Nigel Sharp Features

Going Through The Mill

No campaign has matched the rollercoaster ride Nigel Sharp experienced on Mill Lane… #FlashbackFriday

I’m a firm believer that some things happen for a reason and they pave the way for things to happen in the future.
Back in the summer of 2012, after fishing hard all spring on Pingewood, things didn’t go quite my way with the result I so badly wanted. Although I knew The Brute was only likely to do one capture during that spring I was more working on the bigger picture and thinking about a build-up to a possibly-getting-lucky with a summer capture. Well, like I say, things didn’t go quite my way and in late June a young full-timer called Danny Mac that I’d befriended caught her at a huge weight of 49lb+. This was naturally a slight setback but knowing that fish as I did, I wasn’t put off by Dan’s capture and returned the following week to keep the momentum going.

Although I didn’t really enjoy fishing the lake, and anyone else in the same frame of mind would have used this as an excuse to back off, I considered this the right thing to do. Straight away on that visit I found her in The Slipway snags and managed to secure the neighbouring swim. Obviously with past history of her doing a quick capture after a previous one I felt confident she’d make that mistake again. Well, I was right, and a few days later she did, right over the other side of the pigging lake in The Pallets swim! Now, if I said this didn’t give me the right arse ache I’d be lying because it did and after I packed up I went and congratulated the angler before heading home.

After licking my wounds for a few days I rang young Danny up to see what he was up to as he’d done the right thing and pulled off after his capture of The Brute. During the phone call I learned he was fishing Mill Lane which was local to me. Being as the club (Farnham Angling Society) that owned Mill Lane had given me a complimentary permit for all the help I’d given them with junior teachings over the years I decided to pop over and visit Dan.

Although I’d spoken to Dan I didn’t actually know where he was on the water, so it was just a case of walking around until I found him. No sooner had I opened the gate I saw Dan’s little white van up in the top car park so I knew which way to head after parking my car by the gate. As I walked anti-clockwise around the lake to see Dan I was pleasantly surprised to see the lake was quiet. By the time I got to a swim pegged as 7 I saw carp milling around in the weed on the shallows to its right and fizzes from both tench and carp straight out in front of the peg. Naturally this caught my gaze for a good while and straight away, for some reason, I started making mental notes as to where the bubblers were.

God knows how long I stood there watching this but I eventually snapped out of hunting mode and went in search of young Dan who I found just around the corner in a swim known as The Slope or Peg 13. While I sat chatting and drinking tea in Dan’s swim I could see it was equally as lively as Peg 7 and I started feeling the draw from this lake.

During our conversations Dan told me the fish had recently spawned and they had been feeding heavily since and most of the regulars had pulled off. Now being a carp angler of nearly 30 years at the time I instantly saw this as an opening and after leaving Dan’s swim I walked the whole lake, saw that it was indeed very quiet, then found myself back in 7 watching the Mill Lane carp behave naturally before finally pulling myself away from the water’s edge about another hour later.

The visit had got me thinking and that evening I decided that I’d do a couple of nights on Mill from the following day and maybe think about getting back over to Pinge the following week. The next day I found myself back at the lake fairly early, or what many would describe as “second light”. To my surprise the lake was still quiet and the fish were still very active in front of Peg 7.

I’ve never been a fan of bucketing swims but if it’s the done thing you have to do it or lose out on water where anglers can be ruthless and from my knowledge of Mill Lane I was under no illusion that this wouldn’t happen to me. After parking my car behind the peg that’s exactly what I did and then went for a clockwise walk around the lake as I just can’t simply turn up and fish without walking a water.

The reason why I went clockwise around the lake was purely because I didn’t want to get distracted by a tea drinking session and I didn’t know how long the bucketing rule allowed me to claim a swim without fishing it. On that walk I found one very large fish which was definitely over 40lb and I’m pretty sure it was the big ‘un known as Taffs. Taffs had actually been caught at 52lb+ in January from Peg 7 but where I found her she was just laying up in the rafts in between Pegs 33 and 35. For a minute or two I was tempted to relocate the bucket but then a moment of clarity told me she was just sunning herself away from randy males so the chance of getting her to feed were pretty minimal so the feeding fish in 7 seemed a better option for a few nights.

After completing that walk and having a tea in Dan’s swim, 7 still seemed like my best option but I still had to go check on Taffs to see what she was doing or if she was still there. Luckily for me that distraction was out the way as she’d moved off so back to 7 I went. After setting up fairly quickly I had a quick lead around on the areas I’d seen most of the bubbling just off the tip of the new island which was formerly a point. Later on I found out that the reason the point had been converted to an island was due to typical club water antics over ‘whose water’ battles, but from what I could make out with my marker float it had made 7 a better swim. At the bottom of the island’s marginal shelf there was a firm silt gulley which screamed bite. Just to the left of it at the same distance in-line with the left-hand side of Swim 18 was a gravelly rise and beyond both silt and gravel areas was towering weed like a wall causing a patrol route from the open water to around the back of the island to where Dan was in 13 and the silty area where I’d seen most of the bubbling was like a cross roads between open water, weedbed and island which separated the shallower end of the lake.

