2020 was an awful year for everyone and the restrictions on angling were felt by all who love the sport.
I had plans for early spring that were soon thrown out the window as, like everyone else, I was forced to hang up the rods.
I decided early into lockdown, that the way to get by was to formulate a plan and then simply adapt that plan depending on when I eventually could get out on the bank.
In fact, I think at various times through lockdown I’d planned for possibly every season possible!
Although 2019 had been kind to me, in reality I hardly fished at all in the UK with a total of 19 nights fished all year.
My son was in his last year of nursery before starting school and I knew that in the future I’d have my day off each week and I could happily fish without worrying about neglecting him as he would be in school.
So 2019 was, in a way, not so important to me as I knew I had 2020 to get stuck into – or so I thought!
It was May when we got the all-clear and as the ticket for the water I planned to target started on June 1st, I was ready and dying to put my plan in to action.
I’d held this ticket before, but usually only for six months of the year and although my previous methods and tactics had worked I was looking forward to putting my plan into action.
As with any campaign, bait was always going to be key and the decision on that one took all of three seconds as I was going to stick with my tried and tested Nutz and Wicked White boilies.
In a previous article I wrote for MAD Baits, I talked about the fact that although I’m a huge particle fan, I’d also done well on a ‘boilie only’ strategy and that is exactly what I wanted to stick with this year for the bulk of my campaign.
Anyone that’s ever fished with me will tell you I arrive just before dark on a Monday or Tuesday and I fish for that night and the next day, with me sometimes staying on the next night, but heading straight to work. Now this is not ideal and on circuit waters it’s certainly a disadvantage, but it’s my life and it’s just how it is.
Knowing full well I was competing with anglers who have a lot more time than I do, I was keen to make sure that my bait was working for me and I was going to focus more on applying bait when I was leaving rather than fishing over a large quantity and limiting my chances.
The plan was set and the all-clear came, but due to the fact the lakes were so busy my syndicate was now operating a booking system and I was unable to fit in with the time available, so needed to come up with something or risk missing out.
A long discussion with my wife and my boss led to me booking a week off work and just delaying my start by a few weeks. Although I was unable to go when I wanted, I was simply doing three weeks fishing all in the same week!
As always, the time dragged like it does when it’s something you’re looking forward to, but eventually the session arrived and I was at the lake in search of the A team!
I arrived at the lake very early in order to hopefully see a show or two, but all was very quiet so I set up in a swim called the Bog as this is probably the most prolific swim for the largest resident in the lake (The Pig).
Being back on the hunt was great and the fact I had a full week meant for once in my life I wasn’t in a rush, which was a fantastic feeling!
I had a good idea of the spots I wanted to fish, so in no time at all I had three rods in position and 100 baits over each rod, with a mixture of both Nutz and Wicked White boilies in 18mm and three heavily sprayed Wicked White pop-ups.
The night passed very quietly with only the odd show in the area and at first light I was up and thinking about a move. After several hours of looking and thinking, I was pretty sure a move would be on the cards, but it suddenly started to rain. I’m all for carpy signs and this was telling me to stay put.
I retired to the bivvy to put the kettle and straight away BOSH! I saw the first of the day, followed by another and another. I was all but convinced that I was in the right area when I heard a few more to my right, so went to investigate.
By now it was 2pm and my attention was turning to where I would spending the night.
As I sat on the bed weighing up the options the rain returned, so I put the kettle back on and started to relax a little.
A few minutes later the middle Delkim let out a single bleep and I was sure I saw the bobbin move. In an instant I was on the rod and staring intently at the indicator. A few seconds later It twitched again and the reel clicked once.
I lifted up the rod and was greeted with a huge resistance from an obviously large weed bed. As I drew the weed closer I was starting to feel a kick and soon enough I was free to play the fish. Putting up a good fight in the deep water, there was only going to be one winner and as I saw the huge pair of lips and the wicked white pop up attached, I scooped the net under what was clearly a good fish!
My good friend Mike had come around whilst I was playing the fish and as we both stood there I did the usual checks to identify the fish, before declaring I’d caught Moonscale. On the scales she went 45.02 and for me my week was complete.
The celebrations continued into the evening and I got to bed around 11pm only to be woken up by a screaming take on the same rod that went before. This one wasn’t hanging around at all though and standing in the deep margins in waders with just my head torch for light, I continued to battle with this creature from the deep until I heard the welcome gasp of air and the landing net bulged.
