SOME KIND OF MONSTER | Mark Watson
Mark takes a look at the fishing world, and reveals just how much things have changed, talks rigs, and discusses the ethics of prebaiting.
That’s how I feel right now after a pretty uneventful winter. To be honest, I didn’t fish for carp a great deal, and I wasn’t motivated. With hindsight, I should have continued on the syndicate I was fishing because it does have winter form. Like many places this winter, it was just not fishing, or so I was led to believe. It turns out that a couple of local anglers had been catching right through, including a new lake record, and keeping it quiet. I can’t blame them, but I’m still kicking myself at an opportunity missed.
I’ve put that behind me now, as nothing can be changed and spring is here, and so is a new lake to call home for the season. I’m ready and raring to go, with all my gear prepared, but it struck me while doing the preparation just how much has changed in recent times. Rigs are always a source of confusion for many, with the Spinner/Ronnie Rig being the latest in a long line of developments. To simplify things for anyone with rig doubts, there are only four jobs a rig has to do, so get those right and you won’t go far wrong.
The first job is to get out there, which is the lead setup, be it a clip, Helicopter setup or other. The second job is to present the bait so it’s available to the carp, which requires a little more thought. What is the bottom like over which you are fishing? If it’s clean and hard then almost anything will do, and it’s the only time I use a bottom bait straight out of the bag. Pop-ups are a bit more versatile, and lift the hookbait above any bottom weed and rubbish. I’m not a fan of the Chod Rig and it is banned on my lake for the year, but it can present a bait to the carp in more situations than any other. If in doubt about the lakebed, it’s always worth considering.
The third job of the rig is to hook the carp when it sucks in the bait, and this is where the decisions around the hook become very important. Fortunately, lots of different things work, so use whatever you like. I’ve stuck to just two for the last few years, in which I have total confidence. The first is the popular Multi-Rig for pop-ups, on which I’ve caught a lot of fish. The other is a simple Blowback-type Rig, which I use for balanced and bottom baits. The photo explains it better, but I always use a short shrink tube kicker which I cut at a 45° angle. This has the same effect as a line-aligner, and causes the hook to flip over in the carp’s mouth; a very simple and effective tweak to the rig. Whichever ring I use, it always has a straight pointed hook which I’ve sharpened.
The last and most obvious job of the rig is to be strong enough to land a carp when hooked. Test anything you cast out, make sure it’s up to the job, and you’re ready to go. Before I leave rigs, I have a quick suggestion with regards to the Ronnie Rig. It is being publicised with a curve shank hook, but in my opinion, it’s better used with a straight point wide gape hook such as the new Fox ones or a Nash Twister. I just feel this gives more of a bent hook effect, so give it a try. I’ve got a couple tied up and will be giving them a go when the situation arises.
I’ve made my first trip to my syndicate and had some rods out, but it wasn’t what I would call a proper fishing session. I was there to do filming for some new Mitchell reels that are coming out, but I did get a chance to see the lake and get a picture in my head. I walked the lake with Ed Betteridge, who has done rather well on there, and picked his brain for all the information I could get. Information like this is gold when starting a new water, so if you can get someone to show you round, then do it.
On the research side of things, things have changed so much from when I started. Back then, I collected old magazines with articles and catch reports on the lakes I was targeting, I listened to stories of the previous seasons’ exploits, and went to Carp Society meetings to catch up on the latest gossip. All we have to do now is go on Facebook and YouTube to find out what we need to know, which I suppose is good, but I miss the old way. Not everyone was privy to the necessary knowledge, and gaining it was a trade-off.
The first time I saw a picture of Elstow 2’s the Twin was on the cover of Carp-Talk, being held up by Phil Dasilva. At that time, I didn’t have a clue what or where it was, but the image stuck in my head. I’ve written about my time on there before so I’ll not cover it again, but that picture was the start of a 2-year obsession.
Having a first taste of my water this year, I feel the same obsession starting to grow in me again. I’ve also got a ticket for the near 200-acre pit near Lincoln, Hykeham, a water that has always been good to me, especially in spring. There’s something about catching a carp, no matter what the size, from a lake of those proportions; it just feels like more of an achievement to me. Not only that, the solitude and wildness are what have kept me going back since 2000.
To me, the Twin was ‘some kind of monster’ – and this huge venue is too. After my first couple of seasons, a few like-minded carpers organised a social to raise funds for some new stock fish. Back then, the lake was seriously low stock; I knew of only six mirrors and not many more commons. Guest speakers for the evening were Geoff Crawford and Gary Bayes, who were both kind enough to give their time up to help out. The result was enough cash raised to purchase 26 Simmos, which was literally a drop in the ocean but still probably doubled the stock. I was there to watch the fish go in, and have photos of every single one as they were stocked. The slides got lost in a house move, but I still have them scanned, which is fortunate because some of them are still around and making the occasional visit to the bank.
My first encounter with one of them was after a poor season on a southern syndicate, when I decided to go back. In the years I’d been away, the lake had changed a lot. Control was in the hands of CEMEX, which had stocked around 800 carp to boost the stock to about five carp an acre. It wasn’t exactly a runs water, but at least it was possible to get two fish in a session rather than two fish a year. I had one of them at 27lb, which was a new top weight for that fish. It was one which fluctuated in weight and was in A1 condition, and was so clean that I jokingly called it the chicken breast, because that’s what it looked like.