Once all that was mapped out I did my usual and stuck to what was catching me fish at Pingewood: I cast two Hinge Rigs tight up against the weed, one on the gravel and the other on the silt then scattered about 40-50 freebies between the rods before settling down for my first night on the water.

That first evening was absolute bliss and the only person I spoke to was a bailiff checking my night booking number; he seemed like a nice chap and chatted for a while but didn’t seem to say much about the lake but asked a lot of questions about a mutual water we both had tickets for. Being a nice chap I gave him advice on how to fish that lake and thought I’d done a nice thing and maybe one day he might share some Mill secrets with me, although I did suspect that now I’d been seen, the word was out and I’d soon be receiving regular visits. Anyway, once the bailiff had gone I settled down for the night and woke early the next morning after an uneventful night. All I do remember about that night was how quiet it was, but I suppose anywhere would be after fishing next to the M4 near Reading!

As per usual the kettle went on and after wiping the sleep from my eyes I sat watching the water and half expecting the Yateley scenario of a no-show from Mr. Carp. By the time the first tea was downed, the fizzes started all round my rigs so I was well in the starting blocks and expecting a pick-up at any time. That pick-up never came and over the next hour I got well and truly mugged off by the Mill carp. After seeing what went on I thought that maybe pop-ups weren’t the ones so swapped over to bottom baits on D Rigs about midday and introduced about a kilo of red fishmeals.

Later on that afternoon a regular called Kel turned up and dropped in to Peg 2. After he’d set his kit up he popped down for a chat and openly told me he was going to put a lot of bait out and include some particle to get the grass carp in to hopefully encourage the carp to come in and feed. Kel also explained that his reason for doing this was because not many people heavily baited the water because it’s not the done thing and laughed about it.

“By the time the first tea was downed the fizzes started all round my rigs so I was well in the starting blocks and expecting a pick-up at any time.”

That evening a couple of what looked like regulars turned up, so I watch them, as you do, and I saw Kel was right and they all seemed to ‘spot fish’ with light leads and very little bait. Maybe they didn’t want to overfeed if they was doing work nights but I took note of their precision.

The following morning soon came around and like the morning before I was up early and watching my water as the overnight boys started packing up. No sooner were they driving out the gate the bubblers started and by God they fizzed like mad on me for hours but still no bite that morning.

Around mid-morning, Kel had a take and as predicted landed a grassy. Now I’m not too keen on grasses but I’m keen on good info so I took note and after I’d booked another night on the water I decided to fill my swim in with every bit of bait I had left and made up a spod mix from some pellets and particles I had in my car.

On the third morning in came the carp about 7am and up came the fizzers; the swim was alive with bubblers. About an hour passed and then whack, the bobbin hit the butt on the left-hand rod fished on the gravel. Straight away a powerful fish run me into the weed and this is where things went wrong for me due to the barbless hooks rule. Normally I’m patient with weeded fish so that’s the same stance I took but the Mill fish were clearly good at getting off barbless hooks and this was no exception. That session ended with no cigar but it made me want to come back and that’s exactly what I did do the following week rather than go back to Pinge.

Not only did I return the following week but I came loaded to the gunnels with bait and over the course of the next three nights I fired out 10kgs of red fishmeals boilies, 5kgs of pellets soaked in L030, several tins of salty hemp and crushed tigers, tuna and sweetcorn. Basically a kitchen sink job of everything carp like to eat and luckily the same swim was vacant again so happy days.

What went on from that session was another learning curve. My ever faithful D Rigs were fished as usual but the material I had been using started to let me down and I lost fish on the second and third morning due to snappages by the hook. This didn’t amuse me so I ditched the stuff and on my return home I rang Gardner Tackle’s Lewis Read to see what he suggested I use instead of Amnesia. Good ol’ Lewis invited me over and we went through several products and eventually settled on the unbreakable 30lb Mirage as a hooklink.

The following week I returned and all I did differently in the same swim was use Mirage. After baiting on the third evening I had a couple of visitors and during that social one of my rods ripped off and once again I got weeded. This fish didn’t want to budge so the bailiff arranged a boat to extract it. While waiting for that boat the other rod ripped off so then I had two weeded at the same time. Once the boat arrived, out we went but both fish had gone. I felt gutted by this and needed a very good excuse to put the spectators off the scent as the swim was clearly rocking. Luckily that excuse came in the shape of a cracked off Zig in the weed that one of my lost fish had buried into. With this I came up with a “it must have been a trailer” excuse and the chaps bought it. So with that blind thrown I managed to secure the same swim the following week!

