Sam Whittaker embarks on a Belgian road trip, which all came good in the end!
Terry Bell – A tale of two seasons
13th November 2020
Having a young child has meant very limited fishing time since 2016 so I wanted somewhere local where I could spend my one night a week and still have a chance to catch quality fish. I had recently seen a lot of pictures on Facebook of the Hollybush lakes syndicate which had recently come under new management and it had me thinking. I used to fish three of the lakes on a club ticket years ago until the land was sold off in about 2012, but on the other side of the Blackwater stream lay a couple of other pits which I used to glance across at and wonder what resided in them. They were shrouded in mystery and I could only dream about fishing them back then as they were separate syndicate lakes.
Unfortunately, the complex had been stripped of its foliage under the new ownership but thankfully Pit 5 had not been completely stripped of its charm, so I enquired about a ticket and at the end of April 2018 I was at the gate to have a look around.
I crossed the bridge over the Blackwater stream and passed through the gate for that very first time and I was absolutely buzzing with excitement at what I was to see.
As I walked the banks of Pit 5 I was seduced by it completely, the myriad of islands with trees, who’s branches stroked the surface of the lake, the bridges leading you from one island to another, up and over steep mounds, the climbing trees and the dense lily beds that adorned the shallow water, but maybe the thing that struck me most was the lack of swims. There are some swims dotted around but they are not the manicured swims that surround most club waters. It was raw, it was overgrown, it was gnarly and I loved it!
I made a few recce trips to the lake without the burden of fishing gear, purely to look for fish and learn as much as I could. They can be hard to find, and it was probably mid-May when the weather had turned warmer and brighter that I finally saw a few carp on the surface. I had identified an area of the lake that I thought looked like a good prospect and enabled me to fish a channel each side, thus allowing me to cover more water. It was a bit of a walk from the car park and involved crossing bridges, walking over a partly submerged ladder spanning a gap and going over big mounds. It would be a bit of a mission to be able to get there with all the gear, that I was sure very few other people would bother. It was while standing here looking for signs of fish that a mid-twenty common swam through in mid water. This was the first fish I had seen actually swimming below the surface and it gave me a massive confidence boost. This was the swim! In years gone by I’d done very well on Pit 2 pre-baiting. Not too much bait, but I put it in every night and I firmly believe that it is the regularity that is more important than the amount and after a week of baiting I managed to hook my first carp just two feet from the bank!
A fish called the Scattered Lin at 30lb 8oz, I was blown away!
hat area of the lake continued to produce for me and by mid-July I was up to seven fish in nine nights. I was right to assume others would leave the area alone and I really benefited from that, but things did start to dry up after a while, so I started to bait a few other areas. I had a common of 20lb 4oz from one of them before two blank nights in a row had me moving on again. The next area involved a pig of a cast under an arch in the tree canopy. It wasn’t a long cast, but it was very tricky to get right and certainly wouldn’t be possible in the dark. The first night in there and after about ten attempts I finally made the cast I was happy with and at first light it was away with another of the bigger residents called the Chocolate Fish. All went quiet in this area after that, so I decided it was time to return to the original swim which I’d kept seeing regular bait. Unbelievably on my first night back in there I had a powerful take at first light which pulled line from a tight clutch. I managed to turn the fish just as it reached a sunken branch and as I drew it over the net cord I giggled with excitement because not only was it big, but it was a stunner! At 33lb 12oz it was the biggest of the season and another of the “A team” – a carp known as the ‘Kiss Fish’.
By now we were at the end of September and it all started to shut down. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t buy a bite. I went away for two weeks in November with work, so the baiting stopped in the weeks before that. I returned to the lake to fish on the 1st December and was torn on where to fish. I had narrowed it down to two areas, one at the top end of the lake and another fairly close to the carpark, in a swim I had never fished before. I decided on the further away swim but once I had loaded the barrow, I tried to move it and I realised it had a flat tyre, so I had no choice but to fish the nearby swim. That evening I received a take resulting in a mid-twenty mirror! How’s your luck? Again, everything slowed, and we had a long cold winter that yielded no fish. It was bleak but I continued to fish through in hope.