Looking down I could see it was a big fish and after checking it wasn’t a repeat of moonscale, I quickly set about identifying the culprit. Checks didn’t take long as when I rolled her over I could clearly see the brush like marks on her flank and this confirmed that another A team member was on the mat in the shape of Brush strokes at 44.04! Two mid 40’s in 24 hours and 4 nights to go, I was on cloud nine!
I’ve been fortunate enough to catch my fair share of large carp, but in all of my angling life I had never landed a UK carp of 39lb and this was something I was desperate to set straight.
The next morning just as before, the same rod was away again and this time the fish had it’s own ideas of how things were going to end, as it raced across the lake and tried as hard as possible to get away from me to avoid it’s five minutes of fame. Anyway after a long hard battle and at times losing more line than I gained, she was ready for the net and shortly after, on the mat.
I’d caught this fish before and although I don’t like repeats I was pleasantly surprised that the current weight was 39.05 as that meant that after all the years I’d cracked the 39. It may sound funny to some, but I just as happy with this fish as I was the mid- forties as it was a job completed.
I managed another fish of 23lb that morning but the rest of the day and night passed by quietly.
I had considered a move as I thought maybe this spot had produced all it could and I should be looking to stay with the group of fish, but deep down I felt there was more to come.
The following afternoon I was chatting to my mate Pete, when he remarked that I needed a new target, so as soon as the call had ended I started to look through the pictures on my phone of the stock. I had just stopped at the picture of a new forty for the lake that goes by the name of ‘The Italian’ and I was sat thinking how that would be nice in my album, when the middle Delkim dropped and pulled up quickly.
Once again I was on to it quick as I’d realised now that the funny takes I was getting were more to do with the weed that was between me and the spot than the behavior of the fish. This time there was no resistance and no manic fight, just a steady plod and the occasional roll, before sliding into the net and just laying in the margin looking back at me. I couldn’t believe it, I quickly grabbed the phone to compare, but I was already 99% sure I was staring at the exact same fish I had just been studying and what’s more it was another of the magical 39lb club!
All those years waiting for a 39 and now I’d had two of them!
At 39.02 she was a very special fish and a true character for my album.
The week then slipped away without any further action, but the plan had worked and the tactics were spot on. I knew no matter what happened, if I had future quiet spells it certainly wasn’t rigs or bait!
My next session wasn’t until mid- July so I was away from the water for around three weeks. Curiously, my next 5 short sessions between work all resulted in blanks, which made me wonder that if I hadn’t had the result I had, would I have been questioning tactics?
It was early august when I was next into a fish as a lovely dark 24lb mirror got me back on track after I’d moved onto showing fish. By this time I was targeting the deeper end of the lake and had some lovely spots just 20–30 yards out. I was due down towards the end of August as I’d booked a day off for my birthday, meaning I’d be able to fish a full 48 hour session.
The Birthday session arrived but so did ‘Storm Francis’ and with 70mph winds battering my target swim, I was a little unsure of what to do. Fortunately, an hour sat in the swim was evidence enough that the fish were on it and if they could brave it so could I.
I had a MAD Baits live booked in for the Tuesday night with my mate Shane and I was unsure if we would even be heard properly in such conditions!
All went well however and not only did the live feed go as planned, but I managed to land a lovely old 39lb mirror live on Facebook – which is probably the best advert you can have!
The conditions didn’t let up but thankfully neither did the fishing. I’d kept bait going in that swim for a few weeks now and I was certainly seeing the rewards. I finished that trip with five fish to 39lb and having the entire battle of the biggest fish on film was fantastic, especially in such crazy conditions.
I couldn’t get down the next week, but I had already noticed fish gathering in a different area of the lake so was praying I could get in that zone on my return in September.
Sure enough the next trip arrived and as I made the long 1½ hour drive from work, all I could think about was whether I could get back on the main group of fish and how busy the lake was.
On Arrival there was one other angler on and he was pitched up where I had caught the five fish up to 39lb. After talking to him it was apparent that that swim had now become popular so I was delighted that my next plan could be put into action undisturbed.
I decided the best way to get near these fish was to set up in the swim where I started the year and had that fantastic hit, so I positioned the marker float and set about getting the rods in position.
