What Lies Beneath

NEW CHALLENGES

Like everyone, I have my favourite venues, but I also love exploring new places and trying to get to know their secrets. This golf course lake just north of Lincoln caught my imagination on my first visit, when towards the end of the session big roach came calling. The place wasn’t how I expected it to be. When my mate Steve told me he had found this winter hotspot at Welton Manor Golf Centre, I had visions of cowering under a brolly to avoid white balls like giant hailstones falling out of the sky. It turned out the course is well set back and mostly shielded by trees. You might hear the odd voice shouting “fore” in the distance, or electric caddies rattling by, but other than that it’s fairly peaceful. The only disturbances on my first trip were my bait going in and big carp in the distance lazily cruising with their dorsal fins breaking the surface. It helps fishing with company to get to grips with new venues like this, comparing and varying your tactics.

LEARNING CURVE

It was still summer when I first fished this lake. On that occasion I took a good walk around the place, looking for likely hotspots and chatting to a couple of other anglers, trying to find out more about it. Steve, who first invited me, had said the roach fishing was good, even in the depths of winter. He hadn’t caught many other species apart from that and odd perch, but a local informed me bream and tench were also resident. I stopped on the far side and watched a carp angler pushing out the longest pole I had ever seen, which had a feeding cup attached to its end. He devised this unusual weapon himself and it deposited a load of freebies inch-perfectly over his rig, which was laying tight against the far bank reeds in a big bay. Much stealthier than spodding or using a bait boat, brilliant in fact! I always enjoy viewing other people’s methods and gleaning as much info as I can from them. But 14 metres of pole is enough for this angler.       

WARMING UP

I had parked my gear next to Steve, who lives locally and was already fishing when I arrived, a bit late due to missing the small turning where the lake is situated. After cupping in some groundbait and then loose feeding maggots over the top, Steve was busy catching small roach. I didn’t mention that there might be bream at this stage, wanting to try and find out for myself first. Bankside chat might be helpful, but sometimes it can also be misleading. I’ve spent too long in the past chasing ghost species, that I suspect only existed in other people’s imaginations. Watching Steve catching on the pole made up my mind to have a go at that too, but also to set up a feeder to try a few experimental chucks further out, to see if I could find any different species. It was a slow start on the pole and even slower on the feeder. I kept rotating, keeping some feed going out on both lines, eventually getting bites and small roach at full depth on the pole.

SWITCHING PAYS

Only a couple of decent roach turned up in the first couple of hours, so I fed a mix of chopped worm, micro pellets and casters in dark groundbait for a second time. I felt a bit under-gunned using a feed cup at just 10 metres, after watching 30 metres of floating pole going out earlier on the far bank! While I let this new injection of bait settle, I cast out a feeder again, laden with micros and with three red maggots on a size 14 hook. After ten minutes my quivertip pulled round hard and suddenly I had something decent attached. It was sluggish but thumped hard several times on the way in, turning out to be a good skimmer. Happy that the bream rumours were true, I wasted the next hour not getting any more indications on my feeder rod. After that the pole got better and better, eventually seeing me catching much bigger roach on a shallow rig, including the monster in the photograph. The feeder eventually found two more big skimmers.

RETURN VISIT

After enjoying a good day on a new water there is always something else to try, or tweaks to be made, when returning for another go. I had another mate join me on the golf course lake next trip. It was much colder and those cruising carp had disappeared, along with the anglers who target them. We decided to attack it differently, so Andy set up a pellet feeder, while I rigged up 12ft quivertip and a 13ft float rods. My plan was to start on a cage feeder a fair way out, and then to try and pull fish off that line, closer in where I could loose feed over an insert waggler with a catapult. It didn’t take long to get bites on the feeder, although they were mainly from small roach and perch to begin with. I did catch one of those big skimmers again, but then that part of the swim died. Switching to the waggler I got bites straight away, but a lot of them were strange sail-aways that didn’t see me connecting with many, apart from odd small roach and rudd.

TWEAKING THINGS

After playing about with depth settings on the waggler, I discovered bites were easier to connect with by going several inches over-depth. I tried maggots but they attracted small stuff, I also tried catapulting out a few 4mm pellets with a banded one on the hook, but that didn’t work. It was casters that scored best, feeding a few every cast and mounting a single shell on a small hook. Some better roach resulted, along with a couple of bigger perch, one around the pound mark. But this wasn’t to be an easy day. Andy couldn’t buy so much as a bite on his normally prolific pellet feeder tactics, while I kept experiencing blank spells where the fish faded away. I did occasionally try the feeder again, but that area had shut up shop completely. In the end it was just a case of plugging away with the waggler, which would see short spasms of action in between quiet periods. I scraped double figures together in the end, adding a bonus tench.

