Mus­ings

Mark makes a wel­come re­turn to Carp­world, in a new reg­u­lar quar­terly fea­ture. This month he brings read­ers up to speed on events over the past year or so

Carpworld - - COMING SOON -

L“Let’s go ski­ing!” they said. “It’ll be fun!” they said. The French Alps were beau­ti­ful but it turned out that try­ing to keep up with three teenagers who were in­tent on kick­ing up as much pow­der as pos­si­ble was a bad idea. Ev­ery cloud though: a few weeks on crutches while my knee lig­a­ment is re­paired means that I can’t pull the Ash­mead weed or pol­lard the wil­lows I planned to deal with this month, so I have had the time to sit down and do some writ­ing for the first time in nearly a year. That’s the ‘glass half full’ per­spec­tive but the ‘glass half empty’ view on life is that I prob­a­bly won’t get out with the rods this spring as much as I planned ei­ther, as my leg isn’t go­ing to be up to the walk­ing in­volved.

I have hardly fished all year be­cause life has been so busy. When we left the cor­po­rate world and took a leap of faith, open­ing Ash­mead up for an­glers to en­joy, Shona and I ex­pected rather naively to have lots of time for the things we love do­ing to­gether. We thought we would be out hill walk­ing with the dogs, work­ing on our small­hold­ing, writ­ing, tak­ing wildlife pho­to­graphs and (in my case) fish­ing. That free­dom al­ways seems to be just out of reach and the re­al­ity is that we are busier than we have ever been and time is a scarce and valu­able com­mod­ity.

Please don’t get me wrong; we are in­cred­i­bly lucky to make our liv­ing from car­ing for the Ash­mead wet­land and we get a huge amount of plea­sure from shar­ing the fish­ery with like-minded an­glers who value the rich, nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and chal­leng­ing carp fish­ing that Ash­mead of­fers. Fish­ery man­age­ment and con­ser­va­tion have al­ways been a labour of love, it’s just that we thought that life might be a lit­tle less hec­tic.

Although I haven’t fished of­ten in the past year, I have prob­a­bly val­ued and en­joyed each trip to the wa­ter­side with a rod more as a re­sult. Sit­ting here now with the wood-burner fired up to counter the cold of a dreary day, it’s lovely to look back on the pho­to­graphs of my few carp fish­ing trips.

I al­ways like to see out the old coarse fish­ing sea­son on 15th March with a visit to the lake. Last year I set up in the Hut Bay where I had seen some fish and then went for a walk at last light to check the ot­ter fence. In No Carp Cor­ner, at the other end of the wet­land, I found a group of feed­ing carp that in­cluded a mir­ror I’m pretty sure was the Big Lin­ear, un­caught for nearly six years. There and then I de­cided to move. It’s a long old slog round to the Cor­ner at the best of times but mov­ing in the dark through the thick wet clay, I thought I must have been mad. Just as I fi­nally reached the swim, a shoot­ing star flashed across the sky – al­ways a good omen!

All three baits landed sweetly and with hardly any dis­tur­bance and I sat back full of con­fi­dence. It’s al­ways a re­lief when the fish carry on feed­ing and mov­ing af­ter I’ve placed a rig, as it shows I haven’t spooked them. So of­ten the ac­tiv­ity dies and the fish drift away, alerted to my pres­ence by a clumsy foot­fall or the dis­tur­bance of the rig ar­riv­ing in the swim.

The night turned wild with a bank of cloud build­ing from the north herald­ing the ar­rival of strong winds and driv­ing rain. The take, when it came, was dra­matic and I knew straight away that it was a big fish – just that slow pon­der­ous shak­ing of the head. The fish ploughed into heavy float­ing weed close in but I ran round the cor­ner to change the an­gle of at­tack and the en­tire weed raft started to come to­wards me. Even­tu­ally the fish kicked free and set off on a long, surg­ing run along the chan­nel. I thought it was go­ing to keep go­ing un­der Wil­son’s Bridge and I clamped down hard, rolling the fish over in the dark­ness. Af­ter that drama she came in eas­ily and I soon had the golden scales of a huge com­mon re­flect­ing the torch­light as she lay in the net – 40lb 4oz... I couldn’t have been hap­pier.

