COMBE BANK FISHERIES
Contrasting fortunes await Stu Lennox and Chris Eaglestone as they head to a fishery that’s undergone a few changes in recent years, one that’s also home to an interesting mix of stock…
This month we visit Combe Bank Fisheries, deep in the Kent countryside, a beautiful estate lake that’s almost 300 hundred years old! Over time, the fishery has evolved from two small, naturally occurring pools on the Combe Bank estate owned by the 4th Duke of Argyll. The pools were enlarged in the mid-eighteenth century and originally were used only for recreation and punting - the stone boathouse can be seen nestling amongst the far-bank trees. Around 150 years ago, the dam was installed and the join between the two pools was dug out to create the single large lake we see nowadays.
The history of the fishing rights is a little hazy. Lee Marley Brickwork owned the rights in the 1990s however, and their employees fished it. Dartford and District Angling Preservation Society also once held the angling rights, but for only around 18 months, relinquishing the lease due to difficulties with access - the small track that leads to the lake would become completely impassable in winter. A number of other organisations have taken on the rights, but eventually it fell into disrepair and quickly became overgrown.
In 2016, Colin, current owner purchased the lake and immediately set about renovating the water to its former glory. For the first six weeks, he and his small group of workmates cleared decades’ worth of accumulated litter. They then turned their attention to constructing a more robust access track, and the fishery can now be reached in all weathers. Colin also de-silted the lake. His team removed 350 to 400 tonnes of silt, along with the obligatory shopping trolleys and discarded pushbikes. They then removed a huge number of of lilies that had consumed the shallow end - although thankfully, they left enough for the lake to retain some original estate-lake charm. An otter fence now encircles the venue and there’s a secure, lockable car park
This Month’s Venue Fact File
Name: Combe Bank Fishery.
Location: Sundridge, Kent, TN14 6AE.
Stock: 150 fish to 40lb.
Features: Pads, overhangs, good margins.
Number of swims: 24.
Facilities: Toilets, secure car park.
Key rules: No leadcore, no bait boats.
Price: £25 per 24hrs.
Contact: Colin on 07496 535880.
Stock-wise, a number of original carp remain, but Colin has attempted to remove the infamous wild carp strain. A few of these also remain, and like the original stock, their bloodline dates back several hundred years. A hundred new fish from Combley on the Isle of Wight, Frontfish UK and Arron Standing at Coarse Fish UK supplement the originals. Of the nine thirties and fifty twenties, one of the thirty-pound commons and a dozen of the twenties are originals. The remainder are all upper-doubles and should break the 20lb mark this winter. This diversity makes for incredible fishing and we couldn’t wait to see what the session held in store.
Stu Lennox: I had a number of things to sort at home and Chris was out filming with Nash through the day, so we planned to meet at the fishery early evening. This would mean that we wouldn’t be doing our usual 48hr session, arriving instead just before dark and leaving early on the final day. Due to this compressed timeline, getting on some fish would be even more important than usual.
After unlocking the gate, I pulled into the fenced car park and saw about six other vehicles; the water wasn’t overly busy. It was busy enough however, to restrict our options. I walked down the causeway between the small lake and the main body of water and couldn’t believe it when halfway along and around three pegs down, I saw a fish quietly slide out no more than two rod-lengths from the bank. I hurried my step and had just got into the swim when it showed again in the same spot. The peg looked really good anyway, but seeing the fish so soon made my decision to drop a bucket really easy.
The swim had two huge sets of pads with a large channel through the middle. The overhead trees made casting a bit tricky, but getting up alongside one set of pads would be relatively simple. Whilst I’d seen fish, I didn’t want to commit too early, so set off to walk the rest of the lake.
The shallow end looked good with a number of large areas of lilies and channels between them, good margins and plenty of overhanging trees. Six or seven swims down, there was a swim that gave access all the way down the side of the large spit that juts out into the lake and separates the two ends. This looked very promising, with a number of small alcoves in the heavily tree-lined banks; the old wall of the boathouse also seemed inviting. There was a day angler in the swim, but it looked as though he’d be leaving before too long.
