By : Simon Crow
Every now and then a carp comes into our lives that we dream of catching. I’ve had a few in the almost fifty years I’ve been alive, with the most recent being the Wood Common. The moment I first saw pictures of this great carp in Rich Wilby’s hands, I wanted to catch it. It wasn’t just its looks, but the whole story of Spitfire Pool and how this carp came about was something very special.
I was fortunate to be invited to interview Rich at his now legendary Pool in the autumn of 2011. It was then when he revealed he was going to open it up to the public. He had only selected weeks available, and was already fully booked by members of his other syndicates. I put my name forward for a place, and some five years later I received the call I’d been waiting for.
I was offered two weeks, both in April, one being the first and the other one the third. I couldn’t decide which to go for, so I took them both. It was a bit of a risk as I knew the fishing was always unpredictable on the tiny pool in April. The Wood Common had never been caught during the two weeks I had either. On the plus side, I was in with a chance, which was a great privilege in itself.
My first trip was in the diary for April 2017, the week after the Northern Angling Show. I surprised myself by catching the Small Common at just over thirty, with my return week resulting in the Italian at 32lb 8oz. I couldn’t have asked for a better start as there were so few captures from the Pool, anything on the mat was a mega result. The following year I landed Joe’s Fish at 38lb during the first week and then two weeks later one of the fish I really wanted known as the Leney at 35lb. The later gave me an epic boat battle, which I was fortunate to get on camera and upload to my YouTube channel. If you haven’t already seen it, it really is worth checking out.
With only a dozen or so residents to go at, it was always the aim to get one bite from each trip. There were so many blank hours put on the Pool each year, I’d done quite well with four fish from four trips. When the 2019 season came around, the mild winter had clearly had an effect on the Spitfire carp. As soon as I walked onto the banks I knew it was going to be a tough six days. I’d never seen as much weed on the Pool in April. Unlike other years, it hadn’t done a single bite since opening. It had fished very hard the previous autumn too with only three bites coming before the end of the year. Both of the big commons hadn’t been out since the spring of 2017, going uncaught throughout 2018 despite lots of good anglers having a go for them. To the fortunate who tried, it was understandable. The Spitfire carp don’t need to take bait. The Pool is rich in natural foods, making it a very tough water to crack. Very few leave with a result, and as for catching the Wood Common, it’s only ever been banked a dozen times in its 30+ years. A quarter of these have been on the same day of the year too, the 29th April, making it a special week to have. Even that one can be tough though, especially if the weather is against you. The Spitfire residents are the most solar powered I’ve come across, with timing being a big part of the equation.
Like the anglers before, my first trip of 2019 followed the same route, with a big fat blank. Foggy damp conditions had prevailed all week, and the only consolation was I’d seen the Wood Common in the back bay. Unfortunately it wasn’t on my side of the Pool as I’d shared the week with Liam Beaumont who’d also sat twirling his thumbs. The carp had showed no signs of feeding, and it continued into the next week as yet more cold weather hit the region. Thankfully it was to change when I returned for my second trip two weeks later.
I’d never fished the back bay before so I opted to have a go in there. Rich had told me the Wood Common had continued to show in the margins the previous week. A line of uneaten bait bordered a set of pads where I’d seen the fish a couple of weeks earlier. I climbed one of the trees to get a better view of the area. As soon as I got to the highest branch, there in only a couple of feet of water was the white tipped edges of the one I wanted most! It looked like a tree stump on the bottom, hardly moving as it lapped up the rays of the early morning sun. I was frozen in time as I daren’t move for fear of spooking it. First hand I’d experienced how spooky the Spitfire carp were on previous trips. I did my best to descend as slowly as I could, departing the area swiftly. For whatever reason, the giant common clearly had a liking for the back bay at the moment. Its normal favoured spot was the weedy shallower end, where most of its past captures had been.
I was brimming with confidence as I made my way back to the car to start unloading for set-up. The bivvy went 10m back from the edge as silently as I could, each peg going in lovely. I then tackled up my two rods with 15lb line through to a braided leader, lead clip and camo lead. The Wood Common has a really small mouth, one side being partly deformed. The obvious choice was for a small hookbait on a short six-inch rig. A dumbbell wafter looked the prefect choice, and as I tested it in the margins, it went down ever so gently with the weight of a size 6 hook.
