Stars In My Eyes | Lee Wagner
Unsurprisingly, my confidence was still peaking when I arrived at Kingsmead. The sun was out, which meant a few more anglers on the bank, so swim choice was limited, but luckily, there were still plenty of areas to go at if the carp decided to give themselves away. Like most anglers, I tend to check the weather conditions prior to arriving, just to try to second-guess where the fish might be, although I’ve learnt that this can be a flawed strategy. Let me explain. The weather app I use stated that it was going to be clear skies and relatively high air pressure, combined with a cold northerly pushing down the lake towards the less popular deeper end. All the data suggested that I should be in the calm water, off the back of it, where the sun in the clear sky would make this end warmer and more appealing to the carp.
With that in mind, on arrival the more popular swims were free, so it seemed to be a no-brainer. I somehow resisted the urge to set up straight away, and instead walked round the Church Lake. I had a good stroll around and was once again drawn to the warmer, calmer water off the back of the wind, but strangely, no shows were forthcoming. I carried on anyway and set up blindly, and having seen nothing, I opted to go with my gut feeling and fish in the slack water, which turned out to be a mistake. I spent the first night sitting off the back of the bitterly cold win, so I decided to make a move because I hadn’t seen anything to indicate that any fish were in, or were moving into, the area.
After I packed everything down, I spent the next hour surveying Horton Church Lake and the Mead again. I was still surprised that off the back of the wind there were absolutely no signs of fish – on either lake! With all the scenes thoroughly scrutinised, I made a move straight to the opposite end of K1, to where the cold wind was blowing, and dropped into a swim I’d never fished – Swim 19. The small birds were skimming the surface, harvesting the insects rising through the water column in the centre of the lake, so I reasoned that the fish could be up in the layers, regardless of the temperature. It could simply be the case that the tow had inadvertently drifted the upper layer residents to that end of the lake. With nothing visible, this reasoning was good enough for me.
The move seemed well justified, as I spotted a couple of fish roll in the area within the first hour of being in the new swim, during a particularly unsettled period of weather. I opted to position a Horton Rig tied with a Size 4 Special Edition Continental Mugga on 35lb Ultra Skin, with a Mainline New Grange hookbait. This was fished with a drop-off lead system and attached to Gardner’s fantastic GT-HD main line. Sure enough, the combination that has done me so proud so many times already this season paid dividends, and following a spirited fight, an angry common lay in the bottom of my Out-Reach net.
The shows continued while I was playing the fish, and before I’d even had a chance to unhook the common, my other rod hooped over. This one felt different right from the off, and a slow plodding fight ensued, the type when you feel like you’re trying to pull the plug out of the lake. A good 7 or 8 minutes passed, and I finally got my first sight of what was attached to the hook through the crystal-clear water. The scale pattern was unmistakable, and I knew it was a fish I’d dreamt of catching since seeing it nearly 3 years ago, whilst looking down from the famous bridge that separates Kingsmead 1 and the Island Lake.
My legs turned to jelly and my hands started to shake as the fish rolled and flanked below the surface, and I watched it coming towards me upside down! It looked crazy as it pulled out every trick in the book in its bid for freedom, but its efforts were in vain and I finally engulfed it in the landing net mesh. A brace of fish like this from what had been a slow fishing lake was the stuff of dreams, and to see the Mug Sutton recovering in the margin was an absolute result. My friend, who was fishing next door, also snared one in this crazy 15 minutes, and we got to do a brace shot of a couple of awesome K1 30s. What a result!
On to the next session, and I’ll quickly rewind, going back to my original point that no matter what your feeling based on weather conditions, air temps, or even past history, there can be conditions on the day which make the carp behave in a completely different way to what you might anticipate. This is why I’m hell-bent on remaining as mobile as I can possibly be, and this, coupled with a healthy can-do attitude and plenty of motivation, can make any session a potential red-letter one.
