Legends of the lake – By Justin Ford

Published by on December 4, 2019

Legends of the lake – By Justin Ford

After months of waiting, Sunday April 1st 2018 finally arrived and I was on route to the historic Horton Church Lake. A place that I have dreamed of fishing for as long as I can remember.

Swimming within its deep waters are some very special carp steeped in history. The Church inherited the history of Longfield in 1990 with the netting of Fox Pool and The Road Lake. It started out as a trout fishery, but, was closed to the public in 1991 and Horton Church Lake was to become a carp fishery.

The start of a new season is always an exciting time, but this was off the scale. I couldn’t sleep at all in the days leading up to this moment, my mind going into complete overdrive. All these years I had read about The Church Lake carp and the famous anglers that had graced the banks, and now I was going to be part of its history. The drive to its famous gates that the first morning were a nervous one. My palms sweating and my legs shaking. Gear changing like that of a learner driver on the day of their test.

An hour and a half later and I finally turned off of the Horton Village road and drove down the track buzzing to get my first glimpse of the lake. Round the final bend of the track only to be greeted by a tailback. My excitement and nerves were quickly over taken by disappointment and the realisation that I might not be able to fish. The place was packed solid. It was a horrid sight. Apparently, the ques started at 7pm the previous evening. I sat in the van pissed off for a good half an hour before double parking was the only option.

After walking the lake several times over a period of a few hours, it was clear that I wasn’t going to be able to wet a line. The mood seemed low with everyone that passed me complaining about the circus in front of us. I couldn’t let this affect me, so quickly detached myself from it and went back to the van for my kit minus the rods. It was going to be a wet bank holiday, so I needed my bed, brolly and plenty of Yorkshire Tea. I camped up between people in weedy bay which did allow me to view a fair bit of the lake. Okay, so I wasn’t fishing, but I was here, and at least I could watch for signs of activity and just enjoy the atmosphere of the place.

The next two days and nights were a totally wash out and after drinking endless mugs of tea whilst admiring the mud sodden camp site, I was soon back on the M25 homebound with very little to go on.

The week passed quickly, and it was soon time to take the long drive back to The Church, praying that it wouldn’t be so ridiculous this week. I was soon to realise that the lake was going to be busier than any lake I had ever fished, day ticket aside, so any plans on getting into favoured areas of the lake were quickly dismissed from my mind, unless I was to play the bucket game. NO THANKS!!

The first month passed me bye with very little learnt about the lake, apart from that the lakes residents were getting clubbed from The Plateau area, with both sides being as busy as Oxford Street at Christmas. Buckets behind buckets, this was mental and not for me. I needed to come up with a plan if I was going to start angling for these famous old carp, and quick.

The warm weather was now upon us and the water warming up nicely. I started to bait areas on my walk rounds in the early hours, that I knew were being ignored by the others. I would regularly check these throughout my weekly visit. As we got into mid-May, the Church Lake residents were starting to visit my baited spots, so extra miles were put on the van on work nights and weekends when I was unable to fish.

Late May came, and the temperatures soared into the high twenties most days and the carp were coming up the margin shelf to feed. I started to recognise certain carp and got to know their routes around the lake. They would turn up at the same time daily looking for the bait I had been applying very regularly at this stage. The spots were now primed, and the carp were ready to be angled for. The biggest problem and pain in the arse were the lakes newest residents that had recently been stocked in memory of the late Horton Legend Del Smith. They are home grown and absolute beauties, but not what I had come to the Church to angle for.

