After the long heat of the day, in the cool of evening what's more certain to re-invigorate the sluggish, reluctant reflexes than winding yourself into a tight knot of intense anticipation watching a speck of drifting crust?
Martin walked around the lake dosing every likely holt with chum mixers expecting a free for all within the hour. They didn't show for two hours, and of course, when they did only in the tightest snag swim on the water. Hearing a few slurps, those tell-tale ripples spreading through the blocking submerged tree filling the space between my peg and that peg, I went around to take a look only to be confronted with five carp all happily plucking morsels from the surface film.
I thought they'd be a push over...
An error. That heavy footfall on arrival. Too early a cast, too much of a splash. Selecting the biggest fish of all...?
I don't know exactly what it was that gave me away but within a minute of settling in those carp were wise to my presence. Then what had once seemed easy enough, became tough, when they drifted to the safety of the heaviest snags and sank from sight.
They were still there though. Active carp can't hide themselves away from sight even when they might imagine they have. Tail wash patterns gave them away and the clipped on controller necessary to lend weight enough to swing the bait under the thick cover shifting on its plane showed interest in that attached crust, even if they were sure it was dangerous.
They just can't resist their own instincts with food overhead, can they? They're going to come for it — it's only a matter of when and where. And then, out of the blue comes a mouth... the crust vanishing down a swirling vortex, the line tightening, a strike made, the hook fails to hit home...
A new crust is returned but further, deeper, till it's teased more in the snag than out. The plan is to hold my fish, play a crucial first move before it knows what's happened, and have it bolt into the clear. Half an hour later Martin appears on the far bank calling across for reports.
Replying by hand signal, I daren't speak a word...
Returning to his swim a hundred yards away, I can hear him talking quite clearly to Dave Fowler, up from Banbury for the evening, who's fishing an adjacent peg. It would appear there's no carp showing their end!
Earlier in the day, Andy Johnson, down from Bedworth had taken two carp off the top by baiting swims and wandering the banks in search of fish feeding. Alone, the lake to himself before our noisy arrival, working methodically and stealthily I know exactly why he succeeded then. These carp are well aware of anglers about and respond accordingly. Our plan, which would have gone without a hitch on any hungry commercial fishery wouldn't come together here. They were too cute by half.
The crust begins to sink very slowly under its own saturated weight but it's lost from sight before time. An oily swirl is seen and the controller begins to move... not quite sure if the bait has been taken or not, I wait and watch the line exiting the tip ring. Slowly it tightens, then the controller zips under out the corner of my eye — strike, swirl, nothing!
As the sun sets I'm sure should I hide myself better than the carp, who are still visible by way of water movements, I'll have one yet. Pitching the bait under that snag though, that's becoming more and more difficult to achieve in the failing light. It's a wind up to the rod top, swing low and sideways under the trailing branches kind of cast — one wrong move and its hung up, a pull for release or break, and curtains for my one remaining chance.
Overcasting, I pull the line back manually to have the the tackle drift as close as I dare near bank and as far under that snag as possible. I can only just see the bread now — flecks of this and that confuse things further. Which is hooked crust, or stray? I can hardly tell the difference...
I give the line a sharp tug — the hooked crust moves an inch and it's clear which is which, and for just long enough.
Peering into the gloom below the bush, lips emerge, suck it down, when...
It's spat back up before I've time to even think let alone move a hand to strike.
Take that, Jeff Hatt!
Cute carp, three nil...