The Glorious Sixteenth
Gaz Fareham muses on the old close season and what it meant to him personally, before recalling some captures that came either side of the enforced lay-off…
As a child of the ’80s, the close season was a big part of my angling experience growing up, and love it or hate it, it undoubtedly sharpened the resolve and focussed you in a way that perhaps, is almost completely lost on so many waters now. You can’t really talk about June 16, without also mentioning March 14, as the two are inextricably linked. Each year, it was always the same: winter would drag on in a haze of frozen mornings, static indicators and bleak, dreary days where time seemingly stood still for four months. Come late February though, there was always a whisper of change in the air. There were the first few shoots of green, snowdrops and daffodils, and a tangible sense that spring was just around the corner. Maybe you’d see the first show since November and a glimmer of hope would be offered up as the low light caught the flank of a golden mirror cleaning itself off. You’d rub your eyes to make sure it wasn’t a mirage. After months of inactivity, the first one out would always be a major occurrence and big news on the grapevine, especially on the difficult waters that shut up shop in October or November. Two weeks later, approaching mid-March, you were counting the days down on the calendar until the end, squeezing in every extra night you could, and pulling out the stops to get yourself in the right area for a chance of a bite from the localised carp.
There was always the sense of a timer ticking down towards March 14, and as frustrating as that was, there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever, that it made it all the more exciting. Roll on through for 12 months of the year and being able to fish whenever you want, and where is the sense of anticipation and drama in that? Where is the time for reflection, for prep work and baiting, or looking and leading? It doesn’t exist now on most places; it just rolls on through week after week…
I know I’m probably well in the minority, but I would bring the close season back tomorrow if I could, just with adjusted dates and probably to run from early May to mid-July or something similar. I’d do it for two reasons: not just for the romantic notion and excitement that the close season brought, but because I think the carp themselves deserve a rest and would benefit from not getting a battering each year through May and June in the run-up to spawning. How detrimental captures are to our quarry exactly, is debatable, but I can’t help but feel that around the stressful time of spawning, it would just be nice to give them some respite. Arguably, the pressure they come under isn’t an issue on the bigger, lower stock lakes or wilder places, but they’re in the minority these days, and on the circuit waters and day-ticket venues they take a beating in the spring and get very little rest.
Thankfully, some venues do close at the first signs of spawning at the discretion of the club or relevant management, but many are left to the morals and ethics of the anglers themselves, and too many times I have seen people fish on greedily and selfishly for carp that are clearly about to spawn. In my eyes, you might as well just shoot them in a barrel.
Some of my most vivid and treasured carp fishing memories revolve around the beginning and end of fishing seasons, and there is something beautiful about the closure that the break offered to the cycle of the carp-fishing year for me. Within a few weeks, waters that had been quiet all winter would see the carp up in the shallows again, leaping around like salmon and behaving normally once more. That was partly the seasonal change, but I believe it was also massively influenced by the sudden lack of angler-pressure. Carp that you couldn’t get close to for nine months of the year would suddenly be feeding happily right in the edges under your feet. I have countless memories of creeping around lakes in the close season, climbing trees, shimmying out on branches and gazing longingly at fish I dearly wanted to catch, just feet below me.
On many waters, access would be banned during the closure as well, so the clandestine nature of such observational missions would add to the drama no end…. parking in public lay-bys, taking back routes in etc. Baiting up was the same, and I have done many an after-dark bait-up during the close season on waters where strictly, it wasn’t allowed. Prep work like that is often a bit of an act of faith, but for me it was one of the most exciting parts of the game. Midnight missions with rucksacks full of bait, a stick or a catty, without torches, listening to them slosh out in the darkness in front of you, knowing full well that they’d be ploughing the bait down come the early hours, was always one of the best feelings. Each trip would just turn up the dial of expectancy for June 16, one more notch.
On waters where access is allowed, time spent on reconnaissance can be some of the most valuable you might ever devote to a water, especially on those where spots are localised and the weed is heavy. Over the years, I have spent considerable time driving up and down the country during the closed period to prep for June 16, or the June 1 as it has been at some waters… like Bournemouth to Yateley every week after dark to bait the Car Park Lake. The longest though, was the 320-mile round trip from Manchester to Swindon for 6 weeks one year, every week religiously, to bait the Park Lake. Looking back, most of my best results over the years have come off the back of prep work and some baiting. They weren’t always immediate in that opening week, but the baiting and prep almost always paid dividends.
June 16 itself was often somewhat anticlimactic. After three months of peace, the pressure was often too much for them, and it would sometimes take a week or two to settle in. Sometimes it wouldn’t, and you would realise your season’s dream within a few days, but the buzz, drama and opening night party almost always made up for that.
