Geoff Downs at Fleets Dam

1Fleets Dam in South Yorkshire

We arrived at Fleets Dam in South Yorkshire on a sunny but hazy mid-May morning after a cold night. A dozen or so anglers were already fishing, and all were struggling – as is so often the case after a cold snap.

Geoff headed straight for peg 69, a swim known as ‘The Channel’ because of a gap in the reed bed that runs roughly parallel to the bank. ‘I can’t believe this peg is empty. It’s so good,’ he said. ‘You can fish close to the reeds, or you can fish the gap and the open water beyond.’ He was confident he could catch carp and roach, and maybe bream. ‘Conditions are fairly calm today so I’ll fish the waggler. The feeder works well in open water, but it would be difficult here because of the reeds. If the wind was strong I’d have to fish the pole because a strong wind creates quite a tow in such shallow water.’

TACKLING UP

Although he knows the swim well, Geoff starts by plumbing up – checking the depth and looking for features such as ledges. He finds an even depth of about 0.8m in the swim.

Geoff selects an 18cm insert waggler made from peacock quill, which he personally prefers to other materials. It has a total shot loading of 2 12 AAA but is semi-loaded with brass so that only two BB locking shot are needed. ‘It’s semi-loaded because I’ve found large non-toxic shot can damage the line,’ he says.

The insert is about 6cm long. ‘I like a long insert, so the dropper shots act only on the insert and not the main body,’ he explains. Droppers are a no. 8 and a no. 10. They are so light because the lake is shallow and Geoff expects bites on the drop. They take the insert down so only 6mm shows.

Geoff plans to start fishing about 15cm over depth so has the no. 10 about 30cm above the hook and the no. 8 the same distance above that. Later, if the fish come up in the water to take the feed as the water gets warmer, he will shallow up with the no. 8 immediately below the float and only the no. 10 down the line. This will reduce the risk of tangles and give the hookbait a slower fall.

Fleets Dam is a 1012acre day ticket lake near Barnsley in South Yorkshire.

When Geoff Downs’s friend and fellow Barnsley Black, Allan Hanson, acquired Fleets Dam in 1986 it was very run down, but with a lot of hard work he has transformed it into an excellent mixed fishery, with carp and bream to 7lb , tench to 3lb , roach and perch to 1 lb , and pike to 10lb or more.

The lake is regularly match fished, and most of the 75 permanent pegs have wooden platforms. Car parking is ample.

Tickets and seasons.

Fishing is allowed all year round.

Day and evening tickets are available on the bank.

For annual permits, bookings and further information, contact: Stainborough Fisheries Wickets, Lowe Lane, Stainborough, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S75 3ED. Tel 0226-292579.

On Friday evenings in July and August children can fish Fleets Dam for free under the expert tuition of England international Denis White and owner Allan Hanson.

Baits and keepnets

Boilies and nuts are banned at Fleets Dam.

Seasonal keepnet bans may be introduced during the summer months. This is because fish can become distressed if kept too long in keepnets in hot weather.

Learn to use a catapult with your left hand if you are right-handed, advises Geoff. It is easier to let go of the pouch than the catapult itself if you get a bite and need your right hand to grab the rod and strike.

Baiting the hook: Geoff has brought 1 12 pints of mixed bronze and red maggots, and the same ofcasters – ‘plenty for a nice day’s fishing here’ – plus some redworms and a tin of sweetcorn.

He decides on maggots and casters, so chooses a barbless, medium wire, crystal bend 21 hook tied to a 12 lb hooklength. ‘Anything finer and it will be hard to land the carp,’ he says. Geoff likes barbless hooks for maggots as they don’t burst the bait and the maggot stays lively.

Tackled up, Geoff places his bait tray and catapult handily to his left.

Geoff starts fishing near the gap in the reeds, catapulting in a dozen or so maggots and casters every few minutes. He spreads the feed around, so it lands both close to and away from the reeds.

By feeding both maggots and casters Geoff gives the fish a choice. He starts with a single red maggot on the hook, though. ‘Carp seem to prefer red maggots,’ he says.

Geoff also regularly loose feeds a second swim, about a rod length out. He’s a great believer in feeding two swims as it allows him to switch if the fish become cagey. Resting a swim gives the fish time to gain confidence and feed freely again.

