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Stu Lennox Columnists

BOATHOUSE FISHERY

There’s hardly time for a brew and a Bakewell for Stu Lennox as he brings the series to a close on a recently revamped lake…

I left home mid-morning and enjoyed a leisurely drive up to Shropshire. It was nice not to have to leave home at dawn to arrive at a venue already tired. Instead, I arrived around lunchtime, refreshed and ready to try and track down some Boathouse Fisheries carp. Jon, the owner, met me at the gate and advised that if I could find them, a quick bite could be on the cards. 

We walked onto the lake at the corner nearest the anglers’ car park. As the water opened up in front of us, it was immediately clear what a beautiful and intimate fishery Boathouse is. On the far bank, I could see the boathouse itself, and in the distance, on my own bank, was the sluice walkway jutting out into the lake. I could see the tall yew trees towering over the far bank. The near bank had smaller bushes and scrub along its length. Where we stood was a good vantage point and I could see most of the lake. After chatting a little while longer without seeing any activity, I set off anticlockwise around the water. As I walked down the new gravel track, it was clear how much work had been put into the side of the lake I was on. The pegs were spacious enough for even the largest of bivvies, and there were freshly planted trees, shrubs and flowers along both sides of the path. A nice addition was the laying of the ‘v’ shaped paths around the back of each peg. Newly arriving anglers have no need to barrow past the front of other anglers’ bivvies, and can instead dog-leg behind them and not disturb them.

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Everything about the bank felt new, pristine and comfortable. I continued to wander down the bank, watching the water for any signs of carp as I walked. I passed the ancient-looking sluice and crossed the small bridge over the outflow. There, the lake’s appearance changed dramatically; it was like a completely different venue. The towering yew trees that must be at least 150-years-old, are regimentally aligned and create a shadowy overhang along the pathway. It felt cooler and more natural, and it really did have that estate-lake vibe.

It was on this bank that I saw my first Boathouse carp, as two drifted past a couple of rod-lengths out. As I stood and watched a little more, I saw another group about halfway out, but the ripple made it difficult to confirm exactly how many were present. I watched them for a while and then walked further along the bank. There were odd fish in front of the next couple of swims. I stood in front of the last peg, next to the small island, and saw a couple of fish out in front of the big double swim. The longer I looked, the more fish I could see, so I ran round there as quickly as I could. 

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Pulling my hair out!
I arrived out of breath. There were fish everywhere, from one rod-length out to 30yds or so around a large weedbed that was just about visible. There were fish cruising down my right-hand margin and every time I moved, I spooked one from directly in front of the peg. This was where I had to be, so I ran back to the car for some kit. The otter fence prevented me from barrowing my kit directly from where I’d parked, so it took a couple of shuttles to get the bare essentials I needed for a couple of casts.

My approach was to be two solid bags flicked into the middle of where the majority of the fish were stacked up, one on a fluoro-white wafter, the other on a dull Krill wafter. I crashed these right into the middle of the main group of carp. They spooked to about a metre away and then drifted back in. I was so convinced that I bite would come, that I couldn’t sit still. I was hopping about all over the swim, flinching at every liner or movement out in the pond.  

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HOW-TO: TIE A SOLID BAG WITH A ‘HOOKLINK’ DIFFERENCE


Two hours later, nothing had happened and I was tearing my hair out. I’d made a few re-casts and had tried scattering a few heavily glugged Manilla boilies over the top to draw fish down, but all had been to no avail. I swapped two rods over to Zigs with trimmed yellow pop-ups (the fishery has a ban on plastic or fake baits). One of these, I put out to the main bulk of fish, the other I dropped on a clay patch very close in that I had seen fish cruising over. 

Over the next hour, I watched a number of fish cruise right up to the hookbait, only for them to then completely ignore it and swim past; they were so close to the hookbait that the whole Zig Rig swayed in the water as they left. I was becoming a little concerned about my inability to generate a bite. I decided, therefore, to spread out my rods, and changed one from the Zig set-up to a solid bag with half a 16mm Krill Active bottom bait and half a 12mm Mulbz pop-up. There was a group of fish further out in the lake, so I cast directly into the middle of them.

