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Billing Aquadrome’s Willow Lake by Tom Betts Causebrook

Billing Aquadrome’s Willow Lake by Tom Betts Causebrook

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Carp fishing in the UK is arguably “richer” in history than any other country. But looking at the scene of carp angling today this history could be seen as somewhat forgotten, as many an angler never look past the depths of a publicised “plugged” piece of print, or a video telling you what a fish can or can’t see.

My opinions within this article and the others that will appear on this site are just that… “Opinions” my views on carp fishing are personal to me, although I think my views are rare compared to many an angler on my level of age/skill this doesn’t make them invalid, it just makes them different, and difference is what is lacking in the modern day scene. The “Magic “of Angling has sadly drifted from the publicised carp scene.

The history of carp fishing is something that has gripped me and many an angler over the years and has changed my views on carp fishing for the better over the last couple of years. Carp fishing should be studied as it is an art, although in modern day people have tainted this art into publicity tools, where has all the fun gone? Nowhere… like I have already stated carp fishing is personal we all have a choice in what we look for in our own angling, but by not appreciating something’s history the “vibes” of a water for example could go undiscovered.

Billing Aquadrome’s Willow Lake is stated by many as an “old glory water” and back in the days of Ray clayton’s and Bob Reynolds’s catches, this particular lake was said to be 2nd to only Redmire pool for its monster carp catches. On a dark September night in 1966 this magical place produced the 2nd biggest carp in the UK and a common at a weight of 42lb, this was caught by Ray Clayton, and this fish still holds the complex record to this day in the books of carp anglers in the “know”, not the 38lb 14oz it currently is.

This common was then suspected to be caught again by a local angler named peter Chillingsworth, the part of the story that always made me laugh was the fact that he actually weighed the fish on the scales in the gentleman’s toilets, truly original stuff. The picture featured of this particular fish made many believe the scales untrue as the fish looks a lot bigger than his gent scales recording of 34lb. But weight is immaterial it was and still is a special fish for the time.

The common is no longer alive “as expected” but in modern times the lake still hold a few “special” and what I would like to call “proper” carp. Now to many fishermen a fish is a fish, it’s either a carp or its not, well yes… that is correct, but to me personally a carp is made by either its history or its strain. Gareth Fareham once wrote in about carp having a kind of “soul” now by this soul, I believe he meant its history or having something special about it, for example its age, or just the fact that it was living in an environment of which it would be hard for an angler to tempt it out of, for example a lake rich in naturals. I for one totally agree with Mr Fareham on this point, and is one of the only things I have read in a magazine of which I can hand on heart agree with.

This triggered one of the main reason for starting my short lived, but magical journey on the willow as I would be catching some fish that would mean something. Not to say that my fish mean more than you persona, but to me personally they would take a treasured spot in my photo album, and would not be viewed for their size but there beauty. Another reason that Willow Lake ticked it for me is trying do stuff in my carp fishing the “right” way, and not ruining it. At the time I had not broken the thirty barrier, although always in my head if I was going to do it, I would want it to be broken with a fish that would have that “soul”, a fish that I could look back upon and marvel at for its history and/or its age.  By this I mean a “proper” old English carp that has not been genetically enhanced to feed and get caught without thought from both the fish itself (as its hungry or arguably stupid) and the angler who doesn’t care about the heritage of the carp they are fishing for (if the fish has heritage that is, in my opinion a mark simmond’s strain has none). Far too much in carp fishing people are driven by weights, don’t get me wrong a plump carp is a special fish and I love fishing for them, but its more about the strain and environment of which they glide in that interests me.

On my visit to the lake prior to angling I took in all the myriads of stories “as you do” about how hard these carp were to trick, and I believed them in some of their now quite frankly Ludicrous explanations of why it’s only a 2-4 bite a season lake. Although this lake sounded and was “bigged” up to be a hard nut to crack or un-readable as a few anglers put it. I was personally happy with two bites from my season as the fish were beautiful and as said before they would mean something. This al added to the adventure and the “hunt” I suppose, in many a book carp fishing was described as an impossible task and there was never enough time in a lifetime to perfect its many challenges and tasks. That was something very similar to what my granddad used to tell me, oh how wrong you are, yes there is never enough time but what’s the point in having time when you don’t enjoy it, or do something that challenges yourself. The stubborn git I was, and I suppose still am I will always try and prove it wrong, a carp is a carp in form of how it may act in a “natural environment” so there is always a chance of making that lifetime a little more exciting by challenging the deemed impossible.

My 1st night on the water involved a lot of observation, how I like to fish is through observation. Not only do you see more activity but you get to know your surroundings, you may see patterns. Carp are a creature of habit, yes that has been said a thousand times but I’m a firm believer in it. If I could not set up on fish I wouldn’t set up, or if I didn’t get feel or vibe, this lake was being fished very static by other anglers, fishing large open clear spots and blanking for not days but months. This was then taken on board and that’s how I formed my approach of “mobile” angling. The reason why anglers rarely caught on the clear open areas is the simple fact that the flocks of the feathered friends’ would always eat the bait before the carp got a look in. Many a person tried pre baiting the lake and it was always eaten by the birds before the carp turned up to gorge, therefore they never gained any confidence nor had their habits changed. Although there was one particular angler who did work the lake out through pre baiting but that is his story to choose to share.

