With the first Ladies British Carp Cup competition only four days away, my weekly pilgrimage to Wetlands took on a wholly different perspective. Firstly, a huge amount of preparatory work had been put in over the last few weeks, in terms of clearing out extraneous debris and lines from some of the more snag ridden swims. This meant that certain of the riskier areas could now be fished safely, presenting new opportunities for bait placement, that might be capitalized upon. Secondly, I found myself imagining how, as a competitor, I would approach a 48 hour match. I'm not sure that peg choice would be the key deciding factor. Certainly, each peg is capable of producing a 'big hit' on the right day, but good water-craft combined with an open-minded dynamic approach is very high on my list of requirements. By that I mean the ability to respond instantly to sightings of fish in the margins, and the many bays and channels that are spread like a patchwork quilted across the lake. As things turned out, opportunism played it's part in transforming my session this week from a potential blank to a very satisfying and rewarding one.
Occasionally, peg choice can be important at Wetlands, particularly where a few laps of the lake show the fish to be confined to a particular area. Nevertheless, the carp are by nature rather nomadic and frequently visit all areas of the lake at night, especially from sunset until around 1.30 am. Inevitably, this raises questions about baiting strategy. If you are not where the fish currently seem to be holding up, do you select the best possible feeding spot in your own swim, absolutely fill it in, and then sit on your hands, in the hope that the carp eventually find it and get stuck in, throwing caution to the wind? Or, alternatively, do you bait lightly, targeting one fish at a time, based on minute by minute responsiveness? Or, better still, do you combine both tactics simultaneously?
Of course, if you are, targeting a particular carp (the 'Big S' in my case), this puts a different complexion on things. As we all know, some anglers go to incredible lengths to track down a specific carp, studying previous capture history in immense detail and walking miles in an attempt to observe a carp's behavioural peculiarities. Dave Lane's capture of the Burghfield Common is a case in point. However, if the specimen you are pursuing has only been caught once, then that limits your peg choice somewhat, if you are of a mind to wait it out in the hot spot. In the end, that's what guided my choice of peg 4, given that the one and only capture of Big S had been from the back of the bar in front of the island margin. After plumbing the spot carefully for nearly an hour, I subsequently delivered half a bucketful of spod mix (consisting of 2 kg of Skretting mixed pellets, and a can each of sweetcorn and hemp, plus a good glug of salmon oil) to the deepest spot and put a fake corn combi-rig over the top. Needless to say, the two resident swans were on it in no time at all and I watched with helpless dismay as they proceeded to clear me out without mercy. Reluctantly, I decided to leave the spot alone, intending to top it up at dusk. At least the baited hook should remain intact and hopefully, still be fishing effectively.
My second rod, bearing double Wet Bait Liver and Garlic 16 mm boilies attached to a golf-ball sized PVA mesh bag of Skretting pellets was simply given a short underarm flick out from the bank. The third rod was used to put a Nash 15 mm wafter only 1 metre out from the RHS margin over the usual bed of Skretting pellets.
Unlike last week, when a few carp drifted into the RHS close margin area early in the afternoon, this week it wasn't until later in the day that a few carp drifted into the small bay to the right. However, they seemed a lot more wary of the baited margin spot and maintained a safe rod-lengths distance from it. Accordingly, I responded by creating a new spot around 3 metres out from the margin. To my shame, I failed to keep a close eye on developments. Not only did the carp manage to avoid my hook bait in the new spot and consume it's bounty, they also succeeded in completely clearing out the original margin spot without me noticing. By 7.00 pm they had disappeared altogether, having had a good feed at my expense. Whilst kicking myself for my carelessness, I attempted to redeem the situation by re-baiting the margin spot, in the hope that my visitors would return.
At 7.15 pm the rod that had been underarm cast 10 yards out from the bank burst into life, producing a blank saving 12 lb 10 oz Linear, for which I was immensely grateful. Rather than return the rod to same spot though, I opted to cast it 40 yards straight ahead, out into deeper water for the night, accompanied by a good spread of boilies. The customary PVA bag of pellets provided tangle resistance, plus added attraction for the hook bait. Then, at 8.15 pm the margin rod finally burst into life going into instant 'meltdown', as the culprit went absolutely mental in a bid to make it to the back of the bay. When it finally succumbed to sustained pressure, I was delighted to find that a long dark, scale perfect Common of 13 lb 12 oz was responsible. After a somewhat slow start, things were beginning to come together. Clearly though, it wasn't all going to be plain sailing, as two of the most persistent ducks on the planet subsequently located my margin spot and were determined to fill their bellies. Every time I turned my head away for a millisecond, they would creep back in, using the bank side vegetation as cover for their illicit activities. Eventually, I moved my chair to within two metres of the margin spot and hissed at them menacingly every time they showed the slightest inclination to return. And then to my amazement, as darkness descended between 9.00 and 10.00 pm, I was to witness an incredible display of feeding activity, right over my baited margin spot. Vortex after vortex interrupted the surface and every now and then a full tail would emerge and flap about excitedly as the banquet proceeded. The only indication rod-wise was the occasional single bleep, but nothing more until the meal was fully finished and the guests drifted away once more. I scratched my head in utter disbelief and could only conclude that the rig must have been tangled, so I lifted it out only to find it intact. More out of desperation than anything else, I exchanged it for a small Krill dumb bell wafter on a short 4 inch coated braid and after attaching a bag of pellets (to protect the hook point) replaced it very carefully in the margin.
Before retiring to my bivvy for the night I re-did the 'back of the bar' rod. Upon inspection it was apparent that the hook point had become turned over, so I replaced the combi-rig, but this time baited it with a short length of salami sausage, secured in place with a grain of fake corn. It was returned to the same spot along with a full (bait boat) hopper of the spod mix. It seems that my actions were well founded, as at 10.50 pm the bobbin bounced a few times and crept slowly upwards. Upon lifting the rod, very firm resistance was felt on account of a very hard fighting, near leather Mirror of 17 lb 10 oz, that took me all over the place, before it finally succumbed to the waiting net. Having run out of spod mix (mental note to bring extra tins of particles next time), I re-cast it to the same spot with only a bag of pellets as additional attraction. Unsurprisingly, the spot did not produce again during the night.
To my delight, the margin rod was away again at 11.50 pm, emitting a high pitched one-toner as a 15 lb 4 oz brown Mirror powered off from the bank. Again after a spirited fight my adversary lay on the unhooking cradle for a photo shot. My persistence had been well and truly rewarded! However, at this point I noticed that my two feathered friends had returned to the margin spot for a night time roost, so I ended up substituting the business end with twin Liver and Garlic 15 mm boilies on a 9 inch braided hook-link and under-armed it 10 yards out into the lake, instead. In addition to the PVA bag of pellets, a few loose boilies were scattered around it by hand. This turned out to be a sound decision as, at 01.30 am a fine 12 lb 8 oz Common succumbed to the trap and became the last entry in my catch log. Having said that though, the same rod did produce another take at 5.30 am, but in my half awake state, I messed up completely. It hadn't registered with me that the middle rod was arched round to the left - the carp had kited round and gone underneath my left hand rod, triggering it's alarm in the process. By the time I realised my schoolboy error the hook had pulled and the opportunity was lost.
All in all, in spite of a slow start, it turned out to be a relatively productive session with five carp to 17 lb 10 oz netted in 24 hours. It just goes to show that persistence and determination can turn frustration into success.