Avid Carper Dave Magalhaes reflects on his year so far...
As I sit down to write this, I’ve just returned from another overnighter on a lake I’ve spent a bit of time on over the past couple of months. The weather was wet and windy, and as the sun rose behind a curtain of grey clouds, it was the first time that I’ve thought to myself, “autumn is just around the corner!” It was also the first time I’d blanked in over 6 weeks of fishing and is the reason for me sitting down in front of my laptop and looking back over the spring and summer.
At some point towards the end of March, after a run of scaly little beauties from a local club lake, I began to grow bored of my fishing. As much as it’s nice just to get a bend in the rod during the colder months, I’d had enough and yearned for a different challenge and the prospect of a big, anti-social carp. I think it’s probably fair to say that I can be quite fickle and eccentric with my fishing and in particular, my choice of venue or carp I chose to chase. It’s not uncommon, therefore, for me to bounce from venue to venue. One minute I can be completely engrossed in a lake, all guns blazing, only for something to change and I’ll be gone and off somewhere else. It was around this time, that I was asked if I fancied doing a bit of fishing on RK Leisure’s Wraysbury North Lake. At first, I sat back and my mind was filled with all the stories that I’d read about in the past. The special fish, the captures, the heartaches, the joys, the British records… It was all there spinning around in my head. Then, reality kicked in and I remembered that the lake had been re-stocked and had also undergone some major changes. Before turning the offer down off the back of some horror stories that I’d heard on the rumor mill, I decided to go down and have a look at the place for myself. Apart from the very occasional visit to see friends, I hadn’t walked around Wraysbury properly for 14 years! I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but within seconds of walking through the gates, I was taken aback at how much work had been done and was still ongoing. The most notable change was ‘the great divide’. Where there was once a gap (small channel), connecting the North and South lakes that together made Wraysbury 1, there was now a track running straight through the gap, making the North and South two separate lakes. The North lake, which was about to open as a day ticket to the public, had been re-stocked with approximately 250 hand picked carp. More importantly though, approximately 40 ‘originals’ also resided in there, including all the known big fish, as well as a couple of surprises, including a 46lb common that nobody could trace back. As I sat in the ‘Rocky Barge’ swim debating what to do, I decided to take Wraysbury for what it now was and not dwell on the past. It was now a 45-acre lake with approximately 300 carp in.
A few nights later I was down for my first overnighter. After a walk round and a chat with another angler, I opted to set up in the ‘Rocky Barge’ swim. Partly because it was getting late and I figured that in the morning it would allow me to see most of the lake and spot any possible showing fish, but also because a small part of me loved the idea of setting up in the swim that had produced ‘Mary’ at a record weight once upon a time (sad hey). Over the next couple of weeks, I managed to squeeze in 4/5 overnighters. With every passing day, the weather seemed to get warmer and warmer, and as a result, there was a noticeable increase in activity from the carp. Although I’d arrive late most evenings and not get my rods out before 1am, by not casting out until I’d found fish, I was able to get a bite or two before packing up at 6am for work. I didn’t catch anything massive, in fact I think my biggest was around 24lb, but it was still enjoyable fishing, even if the carp weren’t any of the originals I was hoping for. By the end of April, the lake was open to the public and it was starting to get a little busier. In typical fashion, I soon got itchy feet and was off looking for a change of venue. During one very hot and sunny day, I drove to half a dozen venues in search of some surface feeding carp and it was during this tour of the Colne Valley, that I remembered another lake of old.
At around 40 odd acres in size, I wasn’t expecting to see much. It was typical, really, of many of these unfished pits, just left to let nature take its course. Parking up in one of the residential roads nearby, I grabbed some bread and floaters, my polarised glasses then made the short walk over to the lake. It had been a few years since I’d last walked round it and not much had changed barring a few more snags. The water was still crystal clear and you could see the bottom a long way out. Again, typical of these type of lakes, it had a sailing club up one end. As I stood looking up towards the sailing club, a carp came crashing out. It looked a good one too, so I carried on round to get as close as possible. With not a soul to be seen, I gingerly made my way out onto the pontoon in font of the sailing club and sat down. After throwing half a loaf of bread out, I sat back and watched the sun go down. Five minutes or so had passed, when I heard that unmistakable slurp of a carp. Within seconds, four carp were up and frantically sucking at the bread. It had obviously been a while since they’d done so, as they were incredibly clumsy, missing far more than they actually took. Then, for no reason whatsoever, they were gone. I’ve fished enough lakes over the years that have sailing clubs on them, to know that those pontoons, for whatever reason, are always magnets to the fish. With that in mind, as I drove home, I started making plans.
