Terry Hearn: Trust Your Instinct
Terry reveals how he outwitted a rarely-caught mirror using his Flipper Rig
What a summer we’ve just had! Apparently the joint hottest on record, on par with the famous sizzler of ‘76. Scorched brown grass, dry dusty banks and dropping water levels were the norm all over. In fact, thinking about it, I don’t even remember putting a brolly up between the first week in June and the end of July, which has got to be the longest period I’ve ever done beneath the stars. Saying that, even if it had rained I wouldn’t have had far to move before making cover, as most of my trips through the heatwave were spent concentrating on one corner of a sizeable pit, right alongside a series of huge pipes going beneath a motorway. My base camp happened to be just outside the entrance to the first pipe, beneath the welcoming shade of weeping willows and in a spot which, due to the breeze blowing through the tunnels, quite literally felt like it was air-conditioned. It was comfortable, and when the temperatures are regularly topping 30şC that can be the difference between staying put or running for cover.
Of course, there was more to that corner than comfort. I’d seen the bigger fish feeding there on countless occasions, but they weren’t always predictable, regularly turning up in conditions when I’d least expect them. Bright and warm with a nice gentle breeze pushing up the other end, and bizarrely they’d turn up right in front of me off the back of it. Exact same conditions the next day and they wouldn’t. That sort of thing, random to the point that I was scared to leave that corner, as every time I did those carp would turn up and feed on ground that only hours earlier I’d had traps set on. And you know what it’s like quickly moving and trying to get rigs in when the fish are already there and feeding, far from ideal, especially as lowering onto the best snuffle spot required a step or two out into the lake. Ideally I needed to be ahead of them, but although I knew the most likely conditions for them to turn up in was a sunny afternoon on the end of a fresh southwesterly, I’d also learnt that they had a tendency to turn up unexpectedly, in more unusual conditions and at more unusual times.
There was one particular spot in the margins where the big fish really liked to feed. Maybe it was were the naturals gathered most, or maybe the make-up/mineral content of the bottom there was different, as in past years it’s where the main flow of water would have come through from another working pit just the other side of the motorway. Whatever the reason, they just loved that strip of rocky, rubble-covered margin. Early on I’ve no doubt the main attraction were the pipes themselves, as they’d need to travel through those to get to the pit the other side of the motorway, which I suspect is the old spawning grounds. But even much later in the summer and with water levels way, way down, that piece of margin still acted like a carp magnet. It was clearly somewhere they went to feed, and I’m talking the big fish too.
Early on I’d seen most of the residents there, but as spring turned to summer there appeared to be no more than half-a-dozen different fish visiting that corner, and amongst them were the largest three. When you’ve seen the fish you want most feeding on the exact same square foot of bottom, not just once, but three or four times, it’s a gift. The important thing is recognising it. There were also regular displays in the open most dawns, but by this point they were a distraction that I was trying not to act on. Twenty-five-plus acres of water. That’s a lot of bottom, but I already knew of one little square foot in the edge were it seemed that not a week would go by without that dark old mirror’s lips browsing across it, even if only for a few seconds. Fishing blind in the open water I might have had to catch ten or more to get through to the one I was hoping for, whereas along that pipes margin I knew there was a strong chance of the right one slipping up inside two or three takes. My mind was set, it was ‘tunnel vision’ in every sense.
Due to how random they could be in whenever they turned up, indifferent to whatever the wind was doing, there were very few occasions when I felt I could completely rule out that corner, that meant there were lengthy periods where it was a waiting game. That’s what made it frustrating, not being able to predict. The chances were often short lived too. A couple of days without a carp coming anywhere near me, and then an intense hour or so where they’d arrive, smash up the bottom, and then bugger off again for a day or two… or three… there was no telling, but one thing for sure, they’d always be back. I’d just be left there with my head in my hands puzzled as to how on earth I’d not caught one, and wondering how long it would be before I got another opportunity.
