Sunday, 2 June 2019

In Search of Ghosts... and Carp on the Fly!

After a great but ultimately unsuccessful session in pursuit of a twenty-plus carp, I headed straight out again the following day still hoping to achieve this aim before the rivers open in less than a month’s time. With the previous session yielding fish to 16 lb 8 oz, it was a case of close but no cigar! Perhaps a second attempt at a new venue might yield a fish to tip the scales, and so Objective #1 - a twenty-pounder.

So this time I headed out to Astwood Fishery, which is more than capable of producing a twenty and the home of my previous personal best of just shy of 19 lb – tantalizingly close to that magic number.

Astwood Fishery - Photo courtesy of The British Carping Youtube Channel

Astwood comprises three pools set in immaculately kept gardens. The fishery is run by Frank and his son and they’re always cheery and welcoming. Smokie Joe’s and Bluebell lake both hold carp over 20lb (together with some rarely-targeted specimen silvers) and the third pool has a higher density of smaller carp as an out-and-out match water. Of note to some of my regular readers… Smokie Joe’s also holds barbel. I’m not a fan of catching them in stillwater but if you’re desperate to see one on the bank over the closed season it’s certainly an option. My preferred water is Bluebell, mostly because it holds a handful of big ghost carp, with the largest reportedly 27 lb. This fish can occasionally be found cruising and is easy to spot but notoriously finicky about accepting baits put before it. I’ve had it take in and reject a surface bait before now, my strike just a moment too late! I love catching ghost carp. Not only do they look beautiful, they always seem to fight harder than their purebred cousins, with full-throttle runs a plenty. Whilst I’ve caught plenty of Ghosties, I’ve never had a really big one, so this would be Objective #2 - a double figure Ghostie...

I’d popped up to see Frank for a chat a couple of days before. As a regular, he kindly agreed to allow me to target carp on the fly if any of the pools were otherwise unfished. Thrashing the water to a foam with a fly-line could easily disturb other anglers, so it seemed a fair and sensible restriction. Catching carp on the fly is something I’ve always wanted to try. I enjoy catching trout, with those short explosive runs – but there’s something about the endurance of a carp-fight which appeals hugely on a fly set-up.  Objective #3… A carp on the fly!

Arriving for early morning, the weather was not quite a repeat of the previous day’s washout, but it was markedly colder, defined by a cool breeze and occasional showers. Setting up a peg at the far end of Bluebell Lake, it became apparent that the fish had started to spawn, with a number of them frolicking in the margins and even around the oxygenating pump.

With very little moving on the surface I decided to split my day into two halves, the morning coarse fishing and the hopefully warmer afternoon on the fly. With fish spawning I held myself to a margin-ban to leave those fish using the bankside vegetation undisturbed. With the dip in temperature I was expecting any fish concerned with feeding to occupy the bottom of the shelves. I set up with a pole approach with my trusty Torrix and ‘pin for roving should it be necessary. Loose-feed would be a particle mix together with fishery pellets, boosted with Severn Valley Barbel Products (SVBP) Tardip Power Boost. I was after the bigger fish, so my hookbait would be a SVBP Severn Berry halibut pellet. As well as being a large and smelly target bait, the hard pellet provided a degree of immunity to bream and silvers and the large shoals of crucian-F1 hybrids that reside in the lake. 

Tardip! A powerful scent boost to particles and pellet!

It was a slow start to the morning, with very few fish showing in the bay I’d set up in. I’ve noticed when fishing Astwood that the fish are angler-way and often push back away from bankside anglers. With the fishery otherwise empty and a slow start to the morning I decided to generously bait a few likely spots around the pool. Returning to the first location after an hour I received a gentle lift on the pole float which was dotted right down by the weight of the pellet. I resisted the temptation to strike and waited for the almost tench-like bite to develop… A moment later and the float sailed away. The fish tore off on the strike, and quickly rose to the surface as I applied the brakes a little too hard with an over-zealous thumb. With thick-set shoulders the unmistakable shape of a large ghost carp, clearly into double figures shot back down to the depths as quickly as it had risen up. The fish gave a real tussle on the pin, and knowing this was one of my target fish my heart was in my mouth. I really struggled to get the fishes head up and roll it over, each time I thought I had control the fish shot back out refusing to yield. The fish only just fitted into my roving net, with grey scales flecked and punctuated with silvery white. The same silvery-white adorned the fishes fins with the exception of the tail, which had silver top half and deep golden lower. Stunning.  Photographing the fish whilst it was in the water I got everything ready to weigh the fish swiftly and efficiently. 13 lb and 14 oz. A personal best Ghost Carp and one of my target fish for the session.