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As I chatted on the phone around 30 minutes later, the re-cast rod absolutely ripped off! The tip bent round so savagely that it was actually underneath the left-hand rod when I reached it, and I had to carefully extract it before I could lean into the fish. The hooked carp went ballistic - I’d not had to give as much line to a fish in a long time. As it continued to tear around, I heard the dreaded indication of a take on one of my other rods. To make matters worse, it was the rod being fished on a Zig. I opened the bail arm of my reel and was then able to get the second hooked fish almost all the way back in. About two rod-lengths out, however, everything ground to a halt. I could see the fish wallowing on the surface, but the Zig Rig had gone solid in some weed. Initially, I couldn’t move it, but eventually, after I’d leant hard into it, the Zig set-up allowed me just about enough line to be able to reach out at full length and slide the net under the fish. A single, upper-double common was the result of all the hassle, but I was relieved to be off the mark with my first Boathouse Fisheries carp!

On the move.
Come early evening, it was clear that the fish had moved out of the shallow area and were showing further up the lake. I decided to pack up and move. I could always return to the bay the next day if the fish returned in numbers. From where I’d parked my car, the barrow journey was rather a long one. I had to cross a small brook and it would’ve been much easier the other way, but foolishly, I’d not considered it. I was losing light rapidly as I barrowed down the tree-lined track, and I knew that I’d have to rush to get everything sorted before dark once again.

I chose the swim where I’d seen a few carp earlier, as it was also where the majority of the shows had been over the previous hour. There was a chance they’d continue moving up the lake through the night and pass me, but the swim gave access to a lot of open water and provided several options. I was still clipped up at just under 50yds from the double swim, and where I’d found a clear area, in case I returned the following day, so decided to have a flick around at the same range. There was quite a bit of straggly weed out to the right, but I was fortunate enough to be able to find three cleanish areas, all at the same range. One was directly in line with the sluice, one was towards a peg on the opposite bank and the third was back down the lake towards the double swim. The last spot was cleaner than all the rest and I decided to fish a balanced bottom-bait rig on that rod. I fished solid bags on the other two to give some protection against the odd bit of weed that could still be on the spots.

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Hookbait choice was the same on all three rods - an easy decision given the success I’d had over the last couple of trips. I had half a 12mm Sticky Mulbz pop-up in white and half a Krill wafter. As I’ve mentioned in nearly all my articles, I like to soak my wafters in Cloudy Krill Liquid over the winter, and when they’ve soaked almost all of it up. I then give them a liberal coating of GLM powder. The process is carried out over a period of a couple of months, and come the spring, I have a really potent, salty and fishy hookbait that stays attractive for a very long time. I had enjoyed success on them all year and was down to my last handful for this particular session.

For my solid bags, I had my normal 2.3mm Sticky Bloodworm Pellet with a pinch of Krill Powder, but because I was casting at only short range and could afford my bags to be slightly less aerodynamic, I added a handful of halved 16mm Krill Active as I wanted some larger food items around the hookbait. 

The balanced bottom-bait rig was fished on a Slip D Rig and to it, I added a small mesh stick. Again, I wanted some large food items, but didn’t want to risk the hook point being impeded by the soft coating of the Krill Active. To avoid this, I added a couple of halved boilies, followed by half a piece of PVA foam and then another couple of baits. This would allow me to pull the hook point back into the foam to protect the point. Again, this wasn’t very aerodynamic, but it was a short cast and so its shape wasn’t an issue.


HOW-TO: MAKE ONE OF STU'S MESH BAGS


The three rods went out right on last light. I wanted to try putting some bait out over one rod, and fish the other two with singles. I chose the left-hand rod towards the sluice to put some bait over, and in the dark, catapulted out around a kilo of straight boilie in 16mm. It was well into the evening, so I set about putting up the brolly by torchlight and got myself sorted for the night. 

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Soon after, I struggled to sleep, buzzing with the excitement of being on a new water. There were clearly fish about. They were crashing out in front of the swims to my left and right, but rarely directly in front of me. I needn’t have worried, as in the early hours, the rod towards the sluice absolutely tore off, and the fast, savage take had me scrambling down the steps to the rod. 

