Holme Pierrepont Country Park is on the flood plain of the River Trent. Originally the site was used for gravel extraction but in the late 1960s three pits were joined to form one large rectangular pit. When it was filled with water from the adjacent Trent it became what is now the 2000m regatta lake.
Although it was originally used mainly by boating enthusiasts, the lake has become one of the highest profile match waters in the country. With an even maximum depth of around 3.5m (lift) and easy access for anglers and spectators, it is an ideal venue for staging large events -matches like the European Supercup. Furthermore, if one angler’s repeated success on a water is a guide to its fairness, then Holme Pierrepont must be fairer than most – David Toone’s record here is quite phenomenal!
There is one area on the lake that seems a little ‘fairer’ than the others, though. It’s the stretch between pegs 170-200 which lies next to a bankside feature known to anglers as ‘The Hump’. Peg 180 is the ‘hot’ peg and it’s where we’ve arranged to meet David.
Driving along the lakeside road on this dull but mild September morning, there is just one solid line of anglers to be seen and no sign of David – plenty of rods bending too! It turns out that there’s a British Telecom match on, and we find David already crouching over his tip rod farther down, on peg 226 – his second choice.
How many ducks does it take to stuff an eiderdown? Well, one answer is: not as many as it takes David Toone to tell you about his fishing. Has he caught anything yet? ‘Five skimmers for about 5lb [2.3kg], duck – up to about ½ lb [0.7kg] with a couple of hand-sized fish. You get them all sizes in here, duck – ranging from 4oz [112g] to 5lb [2.3kg], duck.’ In the City of Lace -Nottingham – ducks rule, and they take a bit of getting used to! Anyway, David is off to a good start. So how does he do it?
When the weather is mild and the water is coloured—as it is today—a reliable overall approach is to quivertip for the bream and skimmers about 35-40m (40-45yd) out. When temperatures fall, and the colour drops out of the water, you have to go farther out. ‘In winter you may only be fishing for one bite,’ says David.
Having baited his size 20 hook with a single red maggot, David primes the open-end feeder. With one hand, he scoops a little lightly wetted groundbait into his feeder, followed by some squatts, and then pushes in another plug of groundbait with his thumb. The feeder hangs down behind him as he lines up briefly with his marker — one of the lane-marker buoys on the rowing course – and then with a steady overhead cast he punches the feeder out.
Unlike some anglers who prefer to leave
David twitches the bait and has just taken his hands off the rod when the white tip nudges round. He sweeps the rod gently back, watching the top to see whether he has connected. The healthy bend that remains and the occasional thump tell him that there’s a skimmer on the other end. It is here that we come to a very important part of David’s technique.
Because rowing and canoeing races are regularly held on the lake, there is a system for creating racing-lanes. The events manager at Holme Pierrepont, Thomas Morris, will tell you that it is called the Albano system: 10 stainless steel cables which – without any buoys on them – lie parallel to one the bail off and let the feeder hit the bottom before engaging it, David prefers to engage it straight away. This means that as the feeder falls through the water in a slight arc towards him, the line stays taugbt and pulls the tip round. When the feeder hits the lake-bed the tip springs back. According to David, the advantage with this is that he is ready to spot bites straight away – even on the drop.
David puts the rod on a rest – two if it is windy – and rests the butt on the lid of his box, so that the reel is conveniently placed under his right hand. A slight turn of the reel handle puts just the slightest tension in the tip, and then eagle-eyed David watches for any movement against the black target board. ‘Here’s a demonstration of how to strike at a bream bite,’ says David, as he sits on his hands. The point is that it isn’t necessary to have lightning-fast reactions when fishing for bream. So what kind of a bite is he expecting? ‘Bites vary from slight pulls and drop-backs to the classic bream bite – a slow, steady pull on the tip which keeps on going until the reel handle revolves! You don’t have to strike hard, either. Ninety per cent of the time they have already hooked themselves.’ another for the length of the lake, on the bottom. The first of these is 27m (29yd) from the bank.
In order to create the lanes, buoys are attached to the cables – mostly at 20m (22yd) intervals – by 1.5m (5ft) steel tails. These lift the cables off the bottom in loops. Anglers might argue about just how many cables and lanes there are. In fact, the number of lanes simply depends on which event they have been set up for.
If you are fishing in front of the first cable then there isn’t a problem, but if— as David is – you are fishing over the first cable, then you have to bring a hooked fish off the bottom and over the cable. According to David, the knack is to wind fish in gently – so that the pressure of the water on the fish’s flank makes it rise.
As another 131lb (0.7kg) skimmer finds itself slipping into the keepnet it is obvious that David has solved the problem.
The action is deceptively steady. David may have to wait 10 minutes or more for a bite but they are mostly from fish over 1lb (0.45kg) – worth waiting for. Says David: ‘To win matches here you are looking at weights in excess of 20lb [9kg] – often nearer 40lb [18kg]. Big weights usually include a few 3lb [1.4kg] fish.’ Correct feeding is crucial, but because of the blue-green algae problem, anglers are requested not to use too much groundbait.
Apart from the groundbait that David is using in the feeder, he hasn’t put any bait in since the beginning of the session. This is because he doesn’t want to scare away the fish that are in the swim – something that would be easy to do in these flat-calm conditions. However, it is a great advantage to introduce some bait at the start to hold any fish that may move in to your swim later. ‘I start by just chucking a feeder out for about 15-20 minutes and hoping for no bites,’ says David. ‘If I don’t get any bites then I make up five balls of feed – laced with casters — and put them in one after another. This helps with accuracy. I deliberately spread them out a bit because you can’t catch 50lb (23kg) of bream in an area the size of a sixpence.’ David then casts beyond the feed area – so that the fish have a chance to settle on the feed – and waits for the line bites to start.
If he is unfortunate enough to get bites from the off, then he just has to play it by ear – catapulting a bit of feed in whenever there’s a lull. It’s all rather cunning and it works!
As the tip eases forward once more and David strikes gently into another skimmer it all looks very easy. In fact, when conditions are favourable it isn’t difficult to catch a few skimmers from Holme Pierrepont. After all, you don’t have to fish at long range or even fish over the cables to get bites -often you can catch on the float quite close in. Neither do you have to use David’s crafty baiting programme to cop the odd one – you could still catch using a little loosefeed and only enough groundbait to plug your feeder. But if you are going to compete in Opens it’s a different story. You may have to put up with more than a little heart-break and frustration before you can beat David at his own game. ‘The cables can be a problem,’ says David. ‘In one match that I won, I had 19 fish get stuck on the wires. I didn’t lose a single one!’