Over the years, I’ve had more than my share of lows fishing Hemingford, but by a long way the highs compensate for, and overshadow the fish less days.
I guess, for me one of the biggest attractions of fishing Hemingford Grey – Marsh Lane Pit- is the unknown aspect of the place. At 65 acres, it is a big venue by any standards. However, with so much of it unfishable – especially in the part “affectionately” known as “Jurassic Park” – only adds to, and compounds the mystery surrounding the lake. Gravel works first started in the late 40s to build the A14, although its history goes back much further. The south half of the lake is in fact 11 sunken ponds that go back generations. As you drive around the back track, you will see on the other side of the stream one of the remaining ponds, which looks like Tench heaven. Interestingly, and this will raise a few eyebrows, there are 3 clearly different strains of Tench present and this is without doubt due to the ponds being flooded into one large pit. The same can be said of the carp, especially the mirrors, where occasionally you will land a resident mirror with double pecks, often both sides, but sometimes on one side. Stocking of carp first started in the early-60s and has continued since, although I have it on good authority that Carp where put in soon after the gravel works commenced. This, I understand was common practice, especially by big gravel companies such as La-Tharge’.
Clearly, they knew what was coming in the carp world ha-ha. A local guy who owned a 1-acre pond stocked carp from successful spawning virtually every year. I am assured this was a good strain, and having captured a fair few; I have no reason to doubt this. Over the years, there have been other fish stocked – unofficially – from local pits and lakes and from near by private ponds. I cannot emphasize the vast areas of this lake – where the fish can live undisturbed for years. Those who fish it regularly have seen these shadows far too many times, in areas impossible to fish. Last may, in an attempt to push these habitually resident fish out from their hiding places; we stocked 32 “aggressive” hungry commercial carp in the low-mid teens, hoping they would go in like the proverbial Bull-in-a-china-shop. It worked for sure, as fish in the upper-teens, mid 20s and low 30s started showing and indeed being caught in the accessible areas. Of the 39 carp I had last year, 22 had never seen the bank before and only 5 were fish stocked by us in May 2015. It is worth mentioning the growth rate. A mirror stocked in May at 9lb7oz was caught in August at 13lb11oz and again this February at a remarkable 17lb 9oz. How big do the resident fish go to!!
I recently fished it with Mark Hoye (CEO SSP Baits). This was Mark’s first time at my beloved Hemingford. We’d arrived mid-morning and chose to fish in a bay at the far end of Jurassic. This bay is 8 acres and only has 4 swims, 2 in the north corner and 2 in the south – where we’d set up camp. Even here, there is a lot of water that you just can’t get a rod anywhere near, leaving a lot safe areas where the fish can live without being bothered by us mere mortals. We had decided to feed sparingly, aware there were masses of naturals hatching, creating a live-in-5-star-restaurant for the fish. Something as anglers, we are not even close to competing with, even with the best bait in the world. Bait in, rods out, and kettle on we settled down. With little or no wind, it was easy to fish spot, and we did a lot of that. I suggested to Mark, that you could visit the place a dozen times and never a sign of a fish. Today, however, was one of those days when the fish were on the move, even in bright sunlight, they were topping, rolling and fizzing everywhere. In retrospect, the fish were probably feeding on the hoards of natural food available. At one point, a Carp, so big beached itself on a gravel bar, and Mark thought it was an otter.
Now here’s the bad news for those of you planning to point a stick at the place. The fish in here will frustrate and test you to within an inch of your life, and I guess that is one of the attractions for me. Having fished matches at the highest level, I get a similar level of competition from the fish in this ‘Damn’ place.
So, back to our exploits. The fish activity, continued right into darkness, but as the fruitless hours ticked by, we started to notice a pattern – most of the fish showing were away from our swims – around the corner in the impossible to cast to areas. Now some of you who haven’t seen or fished it will think,” I bet I could fish in those areas”. I’ll be pleased to hear from you when you succeed.
