It’s six o’clock on a fine evening in mid September, and it looks as though there’s going to be a beautiful sunset. Fred and David Culley (father and son) are all set for a night session on Hollowell Reservoir.
The main target is Hollowell’s head of big roach/rudd hybrids – and they are big, growing to at least 4/Jb (1.9kg) – but they’re also going to have a go for some of the decent pike the water holds.
The water’s very low, revealing thick muddy margins. The wind doesn’t make it easy for Fred and David to put up brollies, but it takes more than that to put them off.
They are quite confident of success. After three weeks of dry weather it rained in the morning, freshening the water. With any luck the fish’ll be in the mood for food.
They tackle up, starting with their pike rods. The idea is to have at least one pike rod out at dawn and dusk, and fish a couple of leger rods for hybrids, up to the maximum of two rods each.
David casts a freelined sardine, closely followed by a freelined half mackerel. Fred uses two half mackerel. The gear is standard – 23/Jb (1.2kg) TC fast taper pike rods, 12lb (5.4kg) line on Baitrunner-type reels. With 20lb (9.1kg) multistrand wire ending in two size 6 semi-barbless trebles, the setup is complete.
Bite detection is a little less orthodox. They use Optonics on the front rod rest with plain drop-off indicators on the line, instead of electronic drop-offs, which buzz as soon as the line is pulled from the drop-off clip. Their set-up gives better indication of a run.
With the pike rods set up, Fred and David turn their attention to the groundbait. It’s made up of half a gallon of water with enough brown crumb to absorb it, three tins of sweetcorn and two pints of maggots. It has got to be stiff enough to hold together to the bottom of the lake where the wriggling of the maggots breaks it up.
The feed goes in 40m (44yd) out where there’s 1.8-2.4m (6-8ft) of water and Fred and David tackle up for hybrids. The gear is l!4lb (0.6kg) TC fast taper leger rods, 5lb (2.3kg) line to 4lb (1.8kg) hooklength, open-end medium-sized feeders with size 8 hooks for a breadflake/maggot combination and size 12s for multiple maggot and maggot/corn cocktails.
As David threads the line through the rings of a leger rod, he hears a ringing of a different sort. Well, more of a bleeping really. A pike has grabbed the half mackerel. David winds down and gives it what for.
Not to be outdone, the pike retaliates and from the healthy bend it’s putting in the rod, it’s a decent fish. After three powerful runs parallel to the shore, it has had enough and David can guide it into the waiting net. ‘Not a bad start,’ says Fred, by way of congratulation.
A bad start it certainly isn’t. Once in the sling, it pulls the scales round to 20lb 8oz (9.3kg). Long, slim and handsome, it’s better looking than Paul Newman.
These hybrids like to go a roamin’ in the gloamin’, so now’s the time. The wind has got up slightly, making it very chilly out of the shelter of a brolly. A half moon gives enough light to see by.
Bite detection on the leger rods is also by Optonic – pretty much essential for night fishing. Fred and David use bobbins with Betalights inside for visual indication. With the wind, it takes two swan shot to steady the bobbins.
The evening quiet is shattered by a screaming Optonic – a second pike falls for mackerel. Fred grins and hits the run. ‘This is another good fish.’ True to his word, a few minutes later a 12:Xilb (5.8kg) fish lies sullenly in the net.
Fred recasts and straight away gets another run. But after a minute or so, it comes off. ‘Ah well, it felt like a small fish,’ says Fred, consoling himself.
Once the excitement’s over, they check the hybrid set-ups. Inspection reveals the first signs of hope. A couple of maggots are flattened at one end – something must be interested. After that hopes are high.
They bring in the mackerel to concentrate on the leger rods. But a few more chewed maggots, without so much as a bleep from the indicators, quells the rising tide of optimism.
It’s time for bedchairs and sleeping bags to make their appearance – there’s a definite chill in the air. But what do you expect in mid September? In this muddy mire, trying to keep it all clean will be fun.
As these preparations get underway, Fred is interrupted by the occasional bleep from the Optonic guarding a hybrid set-up. The bobbin rises and falls irregularly. Five minutes pass and there’s still no sign of a run, so he decides to strike next time there are three bleeps in succession.
Three quick bleeps later there’s a good bend in the rod. ‘Well, it feels like a hybrid,’ grunts Fred as the rod tip thumps satisfy-ingly. The fish moves off left and before he can stop it, it has taken Fred into the weed .
