Another from the long sold out Issue 1, this time a short November's tale of the capture of a few special old Ringwood ones from the ed, Gaz.
Kick back and enjoy
Strangely, I couldn’t think of anywhere I less wanted to be, sitting in Hoopers staring at the same piece of water that everyone else had been all summer. It felt like damaged goods. I’d just returned from five weeks in the van, travelling and surfing down the west coast of France and into Spain, living out of car parks with the other hobo van travellers, on a diet of bread and cheese, and stroking into some of Europe’s finest sandy shorebreak barrels every day for week after seemingly endless week. It had been bliss. The Ringwood circuit couldn’t have been further from my mind, and yet somehow, within two days of being home, here I was, back in the same spot I’d left in June. The only difference was that the majority of the residents of the pit had been caught in my absence from that same big hole in the weed over the course of the summer.
The late summer and early autumn dragged on slowly. Times were hard, the lake was busy, the fish were big, and everyone was still baiting heavily but the lake was on lockdown, and hardly a bite came between all of us for months. It was a classic circuit water autumn; big hopes and dreams and discussions about huge weights, but the anticipated ‘big feed’ never really kicking in. Huge mounds of decaying weed lay to each side of many of the swims, rotting and brown, not only testament to the richness of the pit and the hours spent raking and heaving in rafts of the stuff to keep the spots fishable, but also remnants of the sheer amount of pressure and endeavour the spots had received throughout the summer, often with very little reward. Crusty tea bags littered the trees and brambles as the once lush nettle beds and leafy cover had started to brown and die back, and big, flat spots out in the middle lay adrift on the breeze, giving away the presence of old pellet and hemp, either disturbed by the carp, or just releasing its oils as it rotted down, untouched for weeks. Rancid-smelling leadcore and leads were a dead giveaway and spots became blacklisted as no-go zones; even the birdlife had given up on clearing some of it up.
'I was going through the motions, efficiently and effectively, but not really with a game plan, other than the same one as everyone else'
I was restricted to the work nights which on a busy circuit water is always a difficult proposition, but it was my only option, so I picked my chin up and plugged away, heart not in it, head not quite with it. I was going through the motions, efficiently and effectively, but not really with a game plan, other than the same one as everyone else; get in the big swims, get the rods perfect, and it will happen sooner or later. I knew it probably would, but I also knew it wasn’t really my style. I felt like I was carp fishing by numbers.
The scenario wasn’t in my favour much either, really. The big swims normally responded to a ‘big’ approach; three rods, a few nights ahead of you, a big bucket of bait, and a big wait. Arriving straight from work in the fading light, making a quick, intuition-based decision on a swim while the often moody and temperamental autumn weather closed in around you, before attempting to get three rods on small Nix mat-sized spots at 130-plus yards was always going to be a challenge. Winding them in before bite time the following morning as they showed just beyond was even more painful than getting them out there in the first place.
I like angling with a plan, it makes me feel like I’m working towards something. It’s not always a good idea, and it can be easy to lock yourself into a losing battle, but with nothing to lose and everything to gain I decided to go with a hunch. Earlier on in the autumn I’d started baiting a little margin spot. It was massively under-fished, almost completely ignored in fact, and the ideal spot for a bit of prep work, so I’d started putting a few small buckets of hemp and pellet and a few kilos of little 10mm fishmeals on it each week on the quiet. The spot had some autumn history too, and the pit’s big mirror had slipped up late in the year the previous season off the little spot tucked under the willow while everyone else fought it out in the open water with buckets full of boilies. I’d watched them in there myself numerous times and to me, it just felt right.
