BullsEye – Stuart Dennis
We all carp fish for a vast array of reasons, some to just find themselves outdoors escaping the day to day grind of life, some to spend quality time with fishing companions catching up through a joint passion, some to submerse themselves into all that nature has to offer and some to continue a journey of improvement. But many will go, in order to search out for what could be bigger beneath the waters surface and to pick their wits against their own previous personal best captures.
Having fished for Carp for nearly three decades in both the UK and France and having caught 13 x 49lb carp, for me I had only one objective. To beat my Fifty! Biggest isn’t always best and biggest doesn’t mean the better the angler either. A newcomer can quite easily drop a line in the side and pull out the largest carp in the lake. Does that make him the better angler? I remember being at a trade show a few years ago when a trio of anglers came to the stand and we started talking about carp fishing. A really healthy discussion about all things carp which soon turned to the elitism within the industry and subsequently among themselves leading me to ask this question “If you were sat on your syndicate one day in which you have been a member for ten years, having already been blanking after a 72 hour session, knowing the water like the back of your hand and having fished there every weekend for the past ten years. A new member turns up, having just started his journey into carp fishing, having fished no more than a total of 10 hours for carp, sets up his Argos carp kit in a swim next to you, duff casts out and within an hour nets the biggest resident in your water, the same target fish you have been chasing for years….then tell me…Who is the better angler?
There was a difference in their views, one said “Well obviously I am”, the other deliberated and calculated the hours he had put in as an angler and the other just muttered in his elitism, aloof way, how dare I ask such a silly and insulting question! For me the answer has always been the same to this question and that is IT SHOULDNT’T MATTER! But sadly it does….. So much focus on biggest is best and how you’ve got to catch a big carp so you can compare manhood. The pressure to be ‘Top Dog’ amuses the hell out of me. I even heard a close pal exaggerate what I had known his PB to be by over 5lb! Admittedly it’s all observational for me and my opinion on how we all got into this dog race is of course just my opinions, but it does make me laugh. I just carp fish and share my learnings hoping someone will take a part of what I learn along the way to aid their own fishing. I am no better than the carp angler next to me and wouldn’t wish to be. We are all learning, I think the minute we start thinking we are top dog or worse still trying to become top dog is the minute we have just ruined the very personal reasons we go in the first place.
One of the biggest reality checks for me was that you cannot catch big carp if big carp do not reside within the waters you fish. All too often you will see in the carp comics pictures of big carp by dedicated anglers giving the impression that catching big carp is somewhat easy and straight forward, but I think we all know it isn’t, especially if lady luck decides not to play her part, or the water you fish does not hold the stock or more importantly you are limited by the time you can apply to your fishing. The trick is to understand this and to set our objectives around these limitations but more importantly feel satisfied.
I had set myself a personal target this year and that was to catch my first fifty pound king carp. I say king carp as I have previously caught a 55lb grass carp. I have only ever caught two grass carp in my life. The first was 55lb the second was 45lb. How mad is that? But for me, I had carried around this old bottle of champagne for many years and in fairness fearing it was probably off. When or if the fifty came along then the bottle would be popped and swallowed having hit my target.
I will be 50 years of age in January 2019. My target was set to be cracked either before my birthday or within the year of being 50. I was never going to achieve this in the waters I fish in the UK because quite frankly the waters I fish and love to fish do not hold that weight of fish (yet). It was the same in France, the waters we fish have very few fifties too, if any. My first 49lb carp was caught over 20 years ago (see below) and it was about time I sorted this objective out having caught 13 x 49lb carp now!
First things first, research and find availability for a water that held a good head of fifties that I could get on. I had managed to get on the back of one of Bill Philips trips to MaPeche. A water created by the great Kevin Maddocks, one of our carping pioneering grandfathers. If reading this and you haven’t heard of Kevin, then google him and his legendary book ‘Carp Fever’ and muse back to the early days. MaPeche is a 22 acre venue with depths to 18 foot in places and hosts many a big beautiful carp. Certainly far in excess of my target. Perfect! I had a week on this venue which to all involved was deemed a very hard week. I was 30 yards down the bank from Bill and between us we had fished our tits off. The lake was filled with what I would call extremely experienced and extremely capable anglers. From world cup finalists to old school heroes. Talent (in my opinion having watched them angle) in abundance to say the least. Five fish came out to 35lb that week plus a 61lb 2oz monster to me.
