Saturday, 20 August 2016

Monk Lakes - Different...

How to get a bit more shipping space!
Monk Lakes is a large commercial fishery in mid-Kent. For the past couple of years (nearly!) I have been fishing the same venue most of the time. I have been to other commercial fisheries, but they have all been smaller than my favoured 'old-slippers' venue, Beaver Fishery. Although Beaver covers a fairly large area, none of the waters there are huge with Major's Lake being the largest at three and a half acres.
Bridges Lake at Monk Lakes is 16 acres on its own. For me this was a real eye opener. The lake has a good stock of fish but it is really a place to target some of the larger specimen fish. Although the fish in this lake are not record breakers, they are still big to me.

I had no idea what to expect as I had not fished there before. I filled the van with tackle and made the decision choose exactly what I would do once I arrived at the peg. The first thing I realised was that this lake is not geared up for using a pole, except in one or two places. There is a gravel road that runs around the whole lake making access as good as it gets, but the trade off is there are few pegs with any room behind them. I had looked at the lake, using Goggle Maps, and picked a peg at the far end that looked like a good place to start.

The journey from here, in South East London, is an easy one and takes about the same time as travelling to Beaver. My concern about having to navigate Maidstone town centre was unfounded, hardly having to stop at all on the way there. However, Maidstone at seven o'clock in the evening is a complete nightmare. It was bumper to bumper and took me forty minutes to cover what had taken me four minutes in the morning, coming the other way. Next time I will take an alternative route home.

As the sun starts to burn off the mist, we await the grand opening of the gate
On arrival I was about fifteen minutes early and third in the queue, on a par with a visit to Beaver. What I did not expect was the rapidly growing queue of cars and vans behind me. By the time the gate opened the queue was stretching down the drive as far as I could see. Blimey! I knew this place was popular at the weekend but this was Wednesday. Now I am wondering if this was such a good idea.

The gate opened just after 07:00 and the convoy of miscellaneous tackle haulers made its way to the office like carp cruising the margins. It was at this point that the reason for the traffic queue revealed itself; there were two mid-week matches taking place on a couple of the four match lakes.

The road runs all the way around Bridges Lake
Just a small part of the acres of water in front of me
I paid my £10 day ticket and set off around Bridges Lake to the far end and my chosen peg. It is possible to park directly behind the peg. For me, especially on this first fact-finding visit, this made life so much easier. Following my new policy of keeping it simple was proving difficult as I had no idea of what to expect until I got there. My seat-box was fully stocked and I was not sure if I was going to use it. I usually take my accessory chair if I am on a pleasure trip, unless I intend to be pole fishing. In the end I filled the van with all sorts. I packed the box and the seat (never done that before!) as well as a huge selection of rods and a couple of poles. Yes, I know, way over the top but I just could not decide how to attack this new water. The only tackle I left behind was the carp gear.

I had no intention of using anywhere near all the tackle in the van but it gave me the opportunity to choose. The road behind the peg meant there was not enough room to ship back a long pole and I did not fancy moving pegs so I made the decision to stay in my comfort zone and try my luck at feeder fishing. I had picked a peg with no overhanging branches to give me a chance of getting a nice long cast. I have not been able to let rip with my 11ft feeder rod before so it was time to have a go. There was no way I was going to land on the opposite bank, so I first cast out to where I had left the line clipped up, last time out, and released the line. I retrieved the empty feeder and cast it as far as I could. Don't ask me how far that was, but it was a long way, at least for me. I was certainly far enough to cast to the island I was looking at to the left of my peg. After casting as close as I dare to the island, progressively cast clipping up and letting out a few feet of line each cast. I was checking the travel by holding the rod at 90º to my body as the line reached the clip, a style I find comfortable and I can 'lock' into the same position every time with ease. I am getting better at this, by no means perfect, but a vast improvement on a few months ago. Once I was confident about the distance I filled the feeder and recast, without a hook length, to check that the allowance I had made for the extra weight of the loaded feeder was correct and I was not going to land in the trees. Success.

