Get In, Get Done, Get Out! The Unforgotten World
Squatting motorists, red ants and the odd bankside mugging don’t put Tom White off chancing his arm on a neglected lake after he sights two of its residents…
We are all on our own angling journey, and carp fishing is so many things to many different anglers. From local anglers catching singles, to guys travelling the length and breadth of the UK, and indeed the world in search of carp, the one thing that remains constant is that desire to catch, regardless of the time and money they have at their disposal, or personal level of experience. With the world as it is at the moment, and the rules and constraints we’re under constantly changing and making life that bit harder, we’re surely wanting to get out on the bank more than ever. I would say that it’s never been more important to set aside some rod-hours to decompress away from all the stresses of modern life, and the situation we now find ourselves in.
Over the last few years, my bank time has been limited to a Friday-night trip, with the occasional midweek or work-night session if conditions have looked too good to pass up. Having a busy work and family life means that prep and bank time aren’t in abundance. I still get to go out regularly, though, and this is enough to keep me motivated to target those ever-decreasing numbers of special, big old carp. I could fish easier waters and stack up some numbers, but that just doesn’t do it for me. I have to be up against it, and the carp have to be exceptionally special now, to warrant the efforts involved in catching them. I know what buzzes me up the most, and the seemingly impossible chase in the most natural and wildest of surroundings, with very few other anglers in sight, is my holy grail.
We’re just getting into winter, and by the time this article reaches the pages of the magazine, January will be fast approaching. Most anglers’ kit will be packed away in their sheds or garages, as I revisit a couple of previous captures that may just light the fires in at least one, to help motivate them into getting out there after them whilst the banks are quiet, and the carp are in peak condition.
This short story is about a brief encounter I had with a couple of old carp a few years ago, way off the beaten track. Almost as old as the hills, and untouched for many, many years, the carp were pretty special. Although the whole project lasted just a few weeks, what happened along the way is worth recounting. As is often the case, it’s not just the destination, it’s as much about how we got there and the memories from the journey itself that are as important.
It all started following a conversation with a friend during the winter of 2015. I had just had some good results from a couple of local waters, and these drew a line under that particular period of my fishing. After mentioning that I was thinking of having a look in a new area not far from him, this friend gave me the nod on one of the waters in the area which I had already sighted as a potential project. The information he offered was invaluable. He had known there to be angling on one of the pits in the area at least, and he assured me that at one point, there had been carp in there. Not only that, going back ten or fifteen years, the fish went to upper-twenties.
This not only meant that the lake was stocked, but that other lakes in its proximity were very likely to have received introductions of fish around the same time. I had already done a bit of homework, and from looking into the digging and ongoing maintenance of this network of waters, it was likely that any carp in residence would potentially be 30- to 40-year-old commons, with the exception of some very rare scaly mirrors that had also been stocked in some of the pits during the late 1970s. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows though. He also said that the area was far from peaceful, and that he personally wouldn’t dream of fishing nights there alone. Because of this, I would need to get in and out undetected, as fish thefts, as well as otter predation are rife to this day. I took it all with a pinch of salt, and as I thanked him, before putting the phone down I knew exactly where I’d be heading come the next sunny day. One thing was certain: I knew that there were some carp left somewhere, and I would just have to find them for myself. That was what I intended to do as soon as the weather improved and I had figured out how I was going to get in and out.
For one reason or another, I didn’t get down there until the spring of 2016. It was mid-May, the sun was high in the sky and there was the lightest south-westerly wind. It seemed to be ideal spotting conditions and I had a few hours to kill, having booked a half-day off work. I unloaded anything that resembled fishing equipment from the motor and headed out towards my new zone.