The tra­di­tional ‘open­ing night’ of June 15th still holds a magic that I love and I make an an­nual pil­grim­age to a won­der­ful carp pool ev­ery year, to wel­come in the new sea­son. I’ve fished ‘open­ing night’ here with the same small group of Golden Scale Club friends for the past 35 years. The pool is steeped in his­tory and it lies in a deep val­ley that holds some of the finest ma­ture oak wood­land in the coun­try. It can be a dark and for­bid­ding place to fish and there are in­nu­mer­able ghost sto­ries that add to the mys­tery and magic of the place. Chris Yates once de­scribed the pool as be­ing “like an evil eye” yet I’ve al­ways found it wel­com­ing, pro­vided I re­spect its moods and don’t tread too heav­ily on its banks.

The lake is the most compelling wa­ter I’ve ever fished. There was a time, about 20 years ago, when I be­lieved the pool held fish of near record size and fish­ing there had an in­ten­sity I have never ex­pe­ri­enced on any other wa­ter. The large fish are long gone these days, due to old age and the re­cent rav­ages of ot­ters – yet, de­spite this de­cline, there is still nowhere else I would rather be stalk­ing a

carp. My fish­ing is very much more re­laxed these days as well, not just be­cause the large carp I used to see are no longer found but be­cause of an easy fa­mil­iar­ity with the pool, built up over all those years. I sup­pose it’s like the fierce flame of a new love af­fair mel­low­ing into a less in­tense but deeper and more mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ship as time passes.

This year I spent four won­der­ful days at the wa­ter, drink­ing tea, re­lax­ing in good com­pany, walk­ing in the wild wood and, when the urge took me, fish­ing. My favourite form of an­gling is to im­merse my­self in my sur­round­ings to the ex­tent that I can tune in to the carp and their nat­u­ral rhythms. When I’m at a lake for a few days, I can de­velop an al­most sixth sense that guides me to the fish. Through care­ful ob­ser­va­tion and prepa­ra­tion, I find I can de­ter­mine where and when the fish are most likely to feed and to tar­get my fish­ing to those ar­eas of the lake and those times. More than that though, I will be drink­ing tea, or tak­ing a walk, or in the mid­dle of tak­ing a pho­to­graph, when I will sud­denly get an ir­re­sistible urge to grab a rod and go stalk­ing in a par­tic­u­lar part of the wa­ter, ab­surdly con­fi­dent that I will catch, or at least get a chance at a carp.

I only caught one fish last ‘open­ing’ but it was a good one. Most of the carp were track­ing the move­ment of the sun as it moved around the pool, feed­ing on the west bank through the morn­ing and mov­ing steadily clock­wise around the mar­gins un­til they ar­rived in the south-east cor­ner each even­ing. Of course, not all of the carp fol­lowed this pat­tern but I knew that by mid­day, a group of fish would have drifted along the mar­gin into a snaggy bay at the north-east cor­ner of the pool.

I took a rod and crept around to the cor­ner at about ten in the morn­ing, so that I could climb an oak that over­hung the lake and wait, perched on a bough just above the wa­ter, for the fish to ar­rive. A light scat­ter­ing of float­ing bait was drift­ing in the scum-line when the first shad­ows ap­peared be­neath me and my hook­bait was poised, just an inch above the calm sur­face, ready to be low­ered at the crit­i­cal mo­ment when the carp I wanted was in the vicin­ity.

The carp soon found the free bait and started to feed con­fi­dently, but with care. Each morsel was in­spected, nudged, swirled at and mouthed be­fore it was taken with a slow, gur­gling suck. Af­ter an hour I had per­haps as many as 20 carp feed­ing be­neath my branch, rang­ing in size from a few pounds up to about twenty and, by now, they were com­pet­ing for the food. There was one carp that was far larger than its com­pan­ions; I couldn’t see it clearly be­cause it stayed deeper in the wa­ter but the dark shape dwarfed the wildies and small com­mons that made up the rest of the shoal. It took an­other half hour for this fish to take a bait and it was wary and cir­cum­spect. Even when it started to feed more con­sis­tently, it only took baits that had drifted right into the heart of a tan­gle of oak branches and lau­rel over­hang­ing the mar­gins.

