Monday, 4 September 2017

RE:MOAT


The crow quill fell flat on the surface, laying snug between beds of lilies. Meanwhile, unseen, shot plummeted to absolute depth, taking with them an appetising bell-shaped bread-flake with clouds of white fluffiness around the gape and dough clenched tight to the shank of a small wire hook, causing the float to cock, standing slowly to attention; simultaneously gaining mine.
A year had passed since last I sat beside these waters, during which in my mind, fantasies played out frequently of my return. The revery had haunted me so often that now it was almost impossible to tell if this was dream or reality. Reflections of weathered red brick, softened further by the perpetually restless rippling of the water became further obscured by trademark bubbles betraying the secret presence of tench. I had watched the float disappear with my eyes firmly shut many times before and this was no different until the tangible response, as my cane connected with tinca tinca, told me that this was no longer a passive fiction but a reciprocal reality. I had indeed returned to The Moat.


My thumb, pressed firmly against the rim of the pin, could not prevent its turning as this dark purveyor of power peeled line from spool and heart to mouth. The swims' serenity shattered as this tench tore through it in a fine display of masculinity. Any hope however of encountering a quiet crucian faded with the light whilst this gladiator from the depths submitted to my net at dusk.
Perhaps in an attempt to reenact triumphs of the past, I settled for the night in the place of my previous tarriance. This however, proved to be a foolish endeavour as the carp I tried to tempt thought best to let me sleep! I woke with the dawn, birdsong, strong coffee and Full-English nourishment, ready also to devour the day.
I set out from my place of slumber for a tree-lined stretch, thick with weed and waterlilies only sporting the occasional clearing through which to post a line. I had intentionally taken the long route here in order to invest some time and conversation into friendships old and new, as is my way and of at least equal importance to the pursuit of fish. Here however, I was sufficiently removed from the melee of anglers and felt a sense of solitude and serenity- a sensation to be savoured by a new father!
Stealth, watercraft, patience and good luck came together in something of a hurry as my first cast accompanied by a small ground bait appetiser remained undisturbed by me until the float began to twitch. At first, only subtle ring-shaped ripples emanating from my homemade float were distinguishable but as the surface fizzed with pinprick bubbles and the archetypal gentle lift ensued there was no mistaking this for the delicate bite of a crucian carp. Every hypothetical scenario that had paced in circles anxiously around my head regarding when to strike was rendered completely irrelevant as autopilot took over and before I knew exactly how I had done it, a weighty crucian carp caused my rod to arc over as it spiralled down in search of sanctuary. Noble though its bid for freedom was, it was also thankfully short-lived and before long the sense of elation every angler lives for consumed my being.




Two further fish flirted with my float, each giving themselves up with relative ease at the thought of free food but neither were so uncanny that they would succumb to my net. Late morning swiftly slid into an afternoon lull and though not negating the enchantment of this Crabtree paradise, I had to create a little magic of my own. While persevering with cane and quill, an additional ledgered offering of worms watched over by my ever faithful optonic quickly conjured a plump tench to break the silence by triggering the alarms' distinctive tone. With demonic drive the doctor fish charged, relentlessly wreaking havoc and testing my tackle beyond comfort. Without fail each near submission was followed by yet another 'last' bid for freedom. The fitness of these moat fish is in my view unparalleled.



Nightfall denoted the final hours of my stay. I watched the stars circle slowly in the sky as the hours passed waiting hopefully for a final fish. As it became too dark to see without the assistance of a torch, line tore hurriedly off the spool of my left rod and I lifted into a hefty specimen. I anticipated the danger of nearby snags and held on for dear life, attempting to kite the carp to open water with side-strain. The line suddenly went slack and my heart sunk. I sulked back to bed and so began the dreams of my return to settle this unfinished business...



Sunday, 12 March 2017

Nostradamus 2012/ A very carpy winter...


The end of life as I know it has been foretold and whilst the true believer does not fear death, any mere mortal inevitably clings to the life they have known with a sense of desperation. I am now counting the days to the very opposite scenario, a new life - my own daughter whom I cannot wait to meet and yet since Christmas have felt the necessity to fulfil something of an angling 'bucket list'.

