Northern Gold | Paul Mallinson

It all started one autumn night back in 2007. I was chatting to a mate about all things carp-related, when he let slip that a big common lived in a reserve lake near his home. Rumour had it that this common had gone uncaught during its formative years, and was only caught once when it reached its peak weight of 40lb+. Fish of that size were, at the time, virtually unheard of in the north, and I’d never heard of one within striking distance of home. In our locality, 30s were as rare as hen’s teeth!

However, a year or two later, the myth turned into reality, as said mate managed to bag the big girl. All of a sudden it was very real, and I decided I needed to fish for her. The 7-acre gravel pit had no fishing on it at the time, so it was a case of early-morning sessions with minimal gear. After just one morning though, I found out that the lake had been sold and a fishing syndicate was being set up. I was a bit stuck, until I managed to secure a ticket.

That first year I managed a dozen or so nights, but was never close to catching a fish. The following year, I had to give up my ticket because I had a wedding to pay for and cash was tight. However, once done and dusted, my attention turned back to fishing, and I was back in the game the following spring. That year my daughter was born, so angling time was scarce, but come September, I managed to get a few nights lined up. 

It felt great to be back, and it wasn’t long before I located a few. They were up on the surface in a deep corner of the lake that I was unfamiliar with. There was no shallow water close by, so I opted to chance it on the deck in the deep water where they were cruising. There was a lovely-looking cleaned-off gravel spot in the margin, so I introduced some bait over it and kept checking. The evening and night passed quietly, but as the sun’s rays started to warm the surface layers in the morning, I could just about make out a few shapes moving over the small gravel spot in the edge.

I quickly reeled in and tied up a little edge rig, watched the spot until the coast was clear, and then dropped my rig onto the dinner plate-sized spot. It wasn’t long before the fish were back, hoovering up the bait, and then a mid-20 common picked up the rig, dumped it off the spot, and disappeared out into the lake. I was well and truly sussed, although the other fish didn’t seem to notice and continued feeding there. 

I reset the rig, and then retired to my bivvy to create a wonder rig that would teach ’em a lesson! Midway through tying it, I heard the buzzer let out a single bleep, which I reasoned must have been a liner. Once the rig was complete, I returned to find the rod pulled off the buzzer and the butt grip hanging on for dear life! All was still, as the fish had obviously found its way into some safe haven. 

Tightening up revealed the fish hadn’t gone far at all, and had headed for the nearest weedbed, which was dying off, so I soon had it free. Shortly after, I considered myself very lucky to have a mid-double common safely in the confines of my net. First blood from the pit had only taken 3 years, give or take! I just hoped the next one wouldn’t be so long in coming. The Curly Pec Common behaved for the photos, and was soon back in the crystal-clear water and off to find her mates.

I couldn’t wait to get back down there, and managed to swing another session shortly after. This time, having walked the pit and not finding anything, I settled on an area that felt right. After some casting about, I established that there was a lot of weed, but eventually I managed to find a nice area with a smooth bottom that was completely free of it. It seemed to be a channel of some sort; deeper water between two shallower and weed-infested areas. A marker was quickly popped up and a couple of kilos of boilies spread about with the catty. Two rods were then fished over the top, with the third Chodded out to where a fish had shown while I was setting up.

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In the small hours of the morning, I was dragged from my slumber by an alarm wanting attention. This was crazy – two bites in 2 nights! The carp was weeded up, but as with the previous one, freeing it wasn’t too hard, and before long, a chunky-looking fish dropped into the folds of the net. The weed covering its head made the job a relatively calm affair. 

Lifting her onto the mat revealed the impressive bulky, leathery flanks and magnificent colours of the River Fish, one of the syndicate’s absolute gems, and one of only five mirrors in the lake. I secured her in the deep margins and waited for sunrise. Another member turned up early doors and did the honours with the camera. She went 29 and a bit on the scales, a spectacular individual fish, and I felt blessed to have caught it. 