Anyway, I mentioned before that the banks were slightly busier than they had been, although I still had a good amount of swim choice. The wind was opposite to that of the previous session, and it was a good 7 or 8 degrees warmer on the end of it. I had it in my mind that I wanted to fish a swim called the Helipad, which sat in the teeth of this lovely warm fresh southerly. Four weeks earlier, it had been the scene of success when I managed to snare a cracking-looking, dark 40lb 6oz sparsely-scaled mirror and a beautiful-looking mid-20. I knew that picking a swim in my mind is a dangerous game (as outlined earlier), but this time it had to be right. Unfortunately, upon getting round to the swim, someone else had had the same idea as me and the Heli was occupied. Unperturbed and fully motivated, I continued to wander on a full lap of the 30-ish acre Kingsmead 1. I eventually ventured back down to Swim 19, and although this time it sat off the back of the wind (and it was even warmer), I didn’t see anything. I had the gut feeling that they simply weren’t there, and had to be on the end of wind again.
I popped my head into every one of the 38 swims on K1, looking intently for a sign to set up on, and it wasn’t until I arrived at the Bream that something finally peaked my interest. It was close to the Helipad (although they don’t interfere with each other), and was on the end of the wind pushing down. The Bream is just off the side and nicely sheltered by the mature foliage. I can’t explain it, but it just felt right. Even with that feeling, I was still second-guessing myself because of what had happened the previous week, and I left the swim without dropping off my bucket. Having got back to the car park, I decided to check out the Church Lake again. To be honest, I wasn’t committed to the Church, but felt I needed to check a few likely warm weather spots to see if anything demanded my attention.
Four areas later, and with a rising sense of panic that the Bream Swim was going to get taken, I shuffled back to my motor and loaded up the barrow. I would fish as I had all season, off the barrow, and go from there. My method is simple really; when I don’t see anything, I pop a couple of rigs out for an hour or so at a time, in numerous swims, until I see a show to move on to, or a bite to set up on. By the time I finally got round to the Bream Swim, it was a relief that I found it still unoccupied. I started to unpack the rods and decided on spots, and the most appropriate rigs to fish them effectively.
The first rod I unpacked was set up with my variation of the Chod Rig. I call it the ‘Next Level Chod’, and I have included a link to the video showing how to tie it. The in-turned eye of the Mugga gives me what I’d craved from a Chod Rig, which is a much better ratio in terms of bites to landed fish. This setup is perfect for my off the barrow roving and probing style of fishing, as in all but the most extreme circumstances, with one or two chucks, you’re fishing effectively.
I’d never fished this particular swim before, but had seen others, so I knew there was an area regularly fished around 40 yards straight in front towards a jetty that juts out into the water. I attached a Mainline Juicy Pineapple pop-up, and one cast with a decent pat-down told me the Choddy was fishing OK. I scattered 40 or 50 New Grange freebies over the top, and went about sorting my rod to fish the area that had really peaked my interest. Just as I was doing this, I saw my first show, when a large boil happened right in between the two areas I was planning to fish. The adrenaline started pumping because I knew there were fish in the area. I took a few deep breaths to regain my composure, and then went about my business.
The second spot was my banker spot, which entailed fishing down the margin line, off the back of the area from where I’d snared the 40 whilst fishing the Heli Swim. I knew from that session that it was perfectly suited to a bottom bait presentation, as it was firm and clear, but was unsure whether the area I could get to would be so welcoming from this angle. One chuck with a bare lead and my in-line lead cracked down in around 5ft of water, which filled my heart with joy. I quickly clipped up because the cast was quite awkward, and retrieved the lead. I knew the spot was perfect for my favourite presentation, so I clipped on the ever-faithful Horton Rig. The rig combines a Size 4 Continental Mugga attached to 35lb Ultra Skin, but this time the critically-balanced bait is mounted on a Size 12 Covert Swivel, balanced so it just lifts the swivel but not the hook. With the bait hovering directly over the hook and whipped perfectly, it ensures the hookpoint is down in position, ready to prick the lip in the fastest way, with only the smallest amount of movement needed.
This time I opted to fish a 18mm New Grange hookbait tipped with a 12mm pop-up to create a Snowman presentation, and I finished it off by threading a small PVA bag containing a couple of boilies and fine crumb down the hooklink, pulling the Mugga gently into the fine crumb.
Another show occurred, and I once again had to rein in my emotions and focus on getting the awkward cast right. Thankfully, the little flick cast hit the clip beautifully and kicked out the rig, and as I lifted the tip, I felt the delicious feeling of a firm crack-down transmitted through the remarkable GT-HD main line. Once again, a scattering of New Grange baits was applied, and I sat back, still scared of setting up in case I had got it wrong. I need not have worried though, as over the next hour I saw around 10 shows, and received a small liner on the Horton Rig rod. I knew I was in the right zone, so much so that I even got my brolly out!
