Park Life – Diary of an urban Carper
A fantastic guest article from Midlands carper, Craig Waddington as he recalls a campaign on a busy urban park lake holding some stunning old carp to well over 40lb.
Growing up in the Nene valley meant that I was lucky enough to be surrounded by some amazing waters, home to some special old carp. Unfortunately the area has also been long known for its troubles with fish thieves, this combined with the more recent problems with otters meant that over the years much of the wild fishing that I crave has sadly been lost.
With this in mind I decided it was time to target a water I had known about for a few years but never fished as I’d always had plenty of other carp to chase. I knew that these were very old carp and wouldn’t be around forever, that point was later to be proven in the worst way.
The lake is an unlikely venue to hold such special carp, surrounded on one side by a nature reserve, the other a busy housing estate. Due to its proximity to the estate it can get a little busy on there with the locals, weekends and bank holidays in the summer would resemble a holiday park with bbqs, dogs and swimmers in the lake and people camping in a lot of the swims, a real free for all.
I didn’t fancy dealing with all the hassle and distractions so I decided to start my campaign in early March while the banks were still quiet. The lake itself is around ten acres made up of a central bowl area, a couple of shallow bays and an overgrown, snaggy channel. Its home to only around nine carp, a handful of large bream and hundreds of hungry tench.
The tench and bream were a pain to begin with but I eventually used them to my benefit. The majority of the lake bed is covered in thick weed meaning finding areas to present a bait was often difficult. Before I started I spent as much time as possible just watching trying to locate where the carp were at certain times but with such a low stock it was often difficult to find any signs of them.
Introducing the bait
After a couple of overnighters and hours spent looking I settled on an area and began to start introducing some bait. The lake does receive a fair bit of pressure so in order for my efforts to not be wasted most of my baiting up was done late at night after finishing work. I kept the bait going in as regularly as possible and I soon started to see signs that the carp were visiting the area.
I was baiting with mixed sizes of CompleX-T boilies along with hemp, corn and tigers. A few tench and bream soon slipped up so I knew the baiting was working. On my fourth overnighter I knew I couldn’t get back for a few days so before leaving I baited the swim heavily. There were two other anglers fishing different parts of the pond at the time and unknown to me one of them had been watching my every move.
Within an hour of me moving out of the swim he had moved in and positioned his baits right on top of the bait, three hours later I got the text to tell me what had gone on and that he had just landed the common at 47lb plus. Oh well! The very next morning one of the other lads landed my other target, the mirror at 41lb so with both the bigguns being caught that meant it was time to leave the lake alone for a while.
Studying their habits
That ended up being the rest of the summer as I wanted to spend as much time as possible learning everything I could about those fish and their behaviour. Despite the very low stock I would manage to find at least a couple of them most times I was down, it soon became apparent despite the individual fish having certain areas they liked to spent a lot of time, when it came to the morning bite time most of the stock usually ended up in the main bowl part of the lake.
This was the first piece of the puzzle. Over the previous few weeks I had spoken to a few anglers that had managed to catch one of these wily old carp, gathering whatever little snippets of information I could. Although not the biggest carp in the lake the ultimate prize for me was the big mirror, one of only three mirrors in the lake.
This big male fish was known as being the hardest of the stock to tempt so I decided to try and do everything I could to target this one and hopefully pick off a few of the others along the way. I knew of three captures of this fish from previous years all from roughly the same area of the lake and all on bottom baits.
Extremely important bits of information. By the time I felt I had done enough homework to put my plan into action is was the beginning of September, many of the other anglers targeting the water had blanked all summer and pulled off so there were only a handful fishing regularly.
This was exactly what I needed for my plan to work. With all the information I had been given and through my own observations I knew exactly were my baits needed to be, the only problem being the area was solid with thick weed. This is where the tench went from being a nuisance to being very helpful in creating a clean enough area to be able to present a bottom bait.
I felt a pop-up was definitely not the one for such a wary carp. One of my biggest edges over the last few years has been a castable weed rake and on this occasion I spent a good four hours continuously casting to the same spot until I had a spot big enough to squeeze two rods. I never use three rods on there as they really didn’t like lines.
Once I was happy enough with the spot I swapped the rake for a spomb and spent a couple more hours depositing 15kg of mixed particle and CompleX-T onto the area with the hope the tench would finish the job of clearing it for me.
With all the disturbance I thought there was no chance of a bite that night but I cast my two rods onto the spot anyway and sat back absolutely knackered! I had put a lot of thought into rigs and hookbaits as I knew the tench and bream would be all over the spot but I didn’t want to be continuously catching them and disturbing the swim.
