I must admit that I had forgotten the thrill of walking for the first time onto the banks of a new venue, with all the excitement and expectancy that such an experience brings. Actually, the term ‘new venue’ is not entirely accurate, because Barlow Lakes UK, as it is now known, is the complex of lakes in Derbyshire where I first cut my ‘carp fishing’ teeth. Barlow carp, course and trout fishery is set in 50 acres of beautiful secluded valley on the edge of the Derbyshire Peak District. It has four coarse lakes, three trout lakes and a specialist carp lake (plus holiday cottages and campsite). It even has its own fish rearing facility. Around 20 or so years ago, long before the specialist carp lake was developed, I used to regularly course fish on a couple of the lakes. Catching roach and bream on light float tackle, was occasionally interrupted by the hooking of a monster from the deep that instantly broke my line. Naturally, the scenario stimulated my curiosity and inevitably led to me strengthening my tackle, until the successful landing of single figure Common carp transformed me into the dedicated and passionate carp angler that I am now proud to be.
And so, when I recently clicked upon the Barlow fishery website, my interest was immediately aroused by the mention of a specialist carp lake on the complex. A phone call to the associated enquiry number put me in touch with a most friendly and informative lady, who booked me in for a 24 hr session. To my amazement, the specimen lake is currently home to a 42lb grass carp and several 30 pound carp, plus others in the 20lb bracket. To say that I was stunned is an understatement. I couldn’t believe that I had been unaware of such an attractive carp lake, less than 12 miles from my home in Sheffield. As you can imagine I couldn’t wait until Monday morning to arrive. Nevertheless, the weather forecast was far from encouraging, with freezing conditions and possible snow showers predicted for Sunday night.
Hence, it was with considerable trepidation that I set off on Monday morning at 6.30 am having cleared 2 inches of snow off my car. The edges of the road were coated in thick ice covered with frozen snow, leaving a narrow, clear track in the centre. Thankfully, I was soon onto a clearer main road, before tackling the well gritted country lanes of Derbyshire, including several steep inclines, plus open areas where snow drifts adorned the edges. It took me considerably longer than anticipated to arrive in the village of Barlow, but I was much relieved that the narrow lane to Barlow fishery, plus the on-site access tracks were relatively clear. Soon I was parked besides the carp lake and trundling in moon boots across the snow with several loads of gear to what seemed like the most protected corner of the lake. The presence of a small wooden hut provided me with somewhere to store my equipment out of the biting cold, snow flecked wind, whilst I considered where to place my rods an set up my bivvy.
As it turned out, bait placement was relatively simple. The left hand rod was used to lower a bait into the flow from the inlet weir, the middle rod cast a bait directly into the centre of the lake and the right hander targeted a margin spot, where the reeds had died back. In each case, the bait consisted of a Nash 15mm Citruz (cultured) boilie topped off (snowman style), with a 12mm matching pop-up. To boost attraction a golf ball-sized PVA mesh bag of Skretting 4.5mm Protec pellets was nicked on each hook before placement. Previous experience at Barlow suggested that just after dark might be the most likely time for a bite, so I prepared myself for a long cold wait. Certainly, I was glad of the protection afforded by the bank-side hut and my many layers of thermal clothing, boots and gloves. Eventually, as darkness fell around 6.00 pm I retired to the depths of my 5-season sleeping bag and watched the lake through the door of my bivvy, hoping to see some signs of carp activity. None transpired.
At 10.45 pm the left hand rod, fished to the inlet flow, gave a few stuttery bleeps. In seconds, I was out of the bivvy and hovering above the rod impatiently. When a second flurry of bleeps were emitted, I lifted the rod smartly and was gratified to feel resistance at the other end. A couple of surprises awaited me, though. Firstly, as I lowered my landing net onto the surface of the water, it made a clonking sound and slid along it instead of dropping into it. Clearly, the lake surface had rapidly frozen, such that a quarter of an inch of ice completely covered it. Some quick thinking was required, if I was to stand any chance at all of landing my quarry. My spare landing net handle was duly employed to smash a table-top area of ice in the margin, sufficient to accommodate my landing net. Gradually, I managed to ease the attached carp under the ice to the netting zone and it rolled into the net at the first attempt. In the light from my head torch a very long, lean carp was plainly visible. When I attempted to lift my prize out of the water, it felt significantly heavier than expected. Once on the unhooking cradle and subsequently hoisted aloft, my Reuben Heaton scales recorded a very satisfactory weight of 20lb 6oz. What’s more the magnificent lanky carp before me was obviously a grass carp, the first I have ever caught. What a result! I was completely blown away!
The rest of the night passed without incident and I was pleased to retrieve all of my frozen-in rods in the morning, without losing any end tackle. Without doubt, the session was a great one, whose memory I will treasure for a long time to come.
Sadly, I understand that the future of this little gem of a Derbyshire venue is in doubt, given that the 86 year old owner has Parkinson’s disease and is struggling to find a suitable buyer to continue the legacy. There is a very real prospect of the site being sold, at very much less than it’s proper value, solely for equestrian or agricultural purposes. Such a scenario would grieve me immensely. I do so hope that a caring and responsible owner can be found, so that the future of these wonderful lakes is assured, and not lost forever.