Fast-forward to the spring of 2015. I was back on Hykeham and intended to do the full season. I had no other tickets and fancied a year of fun, fishing away from the busy circuit waters. I started with a few blanks, apart from the odd bream in March, but slowly the weather improved and carp started to show around the lake. One swim I had been keeping an eye on was known as the Tyre, and unlike a lot of the lake, it didn’t need a very long cast, maybe 80 yards or so. A long island ended to the right of the swim, and a gentle slope rose a couple of feet in line with the end of the island. It was an area I fancied fishing, but it was in a westerly corner and didn’t receive much in the way of warm winds, not in spring anyway.
I arrived mid-May on a Sunday afternoon for my usual 2 nights, and fished a swim roughly opposite the Tyre, expecting the wind to angle in, which is exactly what it did. I woke up fishless and freezing! The wind was blowing as forecast, but was so cold I would have had more chance trying to catch a char than a carp. There was no way I was staying there, and off I went in search of a likely area. The Tyre Swim was in the sun, out of the wind, and was at least 15° warmer than my previous spot. All three rods were clipped up at the same distance and placed a few rod-lengths apart along the slope, which I imagined the carp would travel along. I was still using the Scopex Squid Red, so spread a couple of kilos around the three hookbaits, which were white pop-ups.
I wasn’t the only person with eyes on the Tyre, as that evening, two separate people entered the swim to bait up. My own views on prebaiting are do it as discreetly as possible, and don’t expect people to leave it alone because a lot won’t. Just don’t tell anyone, but don’t get upset if someone happens to fish the swim you’re baiting because it can happen, and that was the situation I was in. I’d rather not know about anyone else's prebaiting activities, so If I turn up to an empty lake with fish jumping all over one swim, I don’t feel obliged to not fish it because Joe Bloggs is baiting it. I’m sure as hell not going to go up to the fishless end of the lake and blank. I’m going to fish the swim with fish in. You may agree or not, which is fair enough, but that’s how I feel.
On this occasion, both the fellas were nothing but polite and friendly, but I’m sure they were a bit disappointed. I’ve been there too, but it’s all part of the game. I was still awake late on, when an absolute run from hell came on the middle rod. Almost without exception, the Hykeham carp are hard fighters, but this one was something else. The weed was sparse so it had free rein to go where it wanted, and it was doing just that, with me hanging on for the ride. It felt heavy as I was playing it, but knowing there weren’t any real monsters in there, I was expecting a bionic 22-pounder on the end. The Tyre Swim is pitch-black, so all I saw slide into the net was the pale shape of carp.
I secured the net and got everything ready for the weighing and photo ceremony, not expecting to see an old friend on the mat. The fish felt heavier than I expected, and went 32lb 2oz on the scales. I was so surprised that I lifted the scales twice to make sure of the weight. I didn’t recognise the fish right away, so did a few self-takes and slipped her back. It was only while checking my photos that I saw the carp formerly known as the chicken breast had fallen for my trap once again. It had lost its smooth clean look, and had taken on a more weathered appearance from years of weight fluctuations through spawning. Indeed, only a couple of weeks after my capture, she was caught again at 26lb, and has since been given the nickname of Stretchmark. As much as I’m not one for repeat captures, it’s nice to have pictures of her on my mat being stocked, at 27lb, looking like a new penny, and then at 32lb, looking like an old warrior. Long live Stretchmark.
That wasn’t my only encounter with what are known as the sailing club stockies. I had a couple of weeks off after catching Stretch, and was eager to get back. I caught three on my next visit, and spent a good amount of time looking for weed with the marker float. The sailing club had dyed the lake because of the ridiculous weed growth, and it had worked a treat. Of course, when a lake has no weed, the carp are attracted to what little weed there is, and I found a large area of grassy weed on a plateau that just had to hold carp. The next week, conditions were perfect for that swim, known as the Gate, but I couldn’t fish it. It was full of students having a party, with the barbecue going and several of them skinny-dipping.
I set up opposite to keep an eye on the area and move in the morning, which I did. The area of grassy weed was so large that I fished all four rods at just short of 100 yards, and spread a couple of kilos of boilies around the area. White pop-ups were on all rods again, which worked well over the Red Scopex Squid, and it was game on. As dusk came, I only saw one carp show, and it was so far away that I might as well have not seen it.
The next morning, I hadn’t had a bleep, but was still hopeful of a fish to save a blank. Nothing had showed and I’d not had a bleep, but I knew it could still happen. After only one brew and no time to cook my crumpets, the take came and the blank-saver was a chunky 22lb mirror. That was me happy, and I planned to start a slow pack-up after breakfast, but it didn’t turn out like that. Within about 20 minutes I was away again with a 22lb common, which fought well, and then another rod was away. I was fishing a tight clutch so the carp would kite and not enter the weed, but the reel was ticking away while I played the common. I bullied it into the net and grabbed the next rod, and the carp was still on. It had kited quite a way, so I started pumping it back, or at least trying. I gained a few yards of line and the fish went off on another run. It was probably the most powerful carp I’ve landed so far.
Also at that time, I was messing around with a GoPro, which had been running during the scrap with the common. When we have a hard battle with a fish, we don’t know exactly how long it is, but with the GoPro recording, I knew exactly, and it was just short of 25 minutes. I let out a sigh of relief when it joined the common in the net on the third attempt.
It wasn’t a repeat, but another of the sailing club stockies known as the Half Lin, which took the needle round to just over 31lb. They’re not the biggest carp in the land, but carp with a story behind them, and a history that I’m a small part of. I ended up with six carp in a mad spell that morning, which capped off a very enjoyable yet relaxed spring.