Tom Maker explains how keeping it simple but effective with his go-to mix will keep the bites coming in the colder months
A Session to Remember - Text Only
Luke Vallory had a truly memorable session on the one of the countries premier day-ticket-waters, Sandhurst Lake in Yateley.
I don’t think it is a secret that Sandhurst Lake fishes consistently well throughout the winter. It has always had good winter form for as long as I can remember, but it seemed to slide off the radar in recent years. I fancied a trip myself and presumed that it would be getting pretty busy. I had a couple of days off work and booked on the lake for the Thursday, with the plan to fish three nights.
The forecast looked dreadful, with bitingly cold winds, snow, sleet and not a sight of sun, it was always going to be tricky. I had a bit of an idea of how I was going to fish it. A lot of the guys had been down and caught a number of carp fishing with Manilla crumb. I think a few had been fishing it before Christmas and caught consistently too, so I prepped some bait before I got there, knowing that the fish already had a taste for it. A bucket of smashed up Manilla was soaking in the Cloudy Manilla and I had all my hook baits and rigs all tied and ready to go.
I arrived at Sandhurst nice and early, walking through the gates and hopeful that I could get on some fish. I had spoken to Dan Wildbore, who had been there a couple of days shooting material with the lads and he told me that the middle of the lake was where the fish seemed to be held up.
I took a walk round and ended up on the swim known as the island. Dan was off that morning and Harvey was jumping in behind him on the right of the island, which meant the left side would be free. It commanded a lot of water and gave me access to the middle triangle of the lake too.
I jumped in there and got the gear round to the swim, before having a lead around. I found some really nice areas, with quite a few on shallow ground, but I wanted to be fishing in the slightly deeper water, especially with the weather being as it was.
I got everything sorted and the rods went out perfectly. I sat back, not seeing anything to go on and hoped that something would be out there and willing to feed. On darkness, I was a little shocked when the right-hand rod was away.
After a spirited fight, I landed a lovely mirror and my first Yateley carp. I was buzzing to have caught one so early and at just under 25lb, it was a good fish too. I slipped the fish back and got the rod back out. Unfortunately, that was it for that trip, but I wanted to come back for another go.
Knowing it was going to be busy, I decided to work through until Saturday night, which gave me a Sunday and Monday night to fish the following week. The weather was totally different, with temperatures going from 1°c to 17°c in a week! The lake is fairly shallow, so I hoped that the turn in weather would entice the fish to have a bit of a feed.
As planned, I was back at Sandhurst Sunday morning; keen and hoping I could jump in behind someone that was leaving that day. I saw a couple of fish show in the middle and wanted to fish the same swim as the previous week as I knew the spots and with the area being predominately shallow, I wanted to put my baits on these spots while the weather was warmer.
The lad that was fishing the left island was off that day, so I waited for him to go before moving in. I had a quick lead around and put a couple of rods to the area that I had caught from the week previous. I fished a couple of Signature pop-ups, on the old ronnie rig, with a few Spombs of the Manilla crumb mix over it.
The left rod went out to a shallow area, at 80-yards. There was a small bit of weed coming back on the hook, so I decided to fish it a bit different. I whipped up a naked chod rig using a size 8 choddy, topped with a small 12mm pop-up. These fish are very pressured and I have found that small baits can be really effective when faced with this scenario.
I plugged a small piece of foam in to the 12mm white Signature, just to make sure it was going to be ultra-buoyant. I got it bang on the spot and decided to Spomb a few 12mm Manilla boilies over the top. I had them soaking in lake water and some Cloudy Manilla, which made them lovely and soft, but still smelling pungent and sweet.
Nothing happened through the night and I woke up a little despondent. Then, I caught a glimpse of a subtle carp show, not too far from the area I was fishing. It must have been around 7:45am when I got my first bite. It came to the naked chod rig too, which wasn’t the rod I expected to go.
