Spring Loaded | Dave Levy
Spending the year writing a book about my carp fishing gave me time to reflect on where I’d fished over the last 30 years. Targeting single big fish is the ultimate buzz – hours sitting dreaming of one carp – and when it goes to plan, there isn’t a better feeling in the world to an obsessed carp angler than catching the one. It does have its downsides though; catching your target means an anticlimax as everyone walks away, and you’re left thinking about what next. Even worse is when you get to the lake and your target fish has been out. Then it’s back to the drawing board, and normally at least a month until she even considers dropping her guard again. I had felt all these emotions over the 30 years, with highs and lows, but this year I wanted something different.
Never before had I fished a water with a good head of big carp. In fact, I’ve only fished a few lakes which contain two, or at the most three, 40s, and this depends on the time of year. However, when looking about, there are a lot of waters now which contain 10 or more 40s. I call these the super lakes. I decided I was going to join one of these super lakes, and set myself a target of trying to catch more than one really big carp in a year. I didn’t have to look for long, as I knew just where I wanted to go. RK Horton Church Lake not only contains at least 20 carp over the magic 40lb mark, the lake itself can take its place in carp-fishing history; it’s seen some of the best, both anglers and carp alike.
I had a ticket sorted for the 2016 season, and was buzzing to get down there. When you pull through the gates at Horton, it has a feel about it, which I’ve only had on a few waters in the past, so this tells me that it’s a very special place. After signing in to what can only be described as a luxury lodge, I walked around the Church Lake, stopping in swims to admire the view.
For my first session, I set up on a central swim called the Salt Circle, which gave me a good view of the lake. It was early April, and in the last 4 days there had only been one bite on the lake. Considering the lake was busy, this told me they weren’t really awake from the winter. I found a few features out in front, and it became clear that the lake had a lot of dead weed lying about on the bottom. I fished both rods on the same spot some 70 yards out, and because the lake hadn’t yet started to fish, I put just five Spombs of boilies over the top. My 24 hours ended and I was soon reeling in, and although there had been nothing out, I was keen to get back.
On my return 4 days later, the lake was again fairly busy, so after a few walks round, I opted to fish the same swim as before, hoping the spot I’d baited had been visited. Again, I only put out five Spombs, looking for a bite. It was about 5.00 in the evening, and as I sat cooking, the left-hand Delkim burst into life. To be honest, I was a bit shocked, but was soon bent into a Horton carp which was taking line. I knew from the off that it was big, and as it slowly came to the margin, I felt a grating on the line and everything went solid. I spent the next 10 minutes trying every trick in the book to get the carp out the snag, but in my heart I know it was already gone. I was gutted. The drive home in the morning felt like a long one. I replayed the fight in my head, thinking I should have played the fish harder, but what was done was done.
When I lose a big carp it plays on my mind, and come the Monday, I only had the day to fish, but still drove the 80-odd miles back round the M25. I was hell-bent on revenge! I arrived at 4.00 a.m. and walked to the swim where I’d lost the carp, and within 20 minutes, two rods were wrapped and cast. I sat drinking a hot tea, and there was a real early-morning chill in the air as the first aeroplane of the day thundered in low, disappearing behind the trees to land at Heathrow. I looked down the flat calm lake and saw a small carp roll down the far end, in a swim called Springate’s Point. I walked to the front of my swim, my eyes fixed on the spot where it had shown, and a big mirror came out to its pecs. I didn’t need to see any more. I reeled in and loaded my barrow, and within 10 minutes I was standing in Springate’s. I cast both rods 20 yards out, one with a Hinge Stiff and the other with a Chod. Only one got a good drop as it hit the lakebed, but I just made the one cast on each rod. I catapulted four pouches of bait over each rod, which was made easy by the flat calm lake.
With the rods out, I started to make a cup of tea. A fresh east wind started to pick up and another fish showed right over the left-hand rod, and before the kettle had boiled, the bobbin slowly started to lift. I didn’t wait before lifting into the rod and I could feel the carp shaking its head, and soon, a pretty 20 mirror was in my net. I left the carp in there while I quickly put another rod back to the same area, in order to maximise what may be feeding time.
I took a few photos of my first Horton carp, and I was still watching her swim away when the rod I’d just cast received a fast take. I once again leaned into the rod, and this time I knew it was a lot bigger. It stayed deep for a good 5 minutes before I caught a glimpse of a big mirror. I was trying to stay calm, but the loss the week before was still fresh in my mind. It was tiring, but I slid the net under her first go. It looked a good 30, and I was surprised at the weight of 40lb 10oz; my first Horton 40. The wind was pushing into my swim, with the odd carp still showing. It was now mid-morning; the spring sunshine was warm, and I didn’t think life could get much better, when the right-hand rod tip pulled over slowly. I couldn’t believe it was another take. On picking up the rod, I could feel that the carp had found a bit of weed, but I kept it coming towards me. It was a really slow fight, but once I had it under the rod tip, I could feel its slow runs were getting shorter. It came to the surface and I could see it was another big mirror, a very pale-looking carp. I was soon lifting the net and she was mine. I unhooked her in the net, checked the hookhold, and knew she was never falling off. One of the other members helped me lift it from the lake, and I knew this was the biggest so far. We weighed her at 44lb, and after the photos I sat drinking tea, in a bit of shock, until I had to reel in. I had to be back on the road for 5.00, and was faced with the normal M25 traffic, but for once I didn’t have a care in the world! It was a 160-mile day session for two 40s and a 20.
