A Year of Two Halves

By : Josh Bennett

In the late summer and autumn of 2019, I had a little bit more fishing time on my hands than I usually would have. Having been off work after a vehicle accident, I was finally back on my feet and more than ready to do some angling once again.

The Carp Society is an integral part of the British carp angling community and having been established in 1981, it has survived the tests that time has thrown at it. Farriers Lake is the Society’s syndicate venue, of which I am a member and its 32 acres stretch across the Gloucestershire countryside in the heart of the Cotswold water park. Here, within its shallow depths, weed is abundant and large trees loom along jutted points, creating bays housing snags and reed-fringed margins. The lake’s inhabitants have indeed grown to a healthy size and their population predominantly consists of the common strain of king carp. Being home to an estimated 100-150 fish, the lake can be tricky at times and even when the carp do oblige, the weed can ensure a tense battle ensues.

With the kind invitation from the Carp Society that my dad could accompany me on my travels, we both set off only 16 weeks after I had been knocking on the pearly gates in the sky. Thankfully I was refused entry, most probably because I should have been knocking at the fiery ones a few floors down, but regardless I was grateful to be alive and more than happy, if a little sore, to be fishing again.

That very first session back to Farriers brought with it a whole host of emotions. Relief, joy and just an appreciation of being back by the water again. The lake had fished well through the summer, some of the more consistent anglers catching good hits of the very large carp that inhabited the lake. I was eager to get going again and planned to meet dad at the gates. As it transpired dad was held up a little in traffic, so while I arrived a short time before him, it meant I could watch the water until he arrived to help set things up. I was still unable to walk properly, and just getting gear to the swim would be a challenge. Luckily a good friend John was just packing down and had caught a few. He was also vacating one of my favourite swims and so with the lake being busy, it would have been rude not to wouldn’t it? John being the man he is even pushed my gear the short 50 metres or so from the nearest drop off bay, what a star.

Now ensconced in the swim, I perused the water for a short time before walking round to open the gate for dad. We travelled back to the peg and I had informed him of what I had seen, which on reflection was very little. The sun was rising into a beautiful August morning and although the rods were despatched to their respective spots with relative ease, the fish didn’t arrive until much, much later that day. As we supped a tea on dusk, several fish slid through the surface film, sending silent rings back towards us on the bank.

I have for as long as I remember fished from a brolly and sitting in the wide, open doorway of the ascent the following morning, I was slightly disappointed with no fish to show for my efforts. Knowing John had caught overnight meant that as the morning grew on, my confidence was decreasing. At 11 am I finally got a steady, yet persistent take that took us both by surprise. Immediately I held the fish firm to try and keep it from finding the vast weed beds behind the spot. The fish bore hard and with it the clutch that was wound tight begrudgingly gave line. Maybe it was my lack of recent fishing or just bad luck, but either way, the fish found the sanctuary of the weed. After 10 minutes of tugging and thinking about calling for the boat, the fish kicked hard and the hook pulled. I was disappointed but in the grand scheme of things, it was just a lost fish, I could have lost a lot more just a few weeks prior and context was brought to the situation.

With the rod replaced we sat and schemed of how to reap revenge on the carp, many of which were now present in front of the swim due to its shallow depth and the glorious summer sun we were experiencing. Once more rods were replaced and my usual tactics deployed. The lake has a leader ban and as a result, the outline rig tubing and a simple lead clip set up has been my par set up. I usually blob a few pieces of putty along the line, however, the unique camouflage on all of Avid’s outline end tackle, provides excellent concealment over any lakebed. I use a strong 15lb line; namely the trapline in the respective breaking strain and finally, a slip D set up of around 7 inches, incorporating the CRV hooks in a barbless (adhering to the rule) size 4.

Thankfully the following morning the same rod produced another take and I was so pleased to finally land a fish for my efforts. With me having told my dad about so many big carp within the lake, it was sod’s law that this one turned out to be 18lb! Either way, we were off the mark and would be able to return soon.

The lake continued to fish well, although mainly in two areas where the weed was at its busiest. The lake was busy and upon our return we again found the lake rammed with anglers. Once more the first night passed without action, however, this was expected due to not being able to get into one of the two areas fish were frequenting. The second night I swiftly moved round to swim 4; well dad swiftly moved around whilst I hobbled behind! Knowing the spots, both rods were quickly settled on to their respective rests and I sat back to await any action. The following morning fish moved into the area and eventually, the right-hander lifted slowly, but purposefully into a healthy take. Once again the weed grabbed at the line, but with a little practice from the week before, I coaxed a 28lb mirror into the waiting net.

The fish looked beautiful in the morning sunlight and it was another success that brought with it smiles and laughter. During that morning, however, we had seen a lot of fish down the opposite end, showing without any due care within the confines of a thick weed bed. Although we’d been successful, it was obvious where the majority of the stock was and we made our way home, intent on returning to that end of the pit the following session.

