Was it worth it?
It had been six long weeks since I last had the chance to get the rods out and, to be honest, I could hardly wait! Despite still being in possession of a very good syndicate ticket, I couldn’t resist starting the new decade off with a session on my favourite day-ticket complex, Elphicks, Kent.
The Elphicks complex has been kind to me over the years and in recent winters it’s helped me get my fishing year off to a flyer. For the first time in six years, I’d decided not to camp out in the car park on New Year’s Day or to join the queue on 2nd January to make a lake exclusive booking this year, so I’d already forfeited my chance to fish any of the specimen lakes this spring/summer. Therefore, the only way to obtain a booking on a complex in such demand is to ring up and pick a few winter dates, and my first choice this year was Pullens Lake.
In my excitement to make the 95-mile journey down to Kent, I set out in the early hours and shot past the first all-night garage without even thinking about putting some diesel in the van, which nearly caused me my first drama. I received my first bleep of the session way too prematurely when the low fuel-level light came on well before the only other open garage I knew of en route to the lake! Still 10 minutes from the garage, I felt the van jolting and the reading on the dash told me how many miles I had left before I ran out of fuel: zero! Somehow my trusty van chugged its way to the garage forecourt and I was able to give it a much-needed drink. I could have kissed my van, but decided against it. I’m more likely to kiss a carp than a van, but who knows, maybe one day. In hindsight, maybe I should have shown the van more affection, as another warning light told me I now had a blocked fuel filter before I reached the fishery gates! Thankfully, I still managed to make it there and that’s all that mattered to me.
There was only one other angler fishing when I got to Pullens and he was in my favourite swim. I’ve been very fortunate to have only suffered one blank session on Pullens in 10 or so sessions, so my confidence is always high on this particular water, but when that blank was in front of the DNA Winter Series cameras, then yes, Mozza, it still really hurts! With that in mind, knowing the blank had happened in that already occupied swim, I was happy enough this time to fish on the far bank where I’d had a nice hat-trick of thirties on my last visit. The far end of the lake had thrown up some big fish too in the previous few weeks, so I hoped they’d still be well spread out. With all the recent heavy rain, the path to the swims on the far bank had turned into a mud bath and I endured my customary slip on to my backside with rods in hand on my final journey between van and swim! That little slip actually proved costly, as I realised I’d snapped one of the eyes clean off my spod rod. I knew I wouldn’t be Spombing bait out at any great distance, so this wouldn’t be an issue, but surely that would be my regulation mishaps used up for now, or so I hoped!
Like all the specimen lakes on the Elphicks complex, Pullens is certainly no runs water and requires some very careful thought when it comes to tactics and bait placement. Being willing to change tactics and find that winning formula on any given day seems to be the key. On this occasion, I chose to fish three spots I’d caught from before using three different strategies. My first rod went straight on to the margin spot that did all my bites last time and on the same bait as before, a Switch Half Tones pop-ups on a hinged stiff rig fished over a small amount of Crayfish Mini Mix pellets. My middle rod was positioned in open water with a Pink Peril pop-up tipped with maggots. I baited with a few Spombs of maggots and Crayfish Mini Mix pellets glugged in Betastim liquid. I cast my third rod to the area Iain Macmillan had his Winter Series 4 forty from, baited with one of the new Crayfish Midi Hookers. I walked down the bank to bait up by hand with some boilie crumb, hemp and once again, the matching Crayfish Mini Mix pellets, this time soaked in NuttaS Hydro Spod Syrup. The Crayfish Mini Mix pellets have become an essential part of my baiting armoury these days. They absolutely ooze attraction and you can smell them from miles away. I rarely fish without using them in some form these days, whether in a small stick mix or in large quantities on a baited area. They, like the Spod Syrups, have helped me put a lot of big fish on the bank this year.
Once I’d got all the rods sorted in the pouring rain, the guy in the swim opposite packed up and left, which left me feeling tempted to move already. I had every confidence in where I was, though, and when another guy set up for a 24-hour session to my left, I knew that gave me an even better option, because if he caught anything, I would have somewhere to move for my second night. With it being winter, you’ve got to go where the fish are, if possible.
