June in north-east U.S.A. started with some gloriously hot weather and not a few thunderstorms. But this was also the month when our freedom to roam was about to be severely curtailed. Visitors from the old country, increased demands from work and the imminent arrival of the school holidays meant that we’d need to employ more devious means to escape the ties of responsibility that bind us.
But we had time for one more day session and our initial success on the Record River last month saw us back there at the beginning June. Having identified a good looking area downstream from the previous effort we headed for it only to find a derelict factory abutting the river with bankside access blocked by an intact chain-link fence. With no alternative we fell back to the old swim, Andy moving round to sit out on a rocky point and it was from here that the first fish came. Yet another sixteen pounder - a size in which he is beginning to specialise - that fought strongly out in the push of the mid-river current. He followed this with an inexplicable snap off to a screamer and then Simon picked up two low doubles to end the session.
A lean Record River carp
The imminence of the school holidays and the advent of child entertaining duties allowed Simon some psychological leverage on Mrs Simon and he managed to wangle a couple more trips. The first he used to return to the Record River. This time we’d decided to add seed to the mix. Classic seeds like hemp are difficult to source here and the only small bags locally available cost $11 for just eight ounces - far too rich for our blood. So we opted for budget birdseed, which seemed to contain a mix of millet, chipped corn, wheat and some unidentifiable brown thing. Supplemented with more wheat and some barley, all suitably soaked and then boiled, Simon had a hectic short session. Fishing corn pop-ups over this mix he took a string of fish to seventeen pounds but once again nothing over twenty.
It’s always difficult to know if you just got the timing right, if the conditions had merely been favourable or whether small adjustments made to baiting or rigs had an effect. Off the back of this one trip though, seeds were going to be an important part of our feeder and general groundbait mix for the rest of the month.
Our feeders we should point out, are not the standard shop bought type. We do like our fishing but have competing interests for our finances. Interests that include food, shelter, clothes, Andy’s beer and all those other mundane aspects of life. So while we look in awe at the latest carp knick-knacks, we also look in shock at the price tags on much of this equipment. Even Simon who is used to paying exaggerated prices for fly fishing tackle was surprised at the cost of some of the ‘essential kit’ your average carp angler carts around. And though we do have cheap buzzers and Simon has even succumbed to getting a budget rod pod after continually failing to find satisfactory forked sticks in the bankside vegetation, our necessities have a make and mend quality to them. Andy, for example, has perfectly serviceable buzzer bars but no back rests. To rectify this situation he first made rests from bamboo and then updated to PVC piping. But the rigours of wear and water being what they are he reverted to a Stone Age support system on recent trips to the Record River.
Andy endorses “Stonehenge rod supports”. Not very mobile, marginally supportive, definitely stone.
We’re also a bit crap when it comes to drop back bites. Until recently we didn’t have any specific method of detecting when a fish had picked up the bait and swam towards us. Our usual recognition of the phenomena entailed a slow dawning of the - “hmmm, line appears to have gone slack” (long pause for contemplation), “maybe that’s a drop back” - before a tentative attempt to connect with the (long gone) fish. Now our innovative selves have rummaged deeply in our grey matter and designed our own hangers and clips.
Prototype 1A mark vii. Please don’t try this at home.
They’re not exactly state of the art being made of string (though the yellow we think particularly fetching), hair-clips, and Play-Doh. They work well. Enough. As long as it isn’t too hot. If it does get a bit beyond tepid the Play-Doh melts. All down the string. It’s a bugger to get off actually. But never fear because we’ve now dropped the Play-Doh for silver foil with split shot or an available bankside stone of appropriate weight wrapped up inside. And what about after dark I hear you ask? Way ahead of you. We simply attach beta lights (remember them? Still commonly available here) and hey presto, Bob’s your uncle and how’s your father.
Prototype 2A mark ix. An improvement. Sort of.
Our hangers and line clips are works in progress - as you might surmise. By contrast our feeders are pretty much the finished product. It quickly became apparent that we would have to have something to deliver bait and associated mix beyond the distance our arthritic throwing arms could reach. By simply cutting out a range of rectangles from plastic garden mesh and attaching (with these natty plastic ties) an appropriate weight we have a serviceable cage feeder that can deliver a quarter or more of a can of corn with every chuck.
Garden mesh, plastic ties, the odds and sods of the leads available here and a little help from some modern kit makes feeders of all shapes and sizes.
