Thursday, 12 January 2017

Braxted Front Lake 'The Process'

A fair amount of time has evaporated since my last blog, here we are a few weeks into 2017 and I find myself asking, 'where the hell did 2016 go?'. It feels the older I get the days, weeks and months seem to go careering past me at a rate of knots. I understand that time is a precious thing but I must admit, I have no real desire to hold onto it, it simply comes and goes, I think it has a tendency to pass us by faster when we're making correct use of it. I find the days tend to drag badly if you feel you have no real sense of purpose. Angling, however, is the anglers purpose.

I always look forward to a new angling year, it's an exciting prospect, and with it, comes yet another set of new possibilities. As usual, I have no real targets, no PB's to beat. I just want to continue to get out there and do the best I can, consistency is the key. If I can continue to catch a few from all my chosen waters, eventually a monster might just find itself staring up at me from the depths of my net mesh. Many moons ago when my angling life was in its infancy I made the mistake of giving myself too many targets and goals. I got wrapped up in all the aspects that seemed to pull me away from what I thought angling should really be about.

I remember when '18' was my magic number, back then that was a mythical size fish for me and I wanted to catch one so badly. The problem was the only lakes that were available didn't have a great deal of 'bigger carp' living in them, but I carried on regardless. As time went by my need for 'the number' turned into an uncontrollable obsession, I found myself spending an unhealthy amount of my life camped up on my local club water, longing for the next bite to be what I so desperately needed. The weeks morphed into months, the outside world became, almost obsolete, I was on a path that only had one route and I wasn't going to deviate from it until my desire had been pacified. 

It was on one very warm night back in the early 90's, I was laying on my old Fox Supa bed chair looking up at the cosmos overhead, contemplating the possibility of alien life .. when out of the darkness, my optonic lit up like a beacon of hope, followed by a screaming buzzer and the beautiful whirring of my old Shimano 6010 bait runners. I lifted the rod high into the darkness and as I stood there, man against beast on my own, I went on to finally land 'my number'. Sitting here now I can still see it so clear and it will, no doubt, be a moment that will stay with me forever.

I was so happy, my mission was accomplished, but only for a short time, it was crazy how quick my next number became '20'. I started to think, "where do you stop", maybe at '30', '40', '50' .. I think you get my point. It was years later when I realised exactly what I'd missed in the lead up to that original 'target'I'd missed the journey, my mind was so fixed on the destination that I'd pretty much disregarded both the adventure and the carp I'd caught along the way. I'd been wearing 'blinkers', I might have finally caught 'the number' I was aiming for, but I really hadn't learnt a great deal. I felt that I'd become very one dimensional, my fishing had turned, almost mechanical. 

That's when my outlook on my angling changed, for me it became apparent that it's not about the numbers or the 'named fish', it's not about the 'PBs' or the size, it's about the process. It's something I've written about so much, and it goes for everything you do in life, from building a house to learning an instrument, it's what you learn in the process of doing anything that eventually allows you to understand why and how you got the result. Personally I've found angling without any targets has allowed me to appreciate everything to do with carp fishing as a whole, you just take it as it comes. I find approaching it in this way keeps my enthusiasm primed and I rarely get a sense of burn-out. 

On the flip-side to what I'm saying, I understand that we all fish for different reasons, and as individuals we all have different motivations for doing what we do. I know guys that are highly driven to catch the biggest residents of the lakes they fish and then move on, others like to sit it out on the pits for the potential unknown beasts that could be lurking. The explanation I've given above is simply putting across what viewpoint works best for me, whatever way you're going at it, don't let 'the chase' blind you of the process, stop and smell the roses/carp once in a while.

The 20IB Obsession 'Winter 1994'

This now brings me on to my latest blog post, it's accounting for a session up on Braxted front lake back in the winter of 2015. It's a strange water for me, as much as I love the place I can only fish it when I really get the urge to do so. Opening my eyes on the morning of my trip, I instantly got a fire in my belly and the 'the front' was calling me to come and pay it a visit. Over the past few seasons I've been rewarded with some pretty special fish from the place and some of the commons have been the best I've caught. Through time I've sussed out around five spots that I know, 'if the fish are feeding', I stand a good chance at getting a pick up.

Front Lake Common 2014
I was up and out quick and my enthusiasm to get the rods out was barely controllable. Whizzing up the motorway with London becoming an 'ant sized speck' in my rear view mirror, all sights where set on getting to the water in quick time. I visualised being pumped out the industrial heart of the capital, to continue my journey into the veins and arteries of the Essex countryside. I was escaping the concrete prison and off to find my own piece of paradise. Off the A12 I went, my destination was less than a mile away, I weaved myself through the country lanes and farm tracks, as I pulled into the car park, 'front lake' was peering at me through the trees, it looked perfect.

Exiting the van, my mental enthusiasm had actually distorted the fact that the weather was very dull. The life around the lake was so still and murky, there was a gentle breeze pushing down towards the car park which made the front section of the water look very inviting. One quick lap revealed nothing of any significance, as always the Braxted carp were keeping their cards close to their chest. I was going to have to go on instinct and past experience, so I chose to setup down the car park end, I was certain that the odd fish might be ghosting around, if not now, later.

View From The Swim

Whilst I was meticulously setting up my swim, a few sun beams started to break through the clouds above, this instantly changed the whole feel of the water. All the dead colours from the surrounding trees lit up so bright, all of a sudden the prospect of catching a carp became an obtainable prospect. I decided I'd be shooting for my usual spots, the left rod would go half way down the slope that gently drops down from the car park bank. The right rod would be placed in the deep marginal run directly opposite. Once the baits were placed I was going to leave them, I didn't see any point in recasting, patience was going to be my faithful ally.

