On the right side of luck | David Gaskin

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David details his remarkable season on Wellington Country Park, that ended up with the capture of several huge carp

Angling on the park lake could really have its bizarre spells. One particular lacklustre period of chasing carp around the fishery ended with the capture of a common known as Black Spot, towards the end of a spring campaign. At the time it was a PB common of 37lb and in immaculate shape, much like all of the lake’s inhabitants.

As the second season began I wasn’t really setting the world alight with my spring form and struggled to get amongst any of the lake’s enormous residents. During my first session I’d found myself in uncharted territory in the little lake. This is a smaller sheet of water, attached to the main lake via a narrow channel. I suppose it’s an acre or two in size, where the carp often glide in, undetected, to seek refuge from the main lake’s angling pressure. It contains snaggy margins, with a steep drop-off right in the edge, from two to five feet. My tactics consisted of simply setting small traps at the base of the shelf with a few handfuls of boilies, to get a bite at a time. This proved fruitful, as I was rewarded with a typical first-light bite resulting in a 46lb ornamental, known as the Two-Tone Ghostie – which meant I had caught three of the venue’s A-Team, an achievement I was more than happy with but it was now time to try and go after the big mirrors.

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My fishing throughout this period of the year was limited, due to it coinciding with the summer holidays. For students like myself, this could be perceived to be a wondrous opportunity to become a bank-rat and put some serious effort in. Unfortunately, this couldn’t have been further from the truth, as I had to use this time to work, enabling me to put a bit of money aside in the expectation of rejoining the following year. Nevertheless, I was able to do the odd overnighter here and there to satisfy the addiction, which kept me sane.

Throughout this time, I was consistently winkling the odd fish out on my short trips, but I seemed to be missing a trick when it came to tripping up any of the largest residents. By the middle of August I had caught 13 fish so far, which in terms of numbers was very pleasing and a fair tally for the lake. Unbelievably, amongst these captures there were no mirrors present and I was certainly starting to scratch my head wondering why I couldn’t get through to a mirror carp of any size, let alone one of the big girls! My head was that bamboozled, it even crossed my mind that I was giving off some kind of pheromones that the mirror carp didn’t like – it’s amazing what carp fishing can put in your thoughts sometimes.

Come the end of the month and going into early September, I took my foot off the gas and eased up on the workload to accommodate some time on the bank before heading back to university. In doing so, my fortunes took a turn for the better. I had a three night session planned, I had the buzz, and I couldn’t wait to be back there. I was up until midnight sorting the gear out and tying rigs, ready to leave at 4.30am sharp to arrive at the gate for the 6am release. Approaching the lake it was clear it wasn’t very busy, which was lovely. However, after chatting to a few fellow anglers it appeared that nothing had been caught in the last few days – that wasn’t going to help my cause of locating the whereabouts of these stealthy, park lake carp.

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The lake is around 35 acres in size and holds roughly 100-120 carp, so locating fish at a ratio of three or four per acre can be very tricky – especially as these fish aren’t too keen on showing themselves. Having spent the best part of the morning walking the lake a number of times, I was becoming a little disheartened at not seeing even the slightest sign of activity. Then out of the blue, this feeling was immediately reversed into one of giddy excitement as I found what I was looking for – carp, and feeding ones at that! At first I saw the fizzing in the margin of the Snags Swim then, after a further few minutes of careful observation, a tail swirled, creating a vortex that was far too big to have been a tench. So I thought that will do nicely. Fortunately, I had a couple of little round things jangling about in my pocket, a couple of fishmeal 15 ‘millers’ to be precise. I broke these up and gently tossed them into the margin and, to my amazement, the carp confidently honed in on them and started feeding in no more than 20 inches of water – tails literally waving at me above the surface. It was quite a spectacle, and an experience I’d never seen on my short time on this venue before.

I hatched a plan and got down to angling. I thought it would take a subtle change to enhance my chances of outwitting one of the big mirrors. So I baited up three obvious pockets along the snag-infested margin with half a kilo of chopped boilies, but actually positioned the rigs away from them. I got lucky with my casts as each rod went into position perfectly at the first time of asking – a rarity in the confined space on this side of the lake!