I soon had a pristine, scaly stocky in the net and what a carp it was. Even the stocked fish are incredible, which makes the future of this lake super exciting. I chose not to weigh it, took a few snaps and put her back. Before I got her out, I had quickly recast the rod back out to the spot, which turned out to be a wise move. Not 5-minutes later, the rod was away again! This time, it felt like a good fish.
She moved slowly, but with such power and weight. Then, as she drew closer to the net, everything ground to a Holt. I couldn’t work out what was happening, it couldn’t have been weed, and it must be a snag. I could see the fish wallowing out on the surface, stuck and unable to move closer. It then dawned on me that the fish was in fact caught around some line.
With nobody else there, I had to drop the rod, loosen the clutch and run round for the boat. I jumped in the boat and rowed across to the island. I grabbed the net and the rod and went out to the fish. As I got above it, I began to pull the line up gently. The fish was coming, and then out of nowhere, this huge scaly mirror popped up. I quickly netted the fish and could see that my line had caught round someone else’s.
It went all the way out to the spot, so I pulled myself out to it and managed to retrieve someone else’s cracked off rig. Without the boat, I would have certainly lost her, but thankfully she was safe in the net. I then had a good look at the fish and was convinced it was Nige’s mirror.
I got back to the bank, unhooked the fish in the net and had to calm myself down a bit. I had another look once I was calm and it was her alright, the mighty Nige’s and a big old fish too. I gave Dan a quick call to tell him and he told me that Rich Stewart was round the corner. I made sure the fish was safe and sound and waited 20-minutes for Rich to come down to give me a hand and get a bit of footage.
Rich and Ben Hamilton arrived and it was great to have a few hands with me to make sure everything went smoothly. She was a diamond on the bank and Rich got some lovely shots and footage, before we quickly gave her a weight. The scales went just under and around the 40lb mark, so we called her an honest 39lb 15oz and got her back. She went back perfectly and I was totally blown away by it all.
It was such a special moment, a February capture of a fish I dearly wanted to catch. You can never target fish on waters like that, but if I could have picked one it was that fish for sure. I sat back utterly euphoric, with two chods now on the spot.
It was a glorious day and I was watching the lake in a T-shirt. It was so refreshing after months of cold conditions; it felt like spring was just round the corner.
Dan arrived around 1pm and as he walked in to the swim, I was in to another carp. It was a small common of around 15lb, but in immaculate condition. It looked like it had come straight from the stock pond, which goes down to correct treatment. Sandhurst enforces everyone as a rule to bring and use a carp care kit, keeping the fish in tip-top condition.
I got the rod back out there and topped up with another couple of Spombs. The afternoon was quiet and I debated getting all the rods sorted for the evening, when the left rod went in to meltdown. The fish kited off the spot to the left but in the shallow water, there is only one way to go and the fish was determined to take me round the back of the island. I had to clamp down a little and try and entice the fish to turn back to the right.
Thankfully, she did and I had a good common twisting and turning in front of me. Eventually, she was mine and it looked a lovely fish, proper dark and sizeable too. On the scales she went 29lb 8oz and on the bank we could see what a special old fish she was. I was blown away by it all really, the carp in Sandhurst are truly incredible and what’s best is that they are available to everyone. We got some nice footage and shots, before slipping her back. I took this opportunity to get the rods done for the night. Nothing happened again during darkness, just the odd pick up from the coots out there.
I had to go to work that morning, but with it raining, I delayed it for a few hours and gave myself until around 11am when the rain stopped. At around 9am, the same rod was away yet again, totally out the blue. That one turned out to be my last Sandhurst fish of the session too. It was a cracking mirror at a few ounces shy of 25lb. Its mouth was perfect, flanks clean and in such great condition. All of the fish had leaches on them, which shows they were still not very active, but with the right baits in front of them, it was enough to tempt some amazing fish.
I ended my session at Sandhurst on a high. It is up there with my most enjoyable trips to date. The fishing is amazing, the lake is lovely and everyone is really friendly too.