Estate Lake Elation: It's not what you know...
A chance encounter sees Dave Robinson set about catching a special fish from an unspoilt water…
In the early part of the year, I find myself on small, intimate waters, rather than big pits. I’ve made the mistake before, of beginning on larger venues. I’ve seen friends catch their target by March and then move on, whilst I’ve been waiting to see my first show! The bigger venues do seem to take longer to wake up, but autumn lasts almost until Christmas. I have to say, that I learned the hard way!
During the winter, I met an old boy down the river. He kindly told me about a little lake in the middle of the countryside. He used to fished the water with his son years ago, he told me, and had never seen another person, let alone an angler, whilst there. He mentioned how they’d caught huge pike there in the past, and he suggested that I should give it a go. Usually I wouldn’t take any notice of such tales - especially from old men - but there was something about this fella. I don’t do so very often, but for some reason, on this occasion, I believed him. Was he completely full of it? Or had he genuinely told me about a little piece of paradise? I just had to find out…
Arriving at the lay-by where the gentleman had advised me to park, I looked at my map and planned a route across the fields towards what appeared to be two lakes. It was February and I had a bucket of livebaits in the van, but deep down, I was thinking about carp. Eventually I made it to the banks of the most stunning of old English estate lakes; it was incredible and I instantly fell in love with the place. My new acquaintance had told me that the lake had been there a while, but I wasn’t ready for what confronted me. That was it… the pike fishing went straight out the window and I ran back across the meadow to get my sunglasses. If only I could find a venue like this at the start of every season, I thought.
Given the time of year, the lake looked bleak. The wind was bitter and my chances of seeing anything were slim, to say the least. Nonetheless, I left later that afternoon full of anticipation and couldn’t wait to return… spring just couldn’t come soon enough. Even if there were just a couple of carp in there, I was going to have them!
Over the next fortnight, I dropped by for an hour or two when I had opportunity, hoping to get a sight of something incredible. The lake was stream-fed and I’ve found from past experience, that such waters are the ones that generally suffer most, come any floods. Should rivers burst their banks, otters will travel along drains and ditches as they seek pastures new. Small, clear, naturally filtered lakes are, I feel, prime targets and after half a dozen or so trips over the space of a few weeks, I began to think the worst… Maybe it had never held any carp, or perhaps they’d been eaten… I remained optimistic and excited though, but wouldn’t introduce any bait until I’d seen at least one carp.
Over the next two weeks, things started to change, with snowdrops appearing and buds forming on the trees; the sun was also creeping gradually higher in the sky. It was almost time and I had to start putting together a plan. Was I to fish the estate lake or not? I considered leaving and returning in July, in the hope that I’d find them spawning, but was in a bit of a quandary to be honest.
April arrived and I decided to start fishing a park lake in Cambridgeshire - the big ’un hadn’t been out since the same time the year before and I felt it was my time. The estate lake was only twenty minutes or so out of my way on the journey home, so I would fish the park water, but also check the estate lake every week without fail. Deep down, the estate lake was where I wanted to be, but I couldn’t fish what might turn out to be an empty lake.
Two weeks later, after three nights at the park water, I headed for the estate lake. Despite best intentions, I’d been a little lazy and hadn’t stopped by for over a week. I remember walking across the meadow and seeing that the wind was covering the whole lake. Inside, I felt as though the mile-hike, with the risk of my gear being left in the van, wasn’t going to be worth it. I was on the phone to a mate, telling him how uneventful the last few nights had been, when I noticed an area of reeds on the other side; it was where the fresh, green stalks had started to come out and it was as I’d not seen it before.
Half of the lake was accessible with the other half completely overgrown. I climbed over a small fence that was covered with strands of wool. I then made my way through the wood, stepping over dead, moss-ridden wood. It was clear that it was going to be very difficult, perhaps impossible to get close to the water in this area. Still chatting on the phone, I stared through a small gap between two trees at a small area of flat water. I remember saying to my mate, “If there are carp in here, I’ll find them now, no doubt about it.”
The sun shone on the reeds which sheltered part of water from the wind… it looked prime! I clambered up a tree close to the reeds and looked across the water whilst perched almost heron-like. To my amazement, there they were, stacked like sardines. I was so overwhelmed I almost fell from the tree. There were twelve carp: ten commons and two mirrors… the game was on! Hunched in the tree, I watched for as long as I could before my ankle couldn’t take it anymore. I slid down the mossy trunk and ran off like a kid at Christmas. As far as I was concerned, my spring had started right there and then. It really was the ultimate buzz. I’d been there so often, but had seen so little that I was beginning to doubt it all and even question my sanity.
Back at the van, I devised a simple plan: I’d wait for dusk before going back with a few kilos of boilies. I had to get as close as I could to the reeds, but knew that it wasn’t going to be easy - it was hard enough just getting a look at that area, let alone fishing it.
