Each fortnight, in this new series, no-nonsense big fish angler Darrell Peck focuses on a particular lake and reveals the key elements which he believes led to the capture of his target fish. He kicks off with that brute above: The Client from Fen Drayton
ight then ladies and gents, I guess I should kick off by explaining what this series is all about. In these pieces I am going to look back at various campaigns over the years and try to pinpoint the key things that led to the eventual success. Obviously there will be a little cross over here and there but hopefully it shall be interesting all the same with a few nice pictures along the way. Some of it will be technical, but I don’t want to focus solely on that, I want to try to get across all the other important stuff that I thought about throughout the campaign.
I thought I’d start with the notoriously difficult Cambridgeshire pit known as Fen Drayton. Now Fen is roughly about 60-70-acres with what I’d guess at the time somewhere in the region of 30 to 50 fish. The regulars had said to me there were 30 to 40 known ones that had been caught but also possibly some that hadn’t. The lake itself is rectangular in shape with a big island fairly central with four large bars running off it, almost splitting the lake into quarters. Within these quarters were also lots more narrower bars with the bottom up and down like an egg box with depths in general ranging from 5-12ft.
Obviously that’s a very low stock for a largish lake but from the little I’d been told, it was the abundance of natural food and weed that made the Fen carp so tricky to catch.
Case Study 1: It was all about timing
So key point No.1 for this piece is all about how the timing played such an important role in what happened. I arrived at Fen early April knowing absolutely nothing, with a completely clean slate if you like. So why arrive in April considering I’d had the ticket since the previous June? Well, there are a few reasons. The first is that chances are all the fish had remained uncaught since October/November the previous year and would all be due out. Secondly, I expected it to be fairly free of weed. Being a big pit which is fairly open to the winds, I expected the big autumn/winter blows to have ripped most of the weed away, and less weed means less naturals – the very reason why Fen can be hard – plus with less weed around it’s obviously easier to get a good presentation.
Being a novice to a venue and not knowing any spots can be less important early in the year too. I feel that the fish often tend to be moving around a lot in the spring, grazing rather than staying in any one area and we all know how devastating a single cast towards showing fish can be at this time of year…
The opening plan of attack was as always: arrive Sunday morning pre-dawn, pick a room with a view and hopefully see them showing, knowing any occupied swims will generally come free later that morning. Well, I couldn’t have timed my first session any better; I arrived to find out the first bite since the previous autumn had occurred the day before. After securing a swim with fish topping, I fetched my boat and outboard taking the long route back to my swim making sure to stay well clear of where I’d seen the fish. The water was quite clear, clear enough to get a good view of the lakebed and it appeared to me it wasn’t just fairly free of weed but completely desert like, like a coffee-coloured lunar landscape.
Case Study 2: Going covert
Key point No.2 for Fen was keeping everything low disturbance. Obviously if you’ve got a boat you’d probably like to take it out for a look and have a prod about for spots, right? Well, I wanted to avoid that like the plague to start with. Yes, it was tempting to have a look where the fish had been jumping but in the back of my mind I knew they had been heavily fished for using boats in the past and I imagined they might recognise them as a sign of angling pressure.
My thinking was simple: the bottom was as clear of debris as any I had ever seen before, so in effect I could cast anywhere I wanted (wherever they were jumping) with standard rigs, confident I’d be presented well. On that first day I simply rigged two rods with bright pop-ups and blasted them as far as I could towards where I’d seen them jumping, literally just two casts. It takes a lot of faith to do that on a lake you’ve not fished before but having seen the bottom I was happy enough.
During that first three-night session I bagged a lovely 27lb linear the first morning and a 31lb common on the final one – not a bad start on this type of water. On my next trip the wind was blowing in the opposite direction and the fish seemed to be off the back of it again, in the opposite peg to the week before. I’d arrived pre-dawn and saw them showing at long-range so blasted three singles out to around 150yds and a few hours later another one of Fen’s finest rolled over the cord, the lovely Tadpole Mirror at 34lb!