Again, that turned into another week of learning. The baiting situation remained the same as I was getting the bites, all I had to do was fine-tune the rigs. Earlier on in that week I started receiving strange takes and bumped a couple of fish after realising I was getting thrown by riggy fish on slack lines. Tightening my lines up definitely helped but I still needed something else to bury the barbless hooks. The only answer to this was heavier 3oz leads. On the last night that’s what I did and just after dark on that evening, up cracked the left bobbin and I was in. Desperate not to let this fish weed me I bent my rod double and virtually dragged the attached fish over the 60yd of weed between my swim and spot then let it fight under the rod tip where I’d not been so lucky to get a fish to before. This all went well and after a fairly strange surface fight Dan netted a fish.

At first we half expected to see a grass carp as they are known to come in easily and fight under the tip, but no, it wasn’t a grassy, it was a large common carp and unbelievably one known as The Vicar. Now this was me getting even in a big way, as that fish wasn’t known to be too friendly and one many wanted. Maybe it was slightly spawned out at 36lb 8oz but I didn’t care, I was buzzing! Being high summer and early in the night it wasn’t a good idea to retain such an old fish so we did a few night shots and I soon had the rod walked out, clipped up and back in the game.

That night Dan and I sat up late buzzing and retired to our beds quite late but I couldn’t sleep after finally opening my account. Just as the light was breaking through and I was gazing across the misty surface, a big mirror showed in the weed at the back of my area. The bubble trail from that show headed straight to the right side of my baited area. Minutes later the fizzers started and the mallards arrived for their breakfast which was kicking up from the spot. Literally as they started picking the hemp shells off the surface, crack, the bobbin hit the butt again and I was in.

As before, I gave the fish the full bend of the rod to stop it weeding me and once again I won that part of the battle and soon gained line as the fish hit the surface and kited to my right and onto the shallows in front of Peg 8. I think the fish soon realised its mistake and headed out from the shallows to back in front of me which was really handy and I gained more line before finishing the battle under my rod tip and then netting what was clearly a large mirror.

On closer inspection I could see this was a fish Michael Owen had shown me a picture of the evening before known as Whiskers. Knowing this and the fact that it might go 40 I weighed her straight away but I needn’t have bothered because she was well spawned out and the needle settled at 39lb 4oz. Regardless of weight I didn’t really care as I’d pretty much braced two of the most sought after in a night and Dan had done me proud with the picture of both of them. This was all such a buzz at the time and now I had my method for feeding, hooking and landing them sorted and all I had to hope was that I could keep getting back in the same swim and milk it for every bite I could.

Like I said, weight isn’t that important to me but fortunately it was to others and after Taffs had been caught during the following weekend at just over 40lb most of the regulars lost interest. This played straight into Kel, Dan and my hands and pretty much every week for the next month or so we managed to get back in the same pegs and keep working that area of the lake.

The week that followed my brace was a bit of an interesting one. I don’t know whether it was sour grapes or nosey anglers, but one evening that week the bailiffs arrived like the SAS and demanded we all wound in both rods for a rig check. This did seem quite strange as in the rules it was a case of one rod that the bailiff could choose randomly. But whatever, it did me a favour! After the check, I recast my rod tight up against the weedbed at the back of my area which I was unable to do earlier in the day after the morning kick up had blocked me from making that cast. The result of the recast was a PB 27lb grass carp and The Little Golf Ball Common at 28lb 6oz at first light the following morning. Maybe it was the wrong thing to do but the next time I saw the bailiff I thanked them for the so-called rig check!

“The result of the recast was a PB 27lb grass carp and The Little Golf Ball Common at 28lb 6oz at first light the following morning.”

Funnily enough, the following week, after repeating the process of getting in the same swim and baiting it heavily before others started baiting up and pushing the fish towards me (an old Yateley trick), I managed a couple more bites. Unfortunately I lost one but the one I landed was one of the lake’s gems known as Two Scales. At the time of catching it, Dan and I didn’t know what fish it was so we asked one of the bailiffs. After he’d identified it, he clearly had the arse for some reason or another; maybe I was catching too many for his/their liking but that’s fishing. Live with it and if you’re going to try putting me off, I’ll just get more determined.

Well, with the spot/area still rocking and with Kel and Dan getting regular bites it was a case of keeping the momentum going and the following week we were all back; Kel managed to bag Taffs at a slightly heavier weight of 42lb+ so with us three being the heavier baiters it was clear that they were troughing what we were feeding them.

