It was almost winter, not that you’d know it; the autumn and early winter of 2015 has gone down in meteorological history as the warmest on record. I had my teeth right into the Quarry and was desperate for one of its jewels. I’d had a lot of fish from there over the preceding months but, despite my best efforts, nothing had been bigger than 29lbs. Although that is still a big fish to me, I couldn’t help but feel the law of averages determined I was on the verge of a proper big one. There are a few monsters in the Quarry but there was no doubt about it, only one was keeping me awake at night. The fish called Orion had only succumbed once all year - a solitary spring capture being the only blemish on his perfect 2015 copy book. He is an exceptional looking fish and with the previous weight being in the high thirties, I suspected that with such a long absence from the bank, he could be very big indeed - possibly breaking forty pounds for the first time.
How such a creature had only been tricked once all year on what is an exceptionally busy venue was a mystery. All I knew was that this single element of being supremely evasive made him ultimately attractive to me, plus of course the fact that he is very dark and with a sloping head, the perfect carp shaped fish!
I have to say I was under no illusion that I could actually catch this creature. I didn’t really have any plan for either him or any of the other big fish such as Shoulders or Cassius. All I had was a simple strategy that was aimed towards getting as many bites as I could: all I was going to do was fish as differently to the other anglers as possible, use baits that were (hopefully) rarely used, always fish where I saw fish and to get as many nights in as I could. This meant two nights every week and sometimes a third if I was doing a tutorial there. Along with the occasional trip down when I wasn’t fishing, this meant that I could keep in touch with what was going on and where; always a big advantage. One of the other fish I really craved was the Pukka Common - I do love a big common and this one was an amazing looker and another fairly rare visitor to the bank.
I envisaged that if I steadily continued to keep getting bites, the ones I wanted simply had to come my way eventually. It can be frustrating when you are getting repeat captures and you are clearly catching more than your fair share and yet often see someone turn up and knock out one of the big fish on their first trip. For sure the lake had been a real bitch in that department for me in 2015 but I was determined to soldier on, knowing that with every bite I was closer to one that I craved.
And so it was that I was left to choose the venue for filming the first of a new series for BT Sports. The guest was to be my good buddy Scott Maslen and we needed a venue that while being scenic and aspirational, wasn’t too rock hard, after all a fishing program with no fish in it isn’t all that much fun!
I was initially reluctant to visit the Quarry, partly because it isn’t that easy and a blank could be possible, but also because I knew that I’d be fishing adjacent to Scott, wherever I’d found the fish to be. I’d seen so many instances over the years where an angler is ‘robbed’ of his dream by his guest (in fact I had done it to a couple of people too!), and I was in no hurry to let fate allow this to be a possible outcome.
Eventually though, after much consternation, I accepted that if we filmed at the Quarry then it would allow me to be there and keep in touch with things, allowing the all important momentum I had to hopefully continue. By mid afternoon on the first day, we were both set up, a swim apart, facing the islands where I’d seen the fish showing. When you are filming you just desperately want to get a bite - it takes so much of the pressure off - and to my surprise one came early with my middle rod rattling off on the first evening. The fish was revealed to be a very welcome 25lb mirror and suddenly we were up and running. As we settled back down with a cuppa, little could I have imagined just how things were going to roll out.
Not long before midnight, Scott had his first bite from the lake. It led him a right merry dance and he had to take to the chesties and wade out to get the net close to it. As the camera crew shone a beam out across the water, we saw the fish at the same moment. Scott gasped “It’s a massive common” and I could see he was right as this huge scaley flank was drawn across the net cord. On the mat, the fish was revealed as the Pukka Common, and weighing over 41lbs I simply couldn't believe it! It was funny though and made for some great TV as we both crouched over the great fish and ooooh’d and ahhhhh’d like a couple of schoolboys seeing Mila Kunis for the first time.
Scott’s incredible fortune continued and despite mind-blowing odds, his next two bites were also much coveted originals. The gorgeous ‘Radish’ was followed by ‘Lee’s Fish’ and at mid-thirty apiece, I have to admit I was in a bit of shock! Sometimes you just cannot calculate the odds of what the Carp Gods decide to dish out; three bites and each was an ancient original. Over the preceding months I’d had over ten times that number yet still couldn’t crack one of the big girls and here was Scotty Boy, on his first ever trip and showing balls so golden you needed polaroids to look at him!
It was a great bit of angling though and the program was of course deeply enriched by the captures of such amazing fish. On the final evening I saw several shows a few hundred yards up to my right and, desperate for another fish myself, I packed up the gear and moved onto them. That night was quiet but I heard a few good fish out in front and it felt like the area was building in some way. Just as we wrapped cameras, I had a steady take on the right hand rod. The fish felt big and heavy - it was what I was waiting for. Several minutes later, a hook pull left me a beaten man and I departed with my tail well and truly between my haunches.
The following week I was booked for another filming session - this time for Carp TV with my very good mate Joe Morgan. I simply couldn’t bear to be away from the Quarry and so, against my better judgement, I agreed to film the show down there once again. It had seemed that the fish were grouping along the front edge of the larger of the two islands. They were reachable from a swim that was very rarely fished and it was also a swim that was choked full of weed. I’d done well from it the previous autumn when I’d found a small silty clearing at range. As it happened, although that spot was long gone, the fish had made a new one, in almost exactly the same place.
