Looking back at it now just brings a huge smile to my face, what a year it truly was. For me it was a challenge to fish such a tricky, pressured small venue and be determined to be there as much as possible each week, you know a proper campaign as it were. But by having confidence in your bait and taking a different approach to applying it, with a little bit of forward thinking, I would hopefully take advantage of the rewards the lake had to offer.
The lake in question is a small four and half acre gravel pit in the Stour Valley in Kent on the outskirts of Canterbury. The lake contains around 35 carp with 60% being over the 30lb barrier, so as you can imagine it sees a lot of angling pressure. Each carp is full of character and old English heritage but the real jewels of the lake are the three ‘proper’ fully scaled mirrors that reside in it’s depths. They are the sort of carp you lose sleep over and the thought of holding them someday in the future really makes you get your teeth stuck into the chaos. The water is coloured and weed in abundance, the average depth is around 8 feet with three big plateaus from the central part to the car park end of the lake. Surrounding these are two main bars that pretty much run up the entire lake with various depths. The water is rich with bloodworm beds and the carp often switch off boilies to gorge on the huge shoals of fry through the summer months. Not only would I be braving the crowds to fish for ultra cute rig shy carp but they might not even take one look at a hook-bait put in front of them, it was a real challenge to say the least.
April the 1st couldn’t arrive quick enough. Last year the 1st fell on a Friday but being a nine-to-five’r meant absolute torture waiting for 5 o’clock before I could get down. First port of call was to do a few laps of the lake, I wanted to get a feel for the place and to make sure each time I arrived I was looking for signs of carp. I ended up in a swim called ‘The Fully’s’ on the back of a southerly wind. The lake wasn’t too busy (even for the start of the new season) but I chose this swim as it gave a great view of the whole lake. The next morning I was greeted by Oz Holness who had his cup in hand and over a few cups of tea he bought me up to date with the stock and what fish were left. They are old and unfortunately a few have been lost over the years, history fish don’t last forever. He described how the last of the trio and ultimate prize of the pond, ‘The Big Fully’, had evaded his rigs and he dearly wanted the capture before he would move on to pastures new. Such an inspirational angler, I listened in awe as he spoke about these incredible carp in such detail, it really was an honour. Now, I won’t go into too much detail but the very next day saw an end to Oz’s journey on Tonford…There she was, all 41lb of her.
It was a slow start for me though. I was doing a lot of nights moving around the pond trying to get on fish and learn the water at the same time. The windward ends always had anglers fully situated in pegs which left me a lot of the time watching a display of showing carp from the other end of the pit. It was frustrating but I was making good use of my time by learning the areas of the swims I was getting in and noting it all down in a note pad for future reference. I definitely fell into the trap of ‘doing the norm’. It was an out-and-out boilie approach with the idea of fishing for a bite at a time. That’s what most were doing with small handfuls of baits on each rod.
With the slow start it really got me thinking about the bait I was using. I was making my own but felt like it was lacking in the strength of a food source. It was good but not great and I needed to really know what I was putting in was worth every penny. After talking with Oz and Geoff, my next move was to get down to Active Bait Solutions to gain a better understanding of the importance of a quality food source. It definitely was an eye opener and the detail of the components that make up these base mixes are incredible. The subject sometimes gets over looked in today’s carp scene, at the end of the day carp will always return and feed again and again on a food source that is high in protein, digestible and nutritious.
The bait that really caught my eye was the Rock Lobster in the ABS fishmeal range. It’s a mixture of high grade fishmeal’s and milled bird foods accompanied by milk proteins and natural spices which allows it to be a great food source but is easily soluble and digestible. To be honest it just looked great and smelled fantastic, I’ve always been a big lover of spice in my bait. Not only did it look the part but the Rock Lobster has already got a huge list of captures under its belt which was a real confidence boost. At ABS (Active Bait Solutions) you can customise your bait which allowed me to add some additives that were firm favourites of mine which I thought would compliment the Rock Lobster well. So not only was the Rock Lobster well and truly tried and tested, but I was also able to add my own little confidence boost in the mix too. When the bites are few and far between it is confidence in a bait that will be the key to success.
