by Steve Howard
All seasoned anglers will appreciate that it’s those especially memorable moments in angling that we strive for. Unfortunately, those euphoric snap-shots of success are often far and few between – although, of course, there is much besides ‘catching’ that we anglers find enjoyable.
For me, fishing is very much about my deep appreciation of being out there, not always catching, but enjoying the occasion nonetheless. I derive great pleasure in purely being there, sucking it all in, regardless of the fishing aspect.
However, the brief moments of euphoria, those are the occasions that drive me on and they are without question the precise reason why I have held such a passion for angling since I was a knee-high lad.
Many things that, at the time, I felt were majorly important in my life have come and gone, but the one single constant has been my passion for angling. That has and always will be a massive part of me… it truly defines who I am.
One of the many terms used within angling vernacular sums it up for me and, although it might be slightly worn and clichéd, for me, just being there really is enough on the majority of occasions.
This was the underlying reason that I travelled half way across France in late June… Although, it must be said, I was desperate to get back on the bank and, dare I say it, bank a few nice carp, the trip was mostly agreed to, to spend a bit of time on the bank with my lovely partner, Lynne, whilst in the company of one or two angling friends.
The long established Croix Blanche Lakes in Northern France was the complex that my friends had chosen, and on the assigned date we arrived at the lake just an hour later than I had anticipated… the Paris ‘peripherique’ can at times cause much more serious delays to any journey!
I decided not to fish on that first night as, after an early, 5.30AM rise and a 7 hour journey, I opted for a social and good night of sound, undisturbed sleep instead. The following morning passed quickly and it was mid to late afternoon before I had set up camp and put both lines in the water… I rarely fish with more than two rods.
I set up with two 10’6” rods to fish. One bait placed by hand in a small hole in the thick weed 50 yards away, the other boated out to the far margin on this narrow section at 75-80 yards (purely for accuracy). I then baited both spots with SBS C1 plus a small amount of SBS pellet and groundbait. Personally, I tend to fish for runs… that is to say, I don’t put too much bait in at any one time, as I much prefer to provide only enough to create a feeding situation for just one fish at a time.
That night I caught a 26lb+ mirror from the margin rod and after re-baiting, a 42lb catfish. The following day, having previously had some interest in the floating baits (Friskies dog biscuits) from one or two carp, I decided to set up my 13’ floater fishing rod and have a try ‘off the top’. After some effort keeping the loose feed going in, I managed to bank a very nice 32lb mirror and as that fish happened to be my first ever 30lb+ carp off the top, I was feeling very content within myself!
That night, the margin rod again produced a carp, a nice 44lb mirror… and another two catfish, the novelty of which by this time was wearing a little thin. I appreciate the fight and I’m also aware that many anglers welcome the capture of a catfish or two, but another catfish that morning brought my tally up to 5 in just over 24 hours and it was evident that the cats were more on the feed than the carp were.
The hard work that I had been putting in to get the carp feeding on top was paying off, they were now feeding well and I made the decision to concentrate my efforts on these fish. I continued to trickle the dog biscuits in by catapult, a pouch at a time, when the breeze was in the right direction to allow them to drift into the margin at the end of the lake to my right. My plan was working well, and that evening there were several carp feeding on top along the right hand margin.
Feeding correctly and allowing the carp to gain in confidence is the key to floater fishing success, and a quick sortie with my floater rod proved that within 20 minutes of angling. I was elated when I landed my new PB off the top in the form of a 38lb+ mirror, which snaffled my SBS M1 pop-up that I had trimmed down to imitate a dog biscuit.
I reluctantly put my rods out again that night and another catfish, a lost carp and a 9lb bream were the only action they saw so, the following morning, I decided to reel them in and leave them out for the rest of my stay. Now, I set up my 6’ stalking rod – to work in conjunction with my floater rod with a controller float, positioned on my rod pod and buzzer – to allow me to stalk fish in the margin that were mopping up the drifting biscuits.
A baiting strategy was employed to cover both rods and, when the breeze allowed, it worked extremely well, producing fish to both rods. The effort and concentration needed to keep the fish feeding on top was tiring but justifiable and very worthwhile, as other, very capable anglers struggled to find any action on bottom baits.
On the penultimate day, a huge mirror that I had tried to stalk the previous evening without success suddenly appeared out in open water for the first time, greedily mopping up biscuits from the centre of the lake. It would fall for my floating boilie, for sure, wouldn’t it? I watched anxiously, heart in mouth as it approached my hookbait and duly missed it! It swept around and attempted to take it into its mouth again and swirled violently… had it taken my bait?? I waited for my line to move and tighten on the surface but as I watched, a second fish swept in and took my bait just a split second after the big fish missed its target yet again!
Not the fish I had wanted to take my bait, but a lovely 39lb+ mirror was reasonable compensation for my disappointment. After seeing the big fish feeding in that manner, I hoped that it might show again in open water at some point, but it never did. However, I now had the advantage of knowing where to target this fish in the margin after spotting it mopping up biscuits from the marginal weed in the same area as before.
It wasn’t going to be an easy task, though, as this fish had developed the habit of coming up underneath the weed to feed on the sodden biscuits that had drifted beneath and on top of the weed, taking in huge gulps of weed and biscuits as it did so.
Twice, this fish tried to take my bait through the weed, but the hook clogged in the weed preventing it from being pulled through – I had a problem! A few more fish then disrupted my quest for the big fish, taking my hookbait before I worked it into position. I wasn’t complaining, though, as 2 mirror carp of 35lb+, another of 39lb and a 30lb+ carp slid over the net to grace my unhooking mat.
