Last week I spent three days in Newquay, Cornwall at White Acres Holiday Park for National Fishing Month with Preston Innovations, here's a round-up of how it went for me doing some personal fishing in-between coaching.
Events like National Fishing Month are always important to me, giving time to help others with their existing angling and even introducing some to the sport many of us now make our passion and our lives. I personally think it is very important to help other anglers - especially younger anglers - understand the basics and get enjoyment out their fishing, no matter what the species or size; before moving straight onto something like setting off specifically to catch a 20lb+ carp so soon into their angling lives.
That being said, being at the prolific White Acres and having a multitude of lakes to choose from, during some time away from some serious coaching I just had to do a bit of my own fishing. After a catch up with a few of the guys already coaching and helping a couple of anglers start catching a few fish on one of the "match" lakes, I caught up with Jack. A talented young angler who had gone through the same stages of angling as me; a bit of dabbling with pole and feeder fishing before getting bitten by the 'Carp Bug'. He had attended the event at White Acres for a few years now and it was fantastic seeing him improve but he was still eager to learn more.
Due to the warm weather it was a no-brainer to take a couple of rods, a mat and a bucket of floaters around a few of the lakes. Just to try and get a few bites, we stopped in a bay at the end of a lake called Pollawyn - a pleasure/match lake that still contained lots of carp to double-figures and upwards that are often ignored by carp anglers visiting the venue. Jack quickly learnt about striking into fish off the surface as vertically as possible and not to the side whilst freelining, ensuring a good hook-hold and this was also helped by his introduction to fake dog biscuits. The use of plastic baits for surface fishing over soaked/soft baits meant; we always had a hookbait on, the baits never sunk and we were able to cast further to the fish without the use of a controller.
Baiting little and often and feeding several areas around the swim got the fish really competing and a couple of hours past before we felt it was time to move on, after banking well over ten fish between us. We continued around two other lakes, not really seeing much come up for the floaters that made us want to stop and have a few chucks. It wasn't until we got to the lake Jack recommended we try - Nelson's, one of the two specimen lakes on site - that the rods were definitely coming back out as we saw several decent fish milling about from a distance before we even got down to the lake. We soon found lots of carp drifting through little patches of weed in a bay where a gentle breeze was pushing into (also worth mentioning it was as far away as possible from the other anglers that were bivvied up around the lake). At first we applied a more softly-softly baiting approach, only three or four mixers at a time to holes in the weed and off the back of the wind - looking to bring more fish into the bay. We actually ended up getting loads of fish taking, eventually drawing them out from behind the weed and away from far bank snags, making them seem more and more catchable by the minute despite it being a highly pressured specimen lake.
Even though there were a fair few fish taking, we were there for over an hour when Jack finally hooked into one after creeping down a margin and flicking a bait right on a fishes nose but the game was over in seconds... Carp 1 - Dan and Jack 0... After this disturbance I was worried the chance had gone but the odds were in our favor as a few fish were still in area and shortly after, I saw a fish move over my hookbait, as I gently mended my line my tiny 5g controller float drifted off and it was on! (Changed to a light controller for extra distance and more control over my line due to a gentle breeze). The fish must've taken the bait so cautiously I didn't even see it. It was clear this was not one of the smaller fish we had seen in the bay as it charged through a patch of weed (luckily this weed wasn't too much of an issue and broke free easily). I applied at little more pressure to stop the fish going any further around a little island to our right, which luckily halted the fish and turned it. It was only when its head knocked the spreader block and its tail still hung out the front i'd realized what i'd caught. On the scales the fish went 20lb on the nose, the biggest carp i'd ever caught off the surface and a proper old scaly one from the lake. The proportions of the fish made it seem like it'd once been a lot bigger, but nonetheless it was a fish I wont soon forget.
After we'd slipped the fish back we continued around the rest of the lake in search of another chance but to no avail, but we headed back that evening with our spirits high and the need for sun-cream even higher...
The next day started off as an exact opposite of the day previous, overcast with showers and a stronger wind; very carpy.. Just not so great for sitting in without waterproofs. With the weather seeming more favorable for the fish getting their head down for a munch, Jack suggested giving one of the specimen lakes a proper go with even the hint of dropping on for the night (his first night). I myself had been itching to try and catch a proper catfish having only caught 5lb+ kittens previously so a night was soon on the cards.
Rigs were tied under a big sheltering tree and gear was readied on the barrow and as soon as the rain stopped we headed off back to Nelson's, that had done me a 20 the previous day and three other doubles for Jack a few days before i'd arrived. However, after counting at least 22 lines in the water already on the lake, we almost ran back our kit. The second specimen lake, Pat's Pool, was a little bit bigger than Nelson's and seemed to hold a bigger average size fish; both carp and cat alike. Although, I had heard it had been fishing quite hard, but after finding out there were only two on the lake at the time and after making it only halfway around the lake before being confronted by patches of bubbles coming up all around a marginal spot near some pads...Guess were we ended up?
To give ourselves the best chance of both of us getting on fish, and of course landing one if we hooked one, we settled on a swim to the left of the bubbling pads. This gave us a good line lay through clear open water straight to the spot and also a good angling for playing fish away from the spot and steering them clear of the pads. This was something Jack was actually very confident on, finding the fish and trying to get on them without just fishing the most comfortable swim, but also fishing a swim that gave you a good chance of landing the fish. For example, the swim directly in front of the pads had overhanging trees making overhead casting almost impossible and also had marginal pads, meaning a less than perfect line lay and more for the fish to head for once hooked.
