20th June, The alarm goes off, 0600, and I drag myself from my bed, quietly putting on my previously layed out pile of clothes as to not wake the household, slowly moving through the house as if on some sort of covert mission, but in reality today was the day I would begin my late summer till spring campaign over at Stanwick lakes fisheries Mallard lake, something that I had been planning for a while now. The lake itself is part of a complex of day ticket lakes on the outskirts of Wellingborough, set in lovely surroundings and well run by all members of management, it seemed like the logical choice for me to give myself focus for the coming months through the winter and into early spring 2020, from there I would decide on a new focus to fulfill my appetite for a challenge.
I arrive at the gates around 0645 after stopping off quickly at the previous roundabout to grab myself a coffee ready for my walk around the lakes. Quickly the minutes tick by and I find myself driving through the gates dead at 7 am, as always the fishery runs like clockwork. Parking up in the car park I notice a few cars already here, this would often give anglers a feeling of despair and instant annoyance, but for me this was all part of it. I have never been a member of a syndicate and always fished either the canals, rivers, or day ticket lakes, all of which have helped adapt my angling to a style that helps me fish any water and have confidence in doing so.
I set off on my first lap of the lake, passing anglers in each peg, this was soon becoming a case of where I could fit in rather than a case of where I sawfish. On approaching the far end of the lake I started to notice that the angling pressure began to disappear, this is often the case on day ticket lakes as quite often anglers can become “lazy” and settle for comfort or the closest swim to the car park. On went the Polaroid’s and off up the trees I went, searching and scanning the water for any signs of carp and if lucky spot them on their morning patrol routes. I was on about my 3rd tree and I spotted a bit of movement in some thick weed around 40 yds out, in an area where they would have relative safety as there were only two pegs that could get anywhere near this part of the lake. I sat there watching, waiting, for a definite sign of what was in there as the lake has a good head of a rather large tench that could often be mistaken for a feeding carp in the deep thick weed. Then I saw what I was hoping for, the unmistakable sight of a rather wide, dark shouldered shape slowly drifting a few feet under the crystal clear water, following an underwater puzzle of tunnels and tiny gravelly areas. I sat in this tree now focused on this area, slowly I started to see more and more, all adding to my decision on where I would begin, this would be the area I would focus on for the next 24 hours.
I dropped my bucket off in the nearest peg, made the walk back to the car, and began loading the barrow, it was at this point the bailiff drove my in the unmistakable buggy that is often seen around this complex. He would go on to inform me that very little had been out the previous 2 weeks due to the rise in temperature and sudden heavy weed growth, this was evident as the sun began to burst through the trees and I could feel the temperature rising rapidly. We chatted for a while, discussing a few topics before I parted with my cash in return for my ticket, this was a part of a session I often enjoyed as it was like the stopwatch had started, the chase was on.
After a rather warm barrow I arrived back in the swim, grabbed my water bottle, and took a rest all the time focused on the water in front of me, just looking for any sort of sign or a break in the weed. I wasn’t to be this lucky as the weed in this peg was thick, heavy, and covering every square inch, something that later on would give me an idea that I have used on a lot of sessions since. With the sun beating down I put the tempest up, front off, and opened the mesh at the back, it was now easily 2oc and getting hotter!!
I wandered to the front of the swim, marker rod in hand, a 4oz plain lead swinging back and forth like a grandfather clock, a quick flick and fizz of braid from the spool and I was greeted with the feeling as if the lead had landed on a duck feather pillow, this wasn’t such a surprise as I had expected the such with it being so thickly matted and fresh. The use of a plain lead was something my dad had learnt me years before whilst fishing for tench on a small heavily weeded water, the thought process being that the heavy smooth lead would get through the weed in the thinner areas and you would then learn where the channels and underwater waterways where giving you a good starting area. I carried on flicking the lead around for what seemed like an hour until…DONK, the lead had plummeted through an area of weed and hit down on what felt like a mix of gravel and silt, this feeling was almost intensified by the fact I had felt absolutely nothing for so long, a few more casts in the area would see me find a small spot possibly 3ft square and surrounded by walls of thick weed, it’s at this point I knew I had to really think about my next move.
