Back in April I found myself navigating the barrow through fallen deadwood and brambles in the inky twilight of THAT old estate lake. I had been given the green light for a spring session on this iconic slice of the English countryside and to put the cherry on the cake, I was sat on nearly a month of baiting.
A barrow loaded with marker rod, boat and a lot of bait!
Rewind back a month and you would have found me brimming with anticipation and checking weather forecasts so ‘long range’ that they were almost certainly useless. What dates would I block out in the calendar to place my session? I was eager to go as soon as possible but certainly did not want to spend my golden ticket too early as the night temperatures were still really low. Having been to the lake a few times for filming purposes, I obviously had a good bit of background information and knew that I’d be fishing an approach more suited to summer/autumn. By this I mean selecting a particular region of the lake for heavy baiting prior to the session rather than roving around using singles or small traps that we usually associate with early spring. This spot would have to be well chosen given that virtually all my rod hours would be spent around it, but in addition to this I wanted the have the freedom to potentially nick a chance elsewhere whilst being within range of the main rods. In short, it is very difficult to wind in your main baited spot rods when you know that a fish of a lifetime could slip up at any moment.
The old boathouse
Despite the lake being relatively large, much of it is overgrown with no access to the water’s edge, limiting the places you can fish multiple rods from. Eventually I decided to fish the same bank Terry fished in the ‘Old Friends and Mr Fox’ film, but on the other side of the island, further up towards the famous ‘Boat House Bay’. This area allowed me to cast three rods at 100 yards into the body of the lake at depths slightly shallower than Terry’s autumn session - it was spring after all! This spot also allowed me to keep my eyes on the lily pad filled bay to my left, where fish were known to visit as it got warmer. If something turned up I could still observe and fish for it, whilst keeping my main rods out. This swim ticked all the boxes.
The chosen swim and area of the lake on the first morning
Recce’s and Baiting
Once I had a rough idea of my approach it was time to start preparing bait and kit for my first visit. A range of bait was prepared and arranged in buckets, my dinghy was dusted off, marker rod checked and my general rucksack slung into the car. The plan was simple, visit two Sundays in a row baiting heavily and then fish the weekend following them which was approximately the third week of April. I notified the game keeper and hopped in the car to deliver the first hit. Now, most of you don’t need telling how beautiful and special this lake is, but every time I go I am struck by the character of the place with its fallen old trees, roaming wildlife and overgrown margins. To be honest the lake looked bleaker than I had seen it previously, but it was still pretty early in the year.
Once at the swim I had a lead around at the sort of range I had explored on Google Maps. If you can imagine fishing three rods at one hundred yards, with perhaps a rod length in between each rod, then the area felt like the further you went to the right you entered deeper water with deep silt and further to the left it became shallower (still 12ft or so) and weedier. I was fairly happy with how it all felt and proceeded to get the bait out. There was no way I’d be spombing it all out, so I cast a marker rod to the area, popped her up, and then headed out in the dinghy giving a wide spread of Atlantic Heat boilie and pellet, a HUGE thigh-high bucket of particle and another good bucket of tigers. I also kept a little bit back for Boat House Bay and sprinkled any left overs around the area, hoping they might get used to picking up the odd bait there amongst the naturals. I repeated this whole process the following Sunday whilst regularly checking the weather. Unfortunately the weekend I was intending to fish was looking like a real savage cold spell was back. As much as it pained me to delay the session a week further, I really thought it was for the best. ‘Good things comes to those who wait’ and all that, I decided to bait a third Sunday and aim for the end of April for the session where the weather was looking the exact opposite with high temperatures.
Three rods fishing relatively tight at 100 yards
I am not one for arriving at lakes early in the morning and prefer to get down the night before, but that wasn’t an option this time so I was up early and loading the barrow in the dark on the Friday morning. I could literally be hours away from my first estate lake fish and despite my efforts to play the three night session in my head as a marathon rather than a sprint, the anticipation was really building. Once at the bank side I instantly set about preparing three rods to cast onto the area. I decided not to spomb any bait out in fear of spooking any fish lingering in the area, and the more I think about it I can’t think of when a spomb would of last been used on this lake if at all! Either way, the fish certainly wouldn’t be used to something crashing in. All three rods went out perfectly and I slowly began to unpack my base camp (first-morning.jpg) and got the kettle rocking. Unfortunately the rods going out nicely was the last thing to go well that morning. I began catching tench at a rate I hadn’t expected, wiping out the occasional other line at range. I then decided I needed to get some less tenchy bait out in the form of tiger nuts. Unfortunately on the first cast I proceeded to get a rare birds nest (or ‘eagles nest’ as Alfie Russell says) losing my only spomb. Shortly after this, on perhaps my fourth tench, a pike sliced through one of my rods cutting me clean. I sat back on the bed chair with the sun beginning to beam through, bite time fading, wondering how it all went so wrong so quickly. (Where did it go wrong.jpg) Getting my base camp all in order I waited for the early morning to pass and headed to the nearby tackle shop for another spomb and to reset my state of mind after a frustrating morning.
