Part 2 of James's lovely tale from Issue 1 about the tricky golf course lake, and the quest for the trio of big uns..
The winter crept by with me unable to get back down, and then in the spring I received the news I had been longing to hear. I had been offered a ticket on the infamous Yateley Car Park Lake; a chance to go after the fish I had dreamed about; Heather the Leather, and the five other famous mirrors. The financial cost of the ticket meant I was unable to get any other tickets, and although Silvermere fell back on my list of priorities, it never sat too far from my thoughts. This was reinforced when Terry’s hard work paid off in fantastic style in the last week of the season when he braced Polo at 39lbs and Clanger in the 40s, that being Clanger’s first capture since I joined the syndicate.
'Terry’s hard work paid off in fantastic style in the last week of the season when he braced Polo at 39lbs and Clanger in the 40s, that being Clanger’s first capture since I joined the syndicate'
After a tough season when Heather passed away, shortly followed by Pearly Tail, I left the Car Park. My new job meant it was impossible to travel so far to fish, especially in the spring and summer periods and I fished far closer to home at various lakes in the Colne and Lea Valleys.
And so this leads us back to January 2012 when I returned once again to Silvermere. Winter was relatively quiet at work so I could afford to travel a bit further afield for my fishing. Normally, January would be an unlikely time to start a campaign on a lake, but given my extensive knowledge of the lake and its past winter form, I felt sure that I could settle an old score. The weather was unseasonably mild with highs reaching 6 degrees Celsius, but this was due to end and the lakes were to freeze in the following weeks, so I was keen to angle while I still could.
'Normally, January would be an unlikely time to start a campaign on a lake, but given my extensive knowledge of the lake and its past winter form, I felt sure that I could settle an old score'
During my time away from the venue, things had changed dramatically. Whitescale and Polo, along with about half a dozen of the other carp in Silvermere, had passed away after a cold winter, with the lake under ice for long periods, and the harsh weather had led to the passing of many of these old fish. Only one of the big three remained; Clanger, the most elusive of the original trio and luckily for me, the remaining piece from my Silvermere puzzle. Clanger’s clean flanks led to large, almost exaggerated, scale-lined shoulders. The warrior’s mouth was always immaculate and her eyes beady and intelligent-looking, seeming to inspect everything. She had hovered around the 39-42lbs mark in the past, and with the lack of fishing pressure she had dropped in weight, but judging by her last capture in the autumn at over the magical 40lb mark, she was back up to nearing her top weight. I had no real idea of the stock other than Clanger now. I knew three of the commons had survived, along with another mirror and a stockie that had been put in a few years before.
It wasn’t just the lake that had changed. My student days when I could fish long sessions were long gone too and just a distant memory. Now, working full-time, with long shifts often covering antisocial hours, my fishing time was reduced to an overnight session midweek, and only occasionally could I wangle a few nights to string together. Despite the lack of fishing time, I felt I was a far more rounded and complete angler than ever, and it was time to try to settle that old score.
After getting my ticket sorted, I headed off for a walk around the lake, and as I had thought, the lake was empty. Having seen nothing, which was hardly unexpected given the time of year, I settled in the Goose, as I felt sure the deep water on the far margin was where the carp would be spending their winter. At this point, I didn’t think there was even over ten carp in the lake, therefore I had a really good chance of snaring the elusive Clanger. I got the hut set up and before long I was overcasting onto the far margin, before dropping the rigs in by hand, continuing the way in which I had left off.
After a bream in the morning, nothing else of note occurred until at about 11.15am when the gentleman that is Steve Mogford wandered into my swim. He reckoned 11.30 was good for a bite at this time of year, and sure enough, at bang on 11.30 my left-hand rod was away. A dogged scrap, with the fish kiting round into the bay to my left, saw Steve helping me into the waders and I set off in pursuit.
A grey flank put my heart in my mouth and, first time, I netted a grey mirror. Steve asked me what it was, and I replied that it looked identical to Clanger, but it was half the size! Upon Steve’s inspection it turned out to be a more recently stocked fish somewhat aptly named ‘Baby Clanger’. Steve updated me on a few of the new stockings, and it turned out there were a few more fish in there than I had thought. Still, they were all welcome given the time of year.
