the weed had to have been cleared by the fish, so I’d wanted just enough bait out to try and nick a bite.
Around 11pm that night I was just drifting off when I received an absolute one toner. I shot out of the bag and flew to the rod then bent into a very fast-moving and angry fish. Once I had things under control though, it was a straight-forward affair and after a few more minutes, it was over. The fish in the net looked like it might go 20lb-plus but on the scales it went 19lb – only a small one but I was absolutely buzzing to get my first bite from the lake. The rod was soon put back on the spot and another three spombs of the Pro Crab followed it. The rest of the night passed uneventfully and I was packed up and ready to hit the road at 10am, looking forward to a day out with the family with an extra spring in my step.
Over the next few weeks I caught three more stockies of a similar stamp to the first. I had also made a mental note that the fish were loving the middle area of the lake and were showing out there most mornings. I began to realise that, like a lot of the members, I was a little under gunned with my gear as the maximum range I could accurately bait to and fish at the time was around 100 yards. It was obvious this needed to change and that some more ‘sweet talking’ of the good lady would be required!
The next chance came on a midweek overnighter. It was now early May and the days were finally very spring-like, mother nature was in full bloom and the lake and its surroundings had come to life. The bleak, seemingly lifeless pit I first walked around in the dead of winter now revealed itself to be a stunning mature fishery and I felt privileged to be there. This particular day we had a nice south-easterly wind blowing into an area called the Inlet Bay. I had arrived at the lake after work, as usual, and it was busy once again but I was shocked and pleasantly surprised that nobody was fishing this particular area. I quickly made my way round and had a chat with the lad a couple of swims up after I had dropped a bucket in a swim called the Number 2 that controlled the mouth of the bay.
He told me that he hadn’t seen anything and also confirmed that nobody had fished the bay that day. Soon after, I arrived back at my bucket, a
sweaty breathless mess, and set about mapping the swim as discreetly as I could as I suspected some fish would be in the area. As per pervious weeks, I positioned all the rods as close to the weed as I dared, with one just off a massive hump about 80 yards out in front of the swim. All the rods received five spombs of the Pro Crab over the top and I soon settled in for the night. Despite the time of year I still did not want to use too much bait. As much of my fishing is based around sessions of less than 18 hours duration it’s important to me to be able to get bites as quickly as possible and then go from there. Filling it in on short sessions could kill my chances and, over the years, my go-lightly approach is a tactic that’s developed into a very successful one for me.
Around nine that evening I started to receive liners on the middle rod which went on for a couple of hours. I started to think the fish must be active closer in than the range I was fishing. Then, at around 11pm, I got a single beep before shortly afterwards my alarm wailed without warning. There followed the usual antics of staggering down to the rods with ‘one foot on, one foot off’ and I bent into a fish that was absolutely ballistic. On the first run it stripped line against a tight clutch. This repeated itself a few times, but the runs soon grew less and less in number and eventually it tired and I netted what appeared to be my first 20-pounder from the lake. On the scales it went mid-20s and was another of the Italian-strain stock fish that Roger had introduced. They were young and powerful, with high, broad shoulders.
The rod was wrapped up and whacked back out to the hump and I sat up with a warming cup of tea, full of anticipation – yet nothing else happened that night. My alarm clock went off at 6am and I sat and watched the water for 15 minutes before packing up. During this time I saw two fish show very near the hump and I knew if only I didn’t have to go to work I would have bagged another. Unfortunately, pulling off lakes at bite time is often the way of the overnight man – so the van was soon pointed back along the A27 towards another day at work before returning to the family.
I blanked on the next night which was the Saturday. The lake was busy and I just couldn’t get near them, so I spent my time mapping another unfamiliar swim in case that knowledge was to prove useful in the future. My next bite came on the bonus night, the following week. It was a roasting hot day and when I got to lake after a hard day’s graft, the temperature was still in the low 20s. The lake was quite busy again as a lot of the big girls were due but everybody was pretty spread out leaving me a few options.
As I surveyed the scene I could see both the Car Park and Outlet swims, situated in the other large bay right up in the shallows, were free so I headed that way first. I found an angler set up in Sedges which is also in the bay so I had a chat and he said of the two swims, he wouldn’t mind me going in the Car Park swim as it was not interfering with his spots. With the temperatures so high I was sure the fish would be on the shallows. After a quick lead about, I found some nice spots between 40 and 70 yards, again near fresh weed and with a small helping of gear over each rod once they were soon in place.
