It’s hard to describe what makes this ancient, incredibly picturesque little pond what it is, but I’ll do my best to try and draw a picture in your mind’s eye. Set in the grounds of a beautiful grand manor house, this pond was originally dug as a swimming pool, or at least that’s the story that gets told. Many years have past since those days and between 2002 and 2007 I could often be found lodged up on the dam wall in one of two wooden huts that apparently used to be changing rooms (I kid you not). It’s a simple two-acre rectangle with a small island and ornamental fountain and is roughly a 100yds wide by 120yds long. 90% of it is under 5ft deep with no weed so immediately you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a stroll in the park… But nothing could be further from the truth yet so accurate at the same time.
I have seen this place break very good anglers and in the very same period witnessed complete chancers rock up and catch the lake’s biggest prizes within minutes of chucking out.
In the years I fished there it was estimated that there were roughly 50 carp but to be honest I’d have said there were quite a few more than that. At its peak, prior to a mini fish kill, there were at least 17 known fish that had been over 30lbs and probably at very least the same again over 20lbs. This didn’t take into account the endless double-figure commons that never really got noticed yet seemed hell-bent on following me around the place during my time there. These fish are very special to the anglers in the surrounding area, not only are some of the mirrors particularly beautiful, but some of them are also extremely old, too.
So what makes this seemingly over-stocked little pond so brain damaging? Well it’s a combination of different things but the main problem is that it’s a day only venue where fishing takes place between 6am-10pm. This obviously gives them the opportunity to eat for free between those times and I have no doubt that’s exactly what they do.
The next problem is the pressure, there are 20 swims on the three banks where fishing is permitted and even when it’s quiet, it’s still normal for anglers to cast within a rod length of each other! Yeah, you read that right, and for this very reason I only ever fished it in the quieter winter periods. I have fished it a few times in the warmer weather but unless you’re the exceptionally happy-go-lucky type you could easily get yourself banged up for losing it with one of the bivvy mallet brigade.
Key point one: Seeing the bigger picture over time
As I’ve just mentioned, I fished here over the course of five winters and usually I arrived around November and would fish three days a week up until it closed on the 7th of January. To start with I fished really mobile, moving around onto showing fish and caught here and there but I certainly didn’t set the world on fire. Sometimes I’d catch completely out of the blue having seen nothing and on other occasions I might see 20 or more shows right over me and catch nothing. It was a lake I really struggled to understand, most of the previous experience I had gained was from gravel pits and it seemed at times that what I thought I knew wasn’t valid at all here.
After the first couple of years I concentrated my efforts around the swims that controlled the central areas where the fish seemed to be most often. Chasing them did work but after a while I realised that being such a small lake, that if I fished centrally I would always be on fish anyway.
Over the course of time I noticed that at the start each campaign the fish would often be right in the middle and then as we drifted into December the pressure that was generated by captures in this area would cause the fish
to push back towards the dam wall end of the no fishing bank in Peg 1’s water.
Now Peg 1 was a very good swim, not only was it your classic end peg with a no fishing bank up to its left, but it also commanded a lot of water, most of which was the deeper stuff too. Imagine it like this: the lake is the size of two football pitches, one being very shallow, one being slightly deeper and this swim had access to 50% of the deeper pitch. So in effect when the fish were in this quarter of the lake, they only had two lines to deal with so it didn’t take a genius to understand why they liked to huddle up here in the cold whilst three or more anglers thrashed the rest of the deeper water.
One of the things that seems quite common on day only venues is anglers perception that pre-baiting is the key to unlock the code. Well, it may have been for the first anglers that tried it, it may also have been beneficial in the warmer months, but for me it appeared to be one of the biggest problems I faced. To stop the inevitable rat race for swims, it was possible to pre-book them in advance. Now although I liked being able to book a swim in advance, the problem with this was that although I might have a swim booked Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, others may have the same swim booked for later in the week. If they then came down in the week at night to pre-bait that area for their sessions, it could leave me fishing over God knows how much bait during my session or obviously vice versa.
