I remember it perfectly as if it were yesterday. I was standing in the chilly morning air outside the bungalow science block of my comprehensive school. That itself was nothing unusual as I often hung around this part of the school both in and out of school hours. What was unusual was on this particular occasion I was here just as the light was breaking on a Sunday morning and I was sat shivering on my old fishing box. Even wrapped in the ill-fitting wax jacket my mother had bought me from Bedworth market, the nip still crept in. Mind, my Hummel tracksuit bottoms and wellies really weren't cutting the mustard on my lower half and I suspected that was where the cold was being felt. Not long before this I had walked headlong into the dank as I often did on a Sunday morning, loaded up with my leatherette fishing box, which dug into my back, and my fusty second hand rod bag cutting into my shoulder something savage. But on this occasion I had not ended my trudge at the canal or one of the local ponds and had in fact end up at this would be rendezvous point at school.
I remember feeling particularly nervous about the days proceedings as it was to be my first outing with the Nicholas Chamberlain school fishing club and as my normal fishing companions were not available to attend, I assumed I was going to be the only first year in the group, hence my nervous nature. It wasn't long until others began to arrive, most of whom were in years three and four and most of whom ignored me as they arrived. Much to my relief it turned out that one other first year had signed up to come on the trip, though sadly he was a particularly highly strung individual who stood more chance of irritating me than anything else. Soon enough though the leader of our party arrived in a battered old LDV mini bus; the cheery face of Mr Downes looked out of the bus towards the small group and beckoned us to grab our gear whilst forming an orderly queue to load it into the transport.
The journey itself holds little memory for myself apart from one aspect, the smell! As we all know pongy fishing gear has that unique ability to emanate smells no matter how dry it is. So then stick ten loads worth of it into what is essentially a tin can and add ten teenage lads and you have a very... very... special aroma. I have often wondered if the sickly sweet smell of that mini bus was secret stashes of continental ground bait. But more realistically thinking back it was more likely something along the lines of the newly released lynx deodorant or insignia or maybe just plain old lingering ermin. Either way it certainly was a one all over smell!
I think the best thing about that journey was getting out of that fetted brummie made stink waggon and once again finding fresh air. And how good that sweet morning air smelt once I had extracted myself from behind the stacks of Shakespeare plastic fishing boxes, I can barely describe. The moment my foot left the rickety half rusted step of that van and I touched down on solid earth I looked around the the misty woods and saw a world that to young Daniel was as yet totally alien.
From behind the wooden sign by the side of the car park and beyond the crowd of young anglers I could see a scene that would become burnt into my mind. Only just visible through the early morning mist a picture perfect vision of a lake could be made out. An old woodland flanked the water along one bank with a strange walled bank holding back the lake. On the far side half hidden the mist was an expansive lawn leading up to a modest manor house. The early morning calls of birds all over the lake echoed through the air. Having spent my short fishing career fishing only canals and ponds this was a serious culture shock for my young self and I had another one coming...
Mr Downes, to save any arguments, announced that today's fishing would be done under a guise of a fishing match. Though not everyone was expected to have to fish in the match, but they would be expected to draw a peg to decide where they would fish. I suppose this was just to create an orderly manner for which to settle where we would be fishing rather than have any kind of meleé We all formed a circle round the teacher and hands began to dip into the hat drawing out little white slips of paper. I must have been one of the last to get my grubby little mit into that hat and when it came out I instantly spotted a large number two on my scrap of paper.
It turned out that my spot for the day was quite literally thirty feet from the mini bus on the well manicured bit of grass that ended abruptly in a walled edge of the lake. Setting up in my peg I distinctly remember feeling very overwhelmed by the sight of this huge sheet of water. Most of my fishing was done right under the rod tip on the edge of a canal or at most a short swing to a weed bed. So not knowing any better I did what I knew best and set up my standard float rig and swung it out.
I cannot regurgitate any romantic stories of special fish as for the entire morning I had exactly zero bites as did the lad to my left. By eleven I had already begun dipping into my lunch box. Not long after that I went for a wander up towards Mr Downes. I was shocked to see my situation was reflected all the bank with very little being caught all round. Mr Downes himself had drawn a particularly overgrown spot next to my year mate who was repeatedly chucking a ledger out towards some big carp which were sunning themselves close to a small island.
On the way back down the bank I did actually feel better about my own blanking knowing I wasn't the only one doing it. Upon arriving at my own peg I was about to sit down when I heard a loud splashing. The only peg or occupant I hadn't nosed in on was the lad to my right in peg one. What I found when I peered round that bush was amazing to my young eyes. The lad sat on that bright blue Shakespeare box turned out to be a forth year and he was catching fish like I had never seen before in my life. His float would arc though the air landing in the same spot way out in the lake every time then moments later it would dip under he would strike and one of a cornucopia of fish would come flipping in. Some of them even needed a netting which I had very rarely seen before.
I stood silently watching for ages before he spoke to me to ask where I was fishing. I duly told him that I was in the swim next to him but had caught nothing. His reply that I had drawn one of the best three pegs was news to me. He asked me what bait I was using, what weight of line and what hook size I was using, and all seemed relatively similar. As he carried on removing fish from the lake he seemed to be thinking very hard about what was different in an effort to help me out. Then after a while asked me a question I had never heard before. "Have you plumbed up?" to which the naive young me replied "What's plumbing up!" A few moments of explanation had me filled in and I was soon rushing back to my own peg with a loaned plummet to ascertain my swims depth.
It will not come as a surprise I think when I say I was a mere four and half feet of the bottom in six feet of water. Although it was a struggle with my poor casting ability I did manage to get my float at least one rod length from the end of my rod and that combined with my miserly distribution of my limited maggots finally got my float moving in the right direction. I don't think I had ever concentrated as hard as I did for those last few hours and by the time the whistle blew I had accumulated a staggering two pounds of small roach and rudd.
It was a humbling yet important day in my fishing life and although I came nowhere in the match it did serve as an poignant introduction the what I now know was an estate lake. And that brings me to the whole point of my sharing of this little tale. I have never for one moment since been able to recall the name of this lake. I have tried contacting my old school to try and eek out any info only to be met by a wall of resistance. I even once contacted the other first year via Facebook but he didn't even remember going. Once I looked into trying to contact the teacher, but it seems the authorities are reluctant to share any detail as I might be a disgruntled former pupil looking for revenge. So now this has lead me here to you, the reader of this tome, to ask the question:
Do you know this lake?
I know that although cute (thank you JB, for the illustration) it is vague. The venue was within an hour of Coventry, so could be anywhere in an imaginary circle as far as Leicester to Worcester, to Northampton. It was obviously an estate lake and had that very distinctive damn wall at the car park end. It wasn't a massive venue but certainly could be described as a medium sized lake. The lake probably tapered away after the island but I only walked as far as the island so truthfully don't know what was at one end.
The weird thing is that I am not seeking it out because I believe it holds some great strain of fish I wish to catch, but instead am trying to put a name to a memory in the hope that I can return to this place where I first dipped a line into the world of estate lake fishing and began a life long love of these types of waters.
If you think you might have any ideas of possible venues please just leave the name of the lake or rough location and that, together with the help of the Internet and Google maps should be enough for me to investigate.