I lifted gently into the fish, and immediately it stripped line on a fast run to the left-hand side. The fish had clearly never been hooked before and was fighting as though its life depended on it as it made long, surging runs down into the bay across to my left. The bursts of energy soon took their toll, however, and the fish quickly tired. I played it back to the net slowly, where it then tore off again a couple of times, seemingly desperate to avoid the net. Eventually, though, it was beaten and drawn safely across the spreader. I hoisted up the mesh to see a lovely low-twenty mirror synonymous with that part of the country. With its large dark back and lovely cream-coloured belly, it was a proper Shropshire gem and obviously one of the originals. 

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I was buzzing to have had one of the better fish and left it in the net whilst I quickly tied up another solid bag. I was halfway through sorting the rod, when a bite on the middle rod had me throwing pellets everywhere as once again I rushed down the steps to the rod. Another mental fight ensued as the fish tore off all round the swim. Long, fast runs stripped off 20yds of line at a time as another fish that had probably never previously seen a hook was slowly subdued and finally netted. It was a very similar fish to the first, and my quickfire brace of twenties had been a fantastic start on my first night.

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HOW-TO: TIE STU'S SLIP D RIG


Double take time!
I tied up fresh solid bags and put them back out on the spots. By using the main beam on my head torch, I was able to see my far bank markers of the sluice and the peg. I was really happy with the result, and this time it wasn’t hard to fall to sleep. About an hour later, a bite began to develop, so I put my boots on and hurried to the rods. I had my torch on and was looking at the rods when I witnessed something I had never seen before… both my left- and right-hand rods - being fished some 100yds apart - ripped off at exactly the same time! I stared at them in disbelief, trying to work out what was happening, wondering whether one fish had swum through the other line, but it was impossible. The tips were bent in opposite directions and both fish were taking line. I picked up the left-hand rod first. It was so far from the right-hand one that eventually I concluded that it was a simultaneous double take - crazy! As a kid, I would have tried to pick up both rods and play them together, but I’ve received the sensible advice since, to focus on just the one rod. 

The right-hand rod was steadily chugging along and I was slightly worried that the fish might get behind the boathouse, but after what seemed like a lifetime, it stopped. It was as if the fish had fallen off, the lack of pressure on the hook-hold and the various clumps of weed in the swim perhaps enabling it to shed the rig. No matter; the fish I was playing was ready for the net and I slid it under my third carp of the night. As it was almost light, I decided to leave the fish in the net, sort both rods out and then get organised for the photos of all three.

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Both rods took a couple of casts to get them absolutely right, but eventually I was happy and set about the photos. The first two twenties were immaculate, and really good-looking estate-lake carp. One was about 22lb with the other around 24lb. The third was another twenty, but was a bit of a character: a long, lean fish with a wonky tail. 

I was doing the pictures of the third fish as owner, Jon, and fishery manager, Alex, arrived. It turned out that the fish had put on around four pounds in the year since they’d taken over the water and then started their feeding programme. The fish was removed to be placed in one of the stock ponds as it was less than immaculate - Jon is trying to create a fishery where every single fish is a banger! 

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I didn’t have time to discuss details of the fish further, as we were rudely interrupted by another blistering take on the right-hand rod on the slip D Rig. Running against a tight clutch, the line cut through the water and the rod tip rose from below the surface. I leant into another good fish as it did its best to get behind the boathouse down to my right. I dropped the rod to the side and leant harder into the fish, turning it before it could cause me any issues. It then powered underneath the trees in my margin. Given the excellent fishery management, all subsurface branches had been cut away and there was very little under the water to cause me problems. I had to sink the rod to the reel to keep the line out of the branches, but the fish was then landed without further issue. It was the best of the trip so far at 26 to 27lb. A fantastic couple of hours’ angling had resulted in four twenty-pounders. It had been unreal, and the type of fishing I hadn’t experienced for a long time, and well overdue this series!

And yet more runs...
The day passed in a bit of a blur as I prepped for the night ahead, sorted photos for the article and sheltered from the rain. I was able to get the rods out a lot earlier, and as such, was also able to ensure they all landed bang-on. To make baiting up easier, I popped up the marker float on the left-hand rod and walked round onto the sluice. From there I was able to introduce all my bait much quicker. This time, a combination of 16mm Krill Active and 16mm Manilla that had been glugged in the matching Cloudy Liquid was baited tightly onto the spot - I didn’t want too much in the surrounding weed.

