The fish of a lifetime
Preparations for my fishing trip on the 27th July, 2006, were unlike most of my usual fishing trips. There were a couple of reasons for this difference. The first was that my usual fishing companion and most excellent mate, the Legendary Pete ‘Sid’ Sawer, was unable to fish. This was down to an unfortunate accident he suffered when he fell from the second step of his stepladders, at home, and severely dislocated his right shoulder – unbelievable! However, Sid was getting bored sitting at home and asked if he could join me on my next fishing trip. I, of course, agreed on the condition that he made himself useful as a cameraman, just in case we should catch anything worth filming (which is most of the fish in Lymmvale anyway). The second reason, for the day being unusual, was that, for the first time, we were taking along a guest angler. This was another friend of mine, John Byers, from my Pub Quiz nights. John hails from the Midlands and had mostly fished big rivers like the Trent for Barbel and Chub, but I had whetted his appetite for Lymmvale with tales of monster Catfish and superbly conditioned Tench! Hence, frothing at the mouth, I picked him up from his home at about 3:15am that morning, and along with Sid, headed off for the ‘Vale.
We arrived at the ‘Vale between 4:00am and 4:15am, unloaded, filled in our arrival slips and made our way, in the dark, around the right-hand side of the lake towards the Sandbank Peg, by far our most favourite peg. Bugger! Someone had beaten us to it! I didn’t know it then, but later on I would be eternally grateful to the angler fishing in that peg however, there and then, I ‘wasn’t best pleased’!
The Sandbank Peg was special to both Sid and I as we had both had numerous Tench from there including both our P.B’s, Sid’s being one ounce bigger than mine at exactly 9lb. I had also caught my largest Catfish, out of the ‘Vale, from that peg in 2004 at 29lb 4oz (sadly I have no pictures of this particular fish as I was fishing alone and my camera, at the time, had packed up on me that day – bummer!)
We continued around the right-hand side until we came to the Steps Peg with the Boathouse Peg next to it, luckily both empty. I asked John which he preferred, I felt it only right to ask, as he was the guest. It was still dark and John had never fished the ‘Vale before but he said he fancied the Boathouse Peg so that was that. Sid and I plied him with more tales of the Catfish we had both caught from his peg, including: a 17lber and a 27lb 2oz fish caught by myself, a 19lb 8oz fish caught by my daughter and another of the same size caught by Sid. I had to be content with Sid’s captures of a 23lb+ Cat and a Mirror Carp in excess of 20lb, from the Steps Peg. Altogether, quite an array of fish from those two pegs!
It was now 4:45am and the weather was very mild with no wind and the promise of a fine day as John and I set up our rods and Sid familiarised himself with my camcorder. He was soon in Steven Spielberg mode – filming anything that moved! It was so mild in fact that I soon removed my sweatshirt. This had a most surprising effect as it was about this time that we were visited by the Swamp Thing! You may have seen the pictures on the website. Anyway, luckily Sid managed to get a photograph of it before it disappeared again into the undergrowth!
As usual the expectation level began at a record high but soon descended to a ‘dull ache’. At least Sid, the one-armed cameraman, was enjoying himself filming the wildlife, which included: a pair of Great Crested Grebe, swooping Black-headed Gulls, some squabbling Coots, a family of Canada Geese and a Little Grebe (or Dabchick), which he got some excellent shots of. A Wren also visited us, but it was too fast for Sid to get a picture of. On the film someone’s car alarm goes off in the car park to the comment of “That’s an impressive bite alarm!” Yes, we needed some humour to keep our spirits up.John only brought one rod with him whilst I set up my usual two rods. They were both 11fters as I have had problems casting 12fters from beneath overhanging trees at the ‘Vale so now bring both and use the ones I feel most comfortable with depending on which peg I get in. Both rods have a soft through action (the Cormoran is a 1.75lb test and the Abu 2.25lb but both feel the same), this is because my primary target at the ‘Vale is always Tench, not Carp or Catfish. However, I have, in recent years upped the ante as far as the B.S. of my line is concerned. Due to the capture and rapidly increasing size of the Catfish in the ‘Vale, I have increased the line strength from 5lb to 6lb and latterly to 8lb, just in case. At the business end I have a simple, sliding leger (Stonze) rig on a short piece of monofilament with a leger stop about 18” to 20” from a sturdy size 7 or 8 Carp hook. The bait, of course, 15mm to 20mm cubes of Spam. To begin with I cast the left-hand rod out slightly to the left and the right-hand rod straight out in front of me, both at a distance of about 60 yards. Intermittently, I will catapult out some free offerings of the hook bait to tempt the fish to feed.