I pulled into the lay-by as near to the lake as I could, parking behind a car that had its passenger door open with a young lad standing close by. I figured that the car had recently stopped and that its driver was taking a leak. I waited a couple of minutes and no one appeared, so I decided to go for it. There was a pile of rubbish by the gate that you had to hop over. People obviously stopped in the lay-by for a smoke or whatever, and as I made my way around the corner, I saw a number of tissues, and there was human excrement everywhere. Lovely! I thought to myself, shaking my head in disgust. Then, as I looked up, I stopped dead in my tracks. Six to eight feet away was a lad staring at me, eyes wide open as he squatted, plain as day, with his trousers down around his ankles, laying a cable, shall we say, on the concrete path right in front of me! I didn’t really know what to do, to be honest, as I’d not experienced such a situation before. In the end, I just looked the other way as I walked round him and carried on, trying not to laugh!
Some place this! I thought, as I made my way through the undergrowth, following the deer tracks towards the lake and still a little shocked. My first sight after I’d arrived had left a bad taste, and what I’d just seen was something I’d prefer never to remember!
After leaving the path that terminated just up from the gate, I followed the deer tracks for about a quarter of a mile before things then became a little tricky. The foliage had become dense, with the tracks splitting off in various directions. It was clear that no one had followed this route for a good few years, and I even resorted to using my phone in an effort to regain my bearings as the trees closed in and blocked out the sun. The undergrowth became so dense, that I had to crawl through a substantial amount of it before I found another track, one which had been furrowed into the wild grass by the seemingly ever-present deer.
As I clambered out of the shrubbery and into a clearing, the track split left down a steep, craggy decline through some bramble bushes, and right down an almost vertical cliff face to the other end of the lake. At this point, I was facing the centre of the lake and could see the water for the first time, through the central track between two rows of thornbushes. I was perhaps 30 or 40ft above the water, looking out over the almost horseshoe-shaped pond of perhaps around four-acres. It was reed-lined, gin clear and set in a valley away from the road behind me. Beyond the lake was a vast fen, and looking across the fields I could see only the horizon, with no structures or buildings to break up the natural beauty that had remained since the Iron Age. It was a very special place, one that really left an impression on me. I can recall the exact moment I stood there looking out over my exciting new water. I decided to head left as there was a slight breeze blowing towards the northern end of the lake as the sun tracked its early afternoon course. I was sure the carp wouldn’t be far away - if there were any left!
I stayed low and almost goose-stepped as I carefully picked my way 30ft or so down through the brambles. Damp clay and loose bricks made it tricky to tread quietly. It wasn’t the first time I’d faced such a situation and I knew how nervous and aware wild carp can be if anything other than the wildlife enters their otherwise forgotten world.
I reached the water as the ground levelled off. I then crawled under some brambles and up onto a clay hump the size of a car, that rose out of the ground and overlooked the windward corner of the lake. Surrounded by trees, I was shielded from any prying eyes, and from my elevated vantage point and looking up into the wind, I could see the ripples glistening in the sun. I took a minute to relax, and taking out a drink from my backpack, I sat back on the grassy mound and chugged away, rehydrating after my trek in. Immediately I felt it on my right bum cheek… bang! Red ants had decided that I was an enemy and I shot back up to my feet double quick. Another, and then another continued to bite my thighs and legs. At that moment, I caught something out of the corner of eye. The water rocked around 20yds off to my right, just out of the breeze where the bank curved back on itself to form a small bay. Fallen branches entered the water from the corner which carried on around to my left. Quickly, I brushed off the ants, soon forgetting about them as I craned my neck to see what had caused the disturbance.
The ripple increased slightly, and then there was another disturbance as something moved close to the surface. From the right, it came into view. Very slowly, a wide, almost jet-black common carp made its way in front of me, before it then circled back on itself to head out of the bay. I’m pretty sure it sensed my presence, but it wasn’t spooked. I could tell it wasn’t happy with something, though, as it sauntered off up the margin to my right, then around the tip of reeds and up into the central section of the lake.
