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Blood, sweat and tears
Three years of hard work pays off for Luke Vallory, after netting his main target fish of over 45lb
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obtained my ticket in the October of 2012 and at the time I found the lake extremely daunting. I knew nothing about the place other than seeing some old photos of some lovely old big mirrors that live there. These fish were right up my street and I always fancied a go for them one day, but the challenge that came with it was not to be taken lightly.

I remember walking round during the summer of 2012 and I managed to end up lost for about 45-minutes – sweating, confused and a thirst that left me feeling weak and dehydrated. Funny looking back on it, but at the time I would rather stumble across a cold can of Coke than a carp, which also felt more likely, too.

The lake is nearly 60-acres and contains around 90 carp. I felt out of my comfort zone having fished smaller pits in the past, however I didn’t let this deter me and kept walking it every now and again to get my bearings around this large, snaggy pit.

I began my campaign the following spring in 2013. As I expected, it was a massive learning curve but I still managed to get amongst a few, and to my surprise, the first two I landed were both A-Team fish, one known as Red Scale at 36lb, then not long after I landed Single Scale at 43lb 1oz, which was a new PB at the time. I went on to catch a few more ending up with 10 takes landing, seven before pulling off in September to fish my winter ticket over Carthagena.

I returned the following spring of 2014 with a lot more knowledge gained about the place through my own trial and errors. The crayfish are savage but I did learn in certain areas I could get away with using real pop-ups and boilies which I found to be a big edge, as a lot of the anglers were bulking out their mix with particle and only a small amount of boilie. I’ve never been a massive baiter, although certain times of the year I do like to give them some. I found that if I could find a group of fish by keeping mobile and then giving them a couple of kilo of boilies, which at the time was a mix of Krill and Vor-Tex, that providing I was on the fish and got the rods out delicately, I could keep them there for a short while. In these sorts of scenarios, I wasn’t getting too much bother from the crays and it gave me such an edge.

During that year I ended up with 27 takes, landing 22 of them, including a few more sought-after mirrors, one of which is known as the Italian that went just shy of 41lb. I then went on to brace that with a real rare visitor known as Little Arfur at 38lb 14oz. To this day that fish has yet to see the bank again, which just goes to show how long these fish can just disappear for in here. I landed a fair few of the other thirties that year and felt like my album was starting to come together. However, there were still six over the 40lb mark that I was yet to have, including two lovely old mirrors I wanted to spend five-minutes with: one known as Moon Scale which has untold character: huge tiger-like scales across her back and a big half moon shaped scale on the centre of her right flank. She sits between 42 and 45lb but looks better at her lower weight in my opinion.

The other one I joined for is one called Baby Basil – simply for her wide and long frame, a real clean looking mirror with a small heart-shaped tail; she now does weights between 45-47lb and is a true beast of a carp. These two keep the fire burning and was hopeful to have them in my album one day!

With that said, I was looking forward to the forthcoming spring, however, I needed a break so I drifted away to fish my autumn and winter back on Carthagena, it was better for work overnighters as the days were shorter and being a smaller pit it made everything easier, not to mention the special carp it contained, although they were by no means easy to catch.

A lovely looking 29lb common
A stunning 30lb+ mirror
A typically jet black Lea Valley common
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fter landing five lovely carp during the winter I was eager to get back over the big pit for my third spring campaign. My mind was clear, my gear neatly compacted and arranged and I was totally gunned up and ready for the season ahead. Although the lake isn’t huge by some standards, the very nature of it is not like any other. You can’t use boats, so it is all barrow work. It is a good old walk from the car just to get to the lake, and then you have to work your way around the maze of a lake that is broken in to so many bays.

During my first few seasons I found that so many new faces would arrive keen and eager to get their teeth stuck in to it, but slowly fade away to never return. It either grabs you or it doesn’t and there was something about that lake that just encapsulated me and I found it impossible to fish elsewhere. It was all or nothing on there and if I was fishing it, I had to give it my all. I did venture elsewhere from time to time the season before, mainly to places like The Quarry and other little pits in the area. I caught some lovely fish, but I would never stop thinking about the big pit, wherever I went.