After sitting for two hours in the van, I walked back through the long grass to the lake, landing net pole and bucket in one hand and waders in the other. Suddenly the walk didn’t seem as long and I was soon up the same tree again, counting the carp. My plan was to clear an area of vegetation so I could get a rod in, right there where they were. That way, the hard work would be done, ready for me to return. From the tree, I could see what looked like cabbages running out to no more than a rod-length from the bank; I’d have no choice, but to fish under my rod tip.
I spent the next hour or so clearing dead branches from under the canopy. The area was extremely soft and littered with sticks. In an ideal world I’d have raked the whole area under the tree before baiting, but that just wasn’t possible… I had no rake, and there was no way I was leaving without dumping those boilies. I did the best I could with my feet and my landing net pole, all the time aware that I was no more than twenty yards away from what was potentially the entire stock of the lake’s carp. Before long, I’d baited up and was charging back across the meadow, full of excitement and thinking about my return visit. This was it… I’d primed a zone, just yards away from a group of ‘virgin’ carp… show time!
I was back the following day, knowing full well that unless the carp had left because of the disturbance, they would’ve visited the margin spot. I clambered up the tree once again, mainly to see if I’d removed all the branches and I couldn’t believe my eyes… the whole area was brown, almost as if the colouring was weeping from the tree roots. For a moment, I thought it might’ve been where I’d been in the water, but there was no way the water wouldn’t have settled in fifteen hours. The spot had clearly been completely trashed. It was time then, to repeat the process before getting away to prepare my gear. I’d carry it all in and then leave half of it hidden away, to make life a little easier for regular trips in April and May…
My first trip was the following week, after five heavy baiting sessions. I was looking to fish bottom baits, given the tight feeding, but within half an hour of lowering the rod into position, I felt that that wasn’t such a good idea. I watched a fish from the tree make a beeline for the spot and start ripping the bottom up without any hesitation. During the intense few minutes that followed, I must’ve seen a dozen leaves float to the surface and I knew I was in trouble. To make matters worse, another fish visited the area and I started to get liners. As the light began to fail, all I could think about was my presentation. I sat under my brolly until midnight, fishing one rod with a slack line, listening to constant beeps. I’d had enough and before long, I was in bed, full of mixed emotions and with my bag pulled over my head. Had I over-baited? I thought to myself. Had I baited too near to my first trip with the rods? I just didn’t know, but I was getting trashed that was for sure!
The following morning was quiet and as soon as I was awake I lifted the rod out and found that the worst had happened… my rig was absolutely smothered. I stashed my bed and my brolly and was out of there. I chose not to bait, and decided to return with two rods kitted out with Hinges the following night. I knew the spot was absolute filth and there was no way I could fish it with bait still on the bottom. As is usual, my plan had changed!
The following night I was back once again. I lowered the rigs into position, slackened off the lines and settled down for my second night. I’d just sat down and opened a can of cider, when one of the rods went into absolute meltdown. I jumped up again, just in time to see a bow wave heading away from the spot. The thought struck me as I made for the rod, that I had to bring my bedchair closer to water. I then lifted into the most powerful of carp that continued to strip line at an alarming rate - I was in trouble again, but for a different reason this time. I buried the rod tip under the water and pumped for what felt like a lifetime. I was terrified of losing it, knowing it could well be my only chance of the night. After a hectic few minutes of continued relentless pumping, I felt the leadcore knock against my tip. I lifted the rod and frantically scooped up the wallowing carp. There she was, carp number one… and what a carp she was too. I was over the moon.
After a few rushed self-takes in the rain, I returned her and reset both my rods, just before it became completely dark. For me this is what fishing is all about: me against the carp, deep in the woods without a care in the world. The Hinges had changed the game and I went on to catch two more that night… a lovely start to the campaign.
The following day was set to be the warmest of the year thus far. I was pretty certain that I’d be able to find the fish and see exactly what I’d be fishing for. Even though I’d seen them the week before, I was desperate for another look. I needed to know how seriously I should take this ‘guesting’ and didn’t want to take the Mick.
I returned to the van with my rods and alarms and headed for the café. I needed to know for certain what, or if, I had any particular targets. Having returned to the lake, I spent time sitting by the water, waiting for the sun to illuminate the reeds again. The water was tap clear and seemed shallow even in the middle of the lake, due to the amount of cabbage and number of pads. I made countless laps of the lake, climbing up and down trees. Eventually I found two mirrors, undoubtedly the same two from the previous week. This time however, I managed to get a really good look at them. One of them stood out; it was a big linear and one of the longest carp I’d ever seen; I estimated it at around 30lb. Given the nature of the place and the effort I’d put into it, I knew I’d burn out pretty quickly if there wasn’t a proper big ’un swimming around. As much as I enjoy catching wild carp on my own terms, deep down I want to be fishing for a big fish - or at least a really old, special one - particularly in May. The idea was then, that I was going to go all-out over over the next week, fishing most nights between work. I knew if I could catch ten carp, then that linear would be among them. So that was it… I had a plan and a rig, and the spot was ready to go. All I needed to do was put in the rod-hours, something I’ve never had a problem doing - I’m sure my mates would all agree on!