How it should be: carp anglers having fun
How it should be: carp anglers having fun

By the end of that week, just I was losing hope of my weekly bite and considering packing up, I noticed three small patches of pinprick bubblers on the gravelly side of the spot. Just as I sent a text to Kel to inform him, the tip bent over and I was doing battle with another carp. This fish managed to get tangled on my other line and when its mouth came out the water I not only clearly recognised it as belonging to The Parrot I could also see my other line in the gap of the barbless hook and looking like one head shake could result in another loss. Wasting no time, I shouted to Dan to come and help me. Good ol’ Dan did just that and eventually jumped in and netted the fish that I couldn’t get any closer to due to it towing the other line and weed. Like everything else that was being caught, she was down in weight at 34lb 8oz but who cares, I was going through them now and had to remain focused and that’s exactly what I did.

Sure enough, the following week I was back but I arrived a day later than Dan and Kel. Just as I started unloading my car I heard Kel’s buzzer and saw his line cut up from Peg 2. Like anyone would, I went up and helped out with this, his second capture of The Small Tailed Common, one I’d definitely wanted to catch one day and although I had slightly green eyes, I congratulated Kel. While this was going on a bailiff swung in the car park then drove out a few minutes later. At the time I didn’t think much about this but later that evening while settling down for the night that same bailiff suddenly appeared waving his book and looking narked at me. To say the least, this was phase two of hostilities towards me and I was being accused of all sorts which were really pathetic excuses to try and get rid of me. The way I saw it, after yet another weekend of gossiping, that bailiff had been wound up by the local clique that was trying desperately to keep the water a secret and they didn’t like me being on there catching the fish. Bit childish really, as it’s a local club water to me with a reputation for being difficult which puts many off anyway, and besides, everyone knew about it.

“I call it an old warrior because it had the roughest mouth I’d ever seen on a fish.”

Anyway, back to the story. That swim still kept giving and as mad as it sounds, after one very heavy bait up after trying to change the strategy from baiting each day with a 5kg mixture and catching on Fridays, I tried to speed up the bite times by a day or so and went in heavy from the off with 12kgs leaving 3kgs for top-ups. The result of that was The Silver Common within hours of doing so. I wasn’t taken in by that success and put in down to an unlucky fish picking up the hookbait first as I’d watched it start feeding only five minutes before.

The last bite from that swim came at the end of August and was my one and only true midnight bites, so I did a couple of self-takes, treated it and put the poor old warrior back. I call it an old warrior because it was and it had the roughest mouth I’d ever seen on a fish. Apparently it was known as The Long Fish and hadn’t been caught in a while. It did have mouth damage before but looking at it that night, it looked like the poor thing had been tethered for a while.

For whatever reason that swim suddenly died. You could surmise as to why, but I suspect it was down to the fact that it had suddenly become very popular. I was struggling to get back in it and some who were fishing it couldn’t handle the weed and raked it out so much it changed the area and the fish became wise to it.

I did try fishing around the pond for a bit and became interested in the deeper area behind the island from Pegs 21 to 23 where I’d heard them jump at night during low pressure. This area came alive one morning but unfortunately I wasn’t the angler in there that week and the one that was, caught Taffs at a better weight of 44lb+.
With that capture and seeing as my mate Mark Fisher had just bought the Frimley complex off CEMEX Angling, I decided to call it a day for the year and go and give Mark a hand with what was effectively my old stomping ground. As I said, things happen for a reason, as you’ll discover next month. This gets better…

The Unlucky Silver Common must have pretty much picked up the hookbait first
The Long Fish became my last fish from Mill in 2012

After spending three great years back over on the Frimley complex helping Mark Fisher change the place from a rundown fishery to a much better place for the fish, future and the members. I did fit in a lot of regular fishing time on both Pits 3 and 4 and had some excellent results catching several 40s, countless 30s and God knows how many 20s. This was all well and good but by late 2015 I started realising that I’d pretty much caught most of the big fish from the complex except for a couple of big commons and fullys. With this in mind I started to think more about making a return to Mill Lane in 2016 regardless if I caught those last few on my Frimley wish-list.

Early year target achieved
Nobody else wanted to bivvy up in it but I did

As I always do when considering taking on a campaign, I started plotting this move and planned to start looking after the Christmas break despite still catching consistently from Frimley in my hunt for The Big Fully. On the first Sunday afternoon after the Christmas break, half expecting it to be empty, I drove over to Mill Lane to reacquaint myself with the water. Despite having not fished it for a few years (being as it was local and a few of my mates had fished it during my absence), I was well aware that the fish had regained their weights after the 2012 spawning and hadn’t spawned since. From what I knew, Taffs had been caught at weights up to just shy of 55lb and Whiskers had also been out at over 50lb in 2014, not to mention the rest of the backup stock which is incredible for a small water. As you’d expect I was buzzing on the short journey!