The cast to the spot was tricky in the extreme: on the back swing, the lead had to pass perfectly between a pair of tree trunks. If I hit it right, the lead would sail out and, hitting the clip perfectly, would land onto firm silt at just under 100 yards. I like spots like that - they are so small and awkward that I know full well that they have probably never even been found, let alone fished properly.
This time it was my turn to reap the whirlwind and over two nights I had nine bites. The cream of the crop was the Big Fully Scaled, a flicker under thirty at 29.15 and this was followed by a 27.14 common and several other good twenties. I lost two fish to hook pulls in the heavy weed, the second one being one of the special ones - there was no doubt in my mind.
During this session I’d noticed a fair bit of activity in an area that was again difficult to access from any one particular swim. It was in a kind of ‘no man’s land’ between swims but earlier in the summer I had found a nice little spot there. I’d fished a rod onto it on various occasions and one September night I’d taken an 18 mirror and a
very big tench from it. Despite attention after that, it didn’t do me another bite but I kept a rod on it whenever I fished the area simply because it ‘felt right’.
After packing up, I walked down there and made sure to put a few Spombs of bait onto it as a little investment. The area was still small, and made up of firm silt in the middle, a little ‘spongy’ on the edges and surrounded by thick columns of weed.
The following week I was back for a one nighter and having got all my work filming done, I really was keen to get back and plug into some intense angling of my own. On my arrival the fish seemed very reluctant to show anywhere and I did two laps before eventually seeing one crash out in the swim known as Stoney’s. I was in there pretty quickly and before long had a pair of rods committed to a spot that had done a lot of fish for me and my clients. I baited light and very accurately. At dawn the next morning, I took the Carp Cast Linear at just over 26lbs - yet another repeat capture but with nothing else coming out around the busy lake I knew I was still getting it right.
Later that day I had a client arrive for a 48hour session and after my capture and nothing else showing elsewhere, I thought it best to vacate the swim that had done the only bite and get my man in there while we went through the technical aspects of the tutorial.
I moved a couple of pegs further down and while he got set up, I sat and stared at the water. After a while I saw one show, long, out towards the island. That was enough for me and before long I was wrapped up and cast out.
At this stage it is worth pointing out how badly the lake was fishing. Over the preceding fourteen days since Scott’s hit, the only fish caught had been mine. Over that period there had been more than 20 anglers all fishing three rods. When you multiply up the actual rod hours, it was into the thousands - the place was fishing rock hard despite great conditions.
That night was a blank for all concerned and the following day I was scratching my head. I put a little more bait onto the special spot but decided to take the rod off it and commit all of them long where I’d seen the only shows. Despite it looking and feeling right, the final night was once again a blank for me but there was one fish out - Owen the bailiff took the mighty Shoulders at 44lbs from an area only fifty yards past my own.
This capture occurred on a rare night of celestial importance - the planets were quite literally aligning. Mars, Jupiter and Venus were all in alignment and along with a Super Moon, perfect weather and another of the biggies coming out, I pulled out all the stops and stayed for one final night. Whether these cosmic happenings make any difference, I don’t know but the big fish were definitely feeding and, it seemed, little else was - the perfect time to try and catch one without bagging one of its bodyguards.
I decided to cast a fresh rig back to the special spot, followed by half a dozen tight Spombs. When the rig landed, I was shocked at how hard it felt - all summer the spot had been a firmish silty area, but this time, the lead cracked down like it was concrete. Something had been feeding there - no doubt about it.
That evening, the owner, Ben Lofting text me asking for a few pics for an article. I replied saying that if he waited until the morning, he could have a picture of Orion. Quite why I said that, I don’t know! The night that followed was eminently carpy and when I awoke a short while before dawn, I stared at the isotopes, shocked and disappointed to have not had a bite. I rolled over and settled into a depressed doze but no more than a few minutes later, the rod to the special spot was off.
An immense ruckus followed as a heavy fish lead me around in the drizzly half light of dawn. In my mind I was thinking that finally the spot that seemed so good had done me a bite. It felt like a good one too and it was some time before I had it ready for netting. I saw a broad dark back near the draw cord and then it was mine. It was still dark enough to need a head torch and so I flicked it on to see a fish of considerable length and width - it looked dark too and in my mind I thought I might have caught a mid thirty.
Leaving the fish secured in the net, I made a brew and gathered myself together. I looked again. And again. The penny dropped - there was no doubt about it - the fish lying in the bottom of my net was ORION!!!!
Only when I came to transfer the fish into the zeroed sling did I start to wonder just what had befallen me on that grey, damp morning. It felt, big, very big and with some help we weighed the great beast at a touch over 43lbs. A new forty for the lake and the pinnacle of my autumn campaign. As I held Orion I marvelled at how lucky I’d been to catch such a rare an immaculate fish from what is a very busy water. It’s an exceptional creature and I felt truly blessed. Thanks to Joe, Ash and the other guys for helping with the pictures - I was a bumbling wreck!
On that late autumn morning the planets had indeed aligned and the fish of my dreams made its way into my net. Afterwards, I text Ben with the picture I promised him; sometimes you really can talk them onto the bank!