Friday, 8 August 2014

Summer Carping on Fordwich Lake

Fordwich Lake, near Canterbury, is in my opinion amongst the most beautiful waters in the country and holds some very special fish. It is a lake that has got the better of many, myself included, though many great anglers have cut their teeth here. Although I have been targeting carp for the greater part of my youth, I didn't truly start carping until my first season on this historic water. The learning curve was steep and painful and yet each obstacle held a valuable lesson. After a while I began to experience some success but more recently, as I continued to experiment with various factors in my approach, the catches dried up. Having had time to reflect and refine my tactics and with a fair amount of exploration and discovery behind me, I have challenged myself to capitalise on the knowledge I have acquired and make 2014 the year to start banking fish from this formidable venue.
Sunset on Fordwich Lake

My first proper session this season did not come about until the last week of July. The lake had been fishing hard, probably due to the abundance of naturals thriving in the weed bloom. With so much food available, not associated with the danger of being caught, the carp could quite easily survive without the need to touch any angler's offerings. However, a few laps of the lake in the days before my campaign began revealed some valuable information. There had been some significant catches just after a storm had hit a little over a week before, which is when the wind started blowing west. The anglers who followed this wind were successful as were a few who had jumped in their swims behind them for a few days. However, a week on and the catches had become distant memories. I spoke to some guys who clearly knew what they were doing but for reasons unknown, were not catching.

On the day I arrived at the lake ready to fish, it was evident that the wind was now easterly and therefore I decided to resist the temptation of occupying the now vacant hotspots and trekked round to the opposite side of the lake with my friend who was joining me for the next 48 hours. That night we settled in adjacent swims, I set up on a swim where features above and below the surface could be found at about 100 yards. The spots are a bit closer on the swim next door where I have had success in the past but unfortunately it was taken. At the best of times 100 yards is about my casting limit but with the wind coming straight towards us I found it hard to get the full distance with my rigs and almost impossible to get my spombed freebies on the same spots. The night passed with my rigs a rod length or two off the desired location and the loose feed another length or two shy of my hookbaits. Needless to say my sleep was uninterrupted!

The next day we decided to move round to a picturesque swim in the corner of the lake where many snaggy features are all within the lightest of casts. What's more, the wind was blowing right up into this corner and algae residue, weed, snails and all sorts were collecting here now. It was a bit of a squeeze getting us both into one swim, something I would normally try to avoid but we were there to be sociable on this occasion and so threw caution to the wind. We took the time to get our rigs exactly where we wanted them and scattered the area with boilies and maize. At 3am my friend had a run but the fish got the better of him. At 8am I also lost what felt like a good fish. All the while we kept the bait going in on the premise that the fish were there and they were eating it. If we didn't keep it coming they would go elsewhere! By mid-afternoon, knowing that the remaining hours were into single figures and still no fish had been landed, despondency was setting in. Thankfully this emotion was short-lived as my right hand rod was pulled sharply towards the singing alarm. No line could be given as I was fishing just in front of a sunken tree, so the spool had to be locked up and my full attention devoted to it. I managed to turn the fish from the snag without too much trouble and then steadily coaxed the fish, laden with weed, into the net. As I was using a large bait presented snowman fashion, I had lengthened the hair considerably as I suspected short hairs were the reason many takes last season didn't result in a connection with the fish - a move I believe paid off as this time the hook was set perfectly in the bottom lip of this carp's cavernous mouth. It weighed a tantalising pound below the magic 20 but I was absolutely elated. Back the fish went into the water in a floating retainer sling whilst I got the camera ready. As I started to lift the sling from the water the cracking common thrashed around and swam straight out of the sling! It became apparent that although I had zipped it up, the zips were not clipped and the fish had been able to work it open whilst in the water. I felt ecstatic and cheated simultaneously - a very confusing sensation! I put myself in line very quickly - I had lived the moment and that was what mattered. In addition, I had resumed catching carp at Fordwich and that, for me, was no mean feat.