On opening the gate I was a tad shocked to see a few motors parked up and temporarily felt a little deflated as I thought I could have had a sneaky look around and not get noticed. This wasn’t to be the case though, so with hood up and glasses on I got out of my car and walked up to the water’s edge in Swim 3. As I gazed across the lake for the first time in a few years I worked out why there were a few cars parked up when I saw two blokes in a boat rowing across the lake and a group of lads appearing to be doing some work on the far bank. Great I thought, the bailiffs are having a work party and from my previous experiences with them I wasn’t too keen on having a chat but I was still going to walk the water regardless of former hostilities.

On my way round anti-clockwise (the opposite way to which the boat went) I stopped for a good look in each swim until I got to The Slope (Peg 13). Whilst standing there for the standard scan I noticed several bubbles coming up and by the way they were moving around, they definitely weren’t gas bubbles. To me they looked very similar to the way the fish at Frimley had been bubbling in the dead weedbeds so naturally I was excited by this and immediately started lining up this area of bubblers from several different swims around that corner of the lake to Peg 16.

Celebrations and socials were over and it was time to focus on the fire in my belly

After spending a good amount of a short winter afternoon in that area I noticed the boat making its way back up the lake to where the rest of the bailiffs were working in Peg 18 so decided to move on and go for a look at the other end of the lake. As I walked past the group of bailiffs in 18 I didn’t recognise any of them and a couple started chatting to me. They actually seemed quite pleasant and as the boat went past I got a better look at the two sailors. One was Ben Hamilton and the other was young Dave who I believed had just taken over as head bailiff. This was all a bit of a relief for me as I felt like all the former, more hostile team had gone and it may well be a happier place to fish that year.

I didn’t stop to talk for too long as I wanted to look up the other end to see if there were signs of fish being disturbed by the boating around as that’s what I believe had stirred the fish in and around the 13 to 16 area. Not long after standing in 27, I again started seeing several pinprick bubbles moving around out in the open water so I assumed the boat had disturbed a few fish from their winter slumbers. Whether they had moved the fish to the central area after pruning prep around the edges or whether they were just in those areas of bubbling I don’t know, but one thing was for sure, I was buzzed up by this and didn’t want to leave until it was too dark to see anything.

“I was thinking about nothing else other than fishing for a PB mirror on Mill again, so something there definitely happened for a reason.”

Just as the light began to fail, a young lad came pushing his barrow through the mud, beelining for Swim 26 so rather than get into a conversation I moved on and went back to the 13-16 corner for another look. Whilst walking that corner, younger Dave (the new head bailiff) was just tidying up on his own so I gave him a quick hand and he repaid me by making a tea back in his swim which was in Peg 5. Although I knew Dave from the past, I didn’t let on I was intending on fishing the lake again and just said I fancied a walk around a different lake. To my surprise he was very welcoming and encouraged me to return but little did he know the bubblers had already done that!

I went away from Mill that evening already buzzing and found myself back there the next morning, then the next and the next! In fact, the only morning I missed was the Thursday morning because I’d planned to fish Frimley that day with my mate Danny so had to prep my gear and get over there to get the swim I’d been concentrating on all winter.

Anyway, like I said last month, ‘things happen for a reason’ and not long after getting sorted and settled for the night I had a very timid bite which I hit into. After a fairly good battle at range, I finally got the fish close and in our torch lights both Dan and I could see what I’d got attached to and a few minutes later, after a bit of panic with the net and weed, I got my main target fish, The Big Fully, and at a weight I wanted: 40lb 8oz. Obviously I was blown away and after a low-twenty common brought me down to earth a couple of hours later, I realised the capture of The Big Fully was distraction over and the rocket fuel I needed to get my year and campaign on Mill underway.

Being the first week of January I was so excited for the year ahead and after packing up from that session I was thinking about nothing else other than fishing for a PB mirror on Mill again, so something there definitely happened for a reason.

Two bites on Hinge Rigs told me it wasn’t all about the Zigs

Pretty much every day from that day on until the end of February I walked Mill at dawn, in the evenings, in the dark, and every different type of weather we had, just to get the feel for the place and get in touch with it again. I did do a bit more sociable fishing on Frimley catching fish up to 36lb but my head wasn’t there, it was on Mill.

During those countless visits I found signs of fish regularly, some even boshing clear of the water in the two areas I mentioned earlier and and when there were big lows I found the fish seemed to move and favour areas between 3 and 18 or around the deeps between 21 and 23. Amazingly, during countless hours of walking and looking, I never saw anyone and liked it that way but around the middle to the end of February I saw a few anglers turning up and bumped into Ben H. Still not asking too many questions and just doing my own thing, I learned my old mate Jamie had had a couple of commons out on Zigs so that would explain the sudden increase in numbers, so I knew the time had come to stop walking and start fishing.

