The F Word | Paul Forward
Carp fishing during both the festive period and early January is always going to be a tricky proposition, or more likely, a complete waste of time. However, even if the latter is true, it is sometimes nice to just get out. After being cooped up indoors for days on end, and consuming vast quantities of turkey and booze, I think most anglers feel the need to escape to the water’s edge, and enjoy the peace and tranquility it offers, even if prospects aren’t that great.
To be honest, I know I’d go completely mad if I didn’t get to participate in some sort of angling activity at least once every week, whether it be a few hours with a stick float on the river, or sitting behind my favourite old carp rods. As I pointed out last month, choice of venue is key to having any chance of success.
So, bearing this in mind, my trips have yet again been limited to the deep clay pit I regularly fish in Kent. As you’d expect, it has been tricky, with only the odd random fish being caught, but with nearly 40 years of solid winter carping under my belt, I know exactly what the deal is and what to expect. Despite all this, even at my age I still really enjoy the challenge!
I set out the weekend before Christmas, in fog as thick as pea soup, and temperatures barely above zero. I had a sneaky feeling it could be tough-going, but as far as I could see (not very far), there was nothing I could do about the weather, so I was going to give it my best shot. Walking around the 40-acre pit, as expected in such conditions, proved to be pointless, but it’s an old habit that more than anything settles my mind that I’m not missing a trick. Eventually, with nothing to go on other than experience, I settled in the middle section, put out three rods in likely areas, and hoped a slice of luck would come my way.
It felt sort of eerie and timeless in the freezing fog, which made it difficult to know whether it was morning or night. The indicators, just like the fog, refused to budge. With nothing to report I made one last-ditch effort, packed, and moved up to the shallower top end. There, with around 5 acres to myself, I fished a really good snag and covered most of the open water, but all to no avail.
Some guys seem to lose confidence after a few such sessions, almost to the point of giving up until the spring. I know it can be tough, but the sense of achievement when one eventually rolls into the net, for me, makes it all worthwhile. This is the reality of winter fishing; it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted, especially so on some of the harder waters, and there may not be a single bite between the end of October and the middle of March.
In the past, I’ve fished many winters on such waters as Harrow, Savay, Milton, and Dinton Pastures, where fishing at least one night a week, I haven’t even managed a single bite. Obviously, at Paddlesworth, with the big head of fish plus the deep water, it offers a much more realistic chance.
An old buddy of mine, Andy Kidd, who I’ve known since the early Conningbrook days, called to see if I fancied a Christmas social, and so accompanied me on my next trip to the same venue. Bearing in mind that Andy had only ever made a handful of visits to the venue, he, as I suspected, handed the thankless responsibility of swim choice to yours truly on the Saturday before Christmas. So, with the burden of a couple of recent blanks firmly tucked under my belt, I arrived earlier than arranged, around mid-morning, and in similar murky conditions I set about looking for swims that were close enough for a social, and yet offered each of us a decent chance of a fish. I reckoned the betting odds were at least 1,000 to 1. On the plus side, the lake was almost empty.
As expected, sweet nothing was learned from a quick lap, so with nothing to lose, I plumped for the Magic Swim 30 for my mate Andy, even though it had seen a drastic loss of form; in fact, it hadn’t done a fish for at least a couple of weeks. The swim next door but one would do for me. My buddy arrived shortly afterwards, around midday, and thankfully looked impressed with my choices. Unbeknown to him, I had both fingers and toes crossed for a change of fortunes. A festive Speckled Hen set the mood, after which I pointed out some likely areas, and then wandered down to my plot to get sorted, fingers still crossed.
The drill was simple enough – two rods on Cell 18mm bottom baits soaked in hemp water, and the third on a 9ft Zig. All were fished close together in a line at 70 yards, and then I fed over the top every so often with a Spomb or two of hemp and corn. Dead simple. The task, for once, went very smoothly, without drama, so much so that by 1.30 p.m. we were done. Including base camp, the whole lot was sorted with still an hour or so to go until bite time, if there was still was such a thing.
By way of celebration, we opened a box of Mrs F’s home-made mince pies, which, by the way, I really do like, and yet another fine ale was duly cracked open. Although still misty, most of the fog had cleared and really it wasn’t a bad afternoon at all.
A few more anglers turned up and went opposite, which, on a lake as big as this, is far enough away to be of no concern at all. Even so, I still couldn’t help but feed a few Spombs over my territory, while Andy chuckled at my somewhat dog-like behaviour. Bang on cue at 3.00 p.m., and rather unexpectedly (I nearly spilled my beer), my middle rod simply tore off, and I was doing battle with a carp. The big smile on my face was because I could hardly believe my luck.
