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The Brute
How Tom Stokes achieved his target of catching the legendary Brute from The Lagoon in Reading

It had been over two years since I had last fished The Lagoon, and in the past I had been lucky enough to catch many of its much-sought after residents. But the ultimate prize, a big old mirror known as The Brute, had, until now, managed to elude me. I had planned my return for quite a while, but with being busy fishing elsewhere, along with working five days a week, it meant that finding time to deal with unfinished business was always going to be a problem.

Is this a good luck sign?

This summer though I had decided enough was enough. The Brute is a very old fish, and the realisation that it’s not going to be around forever was staring at me in the face, so it was decided that if I ever wanted my opportunity to settle the score with that carp, then my return to The Lagoon was going to have to be sooner rather than later.

At the start of July, a few days after my birthday, I bid farewell to the big pit on which I had spent much of my angling time over the last eighteen-months and re-purchased my ticket for The Lagoon. It’s never an ideal scenario, sacrificing fishing time on one lake for the sake of another, but I felt I had sufficient knowledge of The Lagoon and a plan of attack which, I hoped, meant I could potentially be back over the big pit within weeks. I just had to pray that the old Brute had also read the script!

Ideally I wanted to be back over the big pit at the start of September, so the reality was that I only had eight weekends of designated angling time on The Lagoon, although I could extend that if necessary, albeit reluctantly.

My first trip coincided with the July full moon, I just wanted to get a feel for the place after such a long period away. After a quick walk round I settled into a swim known as The Nettles after seeing a couple of fish show close in, and I didn’t have to wait long for something to happen, as just after midnight one of my corkball pop-ups was picked up by an old ‘cricket bat’ common of around 12lbs. Small but more than welcome, especially so on my first night back. The next morning conditions changed and a strong easterly breeze picked up, and knowing how much these fish loved an easterly I quickly packed up and shot up the other end of the lake. I set up right in the teeth of it and despite seeing very little prior to setting up, I was hopeful of a result. I just had to sit on my hands and pray that they turned up.

Luckily they did, and the following morning I had a further three fish, all small commons again which was unusual for this lake; the biggest was a fish which I recognised as one that I had caught a few years previously, I estimated its weight to be around 22/23lb. No monsters by any means, but with four fish under my belt on the first trip back confidence was high.

The following trip was a more serious affair, I came armed with bait, and plenty of it. Mainly fishmeal boilies, as in past captures The Brute seemed to show a definite preference for the fishmeals. In fact, the bait I had chosen, the GS Crab from my mate Joe at Oxford Carp Baits, had a history of slipping up that particular carp, with at least two prior captures coming to mates whilst fishing on or over this bait. Not a bad track record considering that as far as I know there were only two lads who had used it over there! Knowing I had a bait which The Brute seemingly liked to eat was obviously a massive confidence boost. I also had a bucket of hemp in the van and a few tigers, and the main aim of the trip was to work out just where I was going to put it.

The previous weekend I had noticed a swim known as Motorway Point had remained empty, and on my return this trip it became apparent that this was the case yet again. So along with my leading rod I decided to take a closer look, as this was certainly an area which got my attention, and with it being empty two weekends on the bounce, although it is usually a popular choice, I thought I may stand a good chance of getting something ‘going’ out there.

Motorway Point covers a large expanse of the main body of open water, giving plenty of options, but most importantly it was what I considered to be a prime zone for The Brute, offering access to the middle area of the lake which that fish historically likes to frequent, with many of its captures coming from that relatively small area.

It didn’t take many casts for me to realise that although it hadn’t hit the surface yet, it was very weedy out there. I managed to find a lovely hard spot at a little over 80yds though, and at the moment the lead first touched down on the firm bottom, I just knew that spot could potentially do a ‘Brute bite’. I suppose you could say it just felt ‘prime’ for it, middle of the pond, dense forests of weed flanking it on all sides… Perfect.

I fished in there that weekend, and although nothing happened, I gave it a good hit of bait in preparation for the following weekend, and once back at work on the Monday I managed to secure the following six Fridays off as holiday. This further increased my chances of securing Motorway Point for the weekends and of course now I would have three nights at my disposal rather than the usual two. I hoped that with consistent heavy baiting it would simply be a numbers game, the biggest issue I had was ensuring I could secure the swim, on what can be a very busy club water.

