Nick Helleur looks back at a lake that gave him some of the most enjoyable fishing he has ever experienced.
I must have held a ticket for the Horton complex for at least a decade throughout the RMC and then Cemex years. Each year I would always pop in if I was fishing in the area or for the odd social trip with friends, but I never had a “good go” on any of the waters and I dismissed them as too busy for me, much preferring to flit in and out in between other stuff as there always seemed to be so much going on elsewhere at the time.
Naturally, as the years rolled past, as they do all too quickly, I made more and more friends on the complex on my occasional visits. The old Cemex portfolio of waters was vast at the time and I guess I was guilty of taking the fishing for granted, like many who had such a wealth of great waters to fish on the gold card.
Of course, the demise of the Cemex era meant I no longer had the option to flit far and wide as and when, and it forced my friends and me to take stock of what we had lost almost overnight. It meant no more Sutton, Burghield, Fox Pool and Road Lake, Frimley, Rockford and Roach Pit… the list goes on and on. They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone and that’s especially true for carp fishing.
I suppose I thought that while I still could I should spend a bit more time on the complex before that too was eventually sold off, as that was what was rumoured would happen. The social scene on Horton and the meads were alive and well, everyone got along and I was comfortable there. Don’t forget there are five lakes on the site, which offered me plenty of opportunities to flit around as I fancied it, and of course, I was still doing other things here and there.
Horton life first and foremost revolved around the lodge and always had; it was the heart and soul of the place and was more than just a fishing lodge to many, who saw it as a second home. The closest lake to the lodge is the Boat Pool, a small, deep pit that at first I didn’t pay a lot of attention to if I’m honest. The reason being that the lake was well known for its big catfish, which hold no interest for me and that put me off fishing it, but it was a lovely lake to look at.
On my regular walks around the lakes, I’d often skirt the Boat Pool on my way to Kingsmead and I’d stop for a look into its deep, clear margins, which always looked so good. On occasion, my walking into a swim coincided with the rare sighting of one of the pool’s carp ghosting past.
A lovely old carp called Pennies on account of its huge scales.
A rarely caught ancient old common. Nick never tires of catching these perfectly conditioned fish.
A simply stunning grey linear; the Boat Pool carp are epic!
I can clearly remember that on my first walk one warm spring morning, through the trees the lake looked particularly carpy and I deviated from my route and walked into a swim roughly halfway along the back bank, for a look. As I shielded my eyes from the sun’s glare and looked down the marginal shelf a big common came into view, out of nowhere.
Another one of the big commons. The baiting was proving a success!
The second biggest common Flat Tail, another lovely carp!
Slowly waddling straight towards me it glided right up to my feet when its big fanning pecs slowed it almost to a stop as it tilted its head down and mouthed the bottom for a few seconds before slowly turning around and heading off out into deeper water with big slow strokes of its tail.
Of course, I took this as an omen that I would catch it at some point in the future; it was certainly a very impressive carp. Unbeknown to me at the time I’d just had my first encounter with the biggest fish in the lake.
As spring turned to summer I spent my days mainly wandering around the lakes, looking for a floater opportunity. While the main lakes were always busy the Boat Pool was often quiet, which drew me to it initially, and whenever I arrived late at night, which was the norm, or when we had a late night in the lodge. Rather than set up near to people already fishing and settled on the main lakes I would walk round the pool in the early hours and drop onto any activity I could find for the night, often unsuccessfully it has to be said.
It quickly became apparent that the Boat Pool carp were very alert and wary and with little carp angling pressure they would more often than not end up at the opposite end if you set up on them late at night, which could be infuriating at times.
Before I knew it I was spending more and more time walking around the Boaty; my attention had been well and truly grabbed by the deep, clear water and the odd mix of fish the pool held. They weren’t monsters in the modern sense but it wasn’t about that. There are grey ones, fat ones, old ones, so you never knew what might turn up and you know me, that’s my thing for sure.
But there was more to the pool, the carp’s behaviour was definitely affected by the stock of big catfish and how active they were, and so how we fished for the carp was greatly influenced by default and meant the fish were often flighty and nervous, rarely settling in one place for long. While it was warm it was floater o’clock or fishing in the edge at night, but as it started to cool off and the cats slowed down the carp fishing improved. Or rather the opportunities for fishing out in the lake and baiting an area became more realistic and the carp, with the cats less active, were clearly happier, showing lots in darkness.
