All things big and small
Chilly continues his recuperation with a visit to a historic, old estate lake, set in the Hertfordshire countryside for a charity weekend. What he finds, so enchants him, he’s soon having a word with the management to get a place on the syndicate
Chilly continues his recuperation with a visit to a historic, old estate lake, set in the Hertfordshire countryside for a charity weekend. What he finds, so enchants him, he’s soon having a word with the management to get a place on the syndicate. With immediate effect...
II sat gently on the edge of my bedchair, sparking up the kettle for a celebratory brew. The morning seemed to be shaping up rather nicely, just as the sun was making an appearance through the lower branches of the trees to my left. The golden orb seemed to be climbing somewhat urgently to the top of the wooded area, racing towards the freedom that the clear, dawn sky presented. For a while, all could do was watch the floatation aids on my retainer gently dip and sway as a carp settled into its rather alien, and very temporary, abode. It wasn’t until the spout of my kettle let the steam pour from it that I was woken from my daydream, could life as a fisher of carp get any better than that? There was another fellow a couple of plots away from me, and as the carp had only been landed minutes before, I would get him to come and do the pictures in a short while.
As the environment and its wildlife began to shake off their dormant night time slumber, I just wanted to soak up the atmosphere. In fact, I gulped it down like a thirst-quenching drink of icy water, it was certainly the most refreshing of moments. It gave me a chance to reflect on the last 11 months and, considering the amazing location I was now in, just how much my passion for carp had helped me get back on the road. I smiled as I sipped my brew, and once again gazed at the water as the funnels of early mist pirouetted across the pond. It was special for so many reasons, in fact I couldn’t help thinking it was... well... perfect!
Once I had finished my tea, I thought about how I had caught that fish. The effort made to find the perfect spot, how I had baited it a little differently than most, and how the fish had woken me at first light with the most violent of takes. It is times like that which make me sit back and take note. There is little point in even doing it on the way home actually, and with the scene laid out before me, I examined what I did and how it had worked so well. There was one other thought which wrestled for my attention, and that was the size of the venue I was fishing. What bearing could this situation have on a bigger lake, and most of all, how could I achieve the same level of perfection?
I had been fortunate enough to be invited to a charity event at Hook Lake in Hertfordshire by my friend, and fishery manager, Richard Stangroom. With the added bonus of fishing alongside my friends Tim Paisley and Dave Lane, I didn’t really give a thought to the fishing. Having not been able to spend time with people over the last few months
of my life, the company would play a huge part of this adventure. However, because this was going to be the longest drive I would have made, by some margin, since getting my licence back a month before, I decided to arrive the night before the event. I would certainly need the sleep, just to get through the next couple of days. The situation for me changed very dramatically when I let myself through the gate, and stood open mouthed as I laid eyes on the fishery. I had fished at Redmire a few years before, and I well remember how the legend took my breath away. In all honesty, this was no different, and the two and a half acre, dammed, farmland lake had me gasping for breath too. It looked majestic in its woodland shroud, and when a carp leapt silently in the centre of the pond, I knew I was totally in love with the place. The irony of the situation is that Tim Paisley, the person I shared that session with at Redmire, was coming down that night because of the long journey from up north.
It was marvellous to spend the evening with him. He had been almost father-like during my recovery, and I wanted to spend some time with him.
The other point we covered was the water we were going to be fishing. It was so small, in fact, that by the end of the conversation we had automatically assumed nothing would be caught. Sixteen rods (seventeen if you include Laney’s snide, of course!) would be a massive amount of angling pressure on fish that were only used to one or two anglers a week fishing there. But that’s the exciting buzz of the anticipation we get when we chase carp around, and always leaves me feeling: what the hell do we know? Not a lot, thank goodness, and it could never have been truer in this case.
