The Big Girl - Simon Maris

Simon Maris has penned us a rare short story, of an ever rarer mirror. Reliving an epic, six year long chase for what is surely one of the best big mirrors in the UK. Residing in an area plagued by otters, the reality that it might not have survived each winter a very real one. Make a tea, sit back and enjoy the short tale, and keep it as a reminder that no challenge is ever too big.

01:00 hours a short sharp set of bleeps grabbed my attention. I was half expecting to see the bobbin at the butt as I went to investigate, but all was as I had left it several hours previous. In the dead still of night and I could just make out a bow wave zigzagging quickly just under the surface, illuminated by the moons last quarter. Autumn was well and truly back with us and so it seemed were the dreaded otters.

I went back to bed with thoughts of having to spend another six months praying that the lakes few inhabitants would survive another winter. Visions of anxious spring days trying to find the fish, alive and well, flashed through my mind as I struggled to drift back off. 

'I went back to bed with thoughts of having to spend another six months praying that the lakes few inhabitants would survive another winter. Visions of anxious spring days trying to find the fish, alive and well, flashed through my mind as I struggled to drift back off'

Suddenly the bivvy interior was hit with what felt like a green bolt of lightning as the receiver shattered the glass calm night…

Five and a half years earlier in the spring of 2015 I started on my journey to try and catch the big girl; one of only two known mirrors that were left along with a dozen or so commons.

That first weekend trip was an eye opener for sure. Being the new boy and with two other anglers down one end I chose to start as far away from them as possible. The swim gave a fantastic view down the length of the lake and was to become one of my favourites, not that there were many to choose from, for a lake of approximately twenty acres any more than three fishing and options suddenly became very limited. White singles fanned out would do for the first night and with rods ready to be positioned the first eye opener was about to reveal itself. First cast feeling the lead down the drop seamed to never come. The faintest of thuds after way too long for my liking happened time and time again. There was acre upon acre of deep featureless soft bottom out in front of me, even the margins were eighteen feet deep and soft. Hmm! With nothing much to go on the rods were spread and it was time to sit back and enjoy the cool early April evening.

The lake is very open, with only the odd ancient stunted willow along its banks, situated in a floodplain and surrounded by rough pasture it’s the ideal habitat for raptors of all kinds. Many an evening, including that first, was spent watching barn and short eared owls quartering the water meadow on the far bank. Marsh harriers, bitterns and nightingales were also a common sight and sound that first spring and many others to follow. This for me is what drew me back time and time again. It certainly wasn’t the action from carp as ten fish for the whole syndicate per year was par for the course.

'Many an evening, including that first, was spent watching barn and short eared owls quartering the water meadow on the far bank. Marsh harriers, bitterns and nightingales were also a common sight and sound that first spring'

Nothing showed that first morning but with the lake a few weeks away from waking up it was hardly surprising. It was whilst reeling in to pack away I was hit with the second eye opener of the session. One hookpoint had a snail impaled on it and another a caddis larvae. Not only was there acres of soft bottomed deep water but, I could only assume, all of it was crawling with natural food. I knew the lake was going to be tough but figured if I could get half a dozen bites then the big mirror was bound to be in amongst them. Time would tell, as they say.

The next few weekends were spent exploring other parts of the lake including the opposite end to the first trip. Here the water was even deeper, with average depths of twenty three feet and being a wider section of water it felt even less appealing. Eventually May arrived and with it a marked increase in carp activity. A quick unplanned night on the first bank holiday saw a couple of fish show long towards an out of bounds margin an hour or so before dusk. Again singles were launched out to mega range and just about reached where they needed to be. First light and one or two were still showing in the area and for the first time since I started I actually felt like I was angling. The kettle was just going on for the second time when the tip of the middle rod started to pull down slowly in unison with the bobbin rising. A nineteen pound common was the culprit but it was first blood, and proved they could be caught when they let their guard down.

As the weather improved it was fairly evident that the area I had the fish from was an area they liked to frequent. Unfortunately the whole of that far bank was out of bounds to fishing and even walking, however the draw was just too much and the odd quick sneak peak just had to be done. Obviously I happened to have a bucket of bait with me when those opportunities arrived.

