A Man for All Seasons
‘Flaming June’ they call it, let’s hope it is this year as well, as we all love a bit of sun on our backs, particularly if you are a carp...
I used to hate the closed season with almost as much passion as I loved the 16th of June, as the close was generally a time of DIY, decorating, household chores that you had no realistic excuse to avoid...
‘Flaming June’ they call it, let’s hope it is this year as well, as we all love a bit of sun on our backs, particularly if you are a carp...
In years gone by this was the month we had all been waiting for because, if you had fished between 1878 and 2000, then the glorious 16th of June heralded the start of a new season, the most celebrated day in our sport. Of course, some waters (including all rivers) still hold to these old laws, which were originally put in place to protect the spawning activities of the fish. As we all know from experience, however, the carp usually chose sometime in the first two weeks of the open season to actually spawn which was a bitter and ironic twist for anglers after a three month wait to get back on the bank again.
Nowadays, there are all sorts of different seasons, dependant on nothing more than each fishery owner or club’s personal ideas of when, if at all, the lakes will most benefit from a little respite from angling pressure. I used to hate the closed season with almost as much passion as I loved the 16th of June, as the close was generally a time of DIY, decorating, household chores that you had no realistic excuse to avoid, and the frustrations that followed every trip to the lake to gaze at the fish, who obviously flaunted themselves with merry abandon. It was also a time of planning, plotting, pre-baiting, cleaning tackle and re-spooling, never had we been so well prepared as we were the day before ‘the off’.
I recall that myself and my old mate Keith Jenkins used to spend an inordinate amount of time trawling around bird food suppliers and country stores, looking for that one amazing ingredient to turn our new ‘wonder bait’ into something that the fish simply could not resist, and every experiment was magical but, as often as not, disastrous. We had dried insect meal, honeysoaked yellow bird food, the amazing green lipped mussel powder, not to mention the fortunes we spent in the health food shops on protein powders and essential oils. I even had a copy of George Sharman’s Carp and the Carp Angler (I still have it on the shelf next to me now) but we didn’t really understand the science behind amino acids and lipids but that didn’t stop us from trying as anything was possible in the vast expanse of our imaginations.
... we didn’t really understand the science behind amino acids and lipids but that didn’t stop us from trying as anything was possible in the vast expanse of our imaginations
This, of course, was way before readymade boilies hit the scene and, in some ways, the glory days of carp fishing that came long before we thought we knew everything.
I have a host of memories that revolve around the final 24 hours of the closed season, when all the plans were finally due to come to fruition. The final long night, spent bivvied up in grassy car parks, or camped at the end of a muddy track to the lake with like-minded souls – all of us full of huge expectations, cunning plans and, usually, copious amounts of beer.
The conversations that went on deep into the night were hilarious and everyone got bolder as the night went on, letting slip a few more details of their own little edges or secret baits that would tear the lake apart this year.
The reality, however, was usually that the fish were so stuffed due to everyone’s ‘secret’ baiting campaigns and then so petrified by the sudden bombardment of marker floats and rigs that only the very wise, who had set up with access to the middle reaches of the lake, stood any chance at all on those first few days of the season. But we all loved it anyway, we had dreamt and prayed for that one day and we were all going to make sure we made the most of it, even if the fish were all out in the middle, wearing tin hats!
Horton was a classic example of this and the pre-season celebrations were always epic, as could be the fishing if you hit it right. By my second year I had sussed it out and managed to bag a previously un-fancied swim for the start, but one that gave me a clear shot at the middle which was nowhere near the areas the fish were showing themselves on the day of the draw. True to form, come the opening onslaught, they all disappeared out in the middle of the lake and I really bagged up on the second morning, taking four of those big old warriors in very quick succession.
Looking back now I can remember all of those midnight casts of various lakes with such affection and, occasionally, there were the ‘understanding’ clubs that let you make the first cast just before dark, at about ten in the evening, letting you actually see where you were fishing when the clock struck the magical, witching hour. Those stolen two hours of extra-time seemed like a bite of the forbidden fruit, a bit like the first time, as a kid, you chomp into that extra chocolate bar that just happened to drop into your pocket as you stood in the sweet shop... or was that just me?
Nowadays we fish all year around, or at least I do, but although I loved the June start I certainly wouldn’t swap what we have now, for what we had to endure back then, during the longest three months imaginable. As I said back in April, however, the new season seems to now start on the day of the fool, which is probably far more appropriate if you think about it and we are mostly well under way with our angling by now. Some lakes, particularly the smaller and heavilyfished ones, can be getting a bit ‘tired’ by June and the fish are a lot wiser in their approach to food than they were back at the beginning of April.
Not so very long ago, I did have a traditional start during my time at Black Swan lake down at Dinton Pastures and it was a hark back to those heady days of my youth. It was also a reminder of just how much beer and barbeque got consumed during the penultimate day as all there was to do was wait and try not to spontaneously combust with excitement.
It started, as any good story should, in the local pub at lunchtime where we sunned ourselves in the garden bar and made rash promises to ‘take it easy’ as it would be a long day. Well, I barely need to fill in the blanks really, of which there are actually quite a few, but let’s just say we almost missed the 10pm casting-out time. And very nearly missed the lake when we did!
The winds played a huge part on that opening week, as they often do when a big warm summer wind sets in, and although I did catch a few fish the bulk of the action was in my mate Mr F’s swim facing down the white caps.
Those big southerly or westerly winds always bring fish to the banks but, for my money, I do not think you can beat a summer easterly. I know that we all have that aversion to east and north winds but that is born out the memories of coldwater fishing, when anything blowing from those directions is like the kiss of death. Easterlies are so rare in the warm airflows of summer that the fish almost always respond kindly to them and I have caught stacks of carp by following a new ‘Beast from the East’ during the summer.
