Return To Horton | Dave Levy

Right, where were we? Last time I wrote for you, I’d just caught my fifth Horton 40 in as many weeks. When things are going well, it’s hard to put a foot wrong, so with my mojo in full swing, I was forced to have a month away from Horton due to family holidays and work commitments. On my return, the first trip was spent trying to figure out what had changed.

I looked through the book in the lodge, and saw that I hadn’t missed much. I walked round the lake and found a few fish under the trees in the Church Bay, so I didn’t waste any time. I lowered a few rigs into place and sat back on the unhooking mat, hoping I hadn’t spooked them. One of the rigs was placed in the most obvious spot in front of the swim, and to be honest, I was happy to fish one under an overhanging willow. I was quite shocked when the obvious rod pulled over, and after a month away, I was playing a Horton carp. It came in with a big ball of weed over its head, and after removing it, I could see it was one of the smallest carp in the lake, a fully known as Becko. 

After a few quick shots, I was on the move again, as it was clear the disturbance had spooked the carp. I walked around Dog Bay at the far end, and although there was nothing close in, I could see the backs of two or three fish in the thick weedbeds. I dropped baits close in because the margins are deep there, and I knew they would use this deeper margin to leave the bay as the sun went down. A few hours passed, so I put the brolly up for the night, and was just cooking when the left rod pulled round as a carp bolted deep into the thick weed. I leaned into it, and within a minute, a ball of weed containing a carp was in my net. It turned out to be a nice one known as Split Pec at 33lb. Nothing else happened that night, but the next session went just as well, when I had another mirror of 38lb from the back of the Church Bay. 

The days were hot and sticky, and if not fishing on the surface, there weren’t many opportunities to get a bite. I managed a lovely dark mirror of 28lb off the surface, and then a week later, I got down early and found at least 20 carp close in at the back of the Dog Bay. The water was so clear that I watched these massive carp drift in and out. It took me a good 40 minutes to get the baits into place, and I was confident of a bite. 

A bailiff came around to check my ticket, and proceeded to read me the riot act on what I’d done wrong. He told me that I’d put 3kg of bait into a swim and then decided to move, although I informed him this wasn’t true. As he walked away, I smiled, as it was, in fact, 6kg of bait. On a lake with over 20 x 40s swimming around, this isn’t much bait at all, and no one was fishing the swim so I’d not done any harm. 

I was just thinking that the bay was quiet, when a few pouches of floaters started to land out in front of me. Great, this was just what I needed! A lot of the carp started to move out of the bay because they were spooked by the noise of the bait hitting the water. I felt a bit pissed off, and then thought, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’ I pulled out my floater rod, and after reeling in, I wandered round the bay. A few carp were taking mixers as they drifted out of the bay, and among them was a grass carp. I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’d only ever caught a few and this one looked a big 20. It was feeding quite well with a mirror of about the same size. 

I walked up to the next swim and fired out a couple of pouches of mixers. This would keep them feeding as they drifted out of the bay. I stood in Springate’s Swim and waited, and bang on time, the mixers appeared around the corner. The two fish began to pick them off, so I made my first cast, long-drawing it back in place. Both fish cleared the mixers, leaving just my hookbait, so once again I fed more freebies, but this time I let them eat them without a hookbait in the area.

I could see their confidence growing, and once more I fed mixers. This time I drew my hookbait back to just outside the main pod of mixers. They sucked down every last one, leaving just my bait, and then the grassie swam straight at the hookbait. I quickly checked my clutch, and up it came, taking in the mixer. I struck hard and the water erupted as it shot off. I turned it, and played it hard to keep it away from the weed. As it swam past me, I expected to see a big 20, but I got a shock when a massive 4ft-long beast cruised past, with my hookbait visible on the edge of its mouth. I piled on the pressure and turned it, and Steve, a mate, helped slip the net under it. I looked on in disbelief because it was one of the really big ones.

After sorting the scales, we lifted, and the needle stopped on 51lb 10oz! It was such a lovely-looking creature, and she was soon swimming away, leaving one happy angler. I put about 20 baits on a close-in spot, and walked round the whole lake looking for fish. I eventually found some at the other end, so I set up in a tight corner swim for the night. The heavens opened, clearing the warm, sticky air. Nothing happened through the night, but at first light I was up and watching the water. I was looking down the lake, and right at the other end, a big carp jumped. I thought that it wasn’t far from where I’d put the 20 baits the day before, so within 15 minutes I was packed up and on the move. Most of my gear went in the van, and I travelled light to the swim where the carp had showed. 

