A Decade on Pingewood – Chapter 1: My First Captures

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On reflection I cannot remember what urged me to drive up to Reading back in 2009, I was still living in Swansea at the time, after only recently finished University. I’d been buying the only copy of Big Carp from the WH Smith each month, and having been out of the loop for 5 years I was quickly getting the bug back and keen to pick up my angling where I had left off. I read a feature on Pingewood Lagoon and its famous old residents and decided this was to be my next venue. It was hardly convenient mind you, travelling from Swansea to Reading but when I have the bit between my teeth nothing is going to get in the way!

I really hadn’t done much fishing since leaving for university 5 years prior, except for a couple of bass trips off the Gower. This was in stark contrast to the years leading up to my move to Wales, where I had been close to full time angling, first in Oxford at Linear’s Manor Farm and then at Yateley’s Match Lake. Having been successful at both I was full of confidence and raring to go. What is it they say about pride before a fall…

Before I go on I’ll give you an idea of the lake and its stock. Pingewood is a club water in the Reading area situated close to the M4 on the north side of the carriageway. I guess the lake itself is around 13 Acres in size with a stock of around 60 fish when I first joined (although somewhat reduced now). It has the air of a special water, with stacks of character and history. Many famous anglers have wet a line over the years chasing its truly special old fish. On the south side you have the M4 and on the north a small activity centre, a working gravel plant to the west and houses along the east bank. The swims are old and crumbling after years of use, surrounded by brambles and the margins are heavily snagged, dropping away in to deep clear water with heavy weed in most areas.

When I first joined, the stock was made up of some large thick set mirrors topped by a fish called ‘Pecs’, a regular 40 and ‘The Brute’ which would range between a high 40 to low 50 at the right time. Behind these were several good 30+ mirrors from the original stock and a few 20-30lb Leney strain fish which were really special. The commons were equally impressive, topped by Nathan’s and Marcus’s, both regular 40+. If that wasn’t enough, there were several good 30+ fish behind them, a few 20s and a decent helping of double figure ‘cricket bats’.

More recently the club stocked several scaley fish, these were topped by a fish called ‘Floppy Tail’ which has since reached mid-40s and another called ‘the big stocky’ which reached 36+. Most of these fish would only show themselves 1-2 times a year, when you combine this with pressure and the general high standard of angler targeting the Brute, it could be a challenging water at the best of times… As you will see!

2009/10 – Beginnings

My first trip was on the 14th of Feb 2009, I can be sure of this because I took my then girlfriend out to dinner on valentine’s day before jumping in the car around midnight to head to Reading (romantic, right?). A friend was already at the lake and advised there was one else mad enough to be fishing. I arrived in the small hours of the morning, still dark and with no idea of where I should be going. I attempted to make my way around the lake and in doing so managed to step into the margin itself whilst wearing trainers. Safe to say I got a soaking; not a great start!

Rods out early spring in the slip way

 By the time the sun rose it was apparent the lake was frozen, this really was not going well. My mate decided to pack up but I stayed on, lowering baits off the tips in the only ice free area of the lake, suffice to say I blanked despite staying 3 nights until the lake thawed.

I was well out of my depth

I tried to get to the lake regularly, travelling the length of the M4 each week. Typically I would leave my job in a local bar at 2am and get straight in the car, arriving in Reading before first light on the Sunday morning. The first few trips were very quiet, in fact I don’t think I saw a fish show until late March but this was not a deterrent. My approach at the time was a simple bottom bait topped with corn fish over matching bait. I was doing my best to learn the water and get a feel for the lake, but to be honest, I was well out of my depth.

By April the regular lads were back, knowing most of the better fish wouldn’t be out until late April or May. I was well behind the curve but loving it all the same. Somewhere around this time I was lucky enough to see one of the other regulars land ‘Pecs’, this was a special capture and the angler in question went on to complete his campaign by landing ‘The Brute’ in May, but that is another story for another time.

My first capture was not until May, around 20 nights in. I was moving around the pit regularly but struggling to draw first blood, I was in the point swim on the motorway bank, fishing a deep area close to a buoy around 30 yards out. It was rock hard and felt perfect for an ambush, as the fish rounded the corner from a bay to my right which contained the main snags and a no fishing bank. On this particular morning I had five large bream through the early hours and then at last, I had a take that was clearly not a Bream. I still remember the adrenaline as the tip pulled round and line left the spool at an alarming rate! It was a small common around 15lbs, I was buzzing non the less!

