I first arrived on the banks of the Quarry in late July 2017, having not cast a rod in almost 5 years. Having previously attended Sparsholt college, during my teens and early twenties I had thrown myself into the world of carp fishing. I first gained employment at my local tackle shop and carried on to work for several different tackle manufacturers. Through this period, I collected lots of nice fishing gear and, owing to my connections, had been lucky enough to catch a few sought after carp from some very desirable locations. However, whilst in pursuit of the Snake Pit common, I had my gear stolen. The theft of my gear, coupled with various other influences in my life at the time (mainly hard drum and bass and the trappings that go with it), lead to a virtual abandonment of my life long hobby along with my goals of catching the monsters that lurk in the depths of our local ponds and meres. Fast forward a few years though and the hallowed banks of the once infamous, and now legendary, Quarry in Chelmsford stirred something in my imagination, the little child inside me was awake.
Many anglers I respect and admire have earned their stripes on the Quarry and there are many fine stories, published in magazines and books, that would set the hairs on the back of your neck alight. Just visiting my friend Scott’s swim and imagining what had transpired on this very spot sent my mind to a place that it hadn’t been for some time. I knew that I had to get out there for myself. It was the perfect time of year for it, but where should I go? I needed somewhere, that like the Quarry, was steeped in angling history but also contained a big, elusive common. I suppose you could put that down to having my gear stolen whilst I had my heart set on another slippery common.
Having been out of the loop for some time, it turned out that the Snake Pit Common had sadly passed away. Discovering this left me seriously regretting allowing my passion to wane. I had been doing well at Snake prior to the theft and, I could have easily bought some cheaper gear and continued to fish, but I didn't. I was left wanting a 40lb common to chase and, having never been lucky enough to previously land one, I needed to find a venue that contained a suitable target.
Just finding a water that turns me on these days is very difficult. The rigmarole of waiting lists makes things even harder but there had always been a lake in the back of my mind. Like the Quarry, it had seen many a fine angler and it was also home to some very fine common carp that are legendary for both their size and how tricky they can be to catch. The pond in question was only 15 minutes from my house and I could buy a ticket for just £80 for the season. The only catch was that it was a highly pressured club water, where fishing was only permitted from 6am-10pm. I decided to wipe the dust from some old books and began to read-up on the place.
Fortunately, the road I had followed in pursuing other endeavours had led to me working in a bakery which meant I was up for work very early. This meant if I chose to fish the lake in question, I would be able to fish with a reasonable degree of consistency. Making my goal of catching a clonking great carp far more achievable than it would have been if I had working a standard 9-5. Most days I’m free from 1pm and, from the information gleaned whilst chatting to the regulars, I had discovered that bite time was generally from 4pm onwards. However, like a lot of day-only waters, the last few hours were the real prime time.
Setting foot on the banks of the lake for the first time, I felt the same sense of excitement I’d experienced whilst on the banks at Yateley’s Car Park Lake and other historic venues that I’ve fished. Venues where events have unfolded to become the stuff of carp fishing fables. Just walking around, I could tell that the road ahead was going to be long and would require serious commitment if I was to achieve anything like what I was dreaming of.
The lake in question has a relatively low stock of wise old English carp who have pretty much seen it all. Being a day-only venue, they are free to ignore you all day yet feed to their heart's content, free from angling pressure, at night. During the summer months, a short walk over to the far bank of the 4-acre pond, in amongst the trees that grow out into the hallowed waters, and the fish can often be seen with tantalising ease. This is really of very little help when planning an attack though as whilst tucked up in amongst the snags, they are completely untouchable.
I would estimate the stock to be between 65-80 carp, most being twenty plus commons with around 15 over the 30lb mark, including one very distinctive and sought-after fish named “The Backup” which has previously been captured at over 50lb! An incredible lake containing some incredible fish that would certainly be a memorable prize for even the finest specimen angler, I knew this was the lake for me.
