A Man for All Seasons
Loosely tying in with our anniversary theme, Dave explains how this month is without doubt his most favourite time of the season, and has been for the best part of 30 years!
Loosely tying in with our anniversary theme, Dave explains how this month is, without doubt, his most favourite time of the season, and has been for the best part of 30 years!
Sunday 23rd of September is the autumnal equinox, which literally means equal day and night. I am not overly sure why this affects the carp the way it does but, for someone who puts very little faith in all the lunar and celestial stuff, I do still believe that it has a huge impact on feeding fish. In fact, to be totally honest, I think that the entire month of September is a magical time and by far my favourite month of the year.
If I had to pick three months that figured at the top of a catching chart, then they would be May, September and October – with February coming a close fourth.
I have so many memories wrapped up in this time of the year, dating back a long, long way indeed. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, when I used to fish with my mate, Keith Jenkins, all the time, we had to pull out all of the stops to get as much bank time as possible. For some reason all our better results used to come in the middle of this month but, unfortunately, the twelfth was my girlfriend’s birthday and the fourteenth was Keith’s daughter’s birthday, so we needed some serious juggling, as missing just one session would be a crime against carp-angling.
This was back in the days of Harefield and Pit Four, and continued onto Horton where I eventually landed my obsession, Shoulders, at a new PB of 44lb. Amazingly I had only just landed my previous best the day beforehand, The Parrot, at 43lb – further confirmation for me that September was not to be missed under any circumstances.
I wouldn’t even like to guess how many personal bests I have beaten in September, or how many major target fish have ended up in the bottom of my net. I love this month so much, nothing stands in my way to stop me getting on the bank as often as possible. There are often other circumstances in September that further enhance the feeding mood of the fish and one of these is the likelihood of the first big low pressure systems of the year – the ones that sweep in from the south and rip off the warm blanket of summer, exposing the cool, fresh mornings and dew-filled evenings of autumn. Days when the trees bend double and the leaves finally give up their tenuous hold and go scuttling across the surface; days like these are custom-made for carp fishing and the fish usually respond by leaping and rolling on the surface, sending plumes of bubbles back up as they plough into the bottom to feed.
I remember one specific year that was a lot like this one really – a long hot summer, too much algae and weed, and the fish trapped in a cycle of lethargy that no bait could break. I had been fishing on the St. Ives complex, mainly on the big Meadows and Fjords section and, like everyone, I had been struggling even to find fish in the thick green and stinking waters of summer. For some reason that I can’t actually remember now, I had suddenly decided to swap lakes and have a few trips over the road at The Lagoon, another of the lakes on my ticket.
I started off well with the second biggest fish in the lake at the end of August, but it was a few weeks later when everything really came together. I had been carefully watching the weather and tracking a huge south-westerly wind system that was working its way towards us and gathering momentum as it did so. The weatherman gave me an estimated time of arrival and I was halfway along the M25 when the first signs of it turned up, whipping the embankment bushes and trees, and my excitement grew and grew, until I eventually turned off into Meadow Lane and bumped down the track to the lake.
By this stage it was really taking a hold and, somehow, I managed to get installed into the small bay in the extreme north east-corner, exactly where the waves were starting to hit. Within no time at all I had seen a huge fish roll on the surface, almost definitely the Fat Lady, the biggest of them all. Despite not catching on that first night and, in spite of the wind actually changing back the next day, I stayed put, unable to shake off the mental image of that huge flank of carp flesh that had turned over right where my left-hand rod was now placed.
It’s a good job I did stay because, shortly after first light, there was another huge boil in the margins and a quickly recast rig did not stay in place for too long, before being picked up by the most bizarrely fighting carp I have ever hooked. It alternated between popping up like a cork and then thudding back down into the bottom, over and over again before finally staying in the ‘cork’ position long enough for me to scoop her up. The Fat Lady was mine and weighed a staggering 52lb – September had struck once more.
Another feature of September, for those lunar lovers, is the harvest moon, which is the full moon closest to the equinox and usually travels on a low trajectory, making it appear red through the effects of air pollution in the lower atmosphere. Farmers used to rely on the extra light at harvest time to work later, hence the name harvest moon. This can be at various times in comparison to the equinox, which varies only a day or two but, however, this year the full harvest moon is the day after the equinox so, in all likelihood, it could be a very special time indeed.
What makes it even more exciting for me is that the equinox is a Sunday and the full moon is Monday night which are the days I fish anyway,
so I won’t have to pull any strings at all, apart from the ones on my rods, hopefully.
Something else that is very prevalent in September is the weed, not so much the growth but more the location that it ends up in and the canopies it often forms. I think I am right in saying, or at least I have always believed, that Canadian pondweed can just sort of ‘let go’ of the bottom and drift off, presumably to find better ground as it all gets choked up and loses the light. Whether this is true or not I don’t know but, regardless, there will be huge areas where the weed drifts into and gets all matted up, forming huge canopies on the surface and this will reduce the light below, often actually creating a nice clean area beneath. I found this a lot on the Shallow Lagoon at St. Ives, and stripping off the top layer with a rake exposed some nice areas below that I caught a few fish from.
Burghfield was a prime example of this during September and you could hardly fish without both a swim rake and a boat as the movement of weed rafts was immense, particularly when the speedboats were out. There was one area off the end of a peninsula called Barnett’s Point, where the lake narrowed right down, and the speedboats had created a clean strip on the bottom by uprooting the weakening stems of weed. Huge sheets of the stuff had then been washed into the sides of the channel and, from the surface, it appeared unfishable and had been left alone by anglers because of this.
