Sam Verstreken catches a quartet of big carp from a big Belgian pit...
Gaz Fareham – ‘Under the Glare of the Lens’
15th May 2020
‘The Best Laid Plans…’
Summer 2019. The sun had blistered down for month after endless month it seemed. Other than my tuition work on busy day ticket waters, I hadn’t cast a line in the UK with any real intent or purpose for a few years, with almost all my angling energy being poured into my trips overseas. I had got the call one day about shooting a film for the new annual TA Insights films. Dan had the idea to do it on a lake in Reading, nestled into the fabric of the that scene it is tucked neatly between Burghfield and Englefield. Just a causeway and a thin lane separating them from the home of two of the UK’s most sought after carp and the arena for many of the guys who are fishing with the week-after-week intensity that low stock, hard UK campaign fishing requires. The lake itself is a club water and one that sees an intense amount of pressure during the year, it isn’t a particularly easy prospect from a fishing point of view and has a set of regular local anglers, so naturally I was a little nervous of filming there. The hope though was that just one bite would make a nice piece of film as it wasn’t just an easy option and also was a ‘real’ situation, no roped off swims, no prep or privileges, just three nights blind on a new water.
‘An Uneasy Start’
When the time came around, I wasn’t especially looking forward to it I will admit. I’d been using an echo sounder and dropping 10oz leads from boats for most of the year, so it would be a shock to the system… I arrived early, with the hope of seeing any first light activity and to get my bearings a few hours before the cameras arrived. The pit itself is the classic UK carp water, a ‘quintessential’ gravel pit, draped in old trees, big sets of snags littering the islands, and huge rafts of dense weed covering vast amounts of the surface, with just little slices of blue here and there between. It didn’t take me long to find a few, with a few head and shouldering out in one of the larger areas of weed free water in between the two ‘mothership’ weedbeds out in the larger bowl end of the lake. Trails and patches of fizz littered the area and it was obvious there was a few feeding out there. I had a feeling it was an area Nigel Sharp had been fishing for the last few weeks though, and after shooting him a message to check, found out he was due down today and that he’d spent the last few of his trips in there. Doing the gentlemanly thing, I left the area free and wandered on. After picking my way through the brambles and lush summer growth I found a few more, fizzing and pushing through the weed. By this time Rich and Dan had arrived and after coffee we started filming some early sequences. In the end, rather than dropping leads on them, I waited until well after bite time to have a few exploratory casts. It was solid weed though, and after an hour or two of casting, I found nothing I could present cleanly on, and barely managed to get a ‘drop’ anywhere, the notoriously shallow water not helping matters much on that front either. In the end, rather than sitting behind choddies ‘hoping’, I abandoned the area and headed off, straight to another area I’d seen them in at first light.
‘A Change of Plan’
The day was pressing on, and with the additional time taken to film all the sequences it was late by the time I was settling in to get rods out in the new area. I’d come equipped to fish short, spooled up with flouro and so I had to switch rods and spools for a bigger set up that would let me hit 100 yards plus, the new swim being aptly named ‘The Long Chuck’. The spot itself was one I knew from local folklore and stories from friends, just short of a rope marking the out of bounds, there is the perfect gravel spot, roughly the size of 2/3 unhooking mats, and surrounded by lush dense beds of weed. The rest of the swim was basically devoid of any spots at all, and I decided to fish two, out long, and the other onto a tiny clear strip in front of a small snaggy ‘point’ to my left, that one taking me 20+ casts to get the right drop onto the tiny spot. I opted to fish a balanced tiger smack bang in the middle of the main spot, and a low pop up as tight to the edge of it as I could, the lines were sunk as straight and deep as was possible given the horrendous line lay and surface weed and I followed the rigs with about a dozen spombs, as tight as I could at the range. We filmed the evening sequences, some pieces to camera and settled in for the night. Aside from the relentless buzzing and biting of the mozzies, all was quiet.