After a day session like that, I thought it would only be a matter of time until I was catching another carp. How wrong I was! The next six overnighters were blanks! Doing one night a week meant I blanked for over a month. One of my sessions was 48 hours, when it rained the whole time, and I left the lake feeling dejected, wondering why I even do such a strange pastime. Nevertheless, a week later, after working a 12-hour night shift, I drove to the lake as keen as ever, but thinking differently. I never just accept the blanks. They are part of the learning, and I didn’t think Horton was going to be easy. These carp see a lot of pressure, which makes them smart because they deal with rigs all the time. My mind works overtime, and Il often have sleepless nights thinking about the whys and wherefores, and then out of the blue, an idea pops in my head and I run with it to see what happens. Without giving away too much, as the year is still young, I had one of these brainstorms.
So, with my new plan, I once again signed in at the Horton lodge. I stood watching the lake for signs of fish. And it wasn’t long before a carp poked its head out, only 20 yards out in front of the Lodge Swim. I pulled out the rods and cast one where it had shown, with 20-30 baits around it, and then sat back. Most of my gear was still on the barrow, so I sat on the lodge steps drinking tea, watching the spring morning unfold. I had seen a few fish showing beyond where my bait was, but I thought that casting on top of them would cause them to move, so I sat on my hands and stayed patient. At 8.00 a.m., the left-hand bobbin hit the alarm with force, and the rod tip buckled over as a carp ripped the braid from my reel. I was on it in a shot. I picked up the rod and could feel the carp smashing its way through thick weed, and I was glad I’d made the decision to use 20lb Sub Braid. The carp came to a halt, the rod hooped right over, and I kept the pressure on. I could feel the braid cutting through the weed, as inch by inch I started to gain some back. A huge ball of weed came to the surface 25 yards out, and I started to draw it towards me, praying there was still a carp attached. At about 10 yards all hell broke loose; the carp kicked hard, breaking away from the weed and stripping line from the reel. I couldn’t stop it – it was like a steam train! Playing big carp on braid main line is heart-in-your-mouth stuff, as you can feel every head thump. Again it found weed, but steady pressure soon had it moving again, and this time it came towards me. I had played it hard from the take, so I kept the pressure on, and 10ft out was a very big dark-looking mirror. I kept it coming, and slowly netted it, along with a huge ball of weed. I dropped the rod and pulled away the weed to reveal a thick back, and I knew it was the kind of carp I’d gone to Horton to catch.
I made a quick phone call to my mate, fishery manager Rupert, and he was soon on hand to help. The dark beast of a carp weighed in at just under 47lb, and the last month without action was suddenly forgotten as I held up Horton’s Scar for the camera. Nothing else happened that session, but a week later, I had almost a replay of the week before; it was the same swim and situation. I was sitting on the lodge steps drinking tea, and even though it was May, the morning was cold enough so I could see my breath. At 7.00 a.m. the alarm screamed out, and I was doing battle with yet another massive carp. This time the fight wasn’t as hard, but the carp was just as nice, being a long dark fish of 44lb. It didn’t end there, as the next day I was in again, this time with a clean-looking 32lb mirror. I had found something that worked, and also knew that the swim I’d caught from would start to get fished more; until now, I’d not seen anyone fish it.
Picking a good swim can be down to gut instinct, or you can do what I do, and fish where you see them. I create spots by feeding them without fishing, until the conditions are right for that area, and I do this all the time.
The next week, I arrived to find really rubbish conditions. The wind was blowing east and it was cold. I spoke to one of the bailiffs, and he told me that the lakes hadn’t done a bite that week, and most of the anglers had gone home. He wasn’t wrong, because when I walked round the lake was empty. I stood with the cold wind blowing in my face, and just out of the corner of my eye, I saw a fish show in a swim called the Lookout. I stood in there and another one appeared, so I wasted no time in fetching my gear.
Only 10 yards out, the carp came to the top and rolled, showing it was a big mirror. It kited left to try to get under some tree roots, but I kept the pressure on and turned it, praying the hookhold was good. I needn’t have worried, as it was soon lying in the folds of my landing net. I looked in and was taken aback; it was a long male fish, and for looks, it equalled any other carp I’ve ever caught. I called Rupert once again, and he came down to the lake. We weighed it at 40lb 4oz, and as usual, he did me proud with the photos.
So, spring on the Church Lake has been really kind to me. I’ll update you later in the year, and hopefully have a few more monster carp to show you, and let you know about the technical side of what I’m up to.