ANOTHER GO

A couple of days later it was Armageddon weather-wise, with strong winds and torrential rain. Andy was still around so we decided to go back to fish the same swims we had previously, but to brolly-up and concentrate on the pole. It needed two guy ropes to make sure my umbrella didn’t join the just as crazy golfers on the course in the distance. Even the bailiff said we were both mad as he collected our day ticket money, with heavy rain lashing down and the wind swirling whirlpools all over the surface of the lake. It took a couple of hours for the wet front to pass over and for the wind to ease off, during which time not a lot happened. Andy had fed a bream groundbait with a few dead red maggots in it, while I was on my usual roach mix with a bit of chop, dinking casters over the top. Andy said he was missing strange bites, while I was only catching small roach, rudd and perch. Conditions had improved, so I packed my brolly away.

SOMETHING FISHY

I had a feeling things were about to get interesting, because despite the rain having passed and the wind dropping, Andy was still camped under his umbrella. I reasoned there must be something going on for him not to have bothered taking it down yet. The sun was out and it was suddenly a different day. I watched as his delicate float tip slowly sank out of sight; he lifted his pole and once again nothing was there. It was either a liner or a fish swimming off with the bait only lightly nipped at one end. We fish very differently, which is good when exploring new places. I tend to rely a lot more on natural baits, while Andy generally uses pellet or groundbait-based tactics, rarely using casters or worms. On this occasion he was using a bream and skimmer groundbait he helped design, mixed 50-50 with crushed expander pellets, a mix he highly rates. It was certainly attracting fish activity, along with the smattering of dead red maggots mixed in with it.  

ALL THE TRICKS

I left him to it and went back to have another go, catching a few sprats at full depth, then trying my shallow rig that worked so well on my first trip here. I got a few takes on that but they were very fast and it took quite a while before I hooked a 2oz roach, followed by one big enough to require the landing net. But try as I might, I couldn’t get the swim producing properly. Back at full depth I started snagging sunken leaves. I hate it when sessions start to go downhill. I tried everything to pull things back in my favour, including altering loose feed amounts and the time between helpings, cupping in small doses of freshly chopped worms, also cupping in loose groundbait to create cloud effects. Odd bites would come out of the blue, then nothing. I tried working my rigs around the edges of my feed zone, a tactic that sometimes works when the fish are cagy and backing away, but that failed. I looked up and saw Andy had hooked something better.

BREAKING THROUGH

I grabbed my camera and went to watch. I suspected it was one of those big skimmers, because it wasn’t charging off, just putting up a dogged fight and giving those heart-in-mouth thumps to try and dislodge the hook. He soon netted the fish and I had guessed the species correctly, being a skimmer over a pound, which wiped out a third of my catch in one go. Amazingly, he was soon attached to another. Same type of fight, identical species and similar weight. Maybe the lake was waking up at last. I niggled away at my peg for another hour, finding small roach, rudd and perch to be the only takers. I kept trying different things but it just became harder and harder to get bites. I suddenly noticed a big swirl to my right, a fair way out and then spotted pole elastic going in the same direction. Andy was in again, only this time it was too lively to be a skimmer. A surprise tench angrily shook its head as the landing net engulfed it.

SWINGS & ROUNDABOUTS

The tench was around the same size as the fish I caught a couple of days before, not massive but a welcome bonus. I thought it strange that Andy couldn’t buy a bite from this swim previously when using his normally deadly feeder tactics, which basically entails feeding micros and a touch of groundbait, with maggots or banded bigger pellets on the hook. Feeding just groundbait and dead reds on the pole wasn’t that far removed, and yet now his peg was magically coming alive. Even weirder in my opinion when I was feeding chopped worm and casters next door, a combination that works wonders just about everywhere and normally pulls fish from far and wide. Apart from those skimmers and the tench, roach and perch were also putting in an appearance, with better sized samples than I was catching. That’s the interesting thing about fishing with company and comparing different methods. You see and learn so much more.

DIFFERENT WAYS

If I had been fishing this lake on my own, I would have got a completely different impression of what was going on. After enjoying two good sessions previously, I would have probably put my poor results on my third visit down to the bad weather and all that cold rainwater going in. But I would have been wrong, because with his very different tactics, Andy caught plenty of quality fish. That’s why trying something different and fishing with other people speeds up your learning curve. Anglers you fish with might deviate completely off the scale, compared to what you might normally do, helping to give a better feel about what works on new venues. This is a quicker route than finding out the hard way yourself. It reminds me of so many places where eventually I discovered ways to almost guarantee catching fish. It might have been fishing shallow, casting long, a type of bait, an unusual method… it all took a long time to crack.

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