Reflections of Summer

  • Posted: 18th December 2018
  • Author: Peter Lillie

If there’s one thing we all share in common as anglers is we like to reflect on our past angling experiences, whether that is landing a sought-after target carp or a red-letter day trotting for roach on a river. We all love to reminisce about that adrenaline-filled moment that stays locked in our minds forever, and as the seasons change from summer to winter, those thoughts are only amplified as we start longing for those warm, sunny days and longer daylight hours to return.

This winter I certainly have fond memories to reminisce over, involving four captures from my target water during the summer of 2018, all of which happened to be common carp, which was a rare occurrence, as the lake’s population is predominantly mirror carp and only contains around half a dozen or so commons! In fact, over the past four years fishing there, I’d only ever caught three commons until this season.

The first of these captures happened during a two-night session in mid-July. The summer was turning into one of the hottest on record and, as a result, the fishing was becoming very hard indeed. Bites were few and far between and the fish spent nearly all their time basking in the weed showing little interest in anglers’ baits. This did, of course, present some surface-fishing opportunities, but the weedy nature of the lake made landing them on lighter tackle near impossible and most hook-ups resulted in lost fish, even with the aid of a boat. The previous trip I’d fallen victim to this after hooking one of the larger residents off the surface followed by a long battle in the weed where I had to wade out up to my chest only for the hooklink to part whilst the fish was right in front of me. So, with the bitter taste of the previous week’s loss still fresh in my mouth, I opted for a different approach.

The plan was to fish an area of open water adjacent to where the fish liked to sun themselves in the hope I could ambush them as they travelled back and forth. All three rods were to be fished on 18mm SLK bottom baits over a fishmeal-based mix that oozed so much attraction any passing carp wouldn’t be able to resist dropping down for a quick snuffle. The mix comprised chopped and whole SLK boilies, halibut pellets, hemp and maize, all of which had been laced in Fish Hydro, Liver Extract and both Salmon Oil and Tuna Oil. It really did stink, and after spodding it all out into the lake, I didn’t smell too great myself either! Nonetheless, the rods all went out perfect, and as I sat sipping a cold lager in the evening sunlight, I couldn’t help but feel inevitably confident a carp would slip up.

As I sat sipping a cold lager in the evening sunlight, I couldn’t help but feel confident a carp would slip up

That night I had very little in the way of sleep; it was incredibly humid and the midges were relentless, forcing me to hide away in my sleeping bag, which only amplified the heat of the summer’s night. I was finally starting to drift off when the sound of a large fish crashing out in the lake alerted my senses, followed by the sound of two more in quick succession. I quickly sat up and looked out across the inky-black surface as the ripples from the disturbance started to lap against my bank. The fish had obviously found the bait, and over the next few hours the atmosphere was electric. Fish were repeatedly crashing over the spot and the shows continued as the night turned into a still, misty morning, until finally the line popped out of the clip and the buzzer let out a continuous tone as an angry carp powered off at an alarming rate.

The rod took on a healthy curve as the fish battled for freedom, quickly finding the sanctuary of a weedbed and grinding everything to sudden a halt. Luckily, the boat was in my peg, so I wasted no time and cast off to continue the fight out in the lake. Once above the fish, it didn’t take long before the tables had turned and a defeated chestnut-coloured common graced the folds of my waiting net. Back on dry land, my friend Robbie came over to help with the weighing and together we recognised the fish to be the second biggest common in the lake at a weight of 27lb 1oz, a fish I hadn’t caught before either. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to fashion a straw hat I purchased on a recent holiday to Majorca whilst Robbie rattled off some awesome shots in the morning sun before we slipped her back to fight another day.

Together we recognised the fish to be the second biggest common in the lake

My next fish came the week after from a spot called the Magic Bush. Although it hadn’t been at all magic for me in the past, it certainly was on this occasion. I only had time for an overnight session, but conditions were considerably better this time round: a fine drizzle filled the air and a wind from the east steadily pushed towards the deeper end of the lake. I stood watching for an hour or so, but not having much to go on in the way of sightings, and fishing on limited time, I chose to set up on the end of the wind in a swim called Helipad. All three rods were fished on hinged stiff rigs with 15mm SLK pop-ups. Two rods were positioned out in open water over a light spread of matching bottom baits and the other I reluctantly placed as a single hookbait next to the ‘not so’ Magic Bush, which was situated to the left of the peg.