The last full day was an incredible experience that I shall never forget. It started at dawn, around 5.30, and I caught my first fish of the day just 30 minutes later, a fine looking 37lb+ mirror on the controller. I recast the rod and set off in search of the big fish – a fish that I now affectionately referred to as ‘Boss Hog’ due to the loud pig-like snorting he made as he sucked in copious amounts of weed with each gulp.
There he was, just beyond where I could cast my bait to so, as I couldn’t get to him, I had to devise a way to make him to come to me! – I baited heavily along the marginal weed 5 yards to my right (where he was), along in front of me, and 5 yards to my left. I positioned my line over a small twig on the bank and allowed my hookbait to rest in a small hole in the weed directly below it as I waited with bated breath to intercept my prize.
Over the course of the session, I had two allies in the form of very active and responsive common carp that were always the first on the scene to greedily accept my free biscuits, which encouraged other fish to join the party and feed. However, I never even came close to catching either of these fish in open water, as they were ultra wary and aware that there was something suspicious about my hookbait.
I digress… meanwhile, in the margin, close up and personal, Boss Hog appeared right beneath my feet, just a yard away. He rose in the water to suck in a freebie biscuit, turned to take another before slowly slipping away under the weed. My heart was in my mouth and I quietly reeled in my bait to drop it from the rod tip in front of me. The Boss was still there as I could detect the rocking motion of the surface weed and the small vortexes washing out from the bank… My pulse was now audible in my head and my mouth was a dry as an Arab’s flip-flop. Then, without any warning, a 36lb+ mirror swept in and sucked in my bait from under (above, actually!) his nose and I had missed yet another golden opportunity.
After the swim had settled down again, I got into position to take on the boss if he should reappear. Within minutes, a very big common popped his head right out of the water to confidently take a free biscuit within 6’ of me. I would estimate this fish to be around 45 – 50lb, and I instantly considered him to be a very worthy target. I quietly dropped my hookbait where he had taken the freebie and within a minute he raised slowly in the water to suck in my hookbait. I watched as he closed his mouth and I flicked the rod tip to set the hook. I was in!
This behemoth violently disrupted the surface water before plunging deep into the abyss, stripping line from my reel as he powered away under little pressure… then he was gone in an instant, leaving me with an open mouth and in stunned silence. My line was retrieved to reveal the harsh reality of what had just gone wrong. The hook-knot had parted, and to my great dismay that was an error on my part for not checking it out after the last fish!
Unperturbed, I tied on another SBS ‘size 4 ‘grip-tip’ hook, shaped another M1 pop-up to be mounted on a short hair and sat there, watching to see if the all too brief disturbance had caused other fish to move away. Thankfully it hadn’t and, remarkably, within minutes the Boss was back under my feet!
I lowered the hookbait directly on top of the weed that this carp was trying to suck in, but again my attempt was thwarted. He simply couldn’t manage to gulp it right into his mouth, despite several attempts! As he moved off, one of the commons that had avoided capture so succinctly moved in and took my bait.
After a prolonged, spirited battle, I slipped my net under a cracking 39lb+ common – one of the two that I was beginning to feel were uncatchable! By now, I was beginning to feel that I had missed my chance with the ‘Hog-Father’ but an hour or two later he was back, feeding in the weed in the margin!
I moved in as close to him as I dared and I set my trap… my last pva mesh bag filled with biscuits to which I added pellet to provide enough weight to punch a hole through the floating surface weed. This was it; I would surely catch him now, wouldn’t I? I waited for him to reappear close to me so that I could drop the bag through the weed next to him, and it worked a treat. He gulped at the mass of free biscuits, sucking in around 6 or 7 at once, but my hookbait wasn’t among them, unfortunately! He returned to the spot briefly to mop up, but when he finally had my hookbait in his mouth, as my line tightened he spat the hook out before I could react.
After that latest disappointment, right on dusk, I called it a day and went back to my bivvy, knowing that I had just a couple of hours fishing left in the early morning before packing away and heading for home.
It was 5.30 AM the following morning when I woke with an overwhelming sense of urgency, knowing that time was vitally short. I grabbed my float rod and positioned it out in the wind line flow of drifting biscuits I had just ‘pulted out, before heading along the bank with my silhouette screened against the cover of the bankside trees. I hoped to see the Boss again, of course, but despite seeing him briefly, I never had a clear opportunity to present a bait for him in an area I felt that he would accept it.
I had to keep my options open at this late stage, and in preference to catching one of the other carp that appeared keen for my hookbait, I twitched my line to deter them from taking it in the hope that I would have one last opportunity of banking my target fish.
However, time passed quickly and with just a few minutes remaining, I made the decision to catch the next fish that presented itself, to end my session on a high note. I was more than happy to see the next fish on the scene, a lovely common that took one free biscuit before he took the one that would cost him. A really hard fight ensued and as I slid the net under this fish I knew that it was time to go. At 39lb (+ a few ounces) it was a great way to end this session of a lifetime for me.
I ended this wonderful session on a massive high, with 12 carp to 44lb, 11 in total over 30lb and the smallest at 26lb+.
I have vowed to return one day, and hopefully reacquaint myself with Boss-Hog/ the Hog-father, call him what you will. I won’t name him myself, as this was simply an affectionate name that I attributed to the fish temporarily to make referring to him (to Lynne) a bit more simplified!
Many thanks indeed to Gareth Watkins of Croix Blanche lakes for a truly excellent week of superb sport. This idyllic complex is a wonderful place to angle and you should be justifiably proud of the small corner of piscatorial paradise you have created there.
Until my next adventure, tight lines to you all and may you live the dream too!