Carping Allegedly | Bill Cottam

I’ve never been big on peeing; in fact, throughout my life my mates have always been quite impressed by the fact that, even in my lager drinking days, I was seemingly able to go through the whole of the evening without a single visit to point Percy at the porcelain in one of those hideous, inch-deep, pub shop toilets. I guess – rather like Roger Federer’s backhand, Messi’s right foot, and Julian’s Multi-Rig-tying abilities – it’s just a gift!

Things have changed a little as I have grown older though, and although I am still by no means a regular visitor to the gents, I do find myself having to answer the call of nature slightly more than I used to, especially when I am awoken from my slumbers by a right royal rippington snarter in the early hours.

Unlike my multi-tasking mate, Clive Gibbins, I have never really mastered the art of playing a fish with one hand while peeing with the other, so invariably I am left to skim in the aforementioned carp cross-legged, whilst emitting a few of those rather odd under-the-breath humming and whimpering noises that apparently help us to avoid considerable embarrassment in the damp trouser department.

I found myself with exactly those problems few weeks ago, when a rather nice mirror took a shine to my White Spice pop-up at 6.00 in the morning. I was well and truly out for the count at the time, and although had I not had the take, I suspect I would have had no desire to answer the call of nature at all, midway through the battle I felt the need to pee rather urgently! As luck would have it, I managed to steer my prize into the landing net relatively quickly, secure the mesh, and dash along the bank to what had become my peeing spot of choice during my stay.

Although the bank I was fishing was fenced and backed on to another lake, my spot was nice and quiet and ideal – or so I thought – for those sorts of activities. I was therefore surprised to be rather rudely interrupted mid-pee by the appearance of a neighbouring angler, with dulcet southern tones, who had obviously heard the take.

The one I wanted, at 60lb.

The one I wanted, at 60lb.

“Is it a monster?”

I glanced down… “I wouldn’t go that far,” I replied, “but I haven’t had any complaints, and you certainly wouldn’t want it as a wart on the end of your nose!”

Unsurprisingly, he gave me a rather odd look and wandered off, presumably back to his swim.

Having relieved myself, and feeling much better for doing so, I went back to the swim, woke my pal in the next swim to give me hand with the weighing, and we recorded the weight in excess of 65lb; an absolute stunner of a deep-bodied chocolate-brown mirror. To nick a phrase commonly used by my pals in deepest Essex – happy days indeed!

A few days later, I found myself peeing in the same spot, and once again, my pal from the other lake miraculously appeared through the fence.

“Any good over there?” he enquired.

I explained that despite the uncomfortably hot conditions, we were ticking over quite nicely, and certainly couldn’t complain about what had come our way.

“Are you enjoying it then?”

“Yeah, of course,” I replied, rather bemused by such a question.

“That’s good. It’s just that you’ve all been so quiet!”

And there was me thinking that being quiet was how you were supposed to behave whilst angling.

I hate rowdiness anywhere, but especially on the banks of carp lakes, where such behaviour seems so alien and obviously out of place in the surroundings. I guess my pal’s comments were based on the fact that so many of the Brits On Tour overseas carping parties see fit to conduct themselves in such a manner.

Live and let live, and each to their own, of course, but late-night gatherings of beer-fuelled carp anglers shouting, balling and oi-oi-oi-ing into the early hours appeals to me about as much as stapling my wedding tackle to the garden fence. My idea of an evening’s carp angling is to sit quietly outside the bivvy, either alone or with a pal if the swims are adjacent, talking rubbish and listening for signs of carp.

I spent couple of weeks fishing with my long-time mate Bernard Sisson a while ago, and he seemed somewhat surprised by the hours I kept, and my habit of staying up for half the night. He made no secret of the fact that he got a little tired of hearing the flip-flop, flip-flop that signalled me doing my rounds in my surfer dude footwear up and down the bank until daft o’clock each morning!

I love the silence that comes part and parcel with darkness, and in my experience, you can learn more about the carp’s whereabouts in a couple of hours of darkness than you can in a whole day’s worth of daylight. Hence the reason why I quite often don’t turn in until gone 3.00 in the morning, and then grab an extra hour or so the next morning.

The other advantage, of course, is that because everybody else is invariably pissed, asleep, or both, I can go for a pee in peace whenever I want, without running the risk of being submitted to the Spanish Inquisition – in France!


Pascale's lake.

Pascale's lake.