Ghostie! 13 lb 14 oz.

Returning to the same spot, there were plenty of indications but nothing that caused the float to bury. Changing to a piece of corn, two bream quickly followed suggesting the cause of previous indications and I decided to explore another baited peg. For a minute or so there was not so much as a touch; and then immediately following a small bubble rose to the surface and popped, sending a small perfect ring radiating outwards, the float shot down and away. Another good fish, this time a mirror of 12 lb 12 oz.

Stopping for a brew, I decided it was time to set up the fly rod. With nothing moving on the surface still I set up a wet fly with an intention of exploring the depths. However, with the trees just a few metres behind me I quickly realized that back-casting was nigh on impossible. On perfecting a half roll-cast, I eventually managed to present a small natural somewhere around the shelf edge and felt a short delicate tug on my first retrieve. Connecting with the fish I pulled a perfectly formed golden rudd from the water, with a real tango-dipped hue to its scales and gill plates! It was a beautiful fish, but one that made me realize the main issue of pursuing carp on a wet fly in a venue full of silverfish!

Tango anyone? Golden Rudd

I introduced a little surface bait and paused for lunch to see what developed. A few fish showed, but it seemed the ducks were far more eager than the carp. Still, a few fish could be seen cruising and so I tied on a bread fly, with a 9ft leader. With a delicate cast, the first cruising fish I presented to gladly accepted… sucking in the fly and rolling away…. I struck a little too eagerly and was promptly hit in the face by a crescendo of fly line… So close, yet so far! It took another fifteen minutes or so to find another cruising fish… this time the cast missed the target, landing behind the fish and the opportunity was gone! Another pause to wait for a shadowy form to pass in range before me. This time it was another Ghostie, a touch smaller than the fish already landed. I managed to flick the fly all but on its nose and somewhat to my amazement, rather than spooking, the fish approached and sucked in the fly… This time on striking the line pulled taut and the rod arched over… Fish on! Unfortunately a moment later everything went limp as the hook hold pulled free. Disaster!

By this time a few fish had moved onto the surface baits left unspotted by the ducks. Rather than licking my wounds over the lost Ghostie I flicked out the bread fly amongst the few remaining free morsels. I didn’t see the fish approach, but with the distinctive splash of a carp engulfing the fly and rolling away watched for the short sharp tug on the leader and connected with another fish. The carp stripped off some twenty yards of fly line on its first run, leaving me just behind the leader and the fish most of the way towards the far bank!

Epic Tussle! Double figure carp testing light fly gear to its limit!

At this point I realized how under-gunned I was with a 5 wt fly rod. The issue was not so much stopping the fish running, as the maximum pressure was already governed by the 6lb tippet material, more in the rods ability to haul the fish back across the lake. I spent much of the fight with the rod locked up, bent over to what felt like it’s absolute limit. Don’t get me wrong here, it was tremendous fun – and carp aren’t a species that suffer for a drawn-out tussle, but it definitely isn’t the right tool and I’ll be looking at acquiring a value for money 8 wt going forwards. Eventually making back some ground with the rod tip low and applying plenty of side-strain, I eventually slipped the net under a mirror carp of 14 lb and 9 oz, not bad for a first fish on the fly! 

14 lb 9 oz. A first carp on the fly!

With heavy rain on the horizon there was just about time for one more fish, with a common carp of around the 10 lb mark fooled by the small bread-like hackle. Another spirited fight and a fourth double figure fish for the session. The twenty still eludes me, but I was absolutely made up by the big ghostie and carp on the fly might just be one of my new favorite ways to fish outside of the river season!

Another fly-caught double...

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