At last, after (what seemed like) an interminable gap of two weeks, I returned from a Caribbean Cruise, raring to get started on some serious angling. Now don't get me wrong, the Caribbean islands of Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Antigua, St Kitts, St Martin and St Vincent are not without their merits. Certainly, if sun (30 degrees C in the shade), sea (ultra clear turquoise) and sand (pure white), plus the odd palm tree, is your thing, then the title 'paradise islands' might well sum up the experience. Add to that the luxury of at least 3 lavish meals a day, laced with as much cake, fruit and ice cream you can get down your neck and you get some idea of the appeal of a cruise. But, to be honest, the highlight of the week for me was getting to play a two hour session on guitar with the ship's cabaret band on Valentine's night. As you might expect, the band was made up of top professional musicians and to accompany them in this way was for me, a terrific thrill. What made it even more special was that it was all 'seat of the pants' improvisational stuff. The material ranged from "Dock of the Bay" to "In the Air Tonight" and before each song the keyboard play whispered in my ear the title, key and any modulations etc. At strategic points he shouted, "SOLO" and it was down to me to hit the boost button and go for it with the best guitar licks I could muster. Thankfully, it all worked out rather well - the band loved it, the audience appreciated it and I had a marvelous and memorable time.
Anyway, back to the real piscatorial business. As I drove through the gates of Wetlands at 7.00 on Monday morning, I was hopeful that the forecast severe drop in temperature would hold off long enough for me to complete my stay without it being cut short by a frozen lake. The previous day had been unseasonably warm and rather windy, but today's journey had been delayed by the need to de-frost the windscreen. Already, the previously westerly wind had veered round to the north, so I was expecting a tough session. Understandably, I parked up in peg 4, intending to watch the three quarters span of the specimen lake that is visible from it's banks. Disappointingly, nothing stirred across it's entire visible surface, even after half an hour. Surprising, Dave and Rob were occupying peg 2, an unusual choice for this time of year, given it's relatively shallow depths. In due course, Dave came across for a chat and to fill me in with recent happenings. Apparently the last two weeks had been hard going. Nevertheless, earlier in the week (from peg 5), he had managed to put Timmy's Fish on the bank, at a reduced weight of around 26 lbs. Well done, that man! What's more Rob had fished over a bloodworm bed from peg 2 and caught a couple of good doubles. Furthermore he had lost a good carp to an unfortunate hook pull. So there might be a chance of some action then!
For some reason my fishing trips all seem to encompass the odd challenge or three, and this week was no exception. Firstly, what I thought was a black bait bag containing my Wet Baits boilies, turned out to be no such thing. Instead, it contained some old winter bait from 3 seasons ago. I had left the original bag at home in the freezer and picked up something that looked similar instead. Admirably, Dave promised to have some fresh ones brought round to me by Richard later in the morning. In the meantime an assortment of shelf life boilies had to suffice. My attempt to put a hook bait directly under the overhanging branches of the big Willow tree using my bait boat was thwarted, when the hopper door refused to open when signaled to do so by the controller. Hence, I had to resort to an overhead cast, which was never going to be as accurate and the first attempt had to be reeled in to release a wind knot that had formed a dense nest in the fluorocarbon line. All the same, I was confident that any nearby carp would be drawn towards the PVA mesh bag of Skretting mixed pellets, nicked onto the hook. The pre-tied bags had received a good soaking in the matching soluble bait dip to increase attraction further. I waited quite a while before casting out my other rods; in fact long enough for Richard to arrive with my fresh bait. A double 16mm boilie tandem (LG0 + KCG) was duly cast out to 40 yds combined with the customary PVA bag of Skretting pellets. KCG is a new Krill, Crab and Garlic infused bait that appears to be doing the business for Dave and his testers. The right hand rod, baited identically to the middle one was simply underarm cast out from the bank. A dozen, or so freebies was catapulted, or thrown by hand out to each spot and the waiting began.
Nothing stirred until mid afternoon, when I spotted a bit of movement above my middle rod. Then at 4.10pm a few bleeps were emitted from the same rod. I hovered over it for a few seconds, willing it to rip off. Instead, it suddenly dropped backwards and hit the deck. The culprit must having been moving at quite a pace directly towards me, because frantic back-winding failed to make any contact with the fish until it was only a few feet from the bank. Reassuringly, a solid thump was felt as connection was eventually made. After a few energetic surges it seemed to run completely out of steam and allowed me to tow it unceremoniously towards the waiting net, in which it was engulfed without drama.
A fine looking near Leather, Mirror joined me on the bank and weighed in at 16lb 12oz. I was immensely relieved to have caught in what was becoming a more difficult proposition as the clearing skies and falling temperatures took hold. I was hopeful of another before a potential freeze-up, but it wasn't to be. The night came and went with no disturbance whatsoever and I awoke to an absolutely glorious sunrise and a frozen unhooking mat. Thankfully, the lake remained unfrozen and the slow pack-away was made all the more pleasant by the knowledge that Richard had generously filled a sack of wood for my log burning stove. The prospect of a delightfully warming log fire beckoned me home. Even so, I shall be looking forward to next weeks expedition with unabated enthusiasm.