Yet again this month really has gone in the blink of an eye. It’s been a significant month for me on lots of levels and, if truth be known all of the levels are fishing. I have had to concede that fishing and fishing things are really the only things that I have ever been good at. Only last week myself and the charismatic Alex Bransby had the conversation that in truth putting our girlfriends and family aside I know nothing in my life other than fishing.
I know to an outsider looking in it could look a little sad, but I have never been so happy in my life. Its either fishing, photography or filming, absolutely lovely! Next month I will bring you up to speed with possibly the most exciting project I have ever been involved with – something that is taking all of my time, and something that I just can’t get enough of, and yes of course it’s fishing related.
What I would like to do this month as promised is recount to you one of the most magical experiences I have had in a long time, an experience that I was honoured to write about in the 250th edition of Carpworld.
An unexpected phone call from my old mate and huge inspiration, John O’Driscoll was to prove a massive turning point in my life and, if I’m honest, would also turn out to be slightly disastrous. John called and said, “JB, we need a big pit challenge.” My first reaction was to say, “no we don’t John we just need a water with proven fish in it, even named fish. Whatever we do we don’t need to be chasing shadows and I want a whole season of me time.” I would never moan about my profession as I feel the luckiest man alive but when you add up all of the work you do for your sponsors, then include the charity stuff like Help for Heroes, disabled kids, underprivileged kids and Marie Curie etc there isn’t really a lot of time for much else. I even said, “John, lets go to France and catch some whackers in some pond somewhere.” This is not a dig at holiday angling as I wish I could do it but it’s hardly the same as staring over a two hundred acre windswept British pit with no sign of Carp. I take my hat off to the lads that never stop believing, the lads that sit it out through thick and thin never really knowing if they are fishing barren water or fishing for just that special one. Look I once went to see a mate on a pay lake in France and when I arrived he was just returning ‘Pierre’ at seventy pounds. He even managed a forty pound common while I sat chatting with him.
Putting all that aside, I am at a stage in my angling life whereas over the years there have been too many challenges to mention. The notable ones were the Gloucester pit, Far Fen, Fen Drayton, the little secret and last season I even managed to get my fingers burnt on Attenborough Nature Reserve which is the biggest working gravel pit in Great Britain at two thousand five hundred acres. I only managed three fish to eighteen pounds. Don’t get me wrong, some of these challenges have made my life but some have nearly destroyed me.
So, with all that in mind, there was a brief silence on my part during that call to Little John. Then I found my voice and told him, “I am sorry John, I don’t think I can do this anymore. Let’s join that pit in Northampton where the lads are fishing with all the big fish in it”. John’s reply to this was, “Nonsense boy, we start on Friday.” And that, as they say, was that.
John told me he had found a new pit, one that he believed had been overlooked. A ‘special one’ he called it. I will never forget that Friday evening when John turned up, we headed for our new secret location and, in the blink of an eye, we were there. Once over the fence and through the trees my eyes were seduced by the most beautiful sight I have ever witnessed. My God we had found it; the Holy Grail. It was hard to believe that no-one was fishing this place, I bet in reality pioneers had come and gone and long been forgotten but we were here now and it was our turn. I am still not sure of the size but it must be three or four hundred acres and, luckily for us, it’s in a water belt in an area of the country that is just a sea of blue.
We sat at the top of the bank and I turned to Little John and said, “I love you John.” “I know son” was his reply and he gave me that “Bill Oddie” look and said, “Happy now aren’t you boy?” “Yeah I am mate” I replied with a little chuckle.
The next few weeks came and went and it was really operation get the bait in. I had taken a back seat with Aqua Dynamix to concentrate on my media work for Hardy & Greys and PB Products but trust me the worm would be the bait to use on this wild pit. At this point we hadn’t seen a thing and we honestly didn’t have a clue if there was even anything in there but do you know something, I didn’t care at that moment in time. I really didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world and nor did Little John; we were like two boys again.
