Center Parcs; for some, hell on earth, for others, the very definition of a great holiday. I must admit it’s probably not the type of break I would have chosen a few years ago, but with two young lads and various family members accompanying us, off we went for a long weekend of water rapids, zip slides, subtropical swimming, cycling and half a million (give or take) other people…
There is a fishing section on the main lake and on the first morning I ventured down to have a go. It was ridiculous. The lake was swarming with common and mirror carp in the eight ounce to one pound range and, no matter what bait I cast out, the result was the same. Farcical fishing and not much fun. I packed up and headed back to the ranch within the hour.
After exploring the parc a bit more, I found a smaller lake of about an acre, tucked away behind some of the chalets near to our base. The next morning I decided to head down for an hour, just to see if there may be a few better fish/less of the mini carp than the main lake.
The little devils were still there, but occasionally a better carp would appear away from the competing throng to take the odd crust that had drifted into the open water. I managed to target them in this way – feeding a good handful of crusts by the snags close-in and then free-lining a larger crust well away from the splashy hordes. The best fish was a nice common of around six pounds that at least took a bit of thought in catching.
I also spent an evening on a local club water that I’d heard held a few decent tench and a small population of genuine crucian carp, as well as plenty of roach and bream.
On arrival I was pleasantly surprised by what was a mature, tree-lined venue with plenty of natural features including large patches of lily pads, rushes, inlets and bays and some sweeping gravel bars.
I quickly set up a light float rod and threaded the 3.2lb Bayer line through the rings, slid on a little waggler and finished the set-up with a size 16 hook, baited with a single grain of corn. It was then a case of simply loose feeding small pouches of little, feed pellets with a bit of hemp and the odd golden grain.
After an hour and a half in the first swim without a touch and no sign of life, I decided to move to a more open area with a little bed of pads close in. By now the sun was dipping rapidly and I only had another hour or so before dusk. The light clouds that had been drifting innocuously overhead had also started to thicken and darken as they moved over the valley.
At last, a bite!, but a missed one. And the next, before, finally, a skimmer of a pound or so came to the net. Blank avoided. I then had another skimmer, then a bream of three pounds before it went quiet again. Soon though, I began to get some very finicky, barely-there bites that I couldn’t hit. Then, something a little more positive – fish on. I can’t say it was a particularly memorable scrap, but whatever it was, was certainly putting up a bit more resistance than the skimmers, a small tench perhaps? And then I saw a deep, golden flank – a crucian!
As the big old cru went over the net I knew it was good one and on the scales it went 2 pounds and 6 ounces – completely obliterating my old personal best. Now I’m no expert on crucian identification. But from what the bailiff told me, the venue has a small, old stock of genuine crucian carp. The fish had no barbules of any sort and had that wonderful, buttery hue and an incredibly deep profile. I’m convinced it’s a tru cru and it was a lovely fish. A sublime fish.
I thought I may be in for another cru as the finicky bites continued. But the next positive bite resulted not in the gentle yet stubborn resistance of a crucian, but instead the brute force of a good common carp that tested my light float gear to its very limit and completely trashed the swim as it plunged around.
As I started to pack up the first drops of rain began to fall and by the time I reached the car, a heavy thunderstorm had erupted. It was a wild end to a fun evening.
Commercial fisheries aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. Featureless, joyless ponds overstocked with hungry, deformed carp. Or even worse, F1s. Has there ever been a more depressing way of describing a fish? I know it’s a scientific term from the genetics world – but couldn’t we at least call them something, anything more interesting than F1s. Crarp? Crommons?
I’ve fished a few places not too far from this particular version of piscatorial hell. I remember one such place that the husband of a friend of my partners sister (!) recommended. Third-hand details were relayed of big fish in wild surroundings and that I should definitely get down there next time we visit.
Wild it was. In amongst the crowds were a group of burly blokes drinking lots of lager – their casting getting more and more ‘adventurous’ as the day wore on; a large group of yoooves who spent the day alternating between shouting into their mobile phones and taking it in turns to spod seemingly endless piles of pellets into their swim; and even an over-amorous couple in a budget bivvy – all this on a lake not much bigger than half an acre.
The most amazing part of the day was when the Environment Agency turned up to check rod licences. One of the lager swiggers, upon realising who the new visitors were, grabbed his rod and seatbox (still half full with Stella cans) and disappeared over the verge at the back of the pond.
His mates soon cottoned on and made an equally hurried dash for freedom.
Of course not all commercial fisheries are like this. After the close season was abolished (I can’t remember the year it was scrapped – anyone?) I started fishing a new day ticket lake at Foxearth in Suffolk during the spring.
Although the place was relatively new, it was surrounded by woods and the lake had a central island, established lily pads and rushes,
gravel bars and a healthy, mixed stock of fish. It was usually pretty quiet on weekdays and worms fished down the edge could normally be relied upon to tempt the resident tench, bream and odd carp.
The place was sold on a few years ago and has since developed into a proper commercial ‘complex’ with all the trimmings. The lake I fished became a picturesque carp syndicate and I often wonder if the carp I had from there went on to become the 30 pound-plus monsters that inhabit the venue now.
My favourite commercial fishery at the moment is the wonderful Lake John in Essex. It’s a very well-run day ticket pool, set in the picturesque surroundings of the Epping Forest. Despite the fact it’s only minutes from the M25, it’s a peaceful and attractive place to fish. It does get quite busy at peak times and understandably so – but the pegs are nicely spread out and with bushes and trees running along the banks and rushes by the water,it’s certainly far from a claustrophobic experience.
Perhaps the best thing about the pool is the great variety of fish that reside there. I visited Lake John again with an old mate, Meechy, last week. We always plan to meet up and go fishing more regularly than we ever actually do, but by the time we actually do arrange a time and date we’re raring to go.
We both float fished in the margins, using little waggler floats dotted right down. Baits included corn, maggots, little hookable expander pellets and some larger halibut pellets. We had plenty of super-strength tench – rewarding us with some epic tussles close in, countless skimmers and bream, some clonking roach, perch and rudd and a tubby crucian carp each. I managed to find a pair of carp later in the evening and tempted a long, lean common off the surface using floating crust. Great fun. Long live commercial fisheries.