The next three nights passed carp-less, although I wish I could say the same for bream! After this success, I didn’t get back to the lake for a month. As the weatherman had predicted, the weather took a turn for the worse and the lake froze.
Mid-February saw my return. A good friend, Will, was due to fly off to India, travelling for months, and as the lake was on his grandparents’ doorstep, he timed a visit there with popping down to see me for a social night. I plotted up in the Goose, and remained confident that this was the zone to be in. The rods were out on the far margin, Will arrived on dusk, and we ordered far more pizza than we could humanly eat. After eating way more than I needed to, I sat back feeling content and bloated when my left-hand rod bent round and a classically-proportioned, stockie mirror of 17lbs had tripped up. We snapped a few photos in the mild February night and after an hour of getting both rods back out to the spots I was ready to get into the bag. Will was already sound asleep under his bivvy, not even a bream 20 minutes later raised him.
'The rods were out on the far margin, Will arrived on dusk, and we ordered far more pizza than we could humanly eat'
The night was uneventful, but at first light I was sitting on the bedchair expectantly, hoping for the carp gods to shine down on me. The first signs of feeding activity came around 9am when Will opened his eyes and instantly tucked into the cold pizza. I was off to work that afternoon so I slowly packed up hopeful of a last minute bite. Clanger’s track record showed a tendency for daytime captures so I always tried to drag it out as long as possible, although this time it wasn’t forthcoming and I left with just the stockie under my belt.
I couldn’t wait to get back down, and a few weeks later I managed an overnighter in the week. However, March was not the one that year, and driving rain and wind made it a most uncomfortable night, and in the morning after spinning the brolly round, I went home with my tail between my legs.
The following weekend I received the good news that Steve Mogford had completed his Silvermere trio and captured Clanger from the middle of the lake, nowhere near the zone I had been targeting. I was really pleased for Steve as he had put in a lot of effort for his rewards. During my conversations with Steve, he said he’d been confident that Clanger would come from the middle of the lake, the no-mans-land between the Car Park, Lonely, Single, Phone and H swims, whereas my own experiences made me feel that a winter capture would come from the Goose.
I was glad Steve had proved me wrong, but with that said, I still felt confident I was close to Clanger that January and February. The more I thought about it, though, the more I reminded myself that Clanger was a loner, never really one to keep company with other fish, a partial reason for the lack of captures, I felt. Maybe Steve was right and I would be best targeting the centre of the lake in the future. The problem was that there were no real trends to go on with Clanger, that was what made her such a tricky target.
'The more I thought about it, though, the more I reminded myself that Clanger was a loner, never really one to keep company with other fish, a partial reason for the lack of captures'
I couldn’t wait until winter for my return, and the start of October saw me back at Silvermere. It looked prime and fish were bow-waving all over the lake, one especially large set of grey, scale-covered shoulders would charge past occasionally, as Clanger continued the nomadic and erratic patrol routes she was so fond of.
When I arrived, Warren had a brace waiting for me to photograph, and had put one back without a photo. The stunning stockie linear and a common were photographed and got me fired up, but the following morning after an action-packed night of bream, I was reminded harshly why I much preferred Silvermere in the winter. That was it for a while, but after a mild start to January I did a day session with one of my close friends, Ryan, otherwise known as RAV. We caught a few doubles at a local lake and I was buzzing to get out again.
I worked some overtime and wangled a day off midweek to take full advantage of the incoming mild spell on the Wednesday, planning my work so I could be at the lake by 4pm Tuesday and away midday on the Thursday. I arrived at the lake to find it unseasonably mild and made the most of the remaining daylight to take a good look around.
'I worked some overtime and wangled a day off midweek to take full advantage of the incoming mild spell on the Wednesday'
Strolling on to the golf course bar’s patio, I stared into the deep margin that had been so kind to me in the past few years and rubbed the Polaroids in disbelief, as there in the margin was a large, grey carp. There was only one carp in the lake that big. Swimming back and forth up the margin, nosing the bottom, Clanger was active and looking hungry. I had never seen the water so clear so I stood on the concrete pillars that support the handrails to take full advantage of the clear water and good light.