I grabbed my backpack and slid under the brambles once again, up onto the rocky climb as quickly as I could, before turning left onto the central track to find the water’s edge. There, I could hopefully track the common and see if there were any more nearby. As I got to the end of the path, it opened up again onto a slightly elevated outcrop of moss-covered clay. I was at the lake’s apex, the water shaped like a banana that curved inwards to my left and right, down into its bay-like corners. It was widest in the centre, at about 60yds across, and it tapered down at both ends around 120yds in each direction away from me. I peered over the reeds in front of me and couldn’t see signs of any carp. I then looked left, and crawled down under the canopy of a large tree. The area had been dug out and it was obviously the remnants of an old swim. A set of boards reached out into the lake, perhaps six feet or so, but these were covered by reeds.
I stepped up onto the boards, parting the reeds as I made my way slowly to the end to look out on the section of margin where I had seen the solitary common moving just five minutes before. As I peered through the reeds at the end of the boards, I looked down into the crystal-clear depths for the first time. The margins were steep, as indicated by the surrounding banks. There was a ledge about five feet out where the Canadian pondweed ended and a smooth clay bottom with odd short bits of fresh weed had just started to grow. As you do, I peered down to try and see just that bit deeper, just as a carp glided into view like an old, black sub. Two feet down, I saw every bit of its chunky frame and its immaculate fins, scales and lips. It was a solid oak of a carp, maybe mid-thirties at a push, and most certainly the common I had just seen on its own. This time he had a friend in tow, one a little smaller at mid- to upper-twenties. Scale-perfect and dark as you like, they seemed almost mythical in their forgotten environment.
Tucked up in the reeds and hidden from view, I watched them in a near trance for the next half an hour or more as they did laps around the bay’s perimeter, slowly circumnavigating the lake again and again. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that no other carp were in the same section of the lake. I would have to see if I could find them, then, if indeed there were any more to be found. Before leaving, I reached into my bag and scattered around 50 tigers and 25 chops in a line adjacent to the bank, just off the ledge, throwing a few more into the deeper water. It was the perfect ambush point at the entrance to the bay. I just knew that in similar conditions, they would be doing their daily laps again, but then I would have a trap waiting. I left them to it, and spent the next two or three hours exploring the rest of the lake, or as much as I felt I could without exposing myself too much to anyone that might be walking along, or working the land on the other, accessible side of the lake.
I searched the rest of the water high and low, but didn’t see any more carp, or evidence of them. I did, though, find six tench fizzing up in the southern corner, which indicated a bloodworm bed amongst the silt there - a nice bit of information to retain, for sure. It made total sense that if there had been any other carp, then I would have seen them that day. I felt, therefore, that I was angling for just the two I had seen earlier in the northern bay. They were just so obvious, that I found it hard to believe there were more surviving fish. I did learn a good bit about the pit and its surroundings, though. The banks were treacherous and a bit of work was needed if I was going to get my kit in. I clipped back the brambles with my secateurs, so that when I returned under the cover of darkness, my kit and my arms wouldn’t get ripped to shreds.
My first recce complete, I was happy. I made my way back to the car without incident and hurried home to prep the kit for my return just two days later on the Friday evening. I had been told to be careful, as the locals were not shy when it came to lifting gear off you if they bumped into you on the bank, out in the middle of nowhere. Just the year before, a guy stalking on a pit nearby got jumped and had had everything taken in broad daylight. I like my freedom, and my tackle, so didn’t want to invite any unwanted attention from anglers or non-anglers alike.
I hatched a plan. There was a hotel around three miles away and I figured that I could park my motor there and then get a taxi to drop me at the lay-by before picking me up again the next morning. I made the necessary arrangements, and after a bit of explaining as to why I needed a black cab, the firm was happy. I’d be collected at 6 a.m., so would be ready to leave before the rest of the world and the dog walkers made their way up and down the access road which we had to use to get in and out. Once I had got in the first time, I would stash some kit and the bulk of what I needed, namely my unhooking mat, bedchair and bivvy. The short rods, a net and my small rucksack were all I then needed and I could easily take them in and out as and when required. I didn’t want to leave too much kit on site, as in one of the most inaccessible parts of the lake and tucked right away, were remnants of a makeshift camp. Old milk cartons were strewn on the ground, stacks of bricks had been arranged for a fire and some branches had been put together to make a shelter. It was obviously a temporary encampment, most likely made by illegal immigrants making their way into the towns across the Fens, accessible from the main road into the area. I didn’t want any unwanted attention, so kept everything low key. Anything left at the lake would be well hidden in strategically placed dugouts, under the banks and covered with foliage so as not to arouse suspicion.