Having spoken to a few friends that had enjoyed some success over there, I decided that I was going to try to avoid the pitfalls that they had fallen into (even if they had caught a few). I thought I could use a bit of guile and my new-found attitude towards fishing-light in terms of how much gear I was carrying. I decided I would also fish about, not getting stuck in one place. I learned early on in my angling that effort equals reward and with that in mind I had decided to stay mobile, starting in the top corner of the lake, furthest from the car park, and working my way around the lake fishing each swim in turn. That way I would get to know the layout of the lake and begin to form a picture of the contours of the lake bed in my head.
Prior to arriving, I had decided that a swim that faced the snags, named “The Hotspot” was to be ignored on my circuit around the pond. If I was to catch one in there, I feared I may end up stuck in that one swim like I had in previous ventures. After all it was called “Hotspot” and I know how obsessive and compulsive I am (I think it’s an underlying personality trait of most carp anglers).
My first 15 days were spent in various swims around the lake, fishing either gate-to-gate or from 1pm until 10pm. Generally, I’d position one rod carefully in the margins and the other out in the middle on showing fish. It soon became apparent that the fish tended to show more in the evenings and mainly off the back of the weed beds where it seemed most people had been having their success in my initial observations. I had seen many clonking great carp and had heard a few crashing out just out of sight. During this time, I only managed to catch one fish of around 7lb, having cast on its head and receiving a take just minutes after laying the rod on the ground. This had occurred by chance whilst I was moving from one end of the lake to another, chasing the shadows of what felt like big cyprinid imagining. I was getting a bit frustrated to say the least.
With this in mind, I had decided that the fish in the lake were nomadic when feeding. I had seen bites come from all over the lake and had formed an idea that the fish were following a circuit which they seemed to deviate from depending on the conditions. The main factor being the number of anglers on the lake on any given day.
To this point the only joy I’d had was intercepting one of these fish directly. With the fish being small and probably very hungry, I concluded that I’d gotten the take out of curiosity. A great start, but hard to consistently repeat given the hours I could fish and the amount of pressure on the water.
After a while, I figured the best way to intercept the carp was to go against what I had originally intended. I setup in a swim where I believed I could intercept the carp on their feeding circuit by applying some bait on a regular basis. Hopefully this would entice them into feeding confidently enough on one spot and I might catch one of the larger residents off guard.
Around this time the shallows at the top end of the lake, furthest from the carpark, seemed to be producing the majority of the bites. Those that were catching were fishing very close to the weed where the carp were holding up during the day. There were quite a few regulars on the lake at that time and they were putting in a lot of time in on certain swims. I could only assume they had come to a similar conclusion to myself with regards to the feeding patterns. As such, I didn't want to invade their territory and left the area well alone. I was relatively confident that in a lake of this size, with the fish behaving as they were at the time, almost any swim was a goer for a baiting campaign, especially for anyone that had the amount of time I did!
Obviously some swims had distinct advantages over others and one swim I had noticed going free relatively often was a swim named “The Plateau.” As the name of the swim suggests, there is a plateau located around 10 wraps out into the middle of the lake which is a natural feature for fish to patrol around. Also, being in the middle of the lake, I knew that when the lake got busy I would always have a chance at a cast towards what I concluded to be the route the fish were following on their journey from the snags on the other side of the lake.
The plateau has always been known to be a good swim but around this time was being ignored. The fish were spending most of their time held up in the weed or the snags during the day. Also, the nature of the lakebed and the many tench that reside on the spot seemed to be putting people off. The serious gradients out there mean that it is easy for people to get their presentation wrong and as a result catch a lot of tench and very few carp. A fair few people I had spoken to seemed to hate fishing the swim even though it had previous form for some excellent results.
Having decided I was going to start putting some time into the plateau I got down to the lake early in the afternoon after finishing work. Arriving in the car park for the 16th time, only one fish to the good, I felt excited to have an idea in my head of how the fish were behaving. As a result, I was feeling far more confident that with my new approach, I could attain success.
I had purchased a few kilos of freezer baits at my local tackle shop and prepared a bucket of particle to spod out. The whole bucket of mix went out at 10 wraps along with a kilo of boilies.