A recent addition to the swimfeeder family has been the “Spobber” (Pat. Pending). It may not have quite as catchy a name as some of its competitors in the long range mix delivery market, but with the simple addition of one of the ubiquitous large style ‘bobbers’ available here, we have a floating gadget for all sorts of attractants including quite slushy mixes when fishing Zig(ish) rigs. As long as ends are well and truly plugged.
Unleaded feeder complete with garish bobber becomes a “Spobber” when ready to deliver its mix.
More substantial pieces of kit are certainly off our financial limits and items like barrows and bivvies either out of place or unnecessary. That’s not to say that bivvies wouldn’t occasionally be welcome and the fundamental attraction of having some sort of shelter has seen us range from the relaxed:
The laid back bivvy
To the slightly more eccentric occasioned by us being caught more than once in one of the numerous summer thunderstorms that regularly occur here.
Perhaps this needs a bit more work.
Carp care is obviously important particularly to UK anglers where doing the right thing has reached almost evangelical fervour. American’s see fish care in quite a different light and there are huge ironies when the whole issue is discussed - something we’ll get into in a future article. Nevertheless, it can’t be said that we ignore fish care as we have sourced the best (certainly the cutest) unhooking mat the local outlets can supply.
Our unhooking mat being put to its use.
Right, enough of our crap tackle. What was that exciting bit we mentioned at the end of last month’s article?
Simon’s second solo session saw him back at The Lake testing a new area we had been told was a place carp were regularly sighted. It seemed to have some potential after Simon had plumbed its depths and mapped a mid-distance weed bank. But after going all in he discovered the area didn’t feel like it held fish; the bay had all the indications that this might be an evening and night swim rather than one for the daylight hours. Eventually Simon listened to his inner voice and moved swims to one we’d fished intermittently since last year and, just as intermittently, attracted runs if not landed many fish. True to form in the couple of remaining hours Simon conjured just one run and an eighteen pounder was landed.
Egged on by this minimal success Simon wangled another day pass and slipped away for a longer bash at The Lake. A wind was blowing this time. It blew straight at Simon. Line control was difficult in the chop and he didn’t expect any fish to show even though he’d come back to this swim in the hope he could fish Zig(ish) rigs on a calm sunny day. He reverted to fishing popped-up corn over a bed of the seed mix that had worked so well for the Record River fish. The blow got stronger through the morning. Simon, ever slow on the uptake, realised this after he’d chased and saved his water-bound chair for the third time. Then, in a show of muscular bravado, the wind picked up his rod pod and threw it and the rods it supported into the lake. Simon reassessed the situation, put great lumps of granite on his chair and stapled his rods out on the bank. He was not a happy chappy and was contemplating a move to recce a different water when a fish did roll. A great big fish, a huge expanse of scaled flank showing in the trough of one of the impressive waves. So Simon, proved wrong yet again, stayed.
Half an hour later the left hand rod was away. Except Simon wasn’t exactly where his rods were positioned. He was down the bank at the only bush to provide any cover, liberally watering the branches after a flask full of coffee. One does have to be careful about his sort of thing. Game wardens here carry guns and for all we know, and unlike the streets of Basildon after kicking out time, carefree, public urination is a capital offense. On returning to the rod Simon heard the beeping buzzer over the wind and saw line leaving the spool at an impressive rate. Sprinting the last few yards he lifted the rod, fleetingly felt the weight of a good fish before the hook pulled. Here on The Lake, where any fish that picks up the bait might be of legendary size, Simon was quite prepared to get out his pocket flamethrower and lay waste to great swathes of the American countryside in his frustration.
Still it was a run and calming down a little Simon re-baited, re-cast and fished on. The wind steadied and then dropped gradually and two hours later, in the middle of a burst of activity from rolling fish, he had another run. A strong ponderous animal headed out into the lake. Every now and then it would shake its head, each tug signaling an impressive weight attached to the far end of the line. Eventually a large fish rolled over and hit the bottom of the net. At three ounces below thirty pounds it was by some distance our best fish of the season and very welcome.
A whisker below thirty and the first stunner from a stunning sequence of fish.
This was the starting gun on a fantastic sequence of fish over the next couple of hours. A low twenty followed, then a twenty-four, followed by a twenty-two, each fish coming hard on the heels of the previous. After a short pause while Simon tried to tidy up his pitch the only rod left fishing was away to a fish that made great efforts to reach each of the hazards around the swim before it too headed out in to the middle of the lake. Like the twenty-nine this fish stayed out there. And then stayed there some more. And then, presumably because it was enjoying the scenery, stayed there some more. Eventually, after much pumping and grinding a very large and deep bodied fish rolled over, gave Simon a couple of heart attacks while he tried to get it in his diminutive net and on the bank proved to be a fin and scale perfect thirty-five pound common. Sacked and looking at the wreckage of his pitch Simon decided to call it a day. More fish were on the cards but it would take some beast to top the last and he felt the arc of the session was complete with this fish. A couple of local lads, ironically they were self-confessed bowfishers, were roped into taking a few snaps and they let out an expletive singularly expressive for this God-fearing country when they saw the fish revealed from the sack.
