Elstow

by Ed Betteridge (EddieBet)

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Elstow Two is a notoriously hard Bedfordshire pit; it is over twenty acres of very deep weedy water and flooded shallows. The surrounding bank side is mostly baron with precariously steep banks and a tight path fringed on one side with wild rose and hawthorns and the other is a 30ft decline straight into the deep margins of the clay pit. When its dry it is difficult to access some of the swims but on a wet day it near impossible, the banks turn into slipper mud slides and the loose clay grips to everything it comes into contact with until the trolley wheels jams up and your boots become too heavy to lift. And the fishing is just as hard and frustrating with the fish not willing to play by the rules. It takes a special kind of masochist to endure these sorts of conditions, but for me and a few others the place and the fish just gets under your skin, a determination takes over that you won't let these fish beat you no matter how inhospitable the conditions are.

My first session was in February, as the sun set over the landfill site and a plume of choking asphalt smoke swept over the pit from the bank side factory I questioned my sanity, but I reminded myself of the upper 40lb Mirror, known as The Mother, swimming in the depths in front of me and I imagined it nearing my hook bait in the cold depths. Needless to say that I blanked that night and for the next few sessions, but an obsession had been begun.

By the time spring had sprung I was getting to know the water a little better and I turned my attentions to the margins. There had been a few sightings of fish frequenting the shallow flooded bank, which was no doubt a lot warmer than the 30ft+ main body of water. For fishing these shallow floods I had crafted a ?glass bottom bucket? which consisted of a 3 feet high waste paper bin with the bottom replaced with a Perspex panel stuck in place with silicon sealant. This enabled me to wade out to place my rig in the clear areas in the shallow water and on the steep slopes, no matter how bad the ripple or glare was I could always see the lie of the rigs and leads clearly. This really illustrated the importance of camouflaging my Rigs.

At the beginning of May I was getting the rods out ready for my 17th night on the water. A couple of rods were set on the floods in 3 and 4 feet depths. I wadded along the top of the flooded shelf looking through the glass bottomed bucket into the crystal clear water down the steep shelf into the abyss, the length of the bucket allowed me to search at angles without it filling with water. With your vision beneath the water it really gives you a ?carp's eye view? and an insight into the fish's world. I started to empathise with carp and image how they would move through the water columns and how they would react to various fishing situations. This really helped me to tune into the water and understand more about subsurface occurrences, not only the fish activity but it also to visualise what the bottom is like in the deeper unviewable parts, this especially helped when I was searching it with the marker rod. After exploring 40 yards of the shelf I found what I was searching for, a nice little clear spot about 12 inches long and 4 inches wide running parallel with bank. The rest of the bottom was covered in dense onion weed, so this spot in eight feet of water looked a prime place to lay a trap. I managed to get the rig to land inch perfect on the first attempt, with the lead in the weed and the hookbait just in the clear spot. A kilo of boilies were scattered around the area followed by 8 kilos of hemp.

That evening a few fish crashed in the next swim, but through the night the weather delivered a big westerly wind just as the weatherman had promised and I was there installed on the end of it. At 10am when the air temperature rose above the margin water temperature the rod along the shelf sprung into life with a single bleep followed by a one toner and I was into my first Elstow Carp. After a short spirited fight a small Common was in the net. At 12lb it was probably one of the smallest carp in there, but I was off the mark and doing something right. Through the rest on that 48 hour session I witnessed my first big Elstow show. With a few of the big known fish launching themselves clear of the water only a few yards away from my baited area. I defiantly witnessed a fish known as Scaly crash at least twice, it's a very distinctive fish and the second largest pit 2 resident, and it was previously caught at 38lb+. I think I spotted the big one as well, but that was a more reserved show just putting it's head and shoulders above water, as if to take a look at us anglers before returning to the depths. This was the first of many big shows that I witnessed in various swims during my time on there and after a while I stopped getting too excited and just took it to mean that fish were in the swim and they may have a feed, if I was very lucky. If I didn't take this attitude I would have just ended up doubting my rigs and baits that have produced countless fish for me on numerous other waters. To succeed on a hard frustrating water like this you really need to have confidence in your end tackle and own fishing ability. It was hard to believe sometimes that there are only about 25 carp in the pit, some session I could have been forgiven for thinking that there was a few hundred fish about, judging by the amount of airborne sightings. They weren't shy in the margins either I could sometimes see and name most of the lakes residents in the clear water in front of me.

