It’s a very dark day towards the backside of February. Rain is drizzling fitfully and there’s a wind that plays searchingly around the spine.
Even the beauty of the Nottinghamshire village of Collingham doesn’t relieve the overpowering feeling that Dave’s not going to catch anything except double pneumonia. On top of this it’s a walk of a mile to get to Cromwell Weir.
Against a matt black sky the grey silhouette of an angler is dimly visible. It looks as though he’s reclining on, of all things, a sunbed. It just has to be Dave Ladds. Apparently he’s been there since seven in the morning.
He’s fishing from the 3.6m high wall above Cromwell Weir, on a tidal stretch of the River Trent. ‘This stretch is worth a try,’ says Dave. ‘I’ve brought along a couple of rods and I’ll fish some tinned red kidney beans and boilies and see what happens.’
Dave explains he’s fishing two 2lb TC carbon rods, both lift long. He’s using baitrunner type reels with fairly simple rigs: a Barry Roberts feeder boom, 12lb line, with a heavier 15lb hooklength and size four hooks. The heavier hooklength is necessary to cope with the snags and weeds on the bottom. Dave would rather risk fish seeing the line than have his hooklength break, leaving a hook in the carp’s mouth.
One rod has boilies made up from a very cheap mix by Dave. ‘I make my own boilies with cheap mixes because they contain less milk protein. This means they are heavier and won’t float away on the current,’ explains Dave.
The wind increases and it’s virtually impos- sible to face into it. Cromwell Weir boils away below us – slightly to the left. Pieces of wood are being swirled around and smashed in the mini-maelstrom. ‘It’s not great conditions…’ admits Dave, a master of understatement, ‘…but I think we should get some good bites when the tide changes, around eleven. I hope so or I’ll get very discouraged!’
The left hand rod is fishing in a depth of 90cm , the right hand one at 3m . Dave groundbaits using his home-made boilies with Scopex flavouring attached to the hook with water dissolving PVA string. Loose boilies would be swept away long before they reach the bottom around his hook, he explains. ‘In the summer I’d be fishing in the middle – but today I’m having to use a very heavy weight that’s only just holding the bottom close-in. I’d lose everything in midstream,’ says Dave.
There’s a sudden knock on the right hand rod’s line. Dave strikes and gets a healthy bend in the rod as he walks to some sheer steps. After a struggle a decent-sized Trent chub comes to the net. The two-pounder has gone for the boilie.
Dave is almost embarrassed. ‘It’s not what we came for,’ he says. No matter, it’s very pleasing that he has caught at all in these conditions. But it brings home one point: how is he going to battle against a big fish on these steep steps, if he should hook one?
Releasing the fish, Dave says he was here in a recent snowfall. He slipped and fell down the steep wall, and only just caught a handhold in time. A 3.6m drop into 3m of freezing water could be lethal.
Dave is not using hair rigs. This is a big surprise in modern carp fishing. But again he has a good reason: ‘I attach the bait to the hook leaving the point free. I don’t believe the hook would touch the carp if it sucked in a hair-rigged bait against this current’
Dave tells us of Cromwell Weir’s grim reputation. Not so long ago some soldiers in canoes, on a night exercise, were swept to their deaths here. They are by no means the weir’s only victims.
There’s a howling wind and the sky grows still darker. Cromwell Weir growls deep below us. So why are we at this sad spot? ‘There are power stations along this stretch of the Trent. They keep the water here warm throughout the year. why the carp keep feeding. And the weir ensures food is always stirred up.’ What’s that old cliché?
It’s about time for that change of tide. Dave starts to tell us of a special local tide, the equivalent of the Severn Bore. It’s called the aegre and it flooded out a match in 1990. As he talks, for some reason he is not looking at us but at the steps.
He knows of a mark on one of the steps -when he can see it, the tide has turned. As he talks he realises it just has. Now is the time for that carp he has promised, but
Almost as he reaches for the rod there’s a big bang on the line, just as predicted – to say we’re impressed with this timing is an understatement.
But there’s a snag. Whatever it is he’s hooked into, it’s big, and it doesn’t want to wait around. There’s ‘a hell of a fight’ as Dave says. The fish sets off to the left -towards the weir and against the flow, like a crack express train. The problem is, the steps are to the right! ‘This is strange…’ says Dave, nervously looking at the bow in the rod, ‘…it’s not meant to do this!’ He has to start letting out line.
For over five minutes the tussle continues. This fish really is reluctant to see itself in print. Finally, however, it streaks away to the right —just what Dave wants. He edges towards, and then down, those perilous steps. Reeling in hard, Dave gets a first sight of the fish. It flashes almost orange in this light. Whatever it is, it resembles a barrel- there’s not so much as a twitch. A few minutes go by. Getting edgy, Dave thinks about bringing in his beloved kidney bean and changing bait. like pig. Finally Dave gets a net underneath – and the fish is revealed as a big, fat carp.
Dave is modestly surprised that his predictions have come true: on the turn of the tide a carp has indeed taken a tinned red kidney bean. We weigh it and find the big beauty weighs 13lb 2oz . Dave enthuses over its colour. It certainly does have an orange tint in the pale winter light. Its pinky orange colour increases its resemblance to a pig, but it’s clearly a handsome, prize-winning specimen!
The fish still seems reluctant to be the star of the day, and struggles mightily until Dave puts his hands over its eyes. This calms it instantly. Dave puts lots of sacking underneath the fish to avoid bruising it on the frosty ground.
The carp becomes slowly less belligerent – it’s high time it was back in the water. Dave holds it for a little while in the swift flow. The fish needs a minute to regain its strength before it swims swiftly away into the turbulent water.
That’s one fish that’s probably gone off kidney beans in a big way.
After this, precious little happens. Dave attempts to ring the changes by trying an open-ended feeder, on the theory that the feed might just stay around his hook on the bottom long enough to attract something.
It begins to hail, with a touch of snow. The light’s too dark to take pictures, and the cold’s so intense we can’t make notes. And Collingham has such pretty pubs. Dave is dragged reluctantly away – but he’s proved he can defeat Cromwell Weir. Not even freezing weather could chill the attraction of his tinned kidney beans.
To Geoff’s surprise, no-one was fishing the shallow, reedy car park end where carp gather in spring to spawn. Sure enough, as we stood surveying the water the occasional swirl showed that carp were around.