'The spot had some autumn history too, and the pit’s big mirror had slipped up late in the year the previous season off the little spot tucked under the willow while everyone else fought it out in the open water with buckets full of boilies'
'if you equated the phenomenal amount of rod hours those big spots saw to the bites they produced, it told a different account of events, and one that with just two 12-hour worknight sessions a week to utilise, I knew just wasn’t good enough odds for me to bet on'
As a rule, virtually everyone preferred the comfort and options offered by the Sanctuary swim, and the fact that the Steps was a ‘one rod’ swim seemed to keep most away, thankfully; again, more positives on the list for my game plan. For reasons I could never fathom, the margins were almost untouched on the pit and the big spots, big bait, three rods approach was king. ‘They’re bait fish mate, they always come off the big spots,’ I was told. I knew they were, and they did, but if you equated the phenomenal amount of rod hours those big spots saw to the bites they produced, it told a different account of events, and one that with just two 12-hour worknight sessions a week to utilise, I knew just wasn’t good enough odds for me to bet on.
After a good rake to clear the little margin spot for a clean line lay and a few weeks of prep, I found out that the lad that had fished it the previous autumn had also been trickling a bit in there on the quiet. He hadn’t been fishing much of late and after a chat to clear things up and some initial disappointment on my part, Andy said I was welcome to crack on and that he didn’t really have much intention of giving it a go that year, and was just baiting it as an option if he fancied it. Initially, I was going to start afresh elsewhere, but Andy was adamant he probably wouldn’t be fishing much and welcomed the idea of me baiting it and having a go as well so I decided to continue, upping my hits each week as more of the pit’s residents started to be seen ghosting in and out of the dark, rooty tangle of dense snags in the corner as the autumn progressed.
I knew it wouldn’t be long until we got some heavy rain and the pipe started to flow and the spot would be ripe for an autumn harvest. Thankfully all the attention was on the main spots down the other end; Pipe, Webley’s, Caravan, Hoopers, 35 … I just hoped I could manage to get on it before anyone else managed to clock what was going on. I hadn’t been fishing the spot while I was prepping it, I didn’t want to give the game away too early, a brolly in the swim would’ve undoubtedly pricked up some interest, but that did leave it wide open to offers and so I’d also kept all my bait-ups confined to the hours of darkness to make sure no one knew I was putting so much in, and to those who had got wind, I played it down.
'I’d blast down the spur road after work in the cloak of autumnal evening darkness, park in the lay-by, scoop a couple of big buckets of often steaming-hot hemp and 10mm boilies in under the trailing fronds of the willow, hop the fence again and be back home within 30 minutes'
I’d blast down the spur road after work in the cloak of autumnal evening darkness, park in the lay-by, scoop a couple of big buckets of often steaming-hot hemp and 10mm boilies in under the trailing fronds of the willow, hop the fence again and be back home within 30 minutes. It was the ideal scenario. Even when I wasn’t fishing, I felt that at least I was angling, and any available moment I had to daydream whilst at work would be spent imagining those broad shouldered sentinels gliding in and out of the safety of the algae hung snags for a free feed on the bed of oily seeds and little fishmeals that lay in tempting wait under the shadow of the willow.
October passed with little incident as everyone just watched, waited and hoped for it to kick in. Jake had one of only two bites from Webley’s that autumn, and we photographed Snubby for him on a crisp, moonlit evening after dark. The only other bite being the big mirror, at a lake record of virtually 54lb, so if you’d had the time to play the numbers game, it could’ve been well worth the wait. Shortly after Jake’s capture, we got a call to say that an hour up the motorway, James Davies had caught another of his Yateley adversaries in the form of the Baby Orange at over 40lbs, and while I reluctantly had to head home with work beckoning at 6am the following day, Kinger and Nicky jumped in the van and booted up the M3, following a trail of street lights bound for the Car Park, to help James photograph that special old carp and share in the buzz. They’d have photographed a pair of old English 40s within hours in two different counties, a feat I’m sure hasn’t been completed too many times.