The next session I was in a swim called the Slope and just before dusk I noticed a few carp moving from the bay on my left out into the main lake. The last show was right over my hookbait, so I stood over my rod like an over eager match angler waiting for an inevitable bite. Even though I was expecting a take I didn't quite believe it as my bobbin slowly rose to the rod butt and I stuck into some resistance, but it was quite obvious after bring the fish in 20 yards or so that it wasn't a carp. It was a Bream. The Bream. The only one in water and I had managed to catch it! As I unhooked the scabby 8 pounder the feeling of nervous elation that I felt as the bobbin lifted, drifted into mild annoyance. This feeling increased a few hours later when I found out that over the previous few days the bream had befriended The Mother. Maybe the big'un had recruited the scabby slimmer as chief bait taster!

I had to wait until just before my 37th night on the water for my next chance. I was installed on a precariously snaggy swim after spotting a few fish in the margin to my left and the weather report had given out a facing wind. I woke up to a blank the following morning, but witnessed a few fish crashing at 100+ yards and gradually getting closer as they followed the north easterly. It was a very miserable day and the constant rain forced me to be bivvy bound. But I had Rod Mallin's book, Bazils Bush, to entertain me and as I read a guest chapter about striking a single bleep I received just that on my right hand rod. As I peered round the bivvy door to investigate I couldn't fail to notice my right hand rod bend right around as a carp kitted on a tight clutch. I was on it in a flash. But then reality hit me, the likelihood of landing a fish in this swim with the cluster of snags ten yards straight in front of me was low. (This swim was christened Terminator for a reason). Wadding was out of the question as it was over six feet deep, so as soon as the carp headed for open water I just let it go, using minimal pressure with back wind, I thought it would be better if the fish tired itself out it main part of the pit rather than try and bully it in the snaggy margins. Luckily the fish obliged taking thirty yards of line from my spool. About 10 minutes later and still only applying minimal pressure, I had the fish 15 yards out near the surface, as it kitted to my right I saw my opportunity. There was now a snag free channel between the fish and the waiting net, it was now or never. I bent the rod into the fish as much as a dared and pumped it powerfully toward the mesh, after a small altercation with a few peripheral branches the fish was mine. It was an absolutely mint big plated, random linear and although it looked a lot bigger I wasn't disappointed when scales read 25lb 02oz.

After a celebratory drink that night, I awoke the following morning at dawn and noticed the line on the rod that I had taken the carp on the day previous was pointing in a different direction from where I had cast it the following evening. I must have had a take in the night. The fish must have picked up the bait and kited with the lead on tight line depositing it 5 yards further out in a light bed of onion weed, without giving me any indication. Then it must have somehow shed the hook.

Since the start of my campaign I had kept a diary of events and condition along with drawings of each swims submerge topography to make each future session run with the minimum disturbance and to also help my baiting plan. Each session I took about 5 kilos of boilies and a bucket of particles and/or pellets. What wasn't used went in at the end of the session in a number of favoured locations around the water, providing that no-one was fishing in the swims either side of the spots. I wouldn't want to reduce someone else's chances of catching in favour of increasing my own. Over the course of the season this equated to around 100 kilos of Boilies and even more particles and pellets. Even though the Rudd, Tufteds and Coots were getting more than their fair share, the carp were still getting a lot of it and building up there confident on the bait and the areas.

One of the main problems that I encountered on the water was line concealment, with it being a very deep pit with steep margins the line always stood out cutting through the water. Even though I was using a fluorocarbon coated mono it was still very obvious in the water, especially on bright days when it would glisten in the sun or after the line had been submerged for a while and the sediment would gather on it, giving it the appearance of a taught string of wool cutting through the water. For this reason I opted to use slack lines wherever possible. I still encountered the fore mentioned problems, but it just appeared more natural than a gun barrel straight length of line with a tightness that resembles a cheese cutter, splicing through my swim. I would estimate that I used slack lines for about 90% of my angling, yet all of my takes from carp occurred on a tight line! This I found to be a very strange statistic, it could be put down to the fish hooking themselves better on the added resistance that the tight line created. Or the carp feeling a lot more confident to pick up bait in a snaggy situation or on very windy day, because both these circumstances dictate that a tighter line must be used. But I witnessed a very strange event on one of my last sessions on the water. A carp head and shouldered in my swim a few feet away from where my tight line entered the water, I managed to hide behind some rare bank side cover and observe the behaviour of the fish that was now meandering just under the surface. I didn't recognise which fish it was, although it looked an upper twenty pounder as it headed straight for my line. I thought it was going to spook off it like a few fish had done before, but it didn't it swam under it then did a U-turn and swam over the top of the line before turning again and following my line down towards lead end! I watch the fish travel on this direct course for about seven or eight yards until it drifted out of sight into the deep water. I have never seen anything like this before, (or after) it was as if it was following the rainbow to discover the treasure at the end! Whether this fish uses this tactic to find a free meal and somehow fed in a way that rendered our rigs ineffective or it was just curious to this die straight intrusion into its world, I'm not sure. I didn't receive a take, but the coot that had been previously pilfering the odd bait soon lost interest in the area after a couple of empty-beak dives, which might suggest I'd been cleaned out. I haven't managed to conclude a solid theory on this yet, but it certainly provides food for thought.