By the end of day one, nothing had happened for myself or matey along the bank, and the only bleeps I’d had came on the open-water rod, so I figured some of the resident perch had probably attacked my maggot-tipped hookbait, and so they had! I changed that to a Milky Malt pop-up and recast it, but left the others in place as darkness set in.
Storm Brendan was beginning to move in with some force during the night, and just as the winds eased in the morning as it was getting light, the Crayfish Midi Hooker rod was away! The fish in Pullens are something else when it comes to the fight, and when you’ve got tennis elbow in the right arm, playing a long, lean, hard-fighting machine of a carp isn’t as much fun as it should be. I wouldn’t mind, but I don’t even play bloody tennis! Once the carp was safely in the net, all thoughts of pain and suffering were quickly forgotten as I looked at my first carp of the decade weighing in at 39lb 2oz.
By 10 o’clock the following morning, I was getting itchy feet again. The water in front of me was calm as the wind howled from behind the swim, but the little bay opposite was getting battered by the waves. It looked too good to resist, so I decided to take the chance and move. Two hours later, having undergone the wettest, muddiest swim move ever, I was in my new home for my final day/night, and it was an absolute mud bath! I’ve never been to Glastonbury, but I’d imagine on a rainy day conditions would be very similar.
Once I’d trudged all my gear around the lake in about six trips, I moved the van to the parking space behind my new swim, but somehow picked up a bad puncture along the way! The back tyre went as flat as a pancake, but before I could deal with that I had my rods to get out. One went across to the spot where I’d already caught from, and the other two were fished close together on my usual lucky spots, but now I was using the Crayfish Midi Hookers on all three rods.
After getting the rods out, I tried changing my wheel on the doomed van, but the locking wheel nut just wouldn’t budge. The rain was relentless and didn’t stop all day, so I decided to get some dinner on and worry about the flat tyre in the morning. I didn’t have to be off until midday, so there was no real panic. After a night of horrendous weather, and with Brendan still doing his best to blow my brolly away as it got light, I had a take on the newly placed hot-spot rod. With no dry socks left, I shot out of bed in my bare feet and commenced battle with another hard-fighting Pullens carp in gale-force conditions and driving rain. As I stood there with my feet buried in about eight inches of mud, just two thoughts entered my mind… 1) Am I stupid standing here in thick mud in a storm with tennis elbow in January playing a carp? 2) Wow, deep mud is actually really nice and warm! Anyway, the carp eventually gave up and thankfully it was another worthwhile mirror of 30lb 14oz.
When the rain finally stopped at around 10am, Mark, the fishery owner, did his best to help sort my wheel out for me, but nothing worked. I conceded that it was about time I joined a breakdown service. With Mark knowing I was unable to leave at 12 o’clock, I asked him if it would be okay to fish on until the breakdown people arrived and he said it was fine, as there was only one other person booked on. At 12.10pm, just 10 minutes after I should have officially left, I had a slow take on my other hot-spot rod. This time the fish felt really weighty. It didn’t kite from side to side, it just stayed deep right to the net, so I knew it was probably a chunk. As the fish rolled into the net, I noticed some small scales and a scar on one side. It wasn’t a fish I recognised, but it was BIG! I hoisted it on to my weighing tripod and it pulled the scales round to 40lb 14oz. GET IN! I’d had four or five different Pullens forties in the past, but this was definitely one I hadn’t had before. I felt this one was well deserved, if I do say so myself.
The guy who had just turned up to fish kindly helped with some photos and we got chatting. It turned out that he’s a good friend of the person who bailiffs a French lake I’ve visited a few times. Small world, this carp scene!
So back to the van saga… The breakdown service turned up soon after that forty, charged me £79 for the call-out, plus membership joining fees, and then went on to tell me they too could not remove my dodgy locking wheel nut! They did, however, temporarily plug my puncture so I’d be able to get home.
As if this first session of the year wasn’t full of enough ups and downs already, as I slowly packed away my gear, I must have taken much longer than I usually would after attempting to clean as many items of soaked, muddy kit as possible. As a consequence, the tailgate on the van was open for ages, which must have drained the van’s battery flat, because as I turned the key to start it, it was stone dead! Nick, the angler I’d just been talking to, helped me get the van jump started and finally I was able to set off home.
Was it worth it? You bet it was!