48-HOUR CHALLENGE | Old Mill Lakes

For this month’s 48-hour challenge we’re heading north to Old Mill Lakes, Lincolnshire’s premier day-ticket complex. The site consists of numerous lakes including the incredible Birch, which holds as many as 11 different 40-pounders and a quite frankly ridiculous three different fifties!

Alongside this lake there’s also a heavily stocked runs water called Oak and a second, more prolific specimen lake, Willow, which is where we decided to head for Ian’s 48-hour challenge. With 120 carp in three acres, a large stock of 20lb-plus fish and numerous thirties to 35lb, it would certainly be a worthy venue for the challenge!

Having only six swims available on the lake, Willow is run on a booking scheme where anglers can book their place for a 24-hour period. With our booking due to start at 12 noon, it made a welcome change from the usual early morning starts and I made the leisurely three-hour drive up the country to meet the fishery owner and see the complex for the first time.

It’s certainly a well run fishery – secure, on-site facilities and otter fenced to protect the complex’s valuable stock! Ian joined me in the car park soon after, so we made our way on to the lake for a first look.

The lakes looked stunning and with all six swims running along the same bank, it gave each access to its own strip of water and a section of the far bank. With the remaining four spaces already booked on, it left us with the two remaining swims, 3 and 4, which I left to Ian to make the final decision on.

IH: “Well, Peg 1 looked to be the best area on the lake with lots of weed up to the surface and it was clear there were plenty of fish in there as they had been a few showing. However with both 1 and 2 taken that whole end would have to be written off unless the anglers decided to go home midway through the session.

“Of the two remaining swims, it was Peg 4 that I liked the look of most. There were a few weed beds in my near margin and a couple of clumps of weed a few rod lengths from the far margin, which are always bound to hold some fish. After a bit of watching, it became clear there were indeed a few fish about, including one that was drifting in and out of the far weed bed – it looked as good a place as any to start.

“There’s actually a really handy depth contour map on the website, which means I don’t have to thrash the water to a foam with a marker. Instead I’ve just cast a bare lead over to the near side of the weed bed to mark the distance up and check the bottom, which was predominantly clay and the odd tiny strands of weed.

“The water here is dyed a blue colour to reduce the weed growth and it’s clear from the contour map that the weed grows to the surface only in the areas shallow enough for the weed to still grow, while everywhere else remains largely weed free. This has resulted in two main columns of weed that grow up off a couple of little shallow plateaus, and I can easily present baits all around them with a simple solid bag.

“With the lines clipped just short of the weed, I dropped two solid bags either side of the weed beds with minimal disturbance. These were fished with little trimmed down King Prawn wafters, and the bags filled with the Big Hit pellet mix, which contains various micro pellets, dried krill powder and whole shrimps. I’ve soaked the pellet mix in some additional krill liquid, which firstly gives it extra pulling power but also ensures the powders and dried whole shrimp take on the liquid and sink.

“The third rod was left to roam around the swim, rigged up with a wafter presentation, on which I could slip on a little bag of the same pellet and krill liquid mix I was using in the solid bags. There was loads of little patches of bubbling going on in the central zone of the lake so I started here, though it was a little deep for my liking being close to 14 feet in places.”

The first day drifted by with very little happening in our section of the lake. The wind continued to blow up the lake into Peg 1 and it seemed that other than the few fish drifting around on the surface, there was actually very little in front of us. One fish in particular seemed to be a bit of a resident to Ian’s swim as it could be regularly seen bobbing around with its back out of the water, drifting in and out of the weed.

With plenty of time ahead of us there was no need to panic too much as all can change in an instant. As the casts went out spot on first time, the two solid bags by the weed were left in place as there was always a chance that Ian’s mate, Bobby, could drop down at any minute for a little mouthful and it would be job done. Ian continued to roam around his remaining rod, before shipping it up the near margin with a baiting pole for the night.

The next morning came after a deadly silent night – the wind dropped right off and the only signs of fish were right in the weed over in Peg 1 and this continued right through the day, as things seemed to look progressively worse for Ian. Even Bobby was nowhere to be seen, having drifted away earlier in the day! It was time to make a bit of a game plan for the remainder of the session.

IH: “I’ve gone in very lightly to try and nick a quick bite and it’s not happened so far, but I don’t think I’ve gone too far wrong. The fish just haven’t been here! I’ve had a good look at the weather forecast and the wind is due to swing round in the opposite direction, bringing some cooler rain. Hopefully this change in weather will get the fish moving and feeding a bit more!

“I’m keen to leave one solid bag near to the weed bed, but I’ve moved one tighter to the far bank on a wafter rig with the little bag of pellets slipped down the hook link. I’ve also decided to change up my tactics a little bit and introduce a loose scattering of boilies in the area, just to give them a few freebies to try and build their confidence a little. I’ve had these soaking from the start of the session, so they will look quite washed out and will hopefully be accepted readily without caution.

“However, I’ve also mixed plenty of krill liquid in the lake water I’ve used too, so there will still be plenty of liquid attraction leaking from them.”

Around early evening things seemed to turn around and the wind began to blow more consistently back up the lake, and that evening the lake started to come alive as fish progressively moved out of the weed and into open water. Once again Ian carefully positioned the remaining rig tight into the near margin, but when two carp showed in quick succession in the open water he was quick to bring it back in and reposition a little stick bag in the vicinity of the showing fish.

Things were suddenly looking a lot more interesting for the night ahead and we crossed our fingers that we might just about pull it out of the bag with a bit of luck!

Sure enough, in the early hours of the morning one of my solid bag rods went into meltdown and after a lengthy battle I managed to scoop up a lovely 25lb 1oz mirror. I woke Ian for some pictures and once it was returned we spent the morning in Ian’s swim watching the day start. Time was running out, but conditions seemed better than they had done all session, with plenty of fish showing in the morning mist.

We sat and discussed what had occurred over the last two days and whether we’d do anything differently, but in hindsight the only thing we could think was that Ian had lost one of his indicators en route, meaning he had an odd purple bobbin between his two white Nash slaphead indicators! Was it an atrocity that had offended the carp gods!?

In the end we joked that if anything, it was the lucky bobbin and as if by the power of positive thinking, it slammed up into the alarm as line began to peel from the clutch – lucky bobbin indeed!

Ian lifted into the fish and it seemed to come in most of the way with relative ease before giving him hell in the near margin, just running circuits in the deep margin between the bank and the near weed bed. Each time it began to tire and come up in the water it would suddenly find a new lease of life and power back to the bottom.

It certainly didn’t help Ian’s nerves that the entire success of the 48-Hour Challenge was riding on him landing this one fish – this could be his only chance and the carp was not going to give up in a hurry!

Eventually we saw common scaling break the surface, and as the fish slipped over the net cord there was a huge sigh of relief! We hadn’t even looked at the fish, but it mattered not – it was job done!

Ian sat down for a bit to pull himself together before we lifted out his prize. It was only when we went to lift it out of the water that we realised the sheer size of the fish! It was a good ’un, certainly well over 25lb and perhaps even over 30lb, being a relatively short fish, but with a huge girth. Was this to be the Total Carp Challenge’s first Gold award winner? With the fish safely in the weigh sling, Ian hoisted up the scales… 29… 30… 31lb 12oz! He’d done it – GOLD!

Well, what more could you ask for: turning it around in the eleventh hour, or rather the forty-third, with an awesome 30lb common! With just a few hours left of the session we enjoyed a celebratory brew and slow pack down, content with our successes! It turned out that it really was a lucky purple bobbin – surely taking pride and place on his buzz bars from now on!