Fast-forward to February and knowing the temperatures were due to rise, I once again made the effort each night for the last week to go down after putting my daughter to bed and bait a few areas ready for my next trip. The night-time temperatures were still cold, but with day temperatures into the high teens, I needed to think carefully about where to fish. We were expecting our second child in one week, so this would be my last trip for a few weeks. I managed to talk the wife into letting me do the night as usual but stay until 4pm. I pulled out all the stops, leaving work early to get to the lake at just after 2pm and spent the next hour walking and looking. Now this is an old silty lake with dark water and the fish can be very hard to spot unless they are on the surface so with nothing solid to really go on, I plotted up in an area that receives most of the day’s sun, with snags nearby and where I knew the carp liked in the warmer weather. Being one of the areas I had baited, I felt like I had a chance. After a very cold night, the day began to warm. All morning I watched two coots diving on me and I had to reposition one rod but then, around midday, I saw the line on the left rod pick up in the water. Straight away I thought coot, but there wasn’t one attached and now my line was starting to cut across further left, so I picked up the rod and wound the fish in to the margin without any fuss where I was able to see that it was a carp and another good one too! It was a fish known as the Big Fully and she looked immaculate! After getting some photo’s done in the harsh winter sun, I left the lake for the last time that season a very happy man.
My son was born on the 7th March 2019 and I thought that the timing of his arrival would derail the start of my 2019/2020 season, but I needn’t have worried. My wife was (surprisingly) accommodating as I initially sold her on the idea that I would just go for the day once a week, so I was back to help out at night. This worked great for me as I intended to start the season just along from where I left off the last, in an area that everyone says is a day bite area of the lake. After a week or so pre‐baiting I managed to get out with the rods and managed a common of 28lb 4oz. The next trip out I managed to lose a very powerful fish in the same area. The problem with me and day fishing is that I always feel that if things are quiet, I could be missing an opportunity elsewhere and I get itchy feet. I’m sure I cost myself fish by reeling in and going for walks, so I decided I needed a change of tactics – back to nights it was! The 12th May saw me arrive to do my first night of the new season and I managed a mid-twenty mirror that evening. I still felt like there was a chance of another one maybe in the morning, so I went to bed feeling confident. In the early hours of the morning I was awoken to a bite from a stunning zip linear and the last of the lake’s Leneys!
My next session was the 11th June as the lake had been closed for spawning for a few weeks. I had kept the pre‐baiting going, so went to bed full of confidence that evening and rightly so as just before 11pm I caught a hard fighting kinky-backed common, which while no looker, was another good-sized fish. I then had a tough call to make because my spot could be a tricky enough cast in the daytime let alone in the pitch black of night! I couldn’t bring myself to rest it against a tree until first light, it just had to go back out there, so I put the headtorch on full beam and with the rod clipped up I made the cast. It didn’t quite hit the clip but at least it was in the wet stuff and I set the alarm for first light so I could recast the rod properly. Just before the alarm went off the same rod was away! This time a gorgeous mirror lay at the bottom of my net. The rod had to go back out but by know it was half-light so was slightly easier. The rig landed with the drop I wanted, and I started getting the self-take kit ready. Whilst doing this, one of the other rods was away with a double-figure mirror on the end. I now had a good mirror in the sling and the smaller mirror in the net so I did the photos of the small mirror and released him, then set about doing some water shots with the bigger mirror as it was a bit lively on the bank and would you believe it, the recast rod was away once again! I bundled the mirror back in the retainer and grabbed the rod from just above me, winding quickly I managed to keep it away from snags. Soon enough I was netting a 20lb mirror. What an incredible result! This just doesn’t happen, not on this lake, four in one night! I was on cloud nine as I packed up to go home.
