It Only Takes One Bite
Peter Lillie relives the tale of his three-year campaign in pursuit of one of the North West’s most-sought-after carp.
The start of 2017 saw me fishing for a 30lb common that resides in a very small, reed-lined pit a 10-minute drive from my home. Unfortunately, the managed to escape the folds of my net, but I did manage a few fish around the low-20lb mark during my pursuit of it. I really enjoyed the fishing on there, so much so I found it hard to pull away in the end. However, with spring only around the corner, I started to turn my attentions back to the mighty Wyre Lake at Wyreside Fisheries.
I purchased my Wyre ticket in April 2014 and since then I’ve been lucky enough to catch many of the named fish which usually sit around mid-to-upper twenties, as well as one of the A-team, a fish called the Sargent. My main target, however, and the reason I originally purchased the ticket, was a fish called Paw Print. Paw is one of the originals that only graces the bank a couple of times a year. I tried my best to target it each season, but just like my winter target, it evaded capture each time.
Whilst preparing my tackle for the season ahead, it dawned on me how much more the odds would be in my favour this time round. I had just started a new shift pattern at work, which enabled me to angle midweek, and had just joined the DNA Baits Advocate Team, which I was delighted about.
I actually got off to quite a slow start and it wasn’t until the end of April before I could start putting in any real time. Five nights later, with only one lost fish to show for my efforts, I wasn’t exactly happy with the way things had panned out. With work commitments dictating my time for the next week or so, I decided it would up for it by pencilling in an a three-night session the week after.
When I did eventually return to the lake, the fish seemed fairly spread out, so I opted to fish a swim called Gravely, which controls part of the lakes main body and is also somewhere where Paw comes out most regularly. In fact, three out of its past four captures had come from that very swim. Fish were showing at 80-100 yards, so I decided to fish three rods on the back of the showing fish. All three were on my old-faithful hinged stiff rigs baited with either SLK or Wraysberry pop-ups. As I was on for a three-night session, I opted to bait heavily with five kilos of chopped and whole SLK boilies soaked in Fish Hydro Liquid. Over the next 72 hours, I banked three fish and lost two in the weed – not bad by Wyre’s standards!
It was at this point I made the decision to stick it out in Gravely as best I could. Regardless of where the fish where showing, I wanted to catch Paw and I felt this was the way to go about it. I also decided to stick with fishing all three rods on the same spot over a load of bait. I persevered with this approach as best I could, dropping in Gravely whenever possible, and at first it worked, but then the peg stopped fishing and I started to question whether it was the right way to go about things.
Over the years, I’ve kept a record of dates when the big girl was banked and planned my annual leave around it. In the past I’d been close, missing the bite by a week either side, so going from previous captures, I made another attempt this year decided and booked a week at the end of July and a week around mid-August.
For the July session I fished a peg called Swamp, again applying the three-rods-on-one-spot method. The peg was fishing well, as the week before it had produced one of the A team, a mid-thirty named C Scale, so I felt I was in with a shout. I only managed two fish in five nights in the end, but applying the heavy baiting approach with lots of SLK was really sorting them out, as by the end of July I’d had eleven 11 and lost four in the weed. However, I seemed to be catching the smaller residents and the average weight was 22lb. In fact, I only had one mid-twenty to show for my efforts, a fish called Wolverine at 26lb. Somehow I had to sort out the bigger fish, but how?
I was due to take my girlfriend to Edinburgh for a few days for her birthday, but just before we went a low-pressure front came in and with it strong southerlies! I didn’t need telling twice and jumped at the opportunity to fit a quick night’s fishing in before we went. I chose to fish Right Cabin this time, another peg which controls a main body of water. The fish like to hold up in front of this peg, and with the southerly cutting straight through the swim, I was sure that by applying the three-rod trick I would pick up a few fish. By the morning I’d had five takes! All the takes came on the left-hand rod, producing two mid-20lb mirrors and three lost fish to hook-pulls! The hook-pulls really had me scratching my head, as until now I’d only lost fish to the savage weed. One thing was for sure, the fish were really responding to the SLK/Fish Hydro Liquid combo. Putting it down to bad luck, I packed up, still more than happy with my result.