“I started setting up in the pure mud to Pete’s surprise and I think he felt a tad sorry for me and supplied more teas as I made the swim as comfortable as I could.”

My first planned session was to be at the beginning of March and from my own observations and by looking at the weather I knew where I wanted to be and that was either in Pegs 3 or 18. As mad as this sounds I’d normally get to the lake at dawn but the weather was that awful and as I didn’t expect anyone to be there I thought I’d rock up late morning and set-up in one of those swims slowly so as not to have a mare on my first session back on the water.

Well (of all the best laid plans) as I arrived and swung that gate open I could see that not one but both of my choices of swims were taken. Bugger I thought and after walking in to see the angler in 3 I muttered ‘double bugger’ as he, a chap I knew from old, was only just setting up so my laziness had caused me to miss the boat. Whilst chatting and drinking a tea Pete had made me, it transpired the angler in 18 had been there all night so I’d have missed out on that swim anyway. And judging by the squalid weather and Northwest wind battering that side I’m pleased I had missed it.

While chatting to Pete, the gate opened again and another chap, Craig, who I hadn’t seen in a long while drove in. As soon as Craig saw me he came over and pretty much immediately asked if I was fishing. As soon as I replied, “Yes” he shotgunned Peg 7, probably because he thought I wanted to go in there and relive the summer of 2012. This wasn’t the case and I actually didn’t mind that swim being claimed. To me, this reminded me of what’s involved with fishing club waters so I switched into that mode.

Horrendous conditions for photos but I didn’t care. The Baby Rudder at 34lb
My old friend Whiskers paid me a visit and became my new PB mirror after nigh-on 20 years since catching Bazil from the neighbouring North Lake

Whilst chatting to Pete and Craig I saw a fish roll in front of Peg 2. Luckily Craig had his back to the water so he didn’t see it and with the weather being so horrible I was keen to go and set-up. Literally a minute later he shot off and just as he did another fish rolled on the same spot, out long from Peg 2. As it showed, both Pete and I said at the same time, “That’s the second time that’s shown” and we both ran up to Peg 2 to line it up. As my main choices had gone and with the lake clearly getting busier and fish showing in a vacant swim not far from where I’d originally fancied, I took the option to jump in the muddy Swim 2 which clearly hadn’t been fished in a long while.

After unloading my gear into the slop, I started setting up in the pure mud to Pete’s surprise and I think he felt a tad sorry for me and supplied more teas as I made the swim as comfortable as I could. Once all was set-up and ready to go, Pete voiced his shock at my willingness to fish Hinge Rigs and not Zigs. My explanation was I’d been catching well on them all winter, the pressure was low and with everyone else fishing Zigs since Jamie’s result two weeks earlier with no bites, I said I’d do something different. That said, I did say if bites do come to the Zigs I’ll be happy to follow suit but until such times I wouldn’t.

After talking up my approach and both Pete and I wanting to see what the fish had shown over I cast one rod bang-on where the fish had shown and after a clear descent through the water the lead cracked down with a double donk on something hard. Like I always do, I clipped where my finger was on the rim of the spool, counted ten and then wound the rod in to check how clean the area was. On retrieving the rig it was cleaner than I’d cast it from the muddy peg so after checking the hook point was still good, out it went again, landing bang-on the money, so I left it there and sunk the line before settling the rod. The next rod was cast just to the right of the last in-line with Peg 19 at the same distance.

I stuck with what I knew - The Hinged Stiff Rig

As we all know, casting singles at showing fish in early March can be deadly but I did want to put some freebies out to get the fish searching out bait as nobody else appeared to be feeding the lake at this point. Being as I’d cast at showing fish and several gulls were marking me, I opted to leave the baiting until dusk when they’d gone to hassle other anglers on the neighbouring Yateley complex. During that afternoon, Jamie Smith turned up and headed off to Peg 16 as he fancied fishing on the end of the wind.

As always, a first night of a campaign results in massive anticipation so after baiting up on dusk and filling my gut with food, I tried to retire and get some sleep but I was buzzing too much and hardly got any sleep. During that night I heard Jamie’s Neville going off, then a short while later there were lots of torch light and goings on but no camera flash. He’d clearly had something but didn’t photograph it which was a surprise as knowing Jamie he hates bad fish care and would never retain a fish. Anyway, something had gone on over there and led me to believe that maybe my four casts and light scattering of bait with a stick had moved the fish to that area.

God knows what time it was but I finally drifted off to sleep but I completely missed my first dawn back on Mill. This had me beating myself up for being lazy and being as it was hammering it down and muddier than ever, I just sat cross-legged on my bedchair feeling a tad deflated until I saw a fish roll over my bait mid-morning. This upped my confidence a tad so more tea drinking commenced and my eyes didn’t leave the spot.

