Relive an angler’s magic moment with Tim Harris
The pit in question lies in a chain of 4, nestled in the heartland of the Kennet valley. At the time, very much the quietest of the 4, and sandwiched between two lakes on the same club ticket. Having fished the most prolific (a relative term) of them the spring before, doing quite well putting 18 on the bank through the year, my best friend Jamie and I had often looked over the larger lake next door whilst wandering up the causeway that separated them.
It very much felt like a throwback to years gone by – old withered trees, unkempt banks and swims, the banks showing signs of years of wave action rolling across nearly 50 acres of open water. An incredibly atmospheric lake – the sort of place you could easily feel that anything could turn up, there was talk of one of the old fully scaled Leneys still being around (though in fact we later pieced together it likely died the spring before this). The majority of the fish had been stocked about 8 years before, and through a friend Alan who was fishing there, the population was guesstimated to be in the region of 20-30 carp in 47 acres (and with the benefit of hindsight at the time this was probably about right). As an aside, the next spring I did see one of these old fish. There was a corner which we had found the fish would often gravitate to, given the right conditions, when it was sunny and a wind of a direction that meant it was in the lee of it. One day I spotted a perfect linear, roughly 20 pounds. This hadn’t been one any of our group of friends had seen, or even heard about before, and certainly not caught. A bit of digging and a discussion with probably the most knowledgeable chap on the history of the area revealed that back in the late 80’s when the pit was better known due to an outrageously long 40 pound mirror, there was a linear of about 16lb, that was never caught during that period. Possibly given the heritage of the area that this fish was in the region of 55 years old at the time – and never caught to anyone’s knowledge. Such was the way of these lake – secrets held, and some rarely surrendered.
Jamie and I fished a single work night earlier in the summer, more to catch up with a good friend Si who was fishing the lake next door which we had previously fished. The idea of a few beers before sticking the brolly up and slinging the rods out seemed a better idea than going home. Unsurprisingly the scorers were not troubled on this occasion.
I was still fishing the lake over the road, though it was becoming much busier, being more of a circuit water and I was struggling to mentally make the break over to the Big pit.
There had been some issues with water quality associated with an algal bloom on the lake next to the big pit, and havening done a few bailiff rounds it was obvious some of the fish were struggling. The EA came and were taking regular oxygen and water samples and the initial suggestion was an algal bloom crashing causing a decrease in dissolved oxygen levels and they would continue to monitor daily. There were two inlets into that lake, off from the big pit and one from the larger lake to the north (which was a CEMEX water at the time) and there was noticeable build up of fish in both areas. After seeing this, one evening that week I picked up some hazard tape from B&Q and roped off both areas with the blessing of the fisheries manager as unbelievably some people were still trying to fish for them.
I had taken some days off to be able to fish for 3 days that weekend and after a blank Thursday night on the circuit water, I wandered round the other lake with a friend Chummers, to check the roped off areas. Unfortunately, it seemed that things had deteriorated. We found the body of the Long Fish – one of the prized and ancient Leneys – floating lifeless in the back bay, the one area not of easy reach from the two inlets. Lots of small fry left gasping at the surface and the carp seemed even more lethargic. Watching 30lb carp taking it in turns to put their heads into the pipe from the big pit, seemingly to try and get at more aeriated water was a sad but interesting sight to see. I spoke to Del the fisheries manager and the EA had just found the O2 levels to have dropped dangerously overnight. Del managed to get hold of an aerator which we could get to the lake first thing Saturday. Having lost the enthusiasm, I went home for a night before returning to meet Del first thing Saturday. Given that most of the fish seemed to be by the big pit inlet, we got the aerator round there and set up to help bolster the dissolved O2 levels. At this stage there was a build-up of Tench, Pike and fry struggling.
I offered to stay overnight with it – ‘manning the pump(s)’ – to ensure no one decided to help themselves to it and for the regular topping up of diesel. It felt odd to be setting up the brolly with an aerator where the rods would normally be. Del suggested as I had a night ticket for the Big lake behind me, I may as well lob a couple of rods out there – though at this stage it wasn’t really with any serious intention to catch anything. Jamie was due down to help, so asked him to bring a few kilos of pellets down with him to top up my supplies as all I had bait wise was a kilo of boilies left in the bucket from the Thursday night.
Once Jamie arrived, he set up camp on the same bank, but about a 200-yard walk, about halfway down a narrow arm to the left of me on the Big Pit.
Next job was for us to retrieve a boat from the circuit water so rather than carry this out of the lake, down a road, through 2 sets of gates, we decided to sail it across the big pit. Once the boat was moved over the road, and successfully floated on the big pit, we donned life jackets and set sail – a wooden plank and frying pan the preferred, though not recommended, form of propulsion.
Through the day the weather had started to change – from bright sun and windless conditions we had through most of the week, on Saturday around midday a steady SW breeze had started to pick up. Not only would this help with the dissolved oxygen in the other pit, but also blowing perfectly into our causeway swims on the big pit -as well as being a near ideal direction to aid our crossing.
Halfway across the traverse of the big pit, a huge front came through from the South West – the sky darkened, and we watched as a wall of blew towards us. Trying to paddle faster with our utensils was a useless endeavour and we prepared ourselves to get very wet. Luckily, we were suitably attired in board shorts and tee shirts so although soaked to the bone the weather was incredibly warm and we managed to get to the causeway safely, with sniggering commentary coming from Del, safely ensconced under his waterproofs.