The fish in the unfolding autumn started to show well and get around the lake freely and I could see a nice opportunity starting to unfold. Once the catfish anglers started to fade away the lake was often quiet through the week until Friday nights, when a regular group of us held our weekly ‘Friday night club’ in the lodge. This consisted of dinner, pool, killer and general fun and games until the early hours, when a few of us would set up on the pool for the night “chucking and chancing”, which was all part of the jolly up.
Apart from the Friday night crew the rest of the week was quieter so I started to bait a couple of shallower spots at one end of the lake. Not big amounts of bait that might draw in catfish, but just a steady trickle over a few days then I dropped in for a night rather than have lines in the swim constantly. I knew if I could keep it up for a few weeks the chance of pulling in the bigger fish would only increase, so that’s what I did.
With the lake being quiet for the most part it made the fishing feel very relaxed and often I would fish until 9am or thereabouts and then pack up, bait up for the night ahead and spend the day in the lodge or socialising around the complex. It was, as we began to say, “lovely times”… and it really was!
That, you see, is what’s really important these days; with busy waters at every turn and competition for swims etc, to find somewhere that’s enjoyable to fish and has a nice mixed stock and isn’t too busy is a rarity. It’s these bits of angling that stay with you as the most enjoyable and memorable because, as I’ve already pointed out, things change quickly and a lake that’s like a little slice of heaven can turn into a place you don’t want to be in no time.
Well, as the nights drew colder I found the lure of the warm lodge too tempting and most evenings were spent having a lovely time until 10pm or thereabouts when I forced myself out into the cold to get the rods out. This is never easy when you can hear laughter and merriment drifting on the wind from the lights in the distance while you’re sat huddled over a stove in the dark, so it wasn’t unusual on cold nights to have my arm twisted to stay in the warm, ”just a bit longer”.
The regular feeding started to pay dividends through late October and into November when I enjoyed a run of good fish either side of the new moon. Once it was rocking I was getting a bite most nights and sometimes more if my fishing coincided with good weather.
Several of the lake’s big fish put in an appearance. That’s not to say I wasn’t happy with whatever came along as literally everyone from the Boat Pool was different and that was a real buzz in itself, but all the while the big girl naturally wasn’t far from my thoughts and my time was about to come.
The night was still and cold as I left the lodge and walked back to my swim; there was definitely a bite in the air and I felt a sense of foreboding for the onset of winter. Hopefully, the drop in temperature would sharpen the big ’un’s appetite and I would get my chance before the water temperature dropped.
I hadn’t been under the brolly long and was busily sorting the rods out with fresh hook baits when a heavy slosh a little way out in the lake had me straining through the darkness to see and rubbing my hands together.
The spot was just beyond the big overhanging willow in 12 feet of water and to find it and ensure I was where I wanted to be I cast beyond the spot and then jigged the lead back in short drops of a foot or so until the dull thuds of the lead touching down on the choddy ground was replaced with a crisp “ting” as the lead hit the very edge of the now rock-hard area where I’d been getting the bites.
The second rod was pretty much lowered down under the overhang in eight or nine feet. The lines were totally slackened off and I retreated to the brolly and the welcome warmth of the stove.
An hour later another fish rolled heavily just past the tree.
The weather played its part at this point as the clear night sky was replaced with heavy cloud over the next hour and the rise in temperature was tangible. I awoke to light rain and a couple of bleeps at 2am and must have dozed off again straightaway. The next thing I know I’m up to a savage take and have no alternative but to let the heavy weight head off up the lake. I sank the tip and slowed it down after 40 yards or so, and then it was a long slow fight for the next 20 minutes before all of a sudden with no warning it hit the surface and I scooped it up as quick as that!
Realising its mistake the fish exploded in the net but it was too late for all that. I grabbed a torch and went back to see what I’d got and there she was, looking magnificent in the torchlight, laying as she was, dead still and upright – it was the big girl!
It’s nice when it happens like that, she was 38lb 10oz, getting bigger all the time. It was a fish that had presented itself to me on many occasions – I don’t just mean swim past but actually, swim up to me and parade itself – as if it was taunting me.
I put the rod out again before I went back to bed and was pleasantly surprised when it went again at first light with a lovely 31lb mirror that fought like an animal. It had been a good night, “lovely times” as we say.
Enjoying some winter sport with Oli Davies!
I will always remember my time on the Boat Pool, and although not a campaign as such my time there was very rewarding and I loved the lake, the fish and the fishing itself, the socials, the long nights round the wood burner, the floater rota, but most of all I’ll miss the lodge and all the really great times we had there over the years… great memories.