Now that my protracted skin problem is under control, my buddy Chris and I have been hitting our local Pike and Carp water a bit lately - it's only five miles away as the crow flies (and it's the only Pike and Carp venue within about eighty miles of us anyway) so it qualifies as "local" for Covid travel restriction purposes, as far as we're concerned.
Certainly it's as "local" as it gets for us, in the coarse fishing shithole that is Northumberland...
The beginning of Spring should be the point at which fish switch on and start feeding actively, as a response to the warmer conditions, increased metabolism and increasing food supply, so to recover from the lean times of Winter, and to prepare for spawning. We were keen to exploit this opportunity: as soon as it started getting consistently milder, we started planning...
The lake in question has a pretty decent stock of Carp up to 28lbs, and although the Pike population is less well understood (we've had fish-kills in the past) there's no reason why there should not be a decent head of them too - it's a very productive water as far as prey species are concerned, and the Pike have been pretty much left alone for the last ten or more years: as the old saying goes, Pike thrive on neglect.
Although nothing big has been reported in the last year or so, I know that a few low to mid doubles have come out, and that's encouragement enough. This isn't a patch on its best form - we had 30lb Pike in years gone by - but it's surely the right direction.
The downside to the water is that it's a pretty big (c. 40 acre), pretty deep (averaging 12 feet) and very weedy lake (it's a subsidence lake - technically a "flash" - caused by collapsing mine workings far below), and for all its size, there aren't that many fishable pegs.
Its awkward shape also means that some spots are a long walk (or, in the local "Pitmatic" dialect, "a lerng waaalk...") from the car park.
Being very close to the Northumberland coast, it's also very sensitive to cold Easterly winds off the sea, which can kill sport like flicking a switch.
Its open aspect also means that it's very rare for the water not to have a significant chop on it, making Carp spotting extremely difficult: I've been on the bank there hundreds of times over the years, and not once have I seen a Carp roll or "bosh" out - so location really is a challenge. There are a handful of flier swims on the lake, but they're invariably stitched up by "session" carpers: and even though overnighting is not an option at the moment, the swims are usually occupied anyway.
Not to worry - from a Pike fishing point of view the traditionally favoured swims have always been further along the bank than the Carp fliers, so we've tended to gravitate to them anyway.
I've wanted to take a run at the Carp for quite a while now, so my latest trip, a couple of days ago, involved me doing just that.
My plan - predictably enough - was to fish a Chod rig on one rod, and cast around; and fish solid bags on the other. This would be a sensible way to manage the weed (which although much-diminished from its Summer peak, is still around, and as we found out, is already starting to grow again) and if I was lucky enough to see a Carp rolling or jumping, I'd be able to get onto it quickly.
In terms of bait, I started with a pink 12mm Urban Baits Spicy Fish pop-up on the Chod rod, and had planned to fish a 15mm Dynamite Baits Hi-Attract Pineapple Plus pop-up, topped with a piece of yellow fake corn (I'd been soaking the pop-ups in "The Source" attractant for a long time, and they were no longer bright yellow - or pineapple, for that matter!) on the solid bag rod.
"Planned" is key to that sentence. Just before I went to bed the night before, I'd decided to swap my rods from their individual sleeve cases, into a single quiver.
But I'd put the leads I needed for each rig, in the pockets of the individual sleeves, and I forgot to transfer them to the quiver when I swapped the rods over.
That meant that my PVA bag fishing was instantly bollocksed - I'd tied up a number of rigs the night before on PVA bag stems, which rely on inline leads: and I had none with me.
Chris was able to lend me some normal leads so that I could still fish a Chod, but he doesn't carry inline leads, because they don't feature in his Pike fishing at all.
Bottom line - I ended up fishing two Chod rigs instead. In fairness I didn't feel too bent out of shape about the prospect, but I am always happiest when I have some loose feed around the hook bait.
So... Because I'd planned to use bags as my main loose feed delivery mechanism, I didn't bring a spod or a rod and reel to cast it with: but I can always use a catapult to sprinkle some loose boilies out, right?
Right. If I'd remembered to bring one. But noooo, I wouldn't need one if I was bag fishing, would I?
Schoolboy error after schoolboy error... In fairness, it's been a long time since I fished for Carp (other than "pellet waggler" style float fishing) but I was still kicking myself.
Then, I thought:
Why can't I use a bag with a Chod rig?
It struck me that it would be perfectly doable (given that I wasn't fishing at range) to put a bag onto the lead, and nick the Chod hook into the top of the bag: it would cast well enough, and the pop-up would be released as soon as the PVA dissolved.
And because I was using an active bag mix, boosted with various liquids, I figured that it wouldn't hurt that it wasn't directly under the hook - especially as the water was being moved around pretty well by the North-westerly breeze.
Once the first Chod rig had gone out (almost certainly in/on weed - I'd leaded about for a while, and could not find a clean spot - but that's why I was fishing the way I was) I put a bag around the lead, nicked the hook into it, and cast.
It flew perfectly, and I was suddenly feeling a lot more confident.
Indeed, as I was attaching the indicator to the line, it was pulled out of my hand: a bite!
Or not. I picked up the rod and hit it straight away, and there was nothing there.
Not even the rig.
I must have landed the bag right in front of a Pike, which had taken it, biting me off in the process.
The good news is that this was as bad as the day got. The bad news is that it never got any better.
I fished more bags (both solid, and mesh bags straight onto the hook); tried PVA stringers; and watched the water until my eyes bled - but I didn't get so much as a bleep, and the water was so choppy that I doubt I'd have seen a Humpback whale breach.
So that was my first go at the Carp.
I'm not put off, though: nobody else (including some lads who I know are pretty serious about their Carp) caught anything either - no Pike, no Carp - so as cack as I was, I was no more cack than anyone else.
That's a win in my book!