Confidence was high and I was sure the fish would be on the end of the wind, but surprisingly the night passed without any action, and by morning the conditions had changed. The wind had completely died down and, although still overcast, the rain had also stopped. Defeated, I started to pack up when in my peripheral vision I noticed a small patch of fizzing right over the Magic Bush rod.

Well, what happened next truly was magic! A common with glistening golden scales leapt clean out of the water right over where the hookbait was positioned. As it crashed back into the lake I looked straight at the rod, but before I even had time to process what I’d just witnessed, the tip smashed round and the fish was hooked. The fish must have literally swum straight down and picked up the bait. The fight was hairy to say the least, involving a lot of toing and froing as the carp tried desperately to make the safety of the snags, until finally I’d got him safely in the net. I couldn’t believe it; the Magic Bush was magic after all! He was a young fish, lean and muscular and on the scales went 21lb and ounces.

The Magic Bush was magic after all!

I couldn’t wait to get back all week. Time seemed to drag like hell until finally I finished my last nightshift on the Saturday morning and after grabbing a few hours’ sleep, I was flying back up the M6 keen as mustard. However, my mood soon changed as I pulled into a very busy car park; I should have known better than to think I could rock up to a quiet lake mid-afternoon on a Saturday! Slightly disheartened, I made my way around to one of the last remaining pegs, which as it happened was a peg called Back to Back, so called because it’s made up of two swims which access separate pieces of water. It’s one of the more popular areas of the lake and I was surprised it was free. After watching for 20 minutes or so without seeing any signs of fish, I was just about to continue on my travels when a large carp crashed out in the piece of water the swim on the right had control over. ‘That’ll do,’ I thought, placing my bucket firmly on the ground and legging it back for my kit.

The weed can be savage in this area of the lake, literally resembling a football pitch at times, and more often than not it can take hours to find a clearing to present a bait in, so I chose not lead about while I knew fish were present. Instead I flicked out a single chod rig to where the fish crashed and went about positioning another along some marginal trees where I knew of a clear area. It was a tricky cast, as you had to cast past a set of branches which protruded out further than the rest, but after a few attempts I felt that satisfactory ‘donk’ as the lead touched down on firm bottom. A light spread of SLK boilies then completed the trap.

Over the next couple of hours tufted ducks caused me no end of grief and persisted in diving on the bait, trying to ruin my nicely laid plans until the inevitable happened and I hooked one of the greedy birds. Full of frustration, I went about repositioning the rod, only to cast straight into the tree! Deep breaths were required. After a few more attempts and lots of blasphemy, I finally managed to get the rig back in position. I really felt as though I’d blown my chances along the treeline, and having not seen any further activity in the area, I turned my attention to sorting the other rods out for the night ahead.

Twenty minutes or so later, I was carrying out the painful process of trying to locate a clear area for the other rods when the indicator on the treeline rod suddenly dropped to the floor. I looked straight up to see the feathered culprit pop back up over the spot. ‘Yet another recast,’ I thought, but as I bent down to pick the rod up, the line tightened and the tip slowly started to pull round further and further. I looked up again: no other ducks in sight. In a split second I put two and two together, grabbing the rod off the rests, to feel the thumping of a powerful fish on the end. The fish was so far under the overhang of the trees there was only one option, and that was to walk slowly back whilst applying steady pressure to try and coax him out. A few tense moments passed before I started to gain the upper hand. Keeping the pressure on, I pumped him all the way back to the net before he had chance to bury himself in the weed.

At this point, fellow DNA team member, Chris Sawyer, walked into the swim just in time to lend a helping hand, and we both couldn’t believe it when yet another common hit the spreader block. What a common it was as well: absolutely scale perfect! It looked like a bar of gold in the evening sun as we rattled off a few trophy shots before I safely released it into the deep margins. We laughed about the odds of me catching three on the bounce, and as I was only fishing the swim on the right, I suggested Chris should join me in Back to Back for a night. He hadn’t found fish elsewhere, so politely accepted and went back for his gear.

