Evan has chosen a sunny April morning to take us to a small Cornish carp water near Newquay. Fisheries like Smugglers’ Den have emerged all over Cornwall in recent years — you often find them tucked away down the quietest country lane, seemingly miles from anywhere. Evan thinks that we’ll be seeing far more of them in the future, and not just in Cornwall. ‘Although I won a match on the other pool last week, I’ve never fished this one,’ says Evan as he sets up a pole. ‘I know there are carp and tench here – both margin feeders -and on this pool you’ve got two margins: the edge of the pool itself and the island.’
A tangle of pussy willows, alders, Norfolk reed and rushes supported by a quaking muddy base, the island is more like a floating swamp than anything else, but it’s an attractive feature and looks very fishy indeed. Along the nearside margins to Evan’s left there’s a bed of Norfolk reed with some fairly deep-looking water against it. This is where he plans to start. ‘I’ll only fish about 3m of pole with a little dibber tight against the reeds, but I’m setting all 14m up because I’ll need it if I hook a carp.’
He tackles up a waggler next. ‘I use an AAA to plumb up with – it’s easy to cast and doesn’t disturb the swim,’ he says, squeezing the shot on the hook. With pin-point accuracy Evan casts to a gap in the island and finds about 1.2m (4ft) of water. Just to the right – off the corner of the island – two broad backs bob above the water. They belong to a couple of hefty mirrors basking in the sun. ‘Right, we’re ready to go,’ says Evan, picking up his pole.
Evan had intended to feed casters on the pole line and maggots on the waggler line but he forgot to bring a riddle to sort the bait. Instead he’s going to feed a mixture of maggots and casters on both. He blasts out two good pouches to the island — at about four rod lengths — and then flicks one on the inside. The hook baited with a white maggot, Evan lowers his dibber about 45cm (18in) from the reeds. ‘Right, let’s see whether there’s anything there.’
Well, it’s almost unbelievable – the little orange dome of his dibber bobs twice and dulls as it slides down into the clear waters. Evan lifts the pole and laughs as a few feet of white elastic pop out. ‘It’s a good fish,’ he says, as it heads straight into open water.
With a rod and reel Evan would be back-winding now, but instead he reaches calmly for two joined sections of his pole, which are close to hand, and smoothly slips them on. This enables him to bring the pole tip over the fish to control it. ‘With a pole you learn to steer fish – like driving a car – making the fish tire itself by going where you want it to go.’
Now it’s kiting to the right, so Evan adds another 2m to stay in touch. He’s so confident that he fills his catapult pouch with his left hand and feeds the inside swim while playing the fish!
Soon the elastic’s relentless pressure has the desired effect. Evan removes two sections and draws the fish steadily towards him. Concentrating hard, he takes off two more sections — always ready to add them again should the fish make an unexpected dash. But as the thick rubbery lips of a plump common carp appear above the surface, it’s clear that this one isn’t going to escape.
In spite of trying a spot farther to the left -where the fish have more cover — Evan hasn’t had another bite. He feels that the water is a little too clear and that there’s too much bankside activity for them to feed confidently so close in. ‘It might work in about two weeks time – that’s when the margins really come on song.’
So here’s an important lesson: don’t expect tried and tested tactics to work all the time — the conditions may be wrong. Always be prepared to try something else. That said, it’s time for a change.
Directly opposite Evan there’s a watery inlet that leads to the centre of the island. The gap — no more than 1.5m (5ft) wide — is fringed on one side by reeds and on the other by pussy willows. Over the top a couple of rotten, lichen-covered boughs form a roof. It’s a real carp haven but an angler’s nightmare. Says Evan: ‘I’m going to feed just short and hope to entice a few into the open – or else they’ll be in there like quick sticks!’ He baits up with two maggots, casts into the gap and draws the float back a little. With the water as calm as a millpool there’s no need to sink the line. Every now and then the reeds tremble as a carp brushes against them and you can even hear the sucking ‘plop’ of fish feeding round the island. The float has only been in for about a minute when Evan says: ‘This is disappointing.’ It seems that, with all the activity, he was expecting instant results.
He fills the pouch and feeds. Nothing happens. ‘Do you know,’ says Evan, ‘I think the maggots are actually scaring them!’ Looking hard into the dark waters of the gap you do almost get the feeling that it’s solid with the sly brutes. ‘There ain’t a lot of action and there’s not much I can do about it,’ says a perplexed Evan. Just as he’s feeding, the line tightens and he grabs the rod. ‘That one swam into the line below the float,’ he says, as he winds in. Shallowing off- so that he’s only fishing about 60cm (2ft) deep – Evan recasts. He’s just pointing out that one of his shot has come off when the end of his rod whangs round. And after a couple of elbow-aching minutes a common of about 2/4lb (1.1kg) slides over the waiting net.
Evan explains what prompted the change: ‘I kept my eyes open and saw that the fish weren’t feeding on the bottom. So I shallowed off— and it worked.’
Now there’s a new problem – missed bites. Fish are venturing from their haven to snap up the loosefeed but Evan thinks that the flurry of activity is causing line bites. ‘I’m really dicing with death with that one,’ he says, casting right into the gap. The orange insert vanishes almost immediately. Evan strikes, misses and winds in. ‘There,’ he says, holding up the hook, ‘suspicions confirmed.’ On the end there’s a gunmetal-coloured carp scale. ‘I’m going to try a hooklength of lighter line.’
According to Evan, when you fish a bait shallow, carp hit it rather like trout – that is, fast and hard. Today he’s having to strike at the bites – which is unusual – but while waiting for them he still keeps the rod to the side to prevent snap-offs.
Evan is playing a really tough brute which all but took the rod off the rest and would have snapped him had he not practised what he preaches. The rod bends alarmingly as he struggles to keep the carp out of the reeds. Looking at his chunky forearm straining against the butt of the rod, you can’t help wondering how many thousands of pounds of fish that arm has levered from the water over the years.
Half the battle is in turning a carp and bringing it into open water – if you manage that you’ve usually won. Evan has succeeded and now the float shows for the first time as the fish tires. Water boils as the fish dives again. ‘I can’t believe how hard it’s fighting,’ says Evan as the hook pulls out. ‘Yesterday at Shillamill I was catching eight pounders on the same rig,’ Evan says, as he pulls out of another. He’s sure that none of the fish has been above 3lb (1.4kg) and yet they fight like demons possessed!
The problem is that although he’s taken the hooklength off and changed back to heavier line straight-through, his hook -although very strong- isn’t quite up to bullying them clear of the snags. Says Evan: ‘I’m giving them such a lot of welly – the welly is needed to get them out of their hidey hole.’ He cops another common and then loses two more. Then another follows and another. It seems that finally he has got the bAuldleyce between the force applied and strength of the hook about right.
By the end of the session Evan has ten carp for around 18lb (8kg) – but my word, hasn’t he had to work hard for ‘em?
Anglers who haven’t tried this type of fishing on the grounds that it is in some way artificial and a bit too easy should give it a try. It offers value for money, can be great fun and – as Evan has found out on the day -can be a genuine challenge.
The pools at Smugglers’ Den may be man-made but they are now well-established and have a distinctive character of their own. Set in beautiful rolling Cornish countryside barely two miles from the sea, surrounded by pasture land, willow thickets, gorse, hawthorn and reed, they are anything but artificial.