The Cover Fish
I have fished the Linear complex on and off for over 20 years, but this was the first time I have ever fished Hardwick Smiths or even walked around this unbelievable lake. On that first lap of the lake I couldn’t believe what I had been missing, to say this lake is breath taking is an understatement. It has everything you could ever want from a lake; little intimate bays, margins with overhanging trees that scream carp and severe underwater features from steep bars to clay plateaus, a true carp anglers paradise.
I began my session on the road bank, fishing to a plateau in around 12 feet of water, a spot I felt gave me a good chance of a few fish. All three rods were positioned on the plateau as close together as possible. I then proceeded to deposit 20 medium spombs over top of the three rods. The spod mix consisted of spabaits 12mm fsb boilies, 12mm milky fizz boilies, hemp and maize.
I settled in for the night taking in the atmosphere of this historic water thinking about all the anglers that have sat in this very spot over the years and feeling very excited. I was like a child at Christmas; having very little sleep that first night. Night fell, and morning came with no action. It was obvious the fish were towards the cut through to Smiths’ side of the lake. With no chance of moving the day was spent watching the fish show well out of range. Very frustrating but on busy waters sometimes all you can do is wait and hope the fish decide to move. It was not to be. The second night passed the same as the first with the whole of the road bank only doing one fish in the first two nights. Then the opportunity of a move into the area the fish had been for the last two days; as a few swims became available. I was packed up in double quick time. My gear heaped on the barrow, stuck out in all directions, it looked like a car crash, I was round there in a flash. It was like a weight had been lifted as now I felt like I had a real chance of my first Hardwick carp.
Once in the swim there were so many options, having the opportunity to fish in either the Hardwick or Smith side or the small channel separating the two. I took my time, not rushing to get a rod out onto showing fish, I felt sitting on my hands and taking my time to consider all the options was the best course of action as I didn’t want to ruin the swim before I had even settled in. This may have been the last chance I had to get onto some feeding fish with the lake being so busy. Whilst I sat there looking at all my options several obvious features or where the fish were regularly showing came to mind. That was it! Decision made. I will do the complete opposite. As on busy day ticket waters, being different often pays off. With lots of fish showing to the left side of the swim in the Smiths’ side I decided not put a single rod out here instead giving them a lot of line free water. Most people would be thinking he is bonkers in this situation as the fish were there in numbers, but I was thinking outside the box and trying to think about what the carp would do. The next section of water was the small channel between the two bodies of water, this was a great interception point as the fish are funnelled into this section of water as they pass from one side to the other. There is a reed bed and some snags on the far side of this channel and the fish were passing through very tight to the reeds. It was clear they had had a lot of pressure in this area. Most people would have fished tight to the reeds, so I decided to fish several rod lengths away from the reeds, almost in the middle of the gap. This gave the fish plenty of room and line free water. This rod was also fished with a slack line and only 2 spombs of bait over the top, as I was fishing for one bite at a time. The other two rods were fished to the far right of the swim as I found a bar at 40 yard that came up to 12 feet of water with deep water all around it. The fish were showing a lot further and straight out, but I didn’t want to cut the channel rod off by fishing straight out into the Hardwick side of the lake.
The line direction through the swim was a massive part of my thought process in how the fish would react. I also looked for a spot to the far right and not too far out. It was an awkward cast and not what most people would do. I knew the fish would not encounter my lines and gave them a lot of line free water; it would only be a matter of time until they moved closer in. I decided to bait the second spot with a good half bucket of my spod mix. Now all the rods were on the spots and fishing; I sat back, made a well-earned cup of tea, took a deep breath and was enjoying the mid-morning sun.
Suddenly, the channel rod was in meltdown. I almost couldn’t believe it, after 2 nights of motionless bobbins my tea went flying in a mad dash to the rod. As I picked up the rod it was straight into full battle curve and I was attached to my first angry Hardwick carp. After a very spirited fight the fish slipped over the net cord, with a big sigh of relief and short loud ‘YES’ I was staring down at my first carp. The buzz of that first fish from a new water is something you just can’t explain, after taking a second to let the moment sink in, I unhooked the fish, on the scales the fish went 21lbs 3oz. With the rod back on the spot and 2 more spods over the top it was time to relax and reflect. It’s funny how much you relax once you land that first fish of a session. But the reflection was short lived as not long after getting the rod back out it was away again. After what can only be described as an insane arm destroying fight an immaculate 28lbs 8oz mirror was my prize, a lovely brace of fish and what a start in the new swim. I would have settled with that for the day, but the action was still not over. I went on to have two more fish that afternoon before the rods went quiet for the evening.