This was only the second time I’d managed to get back in this swim since I had my hit, but for some reason, although I was finally in the swim again, I just didn’t fancy It. So much so that I reeled in went for a walk to the opposite bank.
The far side offered a different view on the water and instantly I could see that a large number of the stock were cruising under the surface and over the weed.
Without hesitation I moved everything to the swim to stand and watch. I could see there was a lot of weed, but I didn’t want to spook the fish in getting set up. The fish were milling around near to the spots I was planning to fish, but I knew if I spooked them they would either go to my right and into the bay, meaning they would likely return later or to my left and back up to the deeper water, which would not be good.
I looked for twenty minutes and then made the decision to fire a few baits at them and see what they did. Thankfully they drifted right and just out of view. A quick check in the next swim confirmed that they were only one swim down and still happy to cruise around with me there.
I positioned my marker on the spot first time and the fish still didn’t leave, so I cast one rod right next to it and the other 10 yards to the left, before dropping the other to my right, just in case I had spooked any that way.
I was all sorted within half an hour and had three spinner rigs with Wicked White pop-ups in position over 150 Nutz and Wicked White boilies.
I just stood smiling to myself about the fact I was on the money and hadn’t spooked the group, when the right rod was away! The tip shot round and the tight clutch was screaming so I knew it was a fighter. After a hard battle and after pulling tons of weed off my line I netted one of the oldest characters in the lake a fish known as Lumpy and one that is growing old gracefully.
I repositioned the rod and fish were still in the zone so I got my head down and set the alarm for 6am. This was so I could get up early and decide my next move. Funnily enough when the alarm did go off I was standing in the water playing an extremely angry carp! Of all the battles I’d had on this lake this one was the king as the fish just kept diving down and wouldn’t come up near the surface. Finally I won the day and scooped up my prize and instantly I knew it was another of the 40’s this time the highly sought after Black spot at 44.06 and one I’d longed to catch.
I continued to get to the lake as much a possible during October and November with a few more fish falling for my methods, including a lovely long 28lb mirror caught live for the camera whilst filming MAD Baits 2020 with our filming partner Tales Angling Media, which as anyone who has been involved I angling filming will tell you is always a great result to catch one on camera.
Due to the second lockdown, I was forced to change my work pattern and was now off on a Saturday.
So in early December I decided I would have another go, before the Christmas routine kicked in and all chances I had of fishing were totally out the window.
I left work on the Friday evening and headed straight to the lake. Arriving In the dark, I had nothing to go on and as the lake was busy decided that with The Bog swim being free I didn’t need a second invite.
I positioned the rods as accurately as I could in the dark and hit the sack ready for an early move if needed. I remember waking up thinking that the place looked completely different as the trees were now bare of all the leaves and there were a lot more birds around.
I spent the day looking and watching and trying to stop myself from reeling in to recast in the daylight as I was trying to keep the disturbance down, but knew a cast would help with my confidence.
I managed to ignore the temptation and I’m glad I did, because at 3pm, the left rod was away and a locked up battle resulted in yet another chunk and another 40. This time it was in the shape of a fish called Cut Tail and another from my list of targets. Cut tail was the only fish that I’d landed that wasn’t on a Wicked White as this time I’d switched to the pink Iso Cream just for something a little different as they are fantastic in the cold.
I was on a run and with every trip I felt I was closer to catching the lakes main target, a fish called The Pig that has topped the scales before at an incredible 52lb and although I wasn’t expecting that sort of weight now, I felt sure I was targeting the right areas and that she must have been on my bait at some point.
Sadly, lockdown three killed all chances of finishing the year completely and The Pig has been moved to the only target in 2021.
2021 looks to be a more settled year and if all goes to plan I will be a very happy carp angler.
My plan is to return to the deep pit as soon as I can and remain on there until November, when another ticket starts for me with a rather large Common or two!
Obviously if I haven’t met The Pig by the time the new ticket starts then things will be delayed. But with a bit of luck, a lot of effort and my Nutz and Whites boilies with Wicked White pop-ups, I’m quietly confident things will go my way.
Maybe I’ll be writing that story this time next year. After all I certainly didn’t expect to be writing this one this time last year, so who knows.
Good luck and keep the confidence high let the bait do the rest!