I settled down with a well-deserved cold drink and a smoke and watched the sun go down over the horizon. The lake was as flat as a mill pond and the odd fish started topping at about 80 yards, just past where I was fishing and I was brimming with confidence. I watched the sun disappear and got into the bag, and I must have only been in it for 20 minutes when I had a single bleep which developed into a one toner about three minutes later. I pounced on the rod and bent into a very heavy and powerful fish that tore 50 yards of line from a hissing spool with such force it prevented me from getting the rod anywhere near airborne. This was one angry and powerful carp and it was obviously significantly larger than anything else I had hooked from the lake to date. The fish continued
to run me ragged for the next 20 minutes until it finally started to flag, and I felt like I was gaining the upper hand for the first time. The fish hit the surface about 20 yards out and I could see it was a proper one. It then rolled and dived in another dash for freedom but it was now far too tired and just bobbed back to the surface again. Confident I now had the upper hand, I slowly started to coax it towards the net, only for the hook to pull!
I sank to my knees absolutely gutted in the knowledge I had just lost one of the big girls. I packed up the next morning and left for work with my tail well and truly between my legs. I had a long, hard look at the offending rig, which I’d slung on the dashboard of the van, during my tea break but the hook point was fine. I just had to put it down to one of those things after such a long and hard fight.
The fish spawned later that week so I didn’t fish the Saturday and left them to their orgy. For a couple weeks after that the lake went very quiet – they kind of disappeared, probably sat out in the weedbeds licking their wounds while they recovered from the exhaustion of their annual sex fest. Nothing really showed or was caught for a while and the whole syndicate struggled for a bite in the following weeks.
My next chance finally came on a Friday night. I had tried to avoid them as much as possible as they tend to be a lot busier than Saturdays, but I was due out with the wife on Saturday and needed to get a night under my belt – so I bit the bullet.
I arrived after work and as I was driving my van down the track I saw one stick its head out in front of a swim called The Point – what a touch! I drove straight to the swim and put my gear in it. That was the hard part and location was sorted. I popped to have a chat with the lads in the next couple of swims down who were having a social and they informed me that Two Tone had been out at low 40s in the week and it had a fresh hook mark in its mouth. From what I knew there had been no other losses of late and I started to wonder if that was what I had hooked a couple of weeks previously. This fish was known to give its all during the fight and I went back to the swim to set up wondering what might have been.
The rods were soon sorted in their usual manner – clear spots, as tight to weed as possible – and I settled down with a couple of beers and a smoke. The night passed surprisingly without a sniff and I woke to a beautiful summer’s morning. I sat and watched the water with a brew and started to see the odd fish roll near the spots. Over the next hour I somehow managed to lose two more fish to hook pulls! Having not lost a fish in an absolute age, I had now lost three in a row and to say I was pissed off was an understatement – a change of rigs was definitely on the cards. I also started to wonder about the previous takes? I had received no more than a single bleep followed by a screamer and wondered if the fish were a little more riggy than I
I sank to my knees absolutely gutted in the knowledge I had just lost one of the big girls
had given them credit for. I immediately changed all three rods to blowback rigs, put them back out and hoped for another chance. It was glaringly obvious that the chance had now gone. I packed up at my usual time and left with the right hump and spent the rest of the day moping about and generally being grumpy!
It was now midsummer and I had been struggling to get another bite, despite my regular sessions, and didn’t feel like I was getting any closer to another take. I turned up again on another Saturday – it was breezy but warm and the weed was now well up with two huge beds that dominated either end of the lake. The rest of the lake was fairly clear which apparently was not the norm for Westbourne – usually the whole lake is like a football pitch. This particular year it was different and it was obvious those two huge beds held most of the fish. It was the weekend of the London to Brighton Bike Ride and the wind was blowing a south-easterly, blowing straight into the Inlet Bay.
The swims that control the area were fortunately free so I sat myself in Number 2 for half an hour, but saw nothing. So I set off for a lap after bucketing the swim. I didn’t see anything on my travels, so as the nice wind was still blowing into the Inlet Bay I decided to set up in my first choice of swim. Once everything was set-up I sat and watched the water and after a few hours I saw one poke its head out behind the hump, and it looked a good fish. Well, at least I’m on them, I thought to myself. I knew the spots were good, I knew the bait was good but also knew the rigs still had something to prove and this nagging doubt was always in the back of my mind.
