Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Fishing in The Duke of Marlbourgh's fish pond

I have a real love for fishing estate lakes! The combination of the feeling that this lad from a mining town in the heart of the Midlands gets mooching around on some lords country pile, and the ever romantic Mr Crabtree influences of yesteryear seem to always attract me to them.

When Keith initially asked me if I fancied sharing a boat for the day on Blenheim palace lake the possibility of me saying no was rather unlikely. From the moment I agreed I went into research overdrive as I looked for any fishing reports from the last three hundred years or so since the place was built. Before we even discussed tactics a few general areas had turned up time and time again in my research. A phone call prior to the trip had confirmed both of  us were on the same page. The Perca fluviatilis page that is! The perch in this lake can grow to some impressive proportions and my bag of clonkers a couple of weeks ago had whetted my appetite enough for me to dedicate this trip to them solely.

The early morning drive to Woodstock seemed to fly by and before we both new it we were standing in front of what can only be described as the most spectacular entrance to a fishery in the world. We were first in the queue but soon enough a cavalcade of cars were racked up awaiting the ceremonial opening of the twenty foot tall high medieval style gates that were nestled between a few hundred tons of hand hewn stone. I for one expected that when those hallowed gates were opened that we would be met by a Barbour clad gent flanked by two Labradors. Turned out to be a chap wearing stone washed jeans, white trainers driving a old Peugeot that looked more like a private hire cabby than the archetypal estate worker.

Driving down the long drive that tracks the lake gave a true impression of the sheer amount of water at our disposal for the day and I for one felt glad we had some kind of plan in place. By 7.15am we were carving our way up the lake towards John Vanguards Grand bridge passing a small shack at the top of the lawn as we did.

I read a fair amount of information about the Grand bridge as I knew it would be one of the target areas for the day. Built to honour the first Duke of Marlborough's numerous victories in battle it was supposed to be the biggest and grandest in the entire land before they ran out of funds and the plans were simplified by removing the top floors. Even though it was only half completed it was still the butt of many jokes at the time as this massive structure bridged no more than a trickle of a brook which was split into three shallow canals! Whilst reading I found this quote by Alexander Pope which I felt kind of made the point.

'The minnows, as under this vast arch pass, murmur, how like whales we look, thanks to your grace'

From a distance yes it looked big.
Moored up nearby you understand why it is known as the Grand bridge

One of the things I found most intriguing about this structure as an angler was that when Capability Brown and sons were hired  to re landscape the grounds his first decision was to totally dam the stream, flooding the whole valley to form the lake, which in turn submerged a whole floor of rooms at the base of the bridge. As anglers we all know structure means fish and I could imagine monster perch hanging in open archways waiting for prey fish to pass by. The reality of it was that hundreds of years of silt accumulating meant the water around the base of the bridge was only a few feet deep and those rooms were long since buried.

We did locate a deeper channel that ran in line with the large arch and this became our target area for this swim. Fishing a float rig into the channel with lob worms as bait whilst spraying red maggots over the top brought little interest from anything but after watching another angler land a nice pike opposite us I turned to see my own float from my dead bait line zipping across the surface which resulted in a plump pike that removed the possibility of the dreaded blank.

After agreeing to move we rowed over to a very fishy looking swim framed by a couple of bare trees whose limbs hung low and into the water. We were following a tip that the lake had a good depth in this area and had a reputation for big perch. It wasn't an easy area to fish as the wind which was hammering onto our backs dislodged my light float every cast. Keith who had brought a pole along managed to hold fast even with the wind battering him. After changing to a much more buoyant float to hold bottom I got what I thought was my first slow slide away of the float. Upon striking I could feel something was attached, though it felt rather inanimate to me. As I reeled it in it put up no fight whatsoever but in the boat it woke up and became rather aggressive.

Robbing little gits!

Up until I saw it break the surface I never heard anything about there being signals in the lake but now I began to understand why the perch population seem to grow so large here. A little later Keith did hook a nice fish in his seemingly crayfish-free swim; both of us hoped to see a spiny fin and stripes through the murk were surprised to see a tench roll beside the boat. Though we hadn't even got the net out, so for the first time ever in my life I tailed a tench from a freezing lake in February.

My crayfish problems only got worse in this swim as they severed my hook links and dragged at least three dead baits down their burrows for dinner, so again we moved down wind to another likely looking spot and as we did the sun finally showed its face after a morning of wind and rain.

Moody skies

The next chosen spot yielded nothing at all but over the other side a reed lined area in the lea of the wind called us over to its gentle waters. Approaching it the wind dropped and silence fell until I managed to crash the boat straight into the reed bed whilst trying to follow Keith's instructions and getting left and right oars rather confused. I did eventually get us out of the mess and into a nice position parallel to the reeds.

Anyone would think there was big perch here.

The day before I had heard along the grapevine that Jeff had been at it again and landed a double figure Zander at bury hill only a few days after bagging a double figure barbel from the Avon. Hearing this sparked a pure stroke of genius in my mind (Yes Jeff, you are now my muse) and it was now time for me to put my cunning plan into action. Combined with a liberal handful of chopped worm my new fish tempting totem worked a treat as my float slide away whilst I was having a look at my dead bait float. A quick warning from Keith and I was hooked into a determined fish. I was unsure of what it was was and if I was honest the acute angle my fourteen foot float rod was in as the fish swam under the boat had me squeaking a bit as I have seen  tips of long rods snap due to this before.

Looking worried!

 A paint brush tail breaking the surface confirmed our boats second tench of the day and at three pounds fourteen ounces added some vital challenge percentages. I have to put it down to my new camo creation.

My new Jeff hatt camo tricked this tench into thinking it should be in his hands

We decided to stick it out on the perchy looking reed lined area and put down some bait in anticipation of some big perch switching on as the light faded. With all kinds of features in front of us we felt sure something would sooner or later take interest in our baits!
Over hanging trees trees dead reeds  there has to be something hiding here!
and there was

All to soon we stared to get the impression our dead roach lying on the bottom were receiving some rather unwanted attention. About half an hour before we were due back at the boat house Keith took a punt and cast his dead bait sans float out into the open water. This turned out to be the best decision made all day on our boat and after what we suspected may have been a ronnie run his recast bait was picked up properly. With only the bait runner as bite indication the whole thing was like a scene from Jaws as one click was followed by another before turning into a click click buzz. At first both of us thought a small jack may have been on the end of the line but as it neared to boat it really pulled back. My earlier pike had been chinned out no problem but the net was needed for this one, although the only one quickly available was a folding trout net. It turned from an unseen jack into a low double on the surface then whilst I was trying to force it into the net it became evident it was a much larger fish. Lying across the rowing board it seemed very long a rather plump! After two weighings a weight of 17.7lb had Keith beaming at a new PB and what a place to do it from.

With the fish carefully realised after a few photos we realised we were close to our departure time and quickly packed up and made our way back over the lake to the boat house. On our return we found that it had been a bumper pike day all round with one boat banking over ten fish with the biggest over twenty.

The whole day was great even thought he weather punished us at times and I have no doubt in my mind that I will be back in the summer after those illusive monster perch and probably tench as well.  


  1. Can I please apply for a Jeff Hatt camo mask....?

  2. I want one of those myself! Brilliant, and bonkers.

  3. That looks just like my house...not!
    Looks like a great pond.

  4. I really like your pics and looks like you had a blast! Great blog, you got a new follower

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    Frank Warren

  6. A great story well written, but! for pike!!? Thats a massive no-no, your only lucky you didnt deep hook and kill one. You should never fish for pike without proper bite indication, please respect the pike!