Last-Gasp Whacker - Craig Runham

This year’s trip to France was to take place at a lake I had been to once before and I’d been blown away by the beauty of the place. It's a large gravel pit and at just over 70 acres in size, I certainly don't get bored spending a week there! The lake is far from easy and my previous trip one surprisingly cold April produced only four carp to 12 anglers. Luckily for me, I managed a really nice 42lb mirror during my trip! The seed was sown, my love for The Great Lake at Goncourt grew and I vowed to return after that first trip to go in search of one of the many big, scaley creatures that inhabit the pit.

After a few hours drive through France we arrived at the renowned Goncourt complex! At first glimpse the lake looked more like a football pitch than the lake I had visited previously! It had been closed for a few weeks and with the hot temperatures they were experiencing, the weed growth in the lake had taken a serious hold! Across the whole lake there was weed rising to the surface! I knew from the first look this was going to be a seriously testing challenge.

After a walk around the pit my mind wasn't really made up were to go. The weed situation was worrying me slightly as a lot of disturbance would be needed before I was actually able to fish! I ended up choosing to fish a point swim that offered me many choices, with a fair chunk of water to myself! I could also keep an eye on most of the lake from my chosen plot. My friend Dye went in next door, which also commanding a fair chunk of water and a large island. By the time we got set up and sorted it was already late evening, so for the first night the rods were placed on close-in spots. After the long drive an early night was much needed and a second evaluation could be made in the morning. We witnessed countless shows at range in front of my swim; they appeared to be held up in a thick weed bed at range.

The problem I faced was the surface weed between where the fish had shown and me! A trip to the local supermarket secured me a leaf rake, and with the use of my boat I was able to rake the surface weed to give me improved line lay. After spending many hours in the boat dripping with sweat in the intense heat of the day, finally my swim looked fishable. With the use of my carp scope I found some small clear areas just short of the weed bed were the fish had shown the previous evening! I had to use a 20lb IQ leader, as the use of lead core is not permitted at the Great Lake! The thick weed meant dropping the lead was a must so I used the awesome Hybrid Lead Clips, which ensure the lead is dropped on every take. In this case I was using a 5oz flat pear lead due to the range I was fishing and also the floating weed! The rods were to be placed by the use of the boat, as casting 200 yards to the spots is nigh on impossible! All four rods were fished with simple snowman arrangements incorporating Mainline Hybrid 18mm bottom baits and a 10mm Mainline Milky Toffee pop-ups. The hook choice was a size-6 Kaptor Wide Gape. Over each rod I spread a few kilos of mixed-size, chopped Hybrid, which I knocked up using the Kutter tool. The idea was to leave the rods in position for up to three days if required.

I knew the clearing of the weed would put the fish on edge and possibly move them away from the area I was fishing, but at the same time I also knew it had to be done. That evening the fish didn’t return to the weed bed. I was wondering if I had done the right thing by clearing the weed but looking back, I would have done the same. It wasn't until the third day that I had my first chance, when the bobbin cracked into the Delkim. Unfortunately, after a lengthy boat battle, the hook hold gave way due to the amount of weed on my line. I got to see the fish too, before it came off as I was trying to bundle it all into the net! All I can say is it was a very special fish covered in big scales and one I wish had never come off! Half an hour later I was in the same situation, playing a fish from the boat this time except this time I won the battle and a mid-twenty laid in the mesh beaten. I felt I’d been robbed when looking into the net and there lay a plain, non-scaly, heavily spawned-out mirror!