A pretty linear

The following weekend I arrived on the Thursday, and without hesitation I barrowed my kit around to the Motorway Point. A quick cast with a bare lead to the spot soon revealed what I had been hoping: the firm drop was now a solid donk, and on dragging the lead the very slight tap of gravel could be felt below the fine remaining layer of silt, the spot had certainly been fed on, fairly hard as well by the feel of things, and with conditions forecast to be bang-on over the weekend it was certainly looking good for it.

I gave the spot a hit of bait on the Thursday evening, and although nothing happened over the first 24hrs, I topped it up with a further couple of kilo on the Friday night. The next morning looked promising though, and rightly so, as at 6:30am I had my first bite off the spot. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be though, I had received the bite whilst at the back of the swim answering a call of nature. And the split second delay in getting to my rods had given the fish chance to weed me up solid and pick up the other line in the process. After five minutes of pulling from various angles I eventually lost it to a hook pull in the weed, a blow at the time, but I could only blame myself.

After getting the rod back out I received another take at around 10am, this time I was on the rod straight away and without much drama I soon netted yet another small common. I was happy to have finally landed one off the spot, but having now caught five small commons on the bounce, I was secretly hoping the next bite was going to be a mirror.

I didn’t have to wait long for the next bite, as only half-an-hour later the same rod was away again, and after a funny old battle with the fish tail walking out in the lake, I eventually slipped it into the net, and thankfully this time it was a mirror, a lovely one known as The Baby Linear and one of the few mirrors I hadn’t caught from The Lagoon in the past. It was far from being the biggest fish in the lake at a little under 27lb, but it certainly made my day as it is such a wonderful old carp.

“after a funny old battle with the fish tail walking out in the lake, I eventually slipped it into the net.”

The joy was short lived unfortunately, as the following morning I received a further two bites off the spot, both appeared to be big powerful fish, the second one especially so. But without going into too much detail, for some unexplained reason I lost both to hook pulls just yards from the bank! To lose one is painful, but three in a trip really hurt, and for the next week or so I couldn’t help but dream of what might have been.

On the other hand though, I thought having five bites off the spot in a weekend could only be a good thing, they obviously liked it out there and it helped reinforce my theory that I could eventually catch The Brute out there… As long as I hadn’t already lost it of course.

I carried on, consistency was the key I thought, so for the following couple of weeks I kept fishing and baiting The Point. The spot was getting cleaner, which gave me the confidence that the carp were still visiting it, but for whatever reason I just wasn’t getting the bites anymore. The whole lake had gone very quiet though, with very little, if anything, getting caught.
The August full moon weekend brought with it a renewed hope, as The Brute is renowned for coming out on, or around a full moon. And true to form this full moon was no different, it wasn’t to be my turn just yet though. A large build up of fish took up residence in my mate Sam’s swim on the opposite side of the lake over the course of the weekend, and on the Sunday afternoon he received a bite whilst we sat in his swim drinking tea, and after a lengthy campaign spanning five years, good old Sam finally landed The Brute.

It was a fantastic moment as Sam’s a good mate, and I knew just how much that fish meant to him, I actually had the privilege of netting it for him as well, which was nice. But after the celebrations had subsided I had to deal with the realisation that my hopes of being back over the big pit for September may now have to be put on hold, I was now five weeks into my campaign on The Lagoon, the Brute had just been out, and the chances of me catching it within the next three weeks were looking noticeably slim!

I wasn’t about to give up now though, as prior to Sam’s bite I felt incredibly close. Like I mentioned before, Sam was actually baiting and fishing the swim opposite. And with our two areas not being a million miles apart, I felt almost certain that The Brute had, at some point, been feeding on my spot also. I hoped that if I carried on doing what I was doing, the next bite off that fish may just be mine.

Motorway Point in the rain

The next weekend things didn’t quite go to plan though. It was my own fault, but seeing as The Brute had been out I decided to cancel my precious day’s holiday on the Friday in favour of using that day at a more favourable time. So instead I arrived on the Friday evening, and of course, The Point was taken. To be honest though I wasn’t overly disappointed, as I was fairly sure The Brute wasn’t going to make another appearance just yet, and the matey who fished The Point only dropped his rods short, nowhere near my eighty-yard spot. But still, it was a bit of a blow. The only positive I suppose is that after five weekends of fishing the area it was quite nice to have a change of scenery and fish elsewhere on the lake for a couple of nights, although unsurprisingly nothing happened.