Winter is seldom as I remember it as a child: Toboggan rides, snowball fights, those blue Parka jackets with orange lining and faux-fur hoods that every school boy wore in the 1980s and the disappointment of another weekend I could not fish at Lake Shearwater because it had a thick lid of ice on it. I never thought I would crave the cold but warm winters are not conducive to pike fishing and so as soon as the frosts first came I was out looking for esox lucius.

My first few excursions conformed to the cliche of the modest jack that was 'this big' by the time I spoke of it and of course tales of the behemoth 'that got away'. Minutes past home time frequently accumulated, spent with frost bitten fingers, mentally conflicted between the perceived shame of an unproductive trip and the trouble I would be in when I arrived home late. I have a habit of giving a 'final countdown' from 1 - 60 after which I am obliged to pack up but during which, if I have a bite - or any indication that could possibly be perceived as a bite, then the countdown must start again. On this occasion I had completed this ceremony faithfully without even the most tenuous excuse for a nibble on my float-fished sardine and so dutifully picked up my rod to reel in, which in doing so agitated the bait slightly and suddenly the float slid away... 

A 15lb Pike from a stour valley stillwater.

Grayling are synonymous with winter and regarded perhaps comically as a commendable quarry for carp anglers during the colder months. Last February I made my first pilgrimage with Matthew to the River Itchen where I was baptised into the cult of cane. Such fun was had with the 'ladies of the river' that we seem to have made it an annual fixture. Once at the waterside we went our separate ways until our mid-morning donut was due. "How many?" he asked - "Three" I said proudly "you?" - "Thirty!". Thankfully I didn't hold on to the embarrassment but continued to enjoy the day losing lethiathans and landing littler ladies, untangling birds-nests and admiring a hunting marsh-harrier. 


My mornings most weekends begin with a couple of hours at dawn, trotting a worm beneath a bobber along the jetties and between moored boats on the River Stour watched over by hungry and highly-opportunistic robins, redwings, blackbirds, song thrush and this not so koi kingfisher.


This has spot has been a tranquil haven for me, providing necessary escape and solitude until recently as it has become overrun with pike anglers clutching at the last straws of the season. By no means is this a criticism but in order to maintain my enjoyment, ever mindful of the sands of fishing-time slipping through my fingers, I opt not to compete.



As the season draws to a close, my tickets approach expiry and the wriggles and kicks visible on the surface of my wife's incredible baby-bulge become evermore violent, I know that each trip may be my last. For a while at least. I assign myself one last mission to catch a carp from one of the gravel pits abundant in this part of Kent.


I spent Saturday morning swimming with my wife, which is the only form of exercise she can really do at this stage of pregnancy, then on to mothercare and boots to buy the remaining miscellaneous necessities in preparation for our daughter's debut. By the time we were done and my gear was loaded into the car there was an hour left of light. Once at the lake my eyes strained to make out far bank features and after tentatively casting a lead towards intended spots only to find a multitude of overhanging branches I decided I had time for 1 cast per rod before dark- at a push and so put the rigs on and confidently pinged each rig precisely into position. That was a first for me!
Making use of landmarks on the distinctive treelined horizon I fired free offerings out in the dark with my catapult, a wild shot in the dark if ever there was one!
As I nestled down for the night beneath an almost full moon, the onset of sleep was intermittently interrupted by line-bites - encouraging to know that carp were chasing around after their widely scattered supper. The witching hour was announced by the tone of my alarms, a bite which dropped back rapidly as the fish took the bait away from the reed bed it had been kissing since sunset.


 As I lifted this glorious common carp out of the water I realised it was bigger than I had first thought in spite of its feistiness. As I held the scales aloft the dial turned to 20lb 12oz. 
"20, 12" I said aloud. The implications of this ominous number began to dawn on me as I recollected Nostradamus had predicted that the world would end in the year 2012. Could it be that my angling might also end with this 20-12 in accordance with the prophecies of the many wise sages coupled with anecdotes of their own parental experiences? 
Thankfully, Nostradamus was wrong!




