Up to my Neck in It, Again!
As an angler, I just have to go fishing. Only this time I leapt in with both feet, and I'm going to take a very long time to dry out...
“Sometimes you’ve just gotta go in after them.” This was my thought last Wednesday when, after hooking a mid-double common carp off the surface of an estate lake, I found myself thoroughly weeded up by the most stubborn of fish. The fish, which had taken a floating dog biscuit, had promptly turned, got its head down and ploughed into the lily roots on the lakebed. Split cane rods being what they are, I was unable to haul the fish to the surface, so I had no choice but to strip down to my undies and go for a dip.
As I felt the cold water numb my legs and waist, and silt ooze up around my nether regions, I came to a quick conclusion: that my situation was a bad idea.
It was entirely Stu Harris’ fault.
Stu and I have fished together for years. We’re a good team. He’s an unbelievably effective catcher of fish, and I’m unbelievably reliable at netting them for him. We share tea-making duties and, when I’m not taking photos of Stu’s catches, I get to make the occasional cast. But I fish lazily. While Stu’s chasing fish around the lake, I’m lying back chewing a grass stalk and watching clouds drift overhead. However, things changed in June when Stu took me to FLE Top Lake in Hampshire.
This stalking heaven is only an acre-or-so and contains nothing but twenty-pound carp. It’s shallow, so if you’re tuned-in to the movement of the water, you can pretty much tell where the fish are at any given time. They feed close in, on crayfish burrowing into the bank. So providing you’re quiet, you can catch the carp of a lifetime from under the rod tip. Catching big carp doesn’t get much better than this if, like me, you like to feel their brutish strength and speed on a centrepin. I’d almost forgotten this electrifying sensation, having spent the past seven years fishing mostly for wild carp and trout. But Stu’s a devious fellow and got me to FLE under the pretence that it would be more of a social than a fishing trip.
“Fennel,” he said, “there will be plenty of cake; possibly even a barbecue and a cask of ale. And if you want to fish, there are plenty of small carp in the match lake that might rise to a fly.” What he didn’t tell me was that, upon seeing the lake and its enormous residents, I’d become completely obsessed by big carp – again!
I’d spent most of my twenties fishing for specimen carp. I thought I’d got them out of my system, but when I saw a mid-twenty mirror patrolling the nearside margin of an island at FLE, my heart began racing and I let out an astounded “Oooh-my-gaaaawd!” – as if I was being kissed by the best looking girl at school. I plucked up courage and made the longest and most accurate Wallis cast of my life with the ‘pin. The freelined lobworm landed within a foot of the island. The carp returned, picked up the bait and – in doing so – gave me the biggest shot of adrenaline I’ve ever experienced. I struck, the rod hooped over, and the fish chugged slowly down the lake towards deeper water. I called to Stu who, returning many years of favours, came running with the net. With the fish now closer and rolling under the rod tip, Stu reached down to net it. The carp swirled violently, soaking us in an explosion of water, but it was safe. We brought it ashore, weighed it, and I savoured the elation of success. The fish, which weighed 26lb 10oz, was my first double in nearly a decade.
Which is why I’ve been unable to think of much else since then and why, when wading into the estate lake this week, I knew I’d ‘got it bad’. As I felt the water rising above my shoulders and splashing under my chin, I knew that the big carp bug had bitten and all rational thought had gone. It was just the fish, and me and – as I soon observed – a crowd of onlookers, too.
“Jeez! Look at ‘im!” said one spectator, “he’s up to his neck in it! Any deeper and all we’ll see is a flat cap and a rod tip!”
“I’m okay,” I replied, “I just felt the fish kick. I’ll have it in the net soon, just you wait.” But as soon as I said it, I felt the line surge and then become solid with nothing but the dull and lifeless weight of weed. I let go of the net and, with my left hand, grabbed the line and felt down into the water. There was the Edam wax on the line and there, to my dismay, was the hook buried in a clump of weed. The fish was gone.
All justification for my mid-day swim was lost and I was left bobbing about in the water like a tweed-hatted marker float. The crowd sighed, shook their heads, and then laughed as I made my way back towards them. Stu was there, offering me his hand to help me ashore. As he pulled me from the water he said, in hushed tone: “Nutter!” It perfectly articulated what everyone was thinking and, rather sadly for my reputation, is the one word that’s most frequently used to describe me. While I was sitting there drying my clothes and cleaning the mud from my legs, the crowd congratulated me for being so daft. I was offered a cigar, a brandy, and a straightjacket.
And then we noticed that Stu had gone. In usual style, he’d spotted a carp cruising on the surface and had dashed off to get his rod. Reappearing in the swim next door, he cast into the weed, hooked the fish, and dived straight into the water – netting the carp before it had chance to get its head down. The fish, which weighed 17lb 6oz, proved that some anglers should do the fishing, while others are best left to make the tea…
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