Ron Key fills us in on a week spent fishing and filming at Castle Lake, a 42 acre big fish water, this April…
Castle Lakes are in the Cher. Cher lies in the heart of the country in the Centre Val-de-Loire region, positioned half-way between Paris and the Massif Central. This department combines the best of France, history and architecture, natural beauty and fine food and wine, and it just happens to be one of my favourite places to be. If its peace and beauty you want this is the place. Approaching the lakes a winding single track road leads you down the valley while you catch glimpses of the lake through the hedges.
There’s an amazing view from the hilltop looking down on the lake across to the reed beds and then miles of stunning countryside disappear into the mist. At the bottom of the hill just before the village is a steep track on the right which drops down to the reception and the facilities. A welcoming voice with a Derbyshire accent shouted “Anglings Lines” just as I prepared to practice my best shopping French on him to make sure we were at the right place. It turned out this was John who is looking after the water, he showed us around the excellent facilities and then directed to the lake. We drove past a small lake on our right with the ruined castle high above it which gives the lakes their name and then wow! “Welcome to Castle Lakes”, we knew instantly we were going to enjoy this one.
I’ve always looked up my French angling as a team event. You plan everything together, travel together, suss out the new lake together, net, weigh and photograph your successes together and of course commiserate the losses over a glass or two of the finest red together. There’s no better way to pass time with friends than when you are angling, and Castle Lakes would take some beating as a venue to do just that. At over 40 acres with 19 swims it’s larger than most holiday venues giving each angler acres of space and the chance to be sociable or tuck themselves away on the platforms wedged into the far Norfolk reedline. It’s not a pushover but the rewards for your efforts can be immense.
So how did we choose our swim? Shaun Harrison and I were on the lake in our role of Angling Lines field testers and we had a film crew arriving in a couple of days. This restricted our choice as we needed to be close together and there had to be room for cameras, tripods and the operators as well as enough room for us to fish efficiently and successfully. Swim 5 on the road bank ticked all the boxes, even the fishing ones.
It was in the centre of the bank and gave us the opportunity to explore a large piece of the lake. I took the left side of the large double swim and Shaun took the right. We were soon at work with marker rods and scratching our heads. Features were thin on the ground, there was resistance as we dragged the leads along the bottom which we interpreted as silt. I found a piece that allowed the lead to skid more freely which felt promising. We took to the boat with long landing net poles and headed for our marker floats. Shaun was disappointed and found nothing but soft silt, I was delighted when my landing net pole met with a solid thump and grating, I’d found clean sand and was grinning confidently. Next morning was I think a surprise to us both; Shaun had an amazing first night; six carp including three thirties and two forties, I was still waiting for a beep! At least I knew where the fish were feeding. In the silt!
I’d put 4 kilos of Quest Baits Chilli Chocolate and Magnum Duo mixed with Mini Mixed pellets and Maximum Action Pellets on the sand so I was reluctant to move and spread bait all over my swim. I stuck to it just spreading my baited area a little into the surrounding silt and baited up again. This time the bait was rehydrated with lake water to stop it being tainted by the silt. The only other change was my hookbaits, they were in the silt around the perimeter of the baited area with only one rod on the sand. Just after six my efforts were rewarded when one of the perimeter baits – my Magnum pop up – was picked up by a chunky mirror that spun the pointer around to 36lb 12oz. Off the mark and delighted I recast and waited.
The following morning the rod on the sand was away. This one turned out to be a 51lb catfish. Its tastes ran to an exotic cocktail of half a Quest Baits Chilli Chocolate bottom bait and half a Magnum White pop up trimmed to sink very slowly on a long hooklink. It put up a hell of a scrap but was nailed perfectly in the middle of the bottom jaw and was destined to meet my net.
Our film crew arrived on Tuesday and so did Tom Tebbut, the bailiff who had just returned from England. Tom was full of information and confirmed our findings. “Get your baits in the silt.” We had hoped some better weather might have come with the film crew but it was not to be and it was a baptism of rain and more rain for Heather. It was a busy day and perhaps the fishing suffered because of that. We were soon back in the groove and Wednesday morning started with a breakfast forty for me. It came again from the silt on the Chilli Chocolate/Magnum White combo and ran me all around the swim. There was some skilful teamwork as Shaun and I raised and lowered our lines to avoid a high speed carp and we were soon sliding it onto the sling then onto the mat. At 40lbs 14 oz this was one of the most perfectly conditioned mirrors I‘ve ever seen. Fin perfect, not a scratch and shining like it had been freshly varnished.
