Martin James Visits A Quintessential English Estate Lake


I was up around 04:30hrs this morning June 16th, this year I’m starting my 79th year of Angling. My first day was June 16th 1941, and as every year goes by I still get that intense feeling of excitement and hope. I met the keeper at the main gate at 07:00 hrs, as I went in the owner was driving out on his way to play golf, we shared pleasantries and went on our way.

The keeper said that nothing is moving this morning but I’m sure you will enjoy yourself, also thunder storms are forecast so please take shelter in the keeper's cabin. After pulling into the car park by the big house I went on a walk around the pool, as the keeper mentioned nothing was moving, unusual on this water as you usually see a carp or two. Some forty minutes later I’m back at the car, taking out my basket, then bait bag, I sling the basket over my shoulder, picking up rod tubes, landing net and bait bag - I headed off to the pool. Choosing to start at the shallow end where there were Lilies and Potamogeton natans or commonly named broad leaved floating pondweed, also noticeable were patches of gravel and silt.

The Quintessential English Estate Lake

In the far distance the hills looked ghostly in the mist, hopefully the sun would burn through and warm things up - the surface of the pool was still, nothing moved except a pair of Moorhen with two chicks looking like black balls of fluff. As I moved slowly towards the pool, a Roe deer and her fawn moved across my path then headed into the woods, in some nearby Beech trees a Woodpecker could be heard working away at the bark.

Pushing my way through thick under growth I arrived at the top of the pool, it was a stunning view -Rhododendrons and all in full flower, scattered around the pool were clumps of Lily with bright yellow flowers, groups of their submerged leaves were vivid green in colour, known by anglers as cabbage leaves for their crinkled edges. Through a gap in the Rhododendrons I made my way to the water’s edge, the water was slightly coloured but I could see through it to around four feet, Roach were showing all across the surface of the pool.

Laying the rods quietly on the bank, I set my basket down in a nice spot where I could look across the pool - in front of me were reeds, to my right some Flag Iris with their rich yellow flowers, further out there were more patches of Lilies again with yellow flowers. The backdrop to these beautiful views was a chorus of bird song - it doesn’t get better than this for a June 16th expedition, it’s been a long wait, but certainly worth it.

In Thoughts Of A Carp

The rods for the day - a Sharpe’s Salmon fly rod I had converted from 13 to 11 foot for Carp and Barbel, I wanted to change the line guides to something more suitable for coarse fishing but sadly my MS stops me these days from whipping guides as I have little feeling in my fingertips - the rods I matched with an Allcocks C815 Aerial with 12 lb line, the other rod is a Constable Forty Fore paired with a Coxon Aerial again with 12 lb line. The landing net has 36” cane arms complimented with an eight foot two piece handle along with a catapult all made for me by the late Dave Austin of Maidstone - a real gentleman who I miss dearly. I have two sets of rod rests, one pairing made by my friend and fellow Raconteur Rob Burt these are made from Hazel which he collects and then seasons before whittling away to perfection. The other two traditional cane rests were made by Dave Austin. My baits are bread (white and brown), potatoes and honey paste rounded off with a box of lobworms.

I started off fishing a potato to my right with a crust pad to my left - the reason for the crust was to make the bait semi buoyant so it did not settle into the silt. The other rod was baited with crust, cast some twenty yards out into the pool close to some Lily Pads. I used silver paper for bite indication. I sat there for around two hours soaking up the atmosphere and the joy of being back, sadly most of my friends from the 1950’s and 60’s have passed on, at 10:00 hrs I stood for a minutes silence to remember all those no longer able to enjoy this special day. I certainly miss them all, we had so much fun, learning from each other as we progressed in our knowledge.

Half an hour later I heard the low rumble of thunder some miles away, twenty or so minutes later I had a glimpse of lightning - soon I was winding the tackle in covering my gear with a sheet given to me by Tom the keeper, then dashed off to the hut for cover.

An hour later I’m back in my pitch, rebaiting both rods I cast them roughly to the same spots as before, the Sun has put in an appearance and it was starting to look like one of those June 16th days we look forward to. Twenty yards out a carp was spooked by two Moorhens who were dashing all over the place, “Life at last” I thought. A few minutes later a fish nudged my crust bait, not sure what it was up to, as it slowly submerged then disappeared, “surely it wasn’t spooked” I thought.

