A beautiful, and quite extraordinary little Christmas tale from Tom. Fire up the kettle, kick back, and enjoy the story - it's a proper read. It's a special one this, taken from our sold out Issue 2 journal, published back in 2014. Enjoy!
I sat there staring at the clock, with each passing minute seeming more like an hour, the silence broken only by the constant, almost rhythmic, tap..... tap..... tap, created by the drips of rainwater coming through the office ceiling and landing in the bottom of the bucket which sat on the desk beside me. It was Monday the 23rd of December, and my last day at work before breaking up for Christmas. Work had dried up to a virtual snail's pace, leaving chronic boredom to set in as I sat there longing for that sweet 4 o’clock to come around and set me free.
'It was Monday the 23rd of December, and my last day at work before breaking up for Christmas'
Of course, my mind started to wander. It wasn’t the thought of Christmas being just around the corner that occupied my dreams that day as is usually the case for most in the run up to the festive period, there was only one place I needed to be right then, and that was the mere. My mind was already there, and the pain of not being there in person was by now becoming almost too much to take, as always the inner demon inside me just wanted to get up and walk out there and then, although I knew this was not possible and I had to summon every ounce of patience available to remain seated and slog out those final few hours of torture.
Now this was a feeling I had become accustomed to over the past few years, the ‘Friday Feeling’ as I called it. As I work Monday to Friday it was always a Friday afternoon where I would get the urge to drop everything and basically 'do a runner' to the lake. Although it was now actually Monday, having a couple of days off in the run up to Christmas meant the feeling was still the same, if not worse than ever, and the urge was strengthened by the text book weather conditions we were experiencing. With a huge low-pressure system gripping the country bringing with it mild temperatures, massive winds and torrential rain, it was spot on for late December and I just had to be there. The weather was none more evident than in the office where I was seated, as the window I was looking through was lashed by the relentless gusts of wind and heavy rain, and now the old flat roof above me could take no more and leaked profusely into an array of strategically placed buckets. It really did look grim out there.
'With a huge low-pressure system gripping the country bringing with it mild temperatures, massive winds and torrential rain, it was spot on for late December and I just had to be there'
At the time I was still basking in the glory of catching the 'Scarred Linear' a few weeks previously, a truly gorgeous old warrior of a mirror carp, and the one which had originally brought me to the mere in the first place. Catching her really was a dream come true, a dream I had held for many years, but being ever greedy meant my attentions had now turned towards the biggest mirror in the lake. An especially solid male fish with dark chocolate flanks, big shoulders and a tiny little mouth, a real old character of the North West mere, and one I now desperately wanted to acquaint myself with. My capture of the Scarred Lin was a massive turning point in my angling on the mere as it was the first of the original mirrors to come my way, after wading through many of the more recent additions to the lake. Not that I was complaining of course, as I had caught some fantastic commons and mirrors to well over 30lb since the beginning of the season, but up until this point the real jewels of the lake had so far eluded me. The bite had come from what I called 'no-mans land', an essentially un-fished area of the middle where depths dropped off to over 35 feet, and being over 150 yrds from the nearest swim meant it was out of reach to all but the biggest casters, or those who were willing to use a boat. Although most, if not all, would avoid this area, seemingly put off by the depths and distances involved.
Unbelievably I caught the Scarred Linear on my very first night of angling in this area, and with consistent baiting I managed to follow it up with a string of good fish throughout the late autumn and into early winter. It soon became apparent that this was their ‘safe’ area during the colder weather, and by fishing out there I was catching them completely off guard. Confidence was at an all-time high by this point, and I had a feeling deep down that a winter bite from the big chocolate flanked mirror could be within my reach. After the Scarred Lin, each bite that came my way had me trembling at the knees, I just knew it was close.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the time came for me to leave the hell-hole that was work. Like a bull through the gates I burst out of the office door like a man possessed, dashed the short distance across the car park to my van and after a quick detour past home to grab Rueben the carp dog we were away, finally I was free to get my fix. We were mere bound.
It wasn't all going to be plain sailing though, literally, as all day it had been playing on my mind that with the wind averaging 35mph and regular gusts of well over 60mph, getting the rigs out to the spot could be virtually impossible. The three rigs had to be boated the 150 or so yards to the area, and without the privilege of owning an outboard motor, this was always a challenge, especially as once the rig had been dropped I would only have the one hand to paddle back to the bank with, as the other would be holding the rod paying out line, and with the winds as strong as they were, I would have little chance of controlling the boat in order to drop the rig on the money, which isn’t easy at the best of times from a boat over 35ft of water. And as for getting back to the bank, well, I had no hope. All this would have to be done in total darkness as well. I had been trying to think of ways to overcome this problem all day whilst at work, as the wind was forecast to be the same until Christmas day, the usual trick of sitting on my hands until the wind subsided wasn't going to work this time, as that was just 48hrs away and would mark the end of the trip. I even toyed with the idea of just taking the rig out there, leaving the rod sat in the rests and literally dropping the rig over the area but I knew I would of never been happy with the presentation though if this had to be the case. This was a major problem to which I had no clear solution, all I did know was that somehow, I just had to get the rigs out there.
