Tearing Up the Wish List!
As each new year begins, I wouldn’t say I ever set out to catch any one particular carp, but I do generally have a wish list in mind. This will usually be a couple of personal targets that I will set myself, often starting with something pretty achievable and, if I manage to fulfil one of these ‘wishes’, I’ll then re-set the target in my head to something a bit more ambitious.
Right from the start of 2018, I already knew of four different waters I’d definitely be fishing in the year ahead, so there were plenty of different outcomes I could hope for.
My first trip of the year was a 48-hour session on Elphicks North lake. I’d fished my last session of the previous year on the same water whilst filming the DNA Winter Series with Lee ‘Mozza’ Morris and, although we both caught a couple of carp each, Mozza had the bigger fish, which left me feeling the lake owed me a biggie. There were already six anglers fishing when I got to North Lake, but the swim I fished last time out was vacant, so I set up back in there knowing I could wrap the rods up to the spots I was already confident in without causing too much of a disturbance. I fished a tightly baited area of chopped NuttaS boilies, corn and a few dead maggots, all heavily glugged in matching Hydro Spod Syrup and chose to fish Milky Malt pop-ups over the top on my two open-water rods. The third rod was cast to a nice little margin spot and baited by hand with 8mm NuttaS and hemp, laced with Betastim liquid, and it wasn’t long before the takes were coming thick and fast on all three rods.
I’ve had some big hits using various liquid attractors from DNA in my spod mixes over the past couple of years, and they now form an essential part of my winter baiting strategy. On that session I ended up with 15 fish, including my first North Lake forty at 43lb 6oz on this particular session, which was a great start to the year. Why didn’t this happen when the Winter Series cameras were rolling?
A couple of weeks later, Mozza joined me down Elphicks again when we decided to turn our attentions to West End Lake. We’d already spent one fruitless day and night on West End, but as the second day flew by, it felt grim and lifeless. The lake had totally shut up shop and not done a bite for months, so feeling we’d stand a better chance of some action elsewhere, we got permission from the owners to move across to Pullens for a few hours, which was void of anglers. We quickly got the rods out, sharing a far margin hot spot I knew about with just a couple of yards between our hookbaits. We baited the swim with some 8mm Switch and NuttaS, then chatted about the big North Lake ghostie, which had come out on the far bank whilst we filmed the Winter Series and how much we’d both like to catch that one. Then, just as the conversation turned to Mozza’s beloved pet ferret, Mia, my far-margin rod was away. After an epic battle, the lake’s biggest resident rolled into my net. I knew this fish had been weighed in at over 50lb in the past, so we weighed it on two sets of scales just to be sure. We got the exact same reading of 49lb 8oz on both scales, but the fact it didn’t break the magical 50lb barrier this time was irrelevant. The gamble to change lakes had paid off very quickly and another little personal milestone had been reached with a new Pullens personal best.
In February I was back on the North Lake and bites were hard to come by, but one open-water spot I’d baited with Crayfish Mini Mix pellets and Betastim liquid produced a couple of fish for me, including one from the wish list, the Big Ghostie at 42lb 14oz. I’m convinced if you talk about catching a certain fish enough, it’ll show up for you one day!
I had mixed emotions for a while after catching that ghostie, as I began wondering if it was really worth dedicating so many of my winter hours to fishing the North Lake any more. Those thoughts of not knowing what else I really wanted to catch from there only lasted until April, when a group of eight DNA lads booked the whole lake for a spring social. I drew the peg opposite fellow team member Rob O’Brien and we agreed to share a marginal spot, fishing just a rod-length apart and rebaiting after each bite using the awesome Hydro Spod Syrups to keep the fish returning to the area. The same bivvy-sized section of water produced an arm-aching 37 bites for us, including 12 fish over 30lb and two 40lb-plus commons for Rob. Now there was a new one for my wish list: a 40lb-plus North Lake common!
As the weather changed for the better in May, it was time get on the S7 and the pink and white Half Tone pop-ups in particular, as they were catching me some real giants. A 50lb 12oz mirror was a nice way to top a five-fish catch from Holme Fen. Then a week later it was time for another lake exclusive Elphicks trip on the small but tricky West End Lake. Undoubtedly, the king (or queen) of the lake, if not the whole complex, is the Big Linear that resides in West End. The fish generally doesn’t get caught more than twice a year and it’s a cracking fish that has been out at over 50lb in the past.
