Ed Betteridge | The Forgotten Lake

This time last year, Ed decided to take time out from his writing and just spend some time fishing for himself, away from the madding crowds, the only question was where...

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This last year has been a changeable time for me in terms of media involvement. I haven’t written an article in a magazine for over 12 months, which feels a bit strange, because I have penned numerous pieces each year for the past 13 years. In fact I have written monthly diary pieces for one magazine or another since 2011, so a year off was a massive change to the routine. The monthly diaries mean I have to catch a fish each month to create interesting content, which is not an easy task on some of the waters that I fish and has put a degree of pressure on my angling. However, having a year off without ‘diary pressure’ and talking about my time in print, I have been more active on social media, which is great at getting a snapshot of my time out to people, but it lacks a depth that a full written story can provide. I have also been choosy on what I have publicised and what I have held back, especially because the main water I have fished has been off the beaten track and allowed me a bit of solitude and space that is hard to find in the modern scene. Therefore, some of the fish in this and subsequent pieces have never graced the pages of a magazine, or a phone screen. In fact some pre-date phone screens!

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The start of April seems to be that time when most tickets activate and terminate, and I didn’t know exactly which path to take. I had already decided to drop my ticket on the Northants water – it had been really kind to me in terms of numbers of fish I had banked, from the low stock of around 45 carp, but it was ultimately ending in failure to catch the one I really wanted, and the fish I had joined for, Tyson! During my four year, on-and-off quest, I had caught pretty much all the other residents, including some of the other A-Team members three or four times over. I had got to a point on there where I had just lost the buzz for the place and I was getting disheartened with all the recaptures. So it was time to move on and resign myself to the fact that my name wasn’t on Tyson’s photo list and it was time to go somewhere that really drove me. I did fish a couple of sessions in early March as a last hurrah before my ticket ran out though.

After a cold, blank and uninspiring night, I took a walk around the 15 acres to see if I could find a fish or two, most of the walk was fruitless as it was evident the fish were still in winter mode due to the cold conditions. I felt I was merely going through the motions, until I walked into the swim at the bottom of a long, arm-shaped bay and saw a small object break the surface in the winter sunshine. It was only a pin prick on the surface, but it moved in a way that wasn’t governed by a breeze or drift. I clambered up a nearby tree, wiped away the steamy condensation from my Polaroids and looked in the direction of the movement. My hopes were realised as a big, carp-shaped object was languidly moving beneath the surface with just the very tip of its dorsal breaking the top layer. As my eyes adjusted to looking into the blue depths, I saw another fish, then another, and then another! All in all there were at least 20 fish in the small bay, which was pretty much half the stock and maybe there were more that I couldn’t see! There were some good fish in there to, I saw the bulging eyes of one of the mid-40s that goes by the name Swing Swang and a few of the known 30s. There was another lump that just wouldn’t come close enough for a clear look, which I hoped might have been Tyson. That was enough for me; I descended the tree and made my way back to my swim. I tried to jog back but my winter thermals restricted my movements and made me far too hot, so my pace decreased to a rapid walk. Within 30 minutes I was packed away and in the swim just up from where I had seen the fish. I didn’t want to drop in on top of the carp and risk spooking them, so I thought the best way was keep my heavy footsteps and the much more rapid and hyperactive paces of my terrier away from the area. So I propelled two zigs into the zone, both of which were fishing in the upper two feet of water, and then I set a bottom bait trap in the mouth of the bay, because I was sure they would venture out in the frosty night. I had just sat down from getting everything sorted when the left-hand rod on a zig tightened up slightly and the rod tip twitched twice. I wasted no time and picked the rod up and felt a weighty resistance, in the form of a few lethargic lunges before it all went solid. I was worried that it may have kited into a snag, but, steady pressure got it all moving and I soon had a big lump of weed with half a common sticking out of it, in my margins. As it neared the net, the fish shook its head and freed itself of weed, which woke it up instantly and I had to play it out for a couple of minutes until I was able get it in safely enveloped in the mesh. It wasn’t one of the real big ones that I had seen, but, at 31lb 12oz, I wasn’t complaining. It was one of the few that wasn’t named in the water and one that didn’t come out that much, so I was happy with it and it was the first fish out of the lake for four months, making it a nice little result.