The following evening, I was back once more. I’d raided my dads shed for all the bait I had stored there, as well as some I had at mine. After doing a lap of the lake to make sure nobody was about, I walked 25kg of bait up to the pontoons, tipped it straight over the edge and hastily made my retreat. I returned at first light before work for a look. The area around the pontoon was alive and great patches of fizzing popped away on the surface. I stayed for almost two hours, just patiently watching the water, before having to leave. Experience has taught me that if I baited enough, those fish would turn up by the pontoons and as much as it was the place I was most likely to get caught, it was by far the easiest place to fish. I was back again that evening and spread another 7kg or 8kg of bait off the end of the pontoons, then once again, made a hasty retreat. The morning and evening visits I repeated for the next few days, making sure to bait every time, before finally wetting a line. The evening was meant to be clear and mild, with a gentle breeze pushing straight into the sailing club. Arriving a little before 10pm, I parked up, and then made the 15-minute walk up to the sailing club. Checking there was nobody about, I spread a kilo of boilies off the pontoon, then went back to the van. I don’t know why, but I was very nervous about fishing over on this pit and if I’m honest, was making excuses not to go back with the rods. As it was so mild, I opted to leave the bedchair and sleeping bag in the van, making the walk much, much easier. With everything tied up and ready (very unlike me), it was a simple case of just lowering the rigs on to the spots. With nowhere to put any banksticks, the rods were simply placed on the deck, with the reels upside down and the clutches slackened off. In the moonlight, I could see the lines hanging limply off the end of the rod tips. I made myself comfortable on my mat and rested my back against a container. I stayed awake for as long as I could, repeatedly looking around me, before my eyelids got too heavy and I fell asleep with my head on my knees. The last thing I remember was the sound of the gentle waves lapping into the pontoon and the repeated tapping of something against a post in the sailing club compound. The next thing I knew, the clutch on my right hand rod was steadily ticking away and I was stumbling forward, in a desperate bid to reach it. From the off it was difficult to get any sort of control over the fish and in the deep water in front, it bore down over and over again. The tapping continued against the post behind me and every time the wind blew a little stronger, the tapping got quicker. The fish seemed to know what it was doing and on a couple of occasions, it did its best to swim under the pontoon. Each time it did, I held on and pulled back, hard, causing the rod to take on a hideously alarming curve. The tip itself was arched round so far into the water, that I’m sure on a couple of occasions it was below my feet. Every time it did, I had to look away, certain of something giving at any moment. Slowly, slowly, the fish began to tire and as it did, its powerful runs became less determined. With the line singing in the wind, it surfaced for the first time. I could see it was a big fish as it lay there, beaten momentarily, the moon reflecting off its back, before it kicked and bored back down. When it surfaced again a few minutes later, it was too close and I struggled to maneuver the net in time, allowing it another chance to seek freedom. By now, I was nervous wreck and repeatedly looked around to make sure nobody was about. At the same time, I willed the fish to tire and give up. The next time it surfaced, I led it towards the waiting net. With its head knocking and water spluttering from its mouth, I lifted the mesh around it. Quickly dropping to my knees, I pulled the phone from my pocket, flicked on the torch and peered into the net… It was big! When I lifted the fish out of the water, I knew it was one of the lakes proper ones and when I lay it down on the mat and pulled the mesh away to reveal its flanks, I could see the distinctive scaling of the lakes most prized resident. I’ve caught a few bigguns quick in my time, but that one was undoubtedly the quickest!
