The Secret Mere.
I came across “the secret mere” a few years back whilst doing some woodland clearance and coppicing work for a customer. Whilst taking a break I had a walk around the estates grounds and stumbled upon paradise. On the edge of some woodland at the south of the grounds lay a small lake of a couple of acres, the water was gin clear with deep shelving margins. Sedges and wildflowers grew around the lakes banks and in the water aquatic plants thrived.
Dragon flies hovered and hawked and the only sound which shattered the lakes spell was the mew of a hunting buzzard in the distance. The lake looked undisturbed, no trodden banks, no litter and no sign of another living person.
I searched the water and as I walked along the northern bank my pulse quickened and my eyes bulged when a group of three superb common carp ghosted into view. They were not fat, bloated specimens but long lean and powerful looking fish. Was this a dream? Had I fallen asleep on my break? This didn't seem like reality but if it was I had to make the most of it. An opportunity like this could only come once in a lifetime, if at all.
I contacted the owner to enquire about the lake. I was told that the place had not been fished for years. He was unsure about fish stocks but was more than happy for me to fish there providing I returned all the fish I caught and left no litter.
That very evening I returned, so keen was i to discover more about this hidden gem, armed with a rod, net, rucksack and a tin of the yellow peril. I felt like a child at Christmas; it was like being part of an angling adventure written by the likes of Yates, Hearn or B.B.
The evening was overcast yet with a sultry heat. I stashed the tackle in the long grass and took a bucket of corn for company, searching along the margins looking for tell-tale signs where fish could have fed. A handful of corn here, a handful there. I made my way around the water. On returning to my tackle, I sat down in the grass and pouring a drink from my flask, I took in the atmosphere of the place. The lake was still and all around hung the smells of summer.
After a welcome brew I made my way back around the water rod in hand, checking if any "visitors" had taken up the offer to dine on the golden kernels. The first few spots lay undisturbed but on checking the next baited area I froze stiff as a small common was feeding confidently. Not the hoped-for monster but the first fish from a new water is always memorable. I began to bait the hook. A movement in the water caught my attention, the grey green shape of a Tench moved into view. Now this was no ordinary Tench, this was simply breathtaking. Words like enormous and monstrous ran through my mind. I was aware of nothing else, only that this Tench (a male) was bigger than the carp!
The Tench moved around the bait and then dropped down, tail-up, feeding on the corn. The water began to cloud as the fish competed. I snapped out of my trance, this was my chance. The float was cast beyond them and drawn back. Time stood still until the inevitable happened and the float jagged under, the Tench bolted to the right but the common remained writhing and battling, attached to the hook. DAMN!
After a spirited scrap in the deep margins the common slid over the net. I wouldn't usually weigh such a fish but i had to get an idea what the Tench could have weighed. On the scales the fish weighed 10lb and ounces. Things had now turned very serious - I was fishing on a lake I had to myself which contained a double figure male tench!
I couldn’t get the image of the Tench out of my mind. A truly awesome creature. All I could think about was the mere and its inhabitants. Time dragged on and the real world and work got in the way. Finally I managed a trip to the water it had only been a couple of days but it felt like a lifetime. As I made my way through the woodland and stepped out onto the banks of the mere, all thoughts of work, relationships and commitments drifted from my mind, it was good to be back.
Nothing had changed, it was as if I had never left. The day had been hot and sunny. I did a few laps of the mere searching the margins but there were no signs of the Tench or for that matter any carp. I baited a couple of margin spots then sat and scanned the water. Out towards the middle of the mere a thick weedbed grew. It was here that i noticed the dark blue shapes of basking carp. Lazily they enjoyed the last of the evening sunlight. There were some good carp present, some looked over the 20lb mark - no monsters by today's standards but to me these were special carp. Had they ever felt the sting of metal or the touch of human hands? Unspoilt golden-scaled commons, they cruised in and around the weed sucking at the foliage.
I made up a PVA bag containing floating dog biscuits and a small stone to give it some weight. I catapulted this upwind and let the mixers drift down towards the carp. They never so much as flinched as the biscuits passed over them. I've notice this before with wild carp that are seldom fished for; it's as if they do not recognise floating baits as food and therefore ignore them.
All very frustrating, the evening wore on and all too soon the dark fingers of twilight stretched over the landscape and it was time to call it a day. I checked the baited margin spots but they remained untouched. There was no sign of the big Tench.
That week the weather turned for the worse and some big south-westerlies swept across the country bringing with them wind and rain. There had been substantial rainfall and when I returned to the mere the usual clear water had been coloured by the rain. Stalking wouldn't be an option. I opted to use some watercraft and headed for the windward shore; there had to be fish here, the wind was hacking into a corner and it was here that I baited with a good helping of hemp and corn.
