After a poor performance in the Milo Festival at White Acres earlier in the year, capped off by the boat breaking down at Porth (something I’m still trying to put at the back of my mind!) I was going to give the October festivals a miss this year. As most people know, I draw flyers and end pegs all over the country yet I don’t seem to have the same powers down at White Acres, so I thought I’d have a break and recharge my drawing arm for a year or two. As the festival approached however, I was catching loads of fish and doing well almost everywhere I was going, so I was starting to regret my decision. Neil McKinnon, Matt Godfrey and Tom Scholey were all tempting me to reconsider and, eventually, I succumbed. “One last go,” I thought to myself. If I did rubbish this year then I’d definitely have a break next season… So, I was off to the Acres!
I normally like to get there on the Saturday so that I can get nice and settled and have a bit of a practice but work commitments and the Tackle & Guns Trade Show meant I never got there ’til very late in the evening on the Sunday night.
As usual, I had drawn a very tough section but, to be fair, they were all tough as is always the case for this flagship festival where the top 24 would progress to the £25,000 Parkdean Masters Final the following Saturday. For company I had the likes of Phil Ringer, Simon Fry, Adam Wakelin, Nathan Watson, Simon Colclough, Steve Cooke, Paul Carnwell, Tony Curd, Cam Hughes, Alex Murray, Wayne Sharman – and lodge mate Neil McKinnon, which we both hated as it means we have to fish against each other and so information doesn’t flow quite as freely!
Oh, and one more person was in my section, too: the mighty Des Shipp! Everyone rates Des highly; I certainly do, and the fact that he’d just won the previous week’s Maver Festival confirmed what most of us already knew - and that is that Des is the best there is at this kind of fishing! Avoiding Des in my mini section each day was the first objective!
Day One - Trewaters
No such luck with avoiding Des, as he was on the same bottom lake at Trewaters as me. I had drawn Peg 53, which I quietly fancied despite others telling me the fish had been showing more at the opposite end of the lake. I had loads of room and 16 metres of pole put me about a metre adrift of the central island. With little wind I didn’t fancy the feeder to be that productive so I settled on fishing between 14 and 16 metres out with pellets, plus a long-line swinging rig to catch tight to the island later on. I also had a short-pole meat swim and an 11m edge swim to my right.
A quick look short without a sniff saw me ship out to 14m and catch a few small F1s and decent carp to 2lb. After a couple of foul-hooked fish it didn’t take me long to switch to shallow fishing and from this point on I never looked back. The fish were cagey but I managed to catch some decent carp to 4lb on banded 4mm and 6mm pellet around 18in deep - much bigger fish than I had expected, to be honest!
Later on I had a good run on the short meat swim while the edge swim was disappointing. For the rest of the day I simply alternated between the long pole shallow with pellets and short pole with meat to end with a very satisfying 86lb. It was more than enough to win the section as Des was 2nd, but some 30lb behind. Meanwhile, lodge mate Neil McKinnon won the top lake and the entire zone with an impressive 120lb on meat short. Oh, and Matt Godfrey had also won the lake on Pollawyn while Tom had a section 2nd. Not a bad start for all of us!
Day Two - Twin Oaks
I wanted the bottom lake at Twin Oaks as that’s by far the fairest and always good for a few bites, so I was fairly happy to pull out Peg 25 on that lake. Peg 31 had been a form peg, however, and Adam Wakelin was on there while, more worryingly, Peg 23 to my right was an end peg, as Peg 21 and 19 were not drawn (there were sadly gaps in every section all week).
Anyways, a slow start short saw me soon chucking a small pellet feeder for an equally slow spell. A long-pole swim for pinging pellets wasn’t great, either, and what turned out to be quite a strange day saw me catch 90 per cent of my weight down the edge. Most of my fish were F1s (one of which was over 4lb!) with just four or five small proper carp to 2-3lb.
Meat was the bait of choice fished in 3ft of water tight to some rushes with a 4x12 PB Carp 4 on 0.16mm line to a 0.14mm hooklength and 10 Dura Hollo elastic. I found it was important to fish through the water with a strung-out rig and twitch it to induce a bite.
I ended up with another 86lb weight and another section win, pipping Peg 23 by just 4lb.
Day Three - Porth
Could my fortunes finally be turning down here? I was tying at the top of the table as only myself and Martin Holmes were on two section wins after two days. I had to take a photo of the leaderboard at this point as I somehow knew it would be the last time I’d see myself topping the festival. How right I was! It blew an absolute hoolie on the day and I blew out big style with a measly 5lb 15oz of tiny roach and skimmers for 6th in section.
Gruesome Peg 33 on Porth was my destination. The pegs in this section have all moved two to the left of where they traditionally used to be, which meant I was in a bit of a bay and, strangely, the bottom is hard and rocky and very shallow right the way out. In fact, it was only just deeper than my match kit at 13 metres!