A cup of tea and swift change of clothes helped energise us to get on the with the removing the O2 victims. Whilst having the rejuvenating brew, I thought I should at least make an effort on sorting the swim. Given the weather conditions and the incredibly warm wind still howling into the bank, I decided the best option and certainly the easiest, was to simply lob two rods to the bottom of the shelf in front of the swim before lobbing in my kilo of boilies and the carrier bag of pellets Jamie had brought me. a couple of new hook links were tied ready to go on – big leads, big hooks and big baits being the order of the day I decided.
We got on with the gruesome, though essential (so as not to deplete the O2 levels further through the decomposition of the bodies) task of clearing the dead from the next-door pit and by the time that was done and the bodies buried we had found one more carp body among the dead fry, Jack Pike, Perch and small Tench. Unfortunately, it was another of the Leneys, though being over 50 years old you would guess that they would have been more at risk than the younger fish.
After the days work and given I was only planning on chucking the rods out as an afterthought, I topped up the diesel in the aerator and went and sat with Jamie while he got the rods out, and made a sausage pasta (our staple bankside supper at the time) and settled in with a few beers.
Despite what we had seen and dealt with that day, this was with a fair bit of enthusiasm as the conditions really did look excellent. A warm SW hammering in, overcast with a drop in pressure. It was hard not to feel optimistic, albeit mildly so given the difficult reputation of the pit.
Jamie had positioned his rods off a small hump, quite close in off a lovely looking pitch with a small opening. Inconceivably, whilst I was sat there one of his rods belted off into the darkness. I dived out the way from my seated position on the floor and Jamie took up the battle. With the wind howling down the arm Jamie was fishing in and into the darkness, it was hard to keep track of the powerful fish. We caught a glimpse of a long grey fish in the dim torch light in front of us before it took off down to the right towards a willow and some overhanging bushes. Jamie held on and managed to turn it, then it rolled agonisingly close to the net and just like that, the rod sprung back – the hook having worked its way loose. We both stood there in silence, unsure what to say, and not really believing what had happened. Jamie got the rod back out; we finished our beer and I sloped off to leave him to his thoughts.
I walked back to my plot, wind still pushing nicely into the margins of the bay I was fishing on the causeway. Part of me encouraged that between us we had managed a bite on our second night, although gutted for Jamie that it wasn’t the result we would have wished for. On the other hand, I thought the chance of both of us managing a bite seemed unlikely. The fish (one at least!) seemed to be appreciating the new wind, so there was always a chance I told myself, and anyway the fishing was really an afterthought behind maintaining the aerator.
Once back I tied on the hook links and swung the two rods out over the bait I had already applied. To avoid any issues with the wind and floating weed, the tips were sung to the spigots and the lines fished tight – not exactly textbook margin fishing, but the lack of false bleeps suggested it would do the job. That done, the kettle was on, the diesel level topped up in the aerator before finally being able to dive into my sleeping bag at about 12:30 – given the day we had been through sleep was easy to come by.
I was dragged out of a deep sleep by my Neville alarm screaming next to my ear given the way I had been forced to set up my brolly. It was still dark, though the wind had backed off a bit and the sound of the clutch ticking away helped to bring me to my senses. The fight was slow and plodding, without any frenetic energy that smaller fish often produce. The area was free of snags and without any major weed beds, so I was able to let the fish chug up and down under the tip before sliding into the net, thankfully without any last attempts at freedom.
I secured the net and grabbed my torch from the brolly and looked in the net. A wide fish, quite light in colour lay languishing in the net, rocked by the now gentle ripple feeding into the bay. I secured the net and sent Jamie a quick text to let him know. I looked at the time and it was a bit before 5. There was a corner just up to my right in the lee of the breeze now, so I sacked the fish in the deep, calm margin to wait for Jamie. I sat up chain drinking tea and checking on the fish until Jamie text back 30 minutes or so later, just before first light and came around straightaway. The day dawned bright and sunny, a far cry from the weather and window of opportunity of the day before. The fish was weighed at 35lb, feeling like it was on its way to feeding back up after spawning earlier that spring. We got the shots done in the early sunlight and wearing board shorts allowed for me to jump straight in for some returner shots as he slunk back into the reed fringed bay
On another happy note, the period of low pressure and winds really helped the O2 levels on the adjoining pit. No more carp were lost, or any other species so the aerator was packed up and returned. Later that week Del cleared some trees on the causeway bank, allowing for much better wind flow onto the water which has (touch wood), avoided any repeats of the situation.
And what of the fish? It certainly wasn’t one of the few we had seen photos of. Last year I managed to find a photo of the fish I had at 38lb caught the autumn after my capture. 18 months or so later, our friend Alan caught it twice around 44 through the spring. I saw that fish in the water an awful lot that year, with it being lighter in colour (and larger) than the other residents it was quite noticeable and often seen plodding around. The spring after that though I saw all the ‘known’ fish, as well as the ancient linear mentioned earlier, I never saw that fish again and to my knowledge it was never caught again. Interestingly the spring after my capture, Alan caught a lovely long dark fish at 34. This ‘Baby Black’ has gone on to become the pits ‘most wanted’ these days, being the subject of a chapter in a book and several articles with many anglers now travelling to fish there. It was a pleasure to fish there before they were famous.