Essex’s Greg Ellis tells you how he catches big carp from pressured circuit waters when restricted to weekend fishing.
I’m just your average, ordinary carp angler. Most people reading this will be able to relate to me and will know how much hard work and effort it takes to be successful and consistent when limited to busy weekend sessions on highly pressured waters in the South.
I work Monday to Friday as a single-ply roofer, which is a demanding job, especially in the summer months with the heat and also in the colder months when it’s freezing. Add the drive from Essex into London and it becomes a real nightmare at times. I’m also quite into my gym sessions of an evening, as it gives me time to de-stress from the day’s events, mainly heavy traffic and being up on a roof all day. I’ve recently heard that people think I am a full-time angler, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I angle at my best over two nights, maybe three when we have bank holidays. When I fished in Essex I used to arrive at my chosen venue at a reasonable hour, but now I’ve branched out and hit the Colne Valley, I’m usually the last angler through the gates on a Friday evening. Anybody who lives in Essex will know how much effort that takes alone, driving right around the M25 to Heathrow at that ridiculous time of the day. There’s nothing I can do about it, though, so I just have to get on with it. To be honest I think it sometimes works in my favour, as I’ll explain later.
Going back to my angling in Essex, I first got on the big-fish circuit by joining Cleverley Mere, which was only a 40-minute drive from my house. I joined it for one particular fish, the mighty Hendrix, which unfortunately evaded capture by me. I’ve vowed to return one day to settle the score if I get time, as it’s unfinished business and that carp was my obsession for years. Another water came up, so I only managed two seasons on Cleverley. Maybe if I’d stayed for one more year I might’ve caught it, but I came close, and that will have to do for now.
I learnt a lot from my time I was on there and took away some good knowledge to try on other waters. The first season I was on there was one of the worst for weed growth, but I really enjoyed that sort of angling. I once met a wise man on there, Dave Levy, who’s now a good friend, and he told me something that has always stuck with me: “Weed is a carp angler’s best friend. Do you know why? Because the carp live in it.” That was it; no swim was too weedy for me any more, and I still feel the same in my angling today – within reason, obviously, as you have to be able to safely land the fish you hook. I know my limits and I know when I can and when I can’t. It means that on busy waters you’ve got a good chance of getting on fish, as you’ll more than likely find these swims still free after the mad Friday rat race – they seem to get left alone. This suited me nicely and I went on to have a great couple of seasons and caught some big fish.
It all ended quite abruptly, though, when my Essex Manor ticket came up. It was something I’d always wanted and I couldn’t let it go, as I might never have been offered a place again. The Northern Linear was a fish I’d always wanted, and the Manor held a mega stock of 40lb fish with a couple over 50lb, the Northern being one of them. I had no choice; it was a move I just had to make, as I haven’t got the time to target two different waters. For me to be successful on limited time I have to concentrate my efforts on just the one water.
When I first set eyes on the Manor and spoke to a few members, it was pretty clear that this place was going to be a struggle for my style of angling and arriving late on the Friday. It was an open oval-shaped lake with not much weed present, quite unlike Cleverley Mere. This water was more dependent on which way the wind blows, as the carp got on it and this is where you needed to be. Basically if you had a strong northerly blowing down the Lake towards the car park, you’d find the majority of the stock down that end – with only four swims that controlled the area. Turning up Friday evenings I could almost guarantee that I’d be stuck up the far end in one of the last swims available, just looking down the Lake, watching and wishing I was there. Obviously, you always have a chance of a bite from anywhere on the Lake, but this was pretty gruelling stuff. The same would apply if the wind blew the other way too. Springtime was the worst for this, but by the time summer was in full swing the banks would empty a little, and this was my time to shine. Over the years I’ve come to realise that most of the circuit waters see less pressure around this time of the year, which maybe due to school holidays and spending time with families, or the fact that the fish have spawned and are no longer at their top weights. This is great for me and I took full advantage of it and the consistency of bites started to materialise. This pattern happens every year and it allows me to actually use my location skills and get on fish more regularly, resulting in a much better catch rate compared to the spring and autumn.
