IT HAPPENED! – BUT WHY?
Mainline carper, John Kneebone recalls one of his most memorable captures – better still revealing the key reasons that led to this moment…
Special memories in carp fishing often coincide with special fish and or special venues. Luckily I feel privileged to have enjoyed a few moments involving both – fishing ‘special’ places such as the Linch Hill complex in Oxford in recent years.
Although I think it’s some of the standout moments that happened much longer ago, which have been some of the most important. Because it was many of these encounters that have taught me the most - essential elements, often basic that have shaped my fishing and angling approach.
Enabling me to later consider taking on such venues as Christchurch with its sometimes intense angling pressure and cute fish to match, as well as the challenge of Stone Acres.
So in a time when it wasn’t essential to grow a ‘carpy’ beard, and wearing a woolly hat in the height of summer meant you were an idiot, I was fishing and learning my trade if you like, at my local water, Argal Reservoir in Cornwall. The lake, coming on for some 65-acres in size had been a trout venue for much of its existence as a fishery. That is until the neighbouring College Reservoir was closed and it’s stock of course fish including many of the carp were consequently moved to Argal.
Despite the move many of the carp, thrived in they’re new home. With half as many fish in twice the volume of water the carp increased in weight and held great all round condition – helped by the low level of angling pressure and visits to the bank.
Although being quite large with a relatively low stock, Argal certainly set you a number of challenges. My initial aim was to just simply catch one, any one, but as time went on and I continued to focus my efforts at the water personal targets began to grow.
Starting each year with the target of catching one fish per month from my weekend sessions. My belief or hope being, if you could catch say 10-15 carp over the year there was a good chance of one or more of the much sort after thirties being included.
With a week off work in February in front of me (the half-term week so I could also have some time with my son Thomas), I was really hoping that I could get ahead of my monthly target a tad.
Funnily enough this particular week of February had been really kind to me the previous year when again I’d taken the half-term week off work. At the time I’d just began pre-baiting with an ‘unnamed’ test bait from Mainline that later turned out to be the Cell.
The north bay area of the lake was one place I’d been trickling in a bit of bait so when a swim known as ‘The Big Step’ situated in that area provided a couple of fish at the start of the week I wasn’t too surprised. What was a complete surprise was catching several more fish after later moving into ‘The Stumps’ the last swim in the bay. For fear of cutting myself off I only fished a single rod and the bites just kept coming – catching ‘The Parrot Mouth Common’ a new PB at 34lb 8oz within minutes of casting in. Then breaking that PB with ‘The Silver Common’ at 38lb 8oz ten minutes later!
The session of my dreams, so understandably I was hopeful turning-up at the lake for the same week a year later. Although not for one minute did I expect a repeat performance – I just didn’t want to blank a week session, one fish would do…
The conditions looked quite favourable, as I barrowed-up to a section known as ‘The Meadow’ – well I say barrow, that doesn’t really sum-up the level of endurance needed to get around the lake. Argal didn’t have much my way of paths back then and if it wasn’t for the volunteer work of the bailiffs and regular anglers there wouldn’t have been much in the way of built, level swims either. Today’s short legged bedchairs just wouldn’t have cut it back then on Argal not if you didn’t want to be rolling off it.
Anyway, with all the kit (and son) in the ‘Bottom Meadow’ peg, I had a little while to wait as my mate, Dave already in the swim from the previous night packed away. As I sat and watched I saw a couple of fish show – boosting my swim choice confidence, but understandably slowing down Dave’s pack-up rate.
Eventually he vacated the swim and my rods were out for the night – hopeful of a take, which to my dismay especially after seeing a few fish had not materialised by the following day. The same scenario was encountered the following night before the pleasant southerly wind and overcast sky dispersed to allow a new weather front to come in. Bright clear sky and a biting east wind blowing straight into my face.
Within a few hours everything had gone from feeling right to feeling wrong and there was only one thing to do – move. To me the only glimmer of hope lay in moving to the other end of the lake (over a mile away) where the water was much shallower, around 8-16ft deep on average rather than 20ft plus in my current position. Despite the wintery conditions, perhaps the bright sun might warm this shallower water a little, just enough to attract a carp or two?
