I have always enjoyed a spot of river carp fishing and like to indulge myself at any opportunity. However, you know me, I’m always up to something, so that opportunity never comes around as often as I’d like. Messing around on the river offers me the perfect escape from the rat race, where I can enjoy the often unpressured nature of the fishing and the benefits that it offers me. It’s a welcome break from crowded banks and lines of bivvies and bleeping buzzers.
I like the fishing for unknown carp that, once located, can prove to be obliging if you are prepared to invest a little time and effort into chasing them By doing a bit of preparation work in the way of finding and baiting a few likely looking areas a few days before you go fishing, the rewards are there to be taken.
Having just returned from an autumn adventure on the Continent, where I wandered as free as a bird, I was feeling a little jaded, not to mention uninspired as to where to head for to do this feature. If the truth be told, I simply couldn’t face heading somewhere busy after such a relaxing trip, so I decided that I would do something a little different from the norm and head somewhere quiet. A stretch of river would fi t the bill perfectly. I loaded my bike, along with a big mixture of bait, into the back of the car and drove to the Lee Valley for a ride along the Lee Navigation and River Lee. My good friend Jerry Hammond, who runs the lovely Carthagena Fishery, controls a long section of the river, so I headed there, parked the car and went for a leisurely ride. Do you know, I rode for the best part of an hour up and down the river and only saw two pleasure anglers, which surprised me. I did, however, see plenty of very enticing-looking spots. Over a couple of miles either side of Carthagena Lock I baited several of these with a few kilos of Solar’s Club Mix boilies and about the same of Dynamite hemp and halibut pellets.
That might seem a lot of bait, especially as I’d be returning to fish in 48 hours, and normally I’d agree. However, sadly, like many waterways these days, the river is infested with signal crayfish. To ensure that there is some food for the carp to find it is, in my experience, essential to give them plenty in the first place because these dreaded crays will work their way through it quickly. The addition of the smaller food items and pellets meant that even if the crayfish hammered the boilies quickly, which was likely, there would still be plenty of smell in the swim for any carp in the area to home in on and there would defi nitely be some hemp for them to munch.
As big a problem as the crayfish are, the flip side is that the fish will often get on to any bait quickly because they face stiff competition from the bait thieves! For my intention was to arrive early and fish a couple of hours in each of my baited swims and, hopefully, nick a bite from one of them. Using the bike and travelling light, I could easily give each of my baited spots a go. Hopefully, taking the time to prime a few spots would pay off on the day. I felt there was a good chance because the river holds lots of carp but, surprisingly, carp anglers are a rarity. No doubt most are put off by the crays but they are not insurmountable if you think about your rigs and approach.
To ensure that I actually have a bait on the hair all the time that the rods are in the water, I use a large shrink tube to wrap my hook baits, it comes in sizes to suit baits from 14mm right up to 26mm. I keep my rigs very simple and do no more than tie my chosen hook (Solar Wide Gape size 6) no-knot style to 20lb, Good-quality bait, and plenty of it... Korda IQ or a similar robust mono. The clever bit is that I tie a long hair loop and thread the boilie onto the hair in the normal way. However, instead of using a hair stop I pull the bait right up to the hook and then fold the loop around the bait to secure it and pull it down tight.
I then sleeve the bait in shrink tubing and place it into boiling water to shrink it down tight onto the bait, which also traps the loop. What I am left with is a crayproof rig. They cannot pull the bait off the hair and they cannot eat the hook bait because the shrink tubing is very tough indeed. It is like coating the bait in hard plastic but the open sides still allow the smell of the hook bait to permeate the water.
The stiff hook-link material ensures that even if the hook bait is pushed around continually the hook link will not tangle. In the event of a carp picking up the bait, the rig will still work perfectly and, even if you are fi shing overnight, you can leave your baits out with confidence.
Initially we had the feature booked for the Tuesday. However, the weather forecast was horrible; raining solidly all day, which only serves to make photography difficult in the extreme. So I rang Pat MacInnes, the photographer, and we agreed to put it back to the Thursday. I was more than happy with that on several counts. Firstly, all the rain going into the river would pick up the flow a bit and hopefully give it a little colour, which only ever improves the fishing. Secondly, the moon was at its best between the Wednesday and Thursday. Besides, it was half term and I was looking after my daughter from Monday to Wednesday, so a Thursday trip meant I wouldn’t have her in tow, which would be a blessing. A four-year old soon gets bored, as many of you will know.