The Northern Linear was at the top of my hit-list and it was the fish I’d originally put my name down on the waiting list for. There was no chance that I’d be leaving the Manor for pastures new without that carp in my album – I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice! I had to be persistent and just get as many weekends fishing in as possible. I’d done some research and found out a bit about previous captures and what areas it liked the most. I’d also found out that it was a sucker for a yellow pop-up. Basically, to cut a long story short, the only way I could possibly target this fish, was to try and be consistent and stay persistent. The only thing I could do in my favour to warrant the ‘target’ status was to use yellow pop-ups or tip my bottom baits with yellow. Most of the big fish that I’ve wanted (and want now) are quite partial to the colour yellow, so most of my angling over the past few years has incorporated it.
It came to my attention over the three seasons I spent on the Manor that there was no way I could say there was a certain swim that the Northern liked, as it came out all over the Lake. I did manage to catch it at the end of June on my last season, once again in the summer when the banks were less busy and I could get my own little thing going. I’d got a few swims going and was managing to get in them regularly. I’d mainly be found patrolling swim 18, the Flat and Middle Pads; I almost built up a reputation of not fishing anywhere else apart from these three swims next to each other. The bites were getting consistent and I was catching each week, which is just what I set out to do as a weekend angler. If I catch from a swim one week, I always try and get back in it the following week. This way the bait goes on the spots regularly and my confidence for a bite is high, as I’ve caught from there previously. I caught the Northern Linear from swim 18 at 48¼lb, but I’m not going to sit here and write about how good I am and how I singled out this one big fish from all the others, because I didn’t. I’m a realist and I just simply haven’t got the time for that style of angling. I put the yellow pop-up in my favour and managed to get some consistency going in my catch rate, and with a little bit of luck on my side I managed to get the one I wanted – it only took three years. Most probably I’d still be on the Manor now if I hadn’t had it that morning. It completed my set of the three big A-Team members, as I was lucky enough to catch Stella on my first season, slightly down in weight at 47½lb and George’s, mega-spawned out at 41¼lb, on my second season. These were the three main target fish at the time and it’s a privilege to have them all in my album.
It was time to make a big move, and do something I’d never done before, and that was to travel for big carp. My next stop was the South’s big carp mecca, the famous Colne Valley, and my destination was the Horton complex.
Now I’m going to bring you up to date with my angling and the way I go about things these days, though it’s still pretty similar to my time in Essex and not much has changed over the years to be honest. Taking my angling out of Essex was the best thing I ever did, as I’ve met a lot of new people and built up a good reputation and gained respect from the South all the way up to the North due to the wide variety of anglers that come from all over the country to fish the famous Horton complex. I joined the syndicate for one lake only and that was the historic Church Lake, which I fished last season. I’ve now found a new love for the adjacent Kingsmead 1 and that’s where the majority of my angling is getting done this season. Once again these waters are busy, highly pressured, big fish waters. The springtime is the busiest, just like all the other waters I’ve fished, but the same pattern has emerged as it did back in Essex; the summer arrives and it’s quiet again, leaving me to do my own thing and get something going.
I don’t have the problem of getting involved in the mad Friday rush for swims like I did in Essex, as I simply can’t get down at a reasonable hour. I’m usually the last angler through the gates. Basically I just take my time walking around the Lake on arrival and slotting in where seems appropriate and looks good for a bite. This more than likely benefits me, as most of the anglers are set up with their rods out and all sorted for the night, so the fish know exactly where all the pressure is and they end up showing in the vacant swims where there are no lines or angling pressure. This is where travelling to fish turns in my favour. I’d turn up at prime time and drop straight on them. It doesn’t happen all of the time, obviously, but I honestly believe that slotting in has definitely helped me out, especially on Kingsmead 1 this season.
I get two nights fishing a week, Friday and Saturday, and they’re not the best of nights. I can’t treat my angling as one session, unless I get lucky and get in a going swim on arrival; usually I have to treat my weekend sessions as two separate overnighters. The Friday night I slot in where I can, and then on the Saturday I reel in about midday and have a good walk around to try and find some fish. A lot of the time quite a few anglers are only down for the one night and leave on the Saturday afternoon, freeing up decent swims and allowing me to get on some fish for my second night.