I sat back and decided that with 48 hours in front of me I could afford to make some disturbance and make a better situation, so on went the 4oz gripper lead and I began to cast to the spot, dragging it back around 2ft before it would lock up solid and I would have to drag a huge ball of weed back across the surface. I continued to do this for over an hour, back and forth until I felt I could present the last few yards cleanly and out the way, the rest of the line I tend to not worry about, as more often than not a fish will bury its head in the weed before you can even get to the rod, so the weed between my rods and last few yards becomes a redundant disturbance if I decide to rake the lot out.
By this point the sun was now high in the sky, beating down on me and making the task at hand a lot harder. After putting the rod down and wondering back to my bedchair I was starting to feel the effects of the sun now, a few drinks of water, and I convinced myself I was alright…or so I thought. As I sat there staring out at the water I began thinking about what sort of presentation I would go with, was it possible to get away with a wafter or bottom bait on the spot now or was this too risky? Would I be better off fishing a solid bag? I had a decision to make and I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste a moment of this session as I had a feeling day bites weren’t going to be an option, only leaving the few hours of darkness it seemed like my only real possible bite time, this made my choice all that more important.
I sat pondering under the shelter of my bivvy for what seemed like a few minutes but upon looking at my watch it’d been over 20 minutes and now the heat was becoming unbearable as my peg had very little cover to stop its rays from battering my bivvy turning it into nothing short of a sauna!! in instances like this I had a go-to rig, the ever-faithful and timeless classic withy pool rig made famous by Steve Reynard over 20 years ago, I prefer it over any pop up presentation that goes today and will ever go in the future and not just this but I’ve had very good success on it using wafters which is a completely alien to some anglers on the bank. Out came the shrink tube, the soft-coated braid and some size 6 beak point hooks, game on……
So with 3 rigs all tied up there was only one Hookbait on my mind and that was the miracle workers, my Wicked Whites which had been boosted up for months at this time, leaking out exponential amounts of attraction all the time whilst they are in the water, these would be perfect for putting out now in the mid-afternoon and being left for at the very least 24 hours, it seemed that my plan was now in action and I just had to get the rods in and baited for it all to come together, this is where things began to go wrong and fast.
After leaning all 3 rods against the bivvy I began to feel ill, my head spinning, cold sweats and a pounding headache, it would seem all that time in the beating sun had started to take its toll so I decided on the safest option would be to get some water on board and try and get my head down for an hour and hope for the best, I removed looking at my watch and the time was around 1630 then bam….the next thing I know I’m waking up on the grass inside my bivvy to a very different feeling, a slight breeze brushed my face as I rolled myself over, now drenched in sweat, what had happened? What time was it? I rolled over and gave my head a shake and a rub, splashed some water in my face, and then checked the time 2000..!! I’d managed to pass out on my way to the bedchair and lie on the grass for just under 4 hours. This was turning into an absolute nightmare, my rods hanging on the bivvy still, I sat perplexed for a while just trying to get my bearings back. Right, enough sitting around, I felt okay in myself, no injuries, time to get up and brush myself off, this wasn’t the first time I’d done this sort of thing, I remembered back to riding my bike to Southport back in my youth in what turned out to be the hottest day on record for around 40 years and doing something similar after not drinking anywhere near enough water in the beating sun, I was fine then, so I’ll be fine now I told myself. Back to the session and the task at hand!!
I grabbed the rods which I’d managed to clip up earlier in the day and began to ping them out to the pre-cleaned spots, each cracking down, which filled me with immense relief as I just couldn’t take any more bad luck for the day! Rods on the buzzers, bobbins on and clutches tightened to stop the fish charging off on the take into one of the many thick matted weed beds that surrounded each spot, I then turned my attention to putting a bit of bait over each rod. I didn’t want to make it all look obvious as these fish were heavily pressured so opted for my favorite mix in these situations which consists of hemp, buckwheat, red maize, and maples, alongside this I put in some Wicked White crumb for not only attraction but to imitate crushed mussel shells that littered the margins around the lake, this I felt put me in the best possible position for the upcoming session. Out went around 6/8 medium spombs over each spot, enough to not only get the fish down but enough to make them make multiple visits should they find the areas.
