Tom Maker explains how keeping it simple but effective with his go-to mix will keep the bites coming in the colder months
Elstow Pit One - Dan Wildbore - Text Only
1 – LAKEBED
What makes Elstow so unique is the abundance of bars, humps and mounds. Surrounding these features is deep water, so you know if you have missed them. Each swim has its own set of features, some more than others and they all have names too.
As a new member, people could be chatting about the weekends angling and it could sound like riddles. ‘The fish are moving from the Third Monk to The Haggler’ for example; if you didn’t know it you would often get confused.
I was fortunate to have a few good friends who knew the lake really well and would kindly point out the features too me. Finding and knowing where the bars were didn’t take long to work out; the tricky part was trying to find which bit of the bar the fish were harvesting.
I am extremely fussy when it comes to finding spots and I often spent a while casting round until I found the crack and rattle that I was after. From what I had learned, if you found this and the carp were in the area, it would often mean bites!
When I first arrived on Elstow I didn’t have a marker rod, I preferred to just use a lead. Now it is an essential bit of kit and I carry a number of spares in the van to ensure I never fish without one.
At times when leading around you could get the rattle you were looking for, but it may have been slightly towards the back of the bar. You then have to weigh up if your line going across the spot could cause too much damage if the drop off the back of the bar was severe. A float will tell you where you are on the bar in terms of the top, front, back or sides, which is so important for preventing being cut off on the take.
It also acts as a reference point when getting the rods out and particularly spodding. Your line lay is always going to be poor, but ensuring that everything lands bang on with both the leads and the bait, you eliminate the relentless liners should they come on you.
Various forms of weed would grow on top of the features. You had what they called ‘Cousin Colin’, which was almost like thick grass. The fish loved to be in and around it, but it caused a real problem when trying to land them. Then you had the ‘Green Eels’, a thick, black horsetail type weed, which clung onto the line and was horrible to present in.
The only weed I was interested in was the onion weed, which commonly grew off the shallow bars. The carp loved it and it was always easy enough to present in. If the spot was clear or had onion weed nearby, that was where I wanted to present the rigs.
2 – STICK TO THE PLAN
Not just Elstow, but most of the lakes that I have been to over the years respond to the same tactics. The plan was to fish bright pop-ups in the spring, only feeding half boilies that had been heavily soaked in Krill Liquid. I didn’t feed much; just enough to create a beacon of smell and attraction to hopefully draw the fish down to the spot.
The fish would show heavily on first light and the shows would rapidly deteriorate as the morning went on. With most of my fishing being a single night, arriving in the evening, it meant trying to find out from others what was going on or going with my gut instinct.
The fish were spending a lot of time in the deeps, which made it much easier to just drop into a swim and have a chance of a bite, knowing that the fish would be on you at some point.
The plan worked and I caught a few nice fish in the spring to over 32lb.
Pink Signature Squids were by far the most consistent over other colours, despite having a different one on each rod, the pink was always the first to go.
My friend had showed me the now called ‘Ronnie Rig’ a few years ago and that is what I used. It was simple fishing, with a rig board full of rigs already tied, it meant that I could get the rods out super-quick.
Once the fish had spawned, I planned to go to balanced baits. I wanted the bait to sink really slowly, due to the mix that I had planned to put out there. I wanted to use particles and boilies. I wanted to give it them too and not hold back. There were now a number of ravenous stockies as well as very low in weight originals, to me it just made sense.
The bright pop-ups were no more and I mounted half a Tuff One and half a pop-up onto Slip-D rigs. A nice big size four was hanging underneath it and a small bag of pellets ensured that the rig wouldn’t tangle on the cast. Due to the depth of water, I made sure to oil up the bags to ensure it made it down to the lakebed.
3 – REEDS FEVER
It was my fourth season and I was still yet to fish The Reeds Swim. In the early 2000’s it was probably the most desired swim in the country. To the right there is an out of bounds, covered in reeds and littered with snags.
The only thing dividing you and those carp is a rope and they know it ever so well. The spot was behind a small raised bar, casting to the back wall up to a set of reeds. To put it simply, it is snag fishing and was never something that I was interested in.
I had been spending as much time as I could in The Point swim. The fish would often be out on The Haggler, which is the name of The Point feature, but it very rarely did bites. I had caught a couple from it and wanted to keep applying bait for when the time was right.
I did the night in The Point and had no joy. The weather was warm and the reeds slowly built up with carp. I went for a look around 9am and it was black with them. I had a load of work to do on the laptop, so decided to have a go in the reeds.
I clipped up to the spot, got everything sorted and walked round the other side to give them some bait. I went back round, flicked them out, with everything locked up and solid, all I was waiting for was a single beep and all hell would break loose.
It took an hour before the alarm beeped and the tip began to pull down. I was on it in a flash and before I knew it, the fish was in a set of reeds to the right. Unfortunately the hook pulled and I lost it, but I was satisfied that the line had actually gone through the reeds and not cut. That was my biggest dislike with the reeds, the amount of times they cut you off. I hated the idea of leaving tackle in them, which was the main reason for never fishing it.
I got the rod back out and half an hour later I was away again. I dropped the lead, which meant when the fish did make a dart for the reeds, the line was up in the water and pinged off them easily. If the fish was low in the water, it could have quite easily cut me off.
I ended up having a really good day and even did another night too. I caught some lovely carp to over 30lb and I only lost the first bite, every other was landed. Maybe the reeds weren’t so bad after all?
The swim has a number of names, one being W*nkers Bay, so I knew I would cop some stick from my mates. They weren’t being serious, it was all light-hearted banter; my problem was that I vowed to never fish it.