Mov­ing as slowly as a heron, I lifted the rod and flicked the bait over a twig, so that it dan­gled above the wa­ter, right on the edge of the thicket of branches. As the dark shadow rose from the depths, I low­ered the bait into the sur­face film and it was en­gulfed al­most im­me­di­ately by a pair of dark lips. I stuck and the world ex­ploded in a thrash­ing spray of wa­ter and swamp snot. With the butt of my Sharpes salmon spin­ning rod wedged into my stom­ach and my old 300 burst­ing at the seams, I held on as the carp tried again and again to dive into the snags. Ev­ery­thing held and the carp rolled be­neath me be­fore it gave up the ghost and hung ver­ti­cally at the sur­face, al­low­ing me to shimmy down from the tree and scoop it up in my net.

She was a long and old-look­ing mir­ror, with grace­ful lines and a light scat­ter­ing of golden scales on a skin of cast bronze. I slipped her back into the shal­lows af­ter a few pho­to­graphs and smiled as she thrust back into deeper wa­ter. I didn’t feel the need to cast again.

Even when it started to feed more con­sis­tently, it only took baits that had drifted right into the heart of a tan­gle of oak branches and lau­rel over­hang­ing the mar­gins

In July, I vis­ited Red­mire for three days with some good friends. I’ve agreed to write in Carp­world about the con­ser­va­tion project pro­posed to re­store Red­mire from the ef­fects of in­ten­sive farm­ing in the catch­ment above the pool. I’m de­lighted to say that the project is now funded fully by the own­ers of the pool and I’ve been asked to man­age the ex­ten­sive works that are needed to bring the pool and its his­toric stock back into good heart this year.

This visit re­ally drove home the need for the work to be done. The pool is silted badly with coarse, sandy sed­i­ment from the farm­land run-off and there was al­most no weed be­cause a heavy bloom of blan­ket weed in­duced by high nu­tri­ent lev­els in the spring had shaded out the rooted veg­e­ta­tion. We saw carp ev­ery­where and sev­eral of the smaller fish showed char­ac­ter­is­tic signs of par­tial ghost carp lin­eage. All in all it would have been de­press­ing if it wasn’t for two things: first the knowl­edge that my plans have been agreed to sort out the prob­lems and, se­condly, the fact that even in its cur­rent state of de­cline, the at­mos­phere of Red­mire still holds a unique magic.

I let my com­pan­ions de­cide where they wanted to fish and then spent a while creep­ing around the pool, look­ing for some­where away from the pop­u­lar swims that looked as if it had been ne­glected. The mar­gin off the reeds in front of the Fence held prom­ise. The swim was over­grown with bram­bles and I had to fight my way down to the land­ing stage over­look­ing the wa­ter. I found I could just squeeze two rods into the swim if I slept back from the lake, us­ing the trees for shel­ter rather than a brolly.

Dar­ren set up near the fur­thest wil­low pol­lard in Bowskill’s, over-look­ing the shal­lows to my right, where he had found some fish cruis­ing. I hadn’t even sorted out my first rod when he shouted and by the time I reached his pitch, he had al­ready landed his first Red­mire carp – a lovely deep lin­ear mir­ror. That set the tone for the visit re­ally and I vis­ited Dar­ren’s swim reg­u­larly with a cam­era to pho­to­graph fish he had landed. I man­aged to catch a few as well, land­ing four carp from seven runs. Dar­ren’s fish all came in the af­ter­noon whereas mine all came af­ter dark or at first light. I have a feel­ing we were fish­ing for the same group of fish and that they were mov­ing along our mar­gin to­wards the shal­lows when the sun got up, be­fore drop­ping back into the deeper wa­ter in front of me for the night.

I lost the big­gest carp I hooked and I can still pic­ture the long, slow bowwave that forged across the sur­face to­wards Kef­ford’s, just af­ter the hook pulled on the fi­nal morn­ing

My best two fish were a craggy old mir­ror of about 18lb and a lovely com­mon of just over 21lb. I lost the big­gest carp I hooked and I can still pic­ture the long, slow bow-wave that forged across the sur­face to­wards Kef­ford’s, just af­ter the hook pulled on the fi­nal morn­ing.