Friday, 9 December 2016

Looking back at 2016




Carpe Diem; a good motto to live by and certainly one that has seemed all-the-more relevant to me of late, especially where my angling is concerned. 2016 has been a year of impossible demands, soaring highs and crushing lows but that is life and it must be acknowledged that without the challenges there would be little ecstasy in achievement. 
The challenges I have faced have led me to be more proactive in my leisurely pursuits, including my fishing and as a consequence the shape of my angling has changed, resulting in more opportunities and more varied experiences than I could ever have hoped for.
The first moment of significance was a day on the River Itchen with good friends Matthew and Colin. They were keen for me to experience the joy of a grayling on a cane rod and whilst this meant little to me prior to this excursion, the sensation of the connection through this medium simply cannot be put into words and has since become a focus of fanaticism. With some sterling guidance in a stunning setting, several 'ladies of the river' were seen.

Whilst I do enjoy long session carp fishing with all the associated trimmings, aside perhaps from the blinkered outlook and laddish antics, I have found it much easier snatch short sessions early in the morning or late at night on the Kentish Stour. The stretch I used to frequent in pursuit of barbel is in a sorry state owing, at least in part, to gross mismanagement and sadly also, the other anglers who fish there. For this reason I have spent most of my time elsewhere on the river and have enjoyed some good chub, roach, gudgeon, bream, perch and pike, very often without seeing a single soul.

I have to thank my dad for my love of angling. He introduced me to sea fishing, his preferred denomination of our sport, when I was young and we have relished every opportunity to get out together since, messing about in boats or blanking on the beach - it matters not. These moments together are important bonding time and angling the perfect medium. These days, sadly, they are few and far between. This year however, for his 60th birthday, we made a concerted effort and arranged a string of angling adventures; punting in the jungle at Bury Hill, beach casting from Herne Bay, carping on Broadlands Lake and the highlight, coincidentally also the most epic haul, fishing for thornback rays off the coast of Dover in March. I can't claim it was difficult fishing, though timing the strike was critical to hooking the fish successfully but these hard fighting creatures really were fun to catch. Now we are back in the habit of booking in 'bank time' or even 'boat time', it would be a crime to let it slide once more.


Come spring all I could think about was tench fishing. I was blessed with a couple of days on the banks of a new water at Easter when I made sure this was my sole focus. I fished two rods with black-cap maggot feeders and a maggot clip on a simple hair rig and took 20 tench over the session. They started around 4lb and progressed to 5, 6 and eventually a 7lber before the end of the session. Most fish came at night meaning I had hardly any sleep!In spite of this being a highly successful tench session, the real highlight had to be the surprise capture of this 22lb common carp which picked up the big ball of maggots intended for a tinca! Incredible fun, if not a little hair-raising at times, on light tackle... I have only returned to this venue once since this session to try and track down some more big scaleys but missed the one chance I was given. I'm sure this lake has incredible potential - it is certainly not fished very much so who knows what is in there. However, over the summer months I had other venues to focus on.



It was my absolute pleasure and privilege to be granted to opportunity to fish on two occasions this year at a very special venue known simply as 'The Moat'. The first visit was for a day in July and was somewhat sweet and sour  - the venue cast something of a spell on me, I was totally in awe but the fishing was more challenging than I had anticipated. I was targeting crucian carp and had forgotten just how finicky their bites can be. I was over-gunned and complacent. On my second visit, this time in August, I had more time to play with and was able to relax into the experience and, with the benefit of learning from my previous experiences, make the necessary adjustments to be successful. I targeted carp by night resulting in two stunning mid-doubles on simple ledger tactics. During daylight hours I fished for crucians again this time slightly scaled down, fed less but more frequently and was less hasty on the strike and, though the first day passed without a bite, on the second I was rewarded with a commendable crucian taken on a small piece of bread flake fished beneath a quill float I made. 
The moment was absolute magic, compounded further by the fantastic friends who shared it with me. On my return I was compelled to write about my experience and am proud to say an abridged version of my blog about this trip has been included as a 'Reader's Story' in issue 8 of Fallon's Angler - a super quarterly publication with the subheading 'a medley of piscatorial prose'. To see my story in print alongside angling writers such as Chris Yates and Kevin Parr, truly is an honour.