I remember one year Sean “(Leverett-with-bait)” was regularly fishing the same swim as me and although he never said, I knew he was letting them have it at night, a rumoured 8-12kg a week. At times not only would the fish be crashing all over it while my indicators remained motionless, but the ducks would be going mental too. Loose feeding of any description was completely banned at this time for this very reason and you can imagine how guilty I looked when the jobsworth bailiff was stood in my swim.
Key point two: Special single hookbaits
Now bearing in mind I used Nashbait back then and so did Sean, it didn’t take me long to find out what Sean was raising the water level with. By this point in my fourth winter, I had learnt and seen quite a lot and although I was catching more consistently than most, I seemed to catch a very unfair amount of double-figure commons. Sean on the other hand only seemed to catch the biggest and most desirable, which seemed more than just a coincidence, so with that in mind, I decided to match the hatch as such.
I went to see Gary Bayes up in Rayleigh and got myself a couple of kilos of base mix and the necessary additives and then proceeded to roll myself close copies of Sean’s bait with a little white dye added. The idea was that hopefully they would stand out over potentially lots of free offerings but in a way that mimicked a washed-out bait.
In the three years running up to this point I’d caught about 30 fish, but only three of the fish that went over 30lbs. The first one I caught on these new hookbaits wasn’t only one of the A Team but the second biggest in the lake, an amazing carp called Finlay at 40lb 6oz! I can almost here the cynical among you screaming coincidence, and although very possible, I think not.
After the success I had on these hookbaits during the fourth season, they evolved further for the fifth season with the simple addition of a 10mm corkball inside an 18mm bait. The thinking here was that although most of the boilies being fed were 15mm, once they had been in the water a while they would swell a bit and although my baits were rolled in 18mm they would shrink a bit during the air-drying process, mimicking the freebies almost exactly in size. The real difference was that one little suck on these bad boy critically-balanced hookbaits would send them flying into the carp’s mouth much quicker than I’d guess they expected.
Key point three: The spots and the drop
These hookbaits were also part of a bigger thought process when it comes to presentation. The lakebed was littered with leaves during the autumn and winter period and initially I had no idea what I was looking for in terms of rig placement. When plumbing for clear ground it would often leave me none the wiser, it all felt rubbish, claggy, leafy, and basically shite! Eventually though, it started to fall into place during the fourth season when I noticed that a special drop seemed to lead to takes.
Plumbing hadn’t worked for me because these weren’t spots as I knew them, it was more a case of landing in tiny clearings in the leaves rather than crashing through them. Why? Think of it like this: it’s winter, the fish probably aren’t eating ravenously during the permitted hours and the lakebed is again probably littered with boilies that they can eat leisurely out-of-hours. So if they are well fed and not feeding hard, what chance does a bait out of sight, under the leaves have of being picked up? In my opinion certainly less than one that is visible during the daylight hours that landed clean. I imagined the carp grouped together, probably mid-water in just 4ft and it seemed likely that a well placed wafter which I hoped was visible would eventually prove too much to resist to a greedy carp. Obviously this is only my interpretation but it seemed that a special drop tripled the chances.
Key point four: Peg 1 - By the dam
Once I had a good idea Peg 1 was the place to be during December, I booked the swim well in advance for all of my days off during it for season five. This proved an absolute masterstroke, as word spread like wild fire and consensus of opinion was that I’d be baiting it to death and if you couldn’t get in Peg 1 then you may as well not bother.
The lake was very quiet that year and the funny thing was I did the complete opposite: I fished singles and although the weights were a pound or two down, I experienced my best year yet. I think I caught 23 fish, double what I’d had in previous years and the highlight was without doubt a very special day.
The lake froze around a week before Christmas and didn’t defrost until the 27th. I checked the lake Boxing Day evening and with the mild wet weather coming in, I could tell it would be clear by the following morning, not only that, I knew they’d be hungry because no bait could have gone whilst it had a lid on. That day my mate Phil and I doubled up to be sociable and although I’d claimed the best side of the swim, it gave him the second best chance of some action.
Shortly after getting the rods out, we were huddled under Phil’s oval when suddenly I noticed one of my indicators was at the top. The result was Finlay for the second time weighing 38lb and later that afternoon Drop Scale, the lake’s largest resident paid me a visit at just over 40lbs! A crazy brace at that time of year from a lake that at times could be a complete ball buster.