Making the most of it

The end of a productive day at Orchid Lakes in Oxfordshire

Crowy chances a long drive south for a few hours' fishing - and catches!

One place which really has been fishing well in recent weeks is the legendary Orchid Lake in Oxfordshire. My relationship with this water goes back over 20 years, to when it was owned by Dorchester Fisheries and I was posted there for work experience. A lot has changed since those days and it is now in the hands of one of the best blokes I know in carp fishing, Marsh Pratley.

Like every winter, Orchid always sees a string of big fish hit the banks during December and January. There really isn’t anywhere else like it in the country. On one day alone recently, when the rest of the country was fishing very slowly, Orchid produced an amazing 12 different carp weighing more than 30lb! Yes, you did read that right: in one day, not one week or one month – one day!

The same week also saw the Lake record smashed when one of the oldest mirrors in there, known as Daisy, was landed over 40lb. It’s been a while since Orchid has produced a forty (I think the last one was in 2006), but a lot of the fish have been getting caught well up in weight so it has been on the cards lately. Most of the biggies are really old warriors, well over 20 years old. In fact I caught Daisy myself at over 30lb back in 2005.

It’s been living up to its name as ‘The Home of the Thirties’ recently
I arrived just at the right time to see the gates opening
Playing Colin the Common (83lb) on a Scope rod as it rolls in front of the net

On it!

With the mild weather that hit the country just after Christmas I concentrated my fishing on my local waters up here in Yorkshire where I live. I was catching fish so I didn’t see the need to travel south for a bend in the rod. Once the heavy frosts and snow arrived, though, it was time to take a look elsewhere.

I’d heard that a lot of the recent Orchid fish had been coming out during the hours of daylight, so it made sense to nip down there for just a day if I could find the time. I know that may sound like a bit of an extreme thing to do at this time of the year, but I’ve had some great catches from the water during some really short sessions when the Lake has been quiet.

A quick call to Marsh last Sunday afternoon revealed there were only two anglers on the whole Lake, which was a bit of a surprise. I couldn’t believe it was so quiet, especially with it having fished so well in the days leading up to it. The grapevine was really buzzing about Orchid, but I guess in January there are more anglers that like to talk carp fishing than actually go.

Within minutes of getting off the phone to Marsh I had the car packed with the gear and I made plans to leave early the next day for the three- to four-hour drive south. The plan was to set off at 5am and hopefully rock up around 9am when I knew the sun would be up.

When the Lake is quiet Marsh lets me wander about stalking; something which you just can’t do during peak times. You normally find the anglers well spread about Orchid, and when it’s like that the fish will rarely be found close in. When it’s quiet, though, they will come into several spots, and if you are willing to go looking, you can ambush them fairly easily.

Sawnoff & dangerous

The New Year had started well as I’d had a nice delivery of gear from Nash. This included a new set of Scope rods as well as one of the brilliant 6ft Sawnoff stalking rods. Having been using an old Woolworths fibre glass rod for stalking since the 1970s, I was particularly keen to have a go with the Sawnoff as it looked right up my street; it packs down so tiny and weighs next to nothing. I wanted to see if it was capable of dealing with some of the close quarter stuff I had in mind.

The Scopes I already knew a lot about as I’d caught lots of carp with them since first trying them 12 months earlier, topped by a colossal 83lb common from Echo Pool in October, which was certainly as good a test as anything. I’d also taken them to Rainbow Lake and caught there whilst using them, as well as several UK waters in the North. In fact, I’ve been so impressed with the Scope range they are now my number one choice for all carping situations where I don’t need to blast leads to the horizon – like I didn’t for this trip to Orchid.

Once I’d done my meet and greet with Marsh, I didn’t hang around as it was time to go looking for some carp. Despite being just above freezing, it was a lovely January day. The sun was defrosting all of the puddles on the paths and there was a lovely tint of blue to the lake as Marsh had just treated it with dye to kill off the summer weed.