There were small bubbles breaking the surface, and I knew the spot was clear of weed. I underarm flicked 10 yards out, then felt it down with a donk. I hoped I hadn’t spooked the carp, but with only an hour before I had to leave, that would have to do. I hadn’t even sat down when the rod whacked round, and I couldn’t believe how quickly the take happened. I bent into it and tried to slow it down, but it was angry and ripped its way through the thick weed until it came to a halt. I kept the pressure on, and a horrid grating noise was transmitted up the braid as it cut through the weed. Up she came, and a big dark mirror rolled on the surface; the eruption sprayed water high into the air. I kept the rod at full battle curve until she lay beaten in my net. The solid mirror pulled the scales round to 41lb 8oz, and I packed up and left for work feeling really pleased. 

Once again, it was more than 2 weeks before I was back, and the first thing I noticed was that the weed had died back. I walked round and saw nothing in the margins, so I put about 30 x 15mm Hybrid baits at the back of Church Bay, and then baited an open-water swim with about 15 Spombs. I knew the water out there was about 19ft deep and there hadn’t been any bites from there in months, so with a little foresight, I baited this deep area.

I carried on walking around the lake, which wasn’t busy for a change, and I was able to creep into areas to have a look. I found nothing until I got back to the Church Bay, where I’d put the 30-odd baits a few hours earlier. As I stood looking into the clear water, a fish known as the Woodcarving came swimming in, and started to eat the bait. This was one carp I dreamed of catching. She was once a Longfield resident, and was moved to Horton when the original stock was put in; a real history fish, as old as the hills. 

I quickly grabbed the rods and waited for her to move out of sight, before lowering two baits into place. Both had PVA bags full of crushed boilies. Within minutes she was back, and had been joined by another 30+ mirror. She swam up to the bag, sucked the whole lot in, and then blew it out. As clear as day, I watched her eat everything, and my hookbait went in and out at least three times! I just couldn’t believe it. I knew that hooking them on clean gravel is hard, but this carp was just doing what it liked. Once she had finished she drifted off, so I lifted the rig out to check the hookpoint, and it was sharp. I needed to trip up this carp. And then the penny dropped! I’d made it easy for her to feed by keeping the bait so tight. What I needed to do was get this carp moving between food items, so the hook could have a chance of setting. 

I lowered the rig again, making sure it was sitting perfectly. I then broke up 10 baits and spread them along the 6ft strip of gravel. The last boilie half was fluttering down when I spotted her swimming back towards the spot. I crept away, choosing not to watch. I was joined by a mate, and started to tell him about the events of the last few hours, when there was a single bleep from my Delkim. I looked at him, and said: “Woodcarving!”

The alarm went into meltdown, so I crashed through the undergrowth and picked up the rod. The braid lifted and the carp was already deep, trying hard to weed me. It slowly came back towards me and broke the surface, revealing a long line of linear scales, which confirmed I’d hooked the one. The fight wasn’t spectacular, and my friend jumped down the bank to net her at the first attempt. We both laughed like kids, while I shook my head in disbelief. I was honoured to catch her, and after we weighed her at 37lb 8oz, I held her up for some photos. In a time when it’s supposedly not cool to smile with a big carp, I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. 

She swam away, and I sat on my bedchair, soaking up the atmosphere of Horton. I was just so bloody happy. One of the regulars, Matt Stone, walked over and gave me one of his beers and said, “Well done.” I didn’t think there was much chance of a carp coming back after that commotion, so I lowered the rig to have a drink with him. I was just walking down to Matt when the alarm on the rod I’d just put out screamed into life. I ran down to the rod and the carp was stripping braid from the reel. It was fighting really hard, leaving big lumps of weed floating as it cut through it. I bundled it into the waiting net, and saw it was the 30 which had been feeding with the Woodcarving. It was 32lb, and very dark. I fetched Matt, who said I had golden danglers, and to be honest, it felt that way.

On my next session, I found nothing in the two bays, so decided to fish the open-water spot I’d baited the week before. A few fish showed in the evening, and I felt I’d made the right move by fishing the deeper water. At 5.00 the next morning, I was rewarded with a 21lb mirror. I got the rod back out right away to capitalise on a feeding spell, which was the right thing to do, as I was soon bent into another carp, this time a short, fat 32-pounder. 

