John Stembridge, A Journey

John Stembridge, A Journey

I will start off this piece with something to think about.

I see it so much these days with new and young anglers all wanting to catch big and be sponsored right from the off!

It was never like that when us old-school boys were that age. We done our apprenticeships on the canals and small ponds chasing silvers and perch etc. Then moving onto tench and crucians.

All a learning curve striving for bigger n better things to come.

It was in and of itself learning our watercraft. We never just dived in for big the big carp as can be the case nowadays, this in part however was since so little was known about these mystical beasts!

I think we have learned a healthy respect for the specimen size fish we aim for today.

Everybody seems to always be in a rush to get there when surely, it is the journey that takes you there that puts that fire in the belly?

These days I want to catch fish of all sizes ,not just the biggest thinking they are somehow the best as some of the carp don’t have to be the heaviest, as some of the most sort after carp in the country can be half the weight yet truly hold a strong urge in our hearts to have them in our albums and better still our arms. whether it be an old character with many a tale to tell or a fish of very distinctive markings, either way it is all about the journey. Catching as many as we can to end up having the one or ones that we want so dearly.

You usually must wait, for that which is worth waiting for!

This journey starts with me being very humbled to currently live and work in the West country and get to fish a lake I have had a fare few holidays on over the past 20 yr. Unfortunately, back then I blanked every single time. I did manage to see the elusive residence many a time but failed to put them on the bank, only this time, that was about to change!

As the old cliché states, effort equals reward, and believe me I have put a massive amount of effort into this quest. I think once you get your foot in the door with the lake, and manage to get the first bite, then it is game on. Everything starts to fit into place and things become a tad easier, finding spots, and using rigs and baits that you are confident in is paramount to success.

I think I had given it a couple of weeks of prep work with bait and watching before I started to fish the lake.

After the first week, there was the odd tell-tale signs from carp and the odd shadow drifting out of my spots when I peered over to take a look.

Most of the spots were quite close ,which in turn made things easy in baiting and watching, although that did have a reverse effect too as I had attracted the female mallard and her babies to my spots and would regularly be seen diving and clouding them up.

Not too much of a bad thing as this would in turn surely attract the carp in too.


Well, my first session was due and could not wait to get down there. Arriving afterwork, I check the spots were CLR of any fish before laying my traps.

As I had baited less than 36hrs ago. I was going to rebait over the top of the hook baits, well not just yet to avoid spooking anything that may be hanging around.

Single glugged hooked bait with a micro mesh bag just to protect the hook point and to give maximum attraction around the hook bait.

Well, I had not even made my first brew after laying both traps and the first rod was away.

A massive eruption from the spot on the take and the fish was doing its best, desperately trying to bury its head deep in the Lilly roots. With the rod locked up tight as much as I dare, the fish barely moved 10ft and it was game on. A short but spirited tussle and she glided over the net cord with not too many dramas.

I had not at that point realised what fish it was. I knew it was a common and looked mid-20.

It was only when I dropped the rod down next to the net and gentle lift the mesh to roll  the fish over and see, only then ,I knew which common, and one of my targets too. the big girl!!! I couldn’t believe what had just happened. What a great start for sure!



She went just over 30lb although the weight was irrelevant. It was one off the list on my very first trip.

The rest of session saw no more action but that was to be expected. You normally don’t get too many bites in one sitting. These fish have swum around in here for a long time and been angled for countlessly, so it is to be expected that they won’t be climbing up the line!

I kept to a routine of baiting when I left and continued to bait every other day until my next visit.

The next session seemed to take forever to come around and what made it worse was that I started to see targets on my spots. Things were really falling into place for sure.

Finally, I made it back to the lake, and to say I was excited was an understatement!

All rods went out clean and it seemed the spots were getting harder on the drop too. They had been cleaned up for sure.

With the kettle on and food being sorted, the silence gave way to a twitchy bite. No sooner had I got right over the rod; it was howling in full throttle. With the battle curve in full swing, it was game on. This fish felt decent right from the off. Solid resistance and holding deep with its heavy lunges. The battle seems to go on forever, this knew exactly where it was trying to take me, every pad, reedbed and snag seemed fair game for this carp!



Finally, it broke surface close in and what lay before me just blew me away.  Now this fish I had seen over many years of captures and one I dearly wanted in my album. It had been born in the pond all them years ago, so capturing it made it all so special.