I loaded my kit into the van around nine o’clock on Friday evening, just the minimal amount with a cold drink, no food, a pound of mixed chops and tigers, and two cans of beer to take the edge off my first night in unknown territory. As the driver pulled up in the lay-by, I paid him hurriedly and chucked my kit onto my shoulders, buzzing with anticipation. With my bedchair, rucksack and 9ft rods all on board, over the gate I went and across the wasteland into the trees without stumbling on any more (literal) squatters!
Once I was under the canopy, I eased my pace. It was a warm, muggy evening and I arrived sweating and out of breath. I took a minute and had a swig of squash, noting the breeze was a decent one and blowing right into my plot. It couldn’t look any better. A big moon illuminated the ground as I set-up without the need of a head torch. Soon, the little bivvy was up and all my kit tucked inside out of the way. Sitting on the bedchair and looking out over the zone, I could start to relax and feed off the energy of the stiff wind and bright moon. It was an electric feeling to be out there alone, miles from anyone and feeling that buzz that we all know so well, when we are truly just in that moment with nothing else entering the mind, such is the focus on the task at hand.
Before long, I had two Chod Rigs with my own corkballs deployed to the edge of the entrance to the bay, along with a handful of 15mm
boilies scattered between them. One rig cracked down in five- or six-feet of water, around 6ft from the bank and just on the edge of the weed. The other was around six-feet from the first, a little out into the pond, but where it felt nearly double the depth and slightly softer… to say I was happy with the drops from my first two casts would be an understatement.
As the night closed in and after I’d drunk my two beers, I felt shot from the trek in. I laid back, quickly drifting off to the sound of the wind that bellowed in and out of my bivvy with hypnotic regularity as the breeze quickened. It seemed as though my eyes had been closed for only a moment or two, as I woke to the sound of a 2600 going into meltdown. At first, I was confused and just stared down at the rod. There was no buzzer sound, but the rod was being wrenched down and the clutch was ripping faster and faster with every pulse of the tail of the fish responsible. Whatever was hooked, certainly wasn’t used to the experience, and as I tried to lift the rod to compression, it was ripped back down again. If anything, the pace of the fish was quickening. The fish just kept going, making its way out into the pit, past the edge of the reeds and around the corner… I just prayed that it was relatively snag- and weed-free there, otherwise I was screwed! For all I knew, it had been ripping line from me for a good five or ten seconds before I’d woken up. It felt a good way off, but I held on, hoping that it would slow or hit some weed so I could assess the situation and hopefully coax it back around the corner.
The carp gods were obviously looking down on me favourably, as eventually the initial run slowed. The fish then stopped and I felt some sharp kicks on the line as it shook its head in an effort to shed the hook. It felt big and heavy, and I knew what was on the end. It was just so powerful from the off, and I could feel the weight of it as it continued to lunge. Slowly but surely, the lunges became less aggressive, and by the time I had led her round the corner again, she was on the surface sloshing about in the ripples some 20yds away. I could see the bulk of her in the moonlight as she came past me a couple of rod-lengths out in just a few feet of water. It was a sight I will never forget, and I prayed that she had blown her tanks.
After a couple more surges in the shallow water, she was mine. Shaking with adrenaline, I was in no doubt that the bigger of the two fish I’d seen just 48hrs before was laying there in front of me. It’s for these moments that I still carp-fish after 30-odd years at it. The fish was just common-carp perfection, not massive by any means, but the journey from conception to capture is 100 per cent what it’s all about for me.