My biggest problem was getting back in that swim. Although it was a really underfished spot, there are some proper swim slugs on Horton. One angler, who has loads of time, even boasted to me that he watches other anglers bait up, and then when they go, he spends a few days fishing over their bait. I really think he thought this was good angling. In fact, it’s just a bum’s way of fishing. Do your own work! Maybe I’m just old school, and come from a time when angling etiquette mattered. Anyway, the swim was occupied by the time I drove out of the car park. 

I got back down a few days later, and was happy to see the swim empty. I dropped back in there and got the rods back on the same spot from where I’d had the two bites the week before. I put about 20 Spombs of bait over the top and sat watching the lake. I didn’t see or hear anything through the night, and the next morning I packed away to go to work. With everything done other than the rods, the right-hand bobbin started to pull up slowly.

I picked up the rod and kept the carp moving towards me. It did its best to find as much dead weed as possible, and for the first time in a while, I was weeded solid. I put the rod down for a few minutes and the braid began to twitch, so I lifted the rod and leant hard into the carp. It came out of the weed, and after a good scrap I netted a lovely-looking mirror. I was really pushed for time, but managed to get some nice shots of the 34lb 12oz carp. I never got back in that swim.

It was now November, and I’d taken on a role with RidgeMonkey, as well as doing my normal job, so working two jobs meant I was very busy. Horton has never had a good winter track record, so it was no surprise that it shut down for the next 4 months, and didn’t do a single bite. By early-March we had some warmer weather, and having not fished as much as I normally would, I was keen to get back to Horton. 

For the first session the lake felt dead, but I decided to put in a little bait; only seven to eight Spombs on a small spot in the deep water. The lake was really quiet and I only saw one other angler, which was nice. At work that week, I couldn’t get the thought that I really needed to get back out of my head, which was strange, as nothing had been out. Then the day before I was due down there, a friend called to say that a 39lb mirror had been out, and given the mild weather, I wasn’t surprised. 

So, I worked a 12-hour night shift, and then drove 90 miles to Horton, made worse by 3 hours in traffic. By the time I reached Horton, I was so tired I was hallucinating! I set up my bivvy and was just going to get the rods out when I just stopped. I don’t know whether it’s a sixth sense or what, but I knew I had to be in the swim I’d lightly baited the week before. I packed everything back down and barrowed round the lake. I knew the spots well in the deep swim, so it wasn’t long before both rods were in place, and I finally got some much-needed sleep. 

I woke up about 5.00 p.m. that evening, and topped up my two spots with three Spombs each. One of the regulars turned up and went in the next swim up, and with minutes of casting out, he caught a 34lb mirror. The lake really was switching on. I woke up a few times through the night, and at 3.00 a.m. I was looking out at the lake, and couldn’t believe how warm it was. I eventually fell back to sleep, and it was still dark when a few bleeps woke me up. I looked out to see a swan sitting under my rod tips, so I lay back down, but once again the alarm let out a few bleeps. Again I looked out, and this time there was no swan, but the bobbin was tight against the alarm! The braid cracked from the line clip and the spool slowly began to turn.

I bent into it, and right away it swam slowly towards me, giving the odd kick. I thought it wasn’t big, but I was happy to get a bite. It was soon on the surface and woke up a bit, and bolted off, forcing me to give line. I dipped the rod tip underwater to avoid the tree branches and turned her round, and she hugged the bottom, staying deep. Slowly she rose, and I pushed the net out to scoop up the carp. In the dark it looked a good 30, but when I shone the torch in the net, I knew it was a lot bigger that I first thought. 

Dan, a mate, came along to help with the weighing. I watched the needle go past 45, and creep over the 50! We settled on 50lb 2oz. I waited for Rupert Whiteman, the RK Leisure photographer, to turn up, and as usual, he did a first-class job with the photos. The carp was a mirror known as Rogger. 

I fished about 35 nights that season, catching 21 fish, including six 40s, a 50lb mirror, and a 50+ grass carp. I tried as hard as I could in the time I had, and it all came good. There are still a few I’d like to catch from Horton, so maybe I’ll have another dabble, but I love the challenge of a new water. Let’s see what the year brings, as my ticket covers the rest of the RK Leisure complex.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Ru for the countless photos, at all times of the day and night, Ian Russell; he knows what for, and most of all, to Mainline for the magic. CW

Mick Clifford