Somehow I ignored the people sitting in the bar staring at me, and I watched for just minutes, but I had already seen all I needed to see. Clanger was active, chasing under the swans, and there was no doubting the swim I needed to be in.
'Clanger was active, chasing under the swans, and there was no doubting the swim I needed to be in'
The journey over the bridge to the Goose was more risky than I remembered. The bridge was now rotten in places, slippery from the moss in others, but all of it was certain to be condemned by any health and safety inspector. I wasn’t in a rush to get the rigs out, for fear of spooking Clanger, so after the bivvy was up and the rigs tied, I undertook the painstaking process of getting the rigs on the spots.
Having seen my target in the area added pressure to the scenario as I clambered along the front of the bar’s patio, holding on the handrail with one hand, and clutching my marker rod in the other, the rig hanging off a short length of braid. I again ignored the amused and confused stares from the drinkers in the bar as I was illuminated by the bar’s lights, and carefully placed the three rods on the margin I had watched Clanger in barely an hour before. The three rods were about four rod lengths apart, each with 10-15 baits spread over the top. Rigs were longshank arrangements with 18mm hardened hookbaits, the hooklength shortened to a mere three-inches long with 3oz inline drop off leads; I had no time to worry or overthink the situation.
Three good mates - Will, Elmo and Scott arrived for a cup of tea later that evening. All three had come a fair way to see me, but with the mild weather they all wanted to be on the bank even if they couldn’t fish. Scott was the first to arrive, and he looked as me quizzically as I repeatedly said I could ‘smell carp on the wind’, although thinking back, it was more likely that my friend Chris (AKA the Wizard) had caught ‘Breamy’ a few nights previously, and I could smell where the landing net and mat had been drying out!
We had a brilliant night of good banter and carpy chat flowing freely, and the boys were confident of success for me. I had been in similar situations before when I had seen Clanger and not caught him, but I remained confidently optimistic.
The night passed and I awoke to a bream take, nothing new there then! With the rod reset I basked in the January sun; I wanted to have the rods redone and in position by 1pm at the latest, that way if Clanger returned in the afternoon I would be waiting with fresh rigs ready.
I redid the rods, and kept the rigs the same as the night before but as I did the first two rods, I had a nagging feeling. Whether it was the fact that I felt Clanger could be drawn to a fleck of colour in the unusually clear water, or whether it was merely because they are my favourite winter hookbait I’m not sure, but I decided to use one of Mark Bryant’s ‘White Crabs’; a potent white pop-up I’d done well on previously. I wasn’t going to use a pop-up as I had so much confidence in my bottom bait rig on this water, so I used a penknife to slice off a small strip of the smelly white pop-up and used it to tip one of my bottom baits.
This year the lake had seen a lot of chod rigs, and I wasn’t about to go against lessons learned previously. This bait was destined for the final rod, the left-hand rod, and it was due to be placed on a small, firm spot just a rod length out from the margin, but a spot that had done my two bites the previous winter.
The same angler was back on a day session in the Lonely swim. He was switched on and observant, and I knew he would clock me getting the rigs out by hand. Normally, I had waited until after dark to drop the rigs in as I wanted to keep my little edge of perfect presentation to myself, but with stakes so high I decided to get them out anyway.
By 1pm all three rods had been hand delivered to the far margin and I nervously watched the world go by. Time flew as the ducks thought spring was upon us and started to get a bit ‘frisky’ to put it mildly! Shortly after this, I hooked one of the ducks and they kited round into the reeds, so I had to don my chest waders to rescue the indignant duck and set her free. With all the commotion over the spot, I took advantage and quickly got the rod back out there, once again, undertaking the ‘walk of shame’ as I clambered across the exposed front of the bar’s patio.
Warren had nipped down to see me that day. He’d been there for no more than ten minutes and the kettle was barely filled, when the left-hand bobbin cracked as it slammed into the rod blank and the line stretched out into the water; the tight clutch released no line and a large fish bow-waved angrily along the surface. I was on the rod instantly and the fish kited right up the deep marginal shelf and then it felt as if it had attempted to bore through the patio. I held tight, knowing the small size 10 would hold true. The fish then kited back to the left, passing over where it had been hooked, and boiled on the shallow margin, throwing up deep vortexes. A heavy kick saw the fish taking line again, kiting right up the far margin, passing over the shelf and moving further up the out-of-bounds bank. As I increased the pressure on the fish, a bow wave gave away the exact location of my unseen adversary. The increase of pressure seemed to enrage the fish and the slow thumping of the rod tip sped up and more line was taken.