I lost track of the amount of times I’d timed things right and got a trap set before they’d even arrived, and then everything would go to plan and they’d turn up, and I’d sit back as confident as could be, absolutely certain that it wouldn’t be long before a buzzer broke the silence, yet time and time again they’d feed either side of me and get away with it. It got to the point where whenever that feeling of confidence swept over me, it’d then quickly be followed by a feeling of de-ja-vu, and I’d know what was about to happen… absolutely nothing!
Mega carp, mega moment
In such circumstances it’d be easy to think that maybe the rigs were at fault, but I could see that it wasn’t a rig problem, they’d have to be eating the free offerings and taking the hookbait into their mouths for that. No, these weren’t getting to that stage, instead they’d avoid the baited spot and feed on the naturals either side. The naturals were what it was all about in that corner… and pretty much every other corner come to think of it. At the time the margins was literally crawling with life and so they had little reason to feed on bait.
If anything they were ‘trappy’ not ‘riggy’, regularly flinching away from a patch of bait. Even half a handful of hemp with half-a-dozen chewed up tigers around it appeared to be too much in the clear, shallow water. However, the same, small amount of bait sowed left and right over a much larger area, just the lightest of dustings, with a single hookbait lowered onto the best looking spot, and then they seemed happier to drop. That’s how the first one from that corner slipped up, only an upper-double common, but after all the close encounters it came as a welcome prize. It came at an unusual time too, first light, and I was lucky enough to watch it sneak in before dropping down and nailing itself almost straight away.
Even after catching that common it was hard to resist sprinkling at least a few grains tight around the hookbait, and on my next trip I’d given into temptation on the last two or three of my lower-ins, but was kind of regretting it. You know what it’s like when fishing right in the edge, if it’s not eaten then even small amounts can soon build up. All the time I was fishing that shallow corner I’d do my best to keep the swans away, forever on guard, but after going for a stroll round, I’d looked back across the pit to my corner and noticed that the resident swans were up-ended on the spot. This time round I was quite happy to let them clear it out, and I remember thinking it could well turn into a blessing in disguise.
I saw the big mirror sunning itself on that same walkabout, down my end of the pit but in a bay closest the car park. I’d already learnt that whenever they used that bay, they also liked to use my corner, and so I trotted back to my swim to get my trap reset. It took a while for the swans to bugger off and the water to clear, but when it did it looked really good, nicely turned over. The swans had dusted off a new patch of fine gravel amongst the silt, just a foot or two further out than I’d been fishing, right alongside a few strands of lush green weed growing up from the bottom. To be honest, all of the bottom around there looked good, but that bit just looked extra good. I took another step forward in the waders and lowered in, watching as the hookbait settled exactly where I wanted it. I could see that the lead was sat upright, so I took a couple of steps back, held the tip down low and gave the line a little tweak, just enough to get the lead and leader to lay flat, and it was trap set. The freebies stayed in the bait bucket that night, nothing went in around it at all. If a carp wanted a snack then there was only the one available, and that had a sharp hook attached to it.
Because of the birdlife I’d got into the habit of getting up early, and so my alarm was set for 5am. As it happened I woke to a much nicer alarm call ten minutes early, but my first thoughts upon hearing the warble of the sounder box were those darn swans. Over previous trips they’d got me on a couple of occasions, but in the seconds that it took to slip into my trainers I’d quickly changed my mind. It was too consistent, too steady a run. As I rushed round the corner to where my rod was poking through the foliage I could see that the line was out of the clip, lifted high and tight, and not a swan in sight. The clutch was still slowly ticking as I picked up the rod, and for the first few seconds there was just a heavy thumping, with me gaining line between each lunge. I played it on my knees to begin with, as the willows overhung by quite a way and I was trying my best to keep the main line free of the trailers. It was clearly a carp, but it didn’t seem to have taken that much line on the run, and in all honesty it was coming in pretty easily.