As it happens I needn't have worried though, as whilst I pushed the loaded barrow through the darkness along the waterlogged field towards the 'Pines', I noticed a sudden change in the weather which hadn't been forecast… the rain stopped, and as I arrived in the back of the swim I noticed so had the wind! I wasted no time in putting the brolly up and getting the rods sorted. This was an almost biblical window of opportunity that I just knew couldn’t be wasted and within an hour I had three hinges baited with my ever-faithful winter hookbaits and 5oz drop off leads attached. These were then carefully positioned 10 yards apart across the area, with a few hundred mixed sized baits spread over the top. Two of the rods went down with the usual firm 'thud', but the middle felt a little special, it literally 'banged' down out there, even through the 35ft of water, making me extra happy with that one. As I paddled back to the swim with the last rod in hand, the wind suddenly and unexpectedly returned, a huge gust took me by surprise blowing me drastically off course. I had to row frantically to correct myself as this was followed by another huge gust, then another, and another, ever increasing in ferocity. The last 40 yards to the bank were a real battle and I had to summon every last ounce of strength within me to row back to the swim against the savagely increasing wind. As I reached dry land I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and I could hardly believe my luck with the timing of the break in the weather, as within minutes the wind and rain was back with a vengeance, seemingly worse than ever, and I couldn’t help but sit there with a smug grin on my face feeling rather pleased with the outcome as I fired up the Coleman for that first brew of the trip.
'The last 40 yards to the bank were a real battle and I had to summon every last ounce of strength within me to row back to the swim against the savagely increasing wind'
Other than the relentless wind and rain which gave my poor old brolly a thorough beating throughout the night, making sleep almost impossible to come by, that first night passed without incident, as did the following morning. I hadn't seen anything at all show anywhere, let alone over the rigs, not even a roach, but with the savage wind whipping white horses across the surface, it was hardly surprising, it really did look rough out there.
It was now Christmas Eve and around mid-afternoon I had a visit from a couple of mates, Neil and Lee. We sat around the Coleman under the relative shelter afforded by the brolly, chatting random carp related bollocks, over continuous rounds of teas, as you do. It was during this conversation that I confessed how the distinct lack of activity over the area in the past few weeks meant that for the first time I had now began to somewhat doubt my approach.
I'd done a full seven nights fishing, spread over the course of the previous couple of weeks since my last bite from the area, which had resulted in a lovely, golden-scaled low thirty common. Since that common though not so much as a liner had occurred to the rods to reward my efforts. Which as you can imagine, hadn't done my confidence any favours. I couldn't help but begin to think that maybe a change in tactics or location was what was needed, maybe the window of opportunity for this particular area had passed? For all I knew at the time, the entire stock of the mere could well have been hundreds of yards away up the other end of the lake, I just hadn't seen anything to prove it. I had been so certain up until this point that this area was 'the one' so to speak, and it wouldn’t be long until the big mirror slipped up. Now I was beginning to have my doubts. It looked and felt dead out there to say the least, and both Neil and Lee agreed. So I decided that this was to be my last trip 'baiting and waiting' out there in the middle, and that on my return after Christmas I would fish elsewhere, I just didn't know where yet.
'Before they left, I joked that all I wanted for Christmas was a big, old mirror'
Before they left, I joked that all I wanted for Christmas was a big, old mirror, I say joked, because I think they were both as skeptical as I was, after all, it was the middle of winter, nothing had been seen or caught for weeks, and I felt a million miles away from any carp, let alone that next bite. Catching anything would have been a miracle, let alone that big old mirror. 'You just never know' I said, as they left just on dark. They wished me luck anyway, and I wished them an early Merry Christmas before returning to the relative comfort of the brolly for the night.