A few blanks followed, and my carp fishing petered out as the cold weather set in. I’ve always been a bit of a fair-weather carper! The long, cold winter nights eventually started to give way to a new beginning, and my attentions turned back to the gravel pit. By now, along with being married and having a baby daughter (as if that wasn’t enough!), I had taken on a lease for my very own lake of 60 acres which was totally overgrown. It was just another thing vying for my attention, and meant I had to spread myself even thinner. 

Come early April, I managed to get down for my first attempt. I was chatting with one of the members over an early-morning brew as the sun came up, and before long, a few shows were noted on the far side of the lake. I hot-footed it round there, and saw a couple of subtle rolls in front of the Little Beach Swim. I didn’t want to spook them, so I went for the stealth option. I used the bait boat to drop a couple of baits on the nearside of a bar around where the shows had been, and the third rod was flicked out on a Zig, also in the general area.

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I was nicely set up and fishing when a chunk of weed floated in on the breeze and got caught up on the Zig rod, so I had to reel in and redo it, and as I did so, the Zig got caught around the main line of one of the other rods! I tried to jiggle the bit of foam up and down to free it and the rod let out a couple of beeps, which I thought was down to me, but then the clutch started ticking and the rod one-noted, and at the same time, the Zig came free. Talk about luck. The fish went on a mega-run out into the lake, which had me thinking it was a good one. The rest of the fight was fairly standard, and a nice chunky common rolled into the net. I was off the mark for the year within half an hour of getting the rods out!

Before I could do anything else, the heavens opened and a hailstorm soaked all my gear instantly, as I hadn’t even thought about setting up the bivvy. Five minutes later, the sun was out, so the Barrel Common was hoisted from its watery home and onto the mat. At a shade under 20, it was a lovely-looking fish, and a great start to the year. 

Towards the end of April, I was away from home (I work 2-week stints on an oil rig), and logged on to my PC to be greeted by the news that the big common had been out. I was absolutely made up for my good mate Mike, who was the lucky one this time. If you can’t be the one to bag the biggie, the next best thing is a good mate doing it, and I was genuinely over the moon for him. Even better, he was on the same bait as me, so I knew it liked a bit of SLK. There were still 14 or so other carp to go at, a couple of which I wanted to see in the bottom of my net, so all was certainly not lost.

I racked up a couple of blank sessions, and then I had another stroke of good fortune. I set up for the night and fished a couple of rods onto some nice shallow spots within wading distance; I hoped the fish would get into the shallows with the forecast warmer weather. The third rod was fished long to another shallow area, smack bang in the middle of the lake. I decided to redo the long rod with one of my faithful Pink Peril pop-ups. 

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Not long after, there was a bit of movement over the two close-in rods, but it wasn’t carp. The dreaded swans had turned up! They were intent on destroying the spots, and I tried everything to discourage them, but they didn’t seem bothered. Every time I got rid of them, they reappeared to take advantage of the easy food source. They were doing my head in, to the point where I decided that the best thing I could do was pack up and go looking for fish.

Little did I know I was about to receive divine intervention from the carp gods. Just as I was reeling in, one of the alarms let out a few bleeps. I glanced down at the rods behind me, and saw that one of the swingers was pulled up tight. I assumed I must have somehow caught up on the line, at which point the alarm let out a few more beeps and the clutch started to squeal. The rod in my hand was quickly discarded, and the one with the fish on swept up. The carp had made it over the back of the shallow water into the deeps, which were 10ft deeper than where I had hooked it. It held its ground for a while, using the drop-off to its advantage, but with steady pressure, I managed to coax it back over my side. The fish was easily taking line and fighting slow and heavy, and I was convinced I was attached to one of the big two.

The fight will live with me forever, and I felt physically sick while playing the fish. Another member, John, came to lend a hand, and I told him I thought it was one of the biggies. From start to finish, it wouldn’t give up; it’s the hardest-fighting fish I have ever caught. Eventually it rolled under the rod tip and showed its scaling, which did nothing to ease my nerves. When she rolled into the net, I was still blinded by the fight, and although I could clearly see it wasn’t the big ’un, I thought it was Cut Tail, the second-biggest, a low- to mid-30 at the time. 

When John and I got her up on the scales to reveal a weight of 28lb exactly, I realised it couldn’t be. Back on the mat, it was clear she wasn’t a 30, which I should have realised prior to weighing, but I was caught up in the buzz. 