In the spring of 2015 I was ready and on my first session back, I already had a good idea of where I needed to be. I could also put some time in too after being newly single and free. My work remained the same, so it meant plenty of overnighters to try and be in-tune with the place as much as I could.

It was early spring and the fish didn’t seem to want to reveal their presence too eagerly. If only the fish were as keen as me, it would have been a doddle. I kept on walking the pit trying to search them out and found myself peering round the bays at the top end of the lake. There was an area called The North Arm that was around 14-acres and joined to the main lake by just a small pipe. I had always treated it as a separate lake and most of the time dismissed it. I found a group of fish in front of a small, intricate and snaggy swim. The nettles covered the peg and it was clear that it had received little or no attention for quite some time. I got to work clearing it out so that I could tuck my brolly away, trying to be as quiet as I could. I found a lovely little hard spot and I had it in my head that the crays would leave me alone up there. I risked it and put Krill pop-ups on the rods. I say risked it, mainly because the Krill pop-ups act as magnets to the crays but they have the same effect on the carp too. People generally avoid fishy smelling baits due to the crays, but the carp love them. I have always been a big fan of fishmeals and the Krill is just something else. When you are fishing for big old carp, they know what they are looking for and being one of the few guys actually using fishmeal baits in any sort of volume, I felt like I had quite an edge.

It worked that night as the following morning I had a beautiful mid-thirty common for my efforts. She was perfectly shaped and her golden flanks shone in the morning sun.

I thought I could be on to something, so spent a few overnighters down there, trying to bait it and get something going. The birds wouldn’t allow it though and absolutely hammered me. With me spending so little time down there, the wildlife could gorge on my bait when they were left undisturbed and it was too much in the end.

A few weeks had passed and I was up a tree watching a couple of fish mooching round a snaggy tree. I could see the common that I had caught, which made me realise they do cross through that pipe more than I had presumed. Every time I came down there were fish in the area, so I kept on fishing that swim for a few trips and caught most of the time. I even managed to catch that common again, which wasn’t ideal but I suppose these things happen.

I didn’t want to cause too much disturbance, so at the time I was just fishing Naked Chod Rigs and scattering boilies. It allowed me to get out fishing really quickly and not risk spooking them leading about. The crays seemed subdued too, so I was introducing quite a bit of boilie and they loved it. At times, I was picking up three or four fish a night and getting through 4-5kgs of boilies. They are boiled food monsters and with so many anglers fishing with the particles I felt like I had such an edge being able to fish quietly and effectively.

Full of character, these carp are a pleasure to hold
The crayfish can be a real nightmare at times and change everything
Two rods fishing in just a small, quiet bay
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pring was well underway and I was so in-tune with the place it was unreal. You know when you get that feeling where you can’t seem to put a foot wrong. If I wasn’t fishing the lake after work, I was walking it, and I always had a good understanding of where the fish seemed to be.

One evening I found the fish and plonked the barrow down in the swim. My rods were all ready to go and I dispatched three pop-ups to the zone and scattered around 2kgs of boilies to the area. I knew the crays weren’t too bad in this area and I felt that I could get away with it. I got the bite the following morning and although the fish didn’t feel huge, I caught a glimpse of the armour-plated scales across her back. The first thing that sprung in to my mind was Moonscale. I didn’t know of any other fish that looked like her and I was petrified as she fought for her life under the tip. I slipped her in the net and it soon became apparent that it wasn’t her, but almost like a smaller version. I had never seen this fish before but it still rates as one of my favourite captures of the year. She was like an old dinosaur and a truly special carp of over 27lb.

Depending on where I was fishing, the crays began to get quite savage, and if I was fishing near the islands they hammered me. I got in to a routine of shrink-wrapping my baits, which allowed me to keep using real bait on the end. If they were bad, I would fish with a 16mm pineapple pop-up mounted to a Hinged Stiff Rig. If I was on the carp, I would, at times, get away with using straight bottom baits, but they wouldn’t last more than 3-4hrs. It was about adapting my approach to the scenario I was in and trying to avoid the easy way out of fishing with plastic hookbaits.

