Winter Wonderland - Craig Runham

It was Friday afternoon when I unlocked the padlock to my secret haven. It was a dreary December day and the forecast did little to raise my enthusiasm, with the coldest night of the year ahead of me.

To be fair, the reason for my negative outlook on the session was because I was feeling out of touch with lake, as I had spent a few weeks away from the water’s edge. The lake in question hadn't actually done a fish for around eight weeks. I had a good friend, Mike Patrick, joining me, so at least we could while away the long winter darkness with a good catch-up. The long nights can dampen even the highest of spirits.

I came armed with two choices of tactics. I had been to the local tackle shop and spent a small fortune on red maggots. The reason being, on my previous trip I witnessed a fair amount of fizzing in deep water over the bloodworm beds. The red maggots were the closest I could get to mimic the natural food larder.

The other tactic I came armed with was a couple of kilos of washed out Mainline Cell. These had been washing out since the Wednesday and I was full of confidence this could make a big difference, as I found the fish seemed to leave boilies untouched for a few days before eating them in this particular lake.

After three laps of the lake I had nothing at all to go on. The lake appeared dead, with not a single sign forthcoming. There was a cold North Easterly blowing across the lake, so I decided to set up on the back of the wind, fishing into the calmer water. It didn’t take many casts with the marker before I had located two likely looking spots.

One was at the base of a gravel plateau in around fourteen feet of water and the other spot was in some thick silt in fifteen feet of water. I hedged my bets that they would still be in the deep water, given the temperatures we’d had of late.

I fished two rods over around four pints of red maggots to start with; the rig comprised six red maggots on a size-12 match hook pulled into a piece of yellow Fake Food, this sat just above the size-six Wide Gape X hook. I fished this with a lead clip arrangement and a 4oz Tournament lead to get it out there. The rig was around 10-inches long, and made from N-Trap Soft in silt colour.

On the other two rods I fished naked chod rigs with the use of the new Heli Safe system. I have been waiting a long time for the release of these Heli Safes and simply couldn't wait to try them out for myself. I tied on a couple of Kodapops cork-ball Cell Pop-ups, one of which was white, and the other a dull pink.

I had a huge amount of confidence after the capture of a couple of some very special fish I’d recently caught on them. I was using the 25lb Mouthtrap with a size-six Choddy hook arrangement. The Chods were around an inch long, which is my favourite length for fishing over a silty bottom. Both were cast ten yards apart, either side of the marker, around sixty yards out. Both rods landed nice and soft on the silty area behind a gravel seam. I followed this with around a kilo of the washed-out Cell and the traps were set just before dark.

It wasn't long after dark the temperatures began to plummet and by 6pm the bivvies had a layer of ice on them. The thermometer read minus one already and it was still early evening.
It's times like this that I seriously question my own sanity. The sky was clear with stars gleaming across the vast black sky; there wasn't a breath of wind in the air and the lake seemed lifeless. A bite seemed out of question that's for sure. With the temperature still plummeting it wasn't long before Mike and I retired to our sleeping bags, filled with a lack of expectancy. I woke a few times through the night and peered out at the lifeless mirror-like surface, hoping to see a sign that something was moving around.

Each time I drifted back to sleep feeling hopeless. I awoke at first light and peered out at a white winter wonderland. The outside world was covered in a layer of whiteness. I stayed in my sleeping bag watching the water until I plucked up the courage to get out of the comfort of my warm bag. I reached over, filled the kettle up and fired the stove up for the second time of the morning. I walked along the crisp, crunchy ground to Mike’s swim, clutching a couple of brews and to see how the night had treated him. Not surprising he also had a good night’s sleep with nothing to report.

The conditions were as bad as they could get, by a long way. Once Mike decided it was time to get up we both walked back to my swim to put the kettle on again, in an attempt to keep warm. It was around 7am when my middle rod’s bobbin became unstuck from its frozen position on the ground rising by a couple of inches. I was above the rods when the bobbin lifted again and I watched the line cutting up through the clear margins. I picked up the icy blank, swinging the rod up and was met with no resistance. I tried winding down instantly, but the line was frozen in the line clip on the rod. I was panicking as I was trying to free the line around the reel that had tangled due to the line being wedged in the frozen clip. After a few nerve-wracking seconds, I freed the tangle and pulled the line from its frozen position under the clip. I wound down and was met with very little resistance. At first, I was in a shock, as I couldn't believe I was hooked into something given the conditions. It seemed mad that a bite had occurred.

After leading back what felt like a tench thirty or so yards from the spot, it suddenly woke up, almost pulling the rod from my numb hands. The rod was pulled right over as the fish went on a twenty-yard run back out into the deep water. I played the fish carefully, as for some reason I doubted a good hook hold due to the nightmare I had during the take. Before long, I led back what was clearly a carp, through the icy crystal-clear margins. We could make out a golden common twisting in the depths. I could see the washed-out, dull-pink pop-up hanging from its mouth and prayed the hook was in a good position. The lead had been dropped with the Heli Safe system clearly doing its job. I shouldn’t have worried about the hook hold, as after a few heart stopping minutes, the common took a few gulps of air and I could clearly see the hook was buried in the bottom lip, with just the swivel exposed on the edge of its lip.

As the fish rolled into the mesh a large grin came across my face, as I knew how lucky I had been giving the weather. At just under twenty-eight pounds, it was a great winter capture and such a rare capture for the lake too.

Bag a big ’un,

Craig Runham