Big Water, Big Common - Sam Willis

Here’s the full story of how Sam Willis banked a huge common from Willen Lake in Milton Keynes, in Sam's own words...

“Willen is a lake that has always interested me. I’ve done a few odd sessions on it in the past with success but only caught smaller fish. After it was stocked about six years ago the originals are now highly outnumbered and therefore harder to single out. This year I’d decided to give it a proper go. I’d always kept in touch with it and learnt a lot about where the bigger fish lived, fed and their habits, so taking that into account I chose two areas on completely opposite sides of the lake to focus on. Knowing roughly the way they entered these areas, I spent around a month markering and baiting before actually wetting a line. The reason I chose these two areas is because the fish spend a lot more time there than anywhere else on the lake and not many people can reach them, as it’s a 180-yard cast to the zone.
I did my first weekend of the year at the start of March and took four fish, all doubles, in 48 hours. It seemed a good start so I decided to stick with that area. I returned a week later for a 24-hour session and blanked. The following weekend I decided to give it one more go on that area and set up for a six-day session. A bitter and powerful easterly had been howling into that side of the lake for around two weeks, so not ideal at all but I put that aside and focused on the fact that it was still a safe zone for the fish. The first two nights went without any action at all so I packed up and moved to the other area I’d been baiting. Again, I had no action for two nights so I moved back to where I’d started for the last 48 hours. At this point the wind had begun to fade away and it looked a lot more promising.
After getting the rods out in the evening I got my head down and around 8am the next day I received an aggressive take on the right-hand rod, resulting in an 8lb common; not massive, but a fish on the bank. Almost instantly after netting that my middle rod beeped twice then dropped back. I picked up the rod to feel a dead weight on the end. Thinking it was a large bream (they reach around 14lb in there) I just pumped the fish all the way in with no fight at all. Being so shallow in the edge I put my boots back on and waded out to a more suitable depth to unhook the fish in the water. It wasnt until I got it almost under my feet that I saw a big, dark common appear. Shocked, I gently walked back to grab the net and with no effort at all scooped the fish up, which looked to be an upper-twenty in the water. Once I went to lift it out I realised that I’d underestimated it and saw which fish it was; a known common called The Gold One, which was last caught at 37lb in May last year.

Straight away I knew it was going to be a PB as my current best was a 31lb 8oz mirror. I got the slings and weighing gear ready and put her on the scales expecting it to rest around 37lb. The scales kept turning 37lb, 38lb, 39lb and I shouted, "Go on then!" begging it to be my first UK forty. The scales stopped at 39lb 10oz; forty or not, I’d finally nailed one of the big originals and smashed my PB! What a feeling! I safely zipped her up in my Armo floatation sling and walked her out to deeper water to retain her while, with shaking hands, I called a few mates to help with photos. Once we had photographed the fish we did several water shots and then, with one last glance, I lowered her in and let her swim off. The rest of the morning was a bit of a blur but I got myself sorted out and got the rods set for one more night. Again, it wasn’t until around 8am that I received another aggressive take on the right-hand rod which, after a hard battle, resulted in another original fish; a long, dark common of 24lb 2oz. I had obviously got my planning right as the fish were starting to come regularly. An hour or so later I lost a fish after pulling the hook out trying to free it from a snag. After resetting the rods the left rod was away and again after another hard scrap I netted a 10lb fully scaled mirror, which was a nice ending to a session that started at rock bottom and finished in style!
All the fish were caught at long range in 4 feet of water. The lake bed was sandy and flat, with odd bits of weed here and there. It’s basically a featureless area other than the odd deviation in the lake bed. However, it’s an area that is used a lot by the more wary fish that stay out of harm’s way. I was baiting with hemp and crushed/whole Richworth S-Core 18mm boilies. I was introducing around half a kilo every couple of days from the adjacent bank, which is out of bounds for fishing but enabled me to reach the spot. When I came to fishing it, I also cast my rods from the same bank then walked back to the peg to set the rods on the alarms, before putting around half a kilo over each rod.
The rig I was using was made up of Korda Kable gravel-coloured leadcore around a metre in length, a lead clip system with a 5oz distance lead, a 10" combi-rig made up of 15lb IQ to 15lb Supernatural. I used a small bit of putty on the knot around half inch from the hook, which was a size-six Kaptor Wide Gape with the hair held to the shank with a peice of silicone. The hook bait was a snowman of an 18mm S-Core bottom bait topped with a white, chopped-down pop-up. I fished exactly the same on all three rods and fished them about 20 yards apart.
I’m planning on spending the year on there as there are a handful of other fish in there that I’ve seen in those areas, including a mid-thirty linear, a dark, upper-thirty common, Single Scale, a forty-plus mirror, The Twins (two fully scaled mirrors around 35lb) and a hatful of old, dark commons around high twenties. The lake does hold upwards of fifteen thirties and two or more, which are estimated at forty pounds, but which have never seen on the bank so there are plenty of them to target.
I’ve done one session since then. This weekend just gone I fished a 48-hour session in the second spot on the opposite side. I used exactly the same tactics and took five carp and lost one. All the fish were doubles, with the biggest being 19lb. So far the year is off to a great start; I’ve had 13 fish and lost three and only two other fish have been caught since Christmas. Hopefully there’s plenty more to come and I can hit some of those other target fish.”