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Nothing more happened that session and that fish finished off my time on that lake. I hate leaving without a target fish, but Tyson was so hard to zero in on. It had next to no habits whatsoever. It got caught from several different areas in the lake, both over bait and on singles, with no discernible pattern. The only piece of info I had gleaned was that it got caught on the same week in late spring each year, but that was it and I couldn’t justify a £600 ticket for one session. As a result I felt no closer to it when I left than I had for the four previous years. So, it was time to move on, but where to? I knew where I wanted to be later in the spring, as it warmed, but, I really didn’t fancy starting a campaign in the bitterly cold weather that the start of April yielded that year. As I loaded my car for the 270-mile round trip to the Colne Valley, I still didn’t know where I was going to fish on that session and which ticket to buy! I drove into the car park of the new lake, and stood looking out on the place. It was freezing cold, windy, and the visibility of the water was just inches. I had very little information on the past history of the lake, because there wasn’t much out there. I have to say I really didn’t fancy fishing it, so I didn’t! Timing is everything on these big, low-stocked pits, so if you can’t find them and don’t have any inkling where the carp might be, you are just wasting your time. So I decided to hold fire and fish elsewhere until the weather improved. I jumped back into my car and drove to the tackle shop to renew my ticket for the Boating Lake from the previous season. I was going to call it a day on there after catching both fish I had originally joined for, but two other fish had sprung up that captured my interest. One that hadn’t been out for a couple of years and had obviously fed well in that time and another that was on its ‘holidays’ from the lake next door. I parted with my £750 and made my way to the lake. It wasn’t a small stretch of water either, at 65-acres, but I knew it well with all the info gleaned from the previous year. I knew what area I wanted to be in and how to approach it. There were a few anglers already there and hoping to make the most of the opening day, but it wasn’t classed as busy. I had intended to go off and do my own thing, but there was a bit of an opening-day social going on, on the first Island, so not wanting to be rude, I stayed there and set up in the Den Swim. This allowed me access to where I wanted to fish, although it was at long range, but that wasn’t an issue with the boat. I towed all three rods over to an area that had yielded a few early-season captures the year before. I motored to within 30 yards of where I wanted to angle, cut the outboard and turned the boat. I then flicked a chod rig another 30 yards, feeling it down onto the silt and followed it with a handful of Cell and some new, prototype boilies. The weather in the night was horrible – cold, breezy and the driving rain forced me to zip the bivvy door down, but Paddy the Terrier and I were warm enough in the bivvy.

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Much later I was woken up by a few beeps. It was still not properly light, but I knew straight away that dawn was close. The rain was still driving into my bivvy door and running down the clear panel I had fitted. Through the opaque semi-clarity I could make out the glow on my green LED that was latched on after the beeps. I knew it was the middle rod due to the colour, and I also knew I ought to get out and have a look to gain more info on what was happening. As I sat up in bed trying to think what had caused the bleeps and basically trying to come up with a good reason not to leave my warm, dry bag and venture into the cold wet air, my mind was suddenly made up for me as the bleary LED I was focusing on started blinking and was accompanied by shrill chirring emanating from the speakers! I made use of the crash zip on my bag, slid into my boots, opened the door and grabbed the rod. I watched it arc over against the lightening eastern sky as the fish lunged in the distance, before powering off on a run that ripped line from my clutch. As I peered up, the cold droplets of rain landed on my face and bare arms and I started to shiver in my T-shirt, but I knew the fish needed to be dealt with before getting dressed. After a few minutes I had managed to gain about 50 yards of line on the fish from its initial place of hooking, but then everything ground to a halt. It had obviously found a weedbed. I tried steady pressure, but it didn’t budge. I then put the rod down on the rests and used it as an excuse to get some more clothes on and get warm. I tried a few minutes of slack and then heavy pressure, but it didn’t budge. It was now light enough to go out in the boat, so I strapped my lifejacket around me and pulled myself out to the fish. Once above, it popped out of the weed and I was again in direct contact with what felt like a big fish. This was confirmed as the fish hit the surface about 10 yards in front of the boat and turned making a deep, heavy noise that indicated a very big carp. After a few seconds of heart in the mouth battling with the fish I slipped the net underneath what was evidently a very large mirror. I powered the boat back to the bank, unhooked the fish and weighed it a colossal 53lb 12oz – which was new PB by three pounds exactly! I was elated to start the season off with such a lump! During the unhooking and weighing I didn’t really take a proper look at the fish, I just hoped it was one of the two mirrors I had rejoined for, but in the back of my mind I knew it looked very much like a recapture of Roids. I woke a few of the guys and made them all a coffee, before we did the pictures. As I unzipped the retention sling, I asked the guys to tell me which fish it was... after a couple of seconds of silence they agreed on what I kind of already knew – it was Roids. I felt a bit guilty in the recapture because I knew that all those present really wanted to catch this fish, but it is difficult to be too gutted with a new PB, so it was a little bittersweet!