That evening as I sat there I must admit I began feeling rather sorry for myself, it was Christmas Eve and here I was sat down the lake with only Reuben the dog for company. The weather was wet and miserable meaning everything was now damp and muddy and I knew that all my mates would be down the pub getting into the festive spirit and generally having themselves a great time, 'surely there’s more to Christmas than this?' I asked myself. Now I must admit that Christmas has somewhat lost its buzz for me over recent years, a combination of getting older and having no family of my own means that the excitement just isn’t there for me anymore. It is only usually my Dad and me these days and the only thing I look forward to is the Christmas dinner. I'll be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a scrooge when it comes to Christmas, everyone talking excitedly about their big plans for the day, gifts they’ve brought for the misses or kids, where there going, or who with, I find it all slightly depressing to be honest, which is why I usually enjoy getting out there and doing a bit of fishing over the Christmas period, to get away from it all. Plus the banks are always quiet which is a bonus. But now I was beginning to question my decision. I often 'pray' to the carp gods when times are hard, more of an excuse for talking to myself on those long lonely nights than anything else, although I do like to believe there’s something more to it, something much deeper. Well that night I prayed like never before, I literally begged them to make something happen, and this time, more so than ever before, I really hoped someone was listening. I was almost beginning to question my sanity.
That night I had a conversation over text message with one of the other lads who fish the mere, Colin. Living less than half a mile from there and having fished it for over a decade his knowledge of the lake is second to none. His thoughts during the conversation were basically that the majority of fish could well of been up the other end of the lake, in an area he'd had results from in winters gone by, and as it was looking decidedly dead with a lack of activity down my end I couldn’t help but agree. It was another blow to my already dented confidence, the only slight glimmer of hope I had at this point came from the fact that the big old chocolate mirror’s only previous winter capture had come from the end I was fishing.....'There may well be a certain percentage of the stock up that end..... but I’m sure that chocolate mirror is down here in front of me somewhere!'..... was the last message I had sent to Colin that night, it was more wishful thinking than anything else, little did I know the significance of that message when I got my head down for the night to await my fortunes, hoping Father Christmas would pay me a visit.
Again the night was a quiet one, with not so much as a single bleep coming from the alarms. I was awoken suddenly by the sound of barking in my ear, Rueben had decided to have an early morning canine conversation with the farmers dog which was a good few hundred yards away over on the far side of the mere. Whilst shutting him up I noticed that the weather had changed dramatically as I adjusted my eyes to the low early morning sun which shone directly in my face. I realized that for the first time in weeks the wind had died right off and I was greeted by a beautifully flat calm surface, the rain had also stopped at some point during the night and the sun which was just rising over the hills on the far bank opposite me glistened in the droplets of rain water clinging to the rods. I fumbled around under the sleeping bag for my phone to check the time, it was already half 8, which was late for me. Slightly disappointed that I had missed first light I swung my legs from the bag, put on my boots and fired up the Coleman. It wasn’t until this point that I realised it was now Christmas day and I couldn’t help but appreciate what a glorious morning it was, the lack of activity to the rods paled into insignificance, as it was one of those mornings where just being there to appreciate the true beauty of mother nature was enough, and after weeks of seemingly endless grey moody skies bringing wind and rain, this morning she really did seem particularly beautiful. And at least now I could have a nice dry pack down before heading home to enjoy the rest of my Christmas day.
'the lack of activity to the rods paled into insignificance, as it was one of those mornings where just being there to appreciate the true beauty of mother nature was enough'
I was still sat on the edge of the bedchair contemplating packing away when the middle rod signalled just two bleeps. I looked up just in time to see the bobbin rise half an inch. A moment later another single bleep coincided with a further half-inch rise on the bobbin. My eyes were fixed on the rod, this was the first indication I'd had in weeks, at that moment I had visions of that old chocolate flanked mirror brushing its belly across the leader as it enjoyed an early morning Christmas feast. But with over 150 yards of line stretching out in to the lake it really could of been anything, there had been a fair amount of tench activity close in in front of the swim over previous weeks and I had soon resigned myself to thinking it was most probably a tench which had brushed against the line, rather than a carp actually out there on the bait. So after a few minutes had passed with nothing else occurring I carried on sorting out a few odd bits and bobs ready for the imminent pack down.
I was just putting some of my spare, and now wet and soggy clothes, victims of the atrocious weather of the previous two nights, into my rucksack when a short, fast series of bleeps from the alarms called for my attention. I ran to the rods, dropping a pair of socks in the mud on the way. The middle bobbin was tight against the blank and as the tip was pulled down towards the lake I picked up the rod before the line had chance to ping from the clip. I was met with a solid resistance from way out there in the middle of the mere, and at that moment, even though in reality I had no idea what I could be attached to, something told me... this was it.