Drained and tired I put the kettle on and threw a double dose of coffee into my mug, I needed a pick me up as I planned to stay up till around 2am to see if I could hear the fish around the lake and what areas they were showing in should I decide on a move at any point. I drank my coffee, made a phone call to my dad, and got myself comfortable on my bed allowing me to see a large proportion of the lake behind and surrounding my areas.
I lay there for around an hour before seeing a carp roll around 20yds off my right hand rod, this was starting to look a little promising albeit a bit of a shock considering the disturbance I’d made late on in the day, but not one to look a gift horse in the face I took this sighting and began to get that good feeling. Another 20 minutes passed and another showed, this one directly over my right hand spot, and a few seconds later up came the distinct sight of a feeding fish. I was perched on the bed chair at this point like an owl, eyes wide and ready to react to anything, minutes passed, then a few more, nothing. Had I been done? Had I missed the spot and stuck the rig in weed? I pondered and decided to go with my gut, leaving the rod alone in the hope that everything was alright, I’d often made the mistake of disturbing a spot with a recast only to find the rig was perfectly fine, a mistake I wasn’t going to make this time.
The hours passed and the night drew in, the moon now sitting in the sky like a beacon illuminating the lake and all its features, fantastic for spotting fish showing whilst everyone lay in there beds non the wiser to the magic that was unfolding. For the next hour the fish put on a display to rival seaworld, crashing out the water all over the lake, each sending ripples to the bank in a morse code sort of way giving away each position, I loved this, but I knew I had to get some rest as the day had taken its toll, the time 0200, time for bed.
I had set my alarm for 0530 as always, this allowed me to get up, get a coffee, and come round before bite time had often started. The alarm sounded, I opened my eyes and searched for the phone under my head, I clicked it off and unzipped the bag, it was at this exact moment the right-hand rod has wrenched round giving me only a few beeps to focus my bleary eyes before melting off into a “Kerry Katona” (one toner) from a tight clutch. I bolted out the bag, legs like jelly still, and scrambled to the rod in what could only have been a couple of seconds, in which time the fish had run through what felt like every weedbed in the lake!! She was locked up tight and more than happy in her new dense green home, this however did not float my boat so I decided to change the situation in my favor. I began to apply pressure slowly and walk back up the bank gaining some height over the fish and altering the line angle slightly to possibly make her move, I began feeling a few small movements as the fish began to move until suddenly she stopped, and by stopped I mean it all went like concrete…SOLID.
I tried every trick in the book, nothing was working and by this time it had been well over 30 minutes since the original bite so I began to wonder was the fish even still on? Feeling slightly disheartened I went with my only available option which was brute force and ignorance, something that has served me quite well in my military career but not something I often used in my angling as I never felt the need to. I tightened the clutch until it was locked tight, grabbed hold of the spool and began walking back, the rod bending more and more until I felt I’d applied enough, still no movement, so I began to lean my body back and at this point, the rod is almost hooped double, line singing in the morning breeze, still not enough, so I really gave it some, my arms shaking as I strained the rod to the point of no return, then bump, followed by another bump, and movement!! I’d given it everything I had and finally things began moving, but was the fish still on the end? I began dragging an enormous ball of weed through the swim, inching it along until I had it close enough to peer in. I couldn’t see anything just a black mass of weed, I swung the net in with pure hope more than anything and began scooping, then I saw the unmistakable shape of a jet black tail just poking over the net cord, at this point I began bundling all the weed in along with the fish at a frantic pace, I couldn’t believe it!! How on Earth I got this fish in I will never know but I did and I was bouncing around the swim like I was at starting a new dance trend, not entirely sure it will catch on though. I began peeling the weed back to unveil my prize, when which greeted with I stared on in awe, jet black, withered fins, and a scale perfect common, mega! I decided to put her in the retaining sling for half an hour just to regain some energy from the battle before taking any photos.
Half an hour passed and after a quick coffee I hoisted her out and onto the mat, savoring every moment whilst peeling back the folds of the sling, each time unveiling more and more perfect jet black scales, wonderful. On the scales, she went just over 21lb, irrelevant to me at this point as I couldn’t stop looking at her. I took a few self takes before bidding her farewell and sending her back home to enjoy the rest of her day as much as I would look back at the photos, a strong kick and a spray of the cool water in the morning sun and she was on her way, a fantastic way to end my session. A fire truly lit and one that would I would make good use of over the coming months.