Saturday 11 November 2017

Braxted Reservoir 'Fixed Zig Fishing"

There was only a month or so to wait until my Chelmsford waters were set to open. The club has a great system in place, those that participate in an out of season work party get to fish from May 1st. This gives you a month of relatively quiet fishing before the club officially opens come the 15th June. I always choose to go and work down on Micklem Mere, in my mind, it's a water with a great future ahead of it and being part of it now, in its infancy, gives me a huge sense of purpose. As morbid as it may sound, when I'm long gone and the anglers of tomorrow are perched on its banks, fragments of me will be ingrained within its soil. There have been many times when I'm on my waters and I find myself thinking of all of those that have come before me, so many waters hold just as many ghosts as they do fish. I sometimes wonder what stories the swims contain, what discussions they've overheard and, of course, what monsters they've witnessed. As generations of anglers come and go, each leaving a fraction of themselves on all the waters they choose to fish, the one true constant, the real history, is within the carp themselves.

'New Swim' Work In Progress 'Micklem Mere'
History to me can mean so many things, especially when it comes to angling, it wasn't so long ago when I took a 'non-fishing' trip back to the water that I basically grew up fishing on, it was strangely emotional. Even though a huge amount of time had passed it still held the same feelings. I almost had a lump in my throat as I walked around remembering the amazing times I'd had. I stood looking at all the swims, some of which, a good few decades ago, me and my friends use to pitch up in for days. They hadn't changed, nothing had really changed, only the faces. The lake was now occupied by a whole new set of anglers, none of which would truly know of the beautiful 'history' that's embedded directly beneath their feet. As I stood soaking up 'the once familiar', watching as those fishing cast their lines out into my past. I had no doubt that they were making their own memories that, one day, they'll look back on with great affection. There are many aspects of my 'history' that I choose to forget, to keep buried, but my angling past is something I choose to dip into every so often. Like most things in life, over time, there are elements that become irrelevant. But I don't find this to be the case with fishing, everything that has come before makes both the waters and the fish what they are today - and so the cycle continues. 

I was up and out early on the day of the session, having been chained to the banks of Burrows for so long, it felt refreshing to be heading out to a new destination. I opened my front door to a very different world, gone were the icy bitter winds and the dark foreboding skies. I was now met with a mild warmth, clear blue horizons and a series of sure signs that spring was well and truly on its way. It wouldn't be long before I craved the smell of fish-meals and GLM base-mixes, both Spring and Summer just wouldn't be the same without them. Today I'd chosen to visit Braxted reservoir, it's not an overly hard water and I felt it was the perfect place to kick off my new season. Making the long journey up the A102, through the Dartford tunnel and up onto the A12, surprisingly, was a ritual I'd missed. Time always seems to fly by because my expectations on the pending session are playing out in my head. It's only once I've stopped at Boreham services, with my journey nearly complete, do I feel the excitement take hold, I can't seem to get to the water quick enough. Closer and closer I got, off the A12 I turned, I'd have to snake through a few country lanes before a quick ride along an old farm track would see me safely into the complex car park.

With my gear now loaded on the Barrow, it was only the back breaking walk up to the reservoir itself that stood in my way. This might sound pretty straightforward but the walk takes you through a large farm yard and then up a hill that gets progressively steeper the higher up you get. Just when you think you're getting to the end, it progresses further and gets even steeper still. It has to be seen to be believed and I know its been the 'downfall' of many an angler throughout the years. I've always made this crazy agreement with myself that I wouldn't stop once, however painful it got, I'd always try to do it in one go. I'm proud to say I've always managed it, although I do have at least 20 minutes of vertigo when I finally reach its summit. So ... here I was, my beloved water now within touching distance, but I still had the final hill to go. I was puffing and panting, each limb in my body burning, just a few more meters .... phew !!!! I'd made it. Now with a strange nausea and dizziness, I feasted my eyes on 'the res', it looked perfect. There was a strange haze that shrouded the landscape, all the trees and bushes were displaying a 'new born green', and coupled with that, a lovely warm light breeze was carrying itself down towards the dam wall. 

The Summit
Once my 'discombobulation' eased off it became apparent very quickly that the carp were up in the layers. They were all over the place, some with their backs out, others just below the surface. I was going to approach this in the most direct way possible, opting to fish fixed zigs exactly where the majority of the fish were. I wasn't going to mess about trying to suss the 'exact' depth out, I feel you can get way too preoccupied with this. It was simple, I would fish one zig at 8ft and the other at 9ft, the maximum depth, where the fish were holding was about 12ft/13ft. I was working on the basis that the carp were going to be at all different depths. One thing was very clear though, they certainly weren't anywhere near the bottom, so fishing on the deck was totally out of the question. I got everything setup quickly but precision was needed to get the zigs just right. To do this I use a tape measure and a single bivvy peg. The bivvy peg goes through the center of my hook link spool and I simply measure out the desired length.