I watched the weather like a hawk while I was away. Strong southerlies and bands of low pressure were really making me think it wouldn’t be long before Paw put an appearance. I had another week’s fishing planned in mid-August and the closer it got, the better conditions became – I felt sure I had timed it right.
After what seemed like an eternity, I was finally doing my lap of the lake deciding where to fish for the first of my seven nights. South-easterlies were forecast for the first few days, so I dropped into Gravely, as the wind would be blowing straight into me. Just as I’d set up, I had a phone call of my mate Dave. He was at the top end in a swim called Helipad. According to the radio there was going to be a meteor shower that night, so I clipped the rods up, baited up and went over to his swim for a few cold beers. After all, it was Friday night and I was on holiday; it would have been rude not to take advantage of this rare astronomical event. Several hours later (a little longer than I intended to stay), I was making my way back to my swim. On my return, thick cloud had descended over the lake and it was hard to see my far-bank markers, so I got my head down for some much-needed sleep and waited till dawn to get the rods out. The next day and night passed without a sniff, or without me seeing any signs of fish, for that matter. I’d had it in my head to sit it out in Gravely for Paw, but with no fish being caught from the swim for so long, I felt something was amiss.
As I mentioned earlier, the peg hadn’t been fishing, but it does have a habit of producing the named fish. My gut feeling was there must have been a lot of uneaten bait out there, which could possibly be why it hadn’t done a fish for so long. The weather prediction was for strong, wet southerlies and low pressure for pretty much the rest of the week, similar conditions to my last session in Right Cabin, so reluctantly I made the decision to move.
With such good conditions forecast, I made sure to give them a proper banquet, once again comprising of five kilos of chopped and whole SLK boilies soaked in the very stinky Fish Hydro Liquid. Three hinged stiffs baited with either 15mm SLK and Warysberry pop-ups were positioned at 80 yards over the tightly baited area. As the sun set in the horizon, I couldn’t help but think I’d made the right choice.
At 10.30pm, the left-hand rod went into meltdown! Lifting into the fish, a solid resistance, before the gut-wrenching feeling of yet another hook-pull. Angrily, I repositioned the rod as best I could in the dark and then slid back in the bag to sulk. I hadn’t even had the chance to doze off before the left-hand rod was away again, only for me to be met with, yep, you guessed it, another hook-pull! I couldn’t believe my luck; how were my old-faithful size 6 hinged stiff rigs letting me down? Soaking wet, I put the kettle on and started to ponder on what might be the root cause. I started to consider whether the rigs weren’t practical for fishing over such tight beds of bait. With the fish feeding so hard on one spot, I thought they must have their heads pinned to the lakebed, rather than withdrawing and searching for another free offering, like they tend to do over scattered bait applied with a throwing stick. Going off this theory, I tied up two fresh bottom-bait rigs and made a fresh hinged stiff with a size 4 hook, a step up from the size 6 I had been using. The two bottom-bait rigs were attached to the middle and right-hand rods and the hinged stiff went on the left-hander, where I’d had the takes from.
As dawn broke and the sun started to rise, it was obvious fish were still feeding hard on the spot. Every so often a fish would launch right out over my rigs, shortly followed by huge oil slicks from the remaining SLK banquet below. With the odd fish crashing and huge slicks coming up, I thought it would be wise to wait out the remaining time left of the morning and apply my new strategy later in the day.
Slowly but surely the activity died off and by midday I was sure the fish had cleared me out. Conditions were still good and normally I’d have fished through the day, but it was clear the fish were feeding throughout the night, as all my bites had come on the left-hand rod between 10 and 11pm, and 4 and 5.30am. Instead I wound in the rods, prepared another 5kg banquet of SLK chops, which I coated in Fish Hydro Liquid and Hemp Oil, and headed up to the clubhouse for a much-needed shower and a few cold beers.