I continued down the winding, tree-lined path and through the gap in the spit, before the large, deeper area of the lake opened up to my right. This was roughly square in shape with a handful of swims on each bank. There were a couple of anglers on the far bank fishing the other margin of the spit, and also one on the dam wall. I walked down the lake slowly, but didn’t see very much. I stood talking to the angler on the dam wall for about 15 minutes and saw a couple of shows back up the lake in the open water in front of the spit.
After a good chat, I wandered back up to the area where I’d seen the shows. I saw two more as I stood watching, but they were clearly in the water of the two anglers on the far bank. It was then that Chris phoned and I walked back to the car park to meet him.
Chris Eaglestone: My first impressions were just how beautiful the lake was. The shallow end was full of pads and looked really inviting. The lake was surrounded by trees, and here and there were odd reminders of just how old this lake is. A set of railings tucked away in the bushes at the far end didn’t look much, but they date back three centuries. The boathouse under the far canopy looked ancient and it too dated back into the 1700s. The left-hand bank as you walk onto the lake, backs onto acres of woodland and the grounds of the old estate. The dam end looks out over the rolling fields of the Darenth Valley, whilst the right-hand bank borders open fields frequented by deer each dawn. Overall, it was just a really incredible place to be angling.
I’d arrived a little after Stu and when we met up he told me what he’d seen. It looked like we weren’t going to get on the fish in the open water, but the swim that gave access to the spit looked really inviting. The day angler was all packed away and as he left, I dropped a bucket. The margin had so many options for flicking a bait under overhanging trees and it looked really good. It was almost dark and we had yet to unload the kit from our vehicles, so were really chasing the light by this time.
Stu Lennox: We hurried back to the car park, unloaded our gear and were soon jogging back to the swims. The sun had dropped behind the trees on the far bank and we were up against the clock. I focussed on the rod that was going across to the pads and fortunately, I managed to get it clipped first cast. I threw it round the wrapping sticks and then proceeded to tie up a solid bag. My rig was similar to that which had worked for me at Dawford Pool last month: a short, supple hooklength and size 5 ESP Trig-Hammer. I dropped the inline lead size down from 5 to 3.5oz as I wanted the bag to accommodate more pellet. One change I did make was to swap my hookbait from a couple of pieces of corn to a tiger nut topped with a bit of plastic. I’d seen a lot of silvers topping and didn’t want the risk of them tearing off the soft corn overnight. The bag was filled with the 2.3mm bloodworm pellet and a tiny sprinkling of Krill powder. I’d actually been reducing the amount of powder I use in my bags as it’s just so potent; I think a light dusting is more effective than handfuls of the stuff. I flicked it out 25yds to the edge of the pads. It landed about a foot short and looked perfect.
Stu’s Solid Bag Set-up
The twist is the way he presents the hooklink inside the bag
1. To ensure the lead is completely dried out, Stu dips it into Krill powder.
2. Take your PVA bag and add a layer of 2.3mm bloodworm pellets.
3. Stu then adds a layer of the Krill powder on top of the pellets like so.
4. He then passes a baiting needle through the bag and attaches his rig.
5. The rig is then pulled back into the bag and then attached to his lead.
6. Twist the top of the bag around the tail rubber, compressing as you go.
7. Now take a length of PVA tape and wrap it around the top of the bag.
8. Secure the tape and the top of the bag with a couple of Overhand knots.
9. To ensure it casts better, Stu compresses the corners and folds over.
10. The finished bag set-up. The hook’s protected and there’s a pile of food.
I quickly mixed up a bucket of hemp and chopped tigers from Monster Particles, added a very small handful of corn and then some chopped Krill Active. It was dark, but I was clipped up and had a far bank marker, so I was able to put five large Spombs very accurately over the top of the rig, every one landing exactly where I wanted. That rod looked spot on and the second was underarm-flicked to where I’d seen the fish showing when I arrived. On this rod I fished a light lead on a lead clip and a small Snowman Rig with a 12mm Krill Active bottom bait and a 12mm Mulbz yellow pop-up - the few anglers I’d spoken to on my walk round had all said yellow was a good colour for a bite. I followed this up with three pouchfuls of 12mm Krill Active. It was pitch black, but with the rods done I could slow down a bit. I tidied up the carnage in the swim and put up the brolly.