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I had done all I could, as well as it could have been done. It was now time to play the waiting game. The Snags Swim was notorious for day bites, so I was once again left scratching my head and querying my tactics when I hadn’t received any action, such as liners, throughout the day – but I decided to do the night in case they were drifting in and out of the small bay. At around midnight my right-hand rod, that was positioned close to where I had originally seen the fish fizzing, registered a couple of bleeps – they were back! Shortly afterwards I received a drop back. I wound down furiously and was greeted by a solid resistance from an angry carp. After a fairly short scrap I bundled a fish into the waiting net and was greeted by the wonderful sight of a mirror carp and a good one at that. On the scales it went 43lb 4oz, one of the smaller of the big ones and known as the Pilot Fish. I was over the moon at finally getting a mirror – a moment made even sweeter with it being 40lb-plus.

I didn’t want to risk a recast to a set of snags in the dark, so instead I opted to rebait with another couple of handfuls of whole and chopped boilies, in preparation for the first light recast. Still buzzing, I was awake as dawn broke and it was soon light enough to distinguish that they were still here and still active. Without hesitation, I cast the rig back on the spot; again the carp gods must have been smiling down at me as it went into position first time, which was key to giving it the best chance of not spooking carp in the vicinity. Only a few minutes went by before the same rod hooped over but then sprang back. My initial reaction was that the fish had got away with it because the line immediately felt slack. I wound down quickly, and no more than 10 yards out it felt like I had hooked the bottom of the lake. I was obviously still attached to a brute but, as previously, the fish had just swum straight towards me. After a similar, drama-free battle, another mirror was bundled in the net – except this time it looked a lot bigger than the previous one. The sheer weight, when I lifted it out of the water, made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I was sure I had one of the A-Team. The ‘Heron’ was bivvied up close by so, after a quick shout, he came over and helped me weigh this colossal creature – which we swiftly identified as the Clean Fish at a new personal best weight of 50lb 8oz.

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I persevered with the same tactics the following night but the action had dried up. So, after breakfast, I upped sticks and relocated to the other side of the bay for the final evening, where I’d heard a couple of fish in the early hours. In hindsight, I felt that the commotion in the snags might have pushed any fish that were in residence further out into the bay.

Still opting to fish for a bite at a time, I cast snowman rigs, with tiny PVA bags of crushed boilies, to likely-looking areas – one of which was to the corner of an island.

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The final morning of the session saw a very tench-like bite from the island rod emerge into a very carpy one! This fish gave me the runaround for what seemed like an absolute age, before popping up 10 yards out – glowing like a giant light bulb with fins. I could see my favourite type of carp, a ghostie, but a fair-sized one at that coming towards the net. I didn’t recognise it as the one I’d previously caught, and after easing it up on the scales, the needle span round to 42lb exactly. This turned out to be my fifth ‘ornamental’ from the water over 40lb, which is slightly outrageous in a good way. Someone must have had a clear out of their garden pond at some point in the past. That turned out to be the last of the action, concluding a session that amassed a collective weight of 135lb for three fish – a statistic that’s bordering on the ridiculous!

As you can imagine I was very eager to get back and carry on my good fortune but, as it transpired, I was brought back to reality with a three-night blank. I went from hero to zero within 72 drawn-out hours, and I didn’t come remotely close to seeing, let alone catching a fish.

It was now that dreaded time of year when I had to return to my studies, meaning angling was at a premium once again. It was October before I next thundered (aka thrashing the hind legs off my poor little Renault) down the M4 to the lake, after finishing another tortuous week’s worth of lectures. I had been keeping tabs on the goings-on at the lake and had a rough idea of where I needed to be, but as with all the best laid plans that area was stitched up. So the classic tactics of setting up in a duff swim, ready for an early morning move, were employed. Ten minutes after opening my eyes, I was huffing and puffing my way along the bank at 6am, in order to get into a swim that was as close as possible to some carp activity. I put my sorry excuse of a barrow in said swim, as I knew the gentlemen was going to be leaving, giving me access to where I had seen a very large carp show out at range upon my arrival.

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I fanned the three rods out, all with snowman rigs mounted on size four Muggas, at around 120 yards to roughly the area that I had seen the big fish show. I also put out a kilo of 18mm fishmeals at the same range, between the three rods, with the use of a throwing stick. This gave me a good scattering of bait and, hopefully, it would get the fish moving between the rods.