Monday had come around quickly again, and I was buzzing when I arrived early at the Church to find the Dip was free in Dog Bay. I dropped my barrow into the swim and got the brew kit out. Kettle on, I made the first of many teas that morning as I studied the water in front of me. I drank the morning away buzzing with anticipation, regularly checking the time, knowing when they would turn up. The sun was now high and bright, and right on time the carp arrived and quickly moved up the shelf to feed. Del’s stockies were first on the scene followed by two big girls. One mirror and one very nice common. The stockies were tails up immediately with no caution what so ever, whilst the big

girls were off to the side of the spot moving slowly and very cautiously. I didn’t have my rod in position at this point, as from what I had seen, the stockies were always first on the scene and didn’t want to risk hooking one and ruining the chance of a proper carp. Although making things a lot harder for myself fishing like this, I was setting traps in the edge, so going heavy with the bait wasn’t the one.

The morning had now turned into the afternoon and the carp were leaving the spot and returning at regular intervals. This would allow me to top up the bait. The big girls were very shy of the spot and only mouthed the bait once or twice in all the day’s activity. They were definitely on guard, so I hoped that the evening would be the time they would come back and get on the feed after the energy they had used in the day.

I set up camp and got just one rod into position, looking forward to the night ahead, hoping that one of those big girls would return and make a mistake. Sitting there, brew in hand dreaming of big carp, I was quickly brought back to life when my bobbin smashed into the rod blank and the Neville receiver now screaming at me with the rod hooped over. I paused for a slight moment in a state of shock, this is what I had been dreaming of. I charged forward picked up the rod and nervously played my first Horton Church Lake carp. It was a nervous few minutes of battle in the deep margins of the Dip, being extra cautious and praying that it didn’t fall off. Soon enough my prize was in the net. Not one of the big girls that had been on the spot earlier, but it was a start. They liked the bait and the rig was working. My campaign was off to a start on the Church.

Owen’s Fish

The following week I was back with a bounce in my step, full of confidence, lapping the Church in the early hours trickling bait on the usual spots that I had been baiting for some time now. I watched and walked looking for carpy activity until first light. Funnily enough The Dip was taken for the first time that season, so I sat in The Royal Box which gave me a good view of Dog Bay and The Church Bay Entrance. During the first few hours of light I saw several shows along the North bank. Starting at The Ski Slope, Sick and into The Church Bay Entrance. Brew kit packed away, and I was flying around with the barrow to the other side of the bay to see what was happening. As I walked into The Entrance to The Church Bay, I had to freeze as the margins were alive with

carp. They were the new residents of the Church, so I watched for a while to see if any of the older carp were about before moving off to check my baited spots further along the bay. I came to the first spot in the Church Bay, no bait. Then the second spot, no bait. The water was coloured, it couldn’t of been long ago that it was feed on. Bloody stockies I thought. I paced backwards and forwards to the spots several times until out of nowhere appeared two of the proper oldies of the lake. I had to freeze in position, slowly moving my hands behind my back, as they were high in the water up the shelf. My heart was beating hard and fast, I was conscious of my every breathe, scared of them, sensing my presence. I watched as they moved from right to left, left to right looking for their free feed on my spots. As soon as it was possible, I lightly baited the easier of the two spots. Giving them some of the liquid trick to get plenty of smell, but little food itself which hopefully wouldn’t spook them but keep them routing about. No sooner had I done this and the stockies turned up gang handed. SHIT. I watched in disbelief and wondered what I could do. Over the next hour I topped up the spot as the stockies feed heavily, until the proper ones glided in over the spot, building up confidence all the time.

When I say proper ones, I mean the legends of the Church Lake. The Woodcarving and Black Tail. These are the old Longfield carp that are stepped in history, having been moved into The Church in 1990. These are the jewels of the lake and the carp that everyone would love to cuddle. It was now just a case of when to lower the rig… I couldn’t take any more and decided now was the time. I waited for the opportunity. I got the rig in nice and quickly with no real disturbance. GAME ON… I had it in the perfect position on the spot up the shelf, and immediately Black Tail and The Woodcarving came straight in on it to join the party with the kids. They both tilted, tails up and started to feed. The rod was on the floor, the line as slack as possible, with putty on it and almost immediately the line twitched and the tip nodded slightly. ‘This is it’ I thought, but nothing. I watched silently talking to myself, ‘Please, Please’. They were both still feeding, really going for it, pushing the kids off the spot. They were so close I couldn’t see the baited rig and didn’t want to make any sudden movements that could wreck this opportunity. All of a sudden Black Tail righted himself and shook his head violently. The Woodcarving and kids bolted off the spot at a rate of knots as old Black Tail charged off. My rod skipped along the floor towards the slot in the bush lake bound. I picked it up, the rod taking on full test curve. I was forced to give some line, as I lent out into the