I don’t know if this was the reason or not, but I struggled to catch any fish shorter than 13 metres in a section where everyone else caught close in. Despite being an end peg it only threw up one half-decent weight all week and that was on the last day when a bit of bait had gone in. Every other day it was poor and you had to be at the opposite end of the section from 38 to 40 to be in with a chance. I needed 10lb for good points so, in hindsight, I maybe should’ve fished the tip all day to stand any chance of catching that. The section was won by Si Colclough on end peg 40 with 13lb 5oz on the short pole with maggots. Steve Cooke was 2nd - thanks to a huge 4lb hybrid on the short pole on single maggot! Neil McKinnon once again did the business by catching a Porth slab plus a few skimmers on the Method feeder and boilie for good points in his section in the 80s, while Des Shipp paralysed the lake with an amazing 20lb short-pole weight from the 70s!
It seemed my wheels had well and truly fallen off…
Day Four - Bolingey
Peg 26 was my swim for the day and what an unusually mild and sunny day it was for October! I don’t really know these pegs on the back arm of Bolingey but a quick chat to the experts and everyone seemed to turn their noses up. “It ‘could’ be ok,” was the general consensus, but it sounded like it was an average peg in the best section, so I was up against all the flyers. Peg 27 (nowhere near 26, by the way!) was winning everything it seemed, plus plenty other noted swims.
Lee Thornton was on my peg the day before and really struggled. In fact, he waited 4 hours before he caught his first carp! That was worrying! What was also worrying was that there was hardly a fish moving in front of me while I set up…
It looked nice, though, as it was at the end of a line of pegs up the central spit with the point of an island about 17.5m away and a long edge to my left. Unfortunately, the island needed a bit of a trim as despite my best efforts it was impossible to swing a long-line rig tight to it without catching on an overhanging tree. The edge to my left was also in need of a bit of pruning to get tight in but the newly enforced no-gardening rule put paid to that (For a self-confessed Edward Scissorhands it was agony not being able to prune anything with my shears all week!).
I started short, tapping in just a few cubes of meat, to see if I could nick a quick carp, but all I had was a single roach. I then went to 16 metres with pellets and again had nothing. A feeble attempt to long-line a rig to the island was soon abandoned, too.
Ninety minutes in, I was carpless. Time to chuck a small feeder alongside the island as Wayne Sharman next door was emptying it with small carp. Thankfully he wasn’t in my section and, to be honest, the Method chucked to a nice bare bank was pretty much the only option he had on that peg on the day.
My diagonal cast was a bit awkward as the swim was strewn with brambles (that’s my excuse!). When I finally hit the spot I could tell something wasn’t right as the line wasn’t sinking properly. It had caught around some sunken branches so I had to pull for a break. A few Zorro-like swishes soon had the feeder free. I was a bit overzealous, though, as the feeder came whizzing past my ear and landed behind me… in the lake behind me… inches from Phil Ringer’s pole float!
The whole lake burst out laughing at my expense as I quickly wound the feeder back out of a none-too-happy Phil Ringer’s swim! The feeder then got stuck in the bush behind me and another quick tug saw it fly past my ears once again, then do a full circle around my shoulders - like Luke Skywalker’s snowspeeder harpooning an At At (Is my Empire Strikes Back reference lost on most people?).
“Come on, Jonnyboy!” I thought as I unravelled myself. “Where can I catch a chuffin’ carp?” The edge was the only place I felt I had a chance. Until now the bright sun and the shadows from the trees was stopping me seeing my float where I ideally wanted to fish it, a full 14 metres down the bank, well away from any disturbance. This was where I felt a few lumps could be sulking. Thankfully, the sun seemed to move into a more favourable position at this stage. By carefully guiding my 4x12 rig under some overhanging branches and leaning a bit precariously over I could finally see a float tip down there!
Tapping in some meat, I finally felt like something could happen. Seconds later I was playing a chunky 6lb mirror. A 10lb common followed after that and I was soon into a run of fish. As this negative swim was delivering I felt I could now risk dump feeding a much closer swim 5-6m down the bank with groudbait, dead maggots and casters. This swim also came alive in the last 45 minutes and, in true Bolingey style, it was a mad rush to catch as much as we could in this all-important dying stages of the match when they finally rucked up down everyone’s edges!
After being carpless at 2pm, I ended up with 10-12 for 90lb and a 4th in section. I needed another 20lb for another point but after a terrible start I had redeemed myself with a good last two hours.
Thankfully, my feeder mishaps hadn’t cost Phil as he still came joint first in his section with Adam Wakelin… and that man Shipp won the whole of Bolingey, again!