Overhead casting

For smoother and longer overhead casts when waggler fishing, Geoff leaves up to 1.5m of line between the float and the top of the rod, if the depth allows.

Many anglers make the mistake of having the float too close to the top of the rod, which leads to jerkier and shorter casts.

There’s a nice ripple on the water, with a breeze from left to right and slightly in his face. ‘You need a ripple on still waters,’ says Geoff. A ripple makes the angler less visible to the fish and gives an attractive movement to the hookbait. ‘And you can’t beat a wind smack in your face,’ he adds. Fish follow the food and warm surface water brought inshore by a facing wind.

Geoff decides to go first for the ‘kamikaze’ carp – that is, the bolder ones – so he fishes well away from the reeds to start. Later he will try tight to the reeds for the warier fish.

Geoff doesn’t just cast out and wait for something to happen: every half minute or so he twitches his float to try to tempt a bite. He also keeps the loose feed going in. ‘To keep the swim alive, you must get into the routine of feeding every cast, even if you aren’t catching,’ he stresses.

CARP MILLING

No bites yet, but odd movements of the float tell Geoff carp are in the swim, milling around and bumping into the line above as well as below his float. Geoff has been sinking his line, but as the breeze is fading he decides he can get away with leaving his line on top, away from the carp.

CARP TOPPING

Carp are topping and bubbling now, but still no bites! ‘I thought I would have hooked one by now,’ he says, puzzled. ‘I’d expected a roach or two at least, but- you must be patient! I’m sure they’ll come on as the water warms up.’

FIRST FISH

A bite at last – and Geoff misses it! But next cast the float dips and he swings in a 2oz roach. A few minutes later, as Geoff twitches the float, a small perch grabs the bait in typical perch fashion.

SHALLOWER CASTS

Geoff is fishing tight to the reeds now. The breeze is getting up again, and fresher than before. Each cast he shallows up an inch or so, trying to tempt bites. He also switches baits, trying bronze maggots and casters, but to no avail.

All around the lake the story is the same, with some anglers packing up having caught nothing. But Geoff remains confident he’ll catch a carp sooner or later!

The float buries and with a firm sideways sweep of the rod Geoff strikes into a tear-away carp. Using sidestrain, he gives it plenty of stick to keep it out of the reeds, and within seconds is netting a pretty 212lb common carp.

For waggler fishing Geoff uses a 13ft through-action rod with an open-face reel and 2lb line. This is the actual rod he used to win the World Championship. Here he has moved down the bank in a vain attempt to get a carp out of the reeds.

GEOFF CHANGES DOWN

Next cast and another carp is hooked. ‘It’s solid with fish out there now,’ he says. Unfortunately, this time he can’t keep the carp out of the reeds and the hook pulls out. The swim goes quiet; the carp seem to have shied away to the far side of the gap in the reeds. Geoff risks changing down to a 1lb hooklength and 23 hook. ‘I’ve never known it so hard here,’ he groans.

BIGGER FLOAT

The breeze stiffens and to reach the gap easily Geoff changes to a 9in , semi-loaded 3 12 AAA insert peacock, locked with two Bbs, a no.6 and a no.8 but with the same shotting down the line. He carries on catching the occasional roach and perch.

CLOSE-IN

Geoff tries his close-in swim and gets an 8oz perch right away. After 10 minutes and no more bites he reverts to his far swim and picks up a few roach.

LOST FISH

Just as Geoff was thinking the carp had gone, a big fish hooks itself and bolts through the reeds. ‘I’ve no chance with this one, not on this tackle.’ Sure enough, he can’t keep the carp out of the reeds; he walks down the bank to change the angle of pressure from the rod but the carp breaks free. Geoff puts it at not less than 5lb .

TIME TO GO

Geoff gave it another hour but was unable to tempt any more carp. It just goes to show that when the fish won’t have it, not even a world champion can work miracles. But Geoff did catch several fish on a day when many other people fishing nearby never even had a bite.

Our first sight of the water offered mixed promise. Barely a ripple broke the glassy surface and many carp were hanging motionless in the margins. The occasional bow wave, however, told us that some carp at least were on the move. But would they feed in the heat?

Ben was confident they would, but thought they would take some coaxing. He decided straight away, therefore, that the best attack would be with the long poleshort line, as it would allow more delicate and varied bait presentation. To please our reporter, however, he agreed to try the waggler and straight leger first!

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