John, in the Boathouse Peg, began to fall asleep! Sid commented, “Such is the life of an angler on Lymmvale!”
It was about 6:30am when I noticed quite a lot of bubbling, coming from the depths, to the right of my right-hand rod. To break the torpor I changed the position of both rods and started fishing to the right of where I had originally been fishing. Now, the bait on my right-hand rod was positioned in the middle of where all that bubbling was coming from. Almost immediately I began to get little knocks and line bites on both rods. These ‘bites’ would lift the indicator slightly and cause the bite alarm to beep once or twice and then drop back, however, there was still no sign of a ‘proper’ bite.
It was now approaching 7:50am when we were startled by a large Carp jumping clear of the water, two or three times, about 100yards to our right. It might have been due to the lack of action that I had begun to feel colder and had eventually put my sweatshirt back on. At this point there was still no wind stirring the surface of the lake.
Then, at last, the left-hand indicator shot up hitting rod and the alarm screamed into action! I struck and immediately knew that this was only a smallish fish, but still, a fish is a fish, and this one was very welcome in the circumstances. It came in very easily and I soon slipped the landing net under a small Tench of 1lb 12oz. We woke up ‘Rip-Van-Winkle’ to prove to him that there were some fish in the lake. He grunted something about it not being very big and then tried to go back to sleep. Sid observed, “At least you’re not going to end up fishless.” To which I replied, “Maybe that’s the start ”
There followed another 2 hours of torpor punctuated occasionally by some half-hearted beeps on the alarms, mainly on the left-hand rod, but again, nothing decisive.
It was now approaching 10:00am and Sid was on his mobile phone to one of his customers (he does work occasionally as an Electrical Engineer and is very often ‘on call’ at weekends). I listened to the conversion with interest, especially at how professionally Sid dealt with his client. However, that was all about to change!
At almost exactly 10:00am the right-hand rod screamed into action, startling the living daylights out of both of us, despite Sid still being on the phone. I quickly strike and immediately feel the power of a very large fish. Unlike most anglers, when legering, I do not use bait-runners. I prefer to leave the anti-reverse on the reel, tighten the drag up solid and hit into the fish as soon as possible. This, of course, can be a risky business if you are not quick enough at getting the anti-reverse switched off. Having used this method for many years I believe I have near-perfected the art of ‘beating the fish to the draw’, and I was successful again this time. However, nothing in my angling career has ever prepared me for what was about to happen. This was no ordinary fish. Even the 29lber caught on the Sandbank Peg was stopped in its tracks eventually, on its first run, and that was on 6lb B.S. line! This monster just steamed off down the lake heading for the car park and there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop it!
With me back-winding like mad but trying to keep some sort of pressure on the fish it took another 70 or 80 yards of line off the reel before it began to slow down and eventually stop because it wanted to! I was very worried about how much line I had left on the reel. I had put 200m of new line on at the start of the year, plus there was a bit of old backing line, which I did not want to get down to. As I was wondering what was happening far down the lake, in its depths, another thought struck me. This was the same rod and line that I had landed a 30lb 14oz Catfish on at Founders Pool a couple of months earlier. That fish had tried everything to snag me in the undergrowth in the far right-hand side of the pool, and several times I thought that I had lost it. Although I have great faith in Maxima Chameleon line, surely this was asking too much!