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Still, I was hardly disappointed with one of the finest commons I have seen lying on my mat. After a few hours of exchanging texts, it was identified as the Orange Spot Common. I was told that she was a rarely-caught carp, and my capture was believed to have been only her third or fourth time. This was backed up by her immaculate condition. 

Towards the end of the summer holidays, I went there for a rare 2-night session, determined to have one out of the bay. The first day and night were a blank, with fish clearing me out in the bay without hooking themselves. Come the second day, it wasn’t long before they turned up once more, and I soon had them feeding. If memory serves me right, on this occasion I put out a little PVA bag.

It had been high pressure for weeks at this stage, but the tail end of a tropical storm was due, and sure enough, it brought thunder, lightning and heavy rain. It’s always a great time to be fishing after a summer storm, and 30 minutes after the storm passed, the lake came to life. Fish started showing over a spot in front of me, and before long, there were three fish in the bay as well. Game on!

I was just tying up another silt presentation when the rod in the bay, fished through a gap in the trees, one-noted. I grabbed my net and belted round there as quickly as possible. The buzzer didn’t miss a bleep until a split second before I picked up the rod, then it stopped, and I lifted a lifeless length of carbon. Gutted! I had worked hard for a bite through the scorching summer months, and when I finally hooked one, it was gut-wrenching to lose it. However, all was not lost. The fish were still showing over the rod fished out in the lake, so much so that I placed my third rod in the same area.

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A mate turned up for a social night, and set up next door after listening to my tale of woe. He was just in the process of getting his rods sorted, when one of my rods, out where the shows had been, burst into life. The fish took plenty of line from the off, but straight away, something strange was happening; the rod and line were still pointing directly at where the fish had been hooked. I played it back from its initial run, but it got so far and then locked up solid. I gave the fish some slack and it ran away and took line, but only got to the same spot before locking up again. There was nothing else for it; I would have to go in. 

Mike was by my side, having been alerted to the fact that I was into one, so I got him to hold the rod while I swam out. I followed the line with my hand, got to where I thought I was above the snagged line, gave it a gentle pull, and it immediately came free. It had been held in the weed all along, but there was no way it was coming free from the bank. As I lifted the line, I got the shock of my life when I came eyeball-to-eyeball with a common carp not 18ins away! I quickly let go and got Mike to take up the slack, then swam back to the bank to resume the battle. It wasn’t long before she was coughing water and sliding over the net, much to my relief. This was one hard-earned carp, and it turned out to be the Long Common at 19lb-odd. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but with such a low stock, every carp in the lake is special, and every bite mattered.

A couple of hours later, I was still buzzing over the capture when I noticed that my wedding ring was missing. I searched everywhere, and concluded that it had been lost when I had been swimming. The lake was certainly making me pay in more ways than one. Try explaining that one to the wife after 2 nights away!

Before I knew it, the year had passed. We were in our new home, and our son had arrived and settled in nicely. In early February, we were in the middle of a really mild winter, with hardly a frost to mention. Low pressure swept across the country, and I just had to get out and do some fishing.

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My carp senses were telling me that a certain deep area of the pit would be worth a shout. I still don’t know why, other than it seems to be the area where they wake up each spring. I went to the lake and leaded about, and found a lot of dead and decaying weed, but amongst it there seemed to be a smooth area at longish range. I used the bait boat to quickly and efficiently introduce a kilo of sweetcorn and a couple of kilos of hemp.

A few days later, I was back down for a night. I boated out a couple of maize rigs to where I had prebaited, which the coots and tufties found, diving over it on and off until dark. At 7.00 p.m., I was sheltering from a howling southwesterly when a series of bleeps got my attention, and I thought that one of the birds had hooked itself. The little swinger was bouncing up and down, so I reeled in, and halfway back to the bank, it started pulling back. Only when it was 20 yards out did I realise I was into a carp. I only went fishing because the weather felt carpy; I never expected to catch anything from such a low-stock pit. 