I loved ev­ery minute of the trip and it was great to get away for a few days with close friends. It’s good to know that, pro­vided the project runs smoothly, Red­mire will once again look as it did in Walker’s day. The vi­sion for the project work is to re­store Red­mire so that if Walker, BB or one of the other mem­bers of The Carp Catch­ers Club strolled onto the dam, they would recog­nise the pool as they fished it and find the same, rich and pro­duc­tive en­vi­ron­ment they ex­pe­ri­enced in the pool’s hey­day. I can’t wait to see that vi­sion be­come re­al­ity.

I spent the re­main­der of the sum­mer on the bank with my youngest son Alis­tair, who has fallen in love with an­gling. We started out spend­ing the odd even­ing stalk­ing carp on a lo­cal wa­ter near home and our trips cul­mi­nated in a three night stay in the hol­i­days. Ali was de­ter­mined to fish en­tirely on his own terms and we set­tled into swims at op­po­site ends of the three-acre pool. Of course, like any good dad, I gave Alis­tair first choice of swim but I was de­lighted when he chose to fish the shal­lows be­cause I re­ally fan­cied a pitch at the deeper end, near the dam.

Need­less to say Alis­tair soon proved him­self the bet­ter judge and he landed six fish dur­ing our stay, in­clud­ing a fab­u­lous lin­ear mir­ror of over 33lb. We had fished at night to­gether be­fore but this was the first time Ali hadn’t fished along­side me and he did ev­ery­thing him­self, from se­lect­ing

the bait to ty­ing his rigs, cast­ing and play­ing the fish. The first I knew of each cap­ture was a rude awak­en­ing from a loud shout as he slipped the net un­der the carp. I was im­mensely proud and even the prospect of weeks of teenage boast­ing didn’t de­tract from the plea­sure of shar­ing the lake with him. As it turned out, the boast­ing never ma­te­ri­alised be­cause, whilst Alis­tair’s lin­ear was by far the best look­ing carp of the ses­sion, I landed four fish my­self in­clud­ing two mir­rors of 32lb and 34lb – so the brag­ging rights were shared.

Septem­ber brought a lovely sur­prise. Six close friends of mine were booked to fish Ash­mead and Shona had saved the last place for me, so that I could join them and fish the wet­land my­self. I never fish Ash­mead in the sum­mer now that we book the wet­land out to an­glers, and it was a joy to lose my­self amongst the chan­nels and is­lands for a few days when the sun was up and the carp were ac­tive.

I elected to fish the outer chan­nels, partly to give the other an­glers plenty of choice and free­dom in the main swims but also be­cause the chan­nels are of­ten ne­glected and some­where where the carp can move and feed with con­fi­dence. The fish­ing is de­mand­ing though be­cause you need to be so quiet, as you are al­ways right on top of any fish. You also have to try and stay a step ahead of the carp and it’s very much a case of catch­ing one fish and then mov­ing on to try and get ahead of them, sec­ond-guessing where they will move next. It’s like a game of chess and the sort of fish­ing I love.

I found a group of fish in a nar­row and over­grown chan­nel and at dawn on the first morn­ing I caught a lovely lin­ear from a spot un­der the huge black po­plar on the north bank that couldn’t be reached from any of the pop­u­lar swims. It was just over 22lb and a carp I’ve ad­mired in pho­to­graphs and in the wa­ter but had never landed be­fore, so I was thrilled. Full of hope, I spent the day work­ing out where the re­main­der of the shoal had moved and I fol­lowed them, set­tling in as qui­etly as I could in an­other nar­row chan­nel, about 300 yards away from the first night’s swim. The fol­low­ing morn­ing it was ev­i­dent that, as stealthy as I had been, the carp had no­ticed me and moved on again without so much as a line bite to mark their de­par­ture.