Catching several tench throughout the day, which was more action than I’d had over the previous 15 trips, meant I was feeling confident. After I decided to put out the other kilo of boilies around 6pm all went quiet. Then at 8pm I had my first bite from a carp.
The hanger shot to the top and stayed poised but unmoving. I looked at the tip and it was banging away like my head when Joe Ford releases a new ep! At 28lb I had finally struck into the sort of fish I had been waiting for. My first 25 lb+ common for a fair few years, as in my last pursuit of a 40 lb+ common at Snake Pit, before the abandonment of fishing for 5 years, the other backup fish I had managed were all mirrors. Beautiful old mirrors mind you, and the odd ugly Simmo, but I had never caught a common from Snake. I’ve never had much luck with big commons. It had been 4 or 5 years before the Snake campaign since I’d last landed a big common, and at the start of this new campaign my personal best, from a low stock Cambridgeshire water that had only 16 large carp residing in the lake. I had managed the fish only a few days into my campaign, just after the lake had opened for the season after a particularly long close due to low water levels and heavy spawning. I caught her at a very low weight for what was normally a 40 lb+ fish at 34 lb 14 oz. This stamp I was determined to beat at Braxted and however chuffed I was with my first decent one in a while, I knew there were more to be had. I was excited, and the bug had set in!
The next few trips were all centred on the plateau and I started to catch with a good degree of frequency, having up to 3 bites a session and not often going more than 2 days without a bite. This had started to get some attention from a couple of other anglers but thankfully not too many. I was keeping things quiet and avoiding taking pictures of all the fish as they were not all monsters. Mainly 22lb-28lb with an average of around 25 lb. In fact, I have still only caught one double and one single from the back lake. They were a great stamp of fish and each was a beautiful and historic creature but unfortunately, the monsters I had dreamt of were still contained within the chapters of the books and articles I’d read and were eluding my capture. But not for long!
I decided that maybe the patrol route I had tapped into, and established a feeding spot on, was that of a group of smaller fish and not the larger residents I had seen so often in the snags on the other bank. I feared the larger fish were staying grouped together and probably only ventured out as far as the plateau very late on, or when not many other anglers were there. The smaller fish were probably having my bait before they even got there.
At this point it’s probably worth mentioning I had caught around 15 fish from the plateau over roughly 3 weeks from my first capture in late August, through to late September.
Due to my success and buzz it was giving me, plus my huge desire to beat my personal best common, I was managing at least five days a week, some weeks seven, even if it was only for a brief few hours. The lake had got a hold of me. However, taxing, physically and psychologically, the campaign was becoming I felt like I was close to getting into the larger fish. I was catching at a very good rate for such a hard water and you've got to make hay while the sun shines, right?
Fishing as much as I was also became tactical. By this time people had started to notice the action and I was having to put in the hours to try and keep things going for myself. If I got there first most days like I was able, I knew I would stand the best chance of keeping things going in the swim and catching. It was hard watching things happen in other swims during the day. The action in my area of the lake tended to be from 8pm onwards and I felt like I needed to stay in my swim and ride it out if I was to encounter those fish later, but frustratingly this still wasn’t happening! Due to this frustration, one night I decided to finally venture a rod out into the swim opposing the snags that I had been reticent to give a go earlier on. Just one quick session to see if I could do any better from there size wise.
As it happened, that day there was a nice lad and his friend walking around who had fished 10 days on the lake that season without a bite. The fella was working just down the road at the time and frequently stopped for chats on his walks around the pond. No one was in the plateau that evening and they were walking around deciding whether there was enough space for them both to fish. Although the guys were slightly hesitant about it, I showed them my spot and a little spot close to it in the swim next door and told them to get stuck in.
There’s a degree of etiquette in carp fishing that some people like to uphold which explains why the lads were slightly hesitant. Quite rightly, people want to feel like they've done things for themselves. With me sitting in the hotspot not fishing it at the time though, and knowing the success I’d been having, they would of been looking a gift horse in the mouth. I left the boys leading around and setting up and went back to the hotspot.