Well that was my thinking, so I upped sticks got the kit back to the car and drove up to another parking spot at the other end of the lake - leaving all the other anglers behind at the deeper north end.
Another long trek with the kit following the inlet stream down to the lake was negotiated and I was soon setting-up in a swim that’s generally known for its summer results: ‘The Rope’ (church side). The swim was the last on the lake before a small section was cordoned off as a nature reserve by a rope. During the summer the fish loved the area for its warm shallow water where they would group and spawn, as well as hide and recover and being caught.
Although not exactly known for its winter qualities the swim did now have one plus point – I was the only one at this end and the nearest angler was literally about 60-acres of water away. This allowed for a wider spread of my rods with just one fished toward the rope on my right where I’d fit all three in the summer. With no one to disturb the left rod was cast into the swim to my left with the middle rod positioned on the edge of the old riverbed about halfway to the far side.
Just a couple hours into dark and the hunch, stroke move looked to be a good one when the rod in the next swim was away with a positive take – a welcome common of 16lb the result. Things were looking good and got even better at first light when the riverbed rod produced a nice upper-double mirror.
The rest of the day was spent watching the water when it became clear that my move was kinda 99% right, but not quite perfect. There were obviously fish at this end of the lake, but I’d began to see more fish show in front of the swim known as ‘Five-Bar’ opposite me. In particular a big common had shown a couple of times and again just before dark. Having had a couple of fish and with the rods in and well presented, I decided to stay put for the night, but move to Five-Bar in the morning should the night not produce anything.
By 10am the following morning I’d not received any further action and had seen another two shows in the Five-Bar. So the ball-ache of moving again got underway – and I’m not kidding it was a proper ball-ache. Up a muddy hill, down the other side, through the stream praying not to get the barrow stuck on a streambed boulder then up and over another hill around the other side of the lake.
With three nights of my session still to go, I accepted the risk of spooking the swim with the marker rod with just a few casts to find my spots. There was a large shallow area of gravel in front me perfect for a couple of rods and as, I’d done from The Rope swim prior, I again found the old riverbed about halfway across.
I paced out the rods and clipped-up to the spots (a process I’d just began using by trapping the lead on top of the bivvy around a rib and walking out the line – old hat now thanks to the ‘two-bankstick-trick’) before casting out my favoured Longshank Hook Rig with a Cell Snowman hookbait. Just twenty or so Cell boilies were catapult over the top and I was fishing once again.
With the traps set, I began sorting out the sleeping kit in the bivvy when one of the rods was away – I remember looking at the bobbin ploughing into the buzzer thinking “this can’t be right, I’ve only been in the swim half an hour!” but I was into a fish alright that was heading straight for the hazard to my right – a granite wall!
Prior to the damn being built and the farmland being flooded the fields were divided-up by Cornish hedges (granite walls), and these rows of stone remained submerged in the lake. With the topography of the lake being pretty bland, the walls were a real double-edged sword in the truest sense – one of the few features in the lake on one hand and a line cutting threat on the other.
Luckily some side strain on the rod soon had the hooked fish headed back my way, away from the wall and without any further drama’s over the cord of the net a few minutes later. Sat in the base of the net lay a huge framed common, without doubt the big fish I’d seen show the night before and a familiar fish too. It was a repeat capture of the Parrot Mouth Common, a fish I’d caught exactly a year ago only this time a pound heavier at 35lb 8oz.
Pacing out the line (57-paces) soon had the rig back in position with another catty or two of Cell over the top that was much easier to get out now that the fading light was too dark for the swarming gulls.
It was becoming clear that moving to the opposite side of the lake and the Five-Bar swim had properly put me on ‘em. All through the early hours the bobbins continually danced about with liners. Finally one of the lines lifted tightly similar to the liners before ripping off through the buzzer. How I never shook the fish off through shivering I’ll never know. The temperature was easily around freezing or below. Although what turned out to be another common carp showed no ill effects from our shaky battle weighing in at 27lb 10oz to display some classic dark winter colours.
From having so many liners and a concern that the fish were inside my range, I decided to make one more tweak to my approach the following night, by reducing my casting distance to 47paces. I’d still be fishing the shallow gravel and would hopefully be jumping out of my skin less from so many violent line bites – just to be safe I also added a backlead to the lines just in front of the rod tip.