I didn’t see anything else and I sat back and watched darkness fall in the usual manner, from my spot in front of the bedchair. I awoke at first light to watch the water and straight away I started to see they were still about, poking their heads out behind the hump – but now they had moved another 30 yards further away. They were now showing in front of Gabriel’s, which was free, so I started to pack up straight away and made my way round there while everyone else slept. Once I was in the swim I put fresh baits on. The fish were only about 60 yards out, so I flicked a couple of singles out on light leads and felt them down, with nice clean drops on each rod. Thirty minutes had
passed since I had cast out and it was obvious that, despite my apparent stealth, I had spooked them. Bloody typical. All that effort and care setting up and I had still hammed it up. Another fishless hour passed and a mate walked into my swim who had just turned up to fish. He mentioned he had seen a few fish in the Inlet Bay but they were only little stockies so he wasn’t intending to fish for them. I asked him to sit with my rods for five minutes as I needed the toilet. On my way for a sit down and some thinking time, I made a quick diversion and had a sneaky look in the Inlet. Well, blow me, there were about ten fish present and one was an absolute beast. I was 100% sure it was a 40-pounder so simultaneously clenching my teeth I ran back to my swim. I told my mate what I’d seen and that I was going to have a go for them. He gave me a funny look and said “What about us fishing one rod each, as I found them, you cheeky sod?” After contemplating this for all of about five seconds I agreed and like two excited schoolboys we set off.
Having completed my overdue detour to the toilet, we crept up to the inlet to have a butchers and there were now over twenty fish there, all about a rod length out, sat in the oxygen-rich water. I broke up a few baits and chucked them in the flow. Straight away a few dropped on the bait, so we quietly flicked our baits out. A few more broken baits followed and we sat watching for what seemed like hours. We identified the lump as being The Fat One, a known 40-pounder. By this time the fish were really rooting around looking for the bait and we saw the Fat One move towards my friend’s hookbait. We froze as it waddled straight up to it, sucked it in then instantly spat it straight back out again. It sounds harsh now but I couldn’t stop laughing. He was gutted and then, about five minutes later, he nailed an eightpounder. “How’s your luck?” I asked. I watched him play this stockie which was going mad in amongst all these fish but only a few of them spooked. Once it was netted and returned, I put another ten or so broken up boilies in and the fish happily started to feed again. Despite me goading him about his crap bait and pasty rigs, he flicked his rod back out and we sat and chatted whilst we waited for another chance. Out of the blue my rod ripped off and by the time I picked it up the fish was motoring out of the bay. The fish was going mad and put up a right old scrap – this time spooking everything else in its path. After ten minutes or so the fish tired and I drew it over the net cord. It was another mid-20. After a few quick shots we returned it and I packed my bits and pieces up and left matey to it.
Whilst all this had occurred I couldn’t help feeling I was not really any closer to catching the magnificent Scaly, and started to think about the autumn and the weed dying off when I was sure the fish would retreat to the middle areas again. This time I knew I had to get my baits on the dance floor waiting for them – and the only way
I told my mate what I’d seen and that I was going to have a go for them. He gave me a funny look and said “What about us fishing one rod each, as I found them, you cheeky sod?”
I was going to do this was with new rods. I dusted off my charms and got to work.
As summer slowly turned into autumn I had two more fish under my belt up to 27lb, and by this time my charms had worked their magic. At the start of October, via good mate Duncan at Tackle Fanatics, I found myself in possession of three, newly-released Greys Air Curves and a Free Spirit LRS Spod Rod. I was confident that armed with my new toys I now had a massive advantage over the other chaps heading into the rest of the autumn and winter.
I was back only doing the single night each week, on the Saturday, as it was getting too dark to get the rods out in time after work and the lake had become really busy. The weed had died off and the fish had started to get their heads down to fatten up for the times that lay ahead. I struggled to get into a swim that controlled the middle part of the lake for a month or so, and like many syndicate members I was really struggling. There were only a few swims doing fish and they were the ones that controlled the middle of the lake. I was desperate for an opportunity to get in one of them.
It was now late October and I was thinking about changing baits for the winter and leaving the rich fishmeal-based Pro Crab as the temperatures started to drop. I spoke to Ash at Tails Up about my dilemma and he told me about a new bait called the Pro Seed that had been evolving over the last few years. It needed testing and I agreed to give it a go. It’s a completely different bait to the Crab, being a blend of ground nuts and Red Band with a wonderfully sweet, banoffee aroma and to me – it just screamed carp!
My next visit was the first Saturday in November and I remember turning up and it was bitterly cold. As luck would have it, there was a swim free that was in the middle zone called the Reeds. I had a good lead about and there was weed still present but only low lying beds which were quite sparse, so finding spots was easy. I clipped all three rods up at somewhere past 120 yards in a clear strip and spread them about 30 yards apart. Once the rods were in place, I put a kilo of broken and whole Pro Seed over each one. The new tackle was bang on the money and fishing effectively at this range was now a doddle. This change of baiting strategy coincided with their feed-up and I knew the time was right to give them a bit more bait.