Precision Measurements

My favored hook-link for zig fishing is 'Rig Marole Specialist Mono' in 10IB, it has a fairly low diameter and doesn't kink or twist. I find dedicated zig lines to be troublesome, they have a habit of twisting and knotting up after a few casts. In combination with this I use a size 8 'Nash Fang Twister' hook, my bait is then tied on 'knot-less knot' style with a very small piece of rig tube to create a 'blow-back' effect. I understand there are a few products on the market to make zig fishing easier, Fox Zig Aligners etc, but I don't have a great deal of interest in using them. I like to make all my rigs from scratch with my own chosen components. Bait wise, I don't use a food source, I opt for relatively small colorful pieces of foam, the 'Avid Zig Lites' are perfect. These are usually topped off with an imitation maggot, I'm going for curiosity bites, something small and colorful seems to work for me. Finally I use the lightest lead I feel I can get away with, I favor 1.5oz riser fished on a lead clip.

Small & Bright

I understand that fishing zigs is still rather perplexing for some out there, my advice to you is simple, it's all about 'mindset'. Understand that carp are designed to locate the smallest of items and microorganisms anywhere in their environment, they're masters of their realm. If they can pinpoint blood-worm and other food in the murky depths, buried deep within the silt and weed. They sure as hell can hone in on an item suspended in the layers, sometimes they need some encouragement, for instance, spodding soup to draw them in. But if you can actively see them dancing on, or near the surface in front of you, then a single suspended bait is more than enough to tempt a bite. Through the years I've come to understand that zigs don't necessarily work on every water, however, if the venue has a relatively high stock where the fish have to compete for the food, they can be highly effective. It's just a process of trial and error, dedicate a sensible amount of time to them, then you can draw your own conclusion - for those conclusions to come, you have to stick with it. 

The Riser 

Now with both my zigs meticulously tied it was just a case of getting them out, with a nice tight cast, my left rod went directly into the middle where the majority of the carp seemed to be holding. It didn't seem to spook them, this is the reason I love riser leads so much, due to their shape they covertly 'clip' into the water with very little disturbance. I dropped my right rod short, there appeared to be a few bigger carp straying away from the main crowd, again, the cast didn't seem to disturb them. When zig fishing I like to keep my line fairly tight, I wound in the slack until both rod tips were bowing over, bobbins were hung. Finally my first session of the new season was officially underway and it felt pretty dam good. It's hard to believe that only a few months ago I was sitting shivering down on the banks of Burrows, barely being able to feel both my feet and hands. As much as I enjoyed it, it was a bloody endurance test.         

View From The Swim
The first bite came quickly, my left rod was the first to go, there I was just about to descend into 'full daydreaming mode', when the bobbin slowly lifted up to the blank and stopped. I proceeded to gently lift the rod up and make contact with my first Chelmsford carp of the year, a spirited like scrap resumed. The fish didn't feel particularly big but I was just happy to get the bite. Mid battle a lovely chocolate colored common briefly peered its head through the waters skin, I swear we made eye contact. It came close, turned on its side and seemed to welcome the net mesh without any final bid for freedom. It was a lovely little carp, spotless and perfect looking in every way. The quick result told me that my approach was spot on, I could now sit confidently knowing that I could be up for a few more bites. A few snaps were taken, the carp was sent home and the zig was straight back out. The cast was crisp, the riser clipped back through the surface of the water, I waited for the drop .... DONK!. The bobbin was hung and I was back to 'pre-day dreaming mode'. 

The First On A 9ft Zig
Zigs make for a welcome break compared to fishing on the bottom, I don't have to faff around with changing boilies, dropping and losing boilie stops, or tying bags up. I simply check the hook, push the little piece of rig tubing back up, 'so the blow-back effect is primed', pop a nugget on and fire it back out. I find it very engaging, as demonstrated, if you're on some fish you can usually get a very quick result. So now with the kettle on I sat back and watched the carp, they were in constant motion. It was such a refreshing sight having spent the Winter staring for hours at a water that was content on giving absolutely nothing away. The fish seemed utterly care free, topping, twisting and circling around from one direction to the other. I knew it was just a matter of time before another bite occurred, both zigs were placed perfectly. My eyes kept focusing on, what appeared to be, a couple of rather large carp that were out on their own. They were moving slowly and far more cautiously, surveying their environment in far greater detail.