The following morning again I was left trembling, again a long boat battle ended in despair as yet again a large fish rose up from the depths of its home in the weed! I reached with the net and bundled a large amount of weed and what I thought was the carp all in one big scoop. Suddenly, a large explosion of water beyond the net had me realising I had only got the weed and by then it was too late. The weed on the net cord had acted like a brick wall and the hook had no chance to stay in! By this point I was not very happy to say the least and started questioning what I was doing. I just put it all down to bad luck!
At this point what I was doing was clearly working as the other five anglers on the lake were still yet to have a bite. Later that day the owner, Pascal, popped in for a chat and as we were discussing the ordeal we were all facing currently my right-hand rod received a slow take. Lifting into the fish there was very little pressure and I was able to wind the fish in all 190 yards with a small clump of weed was covering its eyes. I recognised that it was a grass carp and a big one at that! Suddenly it woke up and almost ripped the rod from my hands, peeling line off the spool at an incredible rate! I slowed the powerful fish down and again it came in fairly easy till it saw the net and yet again it turned and went on a powerful run! I couldn't believe the power this fish had, it was like nothing I had ever felt under the tip! Its runs soon slowed so I took the chance to slip into the margins with the net, as it was too shallow to net from the bank. As the fish went over the cord I was shocked and overwhelmed with the sheer length of it! I think big grass carp are stunning creatures, scale-perfect and so streamlined you can sure see where the power comes from. On the scales the fish registered 43lb and it looked even bigger!

It was a nice consolation prize, I suppose, after losing the previous two fish! With one more night before we were due to leave I replaced all the rods on the spots, with new rigs with ultra-sharp Wide Gapes, again baiting with a few kilos of chopped Hybrid over each rod! Around 7:30am I was rudely awakened by a storm with claps of thunder and torrential rain hammering down on the Tempest! The alarms on the rods were persistently bleeping due to the strong wind and rain battering them. I quickly ran out to the rods and turned the sensitivity onto a very low setting and dived straight back into bed for another hour’s sleep before the long drive home!

I awoke around an hour later and looked across a grey, moody-looking lake. The persistent rain had finally stopped, but the problem was that time was running out for me. In around an hour’s time I would be leaving. A slow pack-up was assured to drag out every last minute, as I was sure I would get one last bite. As I was loading the van with a few bits I heard two bleeps coming from the receiver in my pocket! I looked over at my rod to see the line cutting up through the water and the bobbin jammed into the Delkim! I was away! I couldn't believe my luck with around 30 minutes to go I was now attached to what was clearly a carp as the rod buckled under pressure!

The fish hit the surface quickly after I picked the rod up, the leadclip having done its job as always. The fish stayed high in the water most of the way in until it hit a weed bed around 40 yards in front of the swim. I applied steady pressure, willing the fish to break free and the hook hold to stay in place! I trusted the 15lb SUBline and walked back slowly with the rod at full test curve. Suddenly, I felt a kick and the fish was moving again. At this point I was still yet to see it and the anticipation of a last-gasp leviathan was playing through my head!

As the line cut up through the water I could see the orangey glow of what looked to be a decent-sized mirror! As it got higher in the water I could see it was a wide fish and looked to be a definite 40lb fish! My knees were like jelly and I kept saying in my head, “Please be nice to me!” I waded into position with the net and after a few lunges and short powerful runs the fish laid beaten on the wind-rippled surface. Those last few seconds before the fish rolled into the mesh seemed like a eternity! As I lifted the mesh around the bulky mirror I couldn't help but punch the air, it was such a relief to get one in the net after the bad luck I had during the week! A quick check of the hook hold showed the Wide Gape buried in the bottom lip, a good inch back, I need not have worried about losing it!

The fish looked to be a forty but it felt fairly empty, probably due to a successful spawning this year. Up on the scales the fish went 40lb 12oz; a proper last-gasp whacker! Nothing further happened during the remainder of the pack away! As I held the fish up to the camera I couldn't help but smile! I had worked so hard all week and had this fish as the reward. It wasn't a sixty pounder but it need not have been, I felt like the happiest man alive and this was a proper result!

That week the lake only did one other fish to six anglers, a 23lb mirror! I was over the moon to have had six bites, landing three fish. Given the weed situation I felt I had done fairly well and the tackle hadn’t once buckled under the harsh environment! I will certainly be going back next year as I hope next time luck will be on my side! Bag a big ’un!

Craig Runham