This was quickly followed by a 42lb cat. John has left us a floating cage to retain the catfish and he collected them for moving to another lake each day. This is all part of the management plan which also included removing the bream and the carp under 25lb. A policy that I’m confident will help establish Castle as one of the big fish waters in the very near future. My day finished with the disappointing hookpull as a very big carp escaped, but there’s always another day.
The weather continued to disappoint with constant on off showers but the great thing was we were catching carp for the camera. Catching big carp can be difficult enough but two cameras in the swim does push up the pressure a notch or two. Backtracking just slightly, the previous afternoon we had seen a carp launch itself out of the water at range and to my left. As the ripples subsided I made a mental note of the direction on the skyline and wound in one of my rods. Luckily I had my 13ft Hi S ‘ives with me and launched a Magnum pop up to the showing fish.
It’s now three o’clock the next morning and the buzzer is screaming while I scramble for my shoes. The single Magnum from the day before has been picked up and something is pulling hard and stripping line ferociously off the spool. While I played the fish I screamed for Shaun but no response. I’m gaining ground and it’s almost to the net and I yell louder again. “I’m tired, I’ll get up in half an hour” and he rolled over. I guess in his dreams I’m trying to get him up for work. I land the carp and rest it in the net and try yet again, he must have really needed that sleep. Resigned to sorting everything out in the rain on my own I set up the camera for self takes and weighed the fish. 38lb 8 oz said the scales and in the sling was a beauty! A large mirror with hundreds of tiny mirror scales scattered over it flanks which sparkled in the torchlight. I was elated and couldn’t sleep, could this be Big Fish Thursday? A couple of hours later I received the reply as I netted a 7lb bream, hey ho.
Finally sleep came but not for long and at around 7-30 I was attached to a furious and very heavy carp. This one had yet again taken a liking for my Chilli Chocolate/Magnum White wafter. The carp thought it would be a great idea to do its fighting under our rod tips making a bit of a mess as it did. Shaun scooped it up and I cut my line to release his lines and apologised for disturbing his rigs. A 41lb mirror this time and one I recognised from Toms photographs because of the distinctive top lobe of its tail.
All too soon Friday arrived, and it was an early start for me. My first common of the week and a stunning creature, long and dark with a massive tail, I was very happy. Our film crew were leaving early but there was just time for the cameras to roll and snatch the final interview with my 34lb carp. They loaded and left us, happy with their filming, memory cards stuffed with tons of action material, interviews and scenic shots. Shaun and I relaxed ready to enjoy our last day and astonishingly the weather finally started to gradually improve.
We managed to cook our evening meal outside rather than sheltering from the rain. Did you know that you could get four people for dinner in a one man bivvy. Dinner tonight was a massive plate of rump steak, we had shopped for four but Martin one on the camera crew came complete with large tubs of delicious home made Chilli Con Carne and Madras Curry. All we did was supply the rice and the wine.
Just at the point when we had finished the mountain of steak and onions and were not able to move; off went my rod to the left of the baited area. I was convinced it was a cat. It twisted, banged its head violently and spun, my heart stopping every time my line twanged of its back. It must be a cat I thought but just in case I chanted the carp mantra under my breath “don’t come off, don’t come off……” Finally it hit the surface. “It’s a carp” Shaun said. “Not a bad one” he said as he drew the net closer. “….ing hell!” he exclaimed as he peered into the net, then apologised as he realised the camera was running. The cat had morphed into a magnificent bronze common and when the scales eventually settled it weighed 48lbs 4oz the PB common I’d been hoping for from this trip. Shaun and I were giggling like school kids as we settled down to a glass of red, but it wasn’t for long.
I haven’t gone into detail about Shaun’s catches, I leave that to him, but this is one that I can’t ignore. Less than two hours before I’d landed a PB common and now Shaun was doing battle with something very special. As he heaved and hauled it over the net cord I think we knew we had another PB on our hands. We were right and at 50lb 8oz like me Shaun had shattered his previous common carp record. We’d landed almost a hundred pounds of carp in less than two hours
A eleven I landed my last carp a mirror of 36lbs 8oz and was happy to take to my bed and rest up for the journey home. What a week we’d had. Over twenty carp between us with a combined average weight of almost forty pounds plus a couple of PB’s and this was on a week when the conditions were against us..
Just wait till we get back to this superb venue, and we will…