All’s well that ends well
If anyone would have asked me in October 2017 how my year had been, I’d have probably summed it up in two words, neither of which would be suitable for print!
From a personal point of view, there were far too many hospital visits and expensive trips to the mechanic, and up until that point I didn’t feel my ﬁshing had gone great either, but looking back on what I’ll always see as a crap year for so many reasons, maybe 2017 wasn’t quite so bad on the carp front.
At the start of the year I decided to arrange a few exclusive lake bookings with mates throughout the year, which included a French trip to a water I’d never ﬁshed before. Despite normally obtaining a decent syndicate ticket, I’ve always tried to ﬁsh at least ﬁve or six different places in any given calendar year just to keep things interesting, and as the years go by, the urge to ﬁsh a wider range of venues only gets stronger.
The year began pretty well, with a few ﬁsh from Pullens Lake on the Elphicks complex, which even included a mid-thirty in thick snow – my ﬁrst snow carp after 20 years of trying. More often than not, single ﬂuoros were accounting for some of the better ﬁsh for me, but in February I returned to Pullens for one last winter session and was determined to try and get a baited area going. I found a relatively deep spot in open water and cast a few Spombs of chopped NuttaS boilies, particles and maggots to the area, all glugged in the matching Hydro Spod Syrup, and ﬁshed Milky Malt pop-ups over the top.
As Storm Doris rolled in, so did the carp. By the second night of what was meant to be a three-night session, the gusts of wind were getting stronger but the ﬁsh were clearly homing in on the baited area, and I’d already landed ﬁve carp to just over 45lb before a late-night call came in from my wife, Julie. She told me she was suffering with severe abdominal pain and was about to be taken to hospital. Sitting on a ﬁshing complex behind locked gates, nearly two hours from home and feeling a bit guilty, I knew I had to cut short what could have been an epic session. As Julie strove to become pain-free after an emergency op, ﬁshing had to take a back seat for a while and, by the time I was conﬁdent enough to get out there again, we were already into April and the ﬁrst of the pre-paid socials was upon us.
I’d increased our group size from 10 to 11 anglers just before a Holme Fen trip to accommodate an extra person, knowing full well the venue had several good swims, so as long I came out top 10 in the draw, I’d be reasonably happy. The owner came to do the draw in the morning and I pulled the ﬁrst numbered peg from the bag – number 12. Gutted! When you pick number 12 in an 11-man draw, you know your luck isn’t in.
When my once-trusty van failed to start after sitting in my last-choice swim for 96 hours of blanking my backside off, I couldn’t help feeling this was probably my lowest ﬁshing-related point of the year so far.
The following week, my old van surpassed itself with its most epic fail to date when the driver’s side window exploded into thousands of pieces as the electronic-window mechanism malfunctioned, and then the door wouldn’t shut, the night before another doomed Dell session. My good old mum kindly leant me her VW Polo to get me ﬁshing on one condition, that I ﬁll it with oil, but to cut a long story short, I over ﬁlled it! I ended up having to call the breakdown service, who drained the oil, then reﬁlled the sump using the same oil from my own dirty bucket, and by 1.30am I’d killed her engine and any chances of ﬁshing that week!
The next scheduled trip was a May booking back down on Pullens. With the water now warming up, any tactic could potentially work and, fortunately for me, anything did. I caught a couple from a spot I’d gained conﬁdence in previously using the same spod-mix tactics, but after a few pick-ups from nuisance ﬁsh this time, I tried to get another area going using a boilie-only approach. I catapulted a spread of mixed-sized NuttaS boilies which had been soaked in Betastim liquid along the bottom of an island shelf and sat back in anticipation. The Betastim is a totally natural feeding stimulant I’ve gained so much conﬁdence in over the past couple of seasons, and within half an hour of baiting up the big ﬁsh had found the boilies and were feeding conﬁdently. After a manic six-hour spell, some ﬁsh began to give their location away in the fading light of the evening, and casting single ﬂuoros at showing ﬁsh brought me a couple of bonus bites, I ended up with 11 carp, including three forties going 45lb, 46lb and 47lb. There is nothing like a big carp or two to bring the stress levels down a bit; it was just the tonic I needed.
I hadn’t put anywhere near the amount of time on the Dell I’d have liked to in 2017, but some of the ﬁsh in there are stunners, so the odd dark scaly mirror and scale-perfect common were very welcome throughout the summer.
The second of two whole-lake exclusives was one to forget in July, as the carp on West End Lake chose to spawn for the whole three-day session, resulting in no bites, which wasn’t ideal with our ﬁrst visit to Mar Peche just a week away.
Mar Peche is one of those French waters I’d fancied ﬁshing for many years, but knew it could be tricky. No one wants to blank, even though we all experience it from time to time, but the thought of taking a week off work, unpaid, with all that expense and effort to catch potentially nothing in France worried me somewhat.
At Mar Peche the days quickly went by with no action and even the usual session-saving ‘Big Fish Thursday’ came and went without a bleep. I’d still had a really enjoyable week and already seen my mate Ricky land a colossal 81lb mirror on the awesome S7, a bait I’d recommended to him, which was a fantastic moment, so I was keeping my spirits up, but by midday on the Friday, with only about 18 hours’ ﬁshing time left, it looked like I’d be experiencing my ﬁrst fruitless session abroad. As I started packing away, a plastic hookbait boosted with Hot Hemp Oil that I’d cast just 40 yards towards a showing ﬁsh two hours earlier was picked up and I was in! As I stood on a wooden jetty playing the ﬁsh, I could feel my knees trembling and with it the whole jetty beneath me was wobbling. Eventually, however, a big framed 46lb 12oz mirror rolled into the net. It wasn’t a huge ﬁsh for the venue by any stretch of the imagination, but it probably meant more to me than any French carp I’ve ever caught in my life. What a relief!
Back in England, the van continued to cause me grief and expense and ‘Me Julie’ had yet another operation to try and sort her problems out, but things did take a turn for the better as the year drew to a close. It had been more than 10 years since I’d last caught a ﬁfty from the UK, but on a foggy November morning, I ﬁnally ended that run with a cracking, dark 50lb 7oz mirror known as the Dry One from the Dell. That was my last session of the year there, so to catch a new ﬁfty for the venue was the absolute high point of the year for me.
A winter session back on Holme Fen not long after saw me come out ﬁrst (yes, first!) in the swim draw, so I doubled up next to me my old mate, Dave Smedley. I was a little reluctant to try the new 8-millers from DNA, in all honesty, as I’d always regarded very small baits as more of a small-ﬁsh, match-type tactic, but adding a few kilos into the mix didn’t do any harm, as three decent Fen mirrors came my way. Smedders then trumped them all with a 67lb giant, which was another amazing moment in a year of extreme highs and lows.
My last outing of 2017 was one ﬁnal stint on Elphicks with the ever-enthusiastic Lee ‘Mozza’ Morris to ﬁlm an episode of the DNA Winter Series 3, which was a great experience that almost went exactly to plan. Have a look on YouTube if you haven’t watched it yet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdppCVBuoFU&t=1193s
So, although 2017 was still a year I want to forget on the whole, thanks to carp ﬁshing it deﬁnitely had some special moments, and it’s a testament to how far this great past-time has come when I can still happily reﬂect on ﬁve 45lb-plus day-ticket carp and a fifty from a syndicate amidst the low points. As for the wife, I’m pleased to say she’s well on the mend now, minus a few organs, but sadly the van didn’t make it past Christmas. Such is life!