I decided to fish big snowman hookbaits as I could balance them to sit nicely on top of the silt and little bits of weed still present. I chose to fish 12 inches of soft coated braid alongside a strong size 4 Carp Spirit razor point hook. The hookbait was a hardened CompleX-T 20mm bottom bait and matching 15mm pop up fished on a very long hair.
Darkness brings success
I drifted off to sleep that evening hoping all the effort would be worthwhile but at some point in the early hours when one of the rods went into meltdown I initially thought I must be dreaming. The sound of the clutch over the bite alarm soon brought me to life and I pounced on the rod. I immediately knew it was a carp but i kept convincing myself it was just a big tench until it got to within netting range and I saw the crusty old back of the dinosaur, a truly ancient looking carp.
I had a bit of a nightmare getting it into the net as it decided to beach itself on a shallow patch of reeds and it just lay there beaten but there was no way of getting the net under it, without thinking I dropped the rod and jumped straight in and grabbed the carp in both arms and bundled it into the net. If anyone had heard all this going on in the pitch black they must have wondered what the hell was going on.
Just a few hours after putting my plan into action it had paid off with a carp I had dreamt of catching after seeing it several times in the margins. A good friend of mine came down at first light to do the pics and I headed off the work very happy and brimming with a new found confidence.
I was back the next day for a 48 hour session and repeating the baiting from the previous trip, another 15kg of particles and a good helping of boilies was spombed out. The first 24 hours passed biteless but I knew the carp were feeding on the spot as the whole stock showed at various times.
Seven am the next morning however all hell broke loose and I got the bite I was waiting for. From the second I picked up the rod I knew it was one of two fish, both would smash my pb so my legs immediately turned to jelly. After a few seconds a great big tail slapped the surface as the carp charged across the surface almost from one side of the lake to the other and at this point I knew I was attached to the big mirror.
For the next 45 minutes I felt sick at the thought of losing what was on the end especially when it managed to weed itself at the bottom of the marginal slope. There was nothing I could do except put the rod down and pray. Eventually I saw a tiny knock on the rod tip and as I lifted the rod the carp rose to the surface and I managed to get half of it in the net but there was too much weed to fit it all in and it managed to power off again leaving me distraught and just wanting it to be over.
Thankfully after a few more shorter runs I managed to bundle it into the net and let out the biggest scream of relief, the passing dog walkers must of thought I was crazy! Once again I dragged my mate Toby out of work to do the honours with the camera. The whole time I had that carp in my arms felt surreal, one of the ones you dream about but never really expect to catch. Having caught what was considered by most the trickiest of the stock to catch my confidence was at an all time high and I knew all I had to do was keep the bait going in and the big common would slip up.
The next day…
That morning after catching the mirror I baited up again ready to return at the weekend a couple of days later. I made sure to get down early on the Friday to ensure I got back in the swim and also I knew I had to pack up at lunch time the next day for a family bbq. A big bucket of particles and boilies went out on the spot followed by two snowman hookbaits, the spot was now considerably cleaner than it had been the week before.
Plenty of bubbles coming up over the area confirmed fish were present and I went to bed that night as confident as I could be however by 11am the next morning I thought my chance had passed and I began to pack away when out of the blue I was away. This one didn’t do too much but as I saw the back of a big common break the surface my heart skipped a beat, I kept the pressure on and lead the carp straight into net. Once beaten I could see it wasn’t the big girl but the long common, third in command and another very rare visitor to the bank.
Word got out
After catching this one I was unable to get in the swim as word got out I had managed three in a week, unheard of on this venue so many of the others anglers who had given up for the year returned and it got very busy. I decided now to just fish wherever I saw the common and a week or so later I got my chance, I found the entire stock showing over the spot I baited earlier in the year and got my rods out on the little gravel hump.
That evening the big common showed three times directly over my hookbaits, the third time a huge plume of bubble hit the surface followed by a savage take on one of the rods and I knew this was it, there was a 50lb common on the end! Before the nerves had even had a chance to kick in my whole world crumbled as the line fell slack, I’d been cut off and the carp was gone. I felt physically sick and didn’t know what to do with myself I just sat staring at the rod I had just thrown into the bushes.
As I lay in bed that night trying to sleep all I could do was tell myself I would just have to catch it in the winter, catching it so quickly would have just been too easy. Little did I know just a couple of weeks later my phone would go into meltdown whilst I was at work with the news that the common was dead, another victim of the otter plaque that threatens to destroy carp fishing as we know it.
I was heartbroken and beyond angry to the point I couldn’t fish for several weeks after getting the news, in my mind that carp already had its place in my album. Eventually I came to terms with and was grateful to catch three of the four I really wanted in just a few nights fishing, a period in my angling that will live with me always.