Upon my return it was scorching, and set to be the same for the next three days. To my delight I had seen two carp enter Boat House Bay (scenic shots), gently ghosting through the pads into the occasional clear area. Very quickly I had made up a 9ft rod and headed round with a little bucket of gloopy peanuts and sweetcorn, quietly palming in on the odd likely looking spot. Within half an hour two fish looked to have had a snuffle on one of the spots and I felt I had a good chance in catching one of them. The problem was they looked small, smaller than I thought were in the lake (perhaps low doubles), so I kept my patience and continued to observe the bay not wanting to catch one and ruin any chances of a better result. Thankfully my patience was rewarded as new fish started to enter the bay, looking much better in size too. It was at this point seeing some of the bigger mirrors I realised that the two small fish I’d seen before were not actually that small. Some waters seem to make fish look smaller whilst in the water and others make fish look huge until they are in your net - this certainly was a case of the former! By this point I was looking for an opportunity to drop a rod in, flicking the occasional floating pellet out as well as it was getting so hot. There was a brief moment where one fish came up and clumsily started going for some of the floaters. Its body turned side on to me and I realised it was the big fully that Terry had during our filming. That was one of those moments when your face flushes and polarized glasses steam up!
My first from the lake in the sling!
To cut a long story short, the group of big fish seemed to eventually drift away and I felt I had to drop a rig in the most likely looking margin spot and try and get ‘off the mark’. Within ten minutes the reel was spinning on the deck and I was at full test curve as the unknown fish powered out the margin towards sunken pads. The fight was nerve racking and violent with the horrendous feeling of scraping line, locking up then coming free as well as explosions on the surface. The Size 4 Cryogen Curve held tight and minutes later I was thigh deep in silt with my first old estate lake carp, a long 25lb common with a classic little tail and hoover of a mouth. Living the dream! As you can imagine I was absolutely chuffed getting a fish under my belt on the first day. After a bit of a tidy up I began to bait up my main spot out in the lake with perhaps 10-15 spombs of tiger nuts and Atlantic Heat to hopefully get everything ready for the evening, night and following morning. All this time I was keeping my eye on Boat House Bay and it was deadly quiet. To be honest, from what I could tell the carp never returned to Boat House Bay at all from the moment I caught that first fish to the day I left the lake. I wasn’t in a position to grumble though, with the rest of the sessions’ action coming exclusively from the baited zone. Surprisingly that first evening passed with just the occasional tench and the night itself was totally silent other than owls hooting.
A long, lean, 25lb hoover mouthed common
The next morning, starting at around first light until perhaps 9am all hell broke loose and three awesome battles lead to three awesome carp including a stubby old, lumpy, bumpy mirror of around 21lb, an unreal common carp of 27lb and a smaller common of 21.5lb. Stood out on the boards playing those hard fighting fish, with the sun breaking through the trees was one of those moments for me where you really appreciate everything you have in life. Even better was the fact that I had two more mornings ahead of me and everything to play for.
An ancient, lumpy bumpy mirror 'off the deck'
The second fish of the morning - the biggest yet at 27lb!
The third fish of the morning and the fantastic April weather
Rather than shower you with the details of every day, the rest of the session was fairly similar in terms of how each day played out. The mornings or evenings were the bite times, the nights themselves would pass without a bleep, and the middle parts of the day would see me winding in, heading to the shops for a refresh and then returning to walk around the lake, briefly checking the margins for an opportunity that never came. Once it got to late afternoon I would put out a bed of bait with the spomb that would see me through until the next day. All of this was set against a backdrop of amazing weather, nature, food, beer, and the occasional audiobook. The action steadily decreased as the days went on and the remaining fish of the session included three spectacular mirrors going 30lb 2oz, 23lb and 26lb. Each one perfect in its own way and giving some of the maddest battles I’ve ever experienced.
The biggest of the fish deserves his own special mention, initial consensus was that we didn't recognise it, no sign of it in the lake’s decade’s old stocking 'bible' and certainly no recent captures that we knew of. I sent my photos to Tel, if anyone knew this mysterious old character, he would. Turns out it was one of Tel's 'old friends' and had even appeared on the front cover of Big Carp magazine from way back in late 1998. So we're fairly confident this carp has gone the last 21 years uncaught and potentially came from the Thames originally in the 80’s. No doubt the three nights on this dream venue were up there with the best fishing I’ve had, all coming together in my own little slice of history.
The biggest fish of the session
15lb ESP Syncro XT ESP Green Leadcore Chod Rigs or Stiff Hinges using Cryogen Size 4 and 5 Grip Riggers, ESP Metal Baitscrews, ESP Stiff Rig and Size 10 High Performance Uni Link Swivels.
One of the best lookers from the session
- When it all comes good – Alex Grice
- Liquid loading your bait – Tom White
- Watercraft: The whys and wherefores – Kev Hewitt
- The Development of a Carp Hook – Dave Ellyatt
- Phil Buckley – The final piece of the jigsaw
- Dave Robinson – It’s not what you know…
- Jack Reid – My own little slice of history
- ‘Two nights with my boys!’ – Lee Howard
- ‘An angry devil looking male linear!’ – Alfie Russell
- ‘A Pads Lake group booking’ – Darren Blunt
- ‘It always comes good in the end!’ – Daren ‘Tinpot’ Norman
- On borrowed time – Terry Bell
- A cold north-easterly haul – Kev Hewitt
- For the buzz – Terry Bell
- An overnighter ‘thirty’! – Kev Hewitt
- Spring at Last! – Terry Bell
- Matt Parry – A few special seasons on the Woolpack
- Alfie Russell joins E-S-P!
- A Prairie Summer – Erick Maybury
- Jack Reid – No boat, No buzz!