The other trick was to put out the bait a few hours before the bites were happening. At times, first light was the best time to get a bite, so I would often arrive at 1am and walk round until I found the fish. I would then get the rods and the bait out around 3am in preparation for that 6am bite. It was hard work and it certainly takes it out of you when you have to go to work in the morning, but it was all worth it when it came right.

I had the gear in the motor one evening but hadn’t planned to fish. I wanted to just go for a walk round the place as it was blowing a ferocious westerly and I thought I would end up seeing a couple. I stood in a swim for a while, not fully expecting to see them as it is normally early morning shows, but then I caught a glimpse of a fish showing around 40yds out in front of me. Then another, and another, game on. I ran back to the car and got my gear and set-up for the night. I knew the crays were bad in this area, but the carp were here. I spread a couple of kilos of boilies out with the stick and dispatched three, shrink-wrapped pineapple pop-ups to their marks.

Around 12pm I had a lovely 29lb chestnut mirror. That was it for the night, but what a result considering I wasn’t going to fish. I gave them the rest of my bait, which was a little less than a kilo and headed off to work. As soon as work finished I almost had flames coming off the wheels I was so desperate to get back to the same swim. I plonked the barrow in the swim and stood there for around 45-minutes but didn’t see anything. It didn’t feel right for some reason and the westerly had now been joined by a slight burst of northerly.

I walked round to an area where the wind was now blowing and stood in a swim that was very popular, but vacant. It felt perfect and I saw a fish show not long after arriving, so I got the bait out and the rods in double-quick time and waited.
I woke at around 3am to hear quite a few fish showing to my right. They were quite some way off my spot, so brought in the rods and chucked a few Zigs at them. They were going mental and I must have seen a good 40-50 shows over them but no joy. I grew impatient and just put them back on the bottom over the spots. I got my head back down and at 7am one of the rods was away, followed by another. In a mad hour feeding spell I ended up with six fish to over 31lb. I just couldn’t get enough bait out and with me glugging the baits in hemp oil, I could see large flat spots over the spots where the fish were just smashing it up.

With there being so much fish activity, I risked it and put Krill wafter hookbaits on, which would normally be impossible with the crays being so localised in this area. I am sure it helped me get more bites, fishing with baits that wouldn’t normally be used. The mad thing about this place is that a bottom bait boilie is safe for fish to eat because so few people use them.
I got all the pictures sorted and had to quickly rush off to work covered in slime and soaking wet, but what a morning’s angling.

I plugged away through the summer, catching regularly along the way but I was yet to come across one of the real big ‘uns. It was frustrating, but when you are catching fish you know you are doing something right and I was sure my time would come. I had been catching fish from open water and keeping it quiet too. By fishing these sorts of zones I could get something going, as there were always some sort of fish traffic over the spots as they move from the bays and islands. I knew the fish were there and even though they weren’t really getting caught from there, I wanted to get in and give it a go.

I was baiting heavily with loads of hemp, pellets and boilies. I had a tench during the night and had another bite early in the morning. It felt like another tinker and it hardly fought at all. It wasn’t until it got close in that I realised that it was a carp that was attached to my line. It was a big mirror and one that I recognised as The Italian. It was a repeat capture, so I quickly weighed her to see how she was getting on and did a few snaps before getting her back. She looked in great condition and weighed a healthy 37lb spawned out. It was a lovely morning and then in the afternoon it all changed: it went real wet and the wind changed to a northerly. It felt fresh and in the heat of summer I knew the fish would get on it.

I moved round in the pouring rain and found the fish exactly where I thought they would be. I had to nip home just to get a spare set of clothes and pair of waders just to get dry. I even broke my brand new iPhone but I was upbeat, knowing the fish were out in front of me. And it did all work out as I had a bite in the morning which resulted in a fish known as Two-Scrapes at over 35lb. It was repeat, but it’s one of those things.

Another glorious summer dawn before Luke had to be off to work
Fishing with the boilies kept the bites coming, but the real big ‘uns kept avoiding him
Although a recapture, Two-Scrapes looked insane at 39lb, what an amazing old carp
The old Italian looked healthy at 37lb despite being completely spawned out
A thickset 33lb mirror caught on one of those hazy summer days
One of a few stunning mirrors caught on an overnighter in the summer
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t was moving in to the autumn and I knew it was big fish time. The fish were spending a lot of time out in open water and there was a guy that had just pulled off one of the main swims after a week session. He had blanked but there was something that told me that I needed to be in there. I saw one fish show and it was a big fish too. I went in the swim and I actually caught Two-Scrapes again, this time looking massive. She was just under 40lb and looked awesome. Although I was repeating on a few fish, it was hard to pull off as I was yet to catch one of the real big mirrors I was chasing.

