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How Oz Holness tackled Swan Lake
Although a decade has passed since Oz Holness fished Swan Lake in Kent, one thing has not: his no-nonsense approach

This is the last of the series for me and I want to take you back almost ten years to a little period of time I spent fishing the lovely Swan Lake in Kent. Looking back at the progression of my personal angling throughout the last decade, it was clear to me that although time flies by and progress moves us swiftly along to the ‘here and now’, not too much has actually changed in my approach. The nuts and bolts that hold everything together remain pretty much the same. By that I mean as an angler, there seems to be a sort of common process and a list of themes that run through most of the challenges we undertake. Give or take a few tweaks here and there allowing us to adapt to any given situation, many of the themes remain constant.
It’s been written many times before now that confidence comes from consistency. Certainly with my carp fishing this is something I try hard to adhere to. The way I like to look at it is this: be like the chameleon, change and adapt with the environment but keep the outline of what works right there in the mix. That consistency becomes your confidence factor. Simplicity but not at the expense of efficiency, no bullsh*t in other words!

So this is the outline of a year’s angling some ten years ago, putting all those themes into practise and how it worked out in the end.

First light was the time to be there

Watercraft: Doing your homework

The lake in question

A crystal clear water of around six-acres, The Swan is set alongside the meandering river Stour and is one of a cluster of Bretts gravel pits close to my home. Holding a good number of carp, it was always a busy pit and never more so than the year I set foot on its grassy banks.

Containing two 40lb+ mirrors, a stunning common known as Cut Tail at 40lb+ alongside a mixed bag of bronze commons and scaly dark mirrors, it was always going to see plenty of angling pressure. With Conningbrook just up the road and on the same ticket, every time old Two-Tone came out The Swan would see an influx of Brook anglers all seeking a short break before resuming their quest for the dream. Add to this the open nature of the pit, whereby you could see everything from anywhere, I knew it would be a tricky prospect without even casting a line in the water. Nevertheless the fishing would be an interesting challenge and the intimate nature of the pit would allow for plenty of chances to watch those stunning fish and observe their habits.

A long and fairly narrow water with very little in the way of bays or cuts, the main features were a long bar running parallel to one bank and only a short distance out. This stretched almost three-quarters the length of the lake. The opposite bank had the crumbling remnants of a bar that ran along half of its length as well as a good tree-lined margin with big overhangs and a lovely gravel shelf. The southerly end of the lake narrowed up into a reed-lined bay, mainly shallow water, whereas the northerly end opened out into a bowl-like section of somewhat deeper water. During the summer months the whole lake would become heavily choked with Canadian pondweed, vast beds growing up to the surface in 10ft of water, so there was a lot to think about and a plan would be hatched as things unfolded.

I decided to walk the pit on the odd morning whilst I waited for my ticket to start in April. After a few weeks of legwork it became apparent that the fish were spending much of the day in the narrow southerly end of the pit. My first light walks would find them showing in the wider deeper end. To this end it seemed obvious that a mobile approach would be favourite, at least until the weed came up and held them up for periods of time.

A slightly odd situation was that the car park to the lake was the other side of the river, and unless you fancied unloading at a roadside gate and leaving your gear unattended, it meant wading the kit across the river itself to get to the lake. The first lesson was only take what was needed. Cutting back the tackle to a minimum would be necessary and a good move in general. I felt far more mobile and being unhindered by mountains of kit I rarely used or needed enabled me to move around the pond responding quickly and efficiently to shows or feeding signs as they occurred.

The Rasta at 41lb 4oz

Approach: Travelling light

Getting to the lake early

To ensure I didn’t miss too much and maximise my time, the trips were all to begin in the hour or so before daybreak. There’s always something quite magical about turning up at the lake in the dark hours. Getting tuned in with all of your senses and just sort of feeling it. Moving about the lake in darkness is almost an art, carefully picking your way round peering through the gloom and listening intently for subtle shows. It really seems to sharpen you up. I does for me at least!

My main approach was a quick lap of the lake to see what swims were taken and what was free. I would then make my way to the bottom end of the pit under the cover of some willows, sit on my bait bucket with a hot tea from the flask, looking up the entire length of the pit as daylight broke. With the tackle loaded up on the barrow I could quickly move to areas I saw fish in during those all-important first few hours. Rods would be ready assembled with light leads, long hooklinks and critically-balanced baits, ready for a single stealthy cast in the calm of morning. This approach was all well and good but only if it didn’t encroach on anyone else as the last thing anyone needs on a small pit is disturbance.

It all paid off big time three weeks in to the ticket. After scattering a few baits onto some fresh silkweed the evening prior to fishing I made the short journey home to get some rest. Up at 4am and after the early morning wade across the river I did my customary lap. With daylight now fast approaching I sat looking out across a flat calm pond. Nothing much was doing and I noticed old Bruce was up and about so I wandered up to scrounge a fresh tea. A late spring frost lay heavy on the ground and we stood about warming ourselves from the nip in the air with hot tea.

Chatting away to Bruce I happened to glance up at the lake just in time. Out over the area I had primed just 12hrs prior, a big set of rings spread out across the previously flat calm surface. Seconds later a big black head shuffled forwards sending a surge of water across the pond. I grabbed the barrow and legged it round to the swim, not ideal as I was still in my chesties from the river crossing, but a golden opportunity lay ahead and there was no time to waste.