We didn’t manage our first session until mid May although we had spent loads of time and walked miles looking for likely spots. We weren’t sure and we still don’t know now if we are allowed to fish this place but we are being very respectful. So, as we started in mid May you can see how current it all is.
The first night was surreal and a very magical experience: all bivvied up, rods out in the same swim. My obsessive tidiness one side and Little John’s area of complete chaos the other. Little John always says “without chaos there can be no order” and once settled in his chair he doesn’t like to get out of it much. To this end he has me doing all the running around due to the fact I am seven years his junior.
There was a massive moon on the water that night and something caught my eye. It was a grass snake at least four feet long slithering majestically across the darkened horizon. What I am about to tell you is as true as the day is long. After the ‘snake sighting’ we both got engrossed in a story about giant spiders and animals that inhabit this hidden paradise as there had been a local story where a woman had been bitten by a Tarantula that had mutated with a British common house spider. Halfway through Little John’s latest story about three foot long super rats I felt something crawling up my jogging bottoms, followed by a terrible pain as something sunk its teeth into me.
Immediately I whacked the side of my leg with a mighty force and as I shook whatever it was out of my trousers under the light of my head torch out dropped the leg of a spider. To my horror there was blood everywhere! I have to tell the truth, I was freaking out and I don’t mind spiders but something had bitten me and left two puncture marks, I was convinced that I was moments away from anaphylactic shock and imminent death.
As I sat in my chair, haemorrhaging blood like no tomorrow and feeling rather nauseous, Little John poked the remaining bit of the spider’s body with a twig and said “That’s a shame”, I said “Bugger the spider John I don’t feel right.” John replied “Not that silly, I meant it’s a shame we are not fishing on Attenborough like last year. I don’t recognise this fella he’s a big ‘un and we could of rung David and asked him what it is.” I was confused “David?”, “Yeah, David Attenborough. It might be an unknown and you could have got to name it. Yeah, you could have called it the Banister Beetle” he chuckled.
By this time my flip flop and jogging bottoms had turned crimson red with blood and nothing could have ever prepared me for what I heard next, “Put the kettle on boy”. Well that was it. I staggered off to bed wondering if I would even wake up and completely unable to understand why Little John found it so funny. In fact, to this day, I still do not know why.
As I opened my eyes the next morning feeling relieved to be alive even I had to concede that maybe it was a bit of a storm in a tea cup. As I lay there pondering the events of the previous night, I heard the most wonderful sound a carp angler can ever hear; the little Chub Neuron T3 Bite Alarm singing so beautifully it would of put a welsh choir to shame, it was lit up like a firework. I was out of bed in a heartbeat and connected with a very angry Carp. I couldn’t believe that all the pre-baiting had paid off and given me a bite on my first night as it didn’t seem possible looking at the expanse of water in front of us but I was in a battle as she fought with all of her might..
The rod was on a little silkweed bed about eighty yards out. Yet again, a bite in weed opposed to the clear spot option. “Jesus, she’s going!” Little John exclaimed. He was not wrong, this fish was ripping line for fun and there was little I could do. I always think virgin fish have the potential to fight so much harder as they really think they are going to die. Maybe it’s a memory thing with repeat capture fish as they know they will be treated with kindness and respect. Anyway, whatever the case, this warrior was having none of it. Little John hurriedly pulled my third rod in as the fish cannoned through the middle rod wiping it out. There just wasn’t any time so it was a case of knit one purl one.
As the fish careered from left to right it was obvious it wasn’t stopping for love nor money, so Little John had to retrieve the rest of the rods. Not bad I thought, first bite and we have lost all six spots to one fish. Still, at this point, I really didn’t know what I was attached to. One thing was for sure though I knew it was a Carp. After a mind blowing twenty minute scrap Little John slipped the net under a beautiful little common. It was not as big as I had hoped for after the sheer fight but a real prize all the same.
One thing me and Little John had decided was that whatever happened on this secret pit we were not going to weigh or name the fish. This all stemmed back from spending a good part of my life chasing the shadow down in Cambridgeshire. I didn’t want that fish to be just a ‘weight’ and I have since done this as a principal and out of respect for the fish with a lot of the fishing I have done. You catch a thirty-nine pound fish and you become disappointed, you catch a scraper forty and you are happy even though there is practically no difference.