Round two began with high hopes as I arrived early on a Tuesday morning with three days and two nights ahead of me. The lake's car park was packed, which is always a concern but as I barrowed round to the eastern side of the lake where the wind was still headed I past many anglers in adjacent swims all down the previously productive west end and along the main length of the lake where only the most epic casters dare display their machismo. I was delighted to find I had the pick of many lovely close range swims but settled again in the same spot I fished last time as I had already put in some ground work there which gave me confidence.
Left: the problem with the old way
Right: from now on it'll be done like this!
Again, I made good use of the line clips on my reels to get my leads where I wanted them before attaching my rigs. With regard to this - the fish I lost in the previous session was lost due to my misuse of a rig component. I had been attaching my rigs with a rig clip but not using a sleeve to cover it as I get paranoid about how it sits on the bottom and I think without a sleeve there is more chance of the braid following the contour of the lake bed. However, without taking the precaution of covering the clip with a sleeve, the clip had worked its way over the swivel and therefore when I connected with the fish it was able to pull the rig straight off the swivel. I'm not happy about this or at all proud to admit it but I am pleased that I have learned from this error and have vowed from now on to always use a simple loop to attach all my rigs. 
So out they went along with liberal helpings of boilies and maize and then I sat back and waited. 

And waited.

I waited a whole 48 hours before at 9am on Thursday my middle alarm started jittering, a sound which progressed to a single tone as line started to peel off the reel. I picked up the rod and connected with a solid weight which started moving steadily towards sunken branches. I turned the fish from immediate danger but it continued to power away. I could give no line but continued to steer the fish and let the rod tip cushion every lunge. Once in open water I knew the hard part was over but when I saw the size of the fish my heart started pounding and my nerves started snowballing. To loose this now would be devastating and that fear, I feared, would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This fish just refused to be netted! Now however, I was able to let line off and play the fish to the point of submission which I did with several deep breaths and a mantra of 'keep cool'.
After resting it in the net I lifted out the biggest fish I had ever seen in the flesh and knew it had to be a personal best. I unhooked it and then put it back in the water in the floatation sling, this time taking the utmost care to zip and clip! Although it was early morning the sun was baking down already so I made sure I had a bucket of lake water ready to douse the fish as well as my scales and camera.
28lb 4oz - a new PB! I couldn't help releasing a primal 'whoop'! I rested the fish in the water again before taking a few pictures. Only a couple came out well but I didn't persevere as I had captured the memory and my priority had to be returning the fish safely.

My PB Carp at 28lb 4oz from Fordwich Lake.
Only an hour later my left hand rod went off, the alarm tone beginning again with the same jittering sound which leads me to think perhaps the fish are shaking their heads to use the weight of the lead to free themselves of the hook. This rod had been cast to some lilies and I thought the challenge would be turning the fish from this obvious safe haven. However, this fish had other ideas. It made a beeline to the left right round the back of some trees which were growing out of the water. I was fast to respond and managed to kite it out of the most extreme snags but as I was doing so the handle on my reel broke and became loose so on every turn it clashed with the bail arm. This momentary lapse of attention to work out what was going wrong with the reel allowed the carp the second it needed to find safety in the tree line. Suddenly the fish was immovable and I had no choice but to put the rod down, open the bail arm and wait. As I mentally prepared myself to strip down and go for a swim to free the fish from the snag line began peeling once more from the spool. I picked up the rod and turned the fish which complied but was bringing the tree with it! The most violent of fights ensued and my heart resumed the acrobatics it had been performing an hour before. When finally I landed the fish and the huge tree branch it had brought with it and placed the feisty common on the unhooking mat, I leaned over to unhook it and it slapped me full in the face with its tail, far worse than the last time I upset a lady!

This one weighed in at 17lb exactly and although much smaller was a real rival to the first fish in the thrill-of-the-catch competition. The rest of the day past without another bite but now, if they weren't obvious enough before, signs of fish movement were blatant as they basked on the surface in the heat and crashed around in the lilies. If I had any surface baits with me I would have given that approach a shot for sure.

There is still plenty of summer left so perhaps there will be a 'part 2' to this post if I catch or learn anything noteworthy at Fordwich over the next few weeks. For now however, I could not be happier that I am making progress on a water that has been an ongoing challenge for me but the years of hard work have rewarded me with the best fish I have ever caught.

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