'Kinger and Nicky jumped in the van and booted up the M3, following a trail of street lights bound for the Car Park, to help James photograph that special old carp and share in the buzz'
It wasn’t long after that things started looking up. I was seeing fish in the snags regularly, occasionally with shoulders streaked in clay, glowing lightly in the gloom of the dark snags and dappled with the weak sun on the rare occasions it made it through the tangle of roots and branches. The clay was a sure sign that they’d been on the little spot under the willow. While it was clean gravel for the most part, there was a ‘sweet spot’ of clay at the back edge that I’d found by donking my lead around there while trying to decipher the extent of the weed one day.
At the turn of the month, and the stroke of November, things finally coalesced, and after a traumatic night in Webley’s where I’d set up in the dark after work and got wiped out by a huge drifting weed bed around 3am, it all dropped into place. It was mild, and overcast with heavy, grey clouds hanging over the little Hampshire pit. I’d seen nothing out in the open water off Webley’s so took a walk after packing up and before I’d even got around to the little margin spot I’d seen two big sets of shoulders wallow out on the back of the wind, in the calm in amongst the drifting swathes of fallen leaves. Within minutes of crouching down behind the spot, I’d seen two shows just off the branches. The spot itself, where I’d put a big hit just a few days previously, was peppered with little pinprick sheets of fizz as something fed down there in the darkness, and spots of oil hit the surface among the bubbles as the grains of hemp and pellet were disturbed. I knew this would be my last chance of the year and I’d been waiting for it for months.
'In the snags just yards away sat the Yellow Fish, clay-streaked shoulders, looking every ounce of 50lbs and as fat as a barrel'
In the snags just yards away sat the Yellow Fish, clay-streaked shoulders, looking every ounce of 50lbs and as fat as a barrel, along with a few other 30-pounders, including an incredible-looking, long, lean, scaly fish that I didn’t recognise. I was supposed to be at home working on my freelance projects that day, so I called in my ‘get out of jail free’ card and hurriedly went to retrieve my kit. The game was back on.
I set up the brolly first, took a deep breath as my heart raced, and started from scratch. I stripped off the 40 yards of mangled line that the weedbed had destroyed and re-tied my trashed rig, setting up a small balanced bait tipped with a tiny fleck of yellow. To get the rig onto the little clay sweet spot would be no mean feat, especially as the fish were already very much in evidence. To be precise with the hookbait you had no option other than to don the chest waders and inch yourself along the gravel ledge above the spot that was nestled away down the shelf; a foot further out and you’d be in over your head, brambles grabbed at your jumper from behind, and tangles of roots at your ankles, while the gravel crunched almost impossibly loudly underfoot.
I perched above the spot and watched for a good 20 minutes before making a decision. Sitting and breaking up some of my fishmeal boilies, I started to flick tiny pieces onto the spot, literally just an eighth of a 15-miller at a time to start with, a few seconds gap, then another, until after about ten minutes I had put three or four broken baits onto the spot. I hoped that was just enough to get any down there to scoot off back to the sanctuary of the snags for a while so I could get the rod in. I upped it to a whole bait broken into about six pieces, gave it a few minutes, then another, finally upping to three or four broken baits at a time until I’d put in about 30 in total.
I gave it a few more minutes and then ever so gently lowered myself down to the clean gravel slope, inching my way slowly along the margin until I was in position, trying as best I could to minimise noise on the gravel as I knew I had some of the pits most prized residents sat just fifteen yards away in the main tangle of snags. With as big a loop of line as was manageable, and the lead eight foot off my tip, I could swing the lead out just beyond the spot, let the big drop-off lead gently kiss the surface and feel it down on a tight line without losing contact at any point. If I got a resounding crack I knew I’d hit the gravel; if it landed with a firm, plugging thud, I knew I’d found the clay.
'as I lifted the lead back out, I could see that it was covered in thick grey streaks of freshly turned over clay. I swung the lead back out again immediately, almost into the centre of the set of rings that were only just dissipating, laying the hooklink out behind the lead and looking for the same drop. I got it'
I held my breath. It was a scenario I knew would be incredibly easy to fuck up. The first drop hit the gravel, I winced. The second seemed perfect and as I lifted the lead back out, I could see that it was covered in thick grey streaks of freshly turned over clay. I swung the lead back out again immediately, almost into the centre of the set of rings that were only just dissipating, laying the hooklink out behind the lead and looking for the same drop. I got it, and breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that half the battle was over. I flicked another half a dozen broken baits over the top of the hookbait and made my way carefully back along the snag- and bramble-ridden margin, climbing through the tree and passing my rod underneath, taking care not to hang the line up in any of the roots or trailing branches along the way.