Halfway through doing this, it beeped again and the bobbin hit the blank. I lifted into it and a strange bump resulted in me retrieving a slack line with an ejected lead. I looked at the area and saw a large pale shadow kick away from the spot just below the surface, so I reasoned that it had either done me or had got tangled in the line, and the bump I felt was me pulling the lead into the fish, and I’d just witnessed a carp spooking off the spot. Regardless, I clipped a ready-to-go rig back on and repositioned it. Once again the cast hit the clip nicely, and I was greeted with the firm donk I was really hoping for.
I didn’t have to wait long, and a brief liner followed by a one-toner galvanised me into action. No bumping off this time! A spirited fight in the gin-clear water ended in me netting a lovely-looking common. I knew RK head man Rupert Whiteman (aka RuBear, aka Trotters) was on the complex, so I gave him a quick call to come round and use his excellent photography skills to get me some shots. He said he would be about 10 minutes, so I unhooked her in the net and settled her out into the deeper water whilst still in the net. I usually find that as long as the fish can put its belly on the bottom, it’s happy; I always like to allow my fish to recover before lifting them out of the water for pictures, etc. I flicked the rig back onto the spot, applied another handful of bait, and sorted my weigh sling, water buckets and the usual paraphernalia for Trotters’ arrival.
ust as I was nearly sorted, another single beep on the same rod made me look round, and then seconds later, what can only be described as a cartoon run followed. It was textbook, with a wailing alarm, spinning reel, and clicking clutch that equalled pure meltdown. As I lifted into the culprit she breached, and I was looking straight at her at 30 yards. I saw her huge head and shoulders come clear of the water, and straight away I knew what was attached to the end of the line. My heart thumped in my chest, but thankfully, Higgsy was on hand to break the tension. He had been walking across the bridge with his barrow at the moment she breached, and he arrived in my swim 30 seconds later, out of breath.
“I’ve just seen Starry’s jump!” he exploded.
“I know, Higgsy, she’s attached to my fecking hook!” I retorted.
Laughter descended back into seriousness as she went through her repertoire of hook-shedding tactics. At one point I even thought she had picked up the Helipad angler’s line as his rod went into meltdown, but that wasn’t so, as I saw him playing a fish at the same time.
Although I haven’t lost any fish for a long time, I always have those horrible hookpull scenarios playing in my mind, and never more so than this time whilst playing the queen of the lake. Again, more head throws and spirited lunges were forthcoming, but not this time my love, and as she slipped into the net, it fell silent. I pulled the net pole towards me and peered in to confirm what I already knew. The emotion took over, and I screamed, “STARRY’S”!!
Rupert’s face was a picture when he arrived to picture the common, and I informed him that as per his text message, I’d caught Starry’s on demand. (Not the first time this year his text message demanding a lump had been achieved, but that’s another story.)
Side by side in the two nets, Starry’s looked twice the size of what had previously looked an ample common, and this rang true when we weighed them both. The common was indeed exactly half Starry’s weight at 26lb. Yep, that’s right, at 52lb Starry’s was my new PB. What a feeling, and I’m still on a high now, nearly a week on! To capture a target fish is always an amazing feeling, but to capture a target fish which is not only a PB but also the biggest fish which swims in the incomparable Horton complex is simply the stuff of dreams.
I remember first seeing Starry’s while spotting fish off the famous bridge that separates the Island Lake and Kingsmead 1. It was 4 years ago, when I was only an Island Lake member, and seeing its unmistakably huge frame parked in the centre of a huge raft of weed was one of the deciding factors of me getting a Gold Card the following year. To be fair, during my first 2 years as a Gold Card member, I can count the number of nights I did on the Mead on one hand because I was targeting the Island Lake. However, from August 2015 onwards, my focus switched more to Kingsmead 1, and with 22 nights under my belt and a decent stream of quality fish being banked, the big girl had slipped up.
To witness her huge frame attached to my Mugga in the crystal-clear water is something I’ll never forget, and I look forward to cradling Fingers at 50lb from Horton Church Lake next. We shall see.