Already the end of May was fast approaching and I’d yet to bank my first carp so now armed with my new bait, I headed to the lake after work on the last weekend of May, which to my surprise only had one other angler on. A lovely warm southerly wind had picked up and I decided to head for a swim called ‘The Pads’. With no line pressure down this end it honestly felt like my best chance yet. I placed both rods on shallower areas of the gravel bar that ran through the swim, both with white Rock Lobster pop ups and a handful of boilies catapulted over the top. I took care with slacking the lines and sat back with the traps set, I stayed up late that night watching for signs of carp. Around 9:30pm I saw a fish head and shoulder in the glow of the street lights from the road behind. It was a little further out from the bar in deeper water, was I on too shallower ground. I stayed watching for a couple hours with more and more fish showing out in the pond. Feeling confident of being in the right area, I went to bed hoping for one to fizz off.
Just before first light I received a few bleeps on the left hand rod, dazed from a deep sleep I swung my legs out to get my shoes to have a look. Suddenly the buzzer let out a quick succession of bleeps, one and half shoes on I was running to see the rod test curving in the rests with the bobbin holding up tight. I pulled into the fish with a sudden surge but then the rod slung back with hardly any resistance. Fearing a possible red eyed tinker was the culprit I reeled frantically to gain control. The fish swam straight towards a big set of pads in the margins finding sanctuary amongst the stems, the couple of tench I’d already caught from the area had done the same routine once hooked. But, this fish seemed to be boring a lot harder to get deeper amongst the pads. I pulled harder feeling stems break as a fish came from out the depths, with it a mirror carps flank rolled just under the surface. My legs went to jelly as I was finally hooked to a carp. A couple more dives into the pads but soon I had it safely in the net. I quickly retained my prize for about half hour waiting for dawn to break. On the scales she went 30lb 8oz, a fine example of the carp that reside in Tonford. A change of bait and one was in the net, couldn’t have gone any better.
After the capture of the mirror a few were still topping in the area and with the weather starting to really warm up it was looking good for the day on the shallow ground on the gravel bar. Out of the corner of my eye I suddenly noticed the water over my left hand rod subside which was quickly followed by a huge swirl and buzzer that was in meltdown. I pulled into a very hard fighting carp taking yards and yards of line on its first run. Because the lake contains hardly any weed the carp don’t have any sanctuary to dive into once hooked so I was soon learning about these huge battles the carp tend to give. A big bow wave was heading straight down into Cushties corner and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I gave it everything and suddenly the carp turned and swam directly towards me at speed, reeling like my life depended on it to try and keep in contact. It was a job trying to keep the fish from going round the lily pads but I was determined to keep the fish from finding sanctuary. A big heavy weight was holding bottom under the tip but with a bit more pressure the fish came up in the water and rolled just under the surface seeing a flank of a nice sized common. All of a sudden for the carp turned and just starting taking line. As I watched this unfold I saw that my mainline was frayed, it must have happened on the initial run over the bar, with this in mind I started to panic. The fish was now in the middle of the pond really twisting and turning with only a matter of time before the line parted. Luckily for me the carp had exhausted all of her energy and cautiously I guided her to the waiting net.
On the bank she looked incredible, very long with big fins and bronzed scales. She spun the needle round to 34lb 2oz and was later identified as ‘The Long Common’. What a great way to end the weekend pushing my faith even more into the Rock Lobster. What a bait!
I really started to get to grips with the lake and was applying small handfuls of Rock Lobster here and there all over the pond each week. Over the next couple of months I started picking off the odd one here and there just fishing the trusty small handful of boilies over each rod. I had tallied up 8 captures with repeats of my first two on two separate occasions a week apart. Ten bites a season was about the average so bagging 8 in a few months was really good going and I couldn’t fault my bait choice at all. I started introducing more bait on the spots and was noticing activity in the mornings, fizzing up and rolling over the areas. They were loving it, they couldn’t get enough of it and my bank balance was starting to show it too. The carp were eating better than I was most months but it was all so worth it.