This of course was an old Lin called tadpole. Awesome creature. Very thick set and long with all its rough skin and dimples. My high just got higher. A few pounds over 30 was good enough for me. I could have gazed at that fish all evening, but I said my goodbyes and slipped her back to her watery home to make somebody else’s dream come true another day.

The fish seemed very active on this particular session as I had heard them lumping out just around the corner of the island and not too far from my spots. Although I did fancy another bite, I wouldn’t count my chickens.

Darkness was falling very quickly, I just managed to get the rod back in place before settling down for the night.

I laid there listening to the carp happily crashing out and the odd tawny owl screeching in the woods behind me, before drifting off with a big cheesy grin on my face.

It was right on dawn when the same rod gave out a few bleeps before slowly progressing into a steady take. I was up and on it. A nice spirited fight, which was mostly all under the rod tip with it trying to get under my own bank, surely enough it went in the net. It was still darkish and couldn’t see what fish it was as I don’t like to use a headtorch during battle.

I put the rod beside the net got a bivvy peg and pinned it by the spreader block to secure the fish and let it get its breath back.



Kettle went on and a brew was made to wake myself up, some twenty minutes later it was light enough to check out my prize.

Well, I just couldn’t believe what was happening right now, not only had I had two bites in one session but yet again it was another target ticked off my list.

The fish in question was a mid to upper twenty and again one which has been reared on the fishery. It was the fully and what a fully it was, pictures done, we parted company and I got packed up, rebaited and headed home to sort myself out.

Now, how long can things keep going right?

Well the next session brought me down to earth that was for sure.

Having run out of my normal hook pattern I couldn’t get access to any tackle shops which had any so opted for a second choice and one which seemed very close in shape, size etc and sat well on the Ronnie’s .

Now, as I said before, this lake doesn’t give out too much and you do have to work at them to get even close.

This next session was the worst ever. Not only had I managed 3 bites (which was unbelievable in its own right) but I managed to lose every single fish. If I said I was burnt I was done to a crisp. Absolutely gutted. All I could think of was it being the hook pattern. There’s no wrong or right in angling just personal preference, I had lost all confidence that was for sure, all the time in the back of my mind thinking what if that was that fish or this fish and now I’ve blown my chances!.

All I knew was I had to go and find my favourite hook pattern from somewhere.

Sure enough after some research etc and some 45 mile drive I managed to get some.



The next 24hr session came around and to be honest I wasn’t feeling it like I was before, although I was hoping and praying the spots were still working for me.

I did manage a bite that evening to one of the grassys. Love um or hate them they are cool fish and this one was lovely n dark. Confidence restored!

A week went by and my fourth session was soon upon me. Same as before I kept the bait going in religiously and when I couldn’t make it my friend and bailiff, Ash would step in for me as he knew how much I wanted those fish for my album.

For me, although there was plenty of good-looking carp to go at that rarely saw the bank, it was another old character called cheeks that I dearly wanted.

My rods hadn’t been out much more than an hour before I had the take from hell. I heard the rod smash into the alarm even before the R3 gave out a beep. This fish meant business, it was one of those takes that curls the rod tip up into the air and the line lifts across the lake. By the time I was on the rod (which was only 4m from me) this animal had managed to plough through the entire lilly bed and then decided to charge up the Far bank behind it. Quick thinking, I locked right down and kept steady pressure on the fish and walked back .I reckon I walked a good 20odd yards and kept the fish smashing its way back through the jungle, sure enough I was winning, winding up the line as fast as I could and progressively walking forward , we were back in the game! Yet again this thing was doing its best to find every piece of structure to lose me in. As the old saying goes when your lucks in, your lucks in. We have our names on fish when we are meant to catch them that’s for sure.



It was only a week ago or so when me and Ash were talking about the residence in there and he had said to me about another Lin, second in command that is rarely seen let alone caught!  Well I think you’ve guest it. It was that Lin and what a fish. Its probably one of the best fish I’ve ever caught, truly magnificent in every way and one I’ll remember for years to come.

The sad news was that the fish known as cheeks never came my way but I feel very blessed to have caught what I did on this short campaign.  I’ll be back for sure to hopefully finish the quest and for full the journey.

I had incidentally managed another two carp from the lake in a brief short trip before I worked on my campaign

These fish yet again we’re amazing creatures and credit goes out to the fishery. A massive thanks to Ash for all your help mate. Couldn’t have done it without you

Baits used were dynamite source with a good helping of mixed particle ,all loaded up with lots of rehydration liquid for max attraction .

Until next time… and always remember Keep it Couture!

John Stembridge

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