Back in the swim, the rod was locked up, the trap set and within minutes the kettle was on and I sat back, incredibly pleased with how well the rod had gone out. The afternoon dragged on painfully slowly, along with plenty tea, as I bit my nails and prayed for a chance. Had I ruined it? Would they come back? Was the rig sitting okay? Was I going to get a chance at Yellow … It was November now, and I hadn’t had a bite since June, so when it finally did come, the tip wrapping round to virtually full compression past the spigot, and the little bobbin wedging itself into the roller, it was a sheer relief to break the tension as much as anything.
The fight was fraught and tense and after ten minutes I had a deep orangey glow twisting and turning deep in the clear margins in front of me. I wanted to see this one in the net more so than any for a long while. It gulped at the warm November air as deep ‘sloshes’ broke the calm, and then, after all those weeks of driving, baiting, hoping and dreaming, the battle was won. A dark, orange and purple-flanked, scale-covered creature lay beaten in my net and for a moment, I just breathed it in - at last, glory!
On the bank, it was an incredible creature; huge plates of saucer-sized scales covered his shoulders, and a big, broken linear pattern adorned the flanks. Its mouth was perfect, and not a mark could be seen anywhere. We photographed it in front of the red and orange brambles and put the kettle back on, to toast the capture with tea.
'We photographed it in front of the red and orange brambles and put the kettle back on, to toast the capture with tea'
Within ten minutes I had a fresh rig down there, and another 30 broken baits peppered over the spot toward the back edge of the gravel where sat the sweet spot and seam of clay. Afternoon drifted into evening, and evening faded away into the darkness all too early. The night passed quietly and I slept fitfully, at peace, and a happy man, but always on edge that at any moment that little trap down the margin could be sprung.
It was a warm, sticky night, and the breeze continued long into the darkness, blowing overhead and leaving my little corner sheltered and flat calm. At some point during the night I was woken by a huge crash as an obviously huge carp clattered out off the front of the snags, and small waves lapped into the front of my swim within seconds, it was so close. It had to be Yellow and I knew it was only a matter of time before I got another chance; it was just one of those occasions.
I was despondent to wake up to a lifeless rod at dawn, having not had another chance, but the feeling soon passed as the first sweet tea of the day hit my lips and, in reality, I knew the best chances would probably come during the day again, so I made the decision to reset the trap early before they turned up. A fresh rig, re-balanced hookbait, another 20 broken baits and a pinch of pellets to refresh the spot was done within minutes. Sorted.
That afternoon they turned up again in my little corner, obviously tuned into the spot and bait and unaware that they were now being fished for after weeks of neglect. Yellow was back, in and out of the snag, and the long, scaly one was back too. It didn’t take long to happen and by 10am, I had another corking 30-pounder nestled in the folds of my net. Red-hot Ritchie dropped in to take my shots. He was sporting a lovely bright white T-shirt so I ushered him away from my margin spot to take the shots of a mirror called the Chunk, a rare one and a proper old character of the pit.
'the Chunk, a rare one and a proper old character of the pit'
The trap was quickly reset and by now I was into a rhythm; pepper the spot, wait, pepper it again, wait some more, swing it out, find the clay, swing it back out, follow with a few broken baits, under the tree, left leg first, bury the tip, stretch around the tree, avoid the brambles, watch the one slightly longer trailing branch, tip down, straighten the leadcore ever so gently ...