Case Study 3: Long-range fishing
On those first two trips I’d used 10lb line and shockleaders to fish at range but according to the syndicate leader, that despite there being NO rules on Fen, I had to use a minimum of 15lb line. Very odd. It’s amazing what can happen after catching a couple. Rather than cause a scene though, I quietly had a little ace up my sleeve… At home I had some prototype tapered mono that needed testing, it was 0.33mm thick, but didn’t have a breaking strain stated on it… yet. For waters where leaders are banned, this stuff has really helped me to put extra fish on the bank, on waters such as the one I fished in Belgium, Gigantica and of course Fen.
I want to briefly touch on how to get the best from it. Getting the correct level on the spool is the first thing that needs considering. I do this by loading the 300m of tapered line on to an empty spool and then wind the backing on top of that whilst counting the reel turns. Once at the correct level, brimmed but not overflowing, it’s a simple case of reversing it off onto another empty spool. Now as I know how many turns of backing to put on first, I can do the other two without needing to reverse them if you follow what I mean. Lastly, I found it cast miles further if I cut the leaders back a bit; I think they are 50ft to start with and I take mine back to about 30, reducing the clattering effect you get at the start of a big cast.
As far as casting goes, it’s not all about brute force. The best piece of advice I could give anyone who genuinely wants to cast further is to have a lesson with either Terry Edmonds or Mark Hutchinson. These guys are the best in the business at chucking and I’m sure there isn’t many out there who wouldn’t benefit from a day with one of them… including myself. What I have actually done though, is practise. I have a lake near me that has no fishing rights on it, no one’s ever there and at times I’ve spent 1-2hrs thrashing my rods within an inch of their lives. I filmed myself, then compared my technique to that of Mark’s by watching clips of him on YouTube. Simple but practise makes perfect as they say.
Case Study 4: Watching the weather
Now I’ve never been that excited by big winds and low pressure, as I can honestly say I’ve caught just as many in flat calm, high pressure. But I certainly believe LOW pressure is often the right conditions for the deeper open water. At Fen, during the five-week period that I fished there, the pressure was consistently very low, in fact some of the lowest I can ever recall, going down into the 960s at times. I don’t take notes but I believe there was a period of around two-weeks where it hovered in the 970s. The fish just hung around in the same general zone over the deeper water, always showing just off the back of the wind lines.
On my third trip I arrived on a Tuesday not the normal Sunday and the swim where I’d caught the week before was already occupied. The fish were showing out there and this time it seemed I wouldn’t be able to get where I wanted. I set-up in the closest swim available with the wind hacking from right to left, watching as they were continually sticking their heads out amongst the waves. It was so frustrating watching them, I could have got right amongst them from last week’s swim with the wind off my back but from here I had absolutely no chance.
The shoulders had dropped that morning when suddenly the wind eased a little but more importantly, it started blowing off my back, a slight westerly. The forecast was showing the opposite, a big weather front was moving in with strong 30-40mph southeasterly winds. It was looking like a slim window of opportunity to put them out long, so I ‘Happy Gilmored’ them out to my absolute max! Being about 30yds short didn’t fill me with confidence but quite frankly it was the best I could do.
I needn’t have worried, though, as a couple of hours later I somehow fluked a couple of crackers. One, a lovely 32lb mirror known as Veins and also another really scaly one of 27lbs. Things were almost going too well if you know what I mean, it seemed all I had to do was put one of my little pink pop-ups anywhere near a fish and they’d find it.
The following morning I was woken by the wind. The low pressure system was moving in, steadily building in strength and by dawn white capped waves were breaking as far as the eye could see. I remember seeing two shows through a tiny gap in the zip of the door, it was a big fish, no doubt, I’d seen it clear as day up to its wrist.
Half-an-hour later and I was lifting into a fast take and a huge gust of wind picked all the line up into a gigantic bow. Slowly the curve in the rod increased and the bow from my line decreased and I found myself furiously back-winding… and back-winding, until I had a couple of hundred yards out. Icy rain was driving into my face stinging into my eyes. I pulled my hood up and stood side-on to the lake to protect my face. The fish stayed out at over 100yds for at least 30 minutes and to this day is something I have never experienced again. The line shortened so slowly; a real tug of war was unfolding, and every inch extremely hard-earned. The culprit was clearly a special fish and lets just say I wasn’t surprised when The Client popped up.
Before I finish, I would just like to reiterate how key the timing really was here. After catching The Client and a few more over the next two-weeks the lake flooded. To have caught those fish from Fen in a whole year would have been a mega result let alone in those precious last five weeks before they escaped.