A Man for All Sea­sons

As we get set to en­ter the lean times, Dave looks back at the last cou­ple of years, iden­ti­fy­ing ex­actly what he has done to en­sure he still keeps on catch­ing, even once the tem­per­a­tures have plum­meted...

Carpworld - - CONTENTS - - Dave Lane

As we get set to en­ter the lean times, Dave looks back at the last cou­ple of years, iden­ti­fy­ing ex­actly what he has done to en­sure he still keeps on catch­ing, even once the tem­per­a­tures have plum­meted...

So, here we are, at the end of the year again, Christ­mas is loom­ing on the hori­zon and the lakes are look­ing bleak and un­invit­ing in their drab win­ter colours. It’s a funny old time of year – De­cem­ber. Spir­its are buoyed by the com­ing fes­tiv­i­ties but mo­ti­va­tion for an­gling is usu­ally at an all-time low and the banks are as quiet as they can pos­si­bly be – which is a good enough rea­son to get out there and en­joy the peace and seren­ity as far as I am con­cerned.

Pick­ing the right lake is key over the next three or four months, as there is noth­ing more soul de­stroy­ing than fish­ing a lake that you know, deep down, will prob­a­bly not do an­other bite un­til April time. I know this first-hand as I have spent/ wasted many a win­ter do­ing just that and al­ways been proved right, even though I was pray­ing to be proved wrong. In re­cent years I have been a tad more re­al­is­tic and gone for smaller lakes with a bet­ter stock of fish, places that have a lit­tle bit of win­ter form be­hind them – ba­si­cally some­where I can re­al­is­ti­cally ex­pect at least a cou­ple of bites ev­ery month. I don’t go the whole hog and end up on lakes that are stuffed full of dou­bles, where six or seven fish in a day is a real pos­si­bil­ity, be­cause these sorts of venues just don’t re­ally ‘float my boat’ and I still like a chal­lenge that is equal to the re­ward.

Last month I men­tioned Northey Park, in Peter­bor­ough, and this was to be my win­ter water fol­low­ing on from Burgh­field, the year I was lucky enough to bank the mighty Burgh­field Com­mon.

With a fish like that al­ready in the al­bum, my year was al­ready com­plete but, co­in­ci­den­tally, Northey also held a huge com­mon over 50lb and a very sim­i­lar look­ing one to the Burgh­field fish. This was ob­vi­ously the main tar­get, but the lake also had a stock of lovely mir­rors, two of which I had man­aged to trip up dur­ing Novem­ber. Both were mid-30s, and both came from the same area and were ba­si­cally caught by ob­ser­va­tion from on high in the tall trees in that area, watch­ing carp glide in on the shal­low water and pick­ing the spots that they favoured.

Northey was one of the shal­low­est lakes I have ever fished, and this is of­ten a bonus in the win­ter as the slight­est change in weather, like a cou­ple of days of sun, ac­tu­ally has an ef­fect on the water and the fish.

It was not un­com­mon to be able to find a few bask­ing up against one of the many sets of Nor­folk reeds that lined the lake or, on oc­ca­sions, cruis­ing in only two feet of water over an ex­posed gravel bar. I have a bit of a the­ory where reeds are con­cerned, par­tic­u­larly in win­ter, and I ac­tu­ally think they act as a sort of heat­ing el­e­ment by trans­fer­ring stored heat from the sun down through the stems into the nice calm, shel­tered water be­low. I can think of so many lakes that have fished in win­ter where the carp can be found grouped up right in the mid­dle of the thick­est reeds with only a few inches of water over their backs.

Monks Pit was a prime ex­am­ple of this and I ac­tu­ally used to float a go-pro cam­era into the reeds and film huge fish just milling around in large groups with no in­ter­est in feed­ing

I don’t go the whole hog and end up on lakes that are stuffed full of dou­bles, where six or seven fish in a day is a real pos­si­bil­ity, be­cause these sorts of venues just don’t re­ally ‘float my boat’ and I still like a chal­lenge that is equal to the re­ward

what­so­ever. Sim­i­larly, on Northey, just find­ing them in De­cem­ber was of­ten not enough to en­sure a bite as the carp were com­pletely ‘switched off’ and only re­ally in­ter­est­ing in sun bathing. If carp were harder to find on there in dif­fer­ent con­di­tions, then there was al­ways the punt – a shabby old row­ing boat that could be taken out for a quick peruse of the lake, and see­ing as how the very deep­est spots were only five feet, it never re­ally took long to find a few fish.