The fish was a mid-20 common, which is quite rare on this venue. It fought really well and was in truly immaculate condition, like a brand-new pin. No sooner was it in the net than Andy’s alarm let out a series of bleeps, and then a rapid one note, which meant that he too was in. I quickly secured my fish in a retainer and offered my assistance with the net.
This one fought well too, causing Andy to remark that it felt like a good fish, and he should know. It was at least a couple of rod-lengths out when I first caught sight of the width across its shoulders in the clear water, but I didn’t want to say too much, just in case, although I did know that it was a substantial unit of a mirror carp he was attached to.
All went to plan and she slid in the net first time of asking, with no dramas. It was almost too good to be true, so much so that I had to pinch myself to be sure I hadn’t nodded off and was dreaming it all. Clearly it was a big fish. It was another absolute stunner, immaculate in every way, with a distinguishing patch of golden scales halfway down her left flank, stunning winter colours, and a full set of curtains inside the lips. On the scales it went 35lb 12oz. We could hardly believe our good fortune, and celebrated with a little jig and another fine ale, of which we had all manner of different types to try out. By now the light was fading fast, but as luck would have it, yet another good buddy, Steve the scaffolder, was due to join us, thus enabling us to don our Santa hats and get some truly memorable festive pictures of the pair of us old-timers with a fabulous brace of Christmas carp.
And it wasn’t over either, as shortly after taking the pictures, I was away again with another cracking mid-20 common. This one was longer than the first, but not quite as chunky. To be fair, I couldn’t have written the script any better myself. One common is a 50-1 rarity, so what were the odds of a brace? Obviously, one of us must have stood in some of the finest and luckiest dog poo that had ever dropped from a canine’s bottom that very morning. It’s also worth mentioning that at this point, with all three fish falling to bottom baits, I took the Zig off and possibly shouldn’t have.
Steve, who had gone there straight from work, dropped in a couple of swims further down, so while he sorted himself out, we fired up not one, but two barbecues. We then prepared the veritable mountain of food (mainly meat), plus the trademark cheesy jacket spuds. Night bites at this time of year are a rarity, and action, if there is any at all, tends to be late afternoon. So, it was no surprise at all that we weren’t disturbed further that evening or during the night, although it would have been even nicer if Steve had also bagged a fish.
Although I hadn’t planned to stay another day, Mrs F said she didn’t mind as long as I was home for teatime, which was exactly what I needed to hear. It meant we had another bite time to look forward to, and the prospect of another fish or two. Despite having everything spot on, this time the carp either hadn’t read, or had chosen to ignore, the script. I should have known that greed doesn’t pay, and neither does anyone’s good luck last forever. In truth though, I know that we had been very lucky indeed.
Andy, and I met up again a few days after the New Year, hoping, I suppose, for a repeat performance of the sparkling Christmas episode. The lake was quiet again angler-wise, and after weighing up the options, we eventually dropped into the same two swims as before. Same tactics, same cold, misty conditions.
The carp had other ideas and weren’t playing ball, and come the next morning, when Andy had to leave, neither of us had received even a single bleep. I was staying for the rest of the day, so my best plan was to pack and then see if anywhere else looked more likely. My new Power Porter, which I love, made the task effortless.
No one had fished the other end for a while. I noticed a very slight tinge of colour in the water, so I opted to give it a whirl for a few hours and see what happened. I also made a promise to myself to fish at least one of my three rods on a Zig; in past years I’ve done really well on them, and yet somehow, I’d almost forgotten how effective they can be, especially at this time of year. So, after putting out two of my rods on the bottom, I rigged up a 9ft Zig on my normal 11lb mono, a Size 10 hook, with a tiny 8mm Proper Job pop-up combo.
One of the local lads, Stuart, dropped in a few swims down for a day session, and it was while we were chatting over a brew that I thought I heard a few bleeps. Guess what? It was the Zig rod, and it was a carp! The fish, a pale-looking mirror of around 17lb, wasn’t the prettiest in the world, but that didn’t matter a jot. It was all about HOW I’d caught, and more importantly, what that told me.
I’m going to be doing a whole load of Zigging this next month, and I’ll describe exactly the whys and wherefores of what I’m doing, plus I’ll be talking about the different types of braided main line I use, and why.
Tight lines until next month,