The rest of the summer was spent chasing carp on a venue I had not fished before this year. I took a trip or two to figure out how to catch here but once off the mark had a reasonable string of catches until the end of the summer when they seemed to dry up a little, though I was not alone in this. I had signed up to club that hosts this venue in addition to the ticket I have held for the past 7 years or so as I had become frustrated with rammed lakes and the agro I had experienced on the bank last season and needed to have a break from all that. During the summer I was able to get out mid-week which on this new lake often meant I was the only person fishing down there! Whilst it is not a patch on the beauty of Fordwich and the fish I caught, not as big and brag-worthy, it was a pleasure to find some solitude and still be having fun catching carp. I am still debating whether or not to keep this ticket on but it certainly did me good this year!



Most of the autumn I have spent fishing for perch either with float fished worms or using light drop-shot or jig tactics. I have been fortunate enough to find some prolific spots on the river. The longest I have fished in one sitting is 3 hours and have always caught a few but sometimes in excess of 40 perch in a session with most fish averaging an estimated 1/2lb - 1lb with no discernable distinction being apparent between methods. A friend has had some whopping-great perch from a still-water venue and commended live-baiting tactics as a way of singling out the bigger fish. I am yet to try this approach but can't help feeling that this might not pay off on my stretch as the fish caught on lures, which are effectively impersonating a live-bait, have not attracted bigger fish than the float fished lobs. I can only conclude that either the larger fish are not present or I have not been lucky yet. It is however, no hardship to keep trying!
Occasionally, when they have been showing, I have put a larger jig on and targeted pike. I have had a few decent jacks like this one but am yet to have the opportunity to go out with deadbaits on a frosty morning to try for anything bigger this season.

In late November, I travelled up to Hereford to fish the River Wye for barbel for a weekend. On the Saturday I fished alone and met up with Tony - a friend first met at the moat, on the Sunday.
It was fortuitous to have been without company on the first day as I fell victim to the steep, slippery banks on more than one occasion, as did my camera! It was bad enough taking an involuntary swim so I was grateful to have been spared the embarrassment of doing it before company. I did however catch 2 fighting fit, fin perfect barbel - the first weighed in at 5lb and the second returned without a fuss. I also had several decent trout on both days though no barbel showed on day two, probably owing to the frost the night before. Tony winkled out a lovely chub and we enjoyed some mince pies and a natter!




I don't think I have ever before caught such a range of species within a year - certainly not by design and so this feels like something of an achievement. I have enjoyed my fishing so much more also by focusing on the experience above the end result. 
I am going to be a dad next spring which I know is going to completely change my life. It is already giving me so much to look forward to! Who knows how much fishing I will be able to do once my baby girl arrives but where there is a will, there is a way and I believe my proactivity this year has formed healthy habits which will certainly give me a good chance of wetting a line whenever possible.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Too hard to Handle...

The summer stretched out before me as a smorgasbord of opportunity and I intended to feast! Work-life balance is something to strive for and it seems I can only do so with polar opposites. Now but a fading memory, I console myself with this pale reflection of what was ultimately a wonderful and therapeutic experience.
Time is precious; a maxim I am acutely aware of, yet the sense of pressure and imperative achievement ingrained in me, perhaps conditioned by my working environment, nearly led me to miss the moment altogether. 
It is easy to mistake the objective of angling for catching fish. Whilst this is ones occupation on the bank and a helpful focus for those who have high ambitions for their fishing which for me seems not to be possible, it is merely the tip of the iceberg. However, at the beginning of my summer I saw a short window of opportunity in which to meet a target and dutifully became increasingly stressed about the notion of failure. The thing about stress is it impedes performance and for the first two days of fishing  it clearly impacted every aspect of mine. Such a commotion was made by errors owing to hasty actions. I felt despondent as I understood the consequences but of course this only added to the snowball effect causing something of an avalanche.
Phone calls with my wife helped me to put things in perspective as did some sentiments from Kevin Parr's book 'Rivers Run' which I read whilst fishing, helping me to realise that 'the moments between bites meant more than the bites themselves'.
Eventually I entered a state of peace, began to appreciate my surroundings and accepted things at face value. Not only did this enrich my experience tenfold but facilitated better angling and, with some patience employed, the fish started to show.