The prob­lem with the punt was that the fish were pet­ri­fied of it and al­most ev­ery fish found would then spook off and not re­turn to that area for days. I ac­tu­ally wasted quite a lot of time set­ting up in ar­eas where I had found/spooked carp and then pa­tiently wait­ing for them to creep back in when all was quiet – but they never did.

I soon de­cided to leave the boat well alone, es­pe­cially as I had al­ready learnt most of the lake bed on my pre­vi­ous out­ings any­way. One thing that I had no­ticed, some­thing that would even­tu­ally turn out to be the one lit­tle edge that would make all the dif­fer­ence, was that the spooked fish of­ten ended up just next to a chan­nel that led into a small back bay. There was noth­ing spe­cial about the area but, quite of­ten, I would stum­ble across four or five fish just laid up like sar­dines in three feet of open water, rather than ‘pugged’ up in the reeds.

Late one Novem­ber I de­cided to make this one of my main ar­eas and started bait­ing a cou­ple of spots quite close in, one of which was ob­vi­ously their favourite lit­tle haunt. Within a week or so, I man­aged my first bite, just right of the mark, and I knew I was on to a win­ner. The fish was just a small mir­ror, but the im­pli­ca­tions were huge – an area where they would feed in win­ter and an easy one to fish. The fol­low­ing week was to be my birth­day, the 1st De­cem­ber and not a day I would usu­ally fish. But I was ex­tra con­fi­dent af­ter the pre­vi­ous cap­ture and it was a Tues­day, not ex­actly a good day for go­ing out cel­e­brat­ing – plus, I had al­ready cel­e­brated enough birth­days in the past to be hon­est.

The Mon­day passed by with­out in­ci­dent and a freez­ing cold wind had me con­fined to my bivvy for most of the day. Late in the af­ter­noon the wind dropped, and the sun poked out, so I climbed the tall spindly tree on the left of the swim for a look – but the an­gle of light was against me and ev­ery­thing was just re­flec­tions and shad­ows. De­spite my reser­va­tions I de­cided to take a trip out in the boat to see if I was miss­ing any­thing, but I man­aged a whole lap with­out find­ing a sin­gle fish. They were ob­vi­ously spook­ing be­fore I even got close now.

I’d started my boat jour­ney from the far end of the lake and the only part I hadn’t been any­where near was ac­tu­ally the area I was fish­ing. Fig­ur­ing that they had con­gre­gated there in the past af­ter pre­vi­ous boat trips, I de­cided to leave that well alone and do an­other night on my new spots, and just hope the fish fol­lowed a pat­tern and ended up there. With dark­ness upon me and my birth­day nearly over I be­came re­signed to the fact that a present was def­i­nitely not com­ing my way when,

out of the blue, I had a few bleeps on one of the rods. I sup­pose I was fish­ing about thirty feet out at the most and it was hardly a ma­jor oc­cur­rence, but the bob­bin just kept twitch­ing up and down a frac­tion, so I thought ‘what the hell’ and lifted the rod into a solid re­sis­tance. Straight away I re­alised it must be a fish but there was no re­ac­tion what­so­ever on the other end and I sim­ply bent into it and wound it straight into the net. The whole process took about 10 sec­onds and there, in the folds of the mesh, lay a huge great com­mon carp re­flect­ing bursts of gold un­der the beam of the head torch. Fifty one pounds and four ounces of com­mon carp, in De­cem­ber, and on my birth­day as well! It just goes to show that even the dark­est, cold­est time of the year can still be worth fish­ing, just so long as you pick the right lake for the job.

In hind­sight, I sup­pose Northey was ac­tu­ally quite a big ask for the ideal win­ter water, but it worked out okay in the end, so I am glad I chose it but, to be hon­est, I still pre­fer some­where a lit­tle more pro­lific like The Quarry, in Es­sex for ex­am­ple.

The Quarry has been my go-to water for the last cou­ple of win­ters and, although it can be rock hard on the wrong day, it can also turn up the goods when ev­ery­thing falls into place. As with all cold-water venues, the fish tend to shoal up re­ally tightly and this is why it can all be so hit and miss. You ei­ther have the mother-load in front of you, or noth­ing at all. If it’s the for­mer then you just need to fig­ure out if they are feed­ing on the bot­tom or sit­ting some­where up in lay­ers and, if they are, at what depth.