I’ll give you an example of a bank holiday weekend this spring, so you can see what I deal with on a regular basis and maybe relate to it. There are no special privileges for me when it comes down to swims, etc. I’m in the same position as every other member, if not a lot worse. However, I make the most of my time on the bank and try my hardest to get bites, and my catch rate this year can back me up on that one. One bank holiday weekend back in May I was down for three nights, a rare session for me, but also a bonus. I arrived at the Lake late on Friday evening and just couldn’t get on any fish or in any swims nearby. However, the wind was due to change to a strong south-westerly on Sunday afternoon and I knew exactly where I needed to be, as the fish would turn up on that new wind, without fail. The swim was a popular one known as Dog 1 and it was already taken by another angler. I dropped my bucket behind him, as he was due to leave on Sunday morning and it would reserve my place when he did (something I’m always doing to get on fish). I spent two nights fishing around the Lake and trying my best to materialise a bite or two, but it was just not happening. The fish were plotted up and so were all the bank holiday anglers. It felt like a good two nights of camping that weekend and I just knew I was wasting my time. I was waiting for the Sunday and just hoped the weatherman was right.
Sunday morning came and it was time to actually fish how I wanted to for the last two nights. I set up in my new swim and Spombed out five kilos of 15mm Mainline Cell boilies on one spot. I’d come to realise that these Kingsmead carp love boilies and lots of them. The wind hadn’t changed yet, so I got the bait out and everything sorted before it did. This way the traps were set before the arrival of any carp coming to visit my area. The wind turned later than expected and started blowing a strong south-westerly in the early evening. My plans were going well and the carp were heard showing that night – they’d turned up on me as predicted and now it was time to wait. The following and final morning of my three-night session produced my first bite resulting in a low-twenty mirror. This was followed shortly by one of the big A-Team members, Mr Pink at 46½lb. Both fish came from the spot I’d baited the previous day. The long weekend of camping out and knowing deep down that I wasn’t going to get a bite was all made worthwhile in the end. This is how a lot of my weekend sessions turn out.
When it comes down to bait and prebaiting swims, I just can’t do it how I’d like to. The Lake is a couple of hours away, which makes it hard, especially as I’m too busy during the week as a working angler. Last season I had a swim on the Church Lake going and baited it regularly every Sunday afternoon when I left. I started with five kilos of Cell and then the fish just couldn’t get enough of it, so it progressed on to 10 kilos. This was expensive, as I wasn’t a Mainline consultant and I was paying for my bait. The swim really kicked off, though, and that put my name out there in the big-fish circuit. After the results I had, I managed to pick up a well-earned consultancy deal. I have to say a big thanks to Kev Knight for that, as he has really helped me out in my angling since then. Bait and confidence in my chosen bait is my key to success. Believe it or not, Kingsmead is lacking other Mainline users, so when I’m putting my bait out and trickling it into a few swims ready for my autumn campaign I’m only benefitting myself and only a handful of other anglers in the process – unlike Essex where every other angler would reap the rewards too, so this is a big edge that works in my favour.
Another key aspect in my angling is my rigs. Keeping it simple is the best way in my book. I use two rigs for all of my angling these days: the chod rig in winter and early spring, and my ever-faithful and now famous ‘Nano rig’, which is basically a short blow-back rig (private joke), in the summer and autumn. Some anglers look at my rigs and think they’re far too simple to catch big fish, but they’re not; they are all you need to catch carp. I’ve never got carried away with all the new fancy rigs I’ve seen publicised in magazines over the years. If I have something in my armoury that works then it’s pretty hard for me to change it, even down to the tiniest detail like a boilie stop, which has to be yellow – strange, but true.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my little insight into the world of a weekender. I’d also like to say a big thanks to the sponsors that I’ve picked up over the last season or two: Mainline, Gardner Tackle and Sonik Sports. I’ve got some great backing in my angling now and things are starting to fall into place nicely, so expect some more stuff from me soon.