lake as far as I dare, the rod tip under the water giving it plenty of side strain making sure to keep all away from the snags of the bush to my right. This was one angry carp (and one that hasn’t made too many mistakes in its life time in the Church) and charged all the way up the margin into the very corner of the bay. The sun was burning bright, it was boiling, the sweat was pouring from me and I was shaking like a leaf. It was terrifying. After several mad charges and once into open water, I started to gain some control. On the third time of trying to get him in the net after getting the mesh snagged in the bramble bushes and shitting myself worried for the hook coming out, old Black Tail was mine. This was it. A buzz like no other, a carp older than my forty five years, sulking in the folds of my net. I fell to my knees exhausted and elated. I peered into the net to meet a real old character of The Church. What a battle. What a carp. I took a few moments and got myself together, before I went about the weighing and did the self takes with that famous old Horton Church as the back drop. He was really well behaved on the mat which made the moments with him even more enjoyable. I smiled from ear to ear, the happiest man alive as I held him up for the trophy shots. I didn’t want this moment to end. As I slipped him back to his watery home, I gave him a kiss and thanked him for a moment that will live with me forever.

Black Tail, Longfield original stocked in May 1990.

I made the calls to my loved ones and my bestie Martin, reliving the moments of the capture. I was floating on cloud nine and didn’t care if nothing else was to happen for the rest of this trip. I felt so privileged to have caught such a special old history fish. The evening passed by quickly and quietly and before I knew it I was settled into the Church Bay Slot for the night enjoying the atmosphere. The lake was absolutely packed out that day, so I didn’t even venture out of my swim to check the other spots and to be honest didn’t want to be punished about the capture. I just got off the phone from my son at 22:30, when my Neville lit up and let out a single beep. I stared towards the rod in the darkness, then the bobbin smashed into the blank and the Neville started to sing its tune. I stepped forward and lifted into the battle whilst another carp swam for freedom up the right-hand margin. This one didn’t have the power or the weight of the last carp and after a spirited little battle he was in the net. The night shots were done, and the rig repositioned on the spot for the night. Two teas later and the rod was away again. This time one of Dels stockies. A quick mat shot for the records, the swim topped up with bait and the rod was repositioned for the last time that night.

I awoke to the sound of my phones alarm at 4am and drank the morning away, still buzzing from the previous day’s events. Before I knew it, it was time to pack away and for the first time had a bucket behind me with someone very keen to get in the slot. I avoided the questions as well as I could without being rude. Just as I moved forward to pull out my sticks, an enormous great common swim right in under my rod tip. It was sitting on the spot, happy to just be there. I backed up slowly, trying not to make it obvious to the bloke behind me getting his kit together. I gave it another hour or so before finally it moved off. Regrettably I had to wind in and get into home mode when no eyes were watching of course. Gutted to leave after seeing the common, I wished the bloke well and barrowed the kit back to the van for the long drive back to Wiltshire.

I visited the Church every night the rest of that week, after fifteen-hour days at work driving to Cornwall and Wales. I had to up the baiting even if it was going to cost me an arm and a leg in fuel.

Monday soon came around and I was once again treading the grounds of the historic Church Lake. I was now full of confidence and couldn’t wait for the sun to rise. The carp didn’t turn up in The Church Bay that morning, well not the proper ones, so I headed for The Dog Bay. A few drifted in to the area after a while but they didn’t look like there were up for a feed. They had other things on their minds. I set a trap in hope more than anything else really, but the day in the blistering heat passed by quietly. I settled in for the night not really full of confidence, but, thought there was always a chance one might slip up. I woke to my alarm the following morning to find that the carp were in spawning mode, so packed up and left them to get on with it.