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Nothing else happened that session, but I decided to have another go the following week whilst Roids was still sulking, and I was lucky enough to catch one of the rare ones from the lake. It was a nice scaly fish that hadn’t really grown in years, but it was very welcome. I fished the lake the following week too, but no further action ensued. Looking at the long range forecast for the following week, which was now pushing toward the end of April, the weather was getting much better. The temperature was due to double from the highs of 10-12°C to around 24°C and sunny days! So I moved my boat over to the new water to start a fresh and hopefully very exciting campaign!

The new lake itself is 140-acres in size with points, bays and a dozen or so islands that have just been left to be reclaimed by nature. The islands and some of the banks abound with fallen trees – some that have been down for decades and they host an abundance of wildlife including deer, foxes, badgers, etc. Being in the Colne Valley it is one of those lakes that is right in the centre of a historical carp fishing area, surrounded by waters where many well-known fish once swam and had tales written about them. This lake was fished in those days too, but has returned to nature in recent years, with just the odd angler treading its vast banks. This is why I refer to it as the Forgotten Lake. The only recent change has been the allowance of rowing boats, which has opened the lake up massively. Once my gear is loaded on the boat and I drift around the lake I can forget about everything else and it’s just me against the fish – no racing for swims, no worries about target fish and no cares about the outside world. I don’t really know for certain what’s in the lake – a handful of original fish that are as old as the hills and a few younger stockies that have been in there for 4-5 years. The biggest known fish in the lake is a ‘scraper’ 40 (if there is such a thing), but it’s one of the best looking fish about – however its more about the style of fishing and the unknown that has captured my imagination!

As I pulled through the gates for my first session on the lake, I had a daunting feeling lodged somewhere in my core and the nagging question arose: where the hell do I start on 140-acres? I had seen the water a few times before; the first time was in February, when I had spent most of the day walking round the lake. It was hard to traverse – I had to clamber over fallen trees, through some swampy areas and some parts were totally impassable due to dense brambles, and I had to double back to find or forge a different path. I clocked up 11-miles on my Fitbit that day, although it is fair to say that not all of it was around the Forgotten Lake.

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However, as soon as I set foot on the snag near the car park I saw a carp. It wasn’t huge, probably a low-twenty, but on a big new water it was a promising start! I loaded my boat full of gear and drifted around the car park bay – there seemed to be fish everywhere. I counted at least 15 in groups of twos and threes, they were just milling about in the snags. Yet I didn’t want to just settle for the first swim I came to, so I had a look around the rest of the 40-acres that make up the Railway Bay, but all I found were two very small, ‘cricket bat’ commons, so I went back and unloaded the boat from where I had burdened it and fished the car park swim. I positioned two rods in the deep water towards the snags and, with the use of the echo sounder, I found a six-foot deep bar coming off an island straight out in front of me. The bar was just beyond visibility, but as I flicked the lead to it, it dumped down nicely, indicating hard gravel. I boated the rod back to the bank and I was just in the process of setting the bobbin when I felt the line acting strangely – it was suddenly very tight. It took me a second to realise what was going on and that I had a bite! On such a big, low-stocked pit, I was into a fish within seconds – I couldn’t quite believe it! I played the fish in from the bank and I soon had a very welcome 23lb common in the bottom of the net. What a start to the campaign!