I managed another over nighter a few days later and was lucky enough to catch two more carp. Again, this was off the back of a big hit of bait. Unfortunately I had a few issues with my wrist, so had to stop fishing as I couldn’t physically hold a rod.
The next few weeks or so drove me mad, desperate to get out fishing, but unable to. When my wrist did eventually sort itself out, I decided to give Farlows a visit. Admittedly, it wasn’t the best time to be angling over there as the carp seemed pretty determined to spend a lot of their time getting frisky. In fact, on two of my overnighters I ended up just reeling in and leaving them to it. Eventually, though, once they’d got all that nonsense out of their system, it was back to some normal fishing. I think I did three overnighters, with fish to over 27lb, before they started looking very spawny again.
With the start of the traditional season about to start, I decided to leave the Farlows carp to it and do a bit back on the river. The start was very frustrating and by my fifth night, all I had to show for my efforts was a handful of bream. The start, on the non-tidal part of the river, has been like that for the last couple of years, very much an anti-climax with the carp reluctant to make an appearance. Finally, though, on my birthday morning, I woke to my left hand rod buckled round in the rests and line peeling off a tight clutch. After a nervous fight, with me praying for it to tire and give up, I netted a quite glorious looking carp that had me smiling for the whole following week.
The start of July saw me back over on the Thames. After the capture of that incredible looking carp, I was keen to try and bag another whilst the fish were in the area. A few years ago, the capture of one carp would have been the start of a run of fish, but these days, more so through the summer months, it doesn’t seem to mean anything. For whatever reason, the carp fishing isn’t anywhere near as prolific in the area that I fish, as it used to be. Gone are the days of multiple hits and instead, captures are few and far between. I was back again a couple of nights later, but even though confidence was high and managing to avoid the ravenous hordes of bream through the night, I woke in the morning and was greeted by motionless indicators. With the river fishing so poorly and with me getting itchy feet once more, I packed the gear away and began to think of somewhere else to fish.
Unbelievably, as luck would have it, my shoulder completely seized up a few days later and I was unable to move my right arm. The doctors booked me in for a scan and in the mean time gave me a ridiculous amount of tablets to try and relieve the pain, as well as help get the shoulder moving again. Over the next two weeks, the rods were left in the cupboard to gather dust. I couldn’t even lift a fork to feed myself with, so the fishing rods had no hope of seeing the light of day. What this little break did give me though, was a chance to wander round and find some new venues. I eventually settled on the same 40-acre venue that I’d dabbled on in the spring. I baited the lake every day with 20kg+ of bait for a week before fishing it. By the time I’d tip-toed out onto the jetty and dropped my rigs in place, it was almost 2am. I couldn't have been asleep for more than twenty minutes, before the clutch from my right hand rod woke me. Even in the darkness, I could see that the rod tip was bent round at an alarming angle. From the off I could tell that it wasn’t a big fish, but it still battled hard nevertheless, eventually hitting the surface, beaten. It turned out to be a low-twenty common and not wanting to stress it out too much, I popped the hook out in the net and left the fish there. Thinking quickly, I wound the other rod in and lowered it down onto the spot I’d just caught from, then jumped back into bed. Just like the first fish, hardly any time had passed before the rod was away. It too fought hard in the deep water, repeatedly taking the rod round to full compression, but never taking any line. Once in the net, I could see that it was one of the lakes more scaly, battle scarred residents. Just like I did with the common, I unhooked it in the net and left it for some first light photos. Having scaled my gear down so much, I’d only had the two rigs that were on each rod, so that was my fishing over with for the night.
Over the next few weeks, I fished as much as I could, catching at least one fish a night, sometimes three or four. Some of the fish fought unbelievably hard and at times, I couldn’t even look at the rod it was so compressed. The fish continued to grace my net right up until this morning, when I sat down to write this. Admittedly, I ran out of bait, so haven’t been able to give them the same volume of food as I was. I was hoping that it wouldn’t make much of a difference, but another angler has been relentless with his baiting and his catch rate has reflected his efforts. With the autumnal weather making an early appearance, the fish should start to get their heads down. Fingers crossed, the blank last night was nothing more than a little blip. Let’s hope so anyway!