It wasn’t until mid-July that I returned to the Church to wet a line, but I did watch them for hours and hours in-between times. I had begun to notice a pattern with the special old originals and started to know their daily routes around the Church. I would get the bait on the spots and watch them turn up as regular as clock work, absolutely loving the bait.

Today the wind was pumping into the Church Bay and it was going to be in the mid-thirties. I did the usual walk round and bait ups early doors but decided to concentrate on the Church Bay and placed my rig on the spot in readiness. It wasn’t long until the originals turned up looking for the bait, right on time with the Church bells ringing out eleven times. It wasn’t long until the kids turned

up and started feeding on the spot. ‘SHIT’, ‘NO’ I thought, but they were soon forced out of the way, as the enormous common I regularly saw, and a mirror came in on the act. The mirror was soon to show he was boss and sat right over the spot, right on top of my hook bait. It mouthed the bait very slowly and cautiously, sucking and blowing. Not tilting as it was feeding up the shelf. This seemed to go on for ever, then WALLOP. The rod flew forward on the ground, the reel spinning. I charged forward down the slope to my rod and lifted into one very pissed off, powerful carp. I dipped the rod and gave it plenty of side strain as it powered out into open water. It was like an express train. The swim was very tight and didn’t allow for me to lift my rod vertically, so I stripped down to my pants, so I could walk down the shelf to give me more room to play the carp comfortably. After a mental battle the big dark mirror slipped over the net cord. That was mega. What a scrap. Soaking wet with sweat and lake water, I peered into the net at my prize. Not one of the originals I was after, but a nice dark framed mirror that had lived in its home for at least twenty-five years. I secured her in the margin, got dried and dressed and prayed that I could get the photos done and return her before anyone saw me. To curt a long story short, I didn’t get away with it. One lad saw me as I just put her back and the bay was soon filling up with anglers. I decided I would do the night in Phil’s Corner just to protect the spot more than anything, even if the anglers were now cutting me off. The proper carp were back that evening surprisingly but managed to avoid my hookbait. They were all over, right until dark, when I could see no more. I went to bed that night wondering why I hadn’t had another bite, thinking that something must be wrong.

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEP the reel was in melt down. It frightened the life out of me. I felt knackered as I staggered down the steps towards the rod. I lifted the rod into the carp, that was steaming out of the bay, already a good forty yards from where it was hooked. Puffing and panting stood there in my pants, shaking with excitement and adrenalin. Every time I got some line back on the spool, the carp just charged off again. I was expecting to see sparks coming off the reel. It was electric. The battle went on for what seemed like an age, I was knackered, speaking to myself, praying that the hook would stay put after all this. Eventually a beautiful dark head was in view with my rig hanging from its tiny mouth. Closer and closer he came, I leant forward at full stretch dipping the net and in, first go. He kissed the spreader block and was mine. What a wakeup call. I peered in the net and had to take a double look. An ancient looking Linear carp. Not the queen herself, but an amazing looking old warrior by the name of ‘Linford’. Named for its amazing speed and power. At 34lb and

ounces, it was perfectly proportioned with an amazing little jet-black head and a tiny little mouth. What a carp. Absolutely buzzing!!!

Linford, Thorpe Park original stocked in September 1992.

It was a great welcome back trip after five or six weeks away and I now felt like I was getting very close to my target, Her Royal Highness The Woodcarving. She was loving my bait and loved this area. The Church Bay was without a doubt her home. That day the carp didn’t return, I just camped in the corner happy as a pig in shit. I baited heavily before I left. Trying to feed them off if you like, so as no one else would stumble across the Woodcarving (which was looking very catchable now) and have a chance at the one I so wanted. She was becoming an obsession, my every thought. I was driving my girlfriend Charlene mental. ‘Can’t you switch off’, she would regularly say. To cut a long story short, I arrived in the early hours of Monday morning and knew as I paced my way towards Phil’s Corner, that the swim was going to be occupied. The person in question had the one bite and robbed me of my dreams. I was devastated. It was like having the shit kicked out of me.