Putting aside weights and measures and of course a near fatal spider bite and I was over the moon. It proved yet again that if you apply yourself to your sport and stick to using your knowledge it will, and quite often does, work in your favour. That’s the other thing on these big pits, you can’t pick your bites, you should just be thankful for them whether they be twenty pounds or fifty pounds. It could be either or but, like I said, still worth every heart stopping moment.
Things went pretty quiet for the next couple of days. Sadly Little John had to return to work but it was a different story for me. I am doing lots of filming for Hardy & Greys and PB Products at the moment and I had the camera with me so it seemed foolish to pull off when I had work I could do at the bank side. I managed to stay for nine days and catch four fish, nothing earth shattering but still well earned and worthy fish that I will never forget.
The latest session all sort of happened by accident really. We have found another angler on the lake: Stuart is a pike angler who is a lovely lad with a good set of eyes and ears and he obviously knows his stuff. Last week we had an unusual wind on the lake, a really warm and wet northerly with a big low pressure front. The moon was next to nothing and it had big fish written all over it. Stuart rang me and said he had seen some larger than normal Carp in the bottom bay. I was just about to go out and do some filming for Hardy Greys and Chub so thought it would be an ideal opportunity to get the polarising lens on in the hope of catching a big girl on camera.
Once down in the shallow bay it was obvious the water was alive with fish. There were bow waves everywhere. I decided that it would be best to slip the chest waders on and get in the water, although easier said than done when you have a very expensive piece of kit to hand as you gingerly wade out into the unknown. I must have been out there for a couple of hours before I saw the first fish swim languidly by. She was only a small one but lovely to see all the same. The next hour was pretty uneventful and by this time the sun had made an appearance and I was beginning to feel a little wind burnt and weary as I was standing motionless in the water.
Then it happened! Oh my good God, the weed shook gently in front of me and I saw the head of a stunning common. Then there was more activity and another appeared. I was literally shaking as I watched these two magnificent creatures that looked as if they had been crafted out of diamonds. The sunlight picked up their scales, they were huge and I was getting them on camera. I could have reached out and touched them as they seemed to have no fear of me whatsoever. It was one of those priceless moments in time that are worth every single minute of waiting uncomfortably in the water all afternoon. It was just off the scale. Again, I don’t want to talk weights but they were big and I mean very big. This was just what I needed for the new project.
During the last few weeks I have been out filming sunrises and sunsets capturing so much magic for the new website. It’s starting to get all the hallmarks of what Martin Bowler and co have been doing and they are certainly a country mile in front of everyone else so this was just the icing on the cake for my short-term goals.
Once back at the caravan working on my projects the desire to get back to the pond was driving me mad but like everyone else, although people rarely believe it, I have to be responsible at times and do some work. However, being responsible is not my strong point so I made a plan to ensure I got back down to the same spot at sunrise.
The next morning couldn’t come quick enough. I didn’t need the alarm as I was practically wide awake at three am. A quick brew and a short drive and I was casting the rods in. The lack of fish activity hit me almost straight away. What is it with fishing? Why do those rare opportunities never seem to repeat themselves? Though I had to concede that it was sunrise and not mid-afternoon due to the fact that nothing had changed in terms of the weather conditions the laws of probability would, and should, dictate that the fish will be back at the same time and in the same place.
As the early morning turned into lunchtime then late afternoon I tried to busy myself with a bit of photography and hardly dared think of the possibilities that were swimming in this glorious abyss. A quick call to Little John with the intention of leaving a voicemail detailing the day’s progress left me stuck for words as John actually answered the phone, he is usually so elusive on the mobile that I have accidently got hold of Salmon Rushdie and Osama Bin Laden before Little John in the past. Anyway after a quick team talk it was decided that I had to stay as long as possible even though I had a pressing engagement that evening. Little John said “Look son, stick it out to the death. While the rods are in the water there is always a chance.”