After a few scouts up and down the bank I ended up moving onto a few fish on the fairground bank and within an hour I was angling for them, with my confidence and trip made by just seeing them I was watching them kite only inches off my baits when a beautiful plated linear through itself out near my right hand rod. The ripples protruded off of her scaly brown flanks as she rose and dropped back into the lake’s forests of Canadian. My heart started to pound violently, the kind of heart beat that would throb blood to your toes, somehow in fishing you kind of know when it’s going to happen, and I could really feel the tension building. It was no matter “if” I was going to have one, but when. I had to kind of pinch myself at the time as I did think that it would be far too much to ask to have one on my 1st evening on. 20 minutes later I had a take from this very fish and I was in a blur for the 20 minutes I played, weighed, and returned this fish. With no sense of what I was doing all I can recollect was me jumping straight over the reeds knee deep in silt to get a better angle over her on top of the vast weed that stated rights over the lake bed. With her popping her head up at the end of the fight I can still see the huge scales protruding from her side. Once in the net a few words came out in awe and excitement, a few I will not print in her for obvious reasons! One of the regular angler’s came round to do the shots and he was shocked to say the least that a new lad let alone nearly half his age caught one on his 1st night on. This “regular” became a good friend and to this present day I’m still surprised he didn’t feel “robbed” of a fish considering he had blanked the whole year up to yet. This goes to show how a genuine angler will respect others captures just as they would one of their own.

After this “lucky break” as I put it at the time I was rearing to catch more to prove to myself it wasn’t a “fluke” and it was down to my angling. After two blank nights on fish the Wiley nature of these carp hit home but it was on my fourth night that I eradicated my thoughts of worry.

During my fourth session I turned up to find an angler who was on fish at the left hand side of the bay on the fairground bank but he had not had any luck catching any even though they were within yards of his rod tips and baits. I observed the routes of about 8 different carp were taking and clocked two spots for my rods. After these were stealthily positioned on their routes I do like a bit of surface fishing and within 5 minutes I had my 2nd take being one of the lakes koi’s off of the surface. As soon as I slipped her back I was thinking my swim was blown when an eruption came on one of my spots and the alarm sounded.  I hit into the carp and after a small tussle in the margin it was in the net. It turned out to be the lakes 2nd biggest resident. My target of catching an English thirty from a “glory” water was achieved. All thoughts of fluking fish were eradicated as I knew what I had to do to consistently catch these willow lake carp. To finish that session I had another fish of the ghost variety and had a cut off about 10 minutes after I slipped the other back. To this day that lost fish has hurt me more than any other, the buzz of a run followed by a sinking heart when a loose end of line came through the tip, it was the worst feeling in carp fishing I’ve experienced to date.

Despite that the lake was being good to me; it seemed that a fresh set of eyes and lines in the water was all the lake needed, sometimes in carp fishing you get that little lady luck, and by god she was with me that month. Little did I know my experience on the willow lake and another piece of water on the complex would make two weeks to remember for the rest of my life.

The next session I got down I had picked up through observation and my captures that the carp like the back of winds no matter what direction they were pushing. After a hard day at work I got to the lake at around 9:30 pm with rain falling. After a few laps I wasn’t “feeling” anywhere so I sat on the back on the wind when I saw a single ripple. I was happy to set up on such as sign because the stock of fish in willow is incredibly low therefore I took every disturbance as carp. This paid off as this small observation caught me the biggest in the lake that night, this was a mirror called Vicky, this was two thirties in two sessions to say I was elated was an understatement.

Shortly after this capture the lake was closed due to an oxygen scare, so I made haste to the river, this section is actually covered in a different article so I’m not going to repeat myself.

Once the willow lake opened after the oxygen scare I was back to business and over a few weeks I had managed another five willow carp including the third biggest resident in the shape of a common and a rarely caught linear. As I have mentioned at the start of the article my time on willow was short but very successful quickly got named top rod, this was to my disapproval at the time because people started quizzing me and to put it bluntly some of these anglers did not deserve to catch for various reasons some of which are not suitable to discuss. The problem with a lake such as billing is lies can spread quicker than the truth and rumours were spreading that I caught all manner of carp that I kept quiet to avoid attention, jealousy also made some anglers give me the hard shoulder when I wouldn’t reveal what I was doing, but that said i wasn’t doing anything they were not seeing, I watched and learnt the carp and that is the main factor of my success on this lake. Other anglers always wondered why id never set up on certain areas even though fish were present. I quickly learnt that the carp would get around the whole lake but would only feed on certain parts. For example the most popular swim for holding them and being spotted in produced one carp that season and received the most angling pressure with some anglers pitching up for weeks.

But there was more to the willow lake than just catching carp it was in essence the atmosphere the environment around it caused, the people, the banter/socials. There was also a number of shall i say hairy moments i experienced and saw on the site such as an when some unfortunate had his ear bit off behind my swim in the early hours, and jipseys nicking sofas and mattresses out of the show room caravans and speeding off in vans with their newly “acquired” goods. Oh and the time I saw two grown men actually choking each other, only for five minutes to pass and see them both get up and walk off holding hands. People who know me and know billing question how I could sit there and fish, my answer is this… because of the fish. There were times when I thought you got to start cutting this short because some nights were dreadful, especially when the cannibal ear eater came on the scene. But when you saw the fish in there you were quickly reminded and all doubts vanished.

There was one particular fish I saw in that lake that I wasn’t lucky enough to catch at the time, it was a near leather and on many an occasion it used to flank its scale less flanks across the gravel bar under the willow tree, and used to come out of weed beds covered in clay. This fish was one of prettiest carp I’ve ever laid eyes on in the water, and due to its original character and lonesome ness it always stuck in my head. It was always on its own in my sightings of it, and this made this particular fish a bit elusive. I do keep saying to myself I need to go back and try and catch it but in my mind I don’t want the fish to lose its magic or my elusive thoughts of it, so it may be better off staying away from my bait and be the one that got away. That way the lake and that fish keep its magic and its weird persona. The lake is not for the feint hearted but if there was a moral to an angling story this one would be to never give up and if you work at it no matter what anyone Saids the deemed impossible is always in reach if the variants are put your favour.

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