'I knew I was attached to something special, no matter how much I tried to play down Warren’s predictions'
I knew I was attached to something special, no matter how much I tried to play down Warren’s predictions. While I attempted to remain calm, my left leg had other ideas and it knocked frantically against the other knee. The fish showed no sign of stopping as it continued up the margin away from me, now almost 90 yards out and 60 yards from where I had hooked it. Warren helped me out of my boots and into my waders and I lowered myself into the water. I placed the net’s mesh over my head and bit the draw cord. I must have looked a funny sight as I marched off into the lake in pursuit of the fish, complete with landing net over my head.
The angler in the Lonely swim watched on, as I turned the fish, and with continued steady pressure slowly I gained line. I threw the net off my head and sunk the mesh. It felt like a lifetime before my leadcore was 10 yards away from me, but eventually it came, and out in the lake a monstrous set of grey shoulders broke the surface and a pristine set of lips coughed water. I was left in no doubt whatsoever; I was attached to Clanger, and carefully I drew him over the waiting net cord and with no mistakes lifted the net around my prize.
'I was left in no doubt whatsoever; I was attached to Clanger'
The cheer didn’t come from me, it was Warren, and I was pleased to see him happy for me, considering I had just landed his target fish, and for the first time since the bite had come, I broke a smile, one that made my face ache. While Warren already knew what was in my net, I was more cautious, but the sheer width of Clanger made it hard to mistake. There was no shouting, or whooping I just stood for a moment and smiled, lost for words. Eventually, and with a bit of gentle encouragement from Warren, I bellowed ‘Clanger’ into the January sky, punching the air in delight. I could see the rods of the other angler skipping in and slowly I waded back to the bank to receive a big hug from Warren. The fight was hands down the most incredible scrap I have been ever privileged to partake in, and the sheer brutal power displayed by my adversary was jaw dropping. I had played the fish hard and I was pleased to see the small size 10 held firm well back in the bottom lip; it wasn’t falling off that was for sure!
Clanger sat indignant in defeat, pectoral fins and dorsal bristling furiously. The light was fading, so we quickly weighed her at a huge 42lb 10oz and rattled off some photographs in front of the dead reeds in the fading sunlight. The lads were so helpful and quick at getting everything sorted, which was much appreciated, and after the elusive mirror had powered back off into the lake they shook my hand and scurried off.
'The light was fading, so we quickly weighed her at a huge 42lb 10oz and rattled off some photographs in front of the dead reeds in the fading sunlight'
Within moments I was alone, and slowly packed up. I felt more reflective than anything else. Of course I was elated to have finally caught the missing piece of the puzzle, but I knew that finally this was it, I would never return. As I stood there lost in my thoughts and memories, a fish showed on the far margin, but the red card had been shown. I was done.
Silvermere was a water like no other. It taught me so much, and helped adapt some tactics into successful new methods. I took my life in my hands one last time and crossed the rickety bridge, and as I got back to my car the weatherman was proved correct; ice was forming and the temperature quickly dropping below freezing, a far cry from the midday weather which had got the ducks oh so excited.
It was nigh on four and half years since I had first cast a rod into Silvermere, and this capture came after my very first night of 2013, and my second night of the season. I had always viewed my fishing on Silvermere as one long, on-going campaign and learning experience, and I gained as much from the lake and the other anglers as I did from the captures. It is hard to summarise about Silvermere. There is so much I could say and so many points I could try to get across. It was such a hugely personal journey to me, and that the words that I use trying to explain it all, really don’t seem to do it justice somehow.
I hope that you find your own lake that you enjoy as much as I did Silvermere. I hope the targets you set are personal and mean something, so that if, or rather when, you achieve them, you feel how I did on the 7th of January 2013.
'It was nigh on four and half years since I had first cast a rod into Silvermere, and this capture came after my very first night of 2013, and my second night of the season'