He really did look like a bar of gold in the evening sun

I struggled to find any clear areas for my two remaining rods, eventually settling on a spot I thought was fishable at least. It was just big enough for both rods, with the drops feeling very supple, so I chose to fish both on SLK bottom baits that were critically balanced with the intention they would flutter down on any weed that was present. I then baited with the same oily fishmeal mix I used weeks previously in the hope the attractants would keep the carp searching through the weed.

With the rods sorted, we sat back enjoying the last of the evening sun whilst obligatory drinking ice cold cider and generally talking all things carp. The rest of the night passed quietly and we both woke to motionless indicators and clear skies. It was obviously going to be another scorching summer’s day. Not long after the water in front of us started to resemble carp soup as the fish came in to sun themselves. With the amount of fish present it was clearly a case of when and not if one of us would get a take, although the odds were definitely in my favour as the majority of fish seemed to prefer my side of the swim.

Our attentions were turned to a huge flat spot over my baited area, followed by a single beep on one of my buzzers. Both our eyes were fixed on the bobbin but it remained motionless. Strange! Had I just been done? A few seconds passed before a sizeable bow wave came over the spot, with the buzzer letting out another single beep as it did so, but the bobbin still remained motionless. The activity over the spot then stopped, but over the course of the next 10 minutes or so I kept receiving random single bleeps, so kept my eyes intensely fixed on both the bobbin and where the line entered the water. There was no movement from either, but Chris and I felt something was amiss, so the decision was made and I picked up the rod to be met with a completely solid resistance on the other end. The rod was bent double as I unsuccessfully tried to gain line. The tackle was at its limit and it was clear the boat was going to be needed.

I kept the pressure on while Chris retrieved the boat from a few pegs down and moments later I was afloat, pulling myself towards what was hopefully going to be a carp on the end. Once directly above it, I slowly started to gain line, but all the while there was a horrible grating sensation transmitting through the rod, when to my horror three lines broke the surface, all pointing in different directions. I had no clue which one the rig was attached to, so I had to go through the process of elimination by hand-lining in each one. Luckily this went relatively smoothly, as Chris helped identify which line was attached to the rod on the bank. I then cut through that line and retrieved the rig so the only line left in the water was from the rod I was holding.

Unfortunately, the only impact this had was that I could no longer feel the grating sensation. Instead it was completely solid, and I mean solid, so I slackened off and felt the line for any movement – but it was lifeless. I then tried following the line down with my fingers to see if could feel what it was attached to, but it was too deep and I didn’t want to risk leaning any further over the boat. Around 40 minutes had now passed and I was completely out of options; it was a last-resort situation. Putting my hand inside my sleeve, I started repeatedly wrapping the 15lb line around my fist. All the while I still couldn’t feel a thing and wasn’t sure if I was gaining line or if it was just the stretch of the mono.

Looking into the depths, I started to make out the rig tubing and behind it a huge ball of weed. The whole lot was about to break the surface when I felt a sudden tug on the end, and in that instant the water exploded at the side of the boat and the line was whipped from my hand. Things very quickly went from bad to worse as I grabbed the rod, as the line was now wrapped around the tip with the fish charging about on a short line. I had to rotate the rod in my hand quickly to free it, but at first I turned it the wrong way around! All the while the fish was thrashing on the surface sending spray all over the place. The fish then paused and rolled on its side, presenting me with the window of opportunity I needed. The next thing I knew he was in the net and Chris let out a big cheer from the bank.

Pulling clumps of weed from the net to reveal my prize, I instantly recognised the fish as White Tips, the biggest common in the lake and another one of my target fish now ticked off the list. I shouted across to Chris informing him which fish it was, to which he responded in fits of laughter at the fact it was yet another common. One thing was for sure, he was most certainly the best-looking common I’d ever caught: scale perfect and as black as coal. The lads came around to help with the weighing, and on the scales it weighed in at 28lb 4oz. We all laughed while doing the photos, saying how I definitely had my name on it. How the line didn’t part I’ll never know!

I definitely had my name on it, White Tips at 28lb 4oz

So, there you have it: this season was definitely the year of the commons for me. Anyway, all this talk of scale-perfect carp has made me want to go fishing. Is it spring yet?