As much as I enjoy wild places and peaceful fishing, coming back to match angling has been one of the best things I’ve done in recent seasons. It has involved some serious adaptation, however, and I’m still learning some big lessons along the way. Competition tends to have this effect; it quickly highlights any lack of preparation or weak spots in your repertoire.
Trinity Waters’ Woodlands Lake is an interesting venue to put it mildly. I was hoping to put past experience to good use on this occasion, as I learned some tough lessons in the corresponding Tiverton DAC league match last season. One thing I failed to reckon with last time was just how big and angry the carp are here. Lots of them are doubles and they know every snag in the lake. So this time, I was determined to step up heavier and have a better chance of netting the monsters.
At the draw, I didn’t fancy my peg (12) an awful lot, I must say. I was in the middle of a row of anglers with no free peg either side and no major features to go at, beyond a marginal clump of rushes that my neighbour would also surely have a crack at.
I decided on a four line strategy. First up I had two margin areas (one to feed heavy for later, another to drip bait in and keep checking), both fed with micros, 4 and 6mm pellet. I also fed a pole line at 9-10m with micropellet, dead maggot and groundbait. All my rigs were beefed up, in view of the beating I had recieved last season, with 0.18mm main rig lines to 0.16mm hooklegths (5.5lbs). I always use Silstar Match Team line for pole rigs- I have few brand loyalties, but this stuff is so reliable and fine for its strength.
To kick off I tried the method feeder, however, while letting the pole lines settle. With bubbles in the middle and so much commotion from anglers round the edge I really fancied the far line. But alas, the tip scarcely budged in three casts, taking me to 30 minutes biteless. I decided to leave the long line for a bit, but keep putting out a healthy pouch of 6mm pellets every so often just to try and settle some fish for later.
On the pole lines I quickly had a bite that turned out to be a nice skimmer- and then another. Better, but where were the carp? Nobody was catching them. In fact I don’t think I saw a single carp in the first hour. Perhaps they were still in spawning mode?
On around 80 minutes, I then had another cast with the method and got a proper whack around this time. Good job I was fishing heavy because the fish was incredibly strong. Even with 8lb line and a meaty method feeder rod, it seemed to take an age to come to net. A nice mirror carp of about 8-9lbs.
That was another false dawn, sadly, but back on the pole lines, I started to get things going again. Bizarely, with the carp seemingly absent from the margins, good skimmers were there- and they seemed to like a 6mm hard pellet bait fished over micros and dead maggots, another fish often followed when I had a little top up. In fact, I must have had six skimmers for about 5lbs by mid match.
Out on the feeder line, I tried an open end feeder and lighter line rig I’d set up, just to freshen things up, and then had a ferocious take. The brutally dogged, slashing fight suggested a foul hooked carp- before my eyes nearly popped out… it was a hoofing great eel!
It fought really hard and I was super relieved to get it in the net. The image above doesn’t really do it justice, but it was absolutely solid and looked easily 3lbs. It was a case of third or fourth time lucky trying to land it, even with my bigger carp match net! Not completely bonkers I guess, because a lot of these old Somerset clay pits have big eels. Mike Edwards, on the opposite bank, had one even bigger, I later heard. I may even return one day for a crack at specimen eel fishing, because I would love an even better one. Yes, I am one of those weird people who thinks eels are cool. Actually, if I hadn’t caught another fish this beastie would still have made my day.
Actually, with the lack of carp continuing I really fancied my chances- I suspected only Phil Tucker had more weight, with two massive great carp both into double figures. With about two hours to go, though, the lake finally switched on and there were carp coming up and down the banks.
I tried the method feeder again but, bizarely, all I could add were another couple of big skimmers- very welcome but when the carp are in the 6-12lbs stamp it takes a lot of these to catch up! Sadly the margins didn’t get going either, although I was now getting bubbles and bites on the 10m pole line. Without further ado I tried a big lump of paste. I got some funny touches initially, before the float sailed away and I was attached to something completely relentless.
Even on really thick hollow elastic, my tackle was right at its limits in the early stages. Slowly, though, the fish tired and I caught sight of it. It was a beautiful big ghost carp! Another couple of minutes and I managed to get the net under it. It must have weighed 12lbs if it was an ounce.
Would I have enough to get anywhere near the top, though, now everyone else was catching. Watching Bruce Hunt and Elliot Faye now netting large fish, I felt I was well behind the top few. There were still 45 mins left though, with the swim still bubbling at 10m.
The next bite was a proper sailaway and another relentlessly strong fish. This time it was perhaps only 6lbs but very fit. I fed the swim as it fought and could see more bubbles coming up. That damned hooked carp- it was really punching above its size. Stupidly, I then tried to bully it to the net, thinking I may have time for another fish or two if I hurried up. You can guess the rest- the hook went ping and my rig tangled, costing me precious time to sort out.
I couldn’t tempt another bite in the final few minutes and that lost fish really cost me! I guess you can put it down to experience- but it was my pessimism and the thought I needed to play catchup that was my undoing. The fish cost me an excellent finish, in fact, as I was less than 3lbs off second overall. Balls! Thanks to the skimmers and that big eel, even with only two carp, I weighed in 16KG 200 (or about 35lbs in old money), enough for fourth overall and a bit of section money.
Elliot Fay was the overall winner in the end. He’d had a dicey start, like all of us, but caught up fast in the last hour and a half, with a bag including a lovely carp of around 14lbs to put him well in the lead with 22.575 KG (just shy of 50lbs).
So, all in all a fascinating, if slightly frustrating match. I was daft to lose that last fish and it was a bitter lesson in being patient and not thinking too far ahead. That said, I was very lucky to hook and land that big eel. You win some you lose some… and, as always, experience is the best teacher. And equally, had it been a day’s pleasure fishing I’d have been stoked with that lovely ghostie and the big eel.
In the meantime, I’ve been back at one of the midweek matches on Tiverton Canal, with a write up to come in the Angling Times soon. I’m also keenly looking forward to the next league event with Tiverton AC. Indeed, even with my late slip and missing some fixtures earlier in the year I’m now in the top 12 and hopefully on course for the annual “cup final” match. That’s the other great thing about these matches- there’s always something to play for and another match to look forward to.