Nothing happened during the night and it was soon evident that all the fish had moved off, so I loaded the boat and drifted about the lake looking for signs of them and trying to get my head around the maze of channels, islands and bays! I spent about four hours drifting around the lake looking for fish, but to no avail – that is until I drifted down a long, thin, snaggy channel and saw a fish ghost across a shallow bar near a set of snags. I dropped in a swim that controlled it and to my shock I had a couple of fish in quick succession, but nothing huge. I packed up a happy man and the long drive home sailed by. The following week turned cold, with a bitter northerly wind, but I still managed to catch two fish from opposite ends of the lake, both mirrors that were either side of the 20lb mark. The first was from the end of the cold wind, the latter was off the back of it – the captures were over half a mile apart as a fish swims. The next week my bubble burst and I blanked, despite being on fish for pretty much all the session. The visibility had become very clear and I could see every inch of the lake bed in depths of less than 15 feet, which was most of the pit. I learnt a lot that session, despite the blank, and marked a few areas to pre-bait.

I got to the lake on Sunday evening the following week after some family duties in the day and I had a plan rattling around in my head about what I was going to do. This plan had started on my first session whilst in the car park bay. I had seen fish in a snag every week I had fished there, sometimes there were up to a dozen, other times there was just the odd one, but there was always something in there. The other anglers on the lake knew about the fish in the snag, and would use it as a watching area. They knew it was deep and silty in the whole area and not ideal for getting a bite from in spring. However, I had been baiting the area from my first session and the previous week’s water clarity had improved just enough to see the bottom in the deep water, and I could just make out that all my bait had gone and the area had been fed on revealing a small gravel spot in the silt. The issue was the snag wasn’t accessible from any swim, there were other snags and obstacles in the way from the car park swim and the other swim in the area was the other side of the island. So I had the idea to cut my own swim on one of the islands to access it – but everywhere I looked the banks were either too steep and undulating to bivvy up on, or, there were marginal snags that were just too colossal to move. However, the previous week I had worked out an angle to reach the snags and a plan to land fish. So the first thing that I did when I arrived at the lake was to check the snag, and sure enough there were fish in there, I didn’t hang about to work out numbers, or, guess sizes, I just made my decision. I wasted no time and set about cutting a little gap out on the island. It wasn’t a swim, just a gap, behind an existing swim. I didn’t want to open things up entirely, I wanted it looking natural from the bank so I cut away just enough for a rod and a boat and I undercut all the trees, so my line went to the spot unimpeded. It took me about three solid hours of sawing, chopping, clipping and raking to clear the area. Once I had it finished I positioned a couple of rods in front in the main swim and one rod fishing the snag, locked up tight.

The night passed without action, but just as I was dozing off at dawn the following day I had a flurry of fast beeps on the receiver. I opened my eyes and casually looked at the two rods in front of me, but no LEDs were on, and I wondered what was happening. Then the penny dropped, it was the rod behind! I jumped out of bed, grabbed my life jacket and ran to the rod. Sure enough it was bent round, bucking in the rests, with an angry carp on the end. I picked the rod up and pumped the fish back towards me to what I guess was 20 yards. This was just enough to stop it from kiting into the adjacent island’s heavily snaggy margins, or the protruding bush on the mainland. Once I had done that I went over in the boat to net the fish out in the lake, but then I noticed I had issues with the line caught on the overhanging branches in my margin and I had to waste precious seconds getting it out, which gave the fish extra time and it was able to find a snag further down the margin. I pulled myself over to the spot in the boat and I could see my hookbait sitting in the ‘Y’ of the decaying sunken tree trunk, where the fish had transferred the rig to! I was gutted I had lost the fish, but took a little hope from getting the bite. The rig was definitely going back to the spot, but I needed to not make the same mistake again. So I spent another hour in the boat ripping out every little twig, branch and root out from ten yards from the edge of the tree, to the bank, so there wasn’t a single thing to slow me down if I had another take. The tree itself was left in place, but everything underwater was removed.

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By midday the sun was beating down and it seemed too hot to get a bite in deep water, but the fish disagreed, and the back rod was away again! I powered the fish away from the snag and the extra 20 yards I needed to stop it kiting to the other snags, then I jumped in the boat and played the fish away from my own island. The fish was on the surface out in the middle of the channel, and I needed to keep it there, and away from the car with the open sunroof that was some 10-feet below it. I didn’t give an inch until I had it away from trouble and in the safety of the net! I thought at the time it was a young fish due to its size, but the commons that were stocked are stunted cricket bat ones that just aren’t growing – yet this fish was quite deep-bodied, so it may have been an older one that just hasn’t grown past its 23lb weight.