The biggest of the season so far.
Back home Simon wondered how to break the news to Andy. The response he received was expected. “Bastard!” Andy shrieked before demanding all the details of Simon’s session. Four days later Andy strong-armed Mrs Andy into accompanying him and headed to The Lake for an afternoon session. On arrival Andy found the wind still pushing into the swim but less hostile than four days previously. He also used a bird seed and corn mix fishing one rod with the corn on the bottom and the other two with pop-ups. All set he and Mrs Andy sat back to await events. An hour later and disaster: the tin opener died. Mrs. Andy dutifully tootled off to source a replacement. Inevitably this prompted a scorching run and had Andy casting a panicked glance at the as yet unassembled, nay unpacked, landing net. Simon may well be Captain Paranoid in his landing net superstitions - its erection to be performed only once the first fish is literally begging for terra firma - but whilst fishing solo he doesn't have to consider such logistics: his small American net is a simple one-piecer. Since you can give the carp no leeway in this hazard strewn swim considerable dexterity was required to hold the fish hard from the snags and - much to the wonderment of the nearby crappie fishermen - assemble the net and finally bank a lean golden twenty-two pound specimen. As soon as the task was completed, Mr. Ben-like, Mrs. Andy appeared.
Once again the runs continued after this first fish. The next fish was a far paler, rather loose bellied, 26 pound post-spawner. This had also fallen to a pop-up so the bottom bait on the third rod was suitably modified. Hardly two hours had passed.
A pale post spawning mid-twenty
The third fish had real attitude and whilst it didn't appear as long as that previously its shoulders suggested another big twenty. The digital scales refused to turn on, then to zero, then to record anything other than zero. Mrs Andy sought out the car keys and goddess-like was off on another mercy mission. The scales resulting from her foray were small, judged weights in quarter pound increments and were difficult to read anyway. This last fish seemed to weigh between 24 and 25 pounds, the minuscule graduations offering no more exact reading. Minus the sling approximately 23lb. It seemed bigger than that.
Another solid, scale-perfect fish
Andy’s rod was swiftly out again - to an immediate run... and snap-off. Close examination revealed a seriously serrated line and in hindsight he recalled some major twangs from the bankside rocks experienced when playing the previous fish. Mrs. Andy shook her head sagely, "more speed, less haste". Acknowledging her wisdom Andy sent her to retrieve a beer from the car. The last of the seed mix went in and again the response was rapid, this time the needle faltering somewhere just over twenty pounds (decent scales are a new priority).
And then with the clock at no more than 5 p.m. the action halted. The rolling fish departed, dusk crept ever nearer and Mrs. Andy mentioned tea. Four twenties and the overriding feeling was one of disappointment. Of course that’s plain wrong. And as Andy packed up and reflected on his session, the anticipation of a further thirty banished, eight twenties and a thirty-five in two afternoon sessions didn't seem that bad after all. The Lake really was beginning to yield though whether through our being in the right place at the right time, or by the tweaks and changes we had made to our fishing it’s still too early to tell.
Modern ideas of what a ‘big’ carp is may have changed since we both first wet a line for them over three decades ago. Yet, however you judge carping on waters that hold known numbers of thirties and forties, and in a fishing world where the continent has exceeded the 100 pound mark, we were brought up in an era when a ‘twenty’ was the epitome of a large fish and ‘thirty’ something very special. We still feel this to be true and so our last two sessions have a rather unworldly feel to them. Perhaps such catches are something dedicated American carpers expect. But when the number of caught fish over twenty pounds exceeds the number caught below twenty pounds it feels - well, slightly wrong. And that is where we are now with our fish from The Lake - twelve over twenty and eight under with nothing under ten pounds.
Do we expect more of the same or do we come back to earth with a string of light-weights over the next few sessions? To find out we could forsake other venues now and spend all our time at The Lake. But though we undoubtedly will fish more sessions here, doing so would ignore the wealth of other waters we could explore all within comfortable striking distance. So in July we headed for one of these, a smaller lake recommended to us as “better than The Lake”. What more encouragement did we need? We’ll tell you about what we found in July’s Carp Letter from America.