Chris Eaglestone: My kit was in a bit of a state after filming on a couple of very different venues over the previous couple of days. I had to take off my leadcore leaders to comply with the lake’s rules, change spools and sort a few other bits. Luckily, the main beam on the head torch I’d borrowed from Stu helped me see the far bank snags. The situation wasn’t ideal, but it was much better than it might’ve been, given that it was very dark in the swim with the lack of ambient light.
I tied up my usual favourite Slip-D wafter rigs with a Nash Twister and a little trimmed white hookbait. I fired one across to the wall of the boathouse and it landed nice and tight. This was followed by some 15mm Nash Candy Nut Crush bottom baits. I fired out 50, but one at a time in an effort to improve accuracy in the dark. I also decided to settle for a two-rod approach given how dark it was. My second rod was clipped up at the same range and dropped tight to the wall again. I really would have liked to get a rod across to the tree-lined margin of the spit, but that would’ve been asking for trouble in the dark. I decided instead, to get up first thing in the morning and redo all three rods. I badly needed some rest, so threw the brolly up and then crashed out.
Stu Lennox: I sat up for an hour or so and at around 2 a.m. could hear fish constantly crashing out in front of me. It sounded like they were in, and directly behind the two sets of pads. My confidence was high given that fish were in the area. I also heard one crash out towards Chris’s area, so hoped that he’d be in with a shout too.
Around 5 a.m. the rod tight to the pads let out a few bleeps and given the tight line, it was almost ripped from the rest immediately after. Fortunately, my rear grip held firm and I sprinted to the rod and leant into the fish. I’d already rehearsed in my head how I was going to deal with any take and immediately I started walking backwards - whilst still half asleep! The first take on any new water is always exhilarating, but this one was particularly exciting given the hairy nature of the swim. My heart was in my mouth as I continued to walk backwards, the fish thrashing around on the tight line, but clear of the pads. It kited into the channel before making another dash for the pads; I clamped down hard. Suddenly it was gone! Initially I thought I’d been cut off as I reeled in the limp line, but I’d actually had a hook-pull. The point of the hook was terribly bent over and I wondered if it had hit a bit of bone or a hard spot and hadn’t penetrated fully. I was gutted, but decided to make use of the disturbance and redo both rods. I tied up another solid bag with the exact same presentation, wrapped around the sticks and again dropped tight to the pads at the first attempt. I then moved the other rod to a bush on the far margin. That took quite a few casts to get right, but was soon sorted.
As I was in the middle of catapulting some 12mm boilies over the top, the angler from the dam wall walked past. He’d had a fish in the night and the chaps in the peg by the spit had had two and lost one. Whilst I’d literally just put both rods out and had baited over the top, I quickly skipped them both back in, grabbed my tackle bag and a bucket and ran off down the path. There were fish in my peg, but that spit swim looked even better. I knew that new anglers would be arriving soon as it was about 6 a.m., so it was a bit of a race to get there. I arrived sweating and out of breath, but relieved that I’d secured the peg. I then headed back for the remainder of my gear.
Chris Eaglestone: My night had been much less hectic than Stu’s and everything had all been a bit quiet. A fish had rolled in my right-hand margin around dawn, but that was it. Early morning bite time came and went and as it was light, I decided to bring the rods in and redo them properly on the spots that I fancied along the spit.
First though, I wandered down a couple of swims to my right for a brew with Stu, only to find that he’d packed up and moved! I went back to my swim and started clipping up the rods. One rod was going to stay on the boathouse wall as that looked so good. The middle rod was a really tricky cast into the corner of two lines of trees, and the third was a shorter cast to the tip of the spit. I baited really tightly with some more of the Candy Nut Crush, along with some Hot Tuna for a variety of flavours and textures. To these I added a few handfuls of hemp and a small tin of corn. The mix was primarily boilie, but with a few smaller food items for variation. Only a couple of handfuls were introduced, but directly over the top of my rigs. I felt confident of a bite. The area I was in had been particularly quiet, but it looked like it just had to hold a few fish, given all the snaggy bushes along the spit.