I spent that trip and the following few weeks chasing the carp around the Church. Having several opportunities to try an attempt the Queen of the pond, but I didn’t want to. Thinking it unfair, I would give her a while to recover and when the time was right, I would try again. I caught several carp quite quickly after finding them, giving the local sheep something else to follow. I continued to bait her favourite spots but didnt fish them at all. Only watching her feed. This was risky, and my anxiety was at an all-time high. Through the rooooof in fact.

It was now the last day of July and I was on my fourth move of the day, after finding a unit of a mirror feeding on my bait in The Dip. I waited until the time was right and then carefully lowered my baited rig onto the shelf about three foot or so down it. I watched as the big girl looked irritated, as if she knew that something in her living room had changed just recently. Within fifteen minutes she couldn’t help herself and all hell broke loose. As I grabbed the rod, the sheer power of her almost pulled me in. I was flat rodded from the get-go. It was terrifying. I thought the clutch was going to burn out and blow up. It was smoking. This was the most powerful carp I had ever played. Once again being a tight swim, I had to strip down to my pants and walk down the shelf to give myself more room to do battle. The power of this carp was ridiculous, it was

terrifying. ‘PLEASE, PLEASE. DON’T FALL OFF’. After a fight that lasted no less than twenty minutes, she took a gulp and was in the net at first attempt. ALFIE. ‘Fuckin ell, what a battle’. I was in a total mess. Beaten right up, soaking wet with sweat, lake water and silt, but I cared not. The bloke next door turned up to see what all the commotion was about. I hadn’t met him before, so it was a strange introduction being stood there soaking wet and dirty only in my pants. He was a nice bloke and helped out with the weighing and photographs, and all to soon the great mirror was back in her watery home none the worse for wear.

Alfie 42lb

The following week I was back and flying around the Church baiting the usual spots, still with no intent on fishing for the Queen herself. My second bite this trip, 6 days and 22 hours after our first meeting, and I banked the mirror (Alfie) again, after casting to a showing fish in The R.I.P. Unreal!!!

The lake was fishing harder at this time, so it helped me out when one of the resident sheep had both swims I had recently had success from sown up. This meant that the next trip was going to be spent angling for my target again.

It had been three weeks to the day since The Woodcarving had been out, and she was now behaving like her old self and was looking really catchable. I had been putting bait into The Church Bay Steps for a few months now, little and often, but hadn’t done any time in the swim, so I used this session to set up in there with no bait, but to put the bait into The Phil’s Corner spot and regularly check to see what carp were visiting. That day the A Team originals were back in force, but I just fed and fed them with no lines present, letting them build up confidence. I would leave them to it and make the move the following morning if The Woodcarving was having it large. I was now going to angle differently. I wasn’t going to have the trap set, before they turned up, but to wait for the chance of just angling for her. The summer was getting on now and I wanted to catch her properly, out of the edge and watch it all unfold.

First light came around and I was looking down on the spot from the vantage point at big black shapes waiting for their morning feed. I had never seen them on this spot this early in the day before, so it seemed as if my previous days baiting strategy had worked. I packed my stuff up and made the move to Phil’s Corner a few yards down the bank. This was it. I had to get my chance and make the most of it. It was now or never. The Woodcarving looked very

