Keep up to date with Jim Shelly’s carp fishing and learn from one of the best in the business.
This winter has been a lot like the autumn, fishing really slowly and patchily. Even places like Waveney Valley Lakes, which normally throw up loads of fish, haven’t been fishing. As such, I’ve just been flitting around trying to buy a bite, especially on waters I haven’t had any target fish from. For instance Burgh Castle Fisheries in Great Yarmouth and Barham A Pit near Ipswich.
Coming up to Christmas I decided to fish my nemesis, Burgh Castle. It’s only a little water that’s just over two acres and has about 60 carp to about 38lb, but it’s a hard lake and only throws up one or two of the thirties each winter. However, it’s nice to have a water so close to home that I can easily fish during the colder months. I’ve fished the lake in the winter for eight or nine years but I still haven’t managed to catch one of the 30-pounders – it’s an ongoing joke over there. It seems that as soon as I pull off they come out again!
The lake seemed to be getting harder and harder each year and during the summer I’d noticed that the detritus on the bottom was horrible and really acidic, burning the baits and hooks, turning them black and stinking. It actually coincided with an oxygen crash, but thankfully Darren ‘The Hobbit’ who runs the fishery was quick to get paddle wheels in to oxygenate the water and there were no losses. However, there was definitely something wrong with the lake bed.
It made me think back to my time on The Woolpack when I needed to get the marker rod out and find hard gravel spots to get a bite.
I got down the pond to find it completely empty, so I could fish plenty of water. While I was round the back watching for signs, a good sized fish came clean out of the water, so I legged it back to my swim to line it all up and as the ripples settled it left a small stream of bubbles. Straight away I got the ‘carp scarer’ out into the area to see what was down there. The bottom was rock-hard bumpy gravel, what I call ‘structural’ gravel. It’s not the sort of bottom I normally look for, preferring to fish on the finer gravel and silt, but I decided to take a chance and put a rig on it. The rest of the rods were then spread throughout the swim.
All the rods were fished with my favoured dark-side snowman presentation with tiny PVA bags, which were then taped up so that everything was 100 per cent. I changed from lead clips and tubing to a helicopter setup and also shortened the rig from the usual 14 inches down to eight or nine. I then moved the top bead up a few inches; not for presentation purposes but so that when they pick up the bait there is a little bit of play before they hit the full weight of the 4oz lead.
After dark, there were loads of fish showing all over the swim and it looked good for a bite. At first light, I had a few bleeps from the rod on the gravel spot, before it ripped off. It turned out to be a 24lb 12oz common with funny mismatched scales.
24lb 12oz Common with funny mismatched scales
I recast the rod as soon as it was in the net because I’m a firm believer that where there’s one carp there are usually more and it also gives the carp a chance to recover after the fight.
I’d been joking around on Facebook live saying that I’d caught one but still no thirty, then set about getting breakfast sorted. As I was making a toastie, the same rod was away again, absolutely melting off. During the scrap, it got stuck around the back of a structure but luckily I got it back out and soon had it in the net. The Hobbit had netted it for me and remarked that it may be close to the magic mark, but I simply laughed and said it would probably be 29lb. On the scales, it went 30lb 3oz. I couldn’t believe it; I’d finally caught one of the thirties! That was a massive buzz and a lovely way to finish my fishing for Christmas.
My first thirty pounder from Burgh Castle at 30lb 3oz
Over the festive period, I always like to fish a few socials, catching up with old mates, and it was on one of these trips that we went to Barham A Pit. Normally the lake is crystal clear and you can find them quite easily, but on this occasion, it was very coloured and I couldn’t find anything. The only thing that I really had to go on was that the water was even more coloured around a snag bush that they are known to use regularly.
Nothing happened that night and while I’d got the rods on the areas, I had only fished tiny bags, not putting out any bait over the top. I searched through my van and found an old Vision Muncher, so quickly crumbed up 2.5kg of boilies. It’s a lot of bait but there are loads of roach and rudd in the lake that will eat a lot of it and that also stirs everything up, helping to attract the bigger fish into your swim. Not only that but crumbling the boilies increases their leakage.
That night I had a fair few liners and eventually got a weird jittery take that pulled up tight, then slowly dropped all the way to the bottom. On picking up the rod it was snagged in something but came out pretty easily, then all the way in it was on the surface shaking its head. For a while, I thought it might have been a tufty. Eventually, I got it in the net and it turned out to be another common of 30lb 3oz! Unbelievably, I’d caught two 30lb 3oz commons from two waters, I was yet to catch a thirty from.
The second 30lb 3oz common in a row, this one from Barham A Pit.