We drew for swims the following morning, and all got a plot that none of us had ever seen before. We got to know the people we would be fishing with; and the fun and games began. I was in an area, the corner of the lake with no angling interference, that screamed carp... nice! I sat and watched several mirrors and commons swim in and out of the bay, casually going about their business. As the day grew hotter they vacated the area, deciding to sun themselves in the middle of the lake. It was the ideal chance to put an operation into action, the operation I had thought my way through on several occasions. I needed to look at an area on the other side of the bay under an overhanging tree, and the best way to do that was to wade out. As luck would have it, I was able to
get right above the spot, and in the end I found a small feature about two feet square and some six inches deeper than the surrounding ground. Eventually, I waded across and put a rod in there, baited with ten mesh PVA bags of my favoured 10mm and 15mm Hybrid boilies. I had little idea about the other rod, so I positioned it about three yards to the right and baited it in the same way. Once back on dry land I slackened off the line, placed the bobbins on the floor and once again sat back to wait for events, if any, to unfold.
Socially, it was a wonderful event, and quite remarkably in the early evening Laney got a bite. It turned out to be one of the lake’s special old warriors and we all ‘oohed and aahed’ as they posed for a picture or two. We were all amazed, but in truth it just poured some fuel on my fires. I was fishing the other end of the lake, in a similar situation; perhaps that is, the areas the carp would head for when the leads started hitting the surface? Time would tell of course, and as I settled down for a much-needed sleep, I couldn’t help feeling a bite was on the cards. The next thing I remember was hanging on for grim death as an angry carp tried to make good its escape. Once in control, however, I soon had it in the net. All I could think of was
Sixteen rods (seventeen if you include Laney’s snide, of course!) would be a massive amount of angling pressure on fish that were only used to one or two anglers a week fishing there
getting the rod back on the spot as a carp rolled right over it. With my prize waiting patiently in the net, I re-positioned the rod as stealthily as I could. And after putting the fish carefully in the margins to prepare for the photographs, I sat by the rods utterly amazed I had caught one. But hey, one’s lucky, two’s skill... or so they say!
It was as I sipped my celebratory brew, some 30 minutes later, that the same rod ripped round again. Once more I held on for dear life. The carp was a tad smaller than the last, and once I had control, it didn’t take too long to bring to my net. A few minutes later, my partner for the event, Jon Butcher and myself, posed with the carp for the cameras. Once alone however, as always I started to dissect what I had done. I was so enamoured with the place that I eventually asked Stan if there was a place for me in the syndicate, and five minutes later I was a member! As always on small, intimate waters, I was convinced the accuracy of the spot I had chosen to fish was the key. Both bites had come from that one tiny dip in the terrain, and if there were any doubts in my mind, the next visit the following week would cast them all aside.
On arrival, after a very excited and probably far too fast blast up the M25, I once again opened the gate and let the unique atmosphere calm me down just a little. This was a different session to the last of course, and the fish’s carefree movement was obviously because there was no one fishing there. This time it was me versus them, and I spent a couple of hours quietly scanning the lake for information. Eventually, the spot I had fished the week before seemed to be the best option, and
knowing it so well made sure I could present my baits with the minimum of disturbance. The only difference this time, was that I fished down the margins to my right. With the weather reminding me of the days I had soldiered in several deserts around the world, I decided to set the traps later and spend the day chasing some carp around on the surface. A tactic, I had been told, which was almost impossible on this water. It was probably pure and utter stubbornness that got me where I wanted to go, but by the time I returned to my swim later in the day I had landed the most glorious 24lb 12oz mirror! And by the morning my thoughts about my little trough under the tree had been confirmed. An 18lb mirror had fallen for the spot that had produced the only bites the week before. That number of fish was a great result for this water, but it got better. The following day I landed another fish off the surface, this time a 22lb mirror. Interestingly, it came from exactly the same specific spot as the 24-pounder, the day before. They fed with extreme caution in other areas, but it was there that they did so with enough gusto for me to get a bite. And if you think that was a one off thing, the following week when I was doing some filming for Fox, I landed another mirror in exactly the same tiny area of lake, although it was a little nearer in this time. It’s amazing how localised bites can be on small waters, whatever way we want to fish for them, but I couldn’t help feeling just how we manage in bigger environments. It caused my mind to go into overdrive, and when I landed another fish from the miniature spot under the tree in the bay that night, my mind was awash with questions as I made the journey home. Did these tiny areas exist on bigger waters? Did it matter that we can’t find them simply because of the geography of the larger venues, or does none of this matter in a lake that they travel around, not being so familiar with their intimate homes?