“they obviously liked it out there and it helped reinforce my theory that I could eventually catch The Brute...”

The following Thursday I was back, reluctant to lose The Point again I made certain I got there early. It was a new moon weekend, and although perhaps not the most favourable moon phase for The Brute, I felt fairly confident that this weekend might be worth a bite or two. I had noticed over the past few weeks that virtually everyone, including myself, was feeding large quantities of boilie. A good tactic for The Brute without doubt, but with everyone doing the same thing, I felt as though I needed an edge, so on this trip I had also decided to bring a large bucket of hemp. I was still going to give them a big hit of boilie, but with a load of hemp out there as well, I hoped that the slightly different scenario would give me that edge I was looking for.

The next weekend things didn’t quite go to plan: The Point was taken

I put the majority of the bait out on the Thursday evening, and almost all that was left went out on the Friday, with the idea being that if I could get the bait in early I could then sit on it over the course of the weekend whilst causing as little disturbance as possible to the swim. I was sure the fish were coming in and cleaning off the spot when I had baited and gone home, so I hoped that by baiting up early and sitting on it, with very little if any casting, I could perhaps create a scenario that would give the fish the impression that yet again I had simply baited and gone home. I also switched from my usual pop-up hookbaits to balanced bottom baits, thinking that these would fish more effectively over the large amount of hemp. So two D-rigs went out to the spot, one hookbait was a balanced bottom bait, the other was an old favourite of mine when fishing over hemp, a balanced tiger nut.

The first two mornings were very quiet, and apart from a bream on the second morning, nothing else happened. And other than a recast after that bream, I managed to totally refrain from casting, baiting or generally making any sort of disturbance in the swim over the course of the weekend.

Sunday morning I woke to another bite just as it was getting light, it was on the left-hand rod over the bait, the rod I had the balanced nut on as hookbait. After unhooking the bream in the margins, I checked the hook which was fine, wrapped it up, and slung it back out there, with the rig landing perfect first time.

The Brute – in my net!

A short while later, while chatting on the phone to my mate Mitch, a coot came across the spot, and although I have seen birds spook off fish many times in the past, never had I seen a reaction quite as dramatic as this. The poor coot flapped its wings in such a panic, and virtually somersaulted backwards off the spot to the relative sanctuary of the surrounding surface weed, which now almost enclosed the spot on three sides. I explained what I had just seen to Mitch and he just laughed. “I wonder if it’s the one down there,” he said. By saying ‘the one’ he was of course referring to The Brute. I was a bit more sceptical, although it was quite obvious from the coots reaction that whatever was down there was potentially quite big… Little did I know just how accurate Mitch’s prediction was to become.

A slightly different approach ended up producing the result
Old, gnarly and a lifetime of stories
My final night on The Lagoon
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After putting the phone down I sat there, looking out across the lake towards the spot when I noticed a slight disturbance over the left-hand rod, it could have been a show, although I had been looking elsewhere at the time so hadn’t seen exactly what it was. Just as I was pondering what it might have been, the silence was interrupted by the bobbin on the left-hand rod cracking into the blank, accompanied by a short fast burst of bleeps from the Neville. After having a couple of bream bites over the previous two mornings I paused for a moment, half expecting another bream to be the culprit, but the alarming rate at which the line cut up through the water, violently pulling the tip downwards at the same time, soon made it apparent that this was no bream.

I picked up the rod and was forced to adjust the clutch in order to give a few yards of line, I had been instantly flat rodded as my clutch was locked up solid. She only took a few yards before plugging into the weed behind the spot. I wound down hard, locked up the clutch once more, and slowly started walking backwards up the bank behind me. With the rod now bent to the butt I began to gain a little, and slowly I dragged a car sized weed bed towards me, inch-by-inch.

By the time it was about 30yds out I had become almost convinced that whatever had been on the end was now long gone, as since the initial take I had felt absolutely nothing. But then, at maybe 15yds from the bank, I felt a slight kick and the whole floating mass of weed began to move slightly to the right, but the momentum it now had carried it towards me. So I leant over to grab the net, and at that moment I saw the unmistakable tail of the big old mirror hanging below the giant floating mass of weed, suspended above the deep, gin clear margins. I grabbed the net, kicked off my shoes and waded out towards the big green raft, dropping the rod to use both hands I managed to scoop the whole lot up first time. Peeling back the weed to reveal my prize, there she was… The Brute!

Tom Stokes
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