By morning, all we had to show was a small indication each. In spite of this, as we sat drinking coffee watching the sun come up, Mark said, “I get it. Steve, I know how enthusiastic you are about everything, and I honestly thought all you’d said about the place was just that – over enthusiasm. Nevertheless, I get it; the place is amazing – mad – full of mystery – and a total wind up. But you just know that the next bite could be the fish of a lifetime.”
Trust me people, we had been through the card. We’d tried Bread, Worms, Maggots, Corn, Maize, all types of boilies, wafters and pop-ups. In some cases, boilies tipped with worms and so on. In fact, having fished the place for 20+ years, there isn’t much. I haven’t tried, and for sure I have my go to baits. This is it, in a nutshell, though, just as you think, you have it sorted, the next week it is back to black. I have even tried crushing up naturals and rolling my hook-baits in the juices, which has occasionally produced, but no patterns here.
This is it though, you just never know what to expect here. I have had some mind-numbingly frustrating sessions and some brilliant sessions too, normally the bad follows the good haha. I have tried every rig known to man and some not, and as I said, just as you think you’ve got it; it’s back to square one.
There have been a lot of rumors over the years, of huge bream, ridiculously big Tench and Carp that we all dream of. Ask yourself this, why has there been so many rumors going back over so many years? Is it all talk, or are some of them fact. Why have so many greats of angling fished it over the years? Is it all baloney? Even I have raised my eyebrows at some of the stories – of 30lb carp in the 60s, 40s in the 70s. There have been stories of HUGE Bream in the 80s and the same for Tench, although it did produce the then-current UK record tench of 9lb1oz in 1969. A huge fish by any standards, let alone nearly 50 years ago. So, if the Tench could grow that big, then how big could the carp be. As mentioned previously, I know of many stockings of good strain fish over the years. They are not all dead – as some would have you believe. Generally, the ones who turn up and think – or even say – yeah, gonna take this place apart, and then leave 6 weeks later without even seeing a fish, are the ones who tell tales of no fish. In fact, I have only known of one dead carp in 20 years, and that was a 26lb mirror about 6 years ago. I had captured this fish the year before at 34lb. I won’t be plastering photos of big fish all over the net, not my scene and most importantly, I don’t want the unnecessary attentions of the “trolls” and subsequently filling the place in with boilies, something I will come onto later. I have – over the years – had my fill of media attentions for my fishing exploits and actually; my ego doesn’t need a pat on the back from someone I don’t know. I am still unpicking the place, even after all these years. In fact, every time I go, I walk away wondering, knowing I need to learn more. This is it though, this place leaves you wondering about the possibilities and knowing you have merely scratched the surface. It is not everyone’s cup-o-tea, but if you think it’s for you, then be prepared to get your head down and do the work. It will pay off – eventually. It is a mystifying, baffling place, and once it gets its teeth into you, there is no going back. It will test you like no other water, but trust me, they are there – in numbers – and more besides. You spend enough time on here and you will see signs of fish that will leave you speechless. People ask me, “what you fishing for” and I answer, in here, anything that swims, because every fish you catch here will be special…
When and if you do have a go, you will – more often than not – sit there for weeks on end and not see a fish and then out-of-the-blue the place will come to life. In Mark’s case, well what can I say, he saw the fish first time. It will leave you scratching your head wondering what you are doing wrong. In most cases, you’re not far off, so just tweak it until you start to get results. An extraordinary, head-scratching, unique venue will leave you wanting to either run away or rush back. Most of the time you’ll have the place to yourself. Finally, it is worth knowing there are next to no small fish, so what is in there, live in an open food store. Bear this in mind when feeding and choosing your hook-bait, and you won’t be far wrong. I know someone – this year – who had 19 blanks in a row and then had seven carp in the next 4 trips. One word of warning, fill it in with 5 kilo of boilies at your peril. As daft as this might sound, I am convinced the fish in here and that includes the Tench, Bream, and Carp are spooked by perfectly round boilies.