Stop And Smell The Roses | Nick Helleur
For the first time in ages I didn’t really have any concrete winter plans, not that I ever really do because I like a regular change of scenery and, more often than not, I have anything up to half a dozen places lined up. This not only keeps my interest and offers me options, but I’m always in with a shout somewhere no matter what the weather decides to throw at me.
As is my way I like to flit about to keep my interest up and get a few bites as well, if at all possible. Should I enjoy one place more than the others, then so be it, that one becomes the main focus, but I’ve said it countless times before, winter fishing, it’s all about options.
I guess it was mid-January when the opportunity arose for me to do a bit of fishing on a lake up Reading way. I was interested for no other reason to begin with than the lake was booked out at the weekends but was closed during the week. This meant I’d have the entire lake to myself if I wanted to fish Monday to Friday, which, luckily enough, are the days I fish. I don’t need to tell you the value of the offer; I’m always on the lookout for good fishing so I jumped at the chance.
I arranged to meet Del Shackleford who runs Junction 12 the following week to have a look around and to do an overnighter with Dan Wildbore from Sticky Baits, to kill two birds with one stone. My first visit had me super excited. To get onto the site you have to be let in across the railway lines and once locked in you are completely alone, there is no other access as the lake is surrounded by the winding River Kennet, so no dog walkers, no joggers, in fact, no one at all – lovely. What’s more, I could drive right around the lake; I couldn’t remember the last time I fished out of the car in this country and the idea appealed a lot I can tell you.
After speaking to Del about the stock I couldn’t wait to get started and so Dan and I set up for the night in The Point swim which is roughly in the centre of the lake. I guess the lake must be 20 acres, or thereabouts, and holds lots of lovely carp of mixed strains that have already been caught to over 40lb. I was amazed at the clarity of the water and could imagine the big, dark fish packed together out in the lake somewhere, it really was super-clear but I couldn’t see it being easy despite being told of the big head of fish.
Well, that first night certainly wasn’t easy. It was a cold and clear night around freezing with no wind; we blanked but I was intrigued, and with a key to the lock and permission to fish I knew I’d be back soon enough as it suits my ‘turn up late and wander around looking for a chance’ style. From memory it was a couple of weeks before I made it back, again for an overnighter. I’d gone to another lake nearer home which was coloured and lifeless at the start of February which is when I should have been seeing some signs of life. I sat watching out of hope as the light faded but saw nothing, so drove the short hop to the M4 and headed to Junction 12 as I knew it would be empty.
With one blank night under my belt already, I did exactly what I did the first time around and set up in the middle of the lake, spread out four rods and watched for a sign to get the ball rolling, any sign at all. Again, I saw nothing and caught nothing, not even so much as a liner. Now I was even more intrigued, I was told it was full of carp, where were they the slippery buggers? This routine was repeated again the following week when I arrived late and got little more than a good sleep, before packing up and heading home again.
The next visit coincided with a big low front which brought with it much warmer temperatures and big winds. Foolishly I’d agreed to be filmed by Sticky for an ‘In Session’ style video looking at my winter approach of single hookbait fishing, this was all well and good, except I’d already done a few nights for absolutely nothing so I’d have to pull my finger out.
I arrived after dark and headed to the far end of the lake, and although boggy in places, I just about made it round. I parked up and looked out across the open water toward the glittering lights of the offices opposite and watched for a while as waves crashed over the boards at the front of the swim. It started to rain as the wind increased in strength by the minute. I sensed that if I didn’t get a move on and get some rods out I was going to get a soaking, so like lightning I moved the car to act as a wind break and set up a brolly behind it. Soon enough I was sorted with three rods ready and hot coffee on the go. While it was brewing in the percolator I had a cast about, there was a fair amount of dead weed everywhere and it was a struggle to find a decent drop but find one I did. The drop itself wasn’t great and was super difficult to gauge because of the gusting blow, but I had a nice glassy pull of maybe ten feet before it locked up in weed again – the spot was sandy I guessed. Beyond the ‘glassy’ area it felt shallower and weedy and I hoped in the big winds that if the fish were going to be anywhere then this had to be the area, tucked up out of it at the base of the drop off.
