A Fall to Remember — Terry Hearn

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The Pretty One, simply stunning.

With autumn almost upon us, I thought I’d go back to this time last year, when I enjoyed a lovely bit of fishing at Wasing. Not on Cranwells, which is probably the best known pit on the Estate, but instead on one of the lesser fished waters on site — lets just call it the Deep Pit.

From my very first look I knew I’d be fishing it someday; picturesque, clear, quiet of anglers, and with a low stock of little known and rarely caught big’uns, it ticked all the boxes. Stumbling across a good mirror in the first little bay I looked also served as a teaser. It wasn’t the best of sightings, just a few second glimpse as it swam out from the margins, but it had that look to it. Thick wrist’ed, chesty, and blue-grey across its wide back. Too dark to make out any scaling, but with the sort of colourations that you know can only belong to a mirror.

I’d seen very few shots of carp from the lake at the time, but one had stuck firmly in my mind, a fish known as ‘The Pretty One’. Knowing what I know now, that was almost certainly the carp I saw in the little bay that first look around..

I never fished the Deep Pit at all that first year at Wasing, but then during late September of last year, I found myself at a bit of a loss after the Parrot had been caught. Cranwells contains lots of good fish and so normally the Parrot coming out wouldn’t have mattered so much, but this was well into my campaign. Two choices; driving home, or my first trip on the Deep Pit was to be brought forward…you can guess which one I took!

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Beautiful and unspoilt. My favourite swim, where the lake bottle necked before going into a bowl like bay.

Mike the bailiff was good enough to have a stroll round with me, offering a few pointers as we went. Two areas took my fancy, a snaggy looking strip along the far margin, where the lake narrows into a bottleneck, and another area about halfway down the river bank, where there was a bit of a bay and where Google Earth had already told me there was an area of shallower water close in to the right. It was this second area halfway down the river bank which had more of a draw, mainly because of a gentle Westerly licking into the margins. Even so I must have walked back and forth between the two swims three or four times before eventually letting instinct rule…I’m a sucker for a nice breeze blowing in.

Tactics wise I intended to stick to what had been working so well for me over at Cranwells; a mixture of various Dynamite particles, with a couple of trimmed tigers on the hairs. Rigs were kept simple, 6 – 7″ of Semi Stiff Loaded with size 5 Cryogen Grippers fished ‘flipper’ style, i.e with the hairs trapped at the bend.

Although I knew it was deep, it wasn’t until I sent the remote boat out there for a recce that I realised just how steep the margins sloped away. Straight in front I had depths down to 27ft, and a bit further out to my right the echo sounder was giving depths in excess of 30ft, the reading quite literally disappearing off the screen! Distance wise nothing was out of casting range, but it was instantly clear that the boat and echo sounder were going to be of great help when it came to positioning the rigs accurately. A few feet too far meant you could be fishing in substantially deeper water, and as I went on to find out, fishing at the right depths made all the difference.

The rods went out as the light was going, each with a couple of handfuls of hemp, a few whole and chewed nuts, and a light sprinkling of maize and corn. I was happiest with the drops on the middle and left rods, where the depth was a sensible 13-14ft, the shelf wasn’t so steep, and the bottom was flatter and more table-like. Up to my right there was a strip of shallower water, a plateau like feature which stretched out a few yards from the bank. On top it was only 3-4ft and covered in weed, an area which to begin with I’d imagined finding a nice spot off the side of for my last rod. As it turned out, the drop off was incredibly steep there, like a vertical wall dropping straight into the dark abyss. I struggled to find anything in that area that I was truly happy with, eventually settling for a spot in 17ft of water, and even at that depth I was still far from the bottom of the ledge. I imagined the rig looking like it was perched on a little outcrop on the side of a cliff! In all honesty I felt that drop was a waste of a rod, but in the failing light it was the best I could do, and I was so happy with the other two rods that I really didn’t want to risk ruining those traps by squeezing a third one in alongside them…two lines were good, but three may have been a crowd. By the time I’d had a bit of dinner and stared at an ariel shot of the lake a little longer, it was time to get my head down.

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Autumn was well and truly upon us.

