Up Close And Personal - Craig Runham

“I had a spring in my step as I got out of the car at the car park and grabbed a bucket out of the boot. I had a spare two hours before my night shift. I had decided I would bait up a few spots at close quarters and see if anything would feed on them. I baited several likely looking areas around the confines of the crystal-clear margins in a bid to get them rooting around. After the second lap I hurried back to the car straight away I had found fish in the sixth swim I had baited!

They were heads down, feeding in a very confident manner! There was even a particular mirror there that I was hopeful of catching. I arrived back in the swim, climbed the tree and straight away saw that all the bait had been eaten. There was no sign of fish so I quickly lowered the rig into position. I kept things simple and fished short, four-inch N-Trap Semi Stiff hook links; hook baits were Fake Food dumbbells. I upped the hook pattern to a Wide Gape X, as I knew I would be fishing near snags on this trip. Over the top of this I broke a handful of Mainline Cell and Hybrid baits and a handful of Response Pellets completed the trap. I placed the rod on the alarm and sneaked back up the tree, watching. A few minutes later, the mirror returned to the spot and tilted up inches from the rig. My heart was in my mouth and my heart was beating way too fast. The mirror seamed to spot something wasn't right and left the spot in a bit of a hurry. I was totally gutted and I felt like maybe everything I thought I was doing right wasn't the way forward, but everything was pretty much the same as I had used to great effect two days prior.

I decided to leave the rod in position and give it half an hour longer! Around fifteen minutes later a mid-twenty common and a small, dark mirror drifted through the snags and onto the spot. The common went straight for the hook bait then spat it out and bolted off! This is the point that a rope would have come in handy! I gave the spot another 10 minutes but no more fish turned up. I lifted the rig off the spot and checked the hook point. It was still super sharp so I put it down to bad luck. I checked all the spots I had previously baited and a spot under a drooping tree had been cleared out. I glanced to the nearest snag and saw three fish looking quite content, including two decent commons and the big koi that I had previously caught in the winter, at just short of thirty pounds.

I re-baited the spot with a few more handfuls of broken Cell and Hybrid and lowered the rig on top of the small trap. Again within minutes fish drifted out of the snag and traveled along the clear margins, straight towards the spot. The koi and a large common dropped onto the spot. I was praying that the big common, and not the koi, would trip up! The spot became clouded up as they both competed for every last morsel and suddenly the koi bolted from the spot. My line whipped up tight so I reached for the rod expecting to be met with resistance only for the lead to swing out the water. Somehow during their feeding the hair had become trapped round the hook link and made the rig useless.

Something was still telling me something was amiss so I changed the hook bait colour. I even sharpened my hook point that didn't really need sharpening. It's so frustrating being able to see what's going on, it makes me seriously question all elements and styles of fishing! You can learn so much about the rigs and the way in which they perform. The spot was now polished clean as the silt curtain had been removed from over the spot. No fish were present so I lowered the new adjusted rig into the position. A mere two minutes later a small common came along the margin and picked up the hook bait, lifted the two and a half ounce lead off the bottom shook it around and the hook flew out again as the fish bolted from the spot.

Usually the spot would be ruined but I could still make out fish in the tangled roots of the nearby snags. I lifted the lead off the spot again and clipped a 5oz lead onto the clip and took a inch off the rigs length I changed the hook bait to a dull colour and lowered it back on the spot. I smiled to myself and resolved that if this didn’t work, I was going home, as I had only 25 minutes left before I would have to leave. I topped the spot up with another two large handfuls of chopped baits and a handful of pellets. I took my position looking over the spot. I said out loud, “This has to work, surely?” Fifteen minutes had passed and no more fish appeared along the margin, I was starting to think I had ruined my chances when I saw a long, dark fish of over 30lb leave the snags and make a beeline for the baited spot. This would be my last chance. I took a deep breath as it neared the spot.

I could make out every scale through the tap-clear water, the afternoon sun lighting it up like a golden submarine. It was one I recognised as the fish that had been alongside the big koi earlier on. I could almost swear I saw it look at me as it dropped its head straight down onto the spot and with its hoover of a mouth, sucked in a big mouthful including my hook bait. It froze like a statue on the spot, fins outstretched as it realised it had made a mistake. It shook its head and bolted off the spot as the surrounding water dropped! Next thing I knew the rod was bent and line was pouring from the spool and heading into the middle of the lake. Gently, I added more pressure and to my relief I had turned it and was able to lead the fish in after one or two more powerful surges. It was real heart-in-the-mouth stuff as I knew how big the fish was that I was playing. As it drifted past I could see the hook bait nestled in the lower mouth and prayed for it to stay in.

The fish looked ancient with scars and scratches on its head, each one telling a story during its thirty or so years in the water. Before long, each powerful surge became less and less powerful and soon I lifted the folds around another old common. I took a deep breath as this capture almost felt personal after watching the fish deal with my rigs. As it was safely in the confines of the net I called up a good friend Luke Double to do the photos. Gladly he was available and before long I lifted the stunning bar of gold up onto the mat. The hook was surrounded by plenty of flesh an inch back into the giant, rubbery hoover-like mouth!

We were both complimenting the fish, saying how full and pristine the condition was. The only let down was that the tail was damaged during a previous encounter with another angler. She went 34lb pound bang on for the record. The light levels and conditions were poor, so we did the best possible to do justice to a superb old creature. As it swam away a big grin spread across my face. I felt on top of the world; two 34lb commons, both old and as breathtaking as each other in a short space of time! In just two hours I had done what I came to do and the capture of another dark common was mine!”

Bag a big ’un

Craig Runham