My first capture from Pingewood – a bat common

First Blood

I fished on that season as hard as I could but it was clear I was out of my depth. ‘The Brute’ came out a few times and I was lucky enough to see her on the bank at over 50lbs. I did start to venture back to easier waters to try and ‘get my eye in’, on reflection this was probably just a sign that I was not ready for the challenge Pingewood presented, but I have always been stubborn.

I did manage another fish that season, another small common. This time from the workings end of the lake, I was mid-way through packing up when the fish picked up a bottom bait presented on a silty area close in alongside a large weed bed. This second double figure common was the sum total of 40 night’s angling.

2014 – Return to Pinge (2* Bats)

In the years that followed my angling took a back seat, I was in a new relationship and was focussing on that along with work. When the bug did eventually re-surface, I decided to look at easier venues, really to raise my confidence and catch a few fish. This recovery led me to a couple of PBs and by the time 2014 rolled around I felt ready for another go in Reading, by March time I was rearing to go!

I was left shaking by this sighting

I had limited time at my disposal but could manage every other weekend. For my first trip I arrived on a Friday afternoon, I had read about several early spring zig captures in March and April with many coming from the motorway bay at the southeast corner of the lake. On my first trip I fished off the point but positioned a rod on a zig in the small swim to the right, fishing back into the bay and two more off the main swim. On the Saturday morning whilst stood in my waders out in the water looking into the bay, the Brute shuffled up out of the glassy surface not 20 yards in front of me. I was left shaking by this sighting and obviously fished the area for the rest of the trip but without any activity.

The Brute was here

March passed quietly but by April I was seeing fish, at this point I was slightly more clued up on observation and areas to focus on, and as a result was targeting the central area of the lake from the Slipway on the north bank. The fish were showing at range over a pronounced hard area in the middle of the lake at 105 yards, this is well and truly ‘no mans land’, fishable from several swims so a single Chod Rig would have to do.

Only 30 minutes after landing a bait in the area after a show, it pulled up tight and I was in! The fish kited to my right all the way in and ended up snagging me under the substantial submerged trees to the right of the swim. I had to swim for it! Diving under the water and leading a small common back to the net like a dog on a lead. Still April, it was bloody cold but worth it and I had learned that a bright single hook bait at this time of year was a wining approach.

I didn’t manage a single bite right through the late spring and summer period, during which I must have fished 20+ nights. I did have some great opportunities, including finding the bulk of the fish in the tyre bay at the south west corner of the lake and spending a couple of mornings watching them showing over me without success.

Had to swim for this one hence the wet hair and boxer shot!

During May I had a very close call with the Brute, I was fishing a three-night session on the Lawns, mid-way along the northern bank. This was an area the brute was known to be caught from and it was yet to come out. I had lost a fish and ended up getting ill on my second day after a dodgy pizza and had to leave the lake a day early. Another angler arrived that same evening and a few hours later the Brute was banked for the first time that year, I was very pleased for the angler who caught it as it was well deserved, but it did leave me wondering what if…

I spent much of the summer away from the lake, returning in the autumn for another go. I managed one fish during a 3-night session, having moved each day I was confident that I was now in the right place, fishing in the nettles in the North East corner of the lake. The water here is deep but fish had been showing in the area and cruising over the weed. Directly in front of the swim was a large hard area surrounded by heavy weed, you could land on the weed and feel nothing, but by pulling the lead off the weed it would sail down on to the bottom landing like it had hit a snooker table! I presented a low hinge rigged pop-up and a bottom bait with a small amount of bait over the top.

A friend of mine (Tom) had popped down for the night (as he often did when I was angling) and we stayed up late chatting and trying to empty his bottle of JD, we must have succeeded as the next day we were both worse for wear! We had agreed to go to the local café for a breakfast before heading home but I had a feeling it was going to happen, we had seen a couple of shows and it just felt right.

At 11:45 the pop-up was away, the tip pulled down as the slack fluro-carbon pulled tight and the fish realised its mistake. It made sanctuary in the weed almost instantly but with steady pressure, I dragged a large raft of weed to the bank, Tom scooped it up. We excitedly tore the weed away to reveal another small common… After 2 full seasons and 80+ nights of angling, this was starting to wear thin, but it would get worse before things improved.