catchable and was now on the spot with Black Tail, Springates and the enormous common. They fed really hard (for in the edge) for a good hour before the opportunity arose where I could get the rig in position. The Woodcarving was the last carp in the area and was now back up the shelf, head down tails up. She was so long that her top lobe was almost breaking the water’s surface. It was such an amazing site to watch her feed, and by now I had spent many, many hours watching and observing her. We were like old friends. Nearer and nearer she moved to my baited rig. Slowly and ponderously sucking and blowing whilst tails up. She was inching closer and closer to my rig, my heart in my mouth, I was scared to breathe, to move, even blink. ‘PLEASE, PLEEEASE’, I said to myself. Out of nowhere in came my old mate Black Tail pushing Her Royal Highness out the way and WALLOOOP. ‘NOOOOOOOO’!!! The fight didn’t last long, and before long old Black Tail was once again to meet my acquaintance. He looked really well after all the quality bait he had gorged on. I weighed him for the record, did a quick snap and back he went. Now when you catch a carp of such pedigree and history you should be buzzing your tits off, but I was only a split second away from catching the carp of my dreams. The one I had looked at in the books for years and years. Black Tail was a very rare visitor to the bank indeed and I had now had him twice in ten weeks. Where ever The Woodcarving was, Black Tail was never far away.

No more carp came back to the spot that day or night. Was my chance gone? The next day they did come back at their usual time, but the Queen of the pond wasn’t to be seen. I thought it was just a matter of time. Surely. I made my mind up to do a sicky with work for the rest of the week. She looked so catchable, I just needed to be there when she made her return. I was sure there was one more chance for her to get caught this season. The originals did seem to talk to each other, unlike the newer strains.

I had to do a few things at home and get the nod from the missus for another night, so I left the Church to return from a long round trip in the early hours the following day. The swim was vacant, ‘love it’. I drank numerous amounts of tea while waiting for the sun rise to see what the day would bring. That day I didn’t even see a carp. The following day as the Horton Church clock struck eleven the Queen was back with her old Longfield and Thorpe Park friends. They were all over it, as if they missed a days feed. Springates flanked on the spot to show his appreciation, totally turned on. A good hour later and the carp had moved off, but The Woodcarving was still coming back on her own. She was sucking at the bottom at the last of the of the liquid food signals. I lowered in the rig when she moved to the left with her back to me. This had to be it. Half a circle and back she came. Straight in over the rig, she tilted, tails up. I watched in what can only be described as disbelief. What was going on? Why wasn’t the rig moving? An hour or so passed of her coming in to the baited rig and trying to get hooked, but nothing. Now Springates and the enormous common were back and both furiously trying to get hooked. Smashing into the rig, Springates nudging the bait with its nose. Eventually they left the area with nothing to keep them there, so I retrieved the rig. As I thought, the rig was tangled around the tail rubber. How’s your luck? Is there really a god! I was distraught. Sick to the stomach. I freshened the area with a few crumbs left and right of the spot, where I would place the rig if she returned. The hours passed by and darkness set in. I was already late leaving by a few hours now, I had to go and get back to my little family, before they forgot who I was.

The next few days were very painful ones. I shared the events with my good mate Martin, who assured me that The Woodcarving was mine on my next trip. Martin was a great form of optimism for me at the times I needed it and a quality friend. He was saying all the right things that I wanted to hear, but he was more confident than me now. I started to think my time to meet her had now gone.

At last Sunday night was here. It was now eleven o’clock and bedtime for most. I said goodbye to Charlene and my dog Boyzie and made the long drive to the Church lake. I had been away for one night and two whole days, so prayed that Phil’s Corner had been left alone.

I finally arrived at the famous old gates, signed in the book and hastily made my way along the north bank towards Phil’s Corner. The anxiety and tension was now building within me as I neared the swim. To my total amazement, it was free from anglers. Happy Days!! I rubbed my hands together. Result!! I got comfortable and lovingly tied up a fresh rig, balanced the bait and sharpened my already sharp hook. I decided to make a slight change and to top my dark bait with a small bit of white for visual. This went against my original thoughts. My thinking being that the Queen of the pond had done her last few captures to White baits. She is well over fifty years old, so her eye sight could well be deteriorating, and this could bring a quicker bite. Time was well and truly

running out to catch her from out of the edge. I needed all the percentages in my favour. My phone rang at 1:00am. It was my mate Martin who had just had a result after a lean spell of angling. I was well pleased for him and we spoke into the early hours. Eventually I got my head down, with the one baited rod rested up against the brolly, praying that my opportunity wasn’t far away.