I set up an Avon rod with a float, fished lift-method, and baited a size 10 hook with three grains of corn. Settling down, it wasn't long before tell-tale bubbles began to break around the float on the water's surface. The float bobbed and swayed as fish began to rip up the bottom. The already coloured water began to turn a darker shade around the float as the fish really got on the bait. My heart pounded with anticipation, any minute now, any minute now I said over and over to myself. In the blink of an eye the float lifted half its length and then buried. The rod hooped over and the reel yielded line as the fish went on a turbo-charged run.
The fight was long and dogged which is often the case in deep water, my arm began to ache which is always a sign of a good scrap. With some relief the fish was netted and peering into the mesh there lay a magnificent common carp; long, powerful and lean. I set up the camera and took some self-takes amongst the buttercups.
Cradling the carp in the net I carried it away from the swim and released it. Returning to my pitch I baited again with a good dose of hemp, then poured myself a brew and let the swim rest.
I flicked out the float and soon the odd bubble broke the water's surface. The feeding did not seem as frenzied as earlier but without any warning the float just disappeared. If the last fight was good then this was in a different league, as the unseen adversary was relentless in its struggle to evade capture. I failed to stand my ground and ended up grabbing the net following (or is that being dragged) down the bank. After some time the fish tired, wallowing on the surface coughing water. Into the net went the carp, 22lb of power, a memorable fish.
Tired but happy I did the self-takes more than content with my evenings sport. The weather remained settled and after banking the two commons I was gagging to get back and try for the monster tinca.
I had to come up with a game plan. I decided that I would continue to target the margins and only fish when I could find and encourage the Tench to feed on its own. Two weeks passed by without a sighting of the Tench. I was averaging three trips a week to the “mere”. On most occasions I could get one or two of the resident commons to feed but they where mainly small and I refrained from catching them in fear of alerting the Tench to the possible danger of my carefully cultivated margin traps.
Had I dreamt that I had seen the Tench? Was it merely a figment of my imagination? No! I had seen this fish clearly feed alongside a carp which was caught and weighed. This beast was fact, not fiction, and I vowed that it would be mine. The one thing that did perplex me is that no other Tench seemed to be present in the Mere. Was this the reason why this Tench had attained such an impressive size? I could only second guess as to the reasons for this and it only helped to fuel the mystery that surrounded the Mere.
It was dark as I picked my way through the wood, eerily quiet, not a sound. I emerged by the banks of the Mere as the faint light of dawn crept in from the east. It wasn't a classic angler's sunrise, no mist-clad lake, steaming and glowing in the rising sun. Instead the lake was calm, slate grey in colour and the sky was laden with cloud. However the air was warm and the atmosphere was expectant.
With the settled conditions the water clarity had returned. Five margin spots were primed with a liberal helping of hemp and a pinch of corn. I set up a base camp where I would keep my tackle and every 40mins I would do a circuit of the Mere and check my baited spots. The trip would last from dawn until dusk. I began my lonely vigil in the only way possible and fired up my stove for the first brew of the day. Morning turned to afternoon and the light values had changed little, almost like a perpetual dawn. Afternoon slowly melted into the grey of the evening, the sky changing little. The Mere and surrounding woodland and pasture had remained unnaturally quiet. Not a bird nor animal stirred, no fish rolled or jumped, not a breath of wind ruffled the surface of the water. The atmosphere was oppressive, electric like when a storm is building; it was as if the place was holding its breath.
I set off on what seemed like the hundredth circuit of the Mere, now more in hope than expectation. The first spot I had baited was just off the edge of a small shrub growing in the margins. As I approached the spot I dropped to my knees and inched closer, peering into the waters edge - and there it was, the Tench! It's huge paddle-tail tilted up, wafting and furling, it's mouth buried to the gills as it searched and sifted through the silt for the shiny black seeds. Classic pin-prick bubbles slowly rose from its gills and burst on the calm water's surface. This was it. My hands trembled and my temples pounded with the beating of my heart.
Baiting the hook I made an extra long cast beyond the fish and drew back the small crystal float. I watched as the corn sank agonisingly slowly towards the feeding fish. The Tench carried on busily feeding, unaware of my presence. The first battle was won.
The fish righted itself, it's beady red eye focussed on the corn, and in one movement tilted down and sucked in the hookbait. I struck but instead of the expected power-driving run, the Tench turned on its side and wallowed up to the surface. In one swift movement it was engulfed in the net! The fight was an anti-climax but the sight that greeted me when I peered into the net took my breath away.
No words could ever do this creature justice or convey to the reader how immense this tinca was. Its flanks were unblemished, fin perfect, never before touched by the hands of man. It's huge stone protruded from its belly, a male! On the scales it weighed in at eleven and a half pounds. A PB never likely to be bettered. I took the pictures and at that moment I felt like the proudest angler on the planet.
With respect, I released the creature, packed up and left the Mere, never to return.