The lake over these months had quietened off thankfully, and more often than not I would have the lake to myself. This was a welcome change from all the spring madness of a super pressured lake. I wanted to make a plan for the rest of the summer and into autumn. During my time on the lake a swim called ‘The 30’s’ had seen far less pressure than other swims on the windward ends of the pit. It was situated half way down the railway bank side and was a real good passing through area for fish wanting to get on any new wind. ‘Blondies’, a swim opposite, had seen much more of a turnaround of anglers and had produced a lot of fish since the start with two of the big fully scaled mirrors coming from this zone. Also, ‘The Big Fully’ had been captured again since Oz had caught her from the middle part of the lake. The other thing I had noticed was around 8 o’clock on most evenings the wind would tend to drop off. The carp were starting to roll a lot later into the night so if I stayed up watching the water and the wind had dropped off the carp could be seen rolling from the windward ends back to the middle part of the lake. I just knew that if I had some traps set and was all quiet I would definitely be in with a chance.
I decided to use ‘The 30’s’ as a base swim, keep putting the bait in each week to a couple of areas and to drop in on it as and when I could. If on arrival I hadn’t seen any signs to go on then I could drop onto my baited areas. The 30’s was a good plot for most wind directions, plus it had the shallow plateau out in front with a bar about 15 yards out for the warm days. As the year moves on and we start getting colder nights the gullies between the shallower features would definitely come in to effect, this swim really did give me a lot of options. To start off I wanted to fish one rod on the bar about 15 yards out and the other fishing up to the plateau in 8ft of water to an area I had been told about. I had one last change I wanted to make to complete my new plan.
My confidence on the Rock Lobster was growing with every session and I wanted to put more in but was worried about over doing it. A lot of the regulars would ‘use just a handful of bait, fish for a bite, you don’t wanna over do it’. I think this came from the big turnaround of anglers the lake saw each week. But I wanted to do something different to everyone else so decided on crumbed up Boilie. The thinking behind this was that if the carp weren’t up for feeding I could rely on the roach and tench to eat it up, allowing me to keep the bait going in every single week. Also, I wouldn’t have that worry of fishing over old bait which I definitely didn’t want to happen. Plus using bits of Boilie was something completely different to the norm, yes they’ve probably seen it before but at the time everyone was using balls. I wanted it to be all shapes and sizes, some crumb down to like dust, halves, quarters and chewed up bits. With it I would add some round balls and some ‘match the hatch’ glug the boys at ABS make up with hydrolysed marine protein and some hemp oil. I wanted it to be a proper dinner plate and I wanted it to be in all levels of the water column, if they swam past it I wanted them to know about it. I thought the idea was good, I just didn’t know how good.
Armed with my new plan I got down to the pond midweek. The lake was empty so it was ideal to bait up. I found my areas in the swim and proceeded to put a whole 10 litre bucket out of the crumbed Boilie concoction, it was a lot to put out all at once but the session was more of a bait up trip than anything. I was up at first light watching for any signs of activity before I had to pack down and head to work when out of the blue the rod towards the plateau absolutely tore off, I couldn’t quite get my head around it. After a short battle I soon had a lovely dark common of 23lb in the net. I didn’t expect the plan to get off to such a quick start, they loved the Rock Lobster. The next couple of trips were overnight sessions and on each occasion I put out the same amount of bait in and caught on both trips, a stockie common of 18lb and a 26lb mirror. What was clearly obvious early on was the fact that the small bits of boilie were getting the roach feeding hard on the area, they could be seen topping over the bait minutes after baiting up! This just helped with getting the carp interested in feeding too, just a big feeding response from the smaller fish only triggered the carp to come and have a nose at what was going on.
A big August full moon was due on the following weekend so I was eager to get down and get situated in the 30’s. It was starting to happen in there and I knew I didn’t want to be anywhere else. On the Friday morning before work I headed to Tesco’s to get the necessary essentials and that’s when it all went Pete Tong, the motor just wouldn’t start again! I called the lads up at work to come give me a jump start but it just wasn’t having it. That Friday ended up being a bit of a doss for work, all I wanted to do was get the motor sorted. Luckily for me I managed to get a lorry jump-starter from social club John who lived on site. He said “ If that don’t get it going boy nothing will”. So, off I went on my lunch break and sure enough the jump-starter got it going first time. I knew my alternator was playing up, amongst other things, so I kindly asked John if I could borrow it for the weekend. He gave me the thumbs up and I was soon on my way with my ropey motor. As predicted I arrived in the car park and as soon as I switched the engine off I couldn’t start it again, but I didn’t care one bit. I was there and I was going fishing.