The Football Common ended that roll and I wonder what might have been had I been allowed to fish another night

Just after 10am the left-hand rod pulled up tight, held, and then the line started cutting up through the water whilst holding on the clip. At first I watched but as soon as the clip pulled and knowing there were no birds diving I reacted to this and bent into whatever had clearly shifted my 3oz lead.

On doing this I felt a fish pulling gently, and I suspected a grass carp. It flat rodded me not once but three times, then on a long line started kiting right towards Pete’s Zigs. This had me in panic mode so I piled on the pressure and started to gain line as quick as I could. Luckily the fish stayed high in the water, went over my right rod and didn’t hit either of Pete’s Zigs and then when it got on a shorter line buried itself in a weedbed between us. Knowing how Mill carp tend to roll off barbless hooks in the weed, I was having none of this so trusting my tackle I gave it the butt and kept things moving in my favour and eventually netted a ball of weed with a big carp in it. As soon as I had the fish netted, I got Pete and Jamie round as they’d seen the going on was whilst packing up.

The weather was that bad that to photograph and film this fish known as The Baby Rudder we needed to set Jamie’s bivvy up to keep all the cameras dry. Despite our best efforts, the pics didn’t come out that great but that’s all part of it and after catching a 34-pounder on my first night in four years I didn’t really care - I was over the moon!

After the usual celebrations were over and I was left on my own again, I clipped and wound in my other rod. Once in I got out my wrapping sticks to measure the distance of the casts I’d put in the day before. Once measured at 18.25 wraps, I clipped up both rods, re-baited them and sent them both back out to the same zone but that left-hand rod in-line with the right-hand side of a small tuft of reeds between 19 and 20 went down with that same double donk, bang-on the money. The rest of that day was spent following suit to the previous day and once I’d scattered some more freebies around and eaten, I vowed to get up early and watch the next dawn.

God only knows why, but that didn’t happen either and I overslept and pretty much didn’t see anything throughout that second full day so the only main event was freshly baiting my rigs with dark pop-ups then scattering a few visual freebies at dusk.

Just as the night before, after a few visitors had finished slopping around in my muddy swim I got in my bag, this time setting an alarm to ensure I got up early.

I was actually pleased to see The Pearly Lin roll after several moments of panic during an epic scrap
The grass carp were partly to blame for the bites drying up in Peg 2

The next morning I managed this and sat drinking a tea whilst watching the light come in on a dry and frosty morning. Not long after it was fully light and the second tea had been made, I was again sat cross-legged on my bed with eyes fixed on my area when the left-hand rod pulled up tight again. Just as with the last bite, I was on it when the clip pinged because no birds were present in the area. Straightaway I was met with a dead weight holding its ground, just swaying from one side to another and sending up bubbles to the flat calm surface.

After a short while the attached fish seemed to change tactics and like the last fish it kited right. Again, I panicked about Pete’s Zigs and even more so as this fish stayed deep until it got in front of where I thought Pete was still fishing, then came up in the water and rolled, then started to almost give up and come my way until it was in close. Then, after rolling again and showing what was clearly a much wide set of shoulders as the fish two days earlier, it dropped down and made a few last ditch attempts at rubbing the hook out from its mouth in the margins before blowing its tanks and giving up.

Initially once in the net, due to its size and colour, I thought it was The Parrot which I’d caught in 2012, and knowing my mate Jon Mac had caught that fish during the winter at 45lb+ I geared my head up for this and assembled all the necessary ready for weighing and retaining for a few moments before photography. It wasn’t until I lifted this fish clear of the water that I thought, ‘jeez, this feels heavy’! and realised it had to be a different fish.

Obviously a planned attack on my car

Once on the mat and with the net clear of it, I could see from the size of its barbs and flat top to its tail that it wasn’t The Parrot at all, it was Whiskers. At that point I never thought about weight but could see she was huge. Burghfield Dan had come around by now and couldn’t help with the weighing but with the aid of a tree, the needle settled on 50lb 8oz - a new PB mirror for me after nearly 20 years of trying since my capture of Bazil from the neighbouring North lake.

Was I buzzing? Yes I sure bloody was! So much so that I gently lowered the retainer in the margins and rung Jamie up to come and help out photographing this beast. Luckily another clued up angler appeared and with Craig being there as well we had more than enough hands on deck to look after such a fish and share a great moment. I packed up later that day and as you can imagine rode on that cloud of a great entrance for a good few weeks.

Over the next few weeks the lake did get a bit busier but that was to be expected and to get back in that swim again I had to keep my ear to the ground and time my sessions, as the muddy Peg 2 seemed to be getting a little bit popular again.

“If I said I wasn’t crapping myself I’d have been lying. This fish was going mental and being on a roll I was thinking this could be a fish called Taffs.”