I was back the next night, in the zone and ready to go. This time I set-up much closer to my rods. I’d landed everything I’d hooked so far, but I knew the linear was going to be a breed apart. After two more nights and two more commons, I finally got the bite I’d been waiting for and knew what I’d hooked the moment I picked up the rod. The spool was emptying faster than I could get my waders on… this was it… my chance at the linear. As it grated through the branches, I hung on desperately. I thought I’d blown it when it came to a halt under the overhangs. I stood in the water, my rod at full test curve, when suddenly something gave and I was back in contact with the fish again. After a little bit of ‘to me, to you’ under the tip, she was mine, and what a carp she turned out to be… longer than I could’ve ever imagined and scale-perfect from top to tail. She was an amazing fish, and my time on the estate lake was over - for the time being anyway. It took me two trips to get all my gear back to the van, but my efforts and the long walks had all been worthwhile.
A few days later I was at a loose end, somewhat earlier than expected. A friend had sent me a photo of another linear, one from the Lea Valley. The fish was in a different league to anything I’d seen. It was long and lean, with a tiny tail… almost Bishop-like, but twenty pounds smaller. It was the closest I’d seen to a true Leney for years. Straight away I was on the phone and asking questions… I had to know where this carp lived. Fully expecting to be told that the fish came from some huge lake somewhere, perhaps with no fishing permitted, I was shocked by what I heard.
There’s only so much I can say about the venue in question, out of respect for the other anglers fishing for it, but my friend told me where it was and said that I could have a ticket the very next day - if only they were all so easy to get on!
No more than twenty-fours later I was in the van on my way to meet Terry in his local café - surely it was all too good to be true? I headed off to purchase my ticket and soon forgot about what I was leaving behind at the estate lake… this carp was different, on so many levels. Whist picking up my ticket, I found out that there was a picture floating around of Jack Hilton holding one of the carp that still resides in the pond. This was pretty incredible to say the least, and only saw to heighten my excitement.
Soon after collecting my ticket, I arrived at the venue. What greeted me was a tiny water of no more than an acre. I assumed immediately, that there had to be another lake somewhere. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked round and found carp basking in, and close to the pads in the May sunshine. It was incredible, but I knew it wasn’t going to be as easy as it looked - or so I presumed - as I’d fished small lakes before and they can be a pain! I walked the lake several times over the space of a few hours. This place was special and steeped in history and I loved it. I thrive on a new challenge like most people, but I wasn’t ready for how the day was going to unfold…
During the day, a strong northerly blew up that pumped down into the corner furthest from the pads where I’d seen the carp. I knew the longer this wind blew, the greater the chance of them turning up. I was half feeling it, but half not. I didn’t know enough to just be lower rods in and hope for the best. Also, I couldn’t get that old linear out of my head. After a lot of umming and ahhing and going back and forth, I decided to stand on the wind and take it all in. I had time, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to fish or not… then the weather changed! The clouds rolled in and the rain started. I thought to myself, This is May, I’ve got nowhere else to go… I have to fish.
No sooner had I persuaded myself to stay, than I saw a tail pattern a foot from the bank, right in the teeth of the wind. I was right… they’d arrived! I ran back to the car and scrabbled my barrow together. I was excited… this was going to be my first night of the year on a venue that I was actually allowed to be on! I could feel a twelve-hour kip coming on if nothing else...
Before I unloaded my kit from the barrow, I lowered two rods down in front of where I’d seen the boil, no more than two feet out. Two small Hinges and five baits were laid almost silently along the width of the swim before I crept back from the water’s edge. I sat down on the ground and rolled a smoke, taking it all in. There was something about this little lake; the swims were undisturbed and it all felt so personal. I’d been there half a day and it felt like my lake.
Before I knew it, I was snapped out of my daydream by the sound of a Neville. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I jumped up… my reel was churning against the alarm! As if this is happening! I thought, A pond with fewer than ten carp in it, and I’m in already! I know it was May, but I really wasn’t expecting it to happen like that. After a huge initial run to the middle of the pond, a back broke the surface and I recognised the little pointy fin on its back. Uncaught for two years, presumed dead and I’d hooked it within an hour of getting the rods out. She came in from the middle of the lake like a dog on a lead and I slid her into the net… my gear wasn’t even off the barrow and it was all over. Never had I caught the target fish first bite, let alone first night or first hour!
I rang Terry to tell him the news and the first thing he asked me was whether I’d found it yet! Whether he meant the lake or the linear I don’t know, but he genuinely thought I was having him on when I asked him to come down to do the photos. There she was, the best mirror I’d ever caught, laying in the bottom of my net. If only it was always that easy…