There was a few anglers already on but luckily ‘The 30’s’ was still free. I had already baited up during the week so decided to just top up for the night. About 6am the plateau rod pulled up tight and I bent into a slow moving fish. It wasn’t long before she was holding ground under the rod tip and a few minutes later I was netting a very long dark common. I recognised it as being ‘The Baby Golden’ and at 31lb 7oz it was a great start to the weekend.
As I slipped the common back to her home I noticed to my right 4 huge sets of bubblers about 15 yards off the railway bank. It was sort of no mans land, not too much in the way of features but they were there and having a good feed up. I decided to leave them to it and have a good plumb about when they had left. Midday I put the marker out to roughly where they had been bubbling, I found the use of marker so important during this time, finding the exact depths and marginal shelfs was key to good presentation and feeding areas. I found that the area was 9ft in depth and sloped all the way back up to the margin. It was really choddy down there though, each time I brung the lead back in it would have dead black leaves and smelt of thick black silt. Not ideal at all but they were there and feeding on it. I applied 10 spombs to the area and fished my little balanced snowman rig over the top, they were feeding close to the bottom so I didn’t want a pop up to spook them off. I went to bed that night buzzing in anticipation of a bite.
Around midnight the rod on the new spot pulled up tight and started taking line. After a long battle the hard fighting carp gave up and was soon nestled in amongst the mesh. It was the old mirror, my first bite from the lake for the third time, I quickly weighed it and got the fish back. In the glistening glow of the full moon I got the rod back out with another 10 spombs over the top. Just before first light the same rod was away, this time the rod was in full test curve and taking a considerable amount of line. I pulled into the fish and under pressure managed to get it turned. From then on it didn’t do a lot allowing me to coax her in slowly but surely with the occasional head shake.
I didn’t bother with a head torch whilst netting, the August full moon was really lighting it up. With no real dramas I soon netted my prize quickly dropping the net in the reeds and going back to the brolly for my light. I couldn’t quite believe what sight greeted me when flicking on my head torch, there shining back up at me was these huge armour like scales of one of the lakes most desired carp. On quick inspection I looked at the tail to see the white tips of ‘The Big Fully’. My knees suddenly turned to jelly and I could barely speak. A carp I only dreamed of catching one day and their she was in my net. I quickly retained her waiting for first light to weigh and picture and called a good friend to come and help out. As good of mate as he is he said to give him 45 minutes and sure enough he was with me within 10mins, cheers Matt, much appreciated. On first opening the retainer she was just so impressive, dark brown back with reddish hue flanks littered with rows of old battle warn scales. Her frame was long and in perfect proportion, a big sloping head and huge powerful tail with the special white tips, she really did just blow me away. ‘The Big Fully’ went 38lb 8oz and was everything and more that I’d could’ve of dreamt of. Matt done me proud behind the lens and I was soon watching her slowly swim back home letting her glide through my hands for one last touch. I managed one more fish before I left that weekend in the shape of the ‘Unknown’ mirror at 37lb 2oz, this was to be the last bite I got off the plateau rod. Four bites, four fish, four 30lb fish in 48 hours. A few years back that was only something I dreamed of. Confidence in your bait is the key to success and it was certainly proving it here.
I was popping in the shop when I could and was letting the guys know of my progress. It was really happening and they couldn’t have been more pleased for me. It was good to go in there and show them a memory stick of a load of pictures, it was almost my way of saying thank you. The bait was having it!
The following week was August bank holiday. I had been down twice in the week to bait up and blanked on my short sessions. I was buzzing to get back down for the weekend and luckily got back in ‘The 30’s’. The lake was fairly quiet and to be honest so was the fishing, the lake had died a death and there was little in the way of activity. The rod from where I bagged ‘The Big Fully’ had been very quiet since those captures. I know you’re probably thinking it had only been a week since I caught from that spot but I just had a feeling. I hadn’t seen any activity what so ever since the bites and so I put it down to the fact that it must have been a spontaneous feeding period on naturals and wasn’t a regular feeding area.