A week later I returned and helped myself to a beautiful 27lb 4oz mirror but then blanked the next session. I was back on the 10th July and after the blank the week before I wasn’t expecting too much, but I ended up having three takes! One absolutely insane looking mid-twenty mirror and two commons weighing 24lb 12oz and 19lb 6oz. On looking back, the mirror was one that I had the previous year and on the exact same day!My next trip out was a blank and then on the 23rd July I caught the ‘Kiss Fish’ again slightly down on weight at 33lb 8oz. This was now my 12th of the season and a few people had started to fish fairly close to me so I decided I needed to move area. I next did a night in a very uncomfortable area I had been baiting and had my smallest fish from the lake, a 10lb 14oz mirror. I later found out this was a day swim only, so I had to move on again. A couple of blanks in a row followed before I managed my next bite, which turned out to be another of the lake’s small commons. As the evenings started to draw in it would become increasing difficult to cast safely or accurately so I went back to a swim where I did well the previous year. After a couple of trips, I had been unlucky and lost two fish, but I kept seeing a bigger mirror and actually had it feeding at my feet. The next week I finally managed to land a fish! A gorgeous, 17lb 6oz fully scaled mirror. The following morning, I watched the big mirror eat two boilies next to my rig before swimming away! I suspected it could be the Scattered Lin (my first fish from the lake) but couldn’t be 100% sure. The mirror usually arrived in the swim at about 8am so on my next trip I wanted to be ready. The following week at 07:45 I went and stood by a tree with the polarised glasses on watching my margin spot to see him arrive but within about twenty seconds of being there, the bobbin on my other rod hit the blank and I had the Scattered Lin again!
Another two weeks passed in that same swim with no more bites, despite seeing signs, so I moved into a new swim I was baiting but again no luck. The following week I arrived with every intention of fishing the new swim again. The rods were already clipped up etc, but I had a last-minute change of heart and opted to go back to the original swim from a couple of weeks ago. I put the rods out on their spots and settled in for what I thought would be a cold night. On a phone call to my wife I said that I wasn’t really very confident because it was cold and it does hardly any bites at this time of year anyway (late October) so when I was awoken to a roaring take at 10.45pm I was mega excited. Maybe it was the cold water, but the fish didn’t really put up a fight, it came in so easily I thought it might be a tench at one point, but it turned out to be the Chocolate fish again and another repeat.
The next few months passed without event and in February I had to go to work in London for a week. It wasn’t lost on me that my main target (The Claremont) was often one of the first out at the start of the year and it hadn’t been out since March the year before. So, me and my good mate Joe knew it was due and we just hoped one of us would be the lucky one this year. I returned from the week away on the Monday night and we had just been battered by storm Dennis on the Sunday, but I went up to put my bait in to the annoyance of my wife. I had my wellies with me as I know how muddy it can get but the cold water trickling over my Skeetex stopped me in my tracks. There was only one option‐ off came the wellies and socks and I rolled my trousers as high as I could. Wading through that knee-deep ice-cold water in the pitch black wasn’t pleasant but was necessary.
The next day I arrived to fish and because of the state of the flooding everywhere I hadn’t even bothered bringing the barrow so had to do a couple of journeys lugging as much gear as I could carry through all the flooded banks and settled into my swim of choice. I lowered a rod onto a favourite margin spot of mine and after donking it down a few times to check the condition of the bottom I let it settle and got the other rods sorted. That evening the wind and rain picked up along with a drop in temperature, so I indulged myself by putting the front on my brolly and dropping the door down, letterbox style. In the early morning I was woken to the sounder box and almost disbelievingly looked out. It was the margin rod. I dashed out in my bare feet slipping onto my backside as I went and grabbed the rod. I was met with a resistance and after a short fight had a fish in the net. I put the net down while I went to grab the headtorch (slipping over again) and when I shone it down, I thought wow, it’s another new one for me and it’s an upper twenty at least! Once it was upright, I realised it was easily a thirty. All this time I’m saying to myself “is it the Claremont”? On the scales she went 37lb and I was pretty sure it had to be, but I checked a few photos to confirm first before sending out the messages to a select few friends. I felt a little bad for Joe because his ticket was running down and he was off to pastures new, but he was quick to tell me I was being stupid. He was genuinely pleased for me… thanks mate!