Pecky's Progress | Darrell Peck
For those who read last month’s instalment, I can only apologise for the lack of any serious carp-fishing content. As promised, this time around I have lots to write about, having been back to Europe to meet up with Arjan Verkoelen, the man behind Vortex carp boats. We had briefly met at the Carp Zwolle show, where I’d shown some interest in the equipment needed to fish for carp from a boat. This gear is seriously top drawer, and isn’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination; in fact it’s eye-watering! When you’re talking bivvy boat, trailer, 3HP electric motors and special lightweight lithium batteries, the combined cost is serious. Obviously, I am far from a walking goldmine, and money doesn’t grow on trees in my world, but I was hoping that I might be able to swing some sort of deal with Arjan, based around the sort of exposure I could contribute. I guess he gets approached all the time by anglers like me, with eyes bigger than their wallets, and he pretty much told me as much. What he suggested was that I visit him in his homeland, the Netherlands, and he would take me on an epic fishing adventure, and show me the ropes of boat carp fishing.
It was a kind offer which I gladly accepted, and before I knew it, it was time to make the journey to northern Holland. I drove over to Arjan’s on Monday 20th June, where he and his lovely lady put me up for the night. The following morning, before the actual fishing began, Arjan introduced me to some of his colleagues in the boat business, and after a few coffees, it was time to head back to his house to load up. Fishing like this is like an army operation. To load the van must have taken an hour, then we drove to one of his units to collect the boats and the trailer, and from there it was finally to the water. We arrived at what can only be described as a fairly normal-looking canal of no more than 30m wide, and set about inflating and loading the five boats. Yes, five of them! Two were 4.2m long, with attached sleeping quarters, two were 2.4m, and were deployment vessels for putting the rods out, and there was one at 3m, with a petrol engine, for blasting around like a loon!
I couldn’t help but wonder what we looked like to the general public. Everyone who passed on the towpath couldn’t help but comment, which usually ended with, “Hey Brexit,” when I opened my uneducated mouth. Once the five boats were in the water and loaded, we set off down the small canal. Arjan was fully aware that I was a boat novice, and with that in mind, he towed three of the boats, leaving me to follow in a large single inflatable. What happened next was just awesome. The canal opened up, the horizon disappeared, and a vast inland sea materialised right in front of me. I am not exactly sure how big this lake was, but I’m not talking hundreds, I’m talking thousands of acres. It made the majority of my own fishing seem so small; I might as well have spent my whole angling life sitting on a seat box.
We crept out through some islands, bearing left and slowly opening the throttle on 10HP petrol engines. This was already loads of fun. We didn’t have lots of time, and it would be dark in a couple of hours, so we headed over towards a massive area of lily pads where Arjan had previously seen carp on his baiting missions. When I say massive, these lily beds stretched for the best part of 1,000m along one of the lake’s banks. The boats were parked in the margins of an old island that had more or less eroded, and the trees on it were rotten from cormorant shit, but it gave us the option to get in and out of the boats, rather than being anchored in open water. Arjan secured us in position using large scaffold-like poles with huge augers on the end, which were screwed into the lakebed. The lily beds were straight in front, left and right. To the left was the densest area of lilies at about 150m, with another small canal feeding into this area. To the right the lilies were sparser, and disappeared into the distance. Arjan took the left side, with me on the right.
During the previous evening, Arjan had explained that this lake was part of an open-water system, and by that I mean that the lake is connected to many other lakes of similar size via various canals, without lock gates, so the fish can swim freely between them all. In total, he suggested we were looking at around 45,000 acres. Where do you start on a venue that size? This particular lake in the chain is a nature reserve, and before the cynical among you start spitting venom, I would like to say that anyone with a boat can fish there. It’s only a nature reserve in terms of bank access, which means the fish in this lake very rarely encounter anglers, which is the advantage with these boats. So yes, it was a massive piece of water, but the part we were in is very rarely fished. The huge area of lilies almost certainly held some carp, and not only had Arjan seen fish on his baiting missions, he had also baited with 150 kilos of bait for 2 weeks prior to my arrival. When I asked what the possible stock could be in this system, he didn’t know, but again, we are talking thousand, not hundreds.