I didn’t bother putting the rod back out after that bite, instead I opted to go and stand in the snag and see what was still in there. I clambered out onto the old willow branch and stood there for much longer than I planned, just watching the fish underneath me. I think there were around 10-12 just milling about. They were mainly low twenties with a couple of bigger ones in amongst them. A few fish stood out from the rest – there was a long, lean mirror that was so dark I could barely make out is scales, until it flanked near the surface and the light caught it perfectly revealing a row of linear scales. Another fish was a mirror with big raggedy fins, bulging eyes and a slight lump on one side. I could see even from above the water that it was an old fish that had lived in the lake undisturbed for years. It was difficult to put a weight on it because I knew nothing of the stock, so had nothing to compare it against, but it looked a decent size and was the biggest mirror in the snags. However, this fish was far from the biggest – there was a common that was a fair bit bigger. It just glided between branches without a care and I couldn’t help but wonder when the last time it had seen a hook, if ever! I watched and photographed them for a couple of hours until my standing leg felt numb from balancing on the branch so I knew it was time to get back to my swim and get the rods out.

I didn’t have to wait too long for a bite, because at 6pm the same rod was away again. I stuck to the plan and didn’t yield any line and inched the fish back towards me, which seemed like a heavier task than the previous fish! Once I felt I had got it far enough back and away from the snags, sunken car, steal container and whatever else was down there, I was able to play it a bit more comfortably from the boat. After a few seconds of staying deep under the boat I could see it was a good mirror and managed to slip the net underneath it. Back on the bank I eased it onto the mat to take a look and I could see it was an old original with big, plated scales near its tail, old raggedy fins and bulging eyes! It was the mirror I had been watching. I was absolutely elated – this fish must have only been caught a few times in its long life! It was a good fish, but nothing colossal at 31lb. I had realised I wasn’t fishing for monsters when I bought the ticket, but catching old fish that had barely seen a hook before put a big smile on my face.

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I didn’t see much in the snag after that. I think three bites from their usual sanctuary was enough to force them out to other areas of the big lake. But I stayed in the swim, partly because I hoped the big common would return and partly to concentrate on the rods out in front. I had seen a couple of subtle shows out long into the lake, next to a small island and as no one was out there I towed a rod long and fished it on a shallow bar. The following morning that rod sprung into life with a two-inch drop back, followed by the bobbin smashing into the blank and the tip arcing over. I picked the rod up and slowly brought the fish back towards me. It came in like a dog on a lead with just a few nods of the head at about half distance, then when it was 100 yards out it started kiting rapidly. I gained as much line as I could before it went round the corner of the island to my left. Ordinarily I would have been straight out in the boat immediately, but the boat with the motor on was behind the island with the snag rod. I did have another boat at my disposal at this side of the island, but it didn’t have a motor and there was a strong northerly blowing in the direction the fish was travelling, and there were also two nasty snags not too far away in mid-water. My line was now in the trees to my left and the fish was still kiting, so I had no choice but to go out. I went to the bush on the corner and got my line out and held on to the branches, whilst intermittently winding and grabbing another branch so not to be pulled towards the snags. But the fish kept kiting until it was around the back of the island, so I had to go after it again. I let the fish pull me to the other corner and then hung on to the trees again until I got the fish in close to the boat. It turned on the surface and I could see it was another good one, so I let go of the trees and drifted out to meet the fish with the net. Everything went surprisingly smoothly and I slipped the net under a dark common. I rowed back to the bank and hoisted it out. It really was a stunning fish, jet-black in colour – a very old looking fish with a large gap in the dorsal fin and a creamy belly. I was blown away to catch two of the old carp in one session, there weren’t many left in the lake as far as we could tell. It didn’t go as big on the scales as it looked, registering 29lb 4oz, but it didn’t matter to me. It was the age and the lake itself that meant more. I later found out that it is a fish called The Dinosaur that dates a very long way back.

I was really pleased with the action I’d had during the session – four bites and a fish that had been around since flares were last in fashion was more than I expected; the Forgotten Lake really is a special place.

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Mick Clifford