Funnily enough, after catching those two fish, the next time Pete saw me he said Peg 2 is a very good swim but it only seems to do one hit of fish per month and you can spend the other three weeks wasting your time. A lot of people think Pete talks crap because he doesn’t seem to catch much but one thing’s for sure, is very observant and he was right. In fact, the only action I’d had was possibly foul-hooking The Vicar on a Zig during a period mid-March when Jamie and Lee Petty were effectively smacking them on Zigs.

After several follow-up sessions, my next hit of fish from that peg came at the end of March during a 48hr session, just as Storm Katie was blowing out. I arrived at dawn as the trees were breaking and dived straight in Peg 2 after seeing it was empty the evening before.

Normally on a pressured water when others are fishing through bite times I wouldn’t cast out but being as it was so windy and fish were rolling over the spot I’d caught the previous two from, I risked a couple of casts. The first was the banker rod which flew straight and I got that double donk. The second rod I opted to cast left as nobody was in Peg 40 and there was another Pete fishing in Peg 3 so I thought I’d practise some etiquette and cast away from him and didn’t bait up, just relied on singles for the day until the dusk bait-up time.

The Notch Tail Common fell minutes after getting the Zig right. It’s a shame things took a downwards spiral soon after

Not long after making those casts, Chris and Scott turned up and as I made the teas, the banker rod which was on the right of the set-up, pulled up tight and then dropped back before pulling up tight again so I hit it. Once again the rod took up its curve and a carp was on. Pretty much a standard battles followed and the fish did the usual kite right then a bit under the tip before being safely netted by Chris.

On inspection this wasn’t just any common - it was one I really wanted called The Small Tailed Common and weighed in at 39lb 4oz. I was well happy as it’s effectively a PB Yateley common for me and I had some good photographers to capture the moment.

The action didn’t stop there on that 48hr session as late the next morning, just as I thought bite time had passed, Byron turned up for a tea and like the day before, just as the kettle was boiling, up went the bobbin and a fish was hooked. This time the fish powered left and flat rodded me several times. If I said I wasn’t crapping myself I’d have been lying. This fish was going mental and being on a roll I was thinking this could be a fish called Taffs. When I saw it roll in the edge and it clearly wasn’t Taffs I was actually relieved. Byron wasn’t though, it was one he wanted to catch known as The Pearly Linear. This fish went 38lb 8oz on the scales and I recognised it as one Jamie had caught on a Zig that we were told was Baby PAC Man but I trusted Byron’s identification skills more as he knew these fish so well.

Storm Katie gifted me The Small Tailed Common at 39lb+ and a PB Yateley common to boot

After repeating the process as I’d done every night in that swim, the following morning that banker rod did another bite and after a good marginal battle I caught another common I’d not caught before known as The Big Football at 34lb+. Unfortunately though, due to some silly rule, the lake closes for the last day of March so I had to pack up begrudgingly that night and that for me wasn’t just the end of that ticket, it was the end of that roll of fish from Peg 2. I did lose a decent fish from that swim the following week but after the new tickets had started, more anglers turned up and the swim becoming increasingly more popular and as more bait went in it, the grassies started to became a pain in the arse at night and like the mud did, the carp bites seemed to dry up for me in there.

My last capture from Mill in 2016 came from Swim 18 on a Zig minutes after casting one out after getting my depths right. That was the fish known as The Notch Tailed Common at just under 37lb and a Zig PB for me. With all the weed growing in the lake at that stage I was happy to have caught on a Zig but didn’t think it was a good idea to persist in the use of them whilst targeting another 50-pounder.

I had a few plans which were set back by Dan’s repeat capture of Taffs from Peg 21 but I carried on putting these into place until the end of July when some cowardly scumbag decided to sneak in at night and do all my tyres in the side wall with a dart. Obviously someone who has done this before as he knows darts let them down quietly and slowly. That night there were 17 anglers on the lake and I wasn’t the only “high profile” angler fishing. The other one didn’t have his tyres done and when we all found out about this the next morning, only two anglers offered help while the others remained “carpy”! It’s at times like this that you realise who your mates are on a water and I learned a lot about the others who I’d made tea for in the past and carried on that knowledge to my return early this year.

Unfortunately something wasn’t quite right about the lake and the bites were very few and far between. There was clearly something wrong with the once tap clear weedy water - it now had an algae bloom and no weed, and the fish started dying but nobody wanted to report it until the worst thing that could happen, happened: Taffs died, the biggest fish ever to swim in a Yateley water. A very sad day and although I failed to catch it, a few others I didn’t catch still remain.

However, out of respect for a few anglers trying to catch Whiskers I won’t return as that fish seems to like my methods. I even hooked her this year but she won that battle this time but I’ll give her that and my best wishes for the future. Hopefully she’ll take the Yateley record.