Fred Clarke experiments at Stanborough Lakes

18 fishing at Hollowell Reservoir

It’s half past six on a clear August morning, and it doesn’t take a weatherman to tell that the day is gearing itself up to be a scorcher. The sun appears bright and early, and it’s hard to believe that Stanborough Yachting Lake, tranquil and picturesque, is near the busy A1(M) and Welwyn Garden City. (This is one of two lakes at Stanborough Park – the other is a boating lake.)

Carp are turning lazily on top of the water, and you feel instinctively that the fish are going to bite. Yet by some strange freak of nature it is often just this kind of morning that fails to produce a single fish! Sure enough, those ultra-keen anglers who have been here since five haven’t had a bite – despite the fact that people have recently been bagging up on bream on this very water.

Fred’s name is – inevitably – linked with roach, and one in particular: a 4lb 3oz (1.89kg) fish caught from the Dorset Stour which broke the British record. Today, however, he is setting out his stall to catch bream. He’s also going to give us some variety by fishing three different methods -pole, waggler and quivertip – and a number of baits. He wants to make the point that it’s worthwhile being prepared to chop and change according to conditions. It should be a fascinating exercise.

Fred kicks off using the long pole/short line, with medium elastic, a lg Olivette rig, 1lb (0.45kg) hooklength and microbarbed size 22 hook. He fishes the 10m (11yd) line where it’s about 2m (7ft) deep, and sets his single red maggot hookbait to fish some 15cm (6in) overdepth.

Loosefeed is hemp, casters and a few maggots. He’s brought all kinds of other baits to try later, including sweetcorn, luncheon meat, hemp and a variety of worms. (On this water groundbait is only allowed in a feeder.)

Fred lands a hand-sized skimmer after ten minutes and then another one — both on single red maggot. In between he has time to talk about his approach to fishing: ‘I enjoy all forms of fishing, from matches and specimen hunting to just fishing with friends. I’m not any kind of specialist.’

Did catching the whopping roach affect his life? ‘Well, it’s quite a shock to walk into tackle shops and see yourself on the wall!’, he smiles. Fred’s given most of the money he gained from his new-found fame to various charities, including one supported by Welwyn Garden City Angling Club which controls the fishing on this lake.

Suddenly the conversation is interrupted by a big fish – possibly a carp – bolting for the horizon and smashing Fred’s hook-length. He switches to a 2lb (0.9kg) hook-length and a forged size 14 hook baited with sweetcorn. There’s a fast bite and a brief struggle. It’s probably a large bream, but the line goes slack and whatever it is, it gets away.

At a quarter to eight he changes to three red maggots on the hook and soon after lands his first decent sized bream – a bronze beauty of over 2lb (0.9kg). He dips his hand in the water before handling fish – dry hands, whether they are hot or cold, can cause fish great stress.

Fred decides to try a lobworm-sweetcorn cocktail, and concentrates hard on his float. Ten minutes later there’s another skimmer in the net. It’s followed by several handsome bream – the best nudging 3lb (1.4kg). There’s no doubt about it – things are beginning to go Fred’s way.

Fred’s doing pretty well on the pole, but he decides to change to the waggler rod. Though he’s been going for bream so far, there is much talk among other anglers here about some recent and decent catches of small carp. Fred is tempted by the talk.

He sets up with 4lb (1.8kg) line straight through, with a 3AAA insert waggler. He decides to try out an experimental new Kamasan size 10 hook. It’s forged and features a short shank with a microbarb. It’s not on sale yet and Fred is intrigued to see how it will work.

He fishes the waggler in the same spot as he fished the pole, but now he’s feeding large handfuls of hemp to attract some small carp. ‘If I was fishing for quantity I’d stay on the pole, but I can’t resist trying the waggler for carp,’ he says.

By nine o’clock he’s landed a 2lb (0.9kg) bream on double caster, but then his bait gets a mauling from a fish that escapes his hook. He decides to try two tough-looking, jet-black casters on the hook. Unlike ordinary casters, he reckons they have to be bitten hard and can’t just be sucked.

There’s a lull now – no bream, let alone carp. Most likely the fish have finished their early morning feeding spree.

Fred changes baits again, this time to luncheon meat, held on the hook with a small piece of grass. He gets a confident bite, but it’s no carp – rather a ½ lb (0.3kg) skimmer! All goes quiet again.

There’s time to talk to bailiff Thomas Shields about the lake. It was opened in the early 1970s as a sailing lake, but was soon stocked with fish. Now, sad to say, it’s a fact that wherever anglers and sailors meet there’s always a clash of interests. So isn’t it asking for trouble stocking a sailing lake?

Not according to Thomas. Here at Welwyn Garden City, he explains, there’s close cooperation between all parties, and regular meetings help to stop frustrations building. Meanwhile, Fred’s having trouble finding the carp, and he can’t get the bream back to their feeding ways. He decides to switch tactics and try for bream again – this time with the feeder, reasoning that the fish might have moved farther out.

He switches to an lift (3.3m) Avon quiver-tip rod with a l/4b (0.56kg) TC. He fills his medium-sized cage feeder with groundbait, maggots and casters and casts out 30m (33yd). He’s using a 2lb (0.9kg) hooklength to a size 16 hook, baited with one bronze and one red maggot.

Which does he prefer fishing, pole, rod or quiver? ‘I enjoy all these methods. The main thing is it should be fun, however you’re fishing.’

Getting no response to maggots, he tries a redworm and caster cocktail. He gets a drop-back bite and soon a 154lb (0.7kg) skimmer comes to the net, but it’s been hooked in the gill so Fred quickly releases it back into the water. Worm and caster cocktail proves pretty effective as several more skimmers follow in quick succession.

Things go quiet again and Fred has time to tell us about catching that record roach. ‘It was due to a cowpat! It was the first time that I’d been on the Stour and I wouldn’t have fished on that particular stretch of the bank as I thought it was too boggy. But then I saw a cowpat and thought if a cow could stand there, so could I. It was quite a fight, but a short one. For a minute it put up a very strong struggle, and then it seemed to give up.’ Needless to say, Fred couldn’t believe it when he saw the size of the fish.

Suddenly the quiver hoops round fiercely. There’s a bit of a struggle and then a decent bream of around 2lb (0.9kg) appears, to add a final nourish to the day.

It’s getting pretty warm now and Fred’s proved his point – it’s not difficult to catch if you keep your options open and don’t just sit there fishing the same method and bait if they’re not working.

Fred’s family arrive – a strong hint that it’s time for him to pack up for the day. He has a tip for packing up that is worth thinking about. Don’t tip all your unused bait into the water… it fills up the water with food. Too much food is as bad as too little in a water since it greatly reduces the chances of a fish taking your offerings. Take the baits home and put them in the fridge, or throw them away – though not at the bank – you don’t want to encourage rats.

There’s a good 15lb (6.8kg) of fish in the net, including eight decent size bream. On the whole the pole caught most fish, but Fred did start early with it, and on warm days fish often feed best first thing.

As he leaves he already has his eye on the river that borders the lake. You can see what he’s thinking; it might be a good spot for a decent roach… but he ends up paddling in the river with his two boys Thomas and Ben while his wife looks on.

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