Sleep came easily with the pressure to catch off, and around the same time as the previous morning, the left-hand rod fished over the bait trundled off. This time, a quick and frantic fight that resulted in my first stockie of the trip. The lovely, heavily scaled VS Fisheries carp had a great frame - it will surely be a stunning fish as it continues to grow. It was a nice contrast to the old originals that I’d been catching, and it showed the great potential of the fishery moving forward. The rain had picked up slightly and had made getting the solid bag back out a little bit difficult. It wasn’t torrential rain by any means, but heavy enough for the odd spot to find the bag and cause it to burst prematurely. In this situation, quick solution is to lightly coat the outside of the bag with hemp oil with your finger. The coating creates a thin barrier that can help you get your bag out quickly in very light rain. As an added bonus, it also gives the bag a little extra attraction on the deck. 

Just like the previous night, it wasn’t long before another bite materialised. This time, it came to the Slip D-fished wafter. The long, crazy runs that stripped loads of line from the spool let me know that I’d hooked another original. Once again, the fish tried to get under the nearside trees, but sinking the rod and pumping it back towards me soon had it ready for netting. It wasn’t quite light, so in the beam of my head torch, I peeled back the net to see what I’d landed. Nestled in the bottom of the mesh, was without a doubt, my favourite carp of the trip thus far, with its lovely mix of browns and light mahogany, well-set frame and little head. It wasn’t quite a leather, but it felt incredibly smooth to the touch, almost like a bar of soap. I was so mesmerised by it, that I forgot to weigh it, but it was around 23, or 24lb. 

I left the fish in the net and pinged the rod back out with a little mesh bag. I then got the kettle on and waited for the sun to come up before I could do the photos properly. I was no more than halfway through my brew, however, when the re-cast rod burst off again. This time, the fish powered out towards the shallow bay at the far end of the lake. The initial run of almost 40yds tired the fish significantly, and I then had the job of playing it all the way back to the net. I couldn’t believe the action I’d enjoyed at this new and exciting fishery as the sun crept over the horizon and the lake became bathed in early morning light. I then slipped another good twenty-pounder over the cord with the boathouse as a backdrop and mist rising all around me… a more perfect scene I could not imagine.

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I was absolutely buzzing, given the sport I’d enjoyed, and after a fresh cup of tea and a Bakewell to celebrate, I set about doing the photos from the early morning burst of activity. I thought it odd that the middle rod had stayed quiet all night, and assumed that it must have landed off the spot and perhaps on some weed or debris. I was again talking to Jon and Alex, when the bobbin on that very rod hit the blank with an almighty crack, the tip cutting through the water as the fish powered off on the tight line. The fight was a little different from all the rest; there were the initial couple of long runs, but the fish just felt a bit heavier as it plodded around the swim much more. I played it hesitantly, and very slowly I managed to regain line, inch by inch. It felt a solid weight compared to all the previous fish, but slowly I managed to get it nearer the net. 

After a couple of big boils, we got our first look at a long fish with broad shoulders as it wallowed in front of us. At full stretch, I just about managed to slide the net under the fish. Quickly, I unclipped the rig and transported the fish to the mat where the slings and scales were waiting after the last couple of captures. This particular fish was almost yellow in appearance, but with a grey shadowing on its shoulders. We were fully bathed in the morning sunlight and the fish glistened on the mat. Alex did the honours with the scales and read out the weight: just under 30lb! I couldn’t believe it, as I had estimated it as another mid-twenty. We rattled off a couple of shots before releasing her back into the watery depths to make another angler very happy, very soon.

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Fishery summary
Boathouse is an amazing little fishery with a real estate-lake feel. Regardless of whether you fish the comfortable and manicured sluice bank, or the more rugged, tree-lined far bank, you feel completely isolated and relaxed. The fish are awesome and they continue to grow. It will be a popular fishery when it opens in the spring. I closed the gate behind me, a huge grin on my face as I set off on the long, return drive south.

And so it’s with a heavy heart that I pen the final words of what is the last of this series (sad face!). The seven episodes have been incredibly enjoyable. I’ve caught some amazing carp from some lovely venues. Chris had held the record for the biggest fish of the series with his 28lb common from Blasford Hill back in February. Yet here, in the last few lines of the final article, I’ve just pipped him! It’s an incredible end to what has been an incredible journey. Fear not, though, something equally exciting is just around the corner, and Chris and I both look forward to seeing you there!



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