She went into the net with no drama, and I readied the weighing gear and the self-take stuff. Once on the mat, I was looking at the Little Leather, a cracker of a carp for a wet and windy February night. I decided to keep it under my belt, as it would be at least another month before the other lads started appearing. As it turned out, other than a suspect occurrence on my next night, nothing else happened, and spring arrived without any more fish on the bank for me. In fact, I really struggled that spring. Despite putting in a lot of effort, I never felt like I was getting close to the fish.

I went back to the lake after my summer break, during a period of unseasonably warm temperature of mid-20s in September, and I vowed to go on the hunt. I set foot in a little bay off the main lake, and immediately saw fish round the other side. I shot round there and up the nearest tree, and was soon looking down on almost the entire stock; it seemed as though every carp in the lake was there. I counted at least 14 fish, including the Big Common.

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I spent some time observing them (after claiming the swim!) from up the tree. They spent a lot of time hanging around a shallow bar that ran underneath the very tree I was in, before disappearing up the margins towards the peg. The top of the bar was clean sand and gravel and only a couple of feet deep, whereas the surrounding water was much deeper, or choked with weed. 

The Big Common, along with a few others, would dip down and have a little feed and grub about on the clean shallow ground, which was clearly noted. While the fish were on their circuit, I managed to get a dozen boilies and a couple of pouches of hemp scattered over where they had been feeding. I carried the bait up the tree in a plastic food bag, and then used a catapult to get it out to the desired area, so I knew exactly where it was going.

Even this minimal disturbance seemed to spook the fish a bit, and they hid under the tree canopy for a while. This was my chance. I rigged up a couple of rods with a reverse combi-rig that I hadn’t used for years, which seemed ideal for the hard-clear areas. I then drilled out an SLK bottom bait, and inserted a length of cork to balance it. The fish were feeding very delicately and I wanted something they could easily suck in, but was difficult to get rid of once it was in there. I put a few small blobs of putty up the main line, above a short leadcore leader to pin everything down.

I couldn’t cast about with the fish already in residence, so I placed the baited rig into a bait boat, along with a handful of hemp and some broken boilies. I slackened the clutch, placed the bait boat in the margins, and then headed back round to the climbing tree with the remote. Once up the tree, I could see the coast was clear so I steered the boat across the bay, depositing its payload just over the back of the bar. It was still clean, but the depth started to drop away before giving way to thick weed. Perfect.

The second rod was placed on a clean spot under the tree canopy, and was soon in place. I hadn’t seen the fish go that far down the margin, but if they did it under the cover of darkness, there would be a trap waiting.

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It must have been around 5.00 a.m. when the rod on the bar woke me. The urgency level dramatically increased when I heard the ticking of a clutch, so I slid down the sloping bank and stood in the margins with rod in hand, tightening into a fish. The overhanging trees made the fight a nervous one, but fortunately, it kited to the right and away from the worst of the potential obstacles. The rest of the fight played out with the rod buried under the surface to avoid the few trailing subsurface branches. The fish stalled and was wedged behind a shallow hump, but a few seconds later it was on the move again.

Before long, it lunged under the rod tip in the margins. At this point, I was almost certain it was a smaller fish due to the subdued battle. However, as the fish slipped over the net cord, in the moonlight it looked like the long back of a reasonably-sized carp. I flicked on the headtorch and looked for the telltale marks on her head – it was one of the two biggies! One way to find out was to get her on the scales, which swung round past 44lb. I slipped her into the retainer and back into the margins, and then rang and texted all my mates to source a couple of photographers. I just couldn’t take it in. It genuinely felt like a dream.

Without much hassle, two lads were soon down at the lake, and we sorted the best location possible for photographs. We lifted her ashore, and she was incredibly well behaved. I struggled to take it all in and soak up the moment – unreal! All too soon it was time to say goodbye. A few more snaps were taken as she went back, and she melted off into the depths of her home – a special old carp. There were times when I thought it might never happen for me, but it had, on a crazy, misty mid-September morning. 

I loved my time on the lake and had some great times, but after 5 years, a wedding, a lost wedding ring, two children, and seven carp, it was time to move on. I would like to say a massive thank you to Jase and the lads at DNA Baits for helping me out with bait over the years, even when I was catching very little.