With the weekend session being quiet I decided to get the marker float out again to find a new area for my second rod. I was searching all areas out in front popping the float here and there but nothing really took my fancy. I cast slightly left, which I had to stand on a log right at the waters edge to get the angle, and found a really lovely area. It was the gully in between two shallow features, part of the gully just seemed that much clearer though, if I cast slightly left of my far bank marker the lead would plug into much thicker silt. This silt however was like glass and I popped the float up and found it was 9ft, I had caught a lot carp in and around this depth so I was very happy with the area. I cast a bare lead to the float which gave me a satisfying thud on the bottom, so there was nothing else for it but to get some Rock Lobster out there.
I managed to book an extra night, which you could do by phoning the Mid Kent Fisheries office, to stay on for Monday bank holiday as I didn’t have work. Monday morning soon came around and it all looked very bleak. I decided to have a cup of tea and get packed down and get home. I sat down to put the kettle on and realised I had run out of gas. I sat back laughing to myself thinking it really weren’t meant to be when out of the blue the left hand rod on the new spot pulled up tight and just absolutely test curved the rod into the reeds. A fish was hooked and I was on it straight away.
I pulled into what felt like a really good fish and instantly had to start back winding as the fish tore out the middle of the lake. With there being hardly any weed in Tonford the carp give these huge runs all the while twisting and turning trying to shed the hook. It was real heart in the mouth stuff. This fish must’ve of taken 60 yards of line, I was starting to worry it was gonna pick up the lines from the angler opposite, it honestly took that much line. The rod was doubled and it felt like I was starting to lose control, the hooked carp must have taken another 20 yards kiting right. Suddenly the fish turned and swam back towards me coming back over my side of the plateau, severely head shaking the whole time. The carp held its weight but I was starting to gain line. About 30 yards from the bank the hooked carp came up through the layers and broke the surface, I could see from then on that I was hooked to a fully scaled mirror. By this point the fully had lost most of its energy and I was starting to lead it closer inch by inch. I kept steady pressure and slowly but surely the fully broke the surface gulping air. I guided her to the waiting net and as she went over the net cord I gave a sigh of relieve a good 40mins after the initial bite. Oi oi!
I looked into the net for closer inspection and recognised it as being ‘The Upfront Fully’ …my luck was really in! A quick phone call to Matt again to ask once more for some help with the pictures. Soon he was down along with my mate Grimsey and together we hoisted her onto the bank for proper look. She still blew me away just as much as the big fully and I kept saying to the guys “Just look at her”. She wasn’t an easy fish to hold with a lot of her weight being up towards her chin but once again Matt had done me proud behind the lens. I let her go watching as she swam back into the murky depths of Tonford, an incredible carp, memories I will never forget. ‘The Upfront Fully’ weighed 38lb 3oz, that was two proper English 38lb+ fully scaled’s in a week! The Rock Lobster… Oz told me it was good, he wasn’t wrong!
Over the next few weeks I carried on fishing ‘The 30’s’ swim trying to drop in on there as much as possible baiting up on my quick over nighters and doing my weekends. The whole process became like second nature, it was happening and the constant round trips were becoming much easier. I had a pattern of when my bites were gonna come so I even started doing even shorter overnight sessions. I know it sounds mad but I started turning up in the dark, arriving at 10pm and getting everything set up and cast out. No need for a head torch, I had done it so many times and the street lights helped with seeing the lead hit the water and to bait up.
I remember getting down late one evening midweek and was walking my barrow down approaching two anglers. I recognised the voice of Faversham Rob ”Is that you Tom”? I laughed and Rob said “You’re mental mate”. To be honest, I had huge respect for some of the guys fishing on the pond. They knew I was doing it and they left me to it, proper angling etiquette. Thanks again! I quickly got set up and cast out and at around 4:30 I got my first bite. It was a long battle with the fish taking yards of line with powerful surges, a proper hard fighting carp. I soon had the fish ready for the net and it went in first time. On the scales it went 36lb 10oz and was later identified as ‘The Unknown Lookalike’. I retained the fish for a short time waiting for dawn before I went and got Rob to do some pictures. Before I could even get him the same rod was away and I soon had the ‘3 Scale’ mirror in the bottom of my mesh. ‘3 Scale’ tipped the needle round to 29lb 3oz. A fine quick midweek brace and a great result.