Taking some knowledge from those who were willing to share it and trusting my eyes and instincts to fill the gaps my catches started small and eventually increased in size, though none gave me so much joy as the smallest of all enveloped in my net as it was the first to break the silence.
One conversation on my last trip with an angler well acquainted with this water really opened my eyes. He seemed to think outside the box and I found it inspiring. It reminded me of the way I fished as a child whilst still learning and oblivious to convention. It awoke something in me just at the time when the rods were due to be hung back up for another extended period of abstainence. I have realised however that these periods of solitude accompanied only by nature are essential for the soul. To be absent for long would be too hard to handle.

Friday, 2 September 2016

A Moment on Milton...


The grounds of the Bury Hill estate were landscaped at about the same time that the Fort, which was the location of my last excursion, was built. However, in spite of this and the fact that both venues host good shoals of my latest love, crucian carp, in many ways they could not be more contrasting. Compared to the Fort's moat which boasts a wild, unkempt beauty, Bury Hill is stately, serene and manicured to perfection! 
I travelled up here on this occasion with my good friend Kent who was also keen to catch a cru' and after a trip last year where we fished the main lake - 'Old Bury Hill', but caught little other than bream and perch, this year we opted for Milton Lake; a smaller pond lined with lilies and reed beds and reportedly well stocked with our quarry.
The day started slowly but both of our floats plunged beneath the surface before long baring up only a small bream each. Humourous grumbles were exchanged before Kent suddenly exclaimed "I've got one!" and started walking over towards me with a crucian in the net, hoping for a photograph. As I glanced over my shoulder I saw movement in my peripheral vision. "So have I!" I answered as I lurched to prevent my feeder rod from being pulled off the rest - a rod I had not expected or for that matter hoped to receive a bite on as I favour the float for this species. That said, whereas my experience of a crucian on the float at the moat was a relatively gentle affair, on the feeder here at Milton both the bite and the fight that followed were comparatively savage!
Neither fish were massive but we were delighted nonetheless!


Fishing for the rest of the day was fairly pedestrian but given that the gent in the shop where we purchased our tickets said it had been a little slow of late, we were grateful to be catching. It seemed all I could manage on the float, no matter what bait I tried, were small perch and bream but the feeder rod, sporting a bright fruity banded pellet, produced a few nice tench and two crucians for me. Kent however, had all his fish on the float including four crucians to 1lb 9oz which was a new PB for him!

Kent with his PB crucian of 1lb 9oz



In spite of the very controlled conditions, this was a lovely day of pleasure-fishing. By no means was a catch guaranteed and we certainly had to work for each bite but they were  definitely there to be had. Whilst waiting for bites I could not help but notice an enormous wealth of birdlife - Kingfishers busy gliding back and forth, coots nesting, grey herons stalking the margins, tufted ducks diving, swallows swooping and buzzards high in the sky. On my previous visit with my father in February pike fishing on a punt on the old lake, we also spotted a red kite as well as all the aforementioned birds. 
While I regularly target carp on still waters, mostly with modern methods, it is really fun to break the monotony with other styles of angling at a range of contrasting locations. Variety, as they say, adds the spice...





Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Moat


A Palmerston Fort on the south coast of England, built to guard against French invasion at the height of the Romantic era seems an unlikely fantasy even for the most intrepid angler but now derelict, overtaken by nature and forgotten by many, a new allurement has emerged. The focal point of fascination for the piscatorial practitioner is the mystery of the moat, as beneath its watery veil, magical creatures seen elsewhere only in dreams, live out their cloistered existence.
The aforementioned dreams began for me as a small child when visiting my grandparents who lived nearby, we would often pass the Fort in the car. With my nose pressed against the window and my eyes popping out of their sockets, I would stare intently to catch as much of a glimpse as I could, my imagination filling in gaps and then left to wonder…

The excitement was uncontainable when earlier this year, some 30 years after this reverie began, by some improbable alignment of the stars, I found out I would have the privilege of fishing there. What I had not accounted for was that, aside from the fulfilling of childhood dreams, I would forge new friendships with others who share my passion for angling.

