Part 2 – The Lake
My watch says its 5am and even the birds are having trouble getting up, let alone a man enjoying the bliss of retirement.
It’s still dark and after dressing and washing as quietly as possible there is just enough time for a hearty breakfast before setting off to the lake, not forgetting to pick up my packed lunch that has been secured in an extra strong carrier bag along with a bottle of water and my trusty red thermos flask fill with hot tea.
The quality of the bag has been honed after several previous failures, where it has proven to be too thin and split, launching its contents into the lake’s murky depths, much to the delight of the waiting wildlife.
Everything is checked, the car starts (much to my relief), and I am off, just as the sun is rising over the clear blue horizon and the birds burst into their full morning chorus.
Fortunately, it is still too early for the first wave of rush hour traffic and the journey starts as an inspiration of tranquillity and calmness. That is until I remember that I did not look to see if there were any pre-booked fishing matches for today and I can feel the tension begin to rise at the thought of having to fight my way through hordes of over confident fishing champions.
The car park comes into view and to my joy it is nearly empty. No matches today and, even better, no other early-bird idiots about to spoil the ambience. It looks like I can practice my carp fishing techniques without any critical spectators,
I start to systematically unload all of my equipment, when my mind goes completely the other way.
“No other cars. God, I hope the lakes are open today!”
I say lakes in the plural, as there are four of them, each of different sizes and each sporting a concentration of selected fish stock that has been lovingly nurtured and bred for the purpose of being caught by the paying visitor. This is a catch and release fishery which means no taking the fish home, much to the dismay of the occasional oriental and Eastern European angler, who seem to have a taste for carp. How they get ride of the gritty flavour of mud and all those little bones defies the imagination!
This also means that, in the world of ‘carp-man’, the weight of the fish is the goal. The bigger the better, and, if you’re in a competition, the most rewarding.
Piling everything up next to the car I grab my empty maggot box (thank heavens I did remember to clean it out after my last session) and walk smartly up to the bailiff’s office to collect my day ticket.
No, a bailiff is not part of the famous – “they always come in pairs to take away your goods”, brigade, but that nice friendly man who sits in his warm office by the lake and tells you his life history, while dishing out those lovely red maggots and taking your money.
(As a note of explanation, maggots bred for fishing, traditionally come in two colour tones. Natural, which is the insipid pale creamy whitish colour and those which have been dyed red. This is not a trendy colour statement, but is based on a theory that some fish are attracted to the colour red. )
In this instance the bailiff is a young red face boy, who I have seen on several other visits, and always seems to have a cheery, almost cheeky, look about him. Clearly the lakes are open and as I walk purposefully into his domain, while trying not to sound out of breath, I give a hearty hail:
“Morning, one pint of reds and a senior members day ticket, with two rods, please.”
(Yes, I am sorry, but us fishermen are still in the land of imperial measurement. Its pints and not litres, pounds and not kilos.)
I emphasise the word “senior, just in case he does not guess my age, and the “two rods” to indicate that I am not some casual amateur, as I confidently place my maggot box on the counter and wait for the look of admiration that such a veteran might expect.
“Yep, no problem Pops.” Replies the young lad who completely bursts my bubble.
Pops? Where did pops come from?
Trying to recover and re-establish my professional stance I ask:
“What’s the best peg at the moment?”
No, I am not talking about the latest style of washing line equipment.
For the uninitiated, a peg is a wooden platform set at regular intervals around a lake to assist the angler in laying out his gear and to make life easier. It also enables the lake owners to keep the anglers separated and out of each other’s way, preventing arguments and the outbreak of World War 3!!!
Similarly, the wooden platform makes it safer for the angler and helps prevent him (or her) from slipping down a bank into the muddy waters and generally spoiling the day for all. The old story of “it was so big it pulled me in”- just does not work.
The regulars to any venue, which has these pegs, will also know the best ones for catching fish and which are the ones that sit opposite a historical angling desert.
“What do you want to catch?” says the lad with a mug full of reds in his hand, each diving for cover under their equally struggling companions, so that the surface looks like it is boiling. He then slowly tips the heaving mass into my bait box and adds a small cupful of maize flour to keep them happy. A bit like the last meal given to a condemned man. It is at this point that their fate is sealed and as if they have some premonition of what is expected of them, they have done a magic Houdini act, disappearing from sight below the writhing blanket of maize.
“Carp.” Is my instant response, as if there was anything else even worth considering?
Turning his head and smiling (or is it a secret knowing grin) he replies:
“All the lakes are producing at the moment. You can take your pick, although I would recommend the smaller one, it has a number of good 9 -10 pounders.
Clearly, I have been measured and my ability assessed. I am not in the 20-pounder league and should stick with the smaller and less demanding fish. Maybe it is my outfit. Trainers, jeans and a blue fleece. None of the camouflaged trousers, waterproof insulated boots, and Gore-Tex hooded jacket of a real carp-man.
I will have to work on the image.
As I carefully fold my ticket, ready to produce on demand, I clutch my now warm box of reds and head back to my car to collect the rest of my gear.
“Pops indeed”, I mutter to myself. It must be the white hair and wrinkles.
Back at the car I begin to load up my assorted bags.
The days of a small knap sack and a rod, are gone. It is now a full-blown military exercise that, in the absence of any help from the army, requires strategic planning to ensure that all the gear is hung from the body in a balanced style that allows you to stagger to your peg. Failure to achieve this correctly not only runs the risk of a hernia but also embarrassment in front of one’s peers.
My philosophy of “packing things just in case” means that there is a lot to hang.
Five minutes later I am walking (staggering) down the lane that runs towards the lake of my choice (the smaller of the carp lakes), trying hard to keep an air of self confidence and not to acknowledge the fact that my shoulder is slowly being sliced off by the rod case strap.
It is now just after 7 am as the lake comes into sight with the early morning mist rising in small whispers from its mirrored surface. There is no wind and the only sounds are from a couple of ducks splashing in the margins.
Then you hear it. A familiar noise that any carp angler will instantly recognise. Something between the sounds of a drowning man gasping for air, and somebody supping hot tea from a saucer. The carp are feeding on the surface, with their great lips sucking in volumes of water, complete with insects and other tasty morsels.
It’s a great omen and the anticipation of a good day’s sport has just been raised by 20 notches