This set the pat­tern for the next two nights. Now that the carp knew there was an an­gler on their trail, they were far too cute to make a sec­ond mis­take and I spent a frus­trat­ing but very en­joy­able time chas­ing ghosts. I should have given up sooner but one of the carp was a com­mon called the Ra­zor­back, which I had caught a few years pre­vi­ously at over 39lb and I thought it now looked like a mid-forty.

On the last night though I ac­cepted de­feat and set off in search of an­other pod of carp to tar­get. I found what I was look­ing for right next to the car park, where a shoal of about ten carp were feed­ing strongly and mov­ing be­tween the Car Park bay and Tom’s Pond. I knew a spot in Tom’s where a glow­ing, mar­ginal patch of golden clay marked an ob­vi­ous feed­ing area, so I crept around there and low­ered a sin­gle rod into the deep mar­gin. I didn’t want to set up right over the spot, where I would be sil­hou­et­ted beau­ti­fully against the sky­line, so I put the line into a clip on the bank and ran the rod over to the ad­ja­cent mar­gin. I cast a sec­ond rod into some thick silt in the open wa­ter of the bay but the mar­gin spot was the one in which I had con­fi­dence.

The take came an hour be­fore dawn in heavy rain. By the time I had roused my­self, the fish had al­ready built up a head of steam and I couldn’t pre­vent it from run­ning strongly through two or three weedbeds be­fore it fi­nally slowed to an im­mov­able sulk, deep in the cen­tre of the bay. I got the boat and as soon as I got over the carp, it kicked free and set off with me in tow, spin­ning like a top in the light boat and in no con­trol what­so­ever. It

I lost the big­gest carp I hooked and I can still pic­ture the long, slow bow-wave that forged across the sur­face to­wards Kef­ford’s, just af­ter the hook pulled on the fi­nal morn­ing

took nearly fif­teen min­utes to ma­noeu­vre my­self and the carp to a spot where I could beach the boat and play the carp out prop­erly from the bank.

By now I had seen a deep, heav­ily-scaled mir­ror two or three times in the torch­light and I was ec­static when I man­aged to slip the net un­der it and heave it up onto dry land. It was a fan­tas­tic look­ing carp that I had caught in the past and I have watched it grow, from a small dou­ble in 2009 into the 31lb 10oz beauty I held up for the cam­era in the early sun­shine. The carp was sim­ply beau­ti­ful and it epit­o­mised ev­ery­thing that makes Ash­mead so spe­cial. Here was a young carp, spawned nat­u­rally in the wet­land, that had grown to re­flect the rich and nat­u­ral pro­duc­tiv­ity of its en­vi­ron­ment. For me, carp fish­ing just doesn’t get any bet­ter.

So there we are! A round-up of a won­der­ful year, in which I en­joyed some fan­tas­tic fish­ing that was prob­a­bly made sweeter by the lim­ited time I had to fish. I’ve re­ally en­joyed this re­flec­tion, and I hope to find time to con­trib­ute more reg­u­larly to Carp­world again, now that run­ning Ash­mead has set­tled into a more gen­tle rhythm of work. Of course, writ­ing this piece has left me with an ir­re­press­ible urge to get the rods out. The spring carp and trout fish­ing are call­ing but it’s go­ing to be weeks be­fore I’m mo­bile enough to fol­low their in­vi­ta­tion. Ski­ing is best avoided if you ask me!

RIGHT Ash­mead has set­tled into a gen­tle rhythm

ABOVE ‘Just go­ing about my busi­ness, both­er­ing no one’

BE­LOW I couldn’t have been hap­pier

Golden scales on a skin of cast bronze ABOVE

TOP Red­mire is suf­fer­ing from the ef­fects of in­ten­sive farm­ing

RIGHT I could just squeeze two rods into the swim

ABOVE TOP A craggy old mir­ror

ABOVE BOT­TOM A lovely Red­mire com­mon

BE­LOW It was a joy to lose my­self amongst the chan­nels and is­lands

ABOVE

A fab­u­lous lin­ear of 33lb for Alis­tair, but brag­ging rights were shared

ABOVE I was thrilled

RIGHT I have watched it grow from a small dou­ble

BE­LOW A deep, heav­ily scaled mir­ror

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