I wound both rods in placed one on the bank and taking the other along with a loaf of bread and walked to another swim. I sat fishing a bit of crust some twenty yards out where I’d spotted a fish through my binoculars. I didn’t think it was in a feeding mood, but it might just take my crust, an hour later with no signs of the fish taking the bait I wound in my tackle. Then went off for lunch with a fresh brew.

After lunch I chose to fish a spot on the opposite bank, no sooner had I got settled in I had to move to the hut for shelter from the thunder and lightning which this time was virtually overhead - the storm lasted some twenty minutes though the heavy rain continued for about half an hour, when the sun finally came out it improved the atmosphere immensely.

Martin’s Wonderful & Very Traditional Tackles

Within an hour several Carp could be seen moving. Spotting a good common rooting around some ten yards out and close to some lilies in some three feet of water I baited with a potato and crust combination, casting to the spot the bait making a gentle plop. 

As the Sun become brighter so I could see more clearly in and through the water, suddenly the dough bobbin shot upwards as the Coxon screeched loudly, I lifted the rod saying with glee “Yes I’ve got one.” Line was stripped off the reel as the fish made a determined run towards some sunken branches close to the far bank, I applied as much side strain as I felt the tackle would take - my approach was working and the fish slowed down - it then changed tactics to what felt like the rubbing of its head in and along the bottom of the lake. I reckoned that this trick was to enable the Carp to shed the the hook. 

Slowly and carefully I was claiming line back on the pin at the same time a lot of the weed was being cut by the line, the fish also was starting to get a lot of weed around its nose causing it to move slowly. I then got my first good look at the Carp of around 15lbs. 

I continued to gain line, by now the fish felt like a dead weight with all the weed it had collected - the common was now within six feet of the net when it came alive and dived - I just held on, then suddenly all went slack, I thought the line had broken, no it was worse, the hook had come unravelled from the line through my stupidity in not tying the hook correctly - the end of the line was like a pigs tail. As I was tying on another hook, I noticed a slight movement on the water surface to my left close to some lilies.

I then walked slowly to investigate, to my surprise I could see a Carp an inch under the surface gently opening and closing its mouth with an occasional movement of its pectoral fins as it held station. I moved back to my swim collecting some bread, rod, reel and landing net, I stood for some time watching this fish I doubt it had moved more than an inch, three foot under the water I could see a large patch of cabbages.

I baited the hook with a piece of crust and with a Wallis cast put the bait where I wanted it some two feet from the fish, thankfully it landed lightly with no sign of a ripple on the surface.

The Carp didn’t budge. A few minutes later I slowly moved the crust towards a lily leaf which was directly in the line of sight of the fish, eventually I got the crust next to the leaf then lowered the rod so the line lay on top of the lily  leaf, leaving the bait on the water but no line. For at least thirty minutes or longer it was eye ball to eye ball by the fish on the bait and for me watching the carp. It would move a few inches in the direction of the bait then move slowly back, at one time it made as complete circle of the bait, another time it submerged from sight then appeared underneath the bait, it was still very much being ignored.

I stood behind some tall reeds holding the rod hardly daring to breathe, I had to keep still as if I moved the rod an inch it might move the bait then spook the fish which by now I wanted so much, to my shock I noticed a moorhen slowly moving along the edge of the reeds in the direction of the bread. All I could do was make a hissing sound, no way could I make any movement, thankfully the moorhen changed direction.

Still the fish kept returning toward the bait with caution perhaps a couple of inches then a stop, after a few minutes it moved another couple of inches - the tension was unbearable and exhausting. After what I reckon was over forty minutes  the fish made its move: slowly it edged towards the bait, but stopped within two inches. Five minutes later it moved forward again then confidently closed its mouth over the bait. As it slowly turned I tightened then found myself attached to a very angry fish as it dived deep into the cabbages. I hung on for dear life and  it reminded me of an article titled “Lugging for Chub” by Dick Walker in the Angling Times.

I was lugging this Carp towards the net I dare not let it go a few yards or it’s in the roots of lilies then all would be lost. Five minutes later I had a powerful and angry fish thrashing around in the net, I heaved a sigh of relief knowing I had come out the winner. I placed the net on the grass giving thanks that I had chosen a big net for the day.

The Prize - A Pristine Estate Lake Carp

After a quick picture I lowered the Carp and net into the water, then watched the fish swim off strongly no doubt with a puzzled look upon its face as if saying “How did I get caught?” Looking westwards in the direction of a low rumble of thunder I could see storm clouds building, It was time to call it a day. I just about made it back to the car, packing all the stuff away and getting out of my waterproofs, before the torrential rain started.