Stu Lennox: Over in my new swim it was carnage once again. With kit strewn all over the place, I rushed to get the rods out for what was left of the morning bite time. The left-hand rod went across to a large overhanging bush on the spit - the lead absolutely cracked down, so it was clear that the area was polished and been fed on often. That rod had the same solid bag with tiger nut hookbait that had produced the bite by the pads. The middle rod went far right, as close as I could get it to some fish that I’d seen showing down the lake. It wasn’t really my water, but it would be okay as long as nobody moved in next-door, and with the whole lake now empty, that seemed unlikely. On this rod was a 12mm Snowman Rig, again with a yellow Mulbz topper. The third rod went on the head of a fish that rolled off a bush down my right-hand margin. This had a Slip-D wafter rig and white hookbait, a set-up very similar to what Chris was fishing with. I didn’t feed any freebies and hoped the highly attractive hookbait would get me a quick bite. I was really happy with all three rods and thought that any one of them could do a bite at any time.
Chris Eaglestone: It was early afternoon and very little had happened in my swim. I hadn’t seen any signs of carp in my immediate area, but down to the right in Stu’s original swim, there had been a bit of movement in the pads and a fish had spooked from the margin. I kept an eye on the area and decided that I’d move if need be. Other than that, I was trying to keep disturbance to a minimum in the hope that fish might drift into the shallow margins. The temperature had risen significantly and it was a really hot, stifling day. I’d have expected the carp to get up on top and there may have been an opportunity with the floaters, but the wind was a north-easterly and it had quite a bite to it.
Stu Lennox: It was a hot, sticky day and I thought the edges were the only real chance of a bite. The left-hand rod remained where it was, but I moved the right one from the open water to tight under the bush to my right, using my baiting spoon to place it in an effort to ensure that it was really close. I decided to bring the middle rod in and leave it out for a bit, but introduced some bait to allow it to settle before replacing the rod in the evening. I mixed up a bucket of mainly corn with some Monster Particle chopped tigers and crushed Krill Active. About 12 large Spombs went out and I left it all to rest.
The remainder of the day passed uneventfully and I didn’t see a single fish show. I was pleased when the sun dropped behind the trees and it began to cool down a little. I was worried though, that moving off those fish in the pads could have been the wrong decision. Annoyingly, with the whole lake to choose from, another angler had plotted up right next-door, so I was forced to write off the spot I’d baited. I stayed on the same line, but went directly in front of me and put six large Spombs of the same bait out. I flicked out the same Snowman Rig over the top with a bottom bait and 12mm yellow Mulbz topper. The left-hand rod was so perfectly placed under the bush, so I decided to leave it there until I either had a take or went home. The final rod was tied up with a solid bag. I would wait until I saw a fish before casting to it. I’d been thinking a little about what hookbait to use and something a day angler had said had stuck with me. Everyone was recommending yellow toppers and we all had them on, but no one had had a bite. I decided therefore, to use a white bait on the readied rod. I wanted to keep the hookbait small and also add a little bit of buoyancy, so cut a 12mm Krill Active in half and added half a 12mm white Mulbz pop-up. This would sit up slightly and waft above the bloodworm pellet.
Darkness came and I hadn’t seen anything show, so I put the bag out exactly where I’d seen them the night before. The temperature had dropped considerably by this time and I made a hasty retreat to my bag.
Chris Eaglestone: My rigs had gone out perfectly against the three snags I’d picked out. I used just a small handful of bait to top up the spots as it had been a very quiet day. I hadn’t seen any fish, but still felt confident that at least one of the snaggy bushes would produce a bite. I decided that if nothing had happened by the morning, then I’d be on my toes and try and find an opportunity in the final few hours we had left. Tucked away, surrounded by trees and with no ambient light, the lake gets very dark, very quickly, so I welcomed the chance to get an extra couple of hours’ sleep before getting up early to listen for shows.