My intent observation was abruptly banished when my right rod sprung into action, it ripped off so violently, the tip was pulsating sharp to the right, the drag was buzzing. Lifting into the fish I instantly knew I was connected to something special, it was heavy, really heavy. I let it take as much line as it wanted, I wasn't going to rush this one. After the initial run, it slowed, I was steadily easing it back towards me but it seemed determined to stay very close to the margin down to my right. There were a number of low lying branches and snags, I had no doubt that it was going to do its best to dive into them. When obstructions are about it's amazing the extra power the fish seem to acquire. This made me nervous, considering it was on a 9ft hook-link, that was a lot of exposed line to get severed. Keeping the rod low and adopting some serious side strain I managed to keep the fish away from danger, it was now in touching distance. I lowered the net, eased and teased, it  suddenly surfaced, it was one hell of a common, easily a good twenty. Closer and closer she came, I was preying that the 'net fear' wouldn't kick in, I really didn't want it racing off again, I wanted to 'complete this transaction' in an orderly fashion. All was calm, up on the side she went, with my heart now in my mouth I slipped the net under, what looked to be, the largest fish I've landed on a zig.
Largest Zig Capture
I was totally blown away, it's amazing to think that a carp of this size would take such a tiny piece of foam. When you truly analyze it, you are suspending a minuscule fragment in a vast underwater universe, you'd think it would remain lost forever. But this just isn't the case, it reinforces just how incredible the carps senses really are. After a few photos I took great pleasure in watching her swim back home, I checked the hook, it was good to go, a nugget was slipped on and the cast was made. It appeared a large number of fish had now vacated the area, there were still a few milling about but the numbers had dwindled. I still felt confident in fishing the zigs though, I just didn't see the point in even considering going onto the bottom. For the next few hours everything seemed to go quite. The conditions remained the same but it was clear most the fish had moved on. I decided I'd just sit it out, sit on my hands and see what late afternoon would bring.

Time continued to tick by, a couple of coffees and a few teas later I was still waiting. Late afternoon came, the air turned cooler and with it, the fish started showing. They were still down my end but appeared to be really spread out, they were leaping and jumping like crazy, many were now showing along the dam wall. Looking carefully, after each leap, streams of bubbles would kick up off the bottom. Maybe they'd started feeding on the deck?, I had a decision to make, do I stick it out up in the layers or do I get down on the deck. I couldn't make my mind up, I can be utterly indecisive with decisions like this. I was twiddling my thumbs, wrestling with the conundrum that stood before me when, out of nowhere, my left rod was away. It appeared the stalling and indecisiveness had made the decision for me. The fish had taken the bait and shot towards me at lightening speed, I was reeling in the slack like a madman. The fight resumed under the rod tip, it was 'pure pleasure', my 3IB Ballistas have such a lovely tip action, the rod literally does all the work for you. All you have to do is stand back and soak up the communication between the blank and the fish. Each tug and pull travels along the carbon, in through my arm, across my rib cage and straight to the heart. The fish slipped into the net with little fuss, I instantly recognized it, it was a unique looking mirror I'd had off the bottom a year or so ago. It was great to see that it was still in prime condition, if memory serves me well, it was about 17IB.

An Old Friend
Reacquainting yourself with a previous capture can be enlightening, especially when you see that the fish is doing well. It makes it so apparent that the fish we catch don't just cease to exist the minute that we release them. The carp I catch are never 'out of sight, out of mind', they go on and continue to live and function both in my mind and in the water simultaneously, that's why we must always take the upmost care of them. When I sit and fish on any of my waters I often wonder where my past captures are hiding. This thought goes back to the very beginning of this blog, in regards to history. I feel that every fish we catch, we become part of it, an element of its past, and when they go on and continue to live through the years, sometimes outliving those that fish for them. They gather and contain a rich tapestry of everything that has come before them. It might seem a rather profound way of looking at something that many describe in a derogatory way, such as 'mud-pigs', but I feel they deserve much more respect than that. 

This fish signaled the end of the session, I'd had a great day, I sensed that the 60 odd miles home wouldn't feel very long, it's never a drag when I've had a good day. Packing up and giving 'the res' one last look, it felt great to be back. I know it's beneficial for the waters to have a closed season but I really do miss fishing them. Down the hill I rolled and on through the farm yard, the smell of cow dung hit me as I went, strangely it's a smell I'd missed. Now back at the van with the gear loaded, I peered through the trees at front lake, it looked perfect. Last season I hadn't put a great deal of time in on the place. As I stood there watching, a few carp leapt clear of the water up the far end by the buoy. They looked to be good fish, I felt a feeling brewing in my gut, traveling at pace up through my heart and into my head. It was obsession taking hold, the carp I'd caught today had pacified it briefly but it now appeared that front lake had kicked it straight off again. Within seconds I was already itching to cast my lines out into its water, I was hatching a plan. Carp Fishing - there just ain't no cure!