By Nick Helleur
The first lockdown came as a shock to everyone, I think it’s fair to say, myself included! As a life-long angler who is so used to having pretty much unlimited freedom and making my own choices to being told I couldn’t go fishing, after thirty years of pretty much doing what I want to when I want to made me feel uneasy to say the least when I first heard the news. I’m also not a ‘do as you’re tolder’ and never have been so my first reaction when faced with a national lockdown was to head out and stash some kit locally in case midnight missions were called for. I had it all planned out, I’d leave at midnight, walk down to the canal through the woods and across the fields, fish from midnight till dawn then head off home as it got light to get my angling “fix”. It was all right up my street.
Having also recently lost my mum I found myself living at the family home with the huge job on my hands of clearing it out ready for sale. This in itself would be a mammoth task as my parents had lived there for 45 years and there was a seriously huge amount of stuff to clear. I wasn’t looking forward to being there alone at first, I thought it would feel weird, so I was glad to have a few missions planned to get me out. As it turned out it wasn’t weird at all and do you know what, I actually enjoyed spending some time not fishing for the first time in so so long. Once the seriousness of the situation became obvious I played the game like a good boy and didn’t fish at all during lockdown and my stashed kit stayed hidden where it was until we were allowed out again when I went for a walk with the dog and collected it.
To get my Misty dawn fix I walked ten kilometres every morning with the dog around the lakes near home to keep me moving and upbeat and I got stuck into clearing the house a little each day. It’s fair to say I drank a little too much wine in the evenings and ate far too often from the local takeaways but I really made the best of it. I enjoyed just being back at home and the entire process actually helped me come to terms with my mum’s death and to deal with the grief of losing her, you only get one mum after all so I was glad of the time and space to think and put it all into perspective. Half a dozen big skips, untold dump runs and countless drops to charity shops and the house and outbuildings were nearly empty by which time lockdown rules started to change which meant I could fish locally so I spent a few evenings sorting out my kit in readiness. Despite not being able to night fish to start with there was plenty to do locally. The odd evening after barbel or a bit of perching or maybe do the mornings after carp on the nearby canal, the options didn’t look so grim after all for me as luckily, I had plenty of fishing practically on my doorstep. Once I had started to formulate a plan I was buzzing as I could see plenty of opportunity no matter the restrictions forced upon me.
Now as I’ve said a million times, mindset in life and angling is everything! Keep motivated and busy and you can overcome anything that life or angling may throw at you. I did just that and cracked on without a care, keeping busy is the key. I’d also at this point stopped looking at the tv and any and all news as it was just constant doom and gloom, just the sort of thing that can ruin your mindset and get you down. You can quickly lose momentum and focus on what you are doing so it all had to go for my own peace of mind. After the first lockdown travel to Europe started to become increasingly difficult, me being me I carried on regardless for a while and tried to squeeze in as many trips as I could but it was obvious with each trip that before long I wouldn’t be able to pursue my great love of fishing on the continent without lots of aggro and that’s if it wasn’t stopped altogether.
Sure enough Covid rumbled on and on and although I tried to bury my head further into the sand before I knew it not only was there talk of further lockdowns but also of travel restrictions. I’m nothing if not pragmatic though and had rationalised to myself that worst case scenario between Corona and Brexit I’d have to wait a year or so before I could once more feel the wind in my hair and freedom on my adventures, I’m an angler, I can wait it out if I have to, but of course I don’t want to! If I couldn’t make plans to fish in Europe I could still have plenty to look forward to at home, it was less a case of making do and more a case of lots of exciting opportunities. Definitely a case of glass half full. A summer on the boat wouldn’t be such a terrible thing I thought to myself and worst case I could keep busy just fishing days for different species if lockdown tightened its grip once more. Being adaptable is one of the biggest skills an angler can possess and I have that in the bag so I knew it would all be ok no matter what was around the corner.
Christmas came and went and the new year brought with it another more serious lockdown and this meant no night fishing allowed for the foreseeable. This time round I was determined to keep focussed but to keep focussed you need to have something to focus on and I was unsure what to do so I made a list to keep busy. As it happens I had the perfect water for winter day trips with a good head of lovely carp at the top of my list, it was a bit of a no brainer really when I thought about it. I’d recently moved in with my girlfriend and so a little syndicate I am a member of would do just fine as a respite from all the madness. Now there are no monsters in the pool but that is of no consequence, it offers quiet fishing for lovely carp and that would do me just fine under the bizarre circumstances. I felt incredibly lucky to have somewhere to go, I’m lucky in that I live in a part of the country with lots of fishing around me. I was also well aware that lots of anglers around the country were not in such a fortunate position. I ordered some bait and soon had a freezer full of 12mm Manila ready and mammilla active waiting. My approach was to be simple as always, fish singles or sticks until I identified the likeliest areas and then bait with a little each time I pack up. I was confident that it wouldn’t take very long to start to build a clear picture of the fish’s behaviour and best areas to bait and to tune them into the baited spots.
Each week I’ve tried to fish for three days at least which is not easy, getting up early and getting home late only to repeat the process the next day is less than ideal but I’ve kept at it and the reason I’ve kept at it is that day fishing is simply a little too much like hard work for most who like to string a few days together and it showed as we have mainly had the lake to ourselves during the week . going religiously every week and keeping the bait going in has been the key as always and we have caught them in all weathers through the worst of the winter. Through Jan and Feb the bites kept coming thick and fast and I landed more than 20 carp without a single loss, testament to the effectiveness of my chosen rigs. My friend Oli, who fished most days with me caught loads too. great fishing for beautiful carp with friends, the perfect winter campaign. It’s fair to say that we stuck two fingers up to the virus in the best way possible and honestly never once felt we were just making do.
The little pool, although heavily stocked for a lake of its size is full of weed and dense pads for much of the year but post Xmas much of the cover has died back with the onset of colder weather. Jan through till March is without doubt the best time to fish the lake as our results prove. Without the big beds of pads the hook to land ratio is far higher and we can fish much more of the pool safely. For the first few trips the fish seemed to mainly be held up in one area but of course once we started catching them regularly they moved around a bit which kept it interesting and fun. Immersing ourselves in the fishing at the pool was great, the perfect period to be somewhere intimate and private with what’s going on in the world currently.
I knew it wasn’t going to be forever and as I write this at the very start of March, my gaze is starting to be drawn elsewhere for the spring. The pm has given us a roadmap out of lockdown and fingers crossed we will soon be fishing wherever we like and for as long as we like but until that day I’ll keep getting out, stay positive and motivated and loving every minute.
Cheers, stay safe and keep smiling through it all, it really is the only way.