I first started carp fishing in June 1989 on some local ponds and pits, it wasn’t long before other anglers were telling me to get myself down to Burton Mere if I wanted to catch big carp. Every week I went fishing I kept getting told the same story and within a couple of months of converting from pleasure angler to carp angler I’d paid my first visit to what local anglers thought of as Wirral’s top carp venue.
My first session on Burton Mere was a story in itself, suffice to say the place caught my attention and during the rest of the 1989 season and the early 90’s up until 1994 I honed my skills as a carp angler and got myself a solid grounding in the basics of fishing for carp.
The syndicate carp lake known as Burton Mere was a lovely water, at the time, it held around 200 doubles with around 8 x 20’s up to 24lb but it was de-stocked for the 1993 season with most of the small fish being removed and around 30 of the biggest carp being left in there, a few more stockies were added and amongst these fish was a chunky fish that was affectionately known as ‘the fat common’.
Now the fat common was not a normal fish, it swam round most days with the top lobe of its tail poking out of the water. The fat common certainly made locating carp easy, this fish was rarely alone but due to the fact that he swam round on the surface regardless of the weather conditions he was always the first carp to be spotted on a trip around the lake. Most of the carp syndicate thought this particular carp had a problem with it’s swim bladder, I’m not sure what was wrong with the fish myself but it did appear to exhibit some strange behaviour on a daily basis!.
Despite the fat common being visible day after day, it actually turned out to be ‘the’ hardest carp to catch. For some unknown reason, this particular carp just didn’t acknowledge boilies as food!. Every carp in the lake came out to boilies in the first few weeks of the 1993 season except this one. By the time August came around this fish virtually had a price on its head, every day it would waddle round the lake with its tail out of the water refusing everything that was offered.
It was Tuesday 17th August 1993 when that finally changed, it was a hot day and I was bivvied up on a two day session at the time. Nothing was happening so I’d wound the rods in and taken a few bits and pieces to try some stalking up the far end of the lake. I’d done quite well stalking carp on Burton Mere and as I made my way up to the far corner of the lake the sight that greeted me suggested I might have a chance. Most of the carp in the lake were cruising round on the surface so I crept into position and fed them a single pouch of chum mixers.
The response from the carp was slow, at first they ignored the biscuits so I held off putting in any more and opted to wait and see if they’d respond. I’d gone fishing in a very loud and very bright aqua coloured t-shirt which wasn’t exactly the right sort of clothing for stalking carp, to counter act this I wore a black leather jacket to try and blend in more and make myself a bit less conspicuous!. I was roasting but I dare not move from my spot as the fish were literally just a few feet away from me.
Eventually, one of the mirrors nosed a chum mixer, it swam away, only to return a few minutes later with another two mirrors in tow, this time it ate the biscuit and over the next half an hour a few more chum mixers started getting taken. All the time this was going on the fat common was in the area but never once did it show any interest in taking a free chum mixer. Whilst watching the fish I’d decided to try a freelined mixer, the carp were happy to take a chum mixer close to the bank and I was up close and personal, so close I could flick them a freelined bait!.
The fat common came along the margins flanked by two slightly smaller mirrors, at a guess these fish were no more than two yards from the bank and I knew this was the chance I‘d been waiting for. I had a single chum mixer super glued to the back of a size 6 drennan super specialist hook which was tied directly to my 15lb big game line. There wasn’t exactly a lot of finesse in my floater setup but I was fishing next to a thick set of lily pads. I flicked the freelined hook bait out well in front of the 3 fish as they slowly made their way along the margins towards me, the fat common might not be interested in a chum mixer but I’d have been happy with either of the mirrors as surface captures on the syndicate lake weren’t that common!.
My heart was in my mouth as the 3 carp approached the hook bait, I’d put my chum mixer in exactly the right place and as the fish approached the bait, the fat common was right on course to intercept my floater. I gripped the rod as it slowly waddled up to the chum mixer, for a split second I actually thought it was going to take it but at the very last second it’s mouth lowered slightly in the water and it swam straight underneath my hook bait!.
Damn it, that must have been the closest any angler on the syndicate had got to getting a hook in the fat commons mouth, so near but so far!. I watched as the fish continued underneath my hook bait, it was obvious the fat common was the leader of this group of 3 carp, when he changed direction in the water, so did the two mirrors flanking him.
The carp had moved about 6 feet past my hook bait when the fat common began to turn, it came round in a slow ark until it was on a collision course with my hook bait again, the two mirrors had come with it and again I found myself clutching the rod tightly as the fat common waddled up to my single chum mixer. At the last minute its mouth rose this time and I watched in slow motion as a big pair of rubbery lips engulfed my mixer not two yards away from me!. I paused and watched as the carps mouth closed around the hook bait and the instant those rubbery lips were sealed I rolled my wrist and struck the hook home!.
That was it, all hell broke loose as both the fat common and the two mirrors all bolted for open water!. There was a big bow wave out into the lake as he made a bid for freedom. Unfortunately for the fat common, he wasn’t built for a scrap. He was a fat fish with a small tail and I was well and truly in charge with 15lb big game line going straight to my hook!. The fight didn’t last long, once the fat common had gone 20 yards or so he pretty much gave up the fight and just waddled round in circles until he came to the landing net. I slipped the net under him and gave it one massive shout, ‘fat common’ I yelled at the top of my voice!. One of the syndicate members heard my shout and came to investigate. ‘Fat common, off the top’ I said whilst giving it the clenched fist like you do!.
Chris smiled and said ‘I’m off to get the camera’, he disappeared for a while and when he returned we weighed the fish and rattled off a few photographs on both our cameras. For the record, the fat common weighed just 16lb 4oz, this was 3-4lb lower than the average estimate from fellow syndicate members but at the time in August 1993, he was both a pb common and a pb surface capture and given how hard he was to tempt I still rate and remember this capture all these years later.
I was glad to be able to unzip my leather jacket, whilst getting absorbed in the moment I’d forgotten just how hot it was!. With the pictures done I released the fat common and thanked him for making my day.
This carp had confounded everybody by avoiding capture and I’d been the only angler to get him on the bank and in spectacular fashion, I was just a little bit pleased with myself that day!.
Chris, the guy who’d helped with the photographs, he was a talented angler and he was the only other person to work out that the fat common just didn’t eat boilies. He became the next and only other angler to bank this unique carp when he caught it twice inside a couple of weeks on maggots. Apart from his two captures and my surface capture I don’t think the fat common ever saw the bank again. He continued to annoy the rest of the syndicate by swimming round on the surface every day but apart from the two captures on maggots, he never did slip up again whilst I was a member of the syndicate.