A single rod was flicked out to the zone and it landed as sweet as I could have hoped for. I sat back buzzing with adrenaline and anticipation. It took no more than 30 minutes before I was away on the single rod and after a plodding battle taking me up and down the deep margin for what seemed like an age I landed the lake’s big mirror: ‘The Rasta’ at 41lb 4oz. The early starts and a bit of legwork had paid off a treat.

17 bites from the spot
The Scar Mirror at 36lb+
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Baiting: Prep equals results

Working the spot to the max

Having caught a couple of fish from around the pond and shortly followed by the Rasta capture from the silkweed zone, I felt the water was really beginning to warm up. I was getting a good response from the bait I was applying too which helped no end with the confidence levels. I had marked up the silkweed area with a float and discovered a reasonable sized ‘hump’ of gritty gravel, almost a plateau or table top if you like. This seemed to be a continuation of the broken bar I mentioned, and further right lay a few more lumps and bumps again smothered in weed. Being in the middle of the lake just at the entrance to the deeper section, it seemed a perfect early morning ambush spot. A good deal shallower than the surrounding area of water, the weed was a full natural larder of goodness receiving plenty of morning sun.

I intended on adding to this larder and so began a consistent period of baiting to prepare the way. I think it was around ten days later I had a feel around on the zone with my leading rod, just to check the weed situation and hopefully make a start on the actual fishing if I felt things were happening. Although weed remained in places, it had certainly been ripped up in others as I was now getting a few decent donks on the rod tip. I decided there and then to fish and I made the casts with confidence that night.

Without a doubt that prep work paid off handsomely and I went on to land 17 fish from that one spot alone – several 30lb+ commons and a lovely upper-thirty scattered linear called the Scar Mirror amongst others. As with a lot of areas that produce fish with consistent baiting, the zone soon became too clean and as time went on it became apparent less fish were visiting. From the vantage of a climbing tree you could watch the fish virtually accelerate past the glowing gravelly area, obviously nervous and avoiding the danger. Autumn was approaching and it was time to move on.

A longshank with a long D

End game: Hiding the hook

Rig-related issues

One of the things I noticed early on in the spring through observation in the edge with bait and rig situations was that the clear water situation alongside angling pressure had got the fish pretty cute in the main. I felt that to remain consistent and keep the bites coming I would have to devise a relatively discreet presentation but one capable of landing big fish in an incredibly weedy situation.

I had used the longshank B175 hook extensively on the School Pool in the past and knew how devastating the hooking potential was with a bottom bait presentation. A mate had showed me some new longshank hooks from Korda –stronger in the wire and slightly longer shanked and I had a play about. I wanted to use a long D section with a balanced bait which would sit on top of the hook hopefully disguising the business end in the clear shallow water.

Eventually I worked out a way of constructing the system with a nice coated braid which matched the bottom substrate. This I trapped on the shank with a piece of silicone and then folded the tag back through the eye to create the long D and give the required movement and separation. I could blob the coating to secure it giving me a super strong hooklink to counteract the savage weed. It worked a treat and I never looked back. I still use various versions of this rig ten years on using newer materials and products I feel make it still more efficient.

One from the autumn

Hookbaits: Adding a flash of colour

The white pop-ups: The edge

As we moved into autumn it was clear the fish were favouring different areas of the lake and I started to fish around a bit more looking for opportunities. I was targeting the deeper water with the boilie approach as this was where I was seeing the main bulk of the bubbling and nighttime shows. However, I was struggling for a bite and although on fish I just couldn’t seem to make it happen. One morning I reeled in after watching a fish bubbling all over my rig for the best part of an hour. She had obviously had a fair bit of bait and I was fearing the worst, maybe the hook point had turned over or the rig was tangled. All was fine and the little balanced double bottom bait was perfect.

In a moment of desperation I re-baited with a boilie straight from the bag and tipped it off with a bright white pop-up Geoff Bowers made me containing a pungent cream palatant. I flicked the rig back out to the bubblers spot and to my amazement 20 minutes later I was away with the first fish for a good couple of weeks. There’s nothing like a boost for the confidence and I continued to fish the little white pop-ups over my dark fishmeals for the rest of the autumn landing a few of the lake’s big prizes such as the rarely-caught Box Common amongst others.

I fished long and hard through the autumn, continuing right through the winter ending up with 41 fish in 12-months of angling. Even after that intense effort, moving into spring that following year I couldn’t catch that old Cut Tail Common. Unfortunately she died later that spring bringing to a close my time on the water. Sometimes no matter how well you think you’ve angled, you can’t always get what you want. Nature can play a cruel part in the game at times.

So there we are, a quick tale of success and failure to end with. I was always conscious of not finishing up sounding like you can achieve everything you set out to do when I wrote this short series. That would not reflect the realities of life or carp angling. We must never be afraid of failure, go out and work hard for what you want to achieve. Success is the personal measure of your own achievements not of others. I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings over the last few months as much as I’ve enjoyed jotting them down.

A proper old Swan scaly 
An October beast
Oz Holness
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