A couple of casts was all it took to get it into place. I’d already decided to not put it where I’d seen the fish, for fear of spooking it. There were a couple of large clear spots in the bay that I’d seen whilst up the tree. The lead went down with a ‘donk’ leaving me assured everything was right for the evening and night ahead. The rods would stay in place until midday the next day, which was my normal routine on the Pool. Although action could come at any time, I’d narrowed the best feeding times to be in the morning up until midday and between 4pm and dusk. All of my previous bites had been from 4pm onwards, but Rich assured me the best time for one of the big commons was around 9am. The hours in between fitted in perfectly for resting the swim and my other love of running.
Two swans had settled on the island ready for nesting. The male wasn’t happy as he’d been hooked the previous week. He was active all of the morning as I set up, going from one side of the pool to the other. Eventually he settled in the back bay where he was preoccupied with feeding on the bits of weed coming up off the bottom. My line was stretched across the bay and I started getting knocks off the male swan. He never touched the hookbait, which I fished all alone without any freebies. His favoured spot just happened to be between where my rod and hookbait was. It settled down into evening, but I did get woken in the night when he went on a random feed once again. He never touched my left-hander, which I fished just in front of the swim close to some lilies that were starting to come up.
It was a gorgeous morning as the sun rose over the farm sheds on Rich’s property. The air was fresh and the only sound was from the local wildlife. A couple of peacocks in the distance were particularly vocal, as was a woodpecker in the wood behind where I was set up. I watched the water from first light at 5am, noticing the Long Common in exactly the same place it was the previous day. My mate Chris Felton was covering the shallows, and if I’d had to put money on who was getting a bite first, I’d have said him. It looked prime for something to give.
I finished my breakfast at 8.30am and sat looking at the water. Due to the way I’d set up camp I couldn’t quite see the back bay because of a big tree. It was starting to warm up nicely as I peeled off the first layer. The swans were making the most of the sun and were in the bay lapping up the rays. They started grazing on the weed again, almost immediately knocking my line and triggering the alarm. I cursed under my breath wondering whether to move the rod or stick with it. Bite time was approaching so I left it, picking up my phone for my first browse of the day.
Some twenty minutes passed before my alarm in the bay sounded again. The purple bobbin dropped an inch and then lifted back up. I casually walked over expecting to see the swans, which were nowhere in sight. It had dropped again by the time I got to it, and was just starting to lift when I looked into the bay. Wondering if it might be a rudd, to my surprise a massive vortex then erupted over the spot where I’d cast! I lifted the rod immediately and was met by a massive ‘thud’ as the fish gently kited to the right. I gained on it straight away, noticing a big black flank then breaking the surface as the carp spiralled in the water. My eyesight isn’t the best but there was no mistaking that I was attached to one of the big commons! Just to confirm again, I saw the same black flank hit the surface as I gained another ten yards of line. The fish did hardly anything until it was just in front of where I was stood, when it arched slightly to the left and found a thin set of pads. It was high in the water by now so it came through easily, where I stretched out the net with my left arm. The sun was glaring into my eyes and I couldn’t see which fish it was. I thought it might be the Long Common as its tail end was hanging well over the net as I relaxed off the pressure. It wasn’t until I peered inside and saw the white tips of its tail that I knew what I had. I silently punched the air, having another sneaky peak just to confirm things. There was no mistaking it was the Wood Common.
After propping the net in the margins, I skipped to the bivvy to grab my phone. The next half an hour was then a blur. I called Rich first to let him know, then I stood there talking to the giant carp trying to take in the moment. It looked huge, especially having come from such a small pool. When I saw it on the mat, I remember thinking how big it was; like it had been pumped up with air!
It wasn’t surprising to see it weighed in at a new venue best of 53lb 4oz. Whilst reading the scales, I think Rich was smiling as much as I was. He kept saying how happy he was to see it on the bank after two long years. Chris too was blown away by its perfection; and he’s a Yateley angler who’s seen a few special ones in his time. I’ll never forget his reaction, saying it was now his personal favourite UK carp. For those special few minutes it was certainly mine. I was absolutely buzzing, and I guess I will be for a very long time to come.
My sincere thanks to Rich Wilby for making it happen. Spitfire Pool is his creation and I feel honoured to have been allowed to fish there. The Wood Common is without a doubt one of the UK’s finest ever carp.