Proving all my scribblings above to be bang-on. Who’s the better angler? I had one run that week which I am chuffed to say resulted in one fish. A sixty! Not a fifty! I am sure to many this may seem utter madness because although I was over the moon to have had one of the giants that reside in such a difficult iconic water such as MaPeche, It still hadn’t satisfied the itch of catching my first fifty. I remember smiling from ear to ear and struggling to hold her due to a strained shoulder. Getting out of the water and sitting back down. Feeling ecstatic for an age, but then my smile dropping thinking ‘but I’ve not done it’. I had skipped over my 50’s and launched straight into the 60 club. I’d been chasing my personal fifty for 20 years. I had 13 oh-so-near misses to have bypassed this bracket in one swoop. A feeling of elation and disappointment all in one. Pick the bones out of that one! A fantastic week with my old mate and a superb group of what I would call ‘brilliant anglers’.
Back to the drawing board. I had managed to piggyback a trip to Labyrinth in France which I knew held a big number of Big carp. A cancellation had made way for a Chubby CherryCarper to up sticks and get on his travels once more in pursuit of his fifty. A 60 acre venue aptly named ‘the Labyrinth’ due to its many nooks and crannies. Maze like in its twists and turns let alone what could possibly be offered up from the contours beneath.
I had seen the catch reports on their facebook page showing fishing coming out from all over which gave no rhyme nor reason for any pre-conceived swim choices. I’d never fished the venue before and although you could tell fish were often coming out in the nooks and crannies, I made the choice to fish the big body of water. This decision was based upon thinking there would at least be resident fish in the main bulk of water and with anglers fishing all over then pressure could surely push them away from any rabbit warrens or dead end worm holes. If given the chance to go back I would probably do the same until such time I got to know the water better. I had seen a vast amount of bubblers in one of the very small bays and as tempting as it was to set up shop there, I successfully convinced myself it was carp rooting up the silt and scratching out naturals. I wasn’t going to fish naturals so there! This has been my best season by far and every fish caught has been on CherryCarp’s MeatyMite over a bed of MeatyMite. Confidence was high so that’s where I was going to start.
I settled in a swim called Hoggles. I had a secluded bay to my left and a big body of open water in front of me. After a good few hours out in the boat I had found myself a few good looking spots in which to bait. In the main body of water I found a 14 foot depth rising sharply to a 11 foot bar. This spanned 25 yards from left to right and sat about 90 yards from the bank. So the plan was to run a line of bait up and down the near side of the bar, on top of the bar and tight into the drop off shelf. A rough centre point for the bar was located in the trees for a night time marker and baiting up heavy from the centre of the bar to mere morsels spanning out the edges was the plan. I didn’t want to fish on top of the bar due to a poor line lay, but bait was sprinkled on top of the bar leaving enough clues to induce the carp down to the bigger picnic area.
I found other areas and baited and fished them trying my luck. But that main feature was going to be my area of concentration. 4 kilo was paid in on the first night but never fished. Same again the second night but not fished. I’d heard so much about how wise and difficult these Laby carp were so a couple of days baiting on my main feature without fishing would at least (in my own mind) make way for confidence for the carp to investigate. Day 3 and three rods were spanning the 25 yard bar. One on the left, the middle and the right. A spear head approach was applied with the middle trap set close to the ledge and the outer rods set back 5 yards in order to allow carp in and out of the area without spooking. (It amazes me how we picture things in our head) That’s how I saw it all anyway and the making of a plan started to unfold. Another 4kg went in over the area that night but this time my traps were set. I awoke the next morning to a SCREAMMMMMMMMMMMMING seagull! No bites or action. Fry were being chased all over the place by the predators giving the occasional bleep and then back bleep indicating no likelihood of pick ups. Plenty of bait had been put in and I was confident that carp were in the area by sightings. I rested the swim through the days allowing the carp to move in and out with no glaringly obvious braid cutting through weed in daylight.
Fourth night it was time to get the rods back out over the spot. I had invested the time and effort and patience into the swim and I was convinced I was due a little pay back. This time no bait went out at all. If they were going to visit again for a free lunch then all they would find would be 3 washed out yellow MeatyMite Popups. At bang on midnight the left hand rod screamed off and the bobbin lurched forward and materialised into a one toner ‘YES TARBY’ here we go! 20 minutes later a 40lb 10oz mirror slipped over the chord for a night time shot.