I had extreme confidence in my approach in the hotspot, I mean it was called hotspot for a reason, right? I’d see the bigguns there all day in the snags opposite in the far margin. I had two rods primed with 2kg of boilies over each. This completed the traps just inches away from the home of the monsters. As I was using, what is to me, relatively large amounts of bait daily (up to 4kg) I was now getting my bait in bulk from the DT factory. Fortunately for me it is very close to the lake in question. I was fishing a bait that a few people I knew had had success with and I knew it had gone in in large amounts. The fish obviously had confidence in it and I think this was partially responsible for the uptake in bites that I had been receiving after embarking upon the heavy baiting strategy. The lads in the plateau were on the same bait as me, Pukka Fish and sour cream 18mm freezer baits, and I felt confident for all of us as the fish were very active that evening.
Around 9pm I had a take from a fish and I felt it slowly coming towards me using its weight and not giving me much grief, unlike many of the takes previously where id received a battering. This made me very happy and excited. Firstly, there was no worry of it going for the snags, secondly it wasn’t pulling very hard which can be a sign of a slightly larger specimen. At this distance I couldn't really feel the weight of the fish, so I waited in nervous anticipation until a fish of around 25 lb rolled into the net. Given how close I was fishing to the trees on the far bank, I didn’t fancy a re-chuck. By the time I’d landed the fish, there was only half an hour of fishing time remaining. Plus, the other rod was still out on the famed hot spot.
I was felt confident to leave it out but once more I returned to the car park happy that I’d caught again and from a different swim. I was still chasing that monster common though.
In the car park there were happy faces all round. One of the lads had logged in and he’d logged in hard. To my surprise, the rod that had gone off was not on the spot I had been baiting but right next to it on a smaller spot I had also mentioned. The spot was a very difficult chuck in the weed and top angling! He’d caught one of the oldest fish in the lake at 40 years plus. Known as “The Dark Fish” it came in at a weight of 37 lb 8 oz. I was made up for the lad! I was obviously a little annoyed with myself for not sticking it out in the plateau for a further night. After all I'd been having considerable joy and had felt like it was only a matter of time, but it wasn’t caught from my spot, so I probably wouldn’t have caught it anyway. It did show the bigguns were visiting very close to the area I’d been baiting though!
Next time I was to fish I went into the DT factory to pick up 10kg of bait on route. Whilst waiting in the office I picked up a tub of pop ups and noticed a flavour I previously had rolled into my bottom baits years ago. It had brought me a lot of success on other head crunching waters. Over the years I had been in and out of the fishing world and the previous owner of DT had said they weren't able to do this for me any longer due to being unable to get the flavour. I hadn’t thought about it in years, however, the smell in question is a smell you will never forget. The aroma quickly reminded me of some amusing results I'd had in the past, so I asked the current owner Tom if he could roll this for me once again. Thankfully he agreed!
As I said before I had a large amount of confidence in this bait as I’d used it on other waters in the past and had some great, almost unbelievable, results on it. I this put down to various factors, which we can discuss in another story, but I really felt like it could be the edge for me on the back lake.
I introduced a large amount of Berry Bubble Boilies
in front of the plateau. I think I put out somewhere in region of 6-7kg before I had my first bite but as soon as I had put it in I’d been catching tench after tench and I was trying to feed them off as much as I was anything else.
The first carp was a fish of 27lb but a proper corker, I didn't get a photo as the bite was very close to wind in time so nothing but a 30lb carp would warrant getting the camera out.
The next evening back again in the plateau and I had put out around 4kg of bait throughout the day. I had a couple of tench but then at 7pm finally it came. A take from a biggun. At the point I’d managed to land every bite, bar one or two on a simple helicopter setup. The next three bites I had that evening were bigger fish and without drop off leads, an entirely different prospect when it came to landing them through the weed. I had underestimated the lake and its residents and that night I paid the price. All three fish managed to lodge themselves firmly in the dense weed which resulted in three hook pulls. To start with I was very upset. The constant coming and going to the lake, lack of sleep and sheer disappointment of what had just happened almost broke me. Thoughts of lost big ones filled my mind as I laid on the floor looking up at the stars, but I wasn’t going to be beaten.