The following dawn was the first of the thick misty mornings, a sure sign that Autumn was upon us. Whilst the first thing most people do upon waking is to check the time, the first thing an angler does is check his lines. Mine were all fine, each hanging perfectly from the tips, exactly as I’d left them the evening before. The second thing a real angler does is reach for the kettle, and as I did so something heavy sloshed out through the mist. The rings spread back from the vicinity of the left rod, and with them my confidence went up a notch. Everything went into slow mo — the kettle put back onto the stove without a clunk, and the tea stirred without a chink.

After that first show within a short while of getting up, I fully expected to see more, but with no more signs over the following hour or so, and the sun already beginning to burn off the mist, my hopes of action began to fade. All the while it’d been the left rod that I’d kept looking at, so when a single bleep came out of the blue, that was the rod I was expecting it to be. It wasn’t, it was the middle one, and as I crouched down alongside it I could see that the line had tightened and the tip was nodding. Unsure at first whether it was a liner or a take, I was slow to pick it up, and when I did I still wasn’t certain that it was a carp. It felt more like a big bream, and it wasn’t until it surfaced between the other two lines that I got my first look. It was a carp alright, and one I instantly recognised! I quickly kicked off my shoes and took a couple of strides out in the lake to net it. There amongst the mesh was ‘The Pretty One’, almost certainly the carp I’d seen on my first walk around a full year previous. 35lb 9oz of dark, plated mirror, a bit of a result and way more than I could have hoped for on my very first night!

Spurred on by confidence I stayed another night after that, but the wind span from a straight West to South/South West, which although not a huge change in direction, still meant it was blowing into a completely different area. As it happened, it started funnelling into the other swim I’d fancied, where the lake narrowed into a bottleneck, and as day turned to night I saw a couple of shows over on the far margin there. I took a couple of strolls down to the swim after dark and even heard something else turn over, but as a swim I knew little about, and in the pitch black, I felt it was a bit too late for a move. Looking at the weather forecast for the start of the following week it looked bang on, mild with a gentle South Westerly pushing straight into that same area where the lake bottle-necked. Already I was planning a return trip in a couple of days time.

I could think of little else all weekend, which was mostly spent sorting my kit and prepping bait, in-between repeatedly checking the winds direction, and lots more staring at ariel pics of the swims layout. Rigs were tied and ready to loop on, and I even picked out a few of the plumpest, yellowest looking tigers from the jar for hook-baits. On a pit as quiet as this I knew I’d have no trouble dropping into the swim I fancied, in fact I was quite sure that there’d be nobody there at all. It just had that feel to it, recognisable as one of those places that was once a fairly well fished water, but for one reason or other had now been very much forgotten.

It was still dark when I drove through the gates on the Monday morning, and I dropped my headlamps to part beam well before swinging the car off the track and into a small clump of trees at the back of the swim. The lake was calm, the air silent, and I tried my hardest not to break it as I set up house in a little clearing, which I’d already kicked away a few fallen twigs and branches from before leaving the lake a couple of days before.

By the time it was light I’d seen one roll just to the right, plus two active bubblers straight in front, all across on the far margin and all a similar distance off the bank. That was enough for me, and before long I was sending the first of three traps over to where I’d seen the signs. For the first ten yards or so it was only 2-3ft deep with a layer of fluffy weed, but after that it dropped straight off into silly depths, over 30ft, before the bottom then began to shelve up again. 14ft was what I was hoping for, ‘Pretty One’ depth, and I found it less than twenty feet off the far bank. I let the boat sit there for a minute or so and quickly scurried back up the slope, checking its exact location from my bedchair, which is where I’d earlier watched the signs from. It was bang on the mark. Walking back out into the lake, I tightened back up to the boat, and taking the depth into account I held the rod well back, and with just a touch of resistance on the tip, released the hopper and followed the rig all the way down as it fell…bonk! The drop was clean and crisp, and I couldn’t help but smile as I sank the line and set the rod on the rest; sometimes you just get that feeling. Both the left rods were fished in that same area probably five yards apart, and the last rod I put out of the way on a shallower bit up to my right. All that remained was to stick the kettle on.