That end of the pit was the furthest walk and by this point, I was beginning to walk a little better. That session I remember pushing the barrow for the first time and it didn’t feel too bad, even if it did take a little longer than it would normally have. I rested the gear down in peg 19 and although the entire bank to my left was taken, this was where the fish were showing and being caught from. Simply, I had to fish as close as I could with the swims available to me. There was also every chance of a move in the morning. One thing I had done the week before was walk round with a leading rod and thankfully, had found a few spots in this swim. Lining up the far bank markers and reminding myself of the distances marked on my phone, it didn’t take too much disturbance to once again be sat, content behind two rods. The night was quiet in regards to activity on my rods, however, the fish again put on an aerial display further out in the pit. The crashes echoed along the surrounding foliage and it was hard to see exactly where they were showing. I even remember hearing a couple crash out in the lake behind me! As the light gradually increased so did my attention to the water. We had both been up since daybreak and supped at the warmth of a tea. Fish after fish showed at distance and it was obvious we needed to move if we were able. Late that afternoon peg 15 became available and it was a case of just getting round there. I got the rods out just into the evening and just hoped the fish would stay where they had shown so happily just hours before. At 11 pm we received the answer in the shape of a beautifully framed common. At 35lb it was finally one of the better stamp I had hoped to show dad whilst he accompanied me. The action continued in the morning and I managed another scraper twenty as the light rose, just before having to head for home.

I was gaining confidence again now. I had been away from the lake for some time and I felt that we were getting back in tune with the place. The bait, rigs and my approach all seemed to work, as long as I could get into the swims that could afford me access to where the fish were located. The gear was certainly helping with this and I had whittled my tackle down to just a rod bag, bucket, tackle bag and bedchair along with the brolly and barrow. My mobility was difficult, but that wasn’t going to stop me from being proactive. Thankfully, the fish were soon to begin being a little more nomadic and get up to their usual tricks of getting here there and everywhere.

I continued catching steadily during my trips and I was now consistently fishing two days a week. As previously stated I have never been able to do this, but by fishing around the days my wife worked, looking after my boy and physiotherapy, doctors appointments and the like, I was able to really keep in touch with the fishes movements. I have to admit that many of the anglers on the lake also gave me some invaluable information and the ethos on Farriers is very much one of friendship and sharing of information between anglers, it really is a very enjoyable place to angle. This particular trip my dad had finished fishing elsewhere and joined me for an overnight session at the lake. It was once again very busy and a total of 14 anglers were plotted up in their respective swims around the lake. Peg 1 suddenly looked very inviting, not only as it was only yards inside the gate, but also because several fish had decided to call it home for the evening.

Considerable amounts to catch the attention were happily lazing in the early autumnal sunshine and we quickly decided that here would be as good a place as any. I knew of a spot at around 60 yards, however, the fish were noticeably closer than this and by donning the polaroid’s and finding a suitable perch, I was able to locate small gravel holes in the weed. Occasionally, a black shape would drift effortlessly over the shades of yellow and golden gravel, just to get the heart ticking that bit quicker. A short cast of just over 40 yards saw the lead land perfectly on the near side of a gravel spot. Here we had noticed that each time the fish entered or exited the bay to my right they would drift over this exact area, using it as a patrol route. I left the tubing off of this rod; my reasoning being that fishing the near side of the weed could lift the line up off the bottom and expose the tubing. By fishing naked and leaving things slack, I hoped the heavy trapline would be less conspicuous if it were to be laid up wrong at all. As darkness fell the fish became very active, crashing loudly in the small bay. Some of the fish sounded heavy as they left and re-entered the water and it was no surprise that confidence was high between the both of us. At just after midnight the first fish made its mistake on the short rod. It pulled hard through the weed and the typical grating feeling and jagged lunges of the rod tip left me in no dispute that the culprit knew what it was doing. As a result, we came to a mutual agreement that I would simply allow him or her to find the biggest weed bed it could, then drag the entire thing and fish into the outstretched arms of dad’s awaiting net. Having been out in the waders to gather the fish, he returned to dry land and motioned that it was a good fish. At 37lb 4oz it was a long looking common and a real cracker for such a short trip, having come just hours after the rod had been placed. With the pictures complete and the fish returned the rod was quickly replaced with a new rig. All of the captures had come using small, balanced baits. I did this by presenting half a critical and half a pop up sandwiched together. This allowed the size 4 to delicately settle on the lakebed and do so with the point ‘cocked’ in a position where I hoped it could catch hold of the bottom lip. So far, all of the holds bar the first one lost to the weed had been pretty solid since my return.

With great surprise that the same rod then signalled a further take just two hours later and once again I was up and being abused by a powerful fish. The fish once again found the refuge of the weed relatively quickly and slowly but surely ground to a halt. Again, with a little persuasion, the fish knocked its head and slowly came to the waiting net. This time amongst the weed, dad’s eyes told me it was another lump and significantly bigger than the last. It was highly likely we had a forty-pound common to show for our night's work! Low and behold the scales read 43lb 12oz and an 80lb+ brace of commons gave us a night to remember.

The pictures were completed and I watched as dad cradled the sling in the edge. It did look a large fish in the water, indeed it was a large fish and it powered off strongly. With celebratory brews in hand, we waited for dawn and smiled inherently at the memories of those two carp. The mad thing with Farriers is that it’s almost normal to have a brace like that and we wondered if our luck could get any better.

The following sessions were filled with further excitement and success. I had now managed my first night on my own, catching 5 fish within a 12-hour window up to 38lb and then managed a further night the following week. This resulted in a three-fish catch topped by a well-framed common of 41lb exactly. Everything was working perfectly and it was such fun fishing for huge carp when you knew you had got the tactics and location correct. It was always more fun when dad was around as we could talk into the night about anything bar the fishing usually. Football, cars, motorcycles, you name it we’d talk about it, even Brexit came up a few times!!

However, one night whilst sat with dad we were rudely awoken by not one, but two fish and the excitement and childish giggling it brought about was something I will cherish forever. The lake had fished hard for recent times and the majority of fish were yet again being caught along the south bank, namely pegs 15 and 17. I’d been having a lot of my success from the opposite end, mainly because the lake was so busy. I was happy dropping back in to swim 23 that controlled a large section of water on a jutted point and looked across to pegs 1 to 4. I was essentially fishing the back end of water I had been fishing from peg 4 and with say only four to five-rod lengths between the spots, I was confident that the night or early morning feeding spells may prompt a carp to trip up.

The first take came late at night, I can’t remember exactly what time, but I imagine it was in the early hours. In fact, I know it was after midnight as I had commented to dad that the peg as of late, had rarely done fish outside the hours of midnight to midday. The fish came in very easily and initially I thought it was a tench. Once again dad donned the waders and a large fish simply zig zagged its way the entire 70 yards to the waiting net. Happily giggling once more, the back strength was tested as I lifted the fish onto the mat. Dad hoisted the scales and at 41lb 4oz, she behaved impeccably for the camera and was soon released. Again we had achieved, however the rod was repositioned and that inherent need for more was soon gripping us again, as well as the warmth of another celebratory cup of tea. Excitement and anxiousness kept me awake for most of the morning and it was just beginning to get light when I perched on the side of dad’s bed to meet him with another brew. We sat for a short while before being shocked at a single bleep on the right hand buzzer. The rod, knowing it was being stared at, simply developed into a sweet curve and allowed the alarm to call once more. Again I felt this fish may have actually been a tench, such was its disinterest in fighting, but very quickly it reassured me it was a carp as it rolled into the mesh not 2 minutes after picking up the hook bait. I simply coaxed it in like a dog on a lead and yet again we stared down from the swim’s platform. There sat patiently in the net was sat another, evidently large fish. It felt heavier than the first and it was heavier at 43lb 8oz. This time around a brace of commons totalling nearly 85lb had been landed in just a few short hours

What a wonderful place. Some early morning pictures were completed and with light being so close, most would have held the fish for a short time. However, the rules state that fish should be returned as soon as possible and rightly so. A beaming smile greeted most people that day and many congratulations were had after such a brilliant nights angling. The morning and with it the session, ended well too with a small common being hooked around 10.30 am.

I have since returned from my most recent session alone, where a 31lb common was caught from the same swim having completed an overnight session and that pretty much brings us up to speed. I am back to work now and as you read this, still planning the remainder of my autumn and upcoming winter campaigns. I like to think I’m an honest person, especially so in my profession, regardless of how many suggest one is akin to a nine bob note! As a result, I can say without any doubt that my approach has been a large part of the success I’ve experienced. Time has of course seen me land more carp than I would have previously. An increase in time will only ever allow fish to be in front of you longer than they would have if you were not there of course. However, the outline end tackle was a completely eye-opening experience when first putting it out into the pond. I put my prior set up into the edge and then placed the outline set up next to it. Quite simply I find it hard to see any other end tackle that can blend into any lakebed as well as this, bar fluorocarbon or a clear leader. With leaders banned on many waters these days, the tubing and matching lead clip and sleeve simply melted away out of sight and my eyes were one of the few things I didn’t break in the accident!

By minimising the gear, it not only helped to move as and when required, but it allowed me to repair both physically and mentally. The luggage is both light and comfortable and after what has been a truly horrific year from an automotive point of view, my angling hasn’t suffered because my gear couldn’t provide for me when I was injured. On the contrary, it has helped return me to a level of fitness only months ago I thought I might never have. It mind sound a little dramatic, but I genuinely believe it to be so and can now look forward as well as back with some positivity. The lake has been kind yes, but you have to work for everything in life, whether that be catching a carp or learning how to walk again. Be lucky and take care of you and yours.

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