With the boats anchored and the light fading, it was time to get the rods out. I was all ready to go, with rigs tied and hooks sharpened. All I had to do was thread an Essential Cell pop-up on each. According to Arjan, it was about 1m deep in this area, with no weed whatsoever, so it was a simple case of jumping in the deployment vessel and towing out to the various sets of pads, with a few handfuls of boilies over each. It’s hard to describe what I expected that first night, but I thought we would certainly need to see fish if we were to catch on a water of this size.
Arjan didn’t think so. He explained that they rarely jump on these types of water, and we’d been sitting down no more than 10 minutes when one of Arjan’s alarms let rip. You can just imagine how shell-shocked I was – thousands of acres and I certainly wasn’t expecting action so quickly. He disappeared into the night with just his headtorch giving away his position, and soon returned with an old-looking mid-30 common lying in the bottom of his boat. By this point it must have been around midnight, and after the photos I was keen to get some sleep. I felt like I had been a bit rushed, and was keen for an early start the following morning to get looking, and better sorted for the week ahead. Absolutely no chance. Arjan’s buzzers were blasting off all night! I got up for the first couple, but I was so tired and wet-through (I’d ripped my waders as soon as we pulled up) that I just stayed in bed.
By first light I felt like a zombie, with sleep deprivation, and ringing ears from Arjan’s roaring buzzers. I wasn’t overly concerned that I’d not caught yet, but I couldn’t help wonder why I hadn’t. Given the choice, I would have picked the left side, but even still, my side didn’t look awful. It turned out that Arjan had had at least eight and lost one or two, which sounded about right. Ten or so takes in 5 hours – no wonder I’d not slept. I fired up the kettle while Arjan told the tales of his battles in the darkness, and before we had sunk the first coffee, one of my rods was finally away. It was my right-hand rod fished at around 300m, so I set off in pursuit in the deployment vessel.
The fish and I met somewhere in the middle, and it soon become obvious that it wasn’t very big. A small mirror of around 15lb was bundled into the net, brought aboard for unhooking, then slipped straight back overboard. Within an hour both my other rods had busted off, also resulting in two more young-looking 20lb mirrors. I was quite surprised how my rods had been sitting out there unmolested all night, while Arjan had been mowing them down, only for them all to go just after it had got light. Initial thoughts were that maybe using pop-ups could have played a part in this, as with many of the waters in this region, the water is very murky. Very murky water coupled with darkness makes visibility virtually zero, thus a pop-up loses its greatest edge.
After a mass photo session, I asked Arjan why the mirrors were all so young and the commons so old, and why were 95% of the fish in the 15-30lb bracket? For years, these Dutch waters contained mainly commons, which in the days of the power plants and hot water, had reached weights of around 60lb. Make no mistake, these fish were absolute giants of their time, especially when you take into consideration how far north we were in Friesland. With the end of the hot water, these giants seemed to have disappeared, and with the original stock getting older, a plan was hatched between the anglers and the government to introduce various fast-growing strains of mirror carp. The fish were introduced to these lakes and canals in the thousands, with the idea being that they will be able to track their progress by the scale patterns in years to come. When anglers catch them they can check their photos against the mirror carp project database – how cool is that?
The action continued much the same, with Arjan out-catching me at least three to one. I did catch a few at night once I switched to fishing on the bottom, but honestly couldn’t tell you exactly how many we had. I’d guess it was in the region of 75 fish for the week, with probably around six fish over 30lb. It was great fun even though we never caught any monsters. No one can truly be certain what swims in these systems, which is what makes this type of adventure what it is. I am certain that in years to come, as these young carp grow, it will do much bigger fish.
Some of Arjan’s friends joined us at times. A young lad called Jordi spent a night with a bedchair mattress in the bottom of an inflatable, with just a brolly zip-tied to it, and at the other end of the spectrum, his friend Weatza turned up in £30,000 worth of pirate ship. A good time was had by all, but most importantly for me, it was eye-opening to watch Arjan do his thing in the boat. I could see he didn’t have to second-think anything, it was all just natural.
Well that’s all I have in me this month, although there is more to tell from my stopover in Belgium, which I will save for the coming month. The day after I arrived home from my travels, my mother suffered a heart attack, and for the foreseeable future I need to be at her side.