I'm sure this time last year was nice and spring-like... This year there seems to be a frost every morning! Still, a walk around the lake and it looked pretty decent, although one or two pegs were facing a very cold north-westerly wind. I therefore hoped I'd be pushing my newly assembled Preston Space Shuttle barrow up the side out of the wind!
When I put my hand in the bag, out came Peg 64. I was torn a little on this, as it was out of the wind, but it's not really the greatest of pegs. I drew it a couple of times last summer and had some good weights off it, coming third and then second in successive weeks. It was a bit warmer then, mind! Still, I'd give it a good go...
Peg 64 is a nice and easy swim to fish, being only 13m to the island, so this is where I had my first line. I had a good plumb around to find a clean area with no roots and found a nice spot in about 20in of water just off some overhanging cover. Rig was a small Nick Gilbert XTM float finished with a 0.13mm hooklength to a size 20 Fox Series 2 hook. The rig for 5m down the track was a 0.3g Nick Gilbert Decker float, which held nicely in the tow. They're a very stable float due to the heavy glass stem which still allows you to get away with a light float. In about 5ft of water this was finished with the same hooklength and hook as the far-bank rig. Last up was a margin rig. This was fished at just 4m to my right, where there is a small plateau in an otherwise deeper margin, and right against some overhanging reeds. Depth here was about 2.5ft, and the float was a 4x12 Preston Somo which I'd doctored to take a plastic tip. These are perfect for fishing on a slope and allow me to use the bait to shot the bristle so I know my bait is sitting perfectly on the bottom. This was finished with the same hooklength and hook combo as the others, and all the rigs were matched to Preston 13H lakky on a Pulla Bung.
On the whistle the only line I fed with the cup was the 5m line, giving it a pinch of hemp and corn. To start with, I'd trickle bait in to the margin line by hand only – I don't think the water temperature is high enough for big-potting yet! On going across I put a few 4mm pellets in to a small Cad Pot and start like that. Slipping a 4mm expander on, it took a few drops across to start getting knocks on the pellet, albeit from small fish. I could already see those in the open water catching, although those around the island that I could see had yet to catch.
On the half-hour mark I had a small roach on pellet, and then it became impossible to keep a 4mm expander in the swim due to the small fish. I'd seen odd carp milling about, so decided that I'd bin the pellet and start feeding just meat and corn in the margins. It turned out to be a good call, as on my second drop (having fed just four grains of corn and two cubes of meat) I was away on a cube of meat. It was a decent start, too, with a fish of about 4lb soon in the net. It didn't take long for the next fish to fall to meat, but what felt like a decent fish came off just as I unshipped the top kit.
I don't know if that was the death of the swim, because just as I lowered the rig in two geese decided they were going to cause a riot over my far bank! They very nearly took out my pole, too, were it not for a me sharply moving it out of the way. They had their fight for a good 10 minutes, and then spent the rest of the day giving each other the evil eye on the island in front of me!
I topped the far line up after the disturbance, and had a look down the track where I'd been dripping corn but had no joy there. A brief look down the margins gave the same non-response so it was back across. I wasn't surprised those lines didn't produce, as the times I've had this swim before they're always late goers. That was no good to me now, however, as my far line had been ruined.
The next couple of hours was a going through the motions exercise. While I could see anglers in the open water catching, I'd not seen anybody around the island where I was catch a carp. My only addition to the net in this time was a tiny 1oz common on meat! To do something different I tried to force the far bank by upping the feed, using the big pot but chopping up the cubes of meat. This worked to a degree as I got an odd liner and a fish would spook away from the swim. I'd have to top up with the big pot to get the same response. With the upping of the feed working here to a degree, I also started to pot more in the margin too.
I'd done the "big pot" a few times (which wasn't that much bait, but more than a small Cad Pot) when I decided to try dropping the rig away from the feed. No sooner had I lowered the rig in than the float went away properly, but I missed it! Lowering the same piece of meat down the same hole and it was away again, but at least the lift saw my lakky following it and a 3lb common was soon in the net. No more bites followed so I topped it up, and was about to drop in on it again when I saw a swirl in the margin.
In for a penny, I thought, so the far-bank rig came back and I lowered a cube of meat in the margins. A few liners followed which wafted the bait down the ledge so I switched to corn. Being heavier, I hoped it would hold in place better. I didn't get to test that out as I never had a liner, the float simply vanished! With just over half an hour left it was a little late for them to arrive, but a 5lb mirror was soon in the net. I didn't have to wait long for the next bite, but that carp came off as I went to scoop and I somehow missed it with the landing net. Oops! It was hooked under the chin, mind, as I could see the grain of corn.
I topped the margin with a tiny pinch of hemp and went across to rest it. I was just lowering the rig in when I saw a ghostie of about 8lb swim up alongside my keepnetm, turn to it's left and start feeding on the bait! I quickly shipped back mumbling something along the lines of "I'll have you!", and promptly lowered a grain of corn. The float didn't sit for long before it was away again. Not the fish I'd seen, but a different plump ghostie around the 5lb mark.
With just a few minutes left I was praying on the float going again, which it did. This fish felt much bigger, and with a careful bit of playing the same ghostie I saw swim up my net did a gentle roll in front of me, before being panned before it really knew what was going on!
I managed to get the rig back in the swim before the whistle but didn't manage to mug another fish. As the scales came round to me, 36lb was top weight from the opposite bank in the open water. My fish went 25lb 13oz on the scale, which had me second for a while, until two weights from the open water on my bank of 40lb and 32lb pushed me down to 4th. The top three were all sat in a little triangle in the open water facing each other!
I was left cursing a bit, as while I was by far and away the biggest weight from the island pegs I feel I should have pushed the frame places closer. The two lost fish alone may have got me third. I was too slow changing things across (the geese were out of my control, but didn't help!) while I should have tried the margin a bit more as I hadn't dropped on it for a while until I saw movement. I spent a fair bit of time on the 5m line which didn't produce at all. I was surprised at that, as the times in the past I've drawn that peg I've always caught down the track. I guess it's just a little rust to get out of the system after the break. It's obvious having caught on meat last week that I should have started on it and I do think the extra 7lb for third was easily achievable, and perhaps given my better stamp fish the 16lb for the win too – three fish could have possibly done that. I'm sure that on the day I should have done better, but we can often say that with hindsight!
Gavin Goldthorp is a 31-year-old keen club and small open level angler from Cambridge, and has just returned to match fishing after a six-month break.