Hidden Gems | Paul Mallinson
Paul Mallinson recalls his campaign on a North Lincolnshire pit containing just two carp, one of which is one of the oldest in the country
Birches and brambles gave way to weeds and reeds as I found myself looking upon an intimate little pool. Could this be the one, home to the old dinosaur of a carp known as Pinky?
I had recently moved on from a lengthy campaign of four years, which culminated in the landing one of Lincolnshire’s finest old commons. During what were to prove to be the final few months of that particular pursuit, I became aware of an equally impressive, and probably even older, mirror carp that also lived in North Lincolnshire – my stomping ground. It was odd, as this fish had seemingly appeared from nowhere. I had no prior knowledge of it whatsoever, and neither had anyone else I spoke to. It turned out this fish had lived in a syndicate water which was closed down in the 1980s. Depending on which story you hear, the fish was then either moved to its new home by somebody, or had moved itself in some floods. There it stayed virtually untouched for years, apart for the very occasional (and lucky) angler who stumbled across it. From what I could work out, this amounted to around four anglers in 30 years!
At this stage, I still wasn’t even certain as to where the fish lived, but the more I crept around this intimate little lake, the more I became convinced the info that had been quietly passed on to me was indeed correct. I was almost certainly looking at Pinky’s home. Finding her home, however, was only the start. I still needed to work out how, and whether it was possible, to gain permission to fish there.
Winter crept in. My time was spent on the rivers chasing chub and roach. Pinky and her home, however, were never far from my mind. Much of the winter was spent putting feelers out on the grapevine and speaking to those in the know trying to gain access. Come December time I had a lucky breakthrough and it looked as though I would hopefully be able to gain the permission I coveted. I would have to wait till the spring to know for certain, though. March came around and I got that message I had been hoping for – it was game on!
Over the years that Pinky had lived undisturbed, she had grown from mid-doubles in the early 1980s to mid-to-upper thirties. She had been a big fish for the area when she had resided in the syndicate lake and she was still a big fish now, particularly when compared to the average size of carp in the surrounding area. They don’t come much bigger around this neck of the woods.
Come April, I was back creeping around the little pit. This time, though, I had every right to be there, with no need to look over my shoulder. No sooner had I set eyes on the water than I spotted a dorsal poking through the surface film. I shinnied up a nearby tree to gain a better vantage point. The fish was still some distance away but, judging by its bulk, I had a fair idea that it was her. From what I had been told, there were only two carp in the lake, so it was a 50/50 chance either way. The buzz of being on a new, fresh lake in the spring with a proper old cracker of a fish to pursue was almost too much to bear. That first night passed quietly and I went off home the next morning very happy just to have spotted her.
A couple more nights were fished and more regular visits made over the next two weeks. It became clear that finding Pinky wouldn’t be hard – as long as there was a bit of sunshine, she would be up in the water, hanging about in one of two reed beds, sunning herself. Unfortunately, at some point in her past she had suffered a slight accident and the first few rays of her dorsal had been broken and healed at a funny angle, making it look like it was folded over. This was initially noted on an old photo I had been given of her, which had originally come from Paddy Webb. Paddy had been lucky enough to catch her himself in 1978, although in the photo one of his old mates was holding the fish. The photo had been taken way back in 1985 when she was a mere double, and I was a toddler! If those anglers back then could have known the size she would go on to achieve they would surely have been aghast. The folded dorsal would prove to be a help at times, making it easier to identify her.
The little pit isn’t your typical lake, as you have probably already gathered. There are no swims as such and, more often than not, little poke holes had to be made in the bankside vegetation in order to get the rods set up. At this time, it didn’t appear as though anyone else was fishing (although that proved to be wrong), and I certainly didn’t want to draw attention to the fact I was fishing there, so was always as careful as possible not to leave any signs of angling.
Come early May, I was contemplating going down for a night, but thought better of it, as it was my other half’s birthday the following day. When I awoke the next morning, it was to the news Pinky had been caught. I was happy for the guy who had his moment with her, not that I knew him at all, but anyone who makes the effort to fish for these precious old fish deserves every capture. I was, however, a little gutted not to have been there to see her on the bank.
Following her capture I gave the lake a rest and went off angling elsewhere for a while. Work then got in the way slightly and, unfortunately, my daughter broke her leg. For a while I opted to fish quick nights out of the van on my own water, Barrow Mere. This was more convenient than the little pit, as it meant I could be back home early in the morning to help out at home.
Once all distractions were out of the way and my daughter’s leg nicely healed up, it was time to get my head back into fishing for Pinky. Back on the banks of the little pit, it became clear something had changed. The once crystal-clear water had turned a murky brown, with visibility reduced to around 18 inches. That first session, whilst up one of the now familiar viewing trees, I did eventually manage to locate the two carp in one of the usual reed beds, careful observation eventually giving them away. The night passed without any action and most of the following morning was spent up the trees adjacent to where I was pitched up on a spit of land, which almost splits the lake in two.
The morning was quiet and the carp refused to reveal themselves. It was approaching lunchtime when out of the corner of my eye I spotted the silhouette of a carp ghosting through the swim at close range. It almost passed under the tree I was perched in before swinging around and heading through the shallow gap towards the other half of the lake. With the loss of clarity in the water, it was difficult to keep track of the fish, and I certainly couldn’t make out which of the two it was. As the shadow drifted into the other half of the lake, it dropped in the water completely out of view. Shortly afterwards, just where I had last seen the carp, a large patch of fizz appeared on the surface. I reasoned one of two things had happened – either it had dropped down and had fed in the silt, or it had flanked the bottom. Either way I hoped that a regular visiting spot had been revealed and, more importantly, I hoped it would be one the fish would be happy to feed on.