Four days in, one run and one fish. To catch a carp from a venue like this was no easy task so for me I was over the moon. Rod back out on the spot and a snuggle up in the bag with that all too rare smug feeling. That kept me warm all night. A labyrinth Carp. I knew some of the guys were struggling and on their toes to move swims, but for me I wasn’t going anywhere now. Maybe if I had drifted into day five without a carp, let alone a run then maybe the demons would be banging away in my head, but no, I was staying right here! Day 5 came and went with no more activity. Day 6 saw a sprinkling of bait going back over the area via a throwing stick with the plan to fire out singles. The jungle drums around the lake were clanging now and the term it’s been a ‘very moody’ week by some of Labyrinths regulars had shown again how lucky I had been. Especially with the mad hot days and super cold nights let alone an air pressure reaching the moon!
I was still glowing warm from the capture two days previous and as we drifted into the last day the traps were set mid-afternoon as usual. I was breaking camp down in readiness for a 6AM lake retreat to get an early ferry due to other commitments when a solitary ‘one-toner’ broke the air. As I moved towards the rod I watched the semi slack braid rise up out of the water sharply and tighten. I struck in and lifted the sunken braid through the weed for good contact. A big heavy plod out in open water, on the same rod as the previous capture and I was giving way to a fast moving steam train. It took me left towards the corner of the bay where it made way for a snaggy corner. The trick was to make as much ground as possible as she just kept kiting. To gain as much line back that if she decided to really lunge when slightly closer in then all snags would be out of reach. I made the ground needed but not without being taken through three troublesome weed beds.
A pal had seen the commotion from his swim so came on down. He met one of the other anglers Nick just coming out of the shower and said I was in so I had two very welcome visitors in my swim by now. She was now about 45 yards out as she came to the top for a first glimpse of her Autumnal colours Nick said “you might have a 30 there mate”. At this point she started kiting right. I’ve had large fish plod and small fish bolt, but what I could only hope was something somewhat special started gaining speed as she kited. I moved the rod tip in the direction she bolted and applied side strain pressure and pulled around back towards my front. 10 yards out she rolled and gave a further show of herself. “Hold on, that could just scrape 40” said Nick and I mouthed to Gary “No that’s my fifty”!
Safely over the net cord and off to retrieve my rig. The advice given to fish both MaPeche and Labyrinth was to go BIG with hooks and set-up. Size two or 1 if available. I’ve always used large hooks but with the confidence in strength in our CherryCarp Round shanks, on both the 60 and now this fish, I had dropped to a size 6.
On close inspection I found she already had a rig engaged in the side of her mouth. One mans loss became this mans gain. Looked like the rig had given way at the knot and hardly surprising given the strength and account she gave herself. The rig that brought her home was one of our read-made rigs, a super stiff ‘Spinner D’ rig of which was never going to be ejected from its hooked position.
Fish care treatment, into the sling then carefully held up for weighing. Round she went on the dial and BOOM landed and settled on 55lb 10oz!! YES!!
FIFTY! HES GONE AND DONE IT! Bit of a blur after that if I am honest. A few pics and video for the youtube channel ‘Chubby CherryCarper’ and she was placed safely back into the water and helped through recovery for 15 minutes until she waggled her bum and waved good bye from the murky weedy depths. It was the last day, of the last trip, for the last chance prior to my forth coming Birthday and I’d done it. I was glad to be left to my own devices for the rest of the night as I stupidly beamed from ear to ear. That’ll keep me warm all winter I remember thinking…and it will. We pulled off site at 6am the following morning and I was over the moon with the unbroken sleep and for once enjoyed the motionless indicators and quiet bobins.
I’ve had a stonking season, certainly the best yet. MeatyMite is something to behold in my opinion. All my confidence right there, in addition to super strong hooks. Off to Thailand for New Year and I’ll be celebrating my 50th at Gilhams, with great friends and family with the hope of a super carp from far off waters. Already starting to plan a few trips for next year with the boys and who knows, if a 50lb plus common comes along, I could be well in line for the FIFTY TREBLE (Grassy, Mirror and Common). Tight lines and full bellies to one and all!