Crushed and halved Trigga, with Trigga Pellet and Hemp.

Crushed and halved Trigga, with Trigga Pellet and Hemp.

Pascale Lake

I have had half an eye on Pascale Lake for quite a few years. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, it was the-then Etang Saussaie bailiff who first told me that there was a ring-fenced lake close by which was home to considerable depths, obscene amounts of weed, and a number of relatively unfished-for big fish. All very intriguing stuff.

Much has changed in the years that have followed. The lake has changed hands, and is now owned by Pascale Briallart, who runs most of the lakes on the Goncourt complex. It is now available on an exclusivity basis, and it does indeed have a reputation for holding a number of very good fish. However, I had seemingly missed the boat, and by the time I eventually got around to enquiring about a trip, the place was already booked up for the next 650 years.

And then, as luck would have it, totally out of the blue, I got a chance of a cancelled 2-week booking for August of this year; I grabbed it without hesitation. I was joined on the trip by my regular partner in crime, Colin McNeil, and Bernard Sisson, who I have known for more years than I care to remember, but never actually fished with. I knew, however, that the Bronzed Adonis is as chilled about his angling as Col and I am, and that the three of us could spend a pretty harmonious couple of weeks together without ending up wanting to kill each other. As it happens, the trip ended up being one of the most enjoyable I have had for many a year.

A 2-week session was a proper treat for me. From memory, I hadn’t had a trip of that length for the best part of 25 years. Unsurprisingly, I had the job of sorting the bait, and with any luck, a longer period of time on the water would give us even more opportunity to get the stuff firmly established, and Trigga was the obvious choice. In all my time spent messing around with carp bait, I have never come across anything that is more suited to a trip of this type than the ever-faithful Trigga, with a few personal touches thrown in for good measure. 

The eventual concoction consisted of straight-from-the-bag Trigga base mix, with the addition of elevated levels of Green Lipped Mussel Extract, a combination of Trigga and Pure Krill liquid foods, and NI Pineapple and N-Butyric. As is invariably the case when I am involved with sorting bait for a trip, it was rolled as equal quantities of 16mms, 20mms and 16mm x 20mm barrels. Predicting the amount we would need was far from easy, especially when you consider that we hadn’t even seen the water before, but ultimately we settled on what equated to a kilo of rolled bait per rod, per 24 hours.


Col with a 48-pounder.

Col with a 48-pounder.

Col and Bernard used a predominately boilie-only approach throughout our trip, whereas I opted for a combination of halved and broken-up baits with Trigga pellet and hempseed, a ploy that had done well for me in and around thick weed in the past. We knew the weed was going to be problematic, but within minutes of taking to the boat for a bit of investigative prodding and poking around, it was clear that it was a major issue. The water was clear, deep, and seemingly top to bottom with the stuff! Word had it that the weed had been treated in recent months, but in all honesty, we didn’t see too much evidence of that. I like fishing in thick weed, but it can become frustrating when it is nigh on impossible to locate clear spots.

We were keen to use the fact that we were there for 14 days to our advantage, and our plan was to take the opportunity to keep the lines out for at least some of the time. This is a tactic that has brought all three of us success in the past, and it can undoubtedly pay dividends on heavily pressured waters like Pascale. With that thought in mind, the three of us excitedly set up house, introduced a bit of bait to likely-looking spots, but didn’t fish the first night.

The first afternoon and evening with baits in position was lovely. Great weather, even if it was due to get horribly hot during our stay, great company, the occasional fish boshing out, and a full fortnight in front of us to try to catch ourselves a fish or two. The only slight frustration I had was that I had dropped one rod in the near margin, one on the far margin, and two in the middle of the lake on what were as close to being clearish spots as anything I could find, next to a big weedbed. By the time dusk fell, the weedbed had moved considerably, and dragged my lines with it. It was immediately apparent that the weed problem was even worse than we had first thought; what we had initially thought were static weedbeds were actually huge rafts of top-to-bottom floating weed.

Much to my amazement, the right-hand rod, which I thought had been dragged out of position, was away at 6.00 the following morning. Not exactly a spectacular take, but a series of single pips that left me in no doubt that something had hung itself on the end. I picked the rod up, gave the reel a couple of turns, and felt absolutely nothing apart from 13cwt of weed attached to the line. I cleared what I could by hand, and then slowly began to pump and wind until a huge ball of the stuff eventually came close. Amazingly, there was a tail waving about in it. I knew I couldn’t possibly net that much weed, so I gave Bernard a shout. He arrived just as my prize shook itself free and made a bid for freedom. Fortunately, I was able to steer it back in front of us without too much trouble, and Bernard lifted the mesh around what we both thought to be a mid-30 common.