Having been granted a whole weekend to explore and to fish, I was intent on making the most of every available moment. Many months before the sacrifice of an early alarm to herald the pilgrimage was even considered, plans were meticulously constructed. Whilst it was dark I would fish for carp using modern methods allowing me to sleep and fish simultaneously. However, every available hour whilst the sun was shining would be spent with a cane rod in hand, eyes fixated on a quill float, waiting for a crucian carp to lift my bait from the bottom and grace me with its presence for a moment on the bank... or at least, that was my hope!

Firm handshakes and anecdotes of anticipation were exchanged between strangers, soon to be comrades, in the pub before setting out in convoy, guided by Mark who manages the water, to the military base which encompasses the Fort. Once passed the armed guards and intimidating naval air craft which adorn the grounds we were given a guided tour of the fishery. Over the weekend I made it my business to listen intently to everything Mark said, and later Dean who is also integral to the Moat's team, to glean any information which may assist me in my quest. 

Having chosen my swim and prepared a bed of bait in two likely spots in a deep channel, I nestled down for the night in front of the keep.


I awoke with the sun and birdsong. A mild disappointment began to take hold as what I thought may have been my prime opportunity to meet with Cyprinus Carpio had passed. As if intentionally to remind me that perpetual optimism is an angler's best friend, my rod tip pulled downwards and my buzzer sounded, causing me to leap up from my sulk, suddenly energised and engaged. Although I was utilising modern methods, by no means does that imply my tackle was excessively stout. On the contrary, my rod played well and cushioned each of the many violent lunges made by the angry carp with which I had connected though perhaps a little more persuading power would have made my job a bit easier...


Having moved to the stretch between the left and central caponiers to fish with my new-found friends and some more long-standing who joined us for the day, I settled in a spot which to my mind looked like it could hold my quarry. Rain came and went alternating with strong sunshine, all the while my float remained stationary giving me time to reflect on the joys of the morning's capture and making of me a prisoner of hope.


Jake was one of the fortunate few who managed to tempt a crucian from its lily-shrouded lair. He has his own story to tell about his grandfather's rod which this catch completes. It was clear that for Jake this was a monumental and magical moment which I felt honoured to share with him as I took care to provide him with photographs with which to remember the occasion. Crucian Carp are commonly described as 'bars of gold' but these moat fish have a quality which is truly unique, dressed in a hue more akin to caramelised butter and an archaic, yet pristine coat of armour. What's more, considering its type, this was a huge token. Jake could have weighed it and earned enormous bragging rights but this was clearly not important to him. The experience was enough and although I could not at that moment comprehend how he might truly be feeling, I know that this is one he will never forget.

Many of us however, returned to our beds for the night without such success. It was a pleasure hearing tales of copius quantities of whiskey consumed beneath the arches of the gun casements, now commandeered  as a club house for those fortunate enough to fish here often but for me the night meant another opportunity to entice a carp to my net, though not before storm-proofing my temporary abode!
I lay awake, listening to the rain as it lashed against my canvas shelter, conflicted in my now contrasting endeavours of catching fish and staying dry. However, a large, hungry, dark mirror carp made the decision for me in the early hours of the morning forcing me to face the last push of precipitation. This was bigger than the common and far chunkier and although not quite as zealous in the water, this was made up for in spades on the bank! Unfortunately I appreciate the effect of a wide aperture, which controls depth of field, in a fishing photo but as a result of pursuing my intended visual effect whilst in a sleepy haze I did not execute it correctly and returning the fish quickly was more important to me than having a good photograph. As ever, the experience itself counts for far more than the preservation of its memory.