The mighty leviathan had come to a standstill so I pulled the rod back as much as I dared before the line must surely snap. There was the slightest of movement far down the lake and the beast began to move slowly to the right, as if going to the far bank. At least it hadn’t continued its surge to the car park! It was now arcing, very slowly, to the right. I began to gain back a little line. This was not because I was forcing the fish in anyway, but because this is what the fish wanted to do itself! For the present all I could do was hang on.
By this time, the previously mentioned professional Sid had cut his caller off in mid sentence to concentrate fully on filming. We both new that this was a very special fish – either a very large Carp or, more likely, a large Catfish.
Sid, “It must be a Cat. It’s staying down too long!”
Me, “If I lose this I’m going to kill myself!”
Sid, “If you lose this, I’ll kill you!”
I think he would have too!
Ten or fifteen minutes of the battle passed and Sid was already getting worried about the length of tape left in the camera and the life of the battery. I told him not to worry, as there was a spare tape and battery in the camera bag. Also, at this time, John gave up with his own fishing and came round to watch the battle. He, like Sid and I, had never experienced anything like this in his angling life before.
Me, “This must be what Big Game Fishing feels like. All I can do is hang on and hope it tires before I do!”
John, “I think you’ve lost that battle already!”
Eventually, at about 10:25am, I manage to pull the monster to within about 50 yards, only for it to power away again as if nothing is attached to it! This same event occurs several times before Sid comments, “You know you’re going to be in the (Warrington) Guardian again, don’t you?” I reply, “Don’t count your chickens!”
Sid observes, after yet another surge away by the leviathan, a-la-Jaws, “You’re definitely going to need a bigger boat!”
As we approach 10:30am my arms are already beginning to ache and I am getting very hot. How I wished that I had not put my sweatshirt back on! I asked John for a drink and he readily pours me a cup of orange and feeds it to me! That’s what mates are for! I think it was around this time that the angler from the Sandbank Peg came round to see what all the commotion was about. It was Ben Hogg. He stayed for a few minutes, watching, but soon realised that this was going to be a long job, so he returned to his own fishing.
As we approached 10:45am there was still no sign of the fish tiring. It was still powering away to the middle of the lake, turning, one minute to the right and then surging back to the left. All this tooing and froing meant that I was constantly shifting position in the Steps Peg in an attempt to get some sort of control of the beast. The power of the fish was incredible!
Sid comments, “Still no sign of giving on either side! I don’t know who’s more knackered, Ste or the fish.”
I tell him the answer, “I know!”
At about 10:55am, Sid observes that the fish is progressively getting closer, despite its surges. “I think it’s weakening.” He says. “It doesn’t feel like that to me.” Says I.
By now, there is a slight breeze blowing from right to left of the lake, rippling the surface and making it more difficult to see where the line is cutting the water.
Just as it appears that Sid is right and the fish is weakening, it surges away again to the middle of the lake. However, this was to be its last major bid for freedom.
It’s after 11:05am now and I stop the monster 70 yards out and begin to pump the fish back towards us. As it gets to within 30 yards it begins to kite to the right, the Boathouse Peg. Sid remembers that there is a large, metal drum submerged there, which he believes the leviathan, is heading for. He dashes round and splashes in the water causing the monster to change course and come back towards my peg.
Sid, still in Jaws mode, jokes, “Talking about barrels, I think we need to fasten another four to it!”
Five minutes later and the fish is now just 20 yards out, still at a fair depth and still fighting, albeit without the powerful surges of the earlier stages of battle. To say that I am tired, aching and hot is the understatement of the year, and my hat finally has to come off!
As the fight nears its climax, fellow member Ben Hogg returns from the Sandbank Peg to watch the landing, however, he still has a long wait as the fish simply refuses to give up and be bullied to the bank. And I am not going risk losing it now when it is so close to capture. The general feeling amongst us is that the fish could be foul-hooked (something we never did find out for sure).