That afternoon I ended up with one of the prettiest fish I’ve ever laid eyes on in my net, and the one I’d been seeing sidled up with Yellow in the snags for the past two days that I thought might have been Jamie’s Fully. It nudged just over the 30lb mark, completing a trio of November 30s on my one-rod spot, and to this day remains probably the best-looking, and most classically-proportioned carp I’ve ever caught; a true corker, one worthy of the accolade, and also one that no one recognised, which was nice. Its pristine lips bore testament to the scarcity of known captures as well, literally not a mark could be seen in its gaping, protractile mouth.
'to this day remains probably the best-looking, and most classically-proportioned carp I’ve ever caught; a true corker, one worthy of the accolade'
That night the lads turned up to help me to celebrate the captures. Eight over-excitable lads in a swim the size of a tea cup, just ten yards from my little margin spot … hardly ideal, but I didn’t really care by that point. I’d caught a few and was more than happy with that. It was just nice to see everyone and share some stories. The Coleman was on continuously for a few hours, pints of milk consumed, Keskins came and went, even Beadle and Jamie showed up to get involved for a while, and the grand finale came when Plug managed to kick my empty kettle down the steps at one point! We laughed and chuckled into the night and by 11pm, everyone apart from Meeky had drifted off and the swim had returned to silence.
'That night the lads turned up to help me to celebrate the captures. Eight over-excitable lads in a swim the size of a tea cup, just ten yards from my little margin spot … hardly ideal, but I didn’t really care by that point'
Just an hour later I had a 40-pounder in the net, and my autumn was complete. Solid shoulders, scarred flanks, chestnut burnished, purple tinged … we photographed her in the morning drizzle and a more carpy morning it would’ve been hard to imagine, soaked to the skin, exhausted and utterly buzzed up. My game plan had worked, and while everyone struggled away on the big spots, my little ‘one-rod’ corner had rocked. I packed up that afternoon, keen to get back as soon as possible to see if I could settle a score with Yellow. I must’ve been desperately close to her a few times over those two days.
I returned the following Tuesday for my work night to find the swim occupied, and as it turns out the rest of the story became the glory of three other anglers in the following ten days, not that I was worried of course; I’d caught four November carp, one of the best-looking fish in the lake in the shape of that rare, scaly 30-pounder and most importantly of all, I’d caught them on my own terms.
I didn’t fish the spot again after that until the back end of the season, leaving it to lie fallow and rest for the winter. I started to prep it lightly with some maggot and fine pellet in February, managing to sneak two last-ditch bites on the very last night of the season after arriving just on dark straight from work and getting the rod out in the rapidly fading March light.
'There had only been one bite in the last 4 months on the entire lake, so to feel so close, so late in the season’s hour was tense'
Two liners and a couple of deep, heavy sloshes out in the darkness up to midnight had my heart pounding and my heart racing, I knew I was close. There had only been one bite in the last 4 months on the entire lake, so to feel so close, so late in the season’s hour was tense. I lost one just after midnight to a hook pull which felt like it had pulled my heart out. I nearly didn’t bother re-setting the trap, fearing the disturbance would surely have ruined things, but carefully threaded my rod back down the deep snaggy margin with just the feint red glow of my Petzl in the darkness to guide me at just before 1am. Unbelievably, it was away again at 4am, and after a long, slow, heavy fight under the tip in the darkness, I slipped the net under another of the pits A-team in the form of Big Tail at just shy of 38lbs. After some lovely pictures courtesy of Nick Helleur in the cool morning light in front of the dead, browned leaves that were still hanging on for dear life after the winter, the uneaten half of the pizza from the night before was devoured, teas were drunk, tales were recounted and then, with a feeling of blissful content, my kit was slowly packed up, safe in the knowledge that the pit’s carp would be getting a few months rest and that little spot wouldn’t be seeing any more rigs for a while. My baiting for June 16th would begin the following week, after dark and on the quiet, of course, and the buzz for a new season could start to build once again.
'My baiting for June 16th would begin the following week, after dark and on the quiet, of course, and the buzz for a new season could start to build once again'