I woke to the alarm on my phone at 04:30am with only a few hours’ sleep in me, I was knackered. I drank endless mugs of tea, as the world woke up and the deafening noise of Heathrow airport was once again with me. I scattered several bits of boilie flake around the spot, just enough to get some interest and to stop them in their tracks. The morning seemed to move slowly and had a very different atmosphere about it. It was now 11:30am and I hadn’t seen a sign of a carp what so ever in the area. Bearing in mind the golden hour had now passed. I was starting to get concerned. All thoughts were soon confirmed when a chap walked down the path towards me. ‘That’s not a swim is it?’ he said. I gave him a look and told him that I had been fishing in it for months and that everyone on the lake knew it. ‘Oh that’s my afternoon ruined, I was going to have a stalk for them. They were in here yesterday, big ones. I tried for hours but couldn’t get a bite’, he said. He went on to tell me what he did, and of all the attention this swim had had over the weekend. No wonder they had done the off, I was gutted. TRUST NO ONE….

He eventually walked out of the swim, armed with buckets of bait, the way he came, agitated that I had ruined his afternoons fun. My phone rang, it was the missus checking in. As we spoke, I once again walked into my vantage point. As I did so, The Woodcarving and that massive Common came into view. ‘They’re here babe. Their Back’. ‘Whos here?’ she asked. ‘The Carving babe, it’s here’, I said. I ended the call quickly and got my baited rod, which had been perched on the brolly for over twelve hours. I stood up the slope, rod and net in hand, waiting for the carp to move off the spot, so I could place the rig on the money. The common soon moved off leaving the special one on her own. She moved left along the shelf, so I quickly but quietly moved down the slopey bank and lowered the rig into position. Just as I did so, she swam into view, making a beeline straight for my rig. I froze, conscious of every slight movement and breathe, shitting myself. I had to move away. I was now crouched over, very slowly walking up the bank, thinking I had blown it. As I got to the top I turned. She shook her head violently, my 5000T span into life. I charged down the bank and grabbed hold of the rod. She powered off out into the open water. She gave it all she could to escape for freedom, but after her initial surge of power, I started to gain control. I stripped down to my pants whilst gentle bringing her towards me. This would make things easier for

netting her. I had a brief moment of panic when the line got caught in the branches above the margin, but luck was on my side for once. The hook stayed firmly in her tiny perfect mouth. I brought her towards me and finally over the net cord. She was mine. I dropped to my knees in the water and peered into the net. I couldn’t quite believe it. It had all finally come together, my dream had become reality. The place seemed to go into silence as the Church bells rang out twelve times and the hairs stood on the back of my neck. Awesome.

I made her safe and comfortable and slowly got myself together. Buzzing my tits off. Just as I was all done and ready for the photos The Mexican appeared along the bank. ‘What you got?’ he asked. ‘I’ve got a big linear’, I said. Once on the mat, I peeled back the net revealing the prize of prizes, the Queen of The Church Lake. The Mexicans face was a picture. He watched on as I lifted her up for the camera. I was a bit of a state, shaking, covered from head to toe in goose bumps. I had only ever experienced such love and emotion once before, when my son Oliver was born over twenty years ago. What a buzz. I didn’t want this moment to end. The camera clicked away for those trophy shots we all look back on in fondness. I was grinning from ear to ear, but before I knew it, I was returning her back to her watery home. I punched the air and let out the cry at the top of my voice WOODCARVIIIIIING.

After the tidy up, I phoned the missus and broke down with happiness. It had been an emotional journey, short in reality, but full of ups and downs, highs and lows..

Keep believing, your dreams can come true.

All the best Justin Ford.