The swim was as nice as you could imagine; wooded, shaded, and sheltered from the sort of wind directions you might wish to fish it in. Slightly elevated, it gave a wonderful view of the lake. From there it sloped away, with patches of untrodden moss growing to the sides, and at the front was a mass of dense reeds and just a narrow gap for the rods. Chest waders were necessary as the rods were out on long bank-sticks a little way into the lake, and so they were rolled down, positioned ready to slip into in a hurry, with the left strap already buckled up ready to lift over my shoulder.

Later that morning the SW wind arrived as promised, ripping nicely into the far bank. It looked perfect and I was on edge all day, certain that a take was on the cards. I had to wait until early evening, but finally it happened. My clutches were fairly tight, so it was just two or three bleeps as the tip pulled down and the line pinged from the clip. Picking up the rod I was met with a heavy weight, no thumping, just a slow, ponderous pull as it swung left over deeper water. I walked backwards up the slope very early on, mainly to keep my line away from the edge of the drop off which was a little way out in this swim, but also because I thought I might take the chance to slip into the waders. I never got that chance; just as I reached the top of the slope it woke up and lunged down real hard, into the silly deep. Due to the depth of water the angle of pull was frightening, as though the fish was only ten yards out, not forty, and I was forced to give a little line, before the rod suddenly sprang back straight. That sickening feeling came over me as I skipped the lead and rig back towards me. Everything looked fine, the hook still as perfectly sharp as when I put it out, and the hook-bait still intact. It was so fine in fact that I set about putting it straight back out there, still trembling from the loss. Most you win, some you lose.

Putting that rod back on the mark as quickly as possible turned out a good move, as not an hour later a couple of bleeps signalled a second chance. I still had the chesties on, and so this time round I waded straight out as far as I could to the edge of the drop off and played it from there. The fight was similar to the one I’d just lost, and it bore down hard and deep, sending up patches of bubbles each time it plunged it’s head into the bottom. The scariest part was once I had it closer in, where it hugged the wall-like drop off, the line constantly pinging off weed and gawd knows what else as it swam left and right. If the lake was drained I’m sure it would have looked like I was playing one from the very edge of a cliff!

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The first of the two big commons at 42lb.

Eventually the humped shoulders of a big common broke the surface and I shuffled it into the net. I could see it was a good fish as I walked it back to the swim, but it wasn’t until I lifted it out and onto the mat that I realised just how good. Well worth giving Mike a call, who kindly said he’d pop in to do some pics. I slipped it into a sack and got that rod back out as dusk set in. We’d have to use flash, but I knew the light was already too far gone to do without it anyway.

Mike arrived, and we’d got the fish out of the water and were literally just getting ready to take the pics, when I had a single bleep. Straight away I just knew it was a take, and without looking or hesitating I quickly zipped the sack back up, carried it down the bank and put it back into the water. A couple more bleeps in-between, and as I pushed in the sacks bank-stick with my left hand, I was reaching for the rod with my right!

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Another good looker, the second half of the brace at 37lb 12oz.

Once again this one felt weighty, but very lively with it, and to begin with I wasn’t sure whether it was another big fish or just the depth of water making it feel that way. Once I’d led it all the way in to the edge of the drop off it did the same as the last, fighting for what felt like an age before eventually popping up over the ledge and into the net. I could see it was another good’un, a mirror, so I poked the pole into the bottom, unhooked it, and left it sulking amongst the mesh.

We saw to the common first, and then got the mirror out second. What a brace of fish, flash shots don’t do them justice really, but they were both lookers. The common was deep with chestnut colouration, a missing barb, and a recognisable bald patch on one flank, whilst the mirror was more of a dark charcoal grey, with unusual twisted scaling, a real nice one! At 42lb and 37lb 12oz respectfully it had turned into another memorable trip, even with the remainder of the session quiet.

I fished another three nighter the following week, trying three different swims with no joy, but conditions were different, with a complete change of wind. I ventured back over to Cranwells for my next couple of trips, all the while keeping an eye on the weather with a view to heading back to that swim on the Deep Pit should the milder South Westerlies return.