Prior to leaving that morning, I leaded across the spot where the fizzing had appeared. It proved to be a soft bottom, as with most of the lake. Just the act of dragging a lead would lead to patches of bubbles peppering the surface. The spot, along with a couple of others, was baited with a helping of hemp, tigers and both crushed and whole SLK boilies from DNA Baits.
I managed to get up to the lake and bait the spots again prior to my next visit and had the feeling things were starting to come together nicely. The visual aspect of fishing is something I love, watching the carp from up trees going about their business. You can learn so much; it just makes the process so much more enjoyable.
Once at the lake again, the fish were eventually located away from the baited spots, so I set about quietly getting the rods out, which is easier said than done when you have to set up on a bankside path and the fish are feet away from you! The night was once again unproductive – perhaps being as quiet as possible hadn’t been quiet enough. During the dawn period I crept around the corner to check the baited spots and, sure enough, there were patches of fizz constantly appearing on the surface over the spot where I had seen the carp drop onto previously – I could have kicked myself! Still, it was all part of the learning curve, and I was surely one step closer. With the areas baited again with a liberal helping of the brilliant SLK boilies, hemp and tigers, I was homeward bound with my tail between my legs.
My next session would cover two nights. With everything I had noted previously, I was keen to get a rod positioned on the spot where I had seen the activity during my previous visit, especially since I had kept the bait going in. Once again, I found myself set up on the end of the little spit. Initially, all three rods were positioned in one half of the lake. During the day that followed, however, I noticed the two carp drift through from that half of the lake into the half behind me.
I was in two minds what to do. They were obviously in the other half of the lake, but at the same time they would happily move between the two halves. For a while I strained to watch them, doing circuits around the reed bed. Every now and then, one of them would drift underneath an overhanging marginal bush and sit there for a while. In the end the temptation was too much and I decided I could just about sneak a rod out in the back half of the lake, as there was just about enough room behind my bivvy to get the rod in at an angle – sort of.
Stealth was the order of the day again. I decided to fish a rod alongside the overhanging bush. With no idea what the bottom would be like, I opted to fish a balanced SLK EVO hookbait, made by drilling one out and inserting cork. This was then fished on a little reverse combi rig, which was placed in a small PVA bag to help parachute it down and let it settle on top of any possible debris on the bottom. A small scattering of hemp, SLK boilies and tigers over the top completed the trap. Everything was in place with the minimum of disturbance and I settled down for the night hoping I had got away with it.
The early hours were interrupted when the rod fished to the side of the bush let out a few beeps, which I assumed were caused by a tench. I stumbled round to the back of the bivvy and noticed the little swinger was bouncing up and down. A quick inspection of the rod tip showed it to be knocking in rhythm with the swinger. All the signs pointed to a green monster on the end. I plucked the rod from its rest and started to guide what I was sure was a tench back towards me. What I couldn’t see in the dark was the fish slowly kiting to the right as I brought it towards me. Before I knew anything about it, the fish had made it to the reedbed in front and, worse still, had become snagged around the back of a fairly significant branch that had obviously blown into the lake from one of the surrounding trees. I’d noticed it during daylight, but never imagined it would cause any issues.
Around this point the fish woke up and took some line from the spool, and I instantly became aware I was attached to a carp and not the tench I had previously assumed. I was able to regain some line, but once again the fish just locked up behind the snag. I didn’t really want to pull too hard, as I was only pulling the fish deeper and harder into the branch that was wedged in the reeds. I stood there keeping tension on the line wondering what to do. Just as I kicked my trainers off, consigned to having to get wet, I felt a slight ping up the braided main line and in the same instant it all went slack. Dejectedly, I started to retrieve the line, assuming the fish had worked its way off the hook. I’ll never know what happened out there in the darkness, but moments later the line pulled tight again and I was back in contact with the carp! As the fish ploughed through the sparse reeds, I knew the battle was far from over. The more it went on, the weightier my adversary began to feel.
Eventually, I managed to work the fish free of the reeds and into the narrow clear channel. The fish was holding its position well in the margins and I struggled to make much of an impact on it. The very tight and overgrown nature of the lake and the swim I was fishing from, in particular, meant I had no option but to flick the head torch on to aid the landing process, something I usually avoid doing. As the fish rolled on the surface, its huge bulk and the two dark patches on its side immediately gave away its identity – it was Pinky! A few more heart-stopping lunges later she rolled over the cord of the net and was mine.
Six nights, thirty-odd cups of tea, a few hundred mosquito bites and suddenly it was all over. You can never quite tell how these things are going to work out and, considering it had taken me four years to slide a landing net under my previous obsession, I wasn’t expecting this one to be over quite so quickly. I guess these things even themselves out. I sat under my bivvy reflecting on a very enjoyable angling experience whilst sipping that last celebratory brew waiting for the sun to come up, with Pinky resting quietly in the margins.
The scales were tied up to a tree and the all-important weight recorded – a smidge over 35lb. Trophy shots were taken and Pinky was slipped back into the little pit to live out the rest of her life.
I loaded the barrow up for the final time and, as I pushed it back to the van, pondered where the adventure that is carp angling would take me next. What twists and turns lay ahead? Maybe, just maybe, there are some more hidden gems out there waiting to be found. One thing is for sure, I’ll enjoy the journey.