The night was freezing cold, the sky was clear and a frost was soon all over the inside of my brolly. Shortly after 11pm, I had a single beep and heard the line clip on the rod ping. So I hopped out of the bag and was met with a solid resistance from the other end. It kited from the middle all the way in until it hit the decaying weed in the margin about 80 yards to my left. Luckily, the swim in between was empty. After steady pressure I got it moving again and reeled in what felt like a sack of spuds. I netted the fish and had a quick look at my prize – it was an absolute pig of a fish. It was one of the group of Simmos known affectionately by the members as The Mingers. It went 28lb and that was the my last bite that year, but confidence in the new bait was high and confidence in the rigs was, for the time being at least, restored.
That winter was one of the wettest on record and by Christmas the lake was flooded. All the swims were under water and the lake was closed. It didn’t reopen again until March but, even then,
it was still shut for the first week of the season because the banks were that muddy and slippery.
My brother now had a ticket for the coming season so there were going to be a few socials along the way, and I was buzzing to get started again. I blanked the first weekend, but my next night was to be a Tuesday and we were hoping we could have a social and get adjacent swims. We both arrived in the dark and the lake was packed – there were only the Shallows, End of the Road, Gabriel’s and School Gate left. There was a big wind on the lake from the south-west with gusts over 40mph, and it was already very mild for the time of year. Checking my phone I saw it was going to be above 11ºc all night. I opted for Gabriel’s as this would allow me to bang the rods out to the middle of the lake again.
I humped all my gear into the swim and noticed the banks were still saturated – it was really slippery under foot but I got the gear sorted and began to lead about. I found some nice hard spots at around 130 yards, so I gave them a little mix of broken and whole Pro Seed and opted to fish bottom baits on each rod. The wind was savage but it was going straight off my back and over my head. After a bit of grub, a few beers and a smoke with my brother, we said our goodnights and settled in for the dark hours. It must have been around half-past twelve when I got two single bleeps then an absolute one toner. I slid down to the rods and fell arse over tit in all the mud. It knocked the stuffing out of me and the next thing I remember I was stood with rod in hand coated in mud, playing what felt like another very good fish.
It didn’t do too much in the way of fighting, it was just a sheer weight, plodding slowly towards me. The fish hit the surface a little under halfway back, moving a lot of water. I started to panic a bit knowing that I had hooked another good one and hoping to even the score for last year’s loss which still grated. Around 20 yards out it woke up and began charging up and down the margins – in the process managing to take my other two rods out. Eventually it began to tire. As I readied it for netting and it rose up in the water, my legs went as I could see it was indeed big. I also could see the offending lines were attached in a jumbled mess so, without thinking I jumped in fully clothed and, after a sharp intake of breath, I finally got the fish in the net.
I could not believe my eyes when I saw those big familiar apple slice scales reflecting in the beam of my headtorch. “It’s Scaly, it’s Scaly, it’s actually fu*king Scaly!” I secured the fish in the margins in a retainer and rang a few people for help to weigh and photograph the fish.
During the next few minutes I was a nervous wreck and the whole thing is still a blur when I think back to it, even now. I don’t really remember taking the photographs but there were plenty of
helping hands – so thanks lads. My heart was beating out of my chest but the carp looked absolutely beautiful and lived up to it reputation in every way. It is definitely the most beautiful carp I’ve ever had the pleasure to catch and by far my greatest capture to date.
After we slipped it back and I was all alone I stripped off and got into the bag. I was bloody freezing and didn’t even recast the rods. What did I care, I had just caught the one I wanted more than any other.
The next morning I rang my old man to tell him the news and told him I wouldn’t be into work. I stayed at the lake for a few hours to revel in my moment before heading off home.
I stayed on in what is a wonderful syndicate for another few years, going on to catch a few more of the lakes big ’uns in turn – including Cluster twice (on one capture she was over 41lb), a few of the big, rarely-caught commons up to 35½lb, a shed load of 30s and even Scaly once again – almost exactly a year later. For the record the biggest weight I had it at was 46lb 8oz – not that it matters.
I loved my time on Westbourne and I made some friends for life there and the lake continues to go from strength to strength. I’m sure I will be back one day as Two Tone has now reached over 52lb, is still putting on weight and I feel like I have an old score to settle with her.
ABOVE The Sedges was good to me, although it never produced any of THE REALLY BIG fish
BELOW A 31lb common from the No.2
TOP One of my favourite carp. The fully-scaled Leney
ABOVE A lovely, scaly near 30
TOP This 26 pounder was the biggest of six fish from a weekday overnighter between work
ABOVE A fish called The Nearly Leather at 31lb 8oz
ABOVE Looking out from the car park swim. The scene of my battle with two tone
ABOVE An upper 20 that required the use of a boat to extract from the thick weed TOP LEFT A rare one. This 35 8oz common hasn’t been caught since I had it two years ago BOTTOM LEFT A water shot of a mid 30 common
BELOW My reason for being. SCALY!
BELOW My second capture of Scaly came from the end of the road swim
Cluster at 41lb 8oz from the car park ABOVE