It threw me back a few years and my first, and only as it happens, short time on Sonning Eye. There are varying discrepancies with its size, and being no expert myself, the most regular numbers I heard were 480 acres. Now, I know people will say that foreign waters are, in general, much bigger, but when you can use a boat and the lake is stuffed full of carp, the fishing becomes so much easier. I’m talking about using a rod and line, and angling for the carp, as most of us have to do in our normal, everyday fishing. The winter that year had dragged on, and on several occasions in March the lake had frozen, followed in early April by flooding. Both weather extremes meant I couldn’t get onto the water, but eventually I was able to drive through the gates and look at the venue for the first time. It was mind-numbingly huge, but the weather was warming and I could only think that the carp would be making for the warmer areas of the lake. Unbelievably, I found the biggest fish in the lake in a small bay in the area the southwesterly wind was pounding. Game on!
I did five nights fishing over the next couple of weeks, they were the only nights I ever did at Sonning, but I managed to catch 11 of the hundred carp which lived in that vast, sprawling environment. I moved as often as I could, depending on the wind, and did try to find features when I moved into areas. However, I never felt that accuracy was the most important part of the equation. It was simply being in the right area at the right time. The carp themselves weren’t too familiar with the real estate they moved into due to the wind, because they spent so little of their time there, and consequently, the bait became the feature. Which, of course, they took advantage of unreservedly! In reality, even if I wanted to find a small, two feet square hole that was of interest to the carp at a 120 yards with a marker float, it was totally impossible to do. On larger waters it seemed as if I had to make the most of a situation I could rarely control. This situation has arisen at many other larger waters I have fished. Not as big as Sonning by miles, but Westhampnett down near Chichester, sang to the same tune. It wasn’t until I started to invest in my areas in the middle of the lake at distance, an area not many could reach, that the captures started to occur with any regularity. I couldn’t find features out there really, and I believe it was simply the bait that got me the bites.
All waters have a character of their own, yet the bigger they are the more those characters change and just as importantly, that of the fish. A carp in the 2½ acre pit I am fishing at the moment, can swim the circumference of the lake with only a few flicks of its tail and therefore become very familiar with every strand of weed and every grain of sand. On bigger venues, the time of year, and the weather conditions, will dictate where the carp will want to spend their time. I believe they are very conservative about using energy, and are hardly likely to swim three miles just to eat some bloodworm before swimming those three miles again to get back to the place they feel comfortable in, are they? It’s the eclectic nature of the waters we fish and the challenges they pose that makes carp fishing so enchanting for me. It has little to do with the size of the carp I am fishing for either, a new challenge will mean that any carp I catch will be special... just as it should always be! Chilly.
ABOVE Jon Butcher and I at the Hook Lake charity event
BOTTOM One off the top, but it was only in one area I could get a bite
BELOW The tiny little spot produced all of my bites off the bottom
Wraysbury’s Measles, history and happiness! TOP
ABOVE Sonning was A massive water AND It never mattered How BIG THE fish were
Your eyes are the most vital piece of kit, whatever water you fish RIGHT TOP
LEFT ABOVE Wraysbury, WHEN It was A BIG, UNDERSTOCKED LAKE was truly A CHALLENGE
RIGHT BOTTOM NO Matter THE fish’s size, It’s THE CHALLENGE THE SONNING FULLY SCALED PRESENTED that COUNTED
LEFT Just BEING THERE Is ALL that REALLY Matters