Having fished Orchid for many years I know it fairly well. The first few spots I visited looked like they’d not been touched for weeks. One was in the margin of the In Between swim and the other was in one of the bays known as All Alone where there are several areas the fish like to hang out. Marsh had told me there’d been a sighting of several fish in the All Alone bay the previous day, but I searched high and low and couldn’t see anything. The bottom had a slight layer of dust silt instead of a clean look about it, too, which was very different to the next spot I took a look at. Known as Snag, here the bottom was a golden brown colour compared to the surroundings, although there were no fish on show.

Despite the lack of fish in all of the areas, I baited the margins leading to all with a scattering of broken The Key boilies, half a dozen handfuls over each spot. It was the first time I’d used this bait on the water, as I’d not been down since October 2013 when we filmed a segment for the Nash 2014 DVD. I wasn’t sure how well it would be received. The plan was to sit back for the first hour and let any fish that were hiding away come out into the open and have a feed. In the gin-clear water the lack of lines was certainly going to work in my favour if they fancied a munch.

Travelling light with the right equipment for a day session
The Sawnoff – what a mega fishing rod!

Keep on walking

It wasn’t until I’d done two full circuits of the Lake that things began to happen. The time was approaching midday and there were a few more anglers beginning to turn up. I knew it was only a matter of time before one of my spots was occupied by a bivvy angler, so it was nice to see some shadows coming out of the woodwork close to the Snag swim.

It didn’t take long for the fish to come on to the bait, including one or two good ’uns in the mid-twenties region. I crept along the margin and sat watching them. The sun cast its rays all along the margin and I could pick out the fish easily. There were half a dozen of them upending and working the spot. Two would come in and feed, then disappear, followed by the next two. The biggest of the bunch was an old looking mirror which at a guess was around the 25-26lb mark.

I’d armed my Sawnoff with 15lb mono straight through to a swivel with eight-inches of stripped Combilink knotless knotted to a size 6 Fang X. On the hair I offered a half boilie. I sat motionless waiting for the right moment, the fish no more than two yards away from me. I was well camouflaged into the margin, waiting for the biggest fish to come into the arena. I needed to read the situation perfectly or I’d ruin my chance. The hookbait needed to go out at exactly the right time, just before the one I wanted was heading for another feed.

As it circled its way back towards the bait I waited for the other fish to disappear before flicking the hooker out. Within seconds the one I wanted was above it and sampling. In went the hookbait and I counted to two before setting the hook. The margin erupted as the other fish scattered and I took up the battle! It was hook-and-hold tactics to keep the fish away from the nearby snag, but it was beaten within no time, not really knowing what was happening. I scooped it up with the net at the first attempt and a lovely January carp was mine. I was buzzing!

Short and sweet

I called Marsh to come and take a quick picture, but didn’t weigh it as I wanted to get back to business with the fishing. Time was running out as there was only three hours of daylight left before I had to head home.

I topped up the swim with more bait and went off to check the other spots, but I was soon back in the Snag swim as none of the others had been visited. I was better off spending my time in there as a few more fish were coming into view.

The next three hours I spent watching and baiting the margin where I’d caught from. Whilst the fish showed interest in the bait, the biggest just wouldn’t sample no matter how long I waited. Time was running out and right on last knockings when the light had almost gone I singled out the best of those that were taking. It was around the same size as the one I’d caught earlier in the day and it was really on The Key, mopping it up as fast as I was introducing it. I hooked it within seconds of dropping the rig in, only for the hook to pop out moments later, scattering all of the other fish in the process... Cue to call it a day.

It was a long drive down to Oxfordshire from Hull just for a day’s fishing. However, any carp in January is a good result in my books, especially when you consider the gamble involved in driving so far for only a few hours fishing. There’ve been times when I’ve done it only to go home with a dry net, which is hard to digest. Of course I was disappointed with the lost fish, but at least I’d landed one, which made it rewarding when my local lakes weren’t doing a thing. I’d certainly made the most of an opportunity.

Simon Walls with an Orchid upper-thirty in January
The Key is an instant and all season bait which will catch from anywhere
One of two chances during seven hours of fishing on Orchid last week, resulting in this lovely mid-twenty

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