The target area for my initial cast
Now for my first cast into this new-to-me water with a baited hook. A nice chunky lump of punched bacon grill and a small 30g feeder full of my Two Dog groundbait. Plop! Bang on target. I wish I had videoed that - It was the best cast I have ever made - I even amazed myself! After sinking the line I set the rod down on the rest at about 30º to the target area, with a bend in the tip, and started counting the seconds. I will usually wait forty seconds and cast again, especially on the first few casts to build a bed of groundbait over which to fish. I didn't get that far. First, a slight flicker and then the tip whipped around and I had a fish on. If this was a sign of how it was going to be, I was in for a great day. It turned out to be a reasonable sized tench.

First cast produced a nice tench
Over the next couple of hours I landed a couple more tench of similar size, including one male, and a couple of bream. It was not the catch rate that I was expecting after the first cast, but in some respects I prefer it that way. It then went dead; if it is too easy it can become very boring, very quickly. I am now thinking I should have packed the carp gear. Other anglers were fishing with carp set ups looking for the bigger fish. My feeder set up is geared for dragging F1s out of a match lake, this is more sedate fishing more on a par with specimen hunting. There are some fairly big fish in this lake. the guy on the adjacent bank caught a couple of big common carp in the high doubles.

I changed tactics and rods to fish closer in the open water in front of me and see what I could fine there. I wanted to try out my new-found knowledge and try fishing a light (15g) feeder using a light quiver tip. I had been trying to get a bend in a 1½oz quiver tip. Last week I experienced one of those moments of realisation, understandings one of those facts that everybody fishing already knows, and omits to tell you (me!). When using a light feeder, I could not get a bend in the tip of my rod using a 1½oz quiver tip because the tip was too strong and moving the feeder without bending. Or at least bending and recovering its straight stance. The lighter (¾oz) quiver tip bends before there is enough force to move the feeder enabling me to maintain a bend in the tip. Simple really, just taken me a year or so to work that out.

I made a few casts and did not even get a single line bite, let alone a take. Time for a rethink. There was not enough room on this peg to use a long pole, but a top-kit plus two (or three) might work. I had no intention of getting the box out so I just put a couple of small rollers behind me, a 'tulip' and rod rest on banksticks in front of me and I was ready to go. I got out my cheap 9.5m Maver pole. and used the top couple of sections. Nice and short and no problem shipping it back.

My part of the lake must have been small silver soup - I must have caught a hundred of them!
I added a rig, plumbed it up and started fishing. Single maggot on the size 18 hook and feeding maggots over the top. In no time I was catching silvers one after the other. In fact I was catching them before I had finished shipping the very short pole out. I tried feeding heavier and adding multiple maggots to the hook hoping to attract larger fish. I have been told that the small fish feeding attract larger fish, so I just kept going, fish after fish, I must have caught a hundred of them over the next couple of hours but none of them would have made the scales tip at a couple of ounces.    

Now I am bored again. By this time I had realised that I could ship the whole of my 9.5m pole back if I guided it under the van (see header picture), This meant I could ship back over the part of the road the van was protecting. Come on, admit it, the man's a genius!

9.5m of pole and not even a bite - I got this bit wrong
With this extra reach I thought I could target some larger fish, so I changed the hooklength to a hair rigged size 12 hook fitted with a meat stop. This way I could fish using bigger bait, such as meat and corn, hoping to entice some bigger fish. I fished this over several lines and blanked on all of them. By now time was moving on and I did not know what the leaving protocol was. The gate closes at seven o'clock but there is also a barrier to negotiate outside the office. Just as I was wondering about this, one of the bailiffs arrived in his incredibly tatty, red 4x4 pick-up truck, that has an irritating suspension squeak that would have driven me nuts. With a huge smile he passed the time of day and reassured me that someone would be at the barrier to raise it, and let me out, until the main gate was due to close.

My day at Monk Lakes was a different experience. The place has a far more 'commercial' venue than say Beaver, which feels far more relaxed. I think that is because Beaver is nowhere near as big but is set in a natural woodland setting. Having said that, It is not a bad thing, just different. I fished this lake, at least this peg, completely incorrectly. My tactics would probably have been more at home on one of the match lakes. Next time I fish this lake, I will be fishing using the kit I did not have with me on this visit; a couple of carp rods.

Although this place is more like an undulating field with a selection of holes dug in it, it is well kept and the people who run it seem to be friendly and helpful. Once at the peg I chose, the place feels far more intimate than I have made it sound. Bridges lake has a fair bit of cover and a lot of willow trees giving it a natural look, at least from the peg. The access to the pegs could not be better. I will be back and if I fish this lake again, which I probably will, I will know what to expect.