The more I win­ter fish and the more I see of fish in the win­ter, whether us­ing a Fish­spy cam­era float, a float­ing Gopro, a boat or just from up in the trees, the more I re­alise just how concentrated they can be and just how cru­cial that level from the bot­tom is if you want to catch. Don’t for one minute fall into the trap of be­liev­ing the hype about them be­ing on the bot­tom in low pres­sure and up for a zig on a bright, sunny, high-pres­sure day ei­ther, be­cause some­times it can be com­pletely the op­po­site.

I re­mem­ber fish­ing at Monks one win­ter, back in a proper cold year when the fish­ing was ob­scenely hard. There hadn’t been a sin­gle bite for two months be­tween every­one, and that is rare on Monks Pit. The day I found them, it was high pres­sure and they were ly­ing in a huge shoal, half­way be­tween the bot­tom and the sur­face, but, de­spite get­ting non-stop line bites, I could not tempt them to eat a zig of any sort. The fol­low­ing week I re­turned and fished the same area, but the weather was men­tal – a huge low-pres­sure sys­tem had moved in and it was blow­ing al­most storm force winds. In two days I had six takes on the zigs in­clud­ing the big­gest com­mon in the lake, which was a personal best at the time, of 46lb!

Any­way, I di­gress, as I was ac­tu­ally talk­ing about The Quarry and how cru­cial it is to get right on the fish at all times as they do not seem to move un­less an­gling pres­sure up­sets them – and they then dis­ap­pear very rapidly in­deed. As with Northey Park, there has been the use of a boat at times in the win­ter on The Quarry and, just the same sce­nario seems to ap­ply – the fish hate it and you have to be very care­ful in­deed when ap­proach­ing likely ar­eas. You lit­er­ally need one glimpse of a fish, or some cloudy water, and then you have to get the hell out of there as quickly, but as qui­etly as pos­si­ble.

I used to reg­u­larly find fish on the very shal­low­est sec­tion of the lake, right down in what is con­sid­ered the sum­mer cor­ner, even when there was a thick frost on the ground. The big prob­lem was just how spooky they were, and I failed on nearly ev­ery oc­ca­sion to get a bite be­fore I man­aged to ruin the swim. In fact the only time I did suc­ceed down there, I went in on foot and just cast out three sin­gles on the off chance that they might be there, and I had a take within the first hour. Un­for­tu­nately, the fish moved out a lot quicker than I did and the rest of the trip was a washout, as they had long gone.

Af­ter a while I started to get the hang of The Quarry and the four or five ar­eas that the fish used the most reg­u­larly, and, in De­cem­ber 2015, I re­ally came up trumps when I heard just one fish jump in the mid­dle of the night – one fish that sounded like a proper lump and it was just along

I had a take within the first hour. Un­for­tu­nately, the fish moved out a lot quicker than I did and the rest of the trip was a washout, as they had long gone

the mar­gins some­where to my left. I shot down there and stood out in the pitch black just pray­ing for a reshow to guide me in, but noth­ing else oc­curred un­til just af­ter light when a small com­mon poked his head out just off the edge of some mar­ginal snags. It was an east-fac­ing area, which ob­vi­ously gets the max­i­mum sun­light and had a nice drop off to the mar­gins – ev­ery­thing that you look for in a win­ter spot re­ally.

I moved ev­ery­thing up there and set about mak­ing it fish­able, as a long-fallen tree pre­vented it be­ing fished from any an­gle. Within an hour I had slowly and stealth­ily dragged out the of­fend­ing item and flicked a soli­tary hook­bait along the mar­gins to the ex­act spot I’d seen the com­mon, con­fi­dent that the big­ger one I had heard in the night was prob­a­bly in the same area. Later that day I had a take on the new spot and landed a lovely, scaly low-20lb mir­ror, typ­i­cal of the newer stock fish in The Quarry – they re­ally are gor­geous look­ing carp.

The ic­ing on the cake, how­ever, came the next morn­ing when a short lift on the bob­bin and a swift strike was met with a much heav­ier re­sis­tance and, af­ter a fair old tus­sle in the deep mar­gin, I landed one of, if not the big­gest, mir­ror in the lake. It was an old war­rior known as Shoul­ders and weighed in at an im­pres­sive De­cem­ber weight of 44lb.

Just one fish seen, or heard, at this time of year can make all the dif­fer­ence and turn a cold, mis­er­able blank into a ma­jor re­sult and make your win­ter com­plete.

It can be bleak at times

Ob­ser­va­tion is cru­cial dur­ing the win­ter months

Set up at the mouth of the lit­tle, back bay

Zig time on Monks Pit in De­cem­ber

Pos­si­bly the big­gest mir­ror in the lake at the time – Shoul­ders!

Mo­ments like this make all the hard­ship worth­while

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