About mid-september time, I invested a few hours with just a lead on a braided line and searched in, and under, these rafts and found that the bottom had been stripped clean. The lake hadn’t done a bite for ages and the fish had been on the missing list – I was pretty confident I had just found where they were, and I baited it up quite heavily, right in the edge and just under the lip of the weed. The following week I was crazy keen to get back down and test out my theory. Although I had already caught the big common at this stage, there were still fish I dearly wanted to catch before my ticket ran out, particularly a big, scattered linear that I had seen just one small photo of on the angling club’s website.
I arrived on the 15th of September, bang on my favourite time of the year and with a prebaited and un-fished swim I was obviously full of confidence. I had to wait for the speedboat to finish for the day and then I just flicked out the baits all around the peninsula and settled in for a few beers to await events. Somehow, I managed to fall asleep just after dark but was rudely awakened at midnight by the first bite, right from under my feet really. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events of that night, nor the following two nights, but let me just say the plan worked far better than I had ever dared to dream. Each night was the same, a midnight start and then regular bites until first light, which is a classic pattern for early autumn by the way.
I can’t remember the exact sequence of events of that night, nor the following two nights, but let me just say the plan worked far better than I had ever dared to dream
The first night was amazing, I think I had five fish but, by light, I still had one rod that hadn’t produced a bite and, with that many fish about, I searched all day for a new spot for that last rod. The second night brought less bites, three I think, but one of these was very special indeed and it fell to the new spot on the far margin and involved a mental boat battle, and a very resilient ropetethered buoy. It did, however, end in victory and a net-full of the Scattered Linear and at 44lb, a major result that kept me high on adrenaline all through the following day. Although I was originally planning to go home that day I decided to stay for a third night and added another three fish to the total. September hauling at its very best and I ended up hooking and landing 11 carp over the whole trip – one 40, six 30s and four 20s.
Quite often, at this time of year, the fish will move to a different location from those they have been using all summer. On smaller lakes it can simply be the middle, or the deeper, siltier areas but on bigger lakes it can be an entirely different bay or section of the lake all together. Black Swan, at Dinton, was a prime example of this and an area we had dubbed South Park became a major part of the equation. The bay had fish visiting it all year around but, in the early autumn, it really livened up as more and more fish would group up in its deep, weedy waters and plunder the natural harvest on offer out there.
There was a swim known as Big No Dogs that gave you the perfect angle to cover this area and I took full advantage on my first year there, landing a string of fish from the rapidly expanding holes in the subsurface foliage. A lot of the captures required the use of the boat to land them because of the huge balls of tangled Canadian pondweed and milfoil that littered the bay; eventually it became too bad to actually fish in but, for a time, everything was spot on for some serious hauling.
They loved a bit of bait in Black Swan but, during the autumn, they really couldn’t get enough of it. Generally speaking, this is usually the case on most lakes and a decent boilie approach is always key to success and, unlike the summer months, the more you use the more you catch. I think a lot of this is a combination of outdoing the vast supplies of natural food that are looking for a new home as the weed dies back, and the elevated feeding levels of the carp due to the cooler weather and the abundance of grub; they are just all in the right mood for a feed up.
One of the most enjoyable Septembers I have had in recent years was on Mary’s Lake in Northampton. I had been concentrating my efforts on a small point swim, that gave access to two different bays and the main body of open water, and I had it rocking by the middle of the month. The fish were using the top bay a lot, and you could watch their progress by the plumes of fizz coming up every morning. A lot of my captures were on a single rod fishing the margins off the
end of the point as they made their way in and out of the bay.
Towards the end of the month everything suddenly changed. The other bay, which the fish had been avoiding up until now, suddenly became the place to be for some reason. I can only assume that the natural food in there became ripe for the taking and the fish moved in and fed with a vengeance.
A single sighting of a large fish showing in this area led me to move one rod onto the other side of the point and a further, more intense display, had me moving the rest of them later that same day. Quite often you will find that all of the known big fish will get caught around September and early October, almost as if they are lining up to visit the bank and none of them want to be left out. This was exactly what happened on one amazing session between the 16th and 18th of that month. I had already had a good amount of fish over the preceding weeks but in a two-night trip I landed the three biggest carp in the lake – the Italian at high 30s, the Bullet Hole Common also a high 30 and the amazing Big Leather at 46lb.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that September is a major time in the carp angling diary, but, if I ever needed further confirmation, I can just cast my mind back to September the 7th 2004, the day I finally ended a seven-year quest to land the best of the lot, the king of them all, the Black Mirror from the ultra-hard Colne Mere.
So, where am I going to be this September... Camped out behind the rods of course, for as much time as I can possibly get away with.
Quite often you will find that all of the known big fish will get caught around September and early October, almost as if they are lining up to visit the bank and none of them want to be left out. This was exactly what happened on one amazing session between the 16th and 18th of that month
LEFT The amazing Shoulders, from Horton Church lake
BELOW The Fat Lady, caught on THE first BIG lowpressure system of autumn
ABOVE There is always a good one of these around harvest time
BELOW The end of Barnett’s Point, waiting for the BOATS TO FINISH FOR THE DAY
ABOVE Padwar and I, clearing THE BURGHFIELD WEED
LEFT Boat battles have been common
TOP One of eleven fish from a crazy September session on Burghfield
ABOVE The Scattered Linear from Burghfield – target achieved
MIDDLE BOTTOM Pads, sitting patiently for bite time on Mary’s
MIDDLE TOP The middle bay on Mary’s. Scene of a memorable September capture
LEFT Black Swan, in late September