After three days of sitting there without so much as a bleep for me, just two of our group had managed to catch, the biggest being mid-thirties, from the opposite end of the lake where the majority of the fish seemed to be holding up in the weed. Just before dark on our third and final night, I heard a fish bosh out near the reeds on the margin to my left, so I quickly wound in my island rod and cast a single S7 Half Tone pop-up to the area where the ripples were still coming from, just a short distance away from my other rod. At first light I had a 36lb mirror on the closer margin rod, and no sooner had I recast that one than the other margin rod I’d recast the previous night went into meltdown. The fish found two weedbeds on the way in, which had my knees trembling a bit, but with some steady pressure on it and with the inline lead ejected, I managed to get it moving along the upper layers, and as soon as I got the net under the fish, I could tell it was the Big Linear. “Get in!” I shouted. Very unlike me, but this really was one I’d been hoping to catch for a good few years. Again, it was a known fifty that was down in weight at 49lb 6oz, but I couldn’t care less. It was one of those rare moments that actually made me sit back down in my bivvy and punch the air while smiling like a child on Christmas morning. Suddenly all those 3.30am alarm calls and four-hour round trips to Elphicks made so much sense. This is what they were all about.
As the long, hot summer of 2018 kicked in, my initial wish for my syndicate fishing was to catch any forty from the Dell that I hadn’t had before. The lake record mirror, Black Spot, was always on my mind, but I just hoped that would turn up for me one day if I could keep catching consistently. I wouldn’t let myself get obsessed about one carp, but yeah, okay, I did rearrange the magnetic scrabble letters on my fridge door to spell out Black Spot, and I did tell the wife not to change it until I’d caught it, but apart from that, I wasn’t obsessed, honestly!
With the unusually long spell of dry weather came a huge algae bloom on the Dell and, as a result, the fishing was difficult at the start of summer. The weed died back with the lack of sunlight and a huge amount of small carp had survived the spawning period and were starting to get caught regularly by anglers using any sort of particles or small hookbaits. I started catching consistently on the S7 Half Tones from about July, landing several good thirties, but my first Dell forty of the year didn’t come until September, when I was just about to get back on the NuttaS for the coming autumn. I had a known fish called Buster on the NuttaS in a surreal brace with a tiny little mirror, as I landed both fish from a double take.
A massive game-changer for my Dell season came just in the nick of time as DNA brought out their new hardened hookbaits. I quickly ordered some S7 Hard Hookers and glugged a few in the matching S7 Liquid Food and started to fish the Dell with bottom baits again, feeling confident the small nuisance fish could not whittle down my baits. I changed my usual spodding tactics to a strict boilie only approach, feeding 18mm baits within catapult range using a throwing stick, then as soon as the seagulls swept in, I’d catapult out some 22mm S7, which sank before the gulls could grab them.
My plan to switch back to the NuttaS was put on hold as I enjoyed a fantastic October on the S7 Hard Hookers, fishing a simple match-the-hatch technique at a comfortable range. With no little ’uns pestering me, I had a lovely scaly 40lb 2oz mirror, followed two weeks later by Black Spot at 48lb 8oz. I was buzzing! I could finally change the letters on the fridge door to ‘Charlie’s Mate’, the other big mirror I really wanted.
A week later I had Charlie’s Mate at a new top weight of 48lb 8oz, followed by another mirror of 41lb 12oz in the same session. I couldn’t believe this. Everything I’d hoped to catch this year I was catching and I’d even gone past my best-ever tally of forties in a year, as I was now into double figures.
While my luck was in, I thought I’d best book another Elphicks session in before Christmas. At the beginning of December, I drove down to Kent with just one thing on my mind, a 40lb-plus Elphicks common. I couldn’t believe my luck as I got to the lake. Not only did the weather look perfect for a bite, but I had the whole place to myself. I headed straight over to the far bank to fish my favourite swim and within the first hour had received a double take, resulting in a mid-twenty common and a low-thirty ghostie. A simple trimmed-down NuttaS pop-up fished over chops, Hydro Spod Syrup and Crayfish Mini Mix pellets was doing the business once again. An hour later I was weighing a very large common that definitely wasn’t the one Rob had caught earlier in the year, but it felt really heavy as I hoisted it up on to my weighing tripod. Tipping the scales at 42lb 14oz, I was absolutely delighted. As I photographed the fish and slipped it back, I thought, “Well, that’s that; it surely can’t get much better than this.” The takes came thick and fast again for the remainder of the session to round off a year of angling I may never see the likes of again.
As I reflect on the events of 2018 and conjure up a new wish list in my mind for 2019, I can only hope for a few more magical moments in the year ahead. A few special ones from the new syndicate water would be very nice or maybe a different Elphicks forty or even a fifty could have me punching the air again. One thing is for certain, I can see a lot of magnetic Scrabble letters getting rearranged on the fridge!