Determined more than ever to succeed I returned to the plateau the next day, and the next day, and the next, until almost a week had gone by without a bite from a carp. Then suddenly, one evening around 9:30 pm when hope was beginning to be lost, the hanger rose to the top and sat there. The fish was stuck headfirst in the weed. The first sign it was a big one was when it freed itself easily, and under its own steam, from the weed. It didn't tear off, it just simply used its own weight to fight me. After a short tussle I dragged the fish into the net and looked down on what was to be the first of an incredible run of fish, and the stuff dreams are made of….
The fish in the net was known as “The Warrior” or “Pop Rib” depending on which local you speak to. I wasn't fussed about the name. It was 35 lb 12 oz. of proper beasty old English common carp and what I had been waiting for years. A new common carp personal best and one from a proper venue, a history fish if you will.
Absolutely buzzing I returned to the car park, and having taken a few pictures, it had not gone unnoticed. One of the anglers who witnessed the capture and helped to take pictures thought I had caught the big girl at a very low weight when I initially put the fish down on the mat. Its silhouette was very similar, and you know how excited everyone gets when there's a big girl on the bank. This now meant I had to try and keep up the work rate and keep getting in the swim as often as I could to try and catch another!
I returned daily for the next five or six days straight with just one bite. A fish of around 22lb. Unperturbed by this as, being early October, things had slowed down for everyone by now, I carried on. A nice fella was fishing the swim next door. He was putting in a fair bit of time and was a good angler to boot. He had done 15 days or so with just one lost fish, so I decided to stick it out for a while.
Another four sessions went by and, on the 12th of October, it had been 12 days since the capture of my last fish. I remember the date clearly, even with a hazy memory like mine, as I had a hospital appointment for an ongoing stomach issue that afternoon and found myself racing to the lake for bite time feeling like I had had a snake wriggling through my insides. I arrived very late on, around 7pm and unbelievably the swim was free! By 7:30pm I managed to get my rods out into the water and baited. Again, that night I was to meet one of the big girls.
A lad called Charlie had dropped into the swim next door just a few yards away and we were busy having a chat when, again, the familiar rise to the top on the same left-hand rod occurred. I hit the rod and immediately commented on how it felt like a tench. However, after about 10 seconds, I soon changed my mind. Suddenly aware I was into a good one my heart was in my mouth. Again, it put up no real fight to speak of, just using its weight to plough through the weed towards me. I was slowly reeling down and taking the weight, inching it closer and closer until, finally, it popped up in front of the net and we could see it was clearly one of the biggest fish in the lake, but which one?
After a few frantic moments we realised it was not the big girl. Considering the size of the fish and how beautiful it was, we decided it had to be a fish named “Little Linden’s”, one of the most amazing looking carp weighing over 35 lbs that has ever swum. Into the net it popped and clocked the scales round to 37 lb 8 oz. Pretty much scale perfect and another new personal best common carp in the UK for me by a few pounds. I was over the moon. This fish really was easily the most beautiful common I had ever seen on the bank in person, apart from the big girl which I had been lucky enough to photograph and weigh for another angler in my first few weeks on the lake. There was a split opinion as to which fish this was at the time though. A few thought it was a fish called Little Linden's and others thought it was a newer fish which had grown on after being caught earlier in the season at just over 31lb.
Three 35 lb+ commons in a fortnight. All history fish but one that was younger than the others and certainly one for the future having put on over 6lb this season! Unbelievable, but this wasn't the end of the story.
Over the next few weeks the blanks started to mount up, but unlike before, no one else was catching either. After my results, I certainly wasn’t budging but now even the tench were becoming few and far between. By this point I had started to dial it back in terms of bait, only putting in half a kilo on the spot daily,or a kilo or two if I had missed a day or so.
Another few days went by and I was starting to lose hope. It had become 9 or 10 days in a row without even a bite from a tench. Then, all of a sudden, I had a bite just as one of the bailiffs turned up in the swim for a chat. He helped me net the fish and, at first glance as it rolled over the cord, we both thought it was a smaller fish. During the fight it had me thinking the unthinkable, that I might be connected to another one of the lake bigguns, but as odds go I didn't think it was particularly likely. The last three had all been members of the A team and surely this couldn't be another!