Night passed and it was late morning until I received any more action. Which resulted in a double take on the open water spot. Luckily, I managed to land both fish a low 20 and an upper double. What a great start to the day! Having taken the pictures, the rods were back on the spot. No sooner than it took the kettle to boil, the channel rod was away. This time a much slower take, the spool on the reel slowly churning. As I picked the rod up, I knew this fish was different gravy and after what felt like an age a massive head and a set of common shoulders appeared from the depths. My knees started to knock, and my heart was racing, the fish took a gulp of air and it was beat. As its head went over the net cord it had one more lunge for freedom, the line went slack, and it was gone! My heart sank, I was almost in tears. That sick feeling in the pit of my stomach stayed with me all day. It was massive and no doubt, the biggest common in the lake. I managed another six fish that afternoon to mid-20 which eased the pain of the loss a little. But in my heart, I thought that my chance of one of Hardwick’s A team had gone. With bite time between 11am and 3pm, the evening and night passed much the same as the previous day.
By mid-morning it was obvious the fish had moved to the other end of the lake. With no chance of moving as all the swims in that area of the lake were occupied. It was going to be a slow day but at midday a bite out of the blue on the channel rod. After a spirited fight from what felt like a better fish a nice mirror slipped over the net cord and on investigating the net, I knew I had my first Hardwick 30. What a result from what had been a very quiet morning, on the scales the fish went 30lbs 4oz and a stunning fish to boot.
After the disaster of the previous day I was back on a high. There was no more action that day, but I had a feeling the fish may just turn back up after a day down the other end of the lake. The decision was made to really increase the amount of 12mm milky fizz boilies in my mix, almost all boilie, with a handful of fsb, hemp, maize and spabaits spod pellets. This paid off; on cue the next morning, just after 11am the channel rod was away, this fish fought long and hard, it did not want to surface. What a relief it was when it finally went in the net and at 31lbs13oz it was 2 30s on the bounce. What a result, my luck was changing, I was buzzing.
But no sooner had I slipped this fish back, I had a double take on my open water rods. They were totally in sync and they were melting. I was convinced the lines had knitted together and it was just one take. I picked up the first rod and it was stripping line at a rate of knots, I could tell it was not a big fish as it was too fast and erratic. As that fish was on its first long run, I picked up the second rod to see if I could part the line, this is when I realised the lines were going in opposite directions. This fish felt much heavier, slowly plodding away from me. With a rod in each hand and no control over either fish I shouted Mike to come and take a rod. I passed him the rod with what felt like the smaller fish and we began the dance of knit one, pearl one as the fish decided to keep crossing over each other. This was a very tight part of the swim with a tree overhanging so when on that side, you couldn’t pick the rod up in the air. I decided to let my fish swim around in open water while Mike landed the first fish, a 18lbs 2oz mirror. With that safely in the net I continued to play the fish I was attached to, luckily it all went to plan. Once in the net I could tell this was special, hoisting the fish on to the mat it blew me away, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, THE KING OF THE LAKE .It was the COVER FISH weighing in at 36lbs 4oz it was down on its winter weight but what a fish and what a difference a day makes. I was on cloud nine, it had turned from gut wrenching to a dream session in the blink of an eye.
You just can’t explain the range of emotions, the highs and the lows are what makes moments like these so very special. It’s a journey we all travel as anglers and one that makes this obsession so very real. After pictures, the soaking from the lads and watching that unbelievable creature swim away I had time to reflect and soak up the moment. That was a day I will never forget.
After the capture of the cover fish, the action went quiet and I could have chilled out for the last two nights, but I decided to continue to work hard as it’s not often these types of sessions come around. So that evening a big helping of bait was deposited and as the previous nights had, came and passed with nothing to show. By mid-morning knowing the action was not due for an hour or so I decided to go for a shower. What happened next was bonkers, on arriving back in my swim I cast the first open water rod on the spot. Before I’d even got the bobbin on, it was away, this was the start of a manic few hours. The first 3 takes I couldn’t get a second rod in the water and when I finally did, it resulted in several double takes and even a triple take. With ten more fish on the bank and a few unfortunate losses in just over 2 hours, including another three fish over 30lbs! What a day, totally exhausted and in shock at what had just happened I was glad for the lack of night bites. I thought the action was over for this session, as I was heading off the next morning but at 7am the open water rod was away, resulting in an unbelievable battle from a stunning 29lbs 2oz common. I decided to call it a day after that fish. The final tally was 29 bites; 25 landed including 6 fish over 30lbs to 36lbs 4oz, 14 fish over 20lbs to 29lbs 2oz and 5 upper doubles. It was a week with low points, high points, an emotional roller-coaster and a trip I will never forget. People ask me why I go fishing, it’s for moments and memories like these, there’s no greater pastime in the world.
I would like to say a quick thank you to Mike Sproston for the company and being on point with the camera and to Jay Bezza for capturing it all on film which will feature on his youtube channel bigcarpcrazy.
Can’t wait until our next adventure, tight lines. Leigh Leavesley