Day Five - Pollawyn
This was the day of reckoning. I had to score a 1st or a 2nd in section to get 32 points and a guaranteed place in the 24-man Parkdean Masters. A 3rd was going to be risky, as that would give me 31 points; usually enough to get in but the empty pegs this year meant that wasn’t guaranteed.
It was horrible weatherise with storm-force winds and rain to contend with so I was quite happy to find myself on Peg 47, tucked up one of the arms where it was pretty sheltered. Even so, I cannot believe my Acolyte pole is still in one piece after a freak gust rammed it into the island and bent it almost to snapping point! Anyways, this wasn’t too bad a section peg. I had actually won a few sections down these arms before, so knew what to expect - I’m actually a Pollawyn ‘Arms’ specialist as I never draw the flyers on the High Bank! Des Shipp was bang on the money on High Bank 27, but also had the full brunt of the gale in his kisser. Even being upwind we could all hear him moaning, “You never see Steve Ringer on these pegs when it’s like this!”
I had plenty of room and quite fancied it as Adam Rooney had caught 49lb off my peg the previous day. It was also only 14.5m wide so would be comfortable to fish, despite the amount of brambles on the island. A weight of 50lb was my target as that was a guaranteed top-two section place all week.
I know these pegs are traditionally poor for silvers by the Friday as they have had two full weeks of being battered so I needed a few carp. You can normally catch one or two early before they sulk or scarper into the good pegs but today wasn’t the case. The short pole was useless, while dobbing a cube of meat down the edge and across in three likely looking holes yielded nothing. That was definitely not the start I needed. Eventually I foul-hooked a small 4lb carp and got it in, as well as a small chub and a 10oz perch.
With carp seemingly absent, I needed to put some fish together so began fishing a 13m chopped worm swim. Over the next hour I managed 10lb of big roach and perch plus a single F1, but it wasn’t great. Another look to the island where I had decided to dump a bit more feed finally yielded some much-needed action. I had two carp to 6lb here plus some big 12-14oz perch and then lost a carp that was foul-hooked.
The clock was ticking and I knew I needed to make my edges work. The relentless rain had scuppered my right-hand margin as a load of furry reeds (I don’t know how else to describe them!) had bent lower and lower under the weight of all the rain and completely obliterated my view of that side! I therefore only had a pallet to my left to target and, thankfully, that came good with dumped-in groundbait (Old Ghost Specimen Carp and Sonubaits Crushed Expander). Using a no-nonsense rig on 0.18mm Supplex straight through to a size 14 Margin Carp hook an 14 Dura Hollo I managed four carp to 8lb here, but was ruing the loss of a 5lb common, which inexplicably came off after five minutes of playing it.
I somehow knew that would cost me – and boy was I right! As the scales arrived I was quite alarmed to hear that Paul Carnwell had already weighed in 61lb in my section. I knew it would be close and was shaking my head when my bag totalled 59lb. Peg 45 is by far the best peg in the section and I feared that would beat me, too, so my eyes lit up when I saw just over 40lb weighed in from there.
With just two anglers on the opposite side of the island to weigh in I was praying neither of them would top 59lb. I quickly wandered round to see Wayne Sharman on Peg 36. “Have you got 50lb?” I asked. “Yep!” was the positive reply I never wanted to hear! “60lb?” Another, “Yep!” Oh dear…
I am not sure if the strong winds or peg 38 not being in on the day helped or not, but Wayne somehow managed to catch 12 carp on the Method feeder across to a small clump of reeds - and lost a few more too - for a section-winning 68lb. That really was a standout weight and an unusual tactic on that peg, especially for the last day of the festival. I wanted to congratulate him and kick him in the balls at the same time! His great performance had relegated me to 3rd in section and 31 points. It was now anyone’s guess if it would be enough to make the top 24...
As it happened, two anglers got into the Parkdean Final on 31 points – but neither of them were me! My 6th place at Porth had cost me big time and I ended up 30th out of 160 anglers. Looking back, other than Porth, I am quite happy still. I had three very good performances on Monday, Tuesday and Friday and an average effort at Bolingey. I hadn’t done quite enough this time but I had banished a few demons and am raring to fish another carp festival.
Well done to Martin Holmes for a great five section wins to top the festival above the ever-consistent Des Shipp. Also well done to Andy Leathers for winning the £25k Parkdean!
The weather was pretty good for October, I had learnt loads, the banter was great and my lodge pals, Matt, Neil and Tom, were brilliant as usual. Like me, Tom just missed out on 31 points, but I was dead chuffed to see Matt and Neil make it to the Final the next day. Neil came 9th overall in the festival while Matt came 18th. As a lodge, the four of us had caught loads of fish and won a bit of pocket money to pay for it all, too.
I just hope we can keep it up and have an even better festival next year!