It was a short, stocky mirror, one of only three or four in the lake, and as I lifted it out of the water I saw how thick it’s shoulders were. I could tell that my instincts about the battle, or lack of it, had been correct. I knew it was the largest of the mirrors as it’s quite a recognisable fish. It had actually only been out a few weeks prior, from the same spot, to another angler. It weighed in at 30lb 10z. I was absolutely made up and couldn't quite believe I'd had another 30 to make it four in the space of a few weeks. The large chunky scales on this fish and its frame means it’s really one for the photo album.
By this point competition to fish in the plateau was immense, although only one other angler had caught from the spot since I’d been fishing there. I was managing to get in there most days but if I wasn’t there from very early on it would be taken. The lake had not been kind in October, only producing the fish I had caught. There were no bites from carp landed, at least from anywhere else in the lake that I and the other regulars knew of anyway. Although the clocks were due to go back soon, and the night the clocks go back is famed on waters such as this for being a good night to catch the carp out, so there was some hope there.
I got down to the lake after work and the plateau was taken. A few days prior another angler had come up to me and complained about me fishing a lot in the swim. He'd told me he was going to try to compete with me over the peg. It was him in the swim and after I'd had such a good run I thought about going home feeling a little bit cheated over the amount of time and effort I had put in. But that’s carp fishing in the modern day and a little voice inside me said don't give in, you’re here, you can still fish the same part of the lake, you might as well chuck them in.
Having decided I was going to stay I setup opposite the plateau and hoped for the best. When I cast out I felt a nice drop which really did feel like one of those meant to be casts. I reeled it in after clipping it up, wrapped both rods up at 10 wraps and chucked a fair few times. It was quite a narrow bank with overhanging trees behind me which made it a hairy cast at the best of time and I hadn't fished the swim before. It took a fair few chucks to hit the spot, feel the drop and for my OCD to calm down enough for me to be happy that I was fishing properly.
By this time the evenings had started to get chilly and by 9:30pm I was packing my mat and brolly up questioning why I’d bothered to stay and why I’d cast so much? I felt like I’d had a very good run and things were starting to peter out for the autumn. It looked like it was going to be a very difficult winter ahead. I felt like I could start to relax a bit now and just fish the right days through winter. All of these thoughts were running through my head when low and behold, as soon as I had got the mat all packed up, the same familiar rise to the top once more beckoned me to the rods. As soon as I hit the rod, the same left-hand rod that all the big fish bites had been on in the other swim on the other side, it was apparent that it was another good fish. As it came towards me in the margins it started to give up a bit more of a scrap than the previous four. That, coupled with the fact there are only so many 30lb fish in the lake, convinced me it had to be a 20 or a double or even a single. However, as it came up to the surface, I could see it was another good fish.
As the fish went over the net cord I was, again incredibly excited, but in a state of utter disbelief. It had taken me so long to capture my first Braxted big one and now I’d had five in a row! Upon closer inspection, the fish in the net was revealed to be the Kinky Back Common. I’d seen pictures of it on the bank when a friend of mine caught it four years ago at 31 lb and a few ounces. On this occasion she turned the needle on the scales round to 33lb 6ozs. A quick pack-up and picture and I was again headed to the carpark as I had work at 5am the following morning.
I sat back in my car in the carpark exultant. Five 30’s in a row! Five 30’s in one month and I still had another six months to go before the before the end of the season!!
It’s not all that often in life that you have a plan and it all comes together. There's a lot of luck involved in big carp fishing and there can be a lot of hours spent sitting around questioning your own sanity. But, in the end, if you’re willing to stick it out, big carp are accessible and, most importantly, catchable for pretty much anyone willing to give it a go.
There are dreams to be realised out there for those who dare, and maybe one day my dreams of a 40 lb Braxted big one will be realised. Don’t you just love carp fishing?
To be continued...