My next trip I dropped my gear in The Point. The lake was quiet and the fish were spending a lot of time out there. Being such an unfavoured swim, I knew nobody else would go in there, so I swung the gear round and did the day in the reeds.
It was exciting as much as painful fishing, but when that alarmed beeped your reflexes have to be on point. The bites were amazing, just the tip pulling down and you holding on for dear life. I hooked into a powerful fish, which knew exactly what it was doing. It took me through everywhere you wouldn’t want it to go, but somehow it was still on the end.
My friend netted a chunky looking mirror and I instantly recognised it as Pawprint. She weighed over 34lb and was my first one of the bigguns of the season. I reeled them in at night, gave them a bucket of bait and recast the following morning. It was bad enough being up and alert when you got the bite, so didn’t fancy it when I was half asleep.
I ended my little bit of reeds fever with 10 bites, landing 8 of them, so I couldn’t really complain. While it was enjoyable to an extent, I had enough and I fancied a nice bit of relaxing open water fishing for the next trip.
4 – BAIT
One thing I learned from fishing the reeds was that the fish were hungry. I had gone through 8kg of boilies and pellets in a short space of time and knew I couldn’t keep emptying my freezer, I had to go and sort out some particles. I went and got maples, maize, tigers and pigeon conditioner. I would have gone for hemp too, but the price and quality of it at the moment is ridiculous.
I spent a day cooking and preparing bait, salting and flavouring it all up and separating it all in to convenient jars. I had bought a load of old sweet jars of Ebay, which meant that I could chuck a few in the van a few days before when I thought I could do the night.
I worked the Carp in the Park show and planned to go straight to Elstow. I arrived late evening and found a number of fish in the Pump, another area that the carp can be left alone. I saw some good fish too, one being the King of Elstow. I decided to fish bottom knuckle, which is an area that the fish pass over when they are in the pump.
I had a lead around on a big bar and found a really clean area to the left of it. I got everything out bang on, with the wind off my back it couldn’t have been any easier. I began to make some dinner and half way through the left hander was away. It was a 29lb mirror, one of the old ones and certainly a great start.
I went on to catch another 5-fish, all stockies but one thing I learned is how much bait they were willing to go through. I had done a lot and from then on, the plan was to feed them.
The next trip was a Wednesday night. It was blowing a north westerly, was high pressure and the reeds were black with carp. It was prime point weather, although I couldn’t decide on The Point or The Monks.
I eventually settled on The Point, as it had seen plenty of bait and if there was ever a chance to fish it when it was right, it was now. I got the rods out bang on and decided to give them 8kg of mix. It felt like a lot, but if a large pack came on to it, that bait wouldn’t last long.
I woke early, but after watching for 20 minutes I didn’t see a single fish on me. I got back in the bag, deflated and despondent. Jack woke me up around half 6, asking for a photo of a fish he had just caught from the reeds. I swung the legs off the bed chair and with that, the left-hander pulled up tight and out the clip.
I soon had the big fully in the net after an epic battle. I rested the fish in the net and went to tell Jack why I was taking so long, when the middle rod was away. That was a lovely 28lb mirror, with a lovely black heart-shaped tail.
The trip was amazing, landing 8-fish and unfortunately losing one. I was back the following weekend for my rota and the fish were still out there. I came last out the bag and although it was blowing a southerly, which made it really hard to get the rods out well, I decided to go back in The Point.
I went straight in with a full bucket of bait. That night I managed a few fish to 28lb 10oz. The action continued in the morning, with another few fish, one being a wicked looking mirror, again of 28lb. I re-cast the rods that afternoon and gave them another big hit of bait. Not 2-hours after I was away again. This felt like a better one, wedging itself on every bar or weedbed, this fish knew exactly what it was doing. Once it was around 10 yards out, the carp then flat rodded me. This fish was going mental and Tony looked at me and laughed, “I bet that is Stumpy Pec”, he said. He was right; it was Stumpy at 35lb 6oz. One of the real old ones and I was buzzing to have caught him.
That session ended having caught 8-fish again, this time losing two. It had been the most enjoyable fishing I’ve had in a long time and I am convinced that baiting heavily in areas that they wanted to be helped massively.
5 – EFFORT
People think that if you work in the trade you get to go fishing all the time. This isn’t the case, but like anyone, there are plenty of opportunities to go fishing. A lot of guys say they cant go, but still manage to go out to the pub all the time, attend the football and so on. Of course people can do as they please, but these are all opportunities to go fishing. Everyone has the choice what to do in his or her spare time. Some have a young family and it makes it hard of course and I can sympathise with them. Many people that I know don’t have many commitments but claim that they don’t have the time, but in hindsight they do, they aren’t willing to make sacrifices to create time for their fishing.
I have done everything I can this year to go fishing as much as possible. I have sacrificed my social life and lots of time with my girlfriend, but it has been a choice. I have disciplined myself to work while on the bank, which has been a massive help. With the long days, you are up at 4 and by 5 it’s all over, so I can sit there and work all morning.
I understand that not everyone can work from the bank, but with the long days overnighters are achievable. That has been the mainstay of my angling this year, but it has worked. It has been tough, tiring and rushed, but I have loved every minute of it.
The gear is always in the back of the van, the rigs and bait is always prepped and ready to drop in at the spare of the moment. I have even managed to convince the Mrs to come fishing with me at the weekends too. I have to carry another bedchair, larger bivvy and a bit more food, but having her there meant that I could fish and still spend time with her. It is more effort and I suppose not ideal at times, but if it meant fishing when I wouldn’t normally have been, it had to be done.
I have had to work hard to go fishing this year, but boy has it been worth it!