As early evening approached my mind wandered. I couldn’t help but think back to something that is bothering me at the moment and must do loads of other anglers out there. I am yet again channelling all my efforts into a big English windswept gravel pit which at best during the winter months has a wind that would cut through you like a thousand tigers claws and at worst during the summer months you would be eaten alive and gorged on by blood sucking insects and burnt to death. The truth is, like I said at the start of this piece, I only get a limited time to angle. I don’t have the luxury of going to France and I can’t commit the time I could use for the pit on a day ticket water.
The upshot is that you expose yourself with this kind of fishing and, unless you’re very lucky and manage to find and catch a special one in true pioneering style pretty quickly, people would just assume you didn’t fish very often or you were not particularly good at what you did. There is always this external pressure that you feel when you do it for a living. I went to a day ticket water with the lads from a school with emotional and behavioural difficulties last week and had a bite after two minutes in the water. It’s that sort of thing that you have to focus on and remind yourself that this is why you do what you do. After all, I have fished on Fen Drayton with one of the best natural hunters in modern day fishing, Gary Bays. I have witnessed Gary have three bites in one day on Fen which was unheard of and then I have seen him not have a fish for a year. Gary is willing to fish that style for that reason.
With all this chaos running through my mind and me wanting to strangle Little John for getting me hooked on a almost impossible water, I heard an eruption in the water which resembled a cow falling from the moon. There was a pause, one bleep on the T3 and the screeeeeeeaaaaammm and the single tone. How I never just dropped dead on the spot I will never know. I lifted into the rod that was on a clear shallow spot at close range and it just demolished me. It took line like it was some demented creature of a lost world that was luring me into a trap not the other way around. After five minutes of ferocious warfare the fish rolled about forty yards. I had to concentrate all of my efforts not to throw up. I know it’s graphic but I have never been attached to a beast of such massive proportions in this country.
The fight was ridiculous. Every time I gained line he took line. One thing is for sure though, if I was a bit hesitant to give him some at the start I was certainly becoming more confident in the hook hold. In fact I am always confident in my PB gear; it’s of a different quality. You know what’s it’s like sometimes when you see how superbly nailed your quarry is, you realise you could have been more assertive. By now I was gaining on him and oh my days, two rod lengths out and the lethien beast kited right by me at slow pace almost eyeballing me. The frame was inexplicable, just huge. Then bang! He sent that rudder into overdrive and again he was on a forty/fifty yard run but this time kiting towards the dam wall. My heart sank as I saw a big snag sticking out of the water he was heading straight for it. However much I cranked and turned the reel I just couldn’t stop it and in he went. I decided just to lay the rod down and pray that somehow that fish would come out of his own volition.
I gently pulled into the fish but it was locked solid so again I just stood there in the setting sun feeling completely helpless. Then, to my dismay, I witnessed something I have never seen the likes of before and doubt I will ever again. The snag started to move away from the dam wall, it was like a scene from the film Jaws, it was picking up speed. I tightened into the fish but there was still nothing except a solid feeling. How the hell was the snag moving? In a final bid for freedom , the fish erupted out of the water up to his wrist and exploded back into the watery sanctuary and suddenly he was free.
My fishing world melted into despair and not for the first time in my life. I sat there shaking and I’m not afraid to say that even though I’m a grown man I was very close to tears. I could try and find a hundred reasons as to how that fish escaped but none of this matters now; he won the battle and he won it in style. All I have left is a memory of the day my life was touched by an untameable beast with no desire to visit the bank or to be my trophy. As hard as it’s been I have had to go on, I owe it to myself to try and tame the beast of the sunset. He may have won the battle for now but for me this is an all out war to prove this fish exists.
I started this piece by saluting a great angling journalist and media pioneer, Tim Paisley, I would like to end this piece by saluting the pioneers of the big pits; those anglers out there who refuse to let go of the magic and will never stop believing in the existence of the monsters of the abyss that swim in some of our deepest, biggest and wildest lakes. I know they are out there because I have seen them.