Carp Academy graduate smashes mirror PB!

Carp Academy 2015 graduate Phoebe Stuart has recently broken her mirror carp PB - using a simple-yet-effective rig and a neat bait attachment trick...

A mix of particles and boilie formed the basis of Phoebe's baiting

Double over a short length of mono, thread on a bait and blob until flat against the bait for an easy method of attachment

I had not fished The Willows much lately, it’s one of those waters that can really get into your head when you’re not catching and after a while you begin to doubt yourself, your rigs or your bait. I had spent quite a bit of time over the spring and summer fishing a couple of other club waters catching a fair few 20lb-plus fish and I had reached a point where my confidence was high enough to get stuck back into trying to catch an elusive Willows mirror.

It had been great fishing other waters, but I had missed the tranquillity and beauty of The Willows, especially the barn owls and the kingfishers and being tucked away surrounded by trees, so it was like arriving home when opened the gate in late August to a place that has captivated me for the last four years. I had heard that in general the lake was fishing better than in the couple of previous seasons when it had been plagued with frequent flooding which seemed to affect the stock’s feeding habits for some months after each occurrence, so I was quite keen to see if this was the case.

My first trip back was to be over the August bank holiday weekend and I didn’t really know how busy the lake would be. Would other members take advantage of the long weekend or would they stay away assuming it would be busy therefore leaving me with a relatively quiet lake?

I arrived at 7am to find two other anglers on; one fishing the river bank and another on the road bank. With quite a bit of choice of water I first headed along the middle bank, dropping a bucket into my first choice swim and then having a walk round to see if anywhere else took my fancy. After my walk round I settled on the swim I had first selected - I had seen a couple of fish show at about 50 yards, so this seemed a good place to start!

I got settled into the swim, getting my brolly up first as the weather forecast had suggested rain so I wanted to be sure I started a 72-hour session dry. With my living quarters sorted I got on with marking up, I had seen three or four fish show at about 50 yards, so I investigated this area a bit further, finding a nice area of hard bottom in about 12 feet of water. I decided to go for it and put both baits onto the one area, I had not seen fish showing elsewhere so I felt it was worth the gamble of putting all my ‘traps’ in one place.

I kept my rigs fairly simple; a 90cm piece of leadcore, a dark lead clip and a 3oz lead went on both rods with combi-rigs and 18mm Nutrabaits Pink Pepper pop-ups. I had clipped up the marker rod to the spot I had found so set about clipping up both rods and my spod, 56 yards for the rods, 52 yards for the spod, allowing for the 12 feet depth I had found in the swim.

Once both rods were on the spots and settled I sorted out my bait for spodding, I had opted for a mix of hemp, tares, red dari and a good amount of 14mm and 18mm Nutrabaits Blue Oyster boilie. I gave this mix a good glug of salmon oil and left it for an hour to soak in; this also meant my rods had an hour or so after I had put them out with no disturbance, my hope being that any fish in the area may find my single hook baits before the spod bombardment!

I baited the spot with about 3kg of spod mix and got the kettle on and settled in for a wait, confident in the knowledge that my rigs and baiting were spot on having caught really consistently with the same approach on my other waters.

Friday afternoon and evening were quiet, a few fish showed over the spot and an occasional flat spot from the salmon oil told me that something was having a munch, the presence of big bream in the lake can mean a bed of bait can get consumed relatively quickly, so having an oily spod mix helps give some indication of what’s happening.

At about midnight I got a phone call from my dad in the next swim to go and do some pictures for him of a common that he had taken from a similar distance to me, so this boosted my confidence that my baits were in the right place.

I was up shortly after first light watching the water, the wind direction had shifted slightly, but the fish were still over the spot, I just needed them to find my hookbaits! I left the rods out until mid-morning before bringing them in, baiting up and resting the swim for a couple of hours, getting them back out after an early afternoon BBQ!

I topped the spot up again just before sunset. Saturday night would have been quiet if it wasn’t for two phone calls from my dad to do the photo honours for first a mirror at 11 in the evening and then at three in the morning for a very big common. Both fish had come from a the same range I was fishing, the only key difference in our approaches being my dad’s preference for big double bottom baits which he has a lot of faith in as he feels the added weight of the hookbait helps get the hook down in the fish’s mouth so that a good hookhold can be achieved. I remained confident in my own approach though, and knew it was just a matter of time before I tripped one up.

I topped the swim up again just after first light, I had put out nearly 6 kg of particle in two days and was getting a bit low so I opted to bait that morning with just boilie, putting out about 1.5 kilo. I opted to save my remaining kilo of spod mix and a few boilie for Sunday night. I also felt that just boilie going in would hopefully get the fish moving around the spot a bit more as they pick up individual baits, rather than grazing on a bed of small particles. It was a bit like my last stand, I was confident that the spot was being fed over and I still had fish showing quite regularly, I knew something had to happen soon.

Late morning I decided to pop next door to my Dad’s swim quickly for a brew and a catch up with a friend who had popped down to say hello. I never made it as my receiver started beeping with a very slow finicky take. It sounded like one of the big Willows bream had found my hook bait, so I about turned and did the quick jog to my swim. I wound down on my left hand rod still thinking I was into a bream, but as soon as I tightened into the fish I knew I was wrong.

This fish ripped off and kited left, giving me a real battle as it came in towards my bank and under the overhanging willow trees next to the swim. My knees had gone, I was shaking inside and all I could think was ‘please don’t fall off!’ Thankfully it didn’t ‘fall off’ and after wiping my right hand rod out it slid into the net. It was a mirror, mission accomplished!

With the fish resting in the net I got my camera, scales, mat and sling sorted and slipped on my waders so I could do a proper carpy water release. I never understand the phrase ‘slipped on my waders’, let’s be honest it’s more like try to wrestle an angry seal and as usual it took me five minutes to get one leg in!

I got the fish on the mat, unhooked, photographed and weighed it at 22lb on the nose. I know it’s not a huge mirror to most people, but I have spent most of my angling life fishing waters full of commons so a mirror is a very rare treat and this one had become my new PB.

The last night of my trip passed without any sleep interruptions and on Monday morning I packed up in the pouring rain with a light barrow and empty bait buckets. I’m now back at school, autumn is fast approaching, my particle freezer is topped up and I’ve really got my Willows buzz back.