Now it’s just a question of whether the snag or the line is the stronger. The line wins and a weedy hybrid comes kicking into the net. After removing the salad, it weighs 3lb 2oz (1.4kg) — a real morale booster.
That’s all that happens for about an hour until David gets a single bleep. He waits but after five minutes of occasional bleeping, frustration strikes – and so does he. Much to his surprise, it produces a fish, though it’s less than hand-size.
With no-one else on the water, it’s so peaceful it’s almost a crime to speak. The moon is going to set within an hour and brief clouds across its face hint at the real darkness to come. If you haven’t night fished like this before, you don’t know what you’re missing. Despite the cold, you gently doze as you wait for the Optonic to wake you to a run. Hope springs eternal as you slip into a light sleep. Whoops. What’s that bleeping? I wasn’t asleep was I? Surely not.
Where David’s fishing there isn’t too much mud, so he’s able to set up his bedchair right by his rod. Fred, on the other hand, is fishing knee-deep in muddy quicksand and he can’t actually get his bedchair down there without it sinking. He has to set up his gear and his umbrella about ten paces away.
So when his Optonic goes he stumbles in the complete dark down through the thick mud to where he thinks the bleeping is coming from. Then he’s got to hit the run.
Just as sleep begins to overtake the body, (making you forget about the blocks of ice at the end of your legs masquerading as feet), Fred stumbles down to his rods. In the dark it’s hard to see whether he is actually up to his knees in the mud or not, but a few minutes later, a night-snacking tench comes struggling and splashing into the shallows.
Fifteen minutes later David is awakened in the same way but as he strikes he feels only the resistance of the feeder. The maggots are crushed when he retrieves. Fish are on the prowl, so Fred decides to spend half an hour by the rods instead of on his bedchair, just in case.
Nothing has happened for over an hour, Fred has returned to his bedchair and peace has returned to the reservoir. Not a bleep disturbs the silence.
David is asleep when a short sharp sound has him rubbing his eyes. The bobbin rises, then falls. Once more it jumps and still David waits (though that might just be because he hasn’t woken up properly). Finally the bobbin rises to the rod and the Optonic goes crazy. David winds down and strikes into a decent fish.
The fish splashes noisily in the shallows, but it’s hard to make it out in the dark. Fred (roused from his slumber) navigates by sound to slip the landing net under another plump hybrid. At 2lb lloz (1.2kg), it’s a personal best for David.
Nothing much has happened for hours and there’s been plenty of time for anticipation-filled dozing. Then, as if someone had turned on a tap, twitches start coming on the hybrid set-ups. Fast and very hard to hit, they produce fish of no more than 12oz (340g) and averaging half that.
At six o’clock the half mackerel are recast, and half an hour later the expected morning pike run produces a five-pounder (2.3kg) on mackerel head. Twenty minutes later Fred strikes into a another run. It’s obviously a better fish. When David finally nets it, it’s a low double of 11lb 12oz (5.3kg).
Just after that run, our intrepid duo fire in another barrage of groundbait, to entice any passing tench and to replace the feed scoffed by the shoal of small hybrids. These herring-sized fish are beginning to make a real nuisance of themselves.
About 60-70m (66-77yd) out there are bigger fish rolling on the surface, so David and Fred exchange feeder for bomb to boost casting range. For the moment though, there’s nothing doing.
As the sun comes up, the feeling returns to parts of the body you’d forgotten existed. Eventually, it might even be warm.
It’s all happening on the fish activity front now. There are fish, big and small, rolling on the surface, and pike are swirling in the shal- lows. After he has a small hybrid mauled by a pike on its way in, David tries a chub deadbait in the margins – but to no avail.
It’s turning into a bright, warm day and the fish obviously appreciate it. Just to prove it, Fred connects with another run on flake and maggot, and brings in a four pound tench (1.8kg), but it’s hybrids he wants.
Just as they decide to pack up, David hits a run on a mackerel tail. The fish is so small he almost lands it on the strike. It only weighs about a pound (0.45kg). Still it would take a hard man to grumble about the sport. Three pike in double figures including a twenty, two fat hybrids and a couple of tench. Who could ask for more?
There’s just time to photograph the hybrids in the clear sunlight before going off for some real (and well-deserved) kip. The silvery-golden scales flash in the morning air. It’s the perfect end to a great introduction to night fishing.