It was a full 24-hours later that my right-hand buzzer let out a couple of bleeps and the bobbin hesitantly lifted. Fishing at this range, this amount of movement on the bobbin was more than enough to persuade me to pick up the rod and confirm that a carp had slipped up. It kited left on a tight line then, after about 10 seconds, it all came to a halt. I wasn’t aware of any snags out in open water so I was a bit perplexed at what was happening. Jamie, one of the bailiffs, was on hand and immediately started to prep the boat and grabbed a couple of lifejackets – just in case we had to set sail. I lightly increased the pressure and could feel the dreaded grating on the line. At that point I decided to ease off and go out in the boat rather than keep pulling and risk possibly severing the line, leaving a rig in the fish or worse, leaving it tethered to the unknown obstacle.

After coaxing the boat above the snag, there was still no movement on the rod. At this point I was pretty sure that it was one-nil to Mr Carp and I had been done. As a last ditch attempt I used the landing net handle in the fashion of a match fishing disgorger to wrap round the line, feeling it down the line to the lake bed to establish what it was caught up on. After a few nudges at different angles, the obstruction broke free and emerged as a twig and a mussel shell entwined in a bird’s nest of my line! As I hand-retrieved the remaining line I felt an almighty tug across the palm of my hand – the fish was still on and I found myself in battle with the carp using an unorthodox hand-lining method. Jamie quickly reassembled the net in the event of some miracle that I’d manage to land the fish. A minute or so later the fish surfaced, no more than ten feet away and, on its flank, I saw a lone, giant scale. There was only one possible candidate, one of the proper gems known as the Big Sutton.

Playing the fish on this hand-line method from the boat, seemed to absorb the lunges of carp, giving us a chance to keep it on. A window of opportunity came and I gently pulled the fish in, praying the fractured GT80+ would stay intact, with Jamie poised net in hand. I shouted “scoop” to which Jamie replied “I can’t see the bloody thing.” After a further exchange of various expletives to one another, the carp was bundled safely into the net alongside a loud cry of relief!

I held the net with a huge smile as Jamie rowed us back, knowing the prize was a rare visitor to the bank and potentially a 50-pounder. Surrounded by a few other anglers, the weighing and photography gear was shared, whilst I looked in awe at the fish in the water. It looked huge in the net and that was confirmed when the scales read 49lb 2oz. I’d managed another mirror, another very big mirror – my luck had definitely changed and I was on cloud nine!

I couldn’t get back down to the lake until the following week, which happened to coincide with half-term. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use this week to fish as I was heading home to work for a few days to replenish my finances, so I could eat some proper food instead of rice and peas. The joys of student life, eh? I was travelling from Bristol to Sussex, so a pit stop on the Friday night for an overnighter seemed like a fine idea.

I managed to get to the lake around lunchtime to find it unsurprisingly busy – being the beginning of the weekend. So I opted to tuck myself away in a swim that controls a deep corner, where I had previously observed fish moving in and out of during some of my previous sessions. I hardly had any bait with me, as per usual, but being as I was just down until the next day, I put what little I had out over the rods at a range of about 40 yards – nice, light work with a catapult. I wasn’t overly confident of a bite due to the pressure on the lake – it was more of a case of just enjoying the evening and being there, with the outside chance of snaring something. However, at first light my lucky right-hand rod was away with the alarm wailing, and I found myself fighting a strong carp that was trying its very best to find sanctuary in the deep, snag-infested margin.

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It was literally a game of tug of war in which I had to gain the upper hand, and quickly. I hauled it along the margin, clipping branches, whilst not giving it an inch to avoid the carp gaining sanctuary in the snags. Within a matter of a minute or so, I’d slipped the net under it. Through slightly blurry eyes, to my amazement, I had a rather large, dark grey mirror peering back at me. I really couldn’t believe my luck at this point. I had gone from an abnormally long streak of commons and ghosties, to a run of big mirrors – but I wasn’t about to start complaining at that. On the mat I was immediately drawn to the size of the carp’s wrist – it was longer than the length of my hand and it dawned on me that I had just landed another of the park’s finest mirrors, the Thick Wristed (such obvious name). I hoisted it up in the sling and just had to giggle to myself – 47lb 4oz, it was incredible!

One thing is always a constant in angling and that is that you cannot choose which ones pick up your hookbaits when they’re slung out in the middle – and 99% of time I wouldn’t want it any other way!

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Mick Clifford