At the beginning of September I had some holiday booked from work and after taking my other half out for a meal to apologise for my pending absences (or more precisely to buy myself four nights of nag free fishing) I made my way to Pit 2. I was pleased to see just one bivvy on there so I proceeded to make my usually recognisance around the water. I only got around a hundred yards from the car park when I noticed half a dozen bow waves and dorsal fins protruding out of the water. Even though I was in an elevated position the light was wrong for me to see the fish clearly, but they didn't look that big judging from the size of the fins, so I carried on my amble, but only made a few more yards before I saw another bow wave stop and a much bigger dorsal emerge from the water that reminded me of the film I watched the previous evening. This sighting was followed by another very large fin that made me think I had taken a wrong turn off the M1 and ended up on Amity Island! I didn't complete the rest of my walk and returned rapidly towards the car. A couple of minutes later I hurriedly pushed my barrow into the swim that commanded this section of water. I didn't feel the scratches on my arms and legs that were caused by the prickly shrubs. Nor did I take notice of the ache in my right shoulder that was caused by rescuing my trolley after it threatened to disappear down the 30 feet precipice. (All joys of having to run the now very over grown and increasingly narrow gauntlet, which should be a path).

Luckily I knew a few clear spots in this swim that I had been baiting all year so with the minimum disturbance I attempted to get the rods positioned. One rod was placed right in the corner of the swim near some snags about 30 yards down the bank to my right. The other rod I wanted about 15 yards further out and 5 yards off some snags next to the pot beds that the fish were in. A practice cast with a light lead to ascertain if the lakebed was still clear (it was) spooked a fish. A fresh rig was baited and a bigger lead was quickly put on and cast out, I felt a big thud as it hit the clay deck. About a kilo of Boilies was spread between these two rods. The other two rods were cast away from the fish and fished on slack lines to my left, so not to spook the fish that were in the swim. I had already witnessed a carp bolt away from one of my tight lines and I got the feeling that any more lines to the right might have caused the shoal to move off.

I retired that night to sound of a few good fish crashing over my baited area. I was quietly confident without getting too enthralled into the possibilities of the situation; I'd seen this a few times before and blanked. I was awoken just before dawn to the sound of my bite alarm that belonged to the rod near the pot bed. As I bent the rod into the fish I knew that I couldn't afford to give it too much line because of the snags, with a hefty bend in the rod I noticed the line moving out into open water, the factory light were shining off the taught line and giving away the fishes position. I eased off to a less nerve wrenching pressure and allowed the fish to carry on until it was out directly in front of me. It then altered direction and swam straight towards me; I recovered line until it was about ten yards out. Then it came to the surface and I couldn't move it! Up until now I had thoughts of a twenty floating round in the back of my mind, I was still half asleep and a bit preoccupied as to what innocent reason someone could have for parking behind my car and shining there headlights into it at this hour of the morning. Then the fish turned and stripped twenty yards of line from my spool in a slow and very deliberate manner. Those thoughts of a twenty soon doubled and the loss of my motor would be a fair trade if I could land this fish! A few more minutes of the tussle ensued with an inch by inch tug of war until I managed to slip the net under the leviathan. As soon as the net was secured I grabbed the head torch and gazed upon the fish for the first time. It was The Mother! I couldn't believe it, I was ecstatic, what an awe inspiring fish it was with its huge frame and massive rubber (I was quite relived to see my car was still there as well). I tried to hoist the lump ashore and on to the waiting mat but it was just too heavy to lift up the bank. The only way I could get it on the bank was to move the mat to the water's edge and jump into the margin next to the net. The water was only 12 inches deep but so was the clay. I lifted the fish on to the mat and managed to free myself from the quagmire. On the scales I was delighted as the needle swung round to 47lb 2oz. After getting the only other person on the water round to my swim, to do the honours with the camera, I was left to reflect on my time on the water.

Although I felt I was doing the best I could in terms of the baits, rigs, location etc, I didn't think I was going to achieve my target so soon in just 47 nights, I just assumed I would have to play the numbers game a bit more and wade through some of the other Elstow fish, not that I would have minded because in retrospect I did enjoy my time on there.
  • Welcome to Elstow!
    Welcome to Elstow!
  • My account was open, with possibly the smallest carp in the lake
    My account was open, with possibly the smallest carp in the lake
  • 25lb 2oz
    25lb 2oz
  • Doesn
    Doesn't look so bad in the sunset!
  • The one everyone wants! 47lb 2oz
    The one everyone wants! 47lb 2oz
  • Back she goes
    Back she goes