At last, nearly 90 minutes after hooking it, the monster slowly rises from the depths. Remember, fish always look smaller in the water than when out of it due to refraction, however, I can barely believe my own words when I first set eyes on the beast, “It’s only a small one!”
John says, “You’re kidding aren’t you, it’s an absolute monster!”
The netting was performed by Ben, as he was wearing waders, however, he had trouble lifting the leviathan out of the water and if I recall correctly, needed help to get it on my unhooking mat. It was at this point that I discovered that my unhooking mat, although easily able to cope with a Carp of up to 20lb, was wholly inadequate for this monster. Ben ran back round to his peg and brought back his vastly superior mat (I now have a similar type). Unfortunately, all the landing of the fish was missed on film because Sid had been very worried about the amount of life left in the second battery. However, he did get some superb footage of the beast on the mat and being lowered back into the water and swimming away.
Once on the mat, it was discovered that the hook had come out of the fish so we were unable to tell whether or not it had been foul hooked. I attempted to lift the fish for a photo but I simply did not have any strength left and it probably wasn’t a wise thing to do anyway considering the bulk of the fish. The fish itself was incredible. It must have been 5 feet long (as Ben’s unhooking mat was 4 feet long and the fishes tail stuck well out over one end.) However, the most amazing feature of the fish was the size of its stomach. Its belly must have weighed about 20lb by itself. It had certainly been feasting over the previous few days.
After taking a few photographs on the mat, we came to the weighing. Sid was convinced that it was a 50lber. I was less convinced and not really bothered. It was certainly in excess of 40lb and that was a dream in itself. Ever since I was a small boy and read about Richard Walker catching his 44lber from Redmire Pool, I had always held that figure as a magical, but never-to-be-achieved target, and here I was with a fish that was, in all probability, bigger than Clarissa. The occasion was just overwhelming.
I then discovered another set back. The battery in my digital scales, which weigh up to 60lb, was flat! Bugger! However, once again, it was Ben Hogg who came to the rescue. He quickly ran round and fetched his heavy-duty scales and soon we had the monster in my weigh sling and between us were lifting him. I looked from face to face as the needle on the scales whizzed twice around the dial and finally settled on 52lb 8oz! How glad I was that I had so many witnesses to share this momentous occasion. There was Ben Hogg, without whose help and equipment we would have struggled so very much. There was John, who must have been a little wary, and weary, of my telling and retelling of the captures of previous Catfish. He had his own tale to tell now! And there was Sid, for the first time, present at my capture of a Catfish, and what a fish! I wasn’t worried now whether or not anyone would believe such a story. Here was Sid, not just one of the most honest people I know, but the most honest person I know! That was good enough for me.
As the sling was a heavy-duty sling I knew that it would weigh quite a bit. It weighed exactly 2lb, which of course, meant the monster was indeed, a 50lber. Everyone present was satisfied with the weighing of the fish and the sling and that meant the official weight was 50lb 8oz. I could barely believe my own eyes.
Finally, enough photographs were taken and Ben and I gently loaded the leviathan back onto Bens unhooking mat. The two of us carried it to the water and whilst the camera was still rolling, we removed the unhooking mat from underneath the great fish. I held it for a few seconds whilst it got its breath back, moved it a little further out into the lake, and watched this magnificent creature swim out to the depths like some giant sea-serpent. Ben had the last word, “That’s some Cat, that!”
I do not class myself as a big fish fisherman, or a Carp man or, indeed, give myself any such label. I simply go fishing to enjoy myself. I have always felt at home in the countryside and there is no finer way to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the country than angling. As for catching such a fish as described above, it was sheer fluke! I predict that if we have a warm or hot spring, a fish in excess of the one above will be caught this year at either Lymmvale or Crabmill Flash, and I have proved that you do not need to be a specialist to catch it – the next time it could be YOU!