June came and things were starting to happen. I had been baiting the far margin and on one trip in the middle of the month the lakes population of huge bream started to spawn in the same area as the bait had been applied. The first monster bream had me up at some point in the middle of the night followed by another early the next morning. I decided to photograph the second one due to the rustiness of my self take skills. Whether this was a conscious decision or not I couldn’t say, but as I was setting the bobbin on the recast after the bream the middle bobbin cracked to the butt. This fish kited left on a ridiculously long fast run that saw it at least eighty yards to the left of where it was hooked. Eventually I drew it closer and in the net it went after a few savage short runs under the rod tip. Twenty eight pounds of immaculate common was quickly paraded in front of the self take gear that was sitting ready and waiting with the mat still wet and the camera ready to rock. A couple more mid-double bream followed that night and the next morning, in all honesty I was expecting another carp but it wasn’t to be.

The following weekend couldn’t come quick enough, no bites were forth coming on that subsequent trip but I did get to see the big mirror for the first time. On one of my sneak peeks while standing not 30 yards from where I had hooked the common she graced me with her presence. In water barely deep enough to cover her massive frame she swam underneath the small willow I was trying to hide in. As you can imagine confidence was high that night but it wasn’t to be. I had to go away with work the following weekend so I baited heavily as I wanted something to keep them going until I returned. Feeling I was close I booked the Friday off so I could have a long weekend when I returned. However this was all in vain, on the Sunday morning while I was at work she got caught and there are no prizes for guessing where from. I’m never one to be upset when others catch but that really hurt. It would be two years later before she was caught again followed by another two years after that for her next.

'It would be two years later before she was caught again followed by another two years after that for her next'

I said earlier that I thought when I started, that six bites would do it. Well five and a half years and eight fish later, including two repeats I was facing the reality of time running out for another year, autumn was with us and she hadn’t done an autumn bite since 2010….

Suddenly the bivvy interior was hit with what felt like a green bolt of lightning as the receiver shattered the glass calm night. Fumbling to get in the waders all I could hear was braid being ripped from a tight clutch at a frightening rate. A bite from the abyss at that time of night could only really mean one thing, but I dared not think about it especially as she had showed over this rod earlier the day before. She had blown her tanks early in the fight as a result of that first explosive run and truth be known the rest of it was a fairly dour affair, the proverbial dog on a lead until she kited behind a large bed of marginal pads to my right. The braided mainline was no match for the wilting pads and all was good as one by one they were sliced through until she hit something a lot more substantial than a few dying pad stems. I was still gaining line but the horrendous grating noise traveling down the rod wasn’t helping my nerves, she was only a couple of rod lengths out and on the surface but the braid was still caught up on something, I was just contemplating getting very wet when the line pinged free of the unseen obstacle and in the blink of an eye it was all over. There she was sitting in the bottom of the net. At that very moment in time I can’t say I was euphoric or ecstatic or any such emotion, I was just numb with disbelief that it was all over. A quick phone video of her sitting in the net captured the moment, the relief in my voice was all too apparent and the sigh at the end of it still makes me smile.

After we both had recovered a bit it was time to get her out and sorted. The adrenalin must have still be pumping as lifting her onto the floating mat wasn’t at all strenuous, however getting the mat up on to the flat grassy bank only a few yards away was a different matter. Either I was going into shock or she had been bulking up big time. It turned out to be the latter.  

After getting her sorted and safe in a sack in the deep margins there was only one thing to do. I don’t think I’ve ever had a cup of tea at three o’clock in the morning before but this was a special morning to say the least. Sleep wasn’t an option, I just laid on the bed until first light with a thousand thoughts rushing through my head. In fact for the next few nights sleep was hard to come by and those that know me well will tell you that is very unlike me.

'Sleep wasn’t an option, I just laid on the bed until first light with a thousand thoughts rushing through my head'

Dawn arrived and with it a few of the local guys to help turn the dream into reality. She behaved impeccably on the bank. Her autumn colours and true bulk was certainly a sight to behold in the early morning light. Before I knew it she was back where she belonged and I was left alone on the lake once again like so many times before. What a fish and what a journey.

Thinking back on it all now I wonder if I would have rather caught her that first June after just a few weeks of angling or caught her when I did…

All I can say is here’s to the next six year mission!


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