At around 8pm I received just the sign I was looking for – a 19lb mirror in the net and nowhere near so many liners. Hopefully less line bumping would mean more action, which was soon the case at first light with a belting 33lb common providing another highlight to the trip. Before another high-double common came to the recast rod.
The session had already surpassed all my expectations - like by a mile, but there was still my final night to fish. All three rods went out a couple of hours before dark with the now well-practiced routine of clipping-up at 47-paces, and I stood watching the water thinking it was about this time I’d start to see the odd fish show.
Willing one to stick its head out to confirm they’re presence, I received a much better indication with a full-blown take! Another of the smaller commons at 17lb, but it was good to know the fish were still in front of me. There was no doubt of that when a twenty-pound mirror came to the net an hour later. The fish was on the mat just about to have it’s picture taken when it quickly had to return to the net and the water – one of the remaining rods was away! One mirror became two with a 24lb fish coming to the net.
The succession of takes continued and ended with another common at 22lb 8oz in the night – to finish an eleven fish catch for the session. With Argal holding around a hundred or so carp at the time I was blown away by the result – and never believing that this sort of action could happen twice after the previous year, but it had.
More importantly, as time went on and I travelled to fish other venues, I also realised that this session had taught me a great deal too.
ONE – LOCATION
Location is one, if not the most important element to have in place with any fishing scenario, but this session really highlighted this fact in a different way. Through the summer fish may be found predominately in one part or area of the lake, but are still generally fairly spread.
During this winter session the vast majority of the Argal stock were bunched-up in one very small, tight area of the lake. My first move to the Rope swim put me on the fringes, but the next move to Five-Bar put me slap-bang on ‘em. 65-acres was suddenly reduced to less than half an acre – a large lake had become a small one and the ratio of fish to volume of water had gone from low stock to runs-water level.
I’ve found this to be the case on so many waters since – where in the winter a low stock of carp can group together and in some respects become more catchable because of it – if and when you find them.
TWO – CLIPPING-UP
Pacing out my line, clipping-up and recording my casting distance was something I’d only just started doing in this session. After which the benefits of a speedy, quiet recast were clear and so clipping-up became a set process within my fishing approach. My technique may have changed to the ‘two-bankstick-trick’, but the results and ‘extra’ fish caught have continued onto other waters.
Stone Acres was a great example of this. When I was lucky enough to catch one fish, I was often fortunate to then catch another to the recast. There’s no doubt this was down to always clipping-up and recording my casting distances and directions when setting-up at the start of the session - when all the disturbance of the boat work (finding, marking spots etc.) would be made. This wasn’t the case after a take, where all you need to do is clip-up, recast and feel for a reassuring ‘donk’ onto the spot with little to no disturbance to move the fish off.
THREE – READING THE SITUATION
Sometimes the smallest of signs can increase your chances of catching massively, with a couple of these occurrences happening during this February session. Firstly the change in the weather and cold easterly wind that prompted some thinking about where the carp might be in these conditions?
Yes it was a bit of a guess on my part to try the shallows, but I was also moving away from the area of the lake pressured by lines. Again something I learned fishing Argal that has stuck with me – always checkout the overlooked, underused swims and quiet parts of the lake.
The other ‘sign’ was having so many liners in the Five-Bar swim. It would have been easy to sit back and think this meant bites were on the way. Which is what I initially did, but there were so many that in the end I brought my baits in a tad closer. Resulting in more action that I’m not convinced would have lasted if the fish had continued bumping the lines so much.
FOUR – STICKING TO A WINNING FORMULA
This key point is almost an extension to point one, as in; during this Argal session all I had to worry about was actually getting on the fish – that was the one and only focus of the session.
Not once did I have to worry about bait, rigs or anything like that – I was using a rig I knew worked there was no confusion there. I was also a year into trickling Cell boilies in the lake every week. So my confidence in the bait and that of the fish to eat it was already well established, and man does that make things a whole lot easier.
There have been times since fishing Argal that I’ve fallen into the abyss that is piddling about with your rigs and constantly change them. Which inevitably leads to blanking your arse off, because you’re not thinking about more important things like putting them in the right place.