Before I knew it the leadcore was breaking surface, and so I quickly shuffled forward, keeping up the tension before dropping down the bank a level to where it was easier to lift the rod. At that moment a black back and an angry dorsal broke the surface just a few feet out. Straight away I knew exactly which fish it was, and heart in mouth I hurriedly kicked of my shoes before taking a couple of strides out into the lake with the net, scooping it up before it even had a chance to know what was going on.
It was all over incredibly quick. It seemed like one minute I was asleep, and the next I was rubbing my eyes and looking at a big chocolate coloured mirror in the net! It was the prize I’d been hoping for since starting on the pit back in April, and I rolled it over, marvelling at its dark back and aged mottled tones. Mega carp, mega moment, and the reason I still love it after all these years. There’s little point in me going into too much detail, as with any luck, by the time you read this the film should already be out.
Sticking to a plan
What I learnt from my time there was to stay confident and trust in what you’re doing. Have a plan and stick to it. When I look back there were so many distractions making it tempting to move elsewhere around the pit, and there were plenty of occasions when I did, although never for very long. The thing is, whenever I was fishing elsewhere I’d look back across the pit to that pipes corner and my ‘big chocolate mirror gauge’ would be reading hot, whilst wherever I’d moved to would be reading cool. It was the place to be, I just had to stick to the plan and trust in instinct.
The other thing I stuck to was my presentation. That was something I never had any doubts about. I’ve got so much confidence in those Flipper Rigs that nowadays, so long as it’s clean ground, I struggle to use anything else. It’s my current ‘go-to’, and whereas years ago I’d use pop-ups for everything I could, only using bottom baits whenever I felt that it was too clean for a pop-up; now it seems to be the other way round and I only ever use pop-ups when it’s definitely too weedy for a bottom bait. Logically that’s how it should be I know, but boy, nobody can ever deny that those old Hinge and Chod Rigs had a habit of picking up the big fella’s, and in the right place at the right time they always will.
The Flipper Rig
I’m sure that a ‘how to tie the Flipper’ piece has already been shown before, but I might have one or two tips regarding Hair length that’ll help some anglers out.
To begin with, Hair length is obviously going to be dependant on bait size and type, but for the most part I like it to be around seven or eight millimetres. That’s the length I find most effective when fishing with 15mm boilies or a couple of small tigers, but if using a bulkier hookbait such as a 20mm boilie, then I like a bit more clearance and I tend to lengthen it by another millimetre or two. So long as the hook turns effectively every time you pull the rig across your palm, with the hook righting itself fully into the upright position for maximum penetration, no sideways shallow hooking business, then it should be fine. Not all hooks are ideal for the job, it seems dependant on both gape and shank length, but I find the size 5 Drennan Barbel hooks to be bang-on, and if I want something a little stronger then the Cryogen Classic in a size four is also a winner.
With a lot of bottom bait rigs the Hair might benefit from being a bit longer than what I’ve just recommended, but it’s not quite the same with the Flipper, as its the weight of the actual hookbait that is helping the hook to turn, and I’m not sure that it’d be beneficial to separate them by too much. I just go by how well something’s working, and if it’s not broken then I leave it be.
I tend to tie up several rigs at a time, and I often start off by tying the Hairs a touch too long. Only a tiny bit, just in case the two tigers I’ve just picked out for hookers add up to being a tad longer than the previous two. If necessary a little slack in the Hair can quickly be taken up by following the Hair around the contours of the hook’s bend, which is just fine when lowering into the edge, or from a boat. In fact, this way, I quite like the extra length and separation of hook and hookbait once I’m playing a fish.
Obviously, bear in mind that for casting out any distance the Hair is likely to slip off the bend, lengthening it a bit, and so in that case I simply fish it the normal way with the Hair cutting across the gape, and I simply tie an extra Granny Knot in the Hair tie to pick up the slack, shortening it back to the right length in the process. All pretty common sense stuff.
Keep catching ‘em.