Trying to sleep after this was no mean feat! So far I had accomplished one of my goals and was over-the-moon about it but pressure was mounting to find the holy grail and capture a crucian...

My last day had arrived, the clouds cleared and strong coffee was consumed. I walked over to the stretch we had fished the day before and found Lee, Graeme and Tony were already there. I had lovely chats with them each in turn as developing friendships is at least equally commendable an objective as catching a prize fish so did not hurry to get my bait in the water. I say with a degree of sarcasm that unfortunately Jake had had to leave early to attend a Christening, not that I didn't miss his company but I was able now to occupy his swim of the previous days success!

I pinched a small piece of bread around the hook, carefully forming it into the perfect bell shape with nice fluffy bits disguising the point. Every aspect of my fishing was executed in an uncharacteristically calm fashion allowing a perfect cast placing my bait between a bed of lilies and surface weed. Anyone who has ever watched me fishing knows I don't do many perfect casts, not least first time! I sat back in my chair an intently gazed at my homemade porcupine quill float, a little heavy for the job and even though Graeme who is a master float-maker had very kindly given me two of his creations, I persisted to use my own as I knew exactly how to set it without experimentation and craved that sense of satisfaction should I be successful with it attached.


My eyes glazed over and I began to dream of the bright orange tip lifting, pulling the surface film of the water up slightly before revealing the cotton whipping below. The float kept rising and rising and then started to cock to one side before I realised this was not dream but reality! Time slowed and I recalled Mark's advice to lift into the bite at this moment gently and acted accordingly. The rod tip pulled down and a warm rush of blood swept up from my feet to my head causing me to shake with excitement laced with anxiety. I am a recent cane convert thanks to Matthew and Colin who had fished with us the day before and whilst I don't believe it is appropriate for all situations and unashamedly use carbon for the majority of my fishing, I appreciated the sensation, more than ever at this moment, of being able to feel the fish so sensitively through this organic extension of an angler's arm. I am therefore delighted that this encounter, hair raising at times thanks to the many adjacent hazards, was the result of using traditional methods and tackle.


It would seem I must have let out some sort of primal scream to express my utter joy as the most beautiful fish I had ever laid eyes on (yes it does sound like love doesn't it?!) swam into my net, as suddenly I was surrounded by friends. Tony and Graeme rejoiced genuinely in my joy and compounded the feeling enormously. There are no words to describe the emotion. Although so much smaller than the fish I had caught over the previous two nights, this was a rather large example of its species and having tried so hard on previous occasions to no avail, now reaping the rewards of my efforts seemed all the sweeter. 


I did weigh it and was highly satisfied with where the needle came to rest on the dial of my scales but I don't want to reduce this fish to a number. Much like Jake's fish I'm sure, this capture was the completion of my story about the magical moat.

Lee joined the assembly bringing us homemade rock cakes, Tony brought many amusing tales and we shared one last moment together, confirming that our shared experiences had brought us together and deepened our friendships.  My solitary drive home was conducted in silence as my head noisy enough with flashbacks of the last few days. As I approached my village I stopped the car to admire two buzzards hunting together. I had missed my wife and my cats whilst I had been away but now I would be reunited with them, until my next adventure at least. Sometimes, life is very very good.













Sunday, 15 May 2016

Guest feature: Crete Carp Saxby Smash!

I met Darren Saxby last summer at La Val Dore. It was a tough trip for both of us in some ways but we became friends by sharing advice and encouragement. He has recently returned from a highly successful trip at Crete Lakes and I feel privileged he asked me to tell his story...


When I arrived at the Crete Lakes complex in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region of Northern France with my younger brother Rob, on a cold March Sunday morning, I had no idea that the week ahead of us would turn out to be such a memorable session!
As our birthdays are within days of each other, we had decided this year to celebrate with a bit of a ‘brother’s social’ and at only £150 for a ‘Winter Ticket’ giving a weeks free-roam of the virtually empty 130 acre complex for 7 days, Crete Lakes seemed like the obvious choice. The bailiffs all speak good English and were very helpful in guiding us to a location to suit our fishing styles and hopefully fulfill our hopes for the session. Rob has only been carp fishing since July and with a PB of just 13lb, all I really wanted from this trip was for him to bag a proper lump!