And return they did, towards the end of October. By now you know the routine; there before first light on the Monday, with two baits out on the same productive far margin mark as before. To begin with I never bothered with the third rod, it was only after receiving no action for the first 24hrs that I had a bit of a rethink. Though I’d not seen anything where I was fishing, on the second morning the lake fell flat calm for a short while, and I spotted two fish bubbling closer in, just past the drop off up to my left. I lined up the mark whilst leaning against a tree at the front of the swim, before the wind picked up again concealing their location, and then much later in the day I sent the boat out there on its own for a bit of a recce. Just like everywhere else along the drop off, the slope there was incredibly steep, going from 3ft to 20ft inside a couple of rod lengths. At that point it seemed to level out a bit, the gradient becoming more gradual, and I found a clean, flat’ish area at 22ft that I was happy with. I nudged the boat out just a touch further and then scurried back up the bank to the ‘leaning tree’ as it drifted back in on the breeze. It passed straight over the spot where I’d seen the bubbling, and so that was the third rod sorted. For the time being, the other two rods were kept on the ‘hotspot’, where I’d already had action from the month before.

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The blunt headed 32lb common from the deeper water.

Two carp came my way that night, the first a long, blunt headed common of 32lbs, on the bait fished in 22ft off the drop off — possibly one of those two bubblers, and the second take came from the old hotspot on the far margin, unbelievably a repeat of ‘The Pretty One’. Things were going well, and I still had another night to go.

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Returning the Pretty One second time around.

In the morning I saw a couple of shows further up the far margin, where the lake widened out. The spot was long, a hundred plus yards from the swim and just to one side of an overgrown spit. It was an area I’d already tried fishing during my last trip the previous month, but from the next swim down. On that occasion I couldn’t find anything suitable to fish bottom baits on in anything less than 20ft. On this occasion however, seemingly going to the same place but from a different angle, I somehow found depths as shallow as ten feet, and well off the bank too. I’d seen several shows in that area through my relatively short time on the lake and just knew there had to be something going on there. This time round I felt sure that I’d found their dinner table. So I now had all three rods on completely different marks, all of which I felt super happy with, and all the while I had a beautiful pit to myself. Autumn had well and truly set in, and as afternoon turned to evening the lake fell calm again, and the leaves on the far bank glowed orange. It was heaven!

Just into dark the rod fished long on the new spot signalled a drop back, and I pulled into what felt like a tench. I didn’t wade out, instead guiding it all the way into the boggy margins, where I was surprised to see a little common floundering about in the torchlight. It couldn’t have been more than eight or nine pounds, but a carp is a carp, and it was a good indication that I’d got the mark right. I sent a fresh rig and bait straight back out to the same spot in the dark, using a tree on the far margin to line up with.

The rest of the night and the following dawn were quiet, but I did see one fish show over deeper water, only a few yards away from the rod that I’d caught the little common on during the first part of the night.

At around 10am that same rod signalled another take, the bobbin dropping back a few inches before cracking straight back up to the butt. It was clear from the very off that it was another big fish, slow and ploddy, no mistaking it. Several times I took a couple of backward steps up the slope, only to then be pulled straight back down again as it stubbornly refused to come away from the far margin. I knew there was the odd snag along that bank, evident by the Mere-like branches protruding out of the water here and there. They were in shallower water further up the ledge from what I was fishing, but even so I made sure to keep the pressure on until I’d steered it well clear and out over the abyss, only then wading out to the playing spot on the edge of the ‘cliff’.

It was another of those fights that felt like it went on forever and ever, when in reality it was probably no longer than ten or fifteen minutes. By the end of it my arm was aching, I’d seen it was a very big common, and I was praying out loud for the hook to hold firm. Just like the others, the hardest part was getting it to come up over the ledge onto the shallower ground were I was stood, as I really didn’t want to stand any closer to the edge; I was already up above my waist as it was. As soon as it surfaced, gurgling water beneath the tip, I pushed the net deep down beneath it and lifted. It was a big common alright, broad, plump and barrel like, clearly a different fish to the 42. I punched the air and let out a half muffled ‘YE…sss’, suddenly remembering that perhaps I didn’t want the whole world to know, not just yet.

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Bazil sized common! 45lb 4oz.

It was 45lb 4oz, of Bazil size and proportions, and in beautiful condition. Truly an unexpected result, especially as my fishing there had only happened because the Parrot in the other lake had recently been caught. Talk about a blessing in disguise! Magical, natural, and without another angler in sight, just me against the carp, a special sort of fishing that you only come across every once in a while, and I’d loved every single minute of it.

Keep catching ‘em,

Tel

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