I managed to get two rods on the mark and the third was fished off to the right on the only other bit I could find that felt remotely clear. With a hot coffee in hand I retired to the warmth and comfort of the car and sat listening to the radio and the buffeting of the increasing wind. Surely this had to liven them up?
I’d barely thought it when a wailing buzzer had me out into the gale and running to the rods in the darkness. Whatever was on the end pulled like a bugger for ages and ages into the howling wind, easily 70 yards and still going, even with the line singing and the rod tip sunk deep; it had been a while since I’d had anything pull so hard. Twenty minutes of swearing and an aching arm later and the culprit was in the net, it looked like a nice 20 and beautifully-coloured, nearly jet-black across its back with an almost fluoro orange belly. I was as happy as I was surprised, and a bit relieved if I’m honest, it meant I had a fish for the camera man. After the first on a single, in the dark, from a spot that screamed, I was, of course, very confident of more, and I got more, ending up with half a dozen bites in 24 hours up to 28lb, all caught on little orange peach and pepper pop-ups. I never saw a single show in the time I was there and all the bites came from the glassy strip between the weedbeds, where it went from around six or seven feet down to maybe ten, or a touch deeper, where the bites came from.
Of course, after storm Doris, or whatever its name was, spun away on its journey north, the action stopped as quickly as it started – the lake switched off again. I could have baited to shorten the odds in my favour, I could have used the boat and mapped every square inch of the lakebed, I could have had rods out all around the lake, the thing is I didn’t do any of those, I’m an angler, I love the challenge of working it out as I go, not boring them out as I go (there’s a very big difference). In fact, I don’t even see it as a challenge but as something I enjoy. I was in a privileged position by being allowed to fish midweek and wanted to be sure that my actions had very little impact on the lads who had booked the lake for the weekend, so most of the time I fished with singles and I only went for the odd night, maybe one a week on average over a period of a few months, it’s a fair journey from where I live.
You see, there was a reason why I never had any spring fishing lined up and ended up getting into J12, well a couple of reasons. Firstly, I only had two waters I was interested in and both had fallen by the wayside. The first was suffering a brown algae bloom which killed my interest in what was usually a super-clear environment, and the other was simply too busy for my liking. The main reason however, was that after many years of talking about it I had finally bought myself a boat for fishing on the river and was working towards getting it ready which seemed to take all of my concentration. Now we are not talking anything extravagant and it’s basically a floating bivvy, but bearing in mind the amount of time I was likely to be spending on it I wanted it to be comfortable, well equipped, and reliable. When it was ready I’d be fishing on the River Thames to start with.
I’m not a rich man, far from it, and boats are very expensive indeed, even small ones, so I had to call in a few favours in exchange for bartered days out perch fishing or whatever later on in the season. This meant that it dragged on and on. This was not good for operation ‘escape’ and put me in danger of missing the start of the traditional river season as a ‘tart up job’ turned into a full custom-carp refit. However, it did mean I got to spend more time up at the Junction than I expected and I really began to enjoy it. Soon the urgency to get the boat on the river was calmed a little as the fishing on the lake was just so good. I literally lost count of the number of 30-pounders I caught, and once it warmed up enough that the fish were in the edge, I fished mostly with just one rod. The fish are pristine and bionic and of a very good average size, and come in literally all shapes and sizes. I’ve included a few shots to give you an idea. The thing that hits you is their condition. Del limits the time the lake is fished and it shows, literally every fish I caught was beautiful and just so powerful.
It goes without saying that I missed the start of the season on the boat but it didn’t matter, if I’ve learnt anything in fishing it’s that you can’t do everything at once, but I’ll be honest, the fishing at the Junction has been the best and most enjoyable spring fishing I’ve had for years and I’ve loved every minute, so much so that it’s been hard to pull away. It’s fair to say, I’ve caught my fill, probably a good thing as I can’t see me catching tons out of the river in comparison. It’s certainly not a case of all things come to an end as I’m sure I’ll be back for a few nights in the autumn, but it’s over for the time being as, finally, my boat is ready and the next chapter begins.
Be lucky, Nick.