A quick walk around the recommended lake raised my confidence further as I spotted a few showing fish and had heard the lake produced a fifty the week before. On the down side the pressure being right up and a strong Northeasterly didn’t exactly comply with my idea of ideal conditions! Still, I got to work with the marker and took the time to find my spots. In fact, I took 4 whole hours! Not being satisfied with the first spots I found, which were perfectly fishable if not a little choddy, I continued to probe further until finally I struck gold at about 120 yards with a small, perfectly clear patch about the size of a car bonnet, which I can only describe as being like an ice-rink! I knew beyond all doubt that I could present any rig perfectly on this bottom, my only potential concern being the omnipresent crays, which sure enough completely mangled the bottom bait I offered up first. To combat this I switched over to hinged-stiff rigs on all 3 rods fishing a 15mm Nutcracker popup tipped-off with a piece of buoyant corn within just a few feet of each other. I use Nutcracker for pretty much all of my fishing now and have every faith that I can leave these popups out for 15 hours and they will still be performing perfectly.
We found very quickly whilst trying to stick some boilies out to the spot that the gulls did not miss a thing! This is where the impact spod came into its own allowing us to get a fairly tight spread of glugged baits precisely on the spot which we topped up by about 2kg each day and a spread of maybe a couple of hundred untreated baits ‘little and often’ across the general area with a stick whenever we thought the gannets weren’t looking: we even ended up hiding in the bushes to try and flick them out without getting caught!
Rob was the first off the mark on day one with a very special fish at 40lbs, which smashed his previous PB to smithereens! This was followed closely by four 30s and a couple of 20s. I could not have been happier for him.
The next day was slow, possibly due to increased pressure caused by anglers moving in adjacent to us. I managed a 22lber that night but needed to catch up with my brother who, in spite of being new to carping, was currently thrashing me!
A few blips on my left rod woke me, just as dawn was breaking on my birthday and quickly escalated into a steady one-toner. Thankfully I was fishing open water with no apparent snags or hazards to worry about but that didn’t stop my heart from fluttering as I first caught sight of what had to be a PB-shattering mirror. Words can’t express how I felt when I finally got it in the net. My jaw dropped and I just stared down at it in the water for 3 minutes, marveling at its enormity. Standing on the wooden platform at the foot of the swim, I leant over and attempted to lift it but it seemed to be stuck. I presumed the net had got caught on the platform but on closer inspection this turned out not to be the case – it was just really heavy!  Once in the sling it tipped the scales to exactly 61lbs – what a birthday present, I was absolutely buzzing! I had not expected such a fish for myself, which blew my previous French PB of 42lb out the water!



The next night, the same spot produced a 51, a 40 and a couple of 30s – all just on the left edge of the baited area.



Day 6 was Rob’s birthday and he too was treated to a scaly present in the shape of a 50lb mirror- yet another giant and another PB!

During the week other anglers who had moved on to our lake but were struggling to catch, were coming over and asking how we were doing it. It really isn’t a secret and certainly not overcomplicated. We kept the bait trickling in steadily – a tactic that harks back to my match fishing days, used size 4 ESP MkIIs on a chod section of Fox Rigidity in front of Terry Hearn’s new ESP Tungsten Loaded Coated Hooklink as a boom. I know people are skeptical about big hooks on chods but with the size of these fish’s mouths you really can get away with it and along with a 4 ½ oz lead on a semifixed setup, they were all perfectly nailed in the bottom lip.


On the last night of the trip the left rod ripped off again, the culprit this time being yet another 50- I was ecstatic! What a week it had been!



I didn’t cast back out, just made myself a celebratory cup of coffee and sat back reflecting on the epic haul we had experienced. There had been points when fish in excess of 30lbs were coming so frequently that we were unhooking twenties in the water and releasing them without ceremony. It truly was the trip of a lifetime!


Words: Richard Naylor
Pictures: Rob Saxby