The plateau rod in the swim had stopped producing and I hadn’t had a bite off it for a while. The area of silt had been washed away which left a fine gravel trove, sounds ideal but maybe the spot had become too obvious and the carp were clearly avoiding it. I decided to drop the rod a few rod lengths and start fishing in the deeper silt. I used the same skyline marker and found a smaller but nice smoother silt area. My left hand rod was still producing the goods for me and I think this had a lot to do with the area not changing too much, I kept the bait going in and the roach were decimating the bottom but it honestly never felt cleaner or harder. It just seemed to stay the same, maybe because it was more in the middle of two features, a big wind pushing through could’ve soon pushed the silt back over the area, who knows.
Remember my ropey motor, well it didn’t last too much longer after this. I was still nursing it around but one day it just completely gave up and I soon had a salvage crew picking it up from the side of the road. With no motor and no money to buy a new one I was a bit gutted that I weren’t gonna make it down to the pond anymore. A lot of hard work and time had gone into those last few months and the area was still having it so it would have been a shame to call it quits there and then. My twin brother came round to mine a few nights after the car had been taken away. Well, I can’t be more thankful and appreciative of what he done next. He just placed his debit card on the coffee table and went “Go and sort yourself out a van then mate, you need to get back down the lake boy”. Doug doesn’t fish but I think he just knew how much it all meant to me, maybe it’s a twin thing!
That following weekend was spent going around the local garages looking for a new van, I picked one up for a good price and planned to get back to the pond midweek.
Wasn’t long before I was back in the car park with my new motor, I should’ve got a van years ago. I was quickly set up in ‘The 30’s’ and waiting in anticipation of what could be.
Just before first light the right hand rod on the new spot pulled up tight and started taking line, for some reason the buzzer didn’t register on the receiver. All I remember was waking up to the sound of a clutch and little purple light glowing. I pulled into what felt like a good fish and battle commenced, the carp definitely knew how to pull your arm off in here. With my heart in my mouth and knees like jelly I soon had the fish swirling under the rod tip. All of a sudden this great big mirror broke the surface gulping the air, it could only be one and the biggest resident in the lake, ‘Black Spot’. A couple more nervous head shakes and he was in the net. I quickly retained the fish and kindly asked the only other angler fishing if he could do some pictures. The fish were still topping and I sat there with a cup of tea watching with a big smile on my face trying to take in what had just happened.
All of a sudden a carp head and shouldered sending ripples towards the margin. 10mins later it happened again but closer to my left hand rod. Another 10mins past and it rolled again right over the rod and then it just happened and a carp had made a mistake. The carp was hard fighting with severe head shakes and turning on the line. I watched as it turned from night to day not knowing where the fish was to watching my mainline cut through the surface film. A long battle endured but I eventually had my prize breaking the surface. About 15 yards out the carp broke the surface and was ready for the net. Inch by inch I got her closer and she was soon mine. Well, there lay in the bottom of my mesh was the biggest common of the lake in the shape of ‘The Big Golden,’ you couldn’t make it up. So, on quick overnight session I had bagged the biggest mirror and common from the lake, just incredible. ‘Black Spot’ went 42lb 15oz and ‘The Big Golden’ spun the needle round to 37lb 4oz. Thanks Doug, it wouldn’t have happened without your generosity.
I only went on to do a few more sessions after this, the lake started to slow up and began to get busy again with anglers ready for a bit over the autumn period. There was one more I really wanted before moving on and that was the last of the trio of fullies, ‘The Pretty Fully’. But unfortunately I lost it one night in late September. That’s how carp fishing goes though, you can’t win them all and my time on Tonford will never be forgotten. It was without doubt the best year of angling I’ll probably ever have and it was made possible by the selflessness of others. I ended my season with 32 bites with 4 loses which consisted of 13 different 30lbers and a forty.
My year soon came to an end and I couldn’t have been any happier. I never thought I would be one of those anglers who put absolutely everything in to my fishing and by the end of the season my confidence in the bait was sky high. It really did make that much of a difference in my angling, you could have all the tricks in the world but we only catch carp who let their guard down to feed. I would definitely take the Rock Lobster wherever I go, it doesn’t matter what lake or stock, I’ll be taking it and I know I’ll catch.