I had another night to go but the lake froze, so I took it as a sign to pack up and head home. That was the start of the big freeze up and while in the past Waveney would fish better the colder it was, this year it wasn’t doing anywhere near as many fish.
Rather than put in a load of effort on Waveney, I decided to take the time to prepare for my spring campaign on a water I’d not fished before. The lake’s completely infested with big crayfish, so I set about making about 2kg of indestructible, armour-plated hook baits. I’d got hold of a load of really hard-core shrink-wrap and started wrapping the hook baits in several layers of the stuff before soaking them in the Black Seal food dip.
With the lakes being frozen for a couple of weeks I finished all of the jobs I needed to do and was a bit bored, looking for something to do.
A bloke called Mark who I met at Welly offered me a trip out to the River Ebro in Spain and with nothing else happening I took the opportunity for a little holiday and time to clear my head. It hadn’t been fishing well, but you could normally expect at least 10 fish over five days’ fishing. It’s not something I’ve done a lot of and I thought to myself that I’d just have a relaxing time and even five fish would do, so I went for it and got it all booked.
With it being winter, it’s normally really windy and raining over there, but still reasonably warm at over 15ºC. However, it was really flat calm and it had fished terribly – just before we got there they had a 50-man carp match and only three had been caught!
I age my leadcore leaders by leaving them in silt to draw in the natural colour of the lake bed
My new water is infested with crayfish so I’ve taken the time to create crayproof hook baits
Over the next five days, we moved a couple of times, fishing some really interesting locations, and saw some amazing sights like these huge griffon vultures which have an 8ft-plus wingspan. Some nights we didn’t even fish, instead heading into the town for some chips and a bit of the local sangria! Even though I only caught the five carp I wanted, I actually really enjoyed it, so I’ve planned another trip later in the year.
By the time I’d got back, the lakes had all thawed so I was quick to get back on it. While out walking one of the lakes I came across a decent common that I’d caught before, which an otter had recently destroyed. Now I love nature but I’m really upset by what’s happening with the otters being introduced into our waterways. The rivers don’t hold enough fish to support them and they are also different from our native otters, being larger and much more aggressive. The problem I have is that they are so wasteful, killing a large carp just for a few organs, such as the heart and liver. Not only that but they often just maim fish and leave them to die slowly, which is a real shame.
A good common that had been ottered – such a waste
Fencing is an option for some waters and the cost would be offset by the value of the fish that would have been lost. However, many can’t afford to fence their fishery and on some waters, it is simply not an option. For instance, if it’s on public land or land owned by multiple owners. I really wonder how long this is going to go on and how many more special old carp have to die brutally.
After that, I ended up heading over to Waveney to do a few trips with Brian, who lets me fish in his private garden on D Lake. He’s 77 now and it was nice to sit there with him for a bit because I don’t normally get the chance. However, he’s also noticed how slow the lakes have been fishing and we think that a combination of the otters and dropping water levels haven’t helped. I normally catch loads from the area but I’d got to the end of the day and had nothing.
It was then that I decided to have a little look at Marsh Lake, which I’d never really fished. Amazingly, in a 38-hour period, I had four, the biggest of which was a short common with a huge gob at just under 20lb. It was a nice little result and I’m definitely going to be heading back.
Over the next week or so I thought I’d have a go for a proper big ’un, so I headed round all my target lakes, fishing the odd night on each, but none seemed to be doing anything until I headed back to Burgh Castle.
I had a good walk around and managed to find a few fish close in the edge. I wanted to see how they’d react to fishmeals, so I chucked in some Black Seal and they started smashing it straight away! I’d found loads of carp in the edge but none of the big ’uns. This told me that they must be out in the lake.
I got four rods spread out in the area, three on my usual dark-side snowman rigs with varying coloured toppers and a tiny scattering of half baits. The fourth was on a multi-rig with a yellow pop-up and I put 150 baits over the top. Around 5pm a couple showed and one was right over the top of the multi-rig spot, and about half an hour later I got a take on it. Once again it found its way to the snaggy area that the first thirty had done and as it came up over the bar it only looked like a little one. The Hobbit had come into the swim during the fight, so I got him to grab the net and as it went over the cord it looked a lot bigger than I’d first thought. It turned out to be a fish called The Back To Front Common at 31lb and my second thirty from the lake. I’d actually caught the only two thirties that had been out all winter!
The Back To Front Common at 31lb. After nine years without a thirty, I’d caught two in quick succession!
That just about brings me up to date and hopefully next time you hear from me I will have caught my 60th UK forty! Spring is here everyone… get your rods out!