'in reality I had no idea what I could be attached to, something told me... this was it'
The fight was almost bream like, with only slight lunges on the rod as it stayed deep and slowly kited right on a long line as I pumped it in from range. Having spoken to previous captors of the chocolate mirror and having a good idea what it was likely to fight like, this was exactly what I was looking for, further strengthening my thoughts on what I might well have been attached too. As it came closer to the bank the line angle from the rod tip to where it entered the water became more and more severe as it hugged the bottom in well over 30 feet of water less than 50 yards from the bank. The pines swim has an almost cliff like marginal shelf in front of it, with it dropping off to almost 30 foot within a few rod lengths of the bank, this is exaggerated further by a wooden staging reaching out 10 foot into the lake, almost overhanging the shelf. Because of this the last part of the fight was one of the strangest I’ve ever experienced. The fish was still hugging the bottom as it came towards the base of the shelf below me. Standing on the front of the staging I had to pile on the pressure to lift it up on what was still a fairly long, and now almost vertical line. The last 20 yards felt more akin to that of a deep-sea boat battle, and as I slowly pumped it up through the water layers, it now felt rather weighty and I could feel it twisting and turning on the line as it reluctantly came towards the surface. The previous few days of heavy rainfall had caused the usually gin clear waters of the mere to become coloured due to the run off from the saturated surrounding fields, meaning I couldn't see my adversary through the cloudy water until the final moments, only adding to the ever-growing tension. Eventually I could see the top of the leader and then, like a great whale breaching for air, that tell tale small head and mouth broke the surface, followed by a huge set of shoulders, coughing up water and confirming my thoughts, this was indeed the chocolate flanked mirror!
'Eventually I could see the top of the leader and then, like a great whale breaching for air, that tell tale small head and mouth broke the surface'
By now I was a mess, my legs having turned to jelly and sweat beading across my brow, the pressure was on. Failure at this point was not an option, and I managed to keep myself surprisingly cool throughout those final tense moments as it made one final spirited lunge towards some savage snags down to my right, but by giving it nothing and controlling it on a short line I soon had it swinging back around in front of me, knowingly beaten and now wallowing on its side bellow the rod tip, giving me the chance to push the net down deep beneath it. This was my chance, I lifted hard on the handle as though my life depended on it. Swallowing him up amongst the deep mesh, struggling to contain myself I screamed out, "Yes!!, FUCKING YES!!!!!!", so loud that the pigeons in the copse of woodland behind me startled and panicked as though a shotgun had been fired, scattering from the trees in all directions. The huge rush of emotion that came over me at that moment was overwhelming, like nothing I have ever experienced in carp fishing before or in life for that matter, dropping to my knees and taking a deep breath, pausing for a moment to take it all in, in total solitude, only my dog and the pigeons had heard my scream and a strange feeling of loneliness now took over… with nothing but fields for miles around and with it being Christmas day, knowing everyone else would be sat around enjoying the festivities with their families at that time made me feel so alone. I took a few minutes to compose myself and savour the moment before picking up the phone to let a few friends know.
The first person I rang was my mate Neil, 'Happy Christmas mate......!!! You are not going to fuckin’ believe this!' I blurted out before he could even get a word in. He was almost as shocked as I was when I told him the news and relayed to him the morning’s events. A few phone calls later and a photographer was arranged, not the easiest thing to sort out on Christmas morning I can tell you, which is hardly surprising as virtually everyone is busy with there families, but eventually my mate Lee came through, he was more than happy to make the hour long drive to come and do the honours, for which I am forever grateful. Thanks mate!
We laid him on the mat beneath the shade of the trees, taking time to appreciate the true beauty of this old warrior or the North West. The colours on the flanks were unreal, dark chocolate browns, almost purple in places, with skin like sand paper and a strangely small mouth sat in front of a set of huge shoulders. Such a unique carp, and a real privilege to hold for those few brief moments. We fired off a few returners in the low, bright winter sun before thanking him for the moment and releasing him back into his deep watery home. For those who are interested, the old character weighed a little over 37lbs, my biggest carp to date from the North West, not that it mattered at that point. All the nights I had done, all the trips to bait up, many in total darkness, the miles I had driven, the friends I had made and now, on Christmas day, of all the days, my prayers had well and truly been answered and it was all over. A truly humbling experience and a fitting end to an incredible season on the mere for me, the greatest Christmas gift imaginable and a capture I will never forget... and I still managed to make it home in time for dinner!
Remember, if there’s something out there you really want, then stick at it, because it is always within your reach if you are willing to put in the time and the effort. Never give up.... and be lucky!
'All the nights I had done, all the trips to bait up, many in total darkness, the miles I had driven, the friends I had made and now, on Christmas day, of all the days, my prayers had well and truly been answered'