At a time when nobody fished seriously for the svelte and scaly fish that swam unmolested in College Reservoir, Ken Townley and his wife Carole discovered a Cornish carp paradise. In 1983 they were the first anglers to try the hair-rigged, boiled-baits approach since the lake had been stocked in the mid 1970s.
The 40 acre reservoir was filled early this century, flooding rich farmland, drystone walls and the odd cattle byre. Since inundation the lake bed has developed silt, gravel and weedbeds — encouraging the growth of aquatic life. The lake abounds with foodstuff off all kinds: swan and pea mussels, freshwater snails and shrimps, water fleas and insect larvae.
The water is about 2-3m (6l/£-10ft) deep with some shallower areas. In hot weather the level may come down a couple of feet or more. Most of the lake bed is covered in a layer of silt 10-60cm (4in-2ft) deep. But there are areas of hard-packed mud, gravel shelves and small, hard-bottomed ripples. These features can be productive.
In the early days you had to cut out a swim in the bankside undergrowth. Now there are plenty of established swims.
Reasonably accessible and convenient for targeting weedbeds, gravel areas and snail beds, they are all proven catching areas.
The Swim, which yielded 14 good fish on Ken’s first ever session, contains interesting features. Some may know it as The Beach, but to Ken and Carole it’s The Swim. About 18m (20yd) out to the left of The
Swim, a long, thin bar (possibly an old dry-stone wall) climbs some 60cm (2ft) above the silt. It can be very productive and it’s a good idea to find it with a plumb line then put a third rod out to it. Otherwise it’s a cast of about 80m (87yd) straight out to a raised area of gravel and patches of hard-packed mud in front of the swim. Fishing on or near these features increases the chances of fish seeing your baits. Carp regularly move over such areas—possibly to feed, out of curiosity or to use them as landmarks aiding lake navigation. If carp can feed on clean gravel – when most of the bed is silt – they will.
Follow the example of the resident buzzards that circle over College. Keep your peepers well peeled for your prey. Walk round the entire lake looking for signs of feeding fish. It’s a fair old hike of about an hour, but the trip helps you to select a good spot and get the best out of College.
On arrival always look for fish crashing out of the water. They may well be feeding. On calm summer days fish bow-wave slowly across the surface in open water. They’re not necessarily on the lookout for food, but sometimes they tip down over a bed of baits and pick up a sample or two.
The movements of carp are to some extent governed by the weather. If you know how the fish react to different conditions it can help you anticipate routes and put your baits in areas most likely to be visited. Summer and winter terms The carp in College seem to have a favoured summer patrol route. Starting off in the early morning along the east bank, they drift down to the weedbeds around the island where they spend most of the hottest part of the day basking on the surface. As evening approaches the fish move up the middle of the lake towards the North Bay, passing in front of Ponderosa then The Swim, before moving off to feed in the mouth of The Cut itself during darkness. As morning approaches they move out of range to a large area in the middle of the lake. Select your swim and plan to have potent baits out at the right time to intercept carp on the move. In winter they are a lot less active and seem to prefer to hold up for most of the colder months around the island. Blow by blow Experience shows that College carp are affected by the strength and direction of the wind – the more it blows the better they feed. This may be due to a number of factors — such as the stirring up of the lake bed and consequent disturbance of food, oxygenation or the water colouring up. Whatever the reason, it can help your strategy to consider the carp’s pattern of responses to wind.
In summer they respond well to fresh north or north-westerly winds, which may push nomadic carp towards the island to join the more-or-less resident fish there.
In autumn and winter very strong or even gale force westerly or south-westerly winds are excellent. Severe south or southwesterly winds usher the fish northwards where they come in very close to the bank.
East winds tend to be less productive, especially when they correspond with high pressure. College carp prefer low pressure to high pressure in winter and summer. Water temperature is not quite as important. Settled conditions may often give quiet sessions, but if there are westerly gale-whipped swells a foot high belting down The Cut towards the dam, the swims close to the dam can come up trumps.
If the weather is warm yet overcast the College carp feed well throughout any 24 hour period. Generally the daylight hours are less productive than the dark.
Using observation, weather, season, experience and advice, choose your swim carefully to target feeding fish or ambush them as they patrol. Even if you put your baits out among feeding fish there’s no guarantee they’ll take them straight away.
Carp patrol most of College’s 40 acres, especially at night when the fishing is at its best. Even if you don’t manage to tap in to fish early, you can expect to have fish over your baits at least once every 24 hours. If you’re prepared to dig in with a bivvy and bed chair for a few days and nights, you stand a good chance of action.
Occasionally fish creep right into the margins to feed but for the most part pressure has pushed them out into the middle of the lake or around the island. In both cases you need long-range tactics to reach them. If you spot fish moving closer in, fish at shorter range to avoid overcasting them. If you’re not sure how far out the fish are, try staggering your baits.
What has happened to change the character of the canal to such an extent?
According to Derek, water is taken from the canal to irrigate farmland, and it always