That night the weather really turned for the worse. As the rain fell and the wind battered into my bivvy, I looked out into the darkness listening to what can only be described as series of cows being dropped into the lake. Bosh! Bosh! One after another. The fish were clearly back on the bait, and just like clockwork, I had a take a 10.30pm, once again coming on the left-hand rod. After a tense battle in the wind and rain, I slipped the net under a nice scaly mirror, which turned out to be a repeat capture, a fish called Rocky at 26lb 12oz. The size 4 choddy hook was absolutely nailed square in the bottom lip! Quickly sacking the fish for some photos, I then tied on a fresh Wraysberry pop-up and cast the rig into the darkness, getting it back on the spot as quickly as possible.
Just before the sun began to rise from over the moorland behind me, I had another take, again on the left-hand rod. By this point I was beginning to think the rig was landing on some kind of sacred foraging ground for the carp; it really was ridiculous how many takes I was getting from that one spot, particularly strange when you consider the other two rods were only a few feet away. This fish turned out to be a lovely 23lb 4oz fully scaled mirror.
The rest of the morning passed without any action, so later that day I repeated the process of heavy baiting over the small area. The sun was blindingly bright that evening and, due to it being a West-facing peg, I had to wait till dusk to get the rods accurately in position. I’d just finished getting everything sorted when my mate Garry popped into my swim for a chat. It was a lovely evening and just as the last few golden rays of sun were upon us, Garry looked at me and said: “Paw’s due. Won’t be long now, mate.” Jokingly, I looked back at him and replied: “It only takes one bite, mate.”
Strangely, the night passed quietly and it wasn’t until 5am before I had another take, again coming on the left-hand rod, which resulted in a 25lb mirror. I felt absolutely shattered, as all the broken sleep was really catching up on me, so I recast and jumped back in the bag.
At 11am, I was suddenly awoken from my slumber by a savage take. I scrambled out of the bivvy and, in autopilot mode, headed straight for the left-hand rod. However, to my amazement, I then realised it was the right-hand rod and one of the bottom-bait rigs. Picking up the rod, I was met with a solid resistance and heavy plodding, the tell-tale sign of a big fish. Slowly but surely I started to gain line. Then out of nowhere the fish made a powerful surge before finding sanctuary in a weedbed. All I could feel was the horrible grating sensation of the monofilament cutting through the strands of Canadian pondweed. Everything went solid. I leant into the rod as much as I dare, but still there was no movement. Keeping the line tight and the rod tip high, I threw the net into the boat and carried out the tricky task of pushing it into the margins while still holding the rod and putting on my life jacket at the same time! When in the boat, I wound down and pulled myself towards the snagged fish until I was directly above it. Huge plumes of sediment and patches of bubbles broke the surface as the beast battled for freedom below. I pulled hard and leant back in an effort to pull the fish up off the lakebed. As I gained line, I started to see a thick-bodied mirror twisting and turning through the water column. Unexpectedly, the fish’s head broke the surface. Grabbing the net, I hastily tried to scoop the fish up, but it dived back down, stripping line from the spool at an alarming rate. Moments later the fish abruptly hit the surface and rolled on its side, coughing water. Startled by the sudden surrender of the fish, I instantly made another attempt, only this time I was met with the satisfactory sight of a chestnut flank rolling over the net cord.
Deep down I knew in the back of my mind which fish was in the net, but I had to be sure, so started to make my way back to the bank to get a better look. I hadn’t even got to dry land before excitement got the better of me and, once shallow enough, I jumped out into the margins and with shaking hands started to roll back the net’s mesh. Peering inside my eyes fixed upon a long, deep-bodied mirror with beautiful chestnut colours and huge broad shoulders. The small cluster of scales and long barbel-whiskers then confirmed my suspicions: it was her; it was Paw Print! Waist deep in water and laughing like a mad man, I looked up to the sky in disbelief and immediately remembered what I had said to Garry the day before. The feeling was electric. As a young boy I dreamt of catching her, one of the North West’s most-sought-after fish, and years later there she was in the folds of my net. All the hard work and commitment, totalling 127 nights, had paid off; it was a truly magical moment.
It’s strange looking back now, as over a period of 13 nights of fishing three rods on that one spot, I’d had 14 takes all on the left-hand rod. Paw Print was the only take on the right-hand rod. Coincidence? Who knows.
Just remember, your dream fish could be only one bite away.