Rods went out first, Jack took the right hand side of the swim and placed a rod near the fizzers and off to the left into more open water, whilst I fished with three rods spaced around to my left down a channel where one of the other anglers had caught two small cats before packing up. We set up for the night and what a night it was... We'd only been fishing for a few hours and got the houses up for the night, when Jack's right hand rod over the fizzing hooped over. He played it hard like a champ away from the pads and got it down by his feet when to our surprise his other rod went! As he netted a proper unit of a ghostie, I played his other fish in and scooped up a dark round mirror. It was one of those moments when we stood there and thought "Did that really just happen?".
It certainly did happen, as after rechucking both rods and getting everything sorted we hoisted up Jack's prizes; a 20lb 4oz ghostie that really did look uncaught and a new PB for him, followed by a 19lb 3oz mirror. A team effort and a perfect reward for Jack's lost fish from Nelson's and the time we took to find where the fish wanted to feed.
Once the fish went back, I re-positioned my rods further down the channel and lightly spreaded 15mm Code Red boilies and 14mm Halibut pellet over each rod, just enough for a bite. After Jack's captures, I returned to a standard carp rig instead of anything too excessive; a size 6 Avid CRV hook and 35lb coated braid with a 15mm matching Code Red wafter tipped with plastic corn. Subtle enough for the carp, and hopefully strong enough for a cat. Because of my aim for a catfish I was also fishing with a running swivel lead set-up on a leadless leader, not only to stop catfish feeling resistance, but also because if there were carp in the area I doubt they'd seen that kind of system as much as a semi-fixed system such as a leadclip and wouldn't be able to deal with it as easily.
After a well-earned pizza and a few rigs prepared in anticipation of a busy night, we were just about to get our heads down when Jack's right hand rod pulled up tight and after some dogged, headshaking we knew Jack was attached to his first catfish. At just over 8lb, it was no monster for what we knew could be swimming around in the lake as cats have been caught in Pat's to over 70lb! A few pictures and a quick recast and we got settled back in again, only to be kept awake by liners and eventually something worth getting out of bed for. My left hand rod pulled up tight and the tip started knocking, I quite casually picked up the rod and wound down and lifted into it. The power I received from the other end was quite indescribable. It was as if i'd hooked the bottom, only it was moving! I never got anything on the fish as it steamed off further round the channel, taking nearly 40yrds of line in one run down towards the other bank before I heard the explosive snap of my line... My only guesses were I had a weak point where my line had come out of the line-clip or it had been damaged by a sunken obstacle (like the empty swan mussel shells we were hooking when we wound in off of shallow spots). The rod went into the bush and my head was in my hands.. Everyone has stories of 'The big one that got away' and most will know the feeling of losing a bigger fish, but i'd never felt power from a fish like that before and I can safely say it was one of my most lowest points in my angling.
It was only Jack's enthusiasm and the fact we had already had 4 bites by 11pm that made me tie on a new rig, check everything was perfect and get the rod back out there. I'd only just recovered from the shock of feeling so powerless just holding on, watching a 3lb Scope bow over like a blade of grass in the wind when my middle rod pulled up tight just like the last fish. Of course I was on it, and again wound down and lifted... Again, I was met with a slow, heavy force, before it woke up and started kiting all over the swim frantically. Certainly not the same power of the fish before, but enough to make the arms ache and get the heart pumping. After probably 15 minutes of gaining 10 winds, then losing 15 over and over, it finally felt like it was getting somewhere with it as I got the first glimpse of my prize. After a few missed chances as it wallowed on the top and started reversing out of the net, I was so relieved to see it in the bottom of my net. Unquestionably the biggest fish I had ever landed, all distraught thoughts of the one i'd lost before disappeared as I wrangled a slimy, whiskery slug on the mat.
At 35lb 5oz it was nearly 10lb bigger than anything I had caught previously and over 3 times the size of any catfish I had ever caught!
It was a struggle to hold purely because of how long and slippery was, like a 6ft bar of soap, but what a buzz!
If that wasn't enough, not long after that, Jack had a second catfish again around 8lb and just as we were sorting the camera bits out for that, my left hand rod dropped back and I had another tussle with a decent catfish, this one weighing in at 18lb 6oz.
We ended up with 6 fish on the bank that night, with one lost catfish and a few strange twitchy bites that resulted in nothing, most likely more smaller catfish dropping the bait. Several other anglers fished that night, and as far as we were aware we were the only ones to catch, a true team effort through and through. We could only put this down to fishing spots fish had been feeding on or had been caught on and only fishing for a bite at a time, feeding tiny scatterings of pellets and boilies and hooking on little bags each cast, me opting for Cod Red, a livery fishmeal-base that suited both the carp and cats whilst Jack used Nashbait 4G Squid.
Yes things could have been different with the fish I lost but the others we did land completely made up for it. We packed up late morning and ended up fishing around some more of the lakes and catching a few more before it was time for me to leave, still buzzing and waiting to tell the story you've just read...
Tight Lines, Dan.