Quite what happened between us netting the fish and carefully easing it up onto the bank remains an absolute mystery to me, but by the time we got her onto the Reubens she had grown beyond all recognition, and actually weighed 62lb. The lake’s biggest common must surely rate as one of the luckiest big fish I have ever caught; when I revisited the supposed clear spot a few hours later, it was nowhere to be found!

I was blown away – a 65-pounder!

I was blown away – a 65-pounder!

Col and his midday carp of 69lb 2oz.

Col and his midday carp of 69lb 2oz.

Apart from a rogue upper-20, all remained quiet in my swim for the next few days, until another early-morning take, this time from the far-bank spot, produced another chunk of a common. I instantly recognised it as a fish I had well and truly in my sights, having seen a certain Mr Ting Tong cradling her impressive frame a couple of years earlier. I was chuffed as little mint balls to record the weight this time around at 60lb on the nose.

I had the incredibly good fortune to have snared both of the lake’s big commons, and as if that wasn’t enough, the following morning brought an upper-60 mirror which absolutely blew me away. It was a wonderful chocolate-brown thing that stopped me in my tracks as soon as I set eyes on it.

Col had started his trip in a swim known as The Middles, and I am sure he won’t mind me telling you that he initially made the same mistake I had, in that he hadn’t realised that the weedbeds he was fishing to were likely to drift around until a breeze sprung up, and once it did, his swim rapidly became unfishable. He caught a 48lb common relatively early on, and then got wiped out again and again by the rafts of weed. About halfway through the trip, on one of the hottest days imaginable, he upped sticks and moved lock, stock and barrel to a swim across the water from where I was fishing. In truth, it was a case of doing that or winding the baits in.

I didn’t care a jot that Col’s move to across the water appeared to cut off my margin spot. I was too busy topping up the tan, watching the world go by, and plugging away in the hope of another. Three big fish under my belt was much more than I had ever expected, and I was just hoping that either Col or Bernard – or both–- could stick a hook into one of the handful of really big fish which remained.

Col struggled to find anything that was even remotely clear out in front of his new swim, but seemed very enthused by his left-hand margin rod that was positioned on a clear patch of gravel, a spot not unlike the one from which I had been catching. As it turned out, his belief was well-founded, and after getting up and running with a 40+ on the second night after the move, he had an absolute screamer in the middle of the day, off the same mark.

Finding any clear spots was a challenge.

Finding any clear spots was a challenge.

Bernard and I were spectators from the far bank, and although neither of us said as much, I think we were both under the impression that this could be the one he had been waiting for. Col is not normally one for a song and a dance when he hooks a good fish, but whatever he was attached to was certainly putting him through his paces. Eventually, amid much bow-waving and swirling about in the edge, he slid the net under a fish which was destined to make his season – all 69lb 2oz of it!

The beast which was lying on the mat by the time Bernard and I made it round there looked every ounce a 70-pounder, an it looked unbelievably angry. We later found out that this particular fish was a very rare visitor to the bank, and hadn’t been caught for over 12 months. Remarkably, it behaved quite well for the photos, but snorted and grunted all the way through the experience. It swam off powerfully, obviously in readiness to lead somebody else a merry old dance sometime in the future. The three of us just looked at each other and grinned. What had already been a wonderful week had just got even dafter!

Bernard’s session had been split into two by the fact that the middle Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning had seen him leave the water for his son’s wedding, which, as luck would have it, took place in France, about 5 hours away from the lake. He returned on the Sunday afternoon, noticeably fragile following his father of the groom responsibilities, but he continued where he had left off.

The Gate was a nice swim, and certainly appeared to hold fish for virtually the whole of our time on the water. Bernard was forced to work hard though, as his fishable spots were very small and difficult to locate. His trip was a prolific one though, when compared to what usually happens on Pascale’s, and by the last Friday he had amassed eight fish, including a 56lb mirror, three stunning commons at 40lb, 46lb and 48lb, and at least one other 40+ mirror. All that was left was one of the real big girls. 


At 72lb 13oz, it was a wonderful moment that will stay long in the memory.

At 72lb 13oz, it was a wonderful moment that will stay long in the memory.