Being away in China for a couple of weeks, undoubtedly has it's benefits, not least of which is witnessing some stunning scenery, unique experiences and fascinating insights into a very different way of life. Nevertheless, I don't share my youngest daughters hyperactive wanderlust and quite frankly I missed my fishing and music. The nearest I got to piscatorial therapy was watching local pleasure anglers in Guilin city in southern China. At the centre of the city are two lakes, Fir and Banyan, formed from a Tang Dynasty moat that once surrounded the city. On Fir Lake’s shore, twin pagodas, the "Sun" and "Moon", light up the sky at night. During daylight hours one corner of the lake is host to half a dozen anglers who pay a small fee to fish for freshwater species. They employ telescopic rods, antennae floats and corn hook baits. What particularly caught my attention was their use of a highly pungent ground bait, which was balled in at regular intervals. Much to my delight, I managed to get my hands on a couple of packs of the ground bait at a local 'bird and flower' market and brought it back to Britain as a new secret weapon in my carp fishing armoury. However, I only witnessed one fish capture by a Chinese angler, namely a roach-like specimen of around 6 ounces. I have to say that traditional cormorant fishing on the Rivers Li and Yulong was much more successful. The manner in which cormorants disappear into fast flowing murky water and emerge with a fish, on almost every dive, is nothing short of astounding. Certainly, human efforts are distinctly pathetic by comparison. The bamboo rafts used by cormorant fishermen also made a deep impression upon me, because of their simplicity of build, stability and manoeuvrability. Modern versions are fabricated from polyethylene pipes and I'm sure there is a place for such a watercraft at Wetlands.
Anyway, back to this weeks session. Given that an unexpected cold snap coincided with my return to the UK, the dreaded frozen lake scenario prevented me from wetting a line until now, amounting to what seemed like an interminable gap of over 4 weeks. Angling deprivation sees me metaphorically walking the ceiling, in my frustrated desire to get back on the banks. At last, as I drove through the gates on a dark Monday morning, my sense of inflated anticipation was overwhelming. The weather forecast predicted unusually mild conditions, with an increasing southerly wind, veering later to the west. Hence, there was only one place I wanted to be, and that was right on the end of the expected wind in peg 4. Such was the strength of my conviction, that I didn't even bother with a lap of the specimen lake. Instead, I pulled straight into the vacant car parking space and unloaded without hesitation.
Having run out of Wet Baits boilies (Dave was not available to replenish my stocks, being away at a dental appointment), I had to fall back on a winter alternative. Each of my 3 rods was duly baited with a Dynamite Coconut Cream 15 mm boilie, topped with a DNA Milky Malt 10 mm pop-up, snowman style. Naturally, a golf ball sized bag of Skretting, mixed size course pellets (pre-dipped in matching bait soak) was attached to each hook, to increase attraction and reduce tangles. The plan was to fish three spots, namely LH rod to the left of the snag bushes, middle rod 40 yards directly out front, and RH rod on the apron of the island to the right. Having acquired some new chest waders in the interim, I had it in mind to bait the island slope with Skretting halibut pellets and place the hook bait at the base of the drop-off. To do this I needed to approach the spot from peg 5. Unbeknown to me, Richard had been busy with a digger during my absence, and had excavated a deep channel in the margins of peg 5. As a result, I nearly disappeared into the depths, as I made my first few tentative steps out from the bank. Luckily, my landing net handle, used as a prodder, gave me sufficient warning of the change in bottom profile and an unplanned soaking was narrowly avoided. After trying several routes, I managed to approach the island safely from the rear and 10 minutes later the baiting task was completed. In order to achieve precise hook bait placement on the prepared spot, I intended to deploy my bait boat. To my dismay, the jet motors failed to activate when I operated the joy stick, leaving the boat to bounce up and down on the increasing swell. After retrieving the lifeless hull, I managed to cast the rod accurately by hand, so problem number one was surmounted for the time being. Later, I discovered that it's fuse holder contained a poor connection, and the heat generated by sparks had melted the plastic. A temporary repair was effected by removing it and rejoining the wires.
Problem number two emerged, when I set about erecting my bivvy in blustery conditions. As the windborne structure skirted across the ground, one of it's aluminium poles dug into the soil and bent inwards. Bending it back into to shape turned out to be a critical mistake, as the pole snapped clean off. The design of the Trakker Tempest is such that it will still (more or less), retain it's shape with a broken leg, but it looked a bit sorry for itself. Problem number three came to light as I sought solace in a much needed cup of warming coffee. My estimate that there was still enough gas left in the canister proved totally unfounded, with the result that the flame diminished to a flutter and then disappeared within seconds of being ignited. Richard kindly brought me a replacement, but my relief was short lived - I subsequently discovered that it wouldn't fit my burner unit.
I had to wait until mid afternoon, before properly trying out my Chinese ground bait. Once the bait boat was back in operation, I tried to re-do the island margin rod, it's efficacy boosted by an additional payload of five tangerine sized balls of ground bait. The first delivery failed, as the balls remained in the upper section of the hopper, instead of falling through the trap door. Breaking them in half solved the issue, such that I eventually managed to place the bait with pin-point accuracy on the intended spot. Frustratingly, a pair of resident swans, were quick to identify a feeding opportunity, and within an hour the whole lot had been consumed, including both hook baits. Consequently, the task couldn't be properly completed until dusk.
Meanwhile, I had under-armed a few balls of ground bait under the Willow tree to the left of the peg, in the hope that carp activity might develop, spurred on by a lack of lines in the water. Late afternoon, the notion was further fuelled by Richard's information that a few recent captures had been made from that spot. By nightfall, with no action on any of my rods, I made the decision to move my middle rod to the Willow spot. The decision was clearly a well-advised one. At 5.30 pm, within a few minutes of being placed on it's new spot, the rod signaled a few stuttery bleeps and fell silent. As I hovered over it, the bobbin began to slowly rise, so I hit it, expecting a bream to make it's presence known. A healthy kick on the end left me in no doubt that a carp was responsible and a non-dramatic fight ensued. The culprit turned out to be a lovely dark brown, near leather Mirror of 14lb 10oz. At 7.05 pm the same rod was away again, this time with a belting one toner. After another uneventful fight, an 11lb 0oz Common joined me on the bank for it's weighing ceremony.
Overnight, the wind strength increased significantly, the sky cleared partially and the temperature dropped, but no further action ensued. Nevertheless, I was well pleased with my efforts on the session. After four weeks away, it felt remarkably satisfying to be back in Britain, on the banks of a carp lake, with a couple of captures under my belt. Yep, I'm definitely back in business!