Combi Materials

Regarding my rigs for this session, I'd adjusted them slightly, this time of the year front lake goes really clear. Instead of using my standard 'trigga-link combi', I'd opted for an 'amnesia combi'. The supple section was tied with Krystons Silkworm, this gave the rig a lovely hinge and allowed plenty of free movement for the hook-bait. The white Amnesia in 15IB literally disappears when its in the water, thinking about it, I've been using it on and off for the past 20 or so years and I still rate it highly. It's easy to work with, abrasion resistant, knots well and once steamed holds it shape. Along with this I'd upped my lead size to 3.5oz, from 2.5oz, I wanted to magnify the shock effect.

Amnesia Combi

Honey Nectar was my bait of choice, I wasn't going to use anything other than a single hook-bait. I sensed that the carp might not be up for much, out of all the waters I fish, front lake is a place where I feel 100% confident in keeping my baiting to a minimum. Working on the basis that carp like to check items that they come across, I was hoping that even if they weren't up for the grub, the bright orange colour of the bait might just attract them to investigate. With all these little tweaks and details covered, I could sit comfortably knowing that I was fishing effectively. 

A couple of casts saw my rigs land exactly where I wanted them to, back-leads were slipped on and now with the bobbins and alarms 'set to stun', I scrambled to get my brew kit unpacked. With the kettle gently bubbling and the smell of fresh coffee emanating from the bottom of my cafetiere I felt pretty dam rich, if I could just go and land myself a carp, I'd feel like the wealthiest man alive. It's these simple pleasures that really mean the most to me, forget the big house and expensive car, give me a good coffee and a carp any day of the week. 

Sitting there looking out over the water everything felt pretty desolate, there were no signs or signals that any fish were in the vicinity. It always seems to go this way though, bites just seem to come out of the blue, I sat tight, hours started to pass, I'd overdosed on coffee so now I was on the 'Yorkshire' tea. The day was passing and with it came many moods, the lake went from welcoming me to literally giving every reason that I should up and leave. But I wasn't going to be beaten that easily, and as afternoon started to yawn the rain came .. hard, I got the brolly up, I'd made up my mind that I was going to stay a few hours after dark. 

The light started to fade fast and before I knew it I was staring into the darkness. I sat hunched underneath my brolly hoping that at any moment the LED from one of my bite alarms would shine, signalling that a carp had been fooled by my carefully placed trap. The rain eased off, the clouds cleared revealing the fullest moon I'd seen in a very long time, everything felt perfect. The atmosphere was sliced like a knife when I suddenly received a short sharp liner off my right hand rod. I now sat on the edge of my seat, eyes fixed on the vivid blue light from my ATT. As soon as the LED latched off I got a few more knocks, now with my head torch on, I was poised ready for some action. BANG... the rod was away.

Both the alarm and reel drag were screaming, it felt like I'd waited an eternity for this bite. I was met with a dead weight and as my rod bent double trying to cushion the run, it became apparent that I was hooked into 'what felt' like a lump of a fish. It powered hard to the right stripping line as it went, my 3IB test curve 'Ballistas' where translating every tug, thrust and pull, it was a spiritual experience. As the fished edged ever closer I was dying to get just a tiny glimpse of the potential beast that I'd been wrestling with. Slowly it began to tire, out of the darkness and into the light of my head-torch beam I caught sight of a very wide and deep bodied common. I teased her slowly over the net .. result!

The Perfect Prize

I took a minute to catch my breath, lifting the carp out and placing it safe into my cradle, it was pretty clear that I'd caught one of the bigger residence. On closer inspection it had a fair amount of damage around its mouth and some heavy abrasions on its body. This was a shame, it's always sad to see, I applied both 'wound seal' and 'propolis' to the effected areas, got a quick shot, and then sent her home. I was really happy that I'd managed to get a bite, I stuck it out and it paid off. I must admit though, I felt a little deflated, the condition of the fish really wasn't great. 

A Bruised Braxted Beauty

Carp angling is a beautiful thing but I'm under no illusion that for the carp the capture must be a very stressful situation. Every fish I catch I handle with great care, they're all fleeting visitors that we greet, respect and send home. I want them to go back the same way they came out, to look as untouched as possible, not only for the fishes sake but for the next angler who's lucky enough to catch them. Of course the odd mishap can happen, it's just the nature of the sport but it's important to make the whole 'catch & release' process as seamless as possible. I drove home from the session in a strangely reflective mood, that was going to be my last visit to a CAA water for the rest of the season. The journey flew by fast and as I saw London shining majestically on the horizon, I was already planning my next escape.

On a side note -

"In regards to the subject of bad mouth damage, I think there are measures that can be taken to help reduce this from happening. I understand completely that some bad hook holds are unavoidable, but I personally think that if you're careful with how you play the fish and thoughtful in regards to the type of tackle you're using, then the chances of bad damage can be minimised. I personally feel the 'test curve' is a grey area for some and I wish it was written about more in the major angling press. For me a high test curve rod is only needed if I'm fishing at range, using solid bags or fishing a weedy venue. In my mind a 3.5 test curve and above is a 'distance' tool, 'playability' is secondary.

If I'm using a rod of this power I'm very conscious on how my drag is set as to not exert to much direct pressure. I still want to be in control but I want line to come off my spool before the rod locks up. Most of my fishing is done on a 2.5 or 2 3/4 test curve, they're a joy to play fish on and due to the 'give' in the blank, less pressure is put directly on the hook hold, which in turn reduces the risk of tearing. I believe yanking fish in fast on a stiff rod, and/or striking hard 'when in reality we're using self hooking rigs' is what contributes to this damage. Let us all remember that the carp doesn't, simply stop existing, when we release it back into the water. Bad damage caused by bad angling practice can hinder the quality of that carps existence. As anglers it's our job to preserve these creatures."  

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