Stu Lennox: The early part of the night passed quietly, but around 4 a.m. one of my rods absolutely tore off. I ran out and when I looked down, both my left-hand and middle rod alarms were lit up. In my sleepy confusion I didn’t know which rod had had the take, but as the left was fished to the snag I had to pick that one up first. I did so and applied side strain straight away, but there was nothing there. I threw the rod into the reeds and picked up the middle one to feel a weight plodding steadily along the bottom out in open water. The fish felt pretty heavy, but the fight was uneventful. I reeled the fish straight into the net and after just a couple of head shakes, it went in at the first time of asking.
I returned to my brolly for my head torch and when I flicked it on, I was met by an incredible fully scaled mirror that looked like a mid-twenty: a great result! I tied another solid bag as quickly as I could and put it back out on the same spot, using the wrapping sticks to ensure that if I got another bite, I could continue to hit the same area. I did the same on the left-hand rod and put that out to a similar area. I tidied away and got back into the bag, thrilled that a blank had been avoided courtesy of a beautiful fully.
The last thing I was expecting was the middle rod to ramp off again just 30 minutes later. I was on it almost immediately and the fish felt identical, offering no real resistance during a quick, straightforward fight all the way back to the net. As it went in, I could see it was another fully scaled mirror around the same weight! I later found out from Colin that there are only four fully scaled fish in the lake… and I’d managed to catch two of them in half an hour! I was buzzing!
A fresh bag was tied, the rod wrapped up and dropped on the same spot. The change to a small white hookbait had clearly made the difference, and half an hour later the left-hand rod was away - I couldn’t believe how quickly the bites were coming! On this occasion a really frantic, scrappy fight resulted in one of the original, wild-strain commons between ten and twelve pounds. I was about to release it, but I thought it was quite a good contrast to the other fish I’d caught, so left it in the net for a photo.
By this time I was going through the same routine of tying up a new bag, wrapping up and flicking out to the spot. Over the next hour I had two more bites. These produced the biggest fish of the trip - a mid-twenty mirror with a huge set of shoulders - and a lovely upper-double mirror. I had all my nets and retainers full, so kept the three mid-twenties and the wildie whilst releasing the smallest mirror.
With five fish banked, the article was well and truly sewn up, so I decided not to fish on. I wanted to grab an hour’s sleep before doing the photos and starting to pack away. A blank had looked increasingly likely before I’d then had a hatful of fish in just two hours’ angling; this just shows the fantastic sport that can be had if you get it right at Combe Bank. Interestingly, the Snowman Rig over the bait remained untouched all night.
Chris Eaglestone: My alarm went off at 5 a.m. and as usual, I got up to watch for any signs that might help me snare a fish during the last couple of hours of the session. I looked at my phone to find a stream of Instagram messages from Stu, who’d been catching through the night. I didn’t need a second invitation and didn’t want to waste any more time in my own swim. I jumped out of bed and quickly packed away. I threw everything on the barrow and made my way round to Stu. I got to his peg and there were rods and nets everywhere - carnage once again! Through bleary eyes he pointed out where he’d been catching from and advised the number of wraps. I left a Hinged Stiff Rig on with a small white pop-up and fired it straight out to the area whilst Stu got the kettle on for the first brew of the morning.
We were just enjoying our first few sips when the rod trundled off against a tight clutch. I couldn’t believe I’d done 30hrs in the wrong swim and yet, within 30 minutes of moving, I was playing my first Combe Bank carp! Apart from a few attempts to get in the pads in the left-hand margin, the fight was uneventful. Stu soon slid the net under another lovely upper-double mirror. The fish had a nice dark back and a creamy belly. The sun was cresting the tree-line, so we decided to make a start on the photos.
The last carp had made such an effort to get into the pads that it seemed like a good place to do the photos. With my mirror slipped back it was time to make a start on Stu’s. He’d had such a variety of carp, from immaculate fully scaled fish to big, broad mirrors.
One by one we let them slide back. It was a great way to round off what had been a fantastic session. I live only 15 minutes from Combe Bank and never knew it was there… I shall definitely return very soon!
This Month’s Session Stats
1/2kg Monster Particles Chopped Tigers
1kg Sticky 2.3mm Bloodworm Pellet
1kg boilie each Sticky Active Krill/Nash Candy Nut Crush/Hot Tuna
3 rig changes made between them
3 swims fished
6 fish caught
0 fish lost