Taking on Stanton – Chapter 1: The Early Days

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To begin I should start back in the 90’s with my early gravel pit fishing which focussed on the linear complex in the Witney area of Oxfordshire. At the time I was concentrating on Manor Farm, a busy circuit water with some very big fish, with the largest in excess of 40lbs. While angling there I met with a good friend Rich, who was fishing over the road. Toward the end of my time on Manor, around ‘99, Rich told me about a club water owned by a Bedford based club that had been largely forgotten about, but held some big fish and was accessed by very cheap ticket… It all sounded too good to be true!

I was planning on heading off to Yateley but didn’t have the ticket yet and this was a great stopgap, the lake was a similar size to Manor, probably 13ish acres and triangular is shape. In those days it was completely overgrown and wild, no bailiffs or rules, perfect.

The setup at Stanton, including the key swims

I fished around 18 nights and despite seeing plenty of fish, I really struggled, in fact I only managed one bite in all that time which was a completely opportunist affair. I was fishing a swim called the Rats Nest, which was on the bridal way. Just to get into the swim you had to climb a barbed wire fence and then drop down a small ladder, as the swim was dug out and set below the path. The water was through a reed bed which could be accessed by a crumbling dog leg jetty – so certainly not the easiest. We had been on a lap of the lake and hadn’t seen anything, a south-westerly wind was pushing down toward me from my right and as I stood on the end of the jetty a good fish showed 40 yards out to my right.

Not wanting the wind to erase all evidence of the fish, I quickly unhooked a tiger nut rig from the rings of a rod which had been out the night before. It was shrivelled from the sun but the hook was sharp so it did the job! I dispatched it into the rings and felt it land with a bang, ‘that’ll do’ I thought, trotting up to see Rich a few yards up the bank. Minutes later I was scrambling back over the fence, down the ladder and along the pier to the rod which was in meltdown… After a good scrap a 26lb mirror was landed, one of the best I have caught to this day but the only one in this period of angling. Rich decided to stay and managed to catch most of the good ones, some of which are still there now.

Early success

Fast Forwards

I did return in the mid-00s for another go. By then the controlling club had stocked it and there were a few more doubles and low twenties, although there was no one around who could confirm. I caught a few, but unfortunately don’t have any photographs from this period, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Not long afterwards, Pingewood grabbed my attention and Vauxhall was forgotten about for a good while.

I jumped at the chance

Now, let’s fast forward to 2017, this was when I heard Embryo Angling had taken control of the water and were starting a syndicate on there. This was exciting news and I was keen to get back on as the original and 00s fish were thriving with some incredible looking fish to boot. Coming off the back of the really busy circuit water of Stanton (as it is now known) with 85ish fish, this exactly the break I was looking for. I pestered the office for information on getting access and was eventually offered a winter ticket for the 17/18 winter which runs Oct-Mar giving a couple of good months and preferential access to the full ticket, I jumped at the chance.

My first trip was in early March, having left Reading due to it being so busy I was presented with its antithesis, as there was only one other angler on at Stanton. Nothing occurred for me or the other angler, but it was nice to start the learning process again.

The following trip I arrived late, well in to dark. I was greeted by a couple of members having a good social, it was a nice welcome and one would become a good mate in the seasons to follow. The conditions were freezing, but a couple of fish had been out which was promising. I did one night and heard fish, but they did the off after I flicked out a couple of choddies in the first bay which was sheltered from the cold wind.

A shot from one of the earlier trips in the cold

This was the week that the Beast from the East hit the UK and we had some savage cold easterlies and I left with a -7°C wind chill pushing me back westward with my tail between my legs! I was back the following week though and the conditions were better, having the whole weekend I plumped for the Drain at the middle of the meadow bank, giving a chuck at the centre area of the lake where a few had been hooked from. Unfortunately I had no success but I did see my first fish landed by Sam, one of the regulars; learning a bit more and meeting more of the lads in the process.

That was the last weekend of the ticket and I felt close, but it would be another couple of months before I could have another go at them, as I was fortunate enough to be offered the full ticket which started in June. At this time the fish weren’t huge and weren’t making headlines, but it was only a matter of time…

The Stock

Some looked truly incredible

There were some good fish from the original group, including a couple of amazing scaley classic Oxfordshire type fish. The ones Vauxhall had stocked in the 00s were reaching 30 and some looked truly incredible, then you had a couple of odd fish which we suspect may have been moved by some ‘undesirables’ who fished the water in the late 00s. One of these, ‘Lumpy’, definitely came from a local complex of day ticket lakes. The other, ‘Half Lin’, is a mystery but managed to avoid capture for over five years after Embryo acquired the venue, before being landed at 37+ and has only been caught once since!

In addition you had C.25 stockies between doubles and low twenties. Every angler on the venue was after the ‘A team’, a mix of ages but all five had been out at 37lbs +. ‘Lumpy’ and ‘Half Lin’, were both extremely rare visitors to the bank, ‘The Pig’ was an old original Italian strain fish and finally 3 scale and Tyson which are younger (probably 00s stocking) but were coming on fast despite not being caught a huge amount.

Back to it

My first trip on the full ticket fell at the beginning of June, I was on the way back from Italy and had a week ahead of me. My flight was delayed and I had a car accident on the way out of Heathrow long stay, which meant I didn’t arrive until very late and ended up loading the barrow and sleeping in the car park, ready for first light. I intended to stay mobile and watch for the day, at 4am I was drinking a coffee watching the sky lighten from black to inky blue as the world came alive, three baits tied to choddies hung from the rods as I waited for the carp to give the game away.

The first fish started to show to my right in a swim called ‘The Barbel’ I pushed the barrow round and flicked out two baits, after a couple of liners the fish moved to my right, into the point. I quickly followed and repeated the process. Despite fishing only two rods with very light leads, they didn’t seem to like the pressure and quickly moved on once the rods were out.

This was my error

Soon they were in front of the churn opposite me. I moved again, opting not to put the rods out but to let them settle and sort things properly later on. I had to fetch bait from Joe in Abingdon so left the kit and headed round the lake. On passing the carpark snag I checked and saw a few good fish, it was almost midday now and I figured no one would arrive, so I could move on my return from collecting bait – this was a mistake! Arriving back, I saw one additional car in the car park and head bailiff Russ installed in the swim controlling the snag – balls! Still this was my error for not having made the effort and I was learning that there are enough fish for there to be multiple opportunities on this lake; somewhat different to what I was used to.

I set up in the churn, wading a bait to the left and placing it on the polished gravel ledge next to some snags, with the other two positioned on a silty seam at 60 yards. This was a lovely spot amongst Canadian, soft but completely smooth, perfect. I went to bed super confident that night, proving that it’s true what they say about confidence in angling, as I awoke to a take on the middle rod in open water. This turned out to be a small stocky but first blood none-the-less.

First blood

The left rod down the margin was receiving liners and I felt sure it was only a matter of time; this rod was locked up solid so I had to be quick. A few minutes later it slammed round as fish number two was hