Effort Equals Reward | Lewis Read

Over the last few weeks, the fishing at the Park lake has been tricky in the extreme, and thanks to the prevailing NE wind, the water temperatures plummeted. The huge great Welly carp stopped showing, and gave few clues to their whereabouts. How do massive fish like these just disappear? But disappear they most certainly did.

From mid-September onwards, I found myself stepping up mobility, and was moving swims way too much in an attempt to pin them down, or at least get on any small active pods of fish. This meant I was moving up to half a dozen times each weekend, reacting to any little signs I noticed, and just trying to scratch out a bite. It wasn’t totally in vain though, otherwise I would have been beating myself up like a masochistic carp freak! 

On the first of a series of runaround weekends, I moved six times in a couple of days. I bounced backwards and forwards, before finally settling in the Little Lake after seeing a couple of what I thought were bubblers, which really could have been tench. Luckily, that night I had a pull on the Ronnie Rig, which made the old ATT bleep, and I proceeded to tug and cajole a chunk of a 45lb ghostie away from the far margin. It battled like mad until it was unceremoniously bundled into the waiting net. Immediately, all the effort was more than worth it for that one bite. 

Sometimes it’s a fine line between chasing my own tail and being mobile, and there are inevitably going to be times when I move out of a swim prematurely. But the more I do it, the more I’m convinced that on balance, it buys more bites than it loses, plus I get bored sitting in the same swim for longer than about 3 hours if there isn’t anything happening!

The following weekend was once again more of the same. This time the lake was packed, and despite my best efforts I walked away with a Blankety Blank cheque book and pen. When I got on fish they evaporated, metaphorically, after the leads and rigs had sploshed in nearby. One opportunity stood out, when a few fish started showing out in the middle between the Wides and Pole Position, and three of us made a midnight manoeuvre, setting up on them from various swims in the vicinity. That was probably two too many anglers in the area, and once again they did the off.

At the start of October, the sketchy weather was due to improve the following weekend, with a nice southerly wind forecast to arrive on the Friday evening. I arrived at the lake just before 6.00 on the Friday morning, eager to wander around at dawn to try to receive a gift from the carp gods. An hour later I was sitting on the floor in the Reeds, surveying a lovely flat lake, when a fish flopped out by the island in front of the Grassy. I immediately ran back to my barrow and quickly wrapped up the rods to marks I had caught fish from before, so I knew they would be fishing right if I could get them out with minimal disturbance. Somehow, I got them all out with just a single cast for each rod; each went out perfectly and with minimal disturbance as the lead was slowed down before it hit the surface.

A stringer and a Ronnie Rig, a deadly combination.

A stringer and a Ronnie Rig, a deadly combination.

I elected to fish singles because I didn’t want to rain boilies if there were active fish in front.

Nothing else happened for 3 hours, and as the wind started to tickle the surface, gently rippling the water’s surface in the direction of Bramble Bay, I could take no more. I shifted round to the Up and Over, which is a swim that’s located right on the end of the expected southerly.

I actually saw a bit of bubbling in Turtle Corner, so I set up fully expecting some carpy traffic on the end of a nice new weather front. With the mild wind pushing beautifully into the swim, I sat on my hands for the whole night, bored witless. I was going stir crazy, and by 8.00 the following morning I had had enough, so I piled the barrow high and headed for the Little Lake again. Word on the Welly grapevine was that a couple of fish had shown in there the night before, and I knew the anglers were due to go at some point, so that would do. When the fish aren’t playing ball out in the main lake, they are invariably in one of the bays – the tricky bit is pinning them down to which one.

I set my gear behind amiable Carl Udry, in the Birches, as awesome David Acreman (‘Akridman’) was hanging it out after doubling up with KKK (Kris Ollington) in the main swim. By mid-afternoon I was set up in the Birches. This swim offers a great angle on the mature stand of pads in the corner to the left, and it’s safer than setting up right next to them in the Pads Swim. In the meantime, after Kris had departed, Dave caught a cracking red-cheeked 31lb common, so we knew there were still carp loitering in the Little Lake. Coincidence? I think not squire – and well angled by the likeable bumpkin (who is a very fine angler).

It was a grim winter with water temperatures down.

It was a grim winter with water temperatures down.

I nipped round and fed some quartered boilies and a couple of pinches of Sweet Crunch to the corner of the pads, and then cast two rods over. The third rod was flicked round towards the channel that leads in and out of the Little Lake. All the rods had been changed over to Mirage main line, simply because I knew the swim had seen a fair bit of pressure since my old mate Greg had caught Little Big Head, Lordie the Clean Fish, and Jay the Chestnut the weekend before, on consecutive nights. They were the only bites on the whole lake that weekend – no wonder I fancied a night on the Little Lake!

After setting the traps, I got the odd single bleep, which is a telltale with the fluoro, and at just past midnight, one of the locked-up pads rods wrapped round and I had a nice 26lb 4oz common. It was the night of the full moon, so it was bright enough to get the rod back out perfectly. I nipped round and rebaited with another pinch of the sweet delicious Crunch, and a few more chops.

At 5.00-ish, the same rod torqued round on the rests, and a much more powerful and determined fish held against the pads, thrusting powerfully in an effort to get into the tangled web of leaves and stems. I held on for dear life, and eventually it conceded enough ground for me to play it a bit more conventionally. Great fizzes of silty gas were sheeting up to the surface as this animal of a carp did the usual trick of trying to get rid of the irritation in its lip by rubbing its face deep into the bottom sediment. I was pleased to have landed one, and I gazed down at the fish in the net. She was still fairly well illuminated by the full moon, and I thought, ‘A mid-30 will do.’ 

I had to leave at 6.00 the following morning.

I had to leave at 6.00 the following morning.

It wasn’t until I went to lift her onto the waiting mat that I had one of those wonderfully delicious ‘is the net snagged?’ moments. It was a true beast of a Welly whacker! I weighed the huge-framed mirror at a stonking great 49lb 8oz – wow! At first I thought it was a recapture of the Unknown (I caught her at 49lb 4oz from the Grassy in September), but she was identified by another angler as one of Welly’s rarer bankside visitors, namely the Little Two Tone.

The raven-haired Gardner Tackle videographer, Alan Stagg, was due down on the Monday morning, so I got him to the Park early and we did a nice little video. Unfortunately, a full video day’s plans were scuppered by the noisy erection of a circus-style marquee just behind us, so I took an impromptu day’s annual leave, and he headed off to the office. Double result! Nevertheless, we captured some really good footage of this impressive fish on the bank. I was really hoping to get another bite, which I did later that day, only to have a hookpull in the pads. It happens when fishing pads and snags a lot, but I was still devastated because it was another big fish.

On the last night of the trip, a work night, despite liners in the early hours, no bites were forthcoming. The fish had definitely been set on edge, and I left at 7.00 the next morning. These highly pressured fish react to the series of captures from the swim by acting very sketchily in the zone for a long time afterwards. 

After the capture of the (not so) Little Two Tone, the water temperature dropped off over the course of several weeks, thanks to the incessant and repulsive northerly and easterly winds we endured through much of the second half of October and November. The change was quite dramatic really, as in September the water felt lovely and tepid, but then dropped down to 6.5°C by mid-November, and the activity dropped off. Last year’s winter results were amazing, and I think we all hoped for the same again this winter; however, those results were unquestionably down to the series of blustery and mild weather fronts that battered the UK and northern Europe from December right through to March. It was wonderful.

The Little Two Tone at 49lb 8oz.

The Little Two Tone at 49lb 8oz.

The weather patterns seemed to be conspiring to undermine our efforts, and if the forecast was to be believed, the weather was going to be dominated by northerly jet streams, which invariably tend to keep the dominant weather systems coming from less pleasant climes. I work on the realistic but slightly pessimistic premise that the last winter was VERY special, so I didn’t expect too much.

The fishing slowed down somewhat, and only a handful of fish were captured; notably, Dr Dave (an extremely lovable rogue) with a mid-30 mirror. Mike ‘Boyo’ Jones, Welsh carp-hauling ace and another example of concentrated niceness, had a wonderful result with the amazing Little Big Head, and a ghostie from Up and Over. Finally, David Gaskins, Gardner Tackle team, had an upper-20/scraper-30 common, although he forgot to weigh it! With so few captures, unsurprisingly, there have been noticeably fewer anglers on the bank. Strange that, almost coincidental even.

Like most of you, I genuinely find the long nights quite wearing, but those fish in Welly have got me. I just love ’em! I tend to still do my 3 nights’ allowance whenever I can, despite the dreary and slightly depressing long hours of darkness. I admit that I was starting to wane slightly, but as I said, it’s the thought of those fish which compels me to crack on. 

Night, after night, without sightings or liners to go on, it was relentless hard work to go and set up in the dark.

Just last week, I arrived there after 7.00 in the evening, and found the lake nice and quiet. I was revved up and wasn’t going to set up until I found them. There were only a few anglers on, and two of them were in plots situated in Bramble Bay. Seven hours of walking and looking later, I gave up. I pushed my barrow round the lake and walked it three times, going backwards and forwards, until I disconsolately set up in Lauries. I knew that the weather was going to be horrific on the Saturday night, with cold rain blowing in on an easterly, and then a cold westerly blowing down the other end.

A bloomin’ great hippo, my 10th over 48lb, at 54lb 4oz.

A bloomin’ great hippo, my 10th over 48lb, at 54lb 4oz.

I got up the next morning and trained my nice new Hawke bins on the lake for the whole day, and saw nothing again. With no signs, I stayed put, getting increasingly bored and fidgety. Cheeky Chubby Chops Charley Hayes came round for a brew and promptly saw a splash up the other end. In truth, I thought I had seen a black head poke out amongst a sea of birds earlier, and was now kicking myself. He shot off down there, and I drank tea and sulked, knowing I was probably at the wrong end of the pit. I could have moved but I was tired and emotional, and I didn’t want to crowd him in a corner and ruin his chance.

Nothing happened on the pit that weekend, and then Gaskin caught his common, but a pattern seemed to be emerging on recent fish sightings. I had a plan to fish when I could over the weekend of The Carp Society Winter Show. Shows are hard graft, but I have a lot of old friends who I rarely see who are based in the Sandown area. I knew I would have 2 days of hyperactive gibbering and relentless playfulness, so it wouldn’t be too bad.

On the Saturday night, my voice was starting to go. I had been talking to so many people about the amazing fish in Welly that I was all fired up! I got to the lake at about 8.00 p.m., and had to pack up at 6.00 the next morning. I really fancied giving Animal Farm a night, just to see if I picked up a liner, or saw or heard a sign; it had been niggling me for a while. The sum total of two bleeps on the right-hand rod, shortly after casting out, was as good as it got. I decided that the conditions forecast for the rest of the week were bad, although Sunday night was worth a quick go, as it was the best of the bunch.

Sunday night was warm, and I really fancied dropping in the Cold Swim, or the one next door to it, now named the Stump. I had a hunch based on a result I had last winter from the Wides Swim, by fishing on the back of another easterly. I pushed the barrow round, and as soon as I was in the swim, it felt right. It was warm under the brolly, and the wind was pushing gently down the other end – a nasty, nippy, chilly northeasterly. I checked the rigs, touched up the points, tied on new hookbaits, balanced them, and then added a 2x4 bait stringer to each rod. Each rod went out first cast, with nice deep drops and clean pat-downs on the leads. I sunk the Mirage main line and settled the bobbins so they just pivoted on the base. Within half an hour I had a couple of single bleeps, and then a while later another little lift, all on the same rod.

"The fish started peeling line off the clutch, and I struggled to get into my chesties. Why the devil is it so hard to complete such a simple task when you have a rod in your hand?"

This was the most indicator activity I had received in ages, and I was sure it was the carp. Over the course of the next hour, the same rod received a couple more little lifts, and then the bobbin twitched up an inch and paused, before it twitched to the top and sat there, fidgeting against the front of the ATTs. It popped out of the clip, and as I picked up the rod, I could see a big boil just to one side of where I’d cast. The fish started peeling line off the clutch, and I struggled to get into my chesties. Why the devil is it so hard to complete such a simple task when you have a rod in your hand? I pulled the straps up, and then realised that the net was still on the barrow, up the slope on the path behind me. DOH! 

Luckily, the fish came straight out, and as it was still talking line, I had time to edge back, grab the net, and chuck it down into the swim. I wasn’t sure how I was going to set it up one-handed, and decided to slacken off the clutch slightly so the fish could take line under tension with my foot planted on the rod butt. A swift click of arms into the spreader block, and I picked the rod up again and carried on like normal. Phew! A full-on soiled undies moment was only just averted! 

I jumped in the water again, shaking like mad, the cold wind and adrenaline ensuring that I was anything but a steely hardened carping machine. More like a wobbly sack of blancmange! Very slowly and steadily, a ridiculously heavy fish came back, and I kept the tip low as she touched the surface 20 yards out, leaving a huge oily tail pattern as she slowly came closer – inch by inch. At this point it’s always a bit of a worry that the fish will nod up on the surface and the hook will pop out, but as usual, the Mugga held firm, and soon a big mirror was coaxed into the net. I pulled her ever so gently towards me for a better look, and was immediately taken by the sheer width of the back. I then looked at the other dimensions. It was a bloomin’ HIPPO!

"The fish marked more than a PB. It was the penultimate high of a season that has been more than extraordinary for me."

Only two other anglers were braving a Sunday. I tried both and came up trumps with Pete; he answered his phone and I blurted out that I had a monster in the net. He asked where I was, and then popped round a couple of minutes later to assist with the weighting and the photography. I lifted her into the sling and hoisted her up, taking a couple of seconds to register what the scales said. “Er, 54 and a bit!” That equates to 54lb 4oz on 120lb Reubens. 

A PB by 4oz! God bless my new scales; my old ones were weighing light, which I discovered recently, after people kept telling me all my fish weights were light, which was certainly true for some of the individual fish.

The fish marked more than a PB. It was the penultimate high of a season that has been more than extraordinary for me. I recognise that I’m not the best angler in the world, far from it, but by fishing a lot and doing things right, with good bait, good tackle and a sensible approach, I have had the most wonderful run of good fortune in terms of the amazing fish I have been privileged to catch. The lakes I have fished have a lot to do with the amazing results, and, of course, I have been more than a little lucky too.

My second capture of the Unknown was a PB, and my 10th fish over 48lb since January 1st., which is an utterly mind-numbing and ridiculous statement. It’s still barely sunk in even now, and as I reminisce, it still seems inconceivable. 

Last year was the dream. The syndicate on Welly is currently populated by some of the nicest guys I know, and some of the best anglers too, which makes the angling on this astonishing lake even more wonderful. There’s no jealousy, just jubilation when your mates have a whacker. Absolutely pukka!

The final thank you is to TLSW (the long-suffering wife) Tracy, who has demonstrated the sheer patience of a saint when allowing me to angle relentlessly. I know that I have pushed the boundaries as a married man this year, so thank you chick, you’re simply the best!  CW

The end of a truly spectacular year.

The end of a truly spectacular year.