I decided though to pull off for the winter and fish another couple of local club lakes. I had landed 41 fish but none of the real biggies, so decided I needed a break from the place. I really enjoyed myself and actually changed my bait over, which is something I don’t normally do.

I was able to use the Manilla from Sticky and it had been doing loads of fish, so it seemed a good bait to try during the colder months. I had seen it before, but never get involved in the hype of a new bait too much, preferring to stick to what I know. This stuff was unreal though and smelt the nuts. I knew it would work and it did just that. I caught loads of fish during the winter including some real bangers. I caught one of the mirrors that I really wanted, a knarly old mirror with a small paintbrush tail. I also managed one of the big commons too at over 35lb, which again was a lovely old carp.

A New Year and new bait, Luke was back on the lake with the Manilla and coated it in Bloodworm Liquid
A small tucked away swim that rarely gets fished was the scene of the mighty Baby Basil
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I wasn’t holding back on bait either and caught over 3-4kgs sometimes. When I got the fish on the mat, the bait was flying out of them and my confidence in it was sky high, so much so that when it came to getting back on the big pit, this is what I took with me. I had always used fishmeals on there and to great success, but with it being early year and the Manilla being a bait that the fish can easily digest and accept all year round, I went in with that.

My first trip back was on the Easter Bank Holiday weekend and I did four nights for nothing, other than losing a good fish at the net. I was fishing towards the out-of-bounds area and that was where quite a few of the fish were holding up.

I came down a week or so later and I took a couple of days holiday. I fished the first night up the top end but to no avail, so I moved back up to the end of the lake where I had lost one and there were a few fish around. I got back in the swim where I had lost one from, but with the strong crosswind I couldn’t hit the spots that were a good 140yds out. I grew frustrated and ended up moving back to the other end of the lake. I had a quick toasty to get some energy but it didn’t feel right, so I barrowed back to the other end and had to shelter from the heavy rain showers halfway back and I was beginning to lose all motivation. Going home actually crossed my mind and I waited for the rain to stop.

Everything was soaked but I found myself in a small bay that is normally ignored. It was close to the out-of-bounds and it felt good. The fish were in the area and with it being a new moon it just felt right.

I set my gear up and found a nice spot off a snaggy bush. I had a couple of kilos of Manilla glugging in Cloudy Bloodworm, as I was sure the fish were doing most of their feeding on naturals. I put the lot out and shrink wrapped a couple of pop-ups and cast each one to the spot.

Baby Basil on the mat

I received an odd bite just as the light began to get better the following morning. I hit the left-hand rod but it felt odd. I noticed the other rod was completely slack, so I picked that one up and felt a kick. It was all a bit weird and I soon worked out that the fish was on the right but had taken out the left. I then noticed a large light coloured shape in the water and could see between me and the carp was a large branch. I ended up having to hand-line it in and eventually slipped the net under a huge mirror.

I couldn’t believe it and almost collapsed in to a heap on the floor. It was so much to take in and all the hard work, blood, sweat and tears had all rolled in to this moment. I could see her sheer length and small paintbrush tail, recognising it instantly as Baby Basil, one of the fish that I had joined for and she was mine.

I gave my friend a call to come and give me a hand and we got her up on the mat. The size 6 Choddy was well and truly imbedded in the bottom lip and my 16mm pop-up was almost hard to see, it was that far back. As I held her up, a stream of bait was flying out of her and all I could smell was my bait, which is such a great feeling!

She weighed an impressive 45lb 8oz on the scales and Luke did me some superb shots. I checked her for marks and blemishes but she was mint, so slipped her back to hopefully complete someone else’s dream, she had certainly done that for me.

What a moment. All the hard work – the blood, sweat and tears – all rounded into one magic moment
Luke Vallory
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