For me, catching carp is just one little bit of the whole game. Without the rest of the drama - the waiting, the romance and the nervous anticipation - it loses a lot of its beauty for me. Long live June 16: the most glorious date in the carp angler’s calendar!
A FEW NOTABLE ENDS AND BEGINNINGS…
MARCH 1998 - REDESMERE
After an entirely blank winter for everyone, Rob Gillespie drew first blood with the Capesthorne Linear in late February when it was still quiet, with an inspired bit of angling. The next two weeks saw a huge amount of pressure as everyone turned up hoping for a last-ditch bite. I’d plugged away all winter that year and thankfully I managed one of the 4 bites that came before the March 14, landing a 20lb common. I let a mate double-up with me as it was so busy, and he had one of the classic Mere fish the following day: the Little Linear. There was just one more bite before the end: Snub, the big common.
JUNE 16, 1999 - REDESMERE
I came out fifth and sixth that year in the draw. Gav had come out first and had chosen Bluebells, a classic opening night swim which covered the shallow water in front of the Neck and the yacht club. With the 48hr limit on swim occupation, I got Gav to pencil me in for the second couple of nights. It proved to be the best decision I made during my time on there.
After a few heavy nights with the boys to see the season in, I moved into Bluebells behind Gav, having a massive disaster with both rods and a yacht late in the afternoon. I then got both rods out perfectly, tucked up tight to the huge expanse of weed. At some point in the night, one melted off, and after a savage ruck in the weed in the pitch black without a torch, a bedchair-sized raft of weed above the leadcore and a bundled netting, I ran my hand down the flank of the North West’s biggest common. As it sat in the net, the hook opened out so far I have no idea how it stayed in… season made on night three!
JUNE 16, 2006 - COATE WATER
After six weeks of huge round trips from Manchester to bait up, and weeks spent watching them ploughing the bait down, June 16 itself was a disaster. I arrived late two days before and camped the first night in the Bay swim. They were all in there and almost taking the bait on the drop. By the afternoon of June 15, the coots had suddenly decided to take offence to the hordes of carp near their nest and started attacking them, pecking at their backs - to this day, I’ve never seen it again. By mid-morning on the first day, the spot was tap clear, without a carp in sight with my chances burnt. I had to photograph two for another lad opposite and someone else had a few down the other end, but well down in weight, so it was obvious they’d spawned. I made the decision to leave the lake alone for a month and on my first trip back, on one of the areas I had baited really heavily during the close season, I had the big ’un: the Resident. I had five others too… season made again!
JUNE 16, 2008 - ROACH PIT
After a rubbish draw, I decided the only option was to plough a load of bait in on the little bar. Three weeks of big bait-ups before the start saw me clipped up with a couple of balanced tigers to the bar, and rigs hooked in the rings for later. About twenty of us descended on the Alice Lisle on June 15, and lads from Spinnaker, Rockford and other local lakes all converged for a party. After far too many beers and suchlike, we were finally ousted from the pub and sent on our various ways back to the lakes. Back at Roach, we convened in Mozza’s swim until about 3 a.m. when everyone finally crawled back to their swims - someone even managed to crash their van on the way out of the car park! I hit the clips on the short, 30yd spot way too hard, but figured they’d do and crashed out myself, before waking to an absolute melter of a take from a pretty mid-twenty the following morning. I packed up shortly after, that being the only night I fished that year, and after deciding to head to Yateley for the rest of the season after letting the pressure die down from the earlier June 1 start on there.
JUNE 16, 2012 - ROACH PIT
After a full close season of clandestine nighttime bait-ups, I got a good draw and despite the fact that the snag I’d baited was full of carp, I had a fair idea they’d vacate pretty quickly, so opted for a big-water swim with loads of options. The snag never did a bite, but over the next couple of nights I had three lovely ones, including the pit’s Big Fully. A few weeks later, after biding my time and following some more discreet bait-ups, I had the biggest mirror in there off the snag.
JUNE 1, 2010 - CAR PARK
I didn’t fish this opening night, as I had decided to leave it a few days to calm down. I was also midway through the final proofing of The Forgotten Chapters, so instead, I headed up just to share in the barbecue and celebrations. Everyone was there that night, huddled round a fire and a grill of sizzling meat. Even my mate Todd had made the journey down from Manchester, just to camp out and have some beers and food. Some of the lads were keen, retiring early to get rods out perfectly, but others partied on into the night, figuring it was a long season ahead. On my way home from the printer after dropping off the final set of proofs, the text pinged through to say they’d just found Heather dead… a bigger anticlimax to the first day of the season I couldn’t have imagined!