‘First Morning Dramas’
Just before first light, I had two bleeps, one back, and then one back up. On a tight line I thought it was strange, but nothing else happened, so I left it. The morning was tense, with big sheets of fizz peppering the area for 2-3 hours, and one even lazily breaching out right over the spot. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t had a bite, and it was only when I came to wind in I realised the bleeps had actually been a take, the fish kiting back towards me into the weed on a tight line, the rig being way off the spot and lodged up solid, taking Sharpy’s boat to retrieve it in the end. After licking my wounds, a morning filming more sequences and making some excuses to the camera, I left it until the wind had died off that evening to re do the rods, topping up the spot with another small bucket of crumbed and whole Krill, hemp and tigers, all laced with GLM and salt – a classic summer combo.
‘Second Morning Result!’
By morning I had two amazing mirrors waiting for the cameras, at just before first light, within twenty minutes of each other both long rods had gone, amazingly the first bite not wiping the other rod out in the process. Just as the light broke, I got one rig back out onto the spot, first cast and settled back to fuel the morning with some strong coffees. With the cameras set, and the light perfect, we shot them both. The first an incredible 30lb scaly old creature, chestnut brown flanks and big plated linear scales. Just that one would have made the film a success, but the second was one of the biggest mirrors in the lake, an old character and at not far short of 40lb it was a buzz to lay down on the mat on a summer’s morning. My first proper big carp from the UK for a while.
The recast produced a cool, angry, black little common later that morning for the cameras and the rest of the day was spent under the glare of the summer sun, shooting some rig sequences and dialogue. Some of the lads dropped in for tea, and it felt nice to be back in the cocoon of the UK scene for a few days, hearing tales from the neighbouring ‘big’ pits.
‘It’s a Wrap!’
With the film ‘made’, three carp and a stack of nice footage already in the bag, the last evening was lovely and relaxed and it didn’t really matter what happened now. Dan treated us to a big Indian takeaway in time honoured celebratory fashion, and we sat and soaked up the lazy atmosphere with a few beers while Rich shot a few last light scenic and drone footage as the sun clipped over the trees, casting its orange ‘golden hour’ glow over the scene. The rods went back out beautifully though, exactly the same as the night before, and after swatting the 30 or so mozzies from inside my mesh, leaving streaks of blood everywhere, I settled in for a peaceful night, happy we’d pulled it off for the cameras and also buzzing I’d caught a big un. I’d sent a couple of shots off the back of my camera to a few mates that evening, the last one I got back was from a mate Scott, he’d ended it with ‘Mate.. that Two-Tone wouldn’t go amiss either (praying hand emojis and a whale..)’ Little did we know how much of an accurate prediction that would turn out to be!
‘Fairy Tale Endings’
Once again, just after first light, the long rod was away, pulling up tight and out of the clip and just one or two clicks off the tight clutch. I was on it quickly, holding her lunges and hoping she turned. I shouted for Dan and within minutes the cameras were rolling. This time she swung left, and picked up the other rod on the spot, opening the bail arm I left the line spill off that spool still on the rest, and hoped it wouldn’t cause me too much trouble. Ten minutes later, it was stalemate, and locked up solidly, the line on the other rod pulling tight into the weed and stopping me getting her any further. I held her under compression, while Dan nipped to get Nige, and his little boat. Ten minutes later it was blown up and I was afloat, gliding out across the crystal clear water towards where she was still lazily wallowing. Within a few minutes I had seen exactly which one it was, the clear ‘two-tone’ colouration leaving me in no doubt I was attached to the biggest mirror in the lake, just under 47lb on it’s last capture. With the camera on a long lens fixed firmly on me, just for some added pressure, I really, REALLY wanted this one in the net. It took me another twenty minutes of struggling as she ploughed from one weedbed to another, the other line like a spiders web making direct contact difficult and making my job of trying to manoeuvre her into the net from a tiny inflatable really difficult. In the end, she succumbed, and I let out a shout of relief as she wallowed into the net – on film it looked like it happened so quickly, but from take to being in the net was probably an hour.
We laid her down in the still wet, dewy grass behind the swim, and shot the film. A more perfect fairy tale ending would have been impossible to write, and the only rightful thing to do after that, was head to the pub! Three nights filming, two of the biggest mirrors in the lake on my first trip to a tricky UK circuit water – you couldn’t have written it!
I’m sitting here writing now, mid ‘Corona lock down’ doubting any of my big European planned trips will happen this year, with borders closed and the air full of uncertainty. Who knows where I’ll end up. Either way, I’ll be sure to be loving it along the way.