Brogborough was a classic example of this and I battered the fish one memorable session by facing straight into water so turbulent that there was 20 yards of brown muddy wash-back spreading out from under the rods – the fish were showing like crazy and ended up right in the marginal reeds and the bites came thick and fast. Wraysbury one, back in the day, was the same and they loved an easterly in there.
Personally, I love the month of June and some of the bigger pits I have fished really seem to
switch on during this period of early summer; in fact when I think back, so have some of the harder and not so huge ones as well. It is the month of the weed, the time of year when the green shoots of Canadian pondweed, milfoil and all their distant cousins really take a hold and, often, reach the surface to embrace the warmth of the summer sunlight.
St Ives Shallow Lagoon was not a big lake and it was well fished throughout April and May – busy in fact would be a better description, with some of the better swims being fished on a rota
It started, as any good story should, in the local pub at lunchtime where we sunned ourselves in the garden bar and made rash promises to ‘take it easy’ as it would be a long day
system where a water bottle would normally be waiting patiently for the resident angler to pack up and then be replaced. Weed is a funny old thing, though, some people (like me) love the stuff and the changing effect it has on the lake and the fish, whereas others (quite a few it would seem) cannot tolerate fishing anywhere near it once it takes a real hold and soon drift away to pastures new.
This was definitely the cast on the Shallow Lagoon and June would see the bank almost empty during the week with but a handful of ‘keenies’ at the weekends. The first June I fished there I did exceptionally well but, regrettably, I kept up a constant stream of my results through social media and video blogs (which is actually part of my job so quite unavoidable) but this perpetuated the angler intensity and made my own angling harder than it could have been with a little secrecy involved. The following year I came to an understanding with the companies that sponsor me and throughout June I fell off the radar a bit, keeping my results quiet and therefore the lake as well, particularly the area I had chosen to target. I’m not saying that others only fished because I was publishing my results but a lot of the anglers who had drifted off tended to stay that way if they thought the lake was choked with weed, and not producing carp as a result of this – and a little ‘white lie’ here and there helped to keep the banks nice and quiet.
Not only would the lack of other anglers ensure I could get into the right swim every week but, more importantly, it gave the opportunity to try an approach that has worked for me in the past on rich, weedy, lakes during the summer months. Often the amount of natural food at this time of year is ridiculous and the fish love to forage in the weed, making the actual fishing a bit frustrating and presentation very tricky indeed. Now, I know a lot of anglers are quite happy chucking ‘chods’
What happened was really quite amazing and by only the second week all the bubbling was condensed onto my baited areas, rather than just randomly occurring all over the lake
about and picking up the odd fish off the top of the weed, but that is not how I angle at all and I don’t think it actually leads to anything other than just the ‘odd fish’.
If you arise early enough on a nice, calm summer’s morning you will generally see the same thing on most weedy lakes, and that is countless patches of bubbling as the fish move about and harvest from the weed. Casting singles into these patches can sometimes give you a bite or two but, just as often, the bubbling just moves off into a different spot leaving you thrashing the water to a foam trying to keep up with them. My plan, at St Ives, was to combat the natural food by over-powering its appeal with huge beds of mixed particles and chopped boilies, creating areas that had a higher yield for the fish than the many pockets of snails and mussels, and various other creepy crawlies. It had worked in the past, both with particles or boilies but always with a lot of bait and generally when there was little competition from other anglers adopting a similar approach in different areas of the lake.
Over a four to five week period, I baited with two large buckets a day on two main spots – the third rod being a bit more mobile. I would arrive on a Sunday afternoon and spod out about 30 kilos of ‘wet weight’ particles and repeat this on Monday and Tuesday afternoons, finally leaving the same amount out there when I left on a Wednesday. What happened was really quite amazing and by only the second week all the bubbling was condensed onto my baited areas, rather than just randomly occurring all over the lake. The
spots were also changing dramatically and although the weed kept on growing all around, my spots were being decimated and the lead would crack down on the bottom as if it was hitting concrete.
The bites usually started just after first light and went on until the sun grew too hot by about 11am but, during these periods, my lines never stopped twitching and the bobbins bouncing, as the carp visited my net at a rate I hadn’t ever witnessed before on this tricky little water.
The main target fish in the lake was a big old 50lbplus mirror known as Colin and, by the time it slid over the cord on my final session, I had already bagged a large proportion of the lake’s biggest residents – sometimes as many as three of them in a single morning. I had a wealth of big 30s, scaly 20s and, finally the big fella himself and all had been kept on the ‘quiet’ until the job was done.
I had been videoing them all, and the entirety of each session, and repaid the understanding of those I work for by releasing a four-part Youtube tape called the Secret Diaries.
It was all a lot of fun and a bit of a hark back to the old days when everything was a closely-guarded secret but, more than anything, it was a successful mission and one of those rare times when you feel that you actually changed the behaviour of the fish and benefited from it. I love it when a plan comes together!
LEFT George Sharman’s innovative book
TOP LEFT The rivers still hold on to the old rules
TOP It wouldn’t be summer without the BBQ burning Opening day on Horton, a proper season’s start BOTTOM
BELOW Mr F bashing them up in the wind
ABOVE Where all good stories start
RIGHT A fish showing in a summer easterly
TOP Brogborough success on the east winds LEFT A perfect summer easterly
ABOVE I love summer in England, it’s so idyllic
BELOW Mid-june and the most amazing sunsets
TOP LEFT One of many from the Secret Diary period TOP RIGHT Colin the carp after a hectic month on the big beds of bait MIDDLE June 16th again, Burghfield this time LEFT Opening night at Black Swan