I couldn’t sleep on the Wednesday night so, after a quick cuppa, I left home super early on the Thursday morning and by 5am I was opening the gate at Carthagena. I parked up well away from the lakes so as not to disturb any of the anglers and was soon on my way along the towpath in the darkness, my progress illuminated by my headtorch as I veered around the big puddles left over from the deluge the previous evening. I had decided to head to my furthest spot first, which entailed a 10-minute ride. The swim, a small cut-back in an otherwise uninterrupted straightbanked section where there were several houseboats moored, was one that had instantly caught my eye on my recce a couple of days previously. Big overhanging trees flanked the boats and the depth tight to the hulls was deep at, I guessed, eight to 10 feet. It was the perfect spot and had received a good wallop of bait! The anticipation of what might lie ahead meant that I set up with trembling hands in the darkness, and soon I had two rods propped up against the undergrowth behind me, ready to go. As always, I’d got the rods ready the night before, so it was just a matter of flicking the rigs across the river, tight to the boats’ hulls.
In total darkness this was easier said than done and the last thing I wanted was to clatter a boat with a 3oz lead and wake the occupants. I decided to sit back and let my eyes adjust to the darkness before casting. I poured myself a cuppa from the flask and sat down on my mat sipping the welcome brew. By the time I’d finished I felt ready and, thankfully, both rods went out pretty much perfectly on the first attempt. Each was laid on the floor with the clutches loosened and I sat back on the mat. Watching the tips, it was apparent straightaway that the bottom was alive with crayfish as the tips pulled round and nodded constantly. I wasn’t too bothered because I expected this, but after an hour I started to get the feeling that there weren’t any carp about. It was time to move on. The beauty of travelling so light is that you can be on the move in minutes and soon enough I was off along the dark towpath once more, heading to my next swim, a long line of big snag trees roughly two miles from my first stop. As I neared the snags a fish rolled mid-river, breaking the stillness. Almost certainly it was a chub, but it was a sign of life nonetheless and encouraging. By the time I’d set up I’d heard two more chub roll either side of me and the old confidence increased.
I soon had the rods in the water, one tight to the bushes and one roughly halfway across. I’d spread the bait in a line across the river in this spot. On this occasion I pushed in banksticks and sat the rods on the buzzers because I intended to put the mat up against a big oak tree behind me and try to get 40 winks. The crayfish seemed less savage in this area. I was receiving much less in the way of rod knocks, so after another cuppa I leant back, shuffl ed around until I was comfortable and soon nodded off. I awoke to a series of bleeps some time later and looked through bleary eyes towards the rods. The left-hand bobbin was tight to the rod so I shot across the path to check it out.
As I got nearer I could see that, although no line was being taken, the rod was bent hard round to the left. I lifted into it and immediately felt resistance. There was a fish on but it had kited on a tight line into a load of weed and debris on the nearside and was sat there sulking. As soon as I applied pressure there was an almighty eruption and whatever was on the end shot off back across the river towards the snags. Luckily I reacted instinctively and sank the tip while applying heavy side strain and the fish skirted the 3 bushes instead of tearing straight into them. From this point the battle was soon over, or rather it would have been if I’d remembered to set up the net! Eventually I scrambled around and got the net together. I bundled whatever was on the end into the mesh, secured it all and left it to calm down while I went to get my torch. At this point I wasn’t sure what lay in the folds. The stretch is well known for producing giant chub and it could easily have been one of those. However, when I flicked on the torch I was met by the most amazing sight of a pristine, heavily scaled mirror, a great result!
I was so blown away with the fish and wanted to text Jerry to come out and do a few pics but decided to leave it till it was getting light. Then I checked the time on my phone, it was 7am! It had felt like I’d only been asleep a few minutes when it was nearly two hours! Jerry was pleased to come and do some pics and was very happy to see such a lovely unknown carp from his stretch of this lovely river