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DAVE LANE uses his expert watercraft to stalk the carp of a silty old estate lake, visiting every nook and cranny to find the telltale signs of feeding fish.

Once again I managed to leave it until the very last minute to find a venue for this month’s feature; I really should be more organised. Luckily, though, on the afternoon before the actual day out I was fortunate enough to get permission to fish a lovely little tree-lined lake near Bury St Edmunds, only a few miles from home. The lake is called Rushbrooke and is run as a syndicate venue. As it turned out I had actually fished it once before, about six years prior. Back then it was a bit of a runs water but in the years that have passed the stock has been thinned down considerably to give the remaining carp a bit more chance to grow.

t is a typical estate-style lake, narrow at one end with a main dam end at the other and completely surrounded by big, ancient trees that have been depositing tons of leaves, creating a very silty lake bed indeed. I had a quick walk around in the afternoon, sprinkled a bit of bait in a few likely looking areas at the dam end, and I even managed to find a few fish. However, they didn’t look particularly interested in feeding, preferring to just drift about a few inches below the surface. I decided on an early start and arrived just as the sky was beginning to lighten into morning. Amazingly, Pat MacInnes, the photographer, was already parked outside the gate, so we wasted no time in throwing a few bits on the barrow and wandering off to check my prebaited spots. The beauty of silty lakes is that, no matter how murky they may be, you can always tell by the bubblers exactly what’s going on. It’s almost impossible for a carp to root around in a hundred years’ worth of silt deposits without releasing a stream of trapped gasses up to the surface. However, straightaway I could see that my baited areas looked devoid of any life. I had seen the fish there late in the afternoon the previous day and wondered if that might be a pattern. Maybe as the sun worked it’s way around they followed the rays into that corner. But where were they at the moment? That was the question that needed answering.

Just along the main bank from the car park there was a strange configuration of leaves on the surface. It looked as if every leaf and piece of flotsam on the surface had been neatly swept out into a perfect circle about 15 yards across. Within the circle there were numerous ‘frothy’ patches of water. The reason soon became clear when a carp slid half out of the water, right in the middle of the circle, leaving a new patch of froth, with the ripples spreading out in a perfect circle, herding the leaves even tighter as they did so. It was almost like a target defined by the ring of leaves and too good an opportunity to miss.

The first cast landed perfectly but I immediately realised just how thick the silt was as I saw a plume of black ooze lift up through the water. After a tentative tug, I realised that the lead was well and truly plugged into the lake bed. Unsure if my bait was actually presented at all, I wound in and replaced all the leads with 11/2oz flat ones; perfect for lowering down soft lake beds. I also attached a bright yellow pop-up to each rig, just to make sure that my hook baits were visible. I fished two rods in the circle and the other one tight into the corner over a handful of pellets. With the rigs in position it was on with the kettle for a much-needed cuppa. Even when I’m travelling light I still need my tea-making equipment, I can’t imagine fishing without it! Just as we finished the first brew of the morning one of the rods in the circle burst into life. The tip whipped down towards the surface as the line flew off the reel; this was what we wanted. With the camera clicking away I bent into the fish, only to have the rod spring straight back as a bow wave shot off across the lake. I’d only been attached to him for a split second and I started to wonder if a bigger lead might have set the hook a bit better? I decided to stick with the smaller leads for a while longer, putting one lost fi sh down to bad luck. I flicked the bait back into position and put the kettle back on. I was really expecting more action almost straightaway, particularly as the fish kept showing in the area, albeit not as often as they had been.

As the day warmed up the fish started to appear just below the surface; the last thing that I wanted really. I did put a few floaters out at one stage but they completely ignored them. My chances definitely seemed to be slipping away so, leaving Pat with the rods, I walked up to the narrow end, hoping to find a stalking opportunity. It was even quieter down there. On the way back, however, I found a couple of fish feeding right under a small set of lilies in the corner near the car park, where I had sprinkled two handfuls of pellets earlier. The water was extremely shallow and I could actually see the tip of a tail as one of them upended over the bait. It was almost impossible to get a rig into position without spooking them but, after waiting for the right opportunity, I eventually slid a light-lead setup in under the end pad and I sat there hovering over the rod in anticipation. Quite how I didn’t get a take I’ll never know. The fish seemed to feed on every square inch of the edge of the pads apart from the spot where the rig lay. Eventually one of them brushed against the line as he passed across the swim and, with a bending of the surface layers, I saw him shoot off into the main section of the lake – the spot was blown!

By now the time was ticking away and I really started to regret losing that fish earlier on. Feature fishing can be a nightmare if you drop a fish. Every bite is precious and a catch feature without a capture is not really much of a feature at all, is it? I decided to have one final reshuffle of everything in an attempt to salvage the day.

I had seen a fish show in the centre of the dam bank and I also had a prebaited area down in the corner, underneath an old tree trunk that was hanging out over the lake. So, I wound all the rods in and repositioned myself between the two. On checking the tree spot I could see some telltale bubbles just pricking the surface above my pellets, a sure sign that something was going on down there. I quietly laid a trap and backed silently out of the swim. Just as I did a fish poked its head out in the open water, only about 10 yards out, so that was the next rod sorted as well. In my frantic efforts I hadn’t noticed the drop in temperature, but the fish had. Suddenly there were none drifting around on the surface and everything looked much better for a bite. Right on cue the open-water rod burst into life and I played that fish as if my life depended on it. I wasn’t about to lose another one, not this late in the day. I knew straightaway that he was only a little fella but I wanted him on the mat all the same and within a minute or two I had just that. I have never been so delighted to see a little common in all my life. As it turned out, he wasn’t to be the only one caught that day. Directly after we slid the fish back, the tree rod also signalled a bite, resulting in an almost identical little common rolling into the spare landing net. This was more like it. The feature was working out perfectly after all; as if I ever thought it wouldn’t! The light leads were also working fine. Both the fish had been well hooked and, as if to reinforce the fact, I had yet another take from the open water as we were taking the final photographs of the day. This resulted in another, although slightly bigger, common. So, three fish in 45 minutes really turned the day around and I think the sudden change in temperature also helped no end.

The lake holds a fair head of better sized mirrors as well as the original little commons and it was a shame that we didn’t manage to hook one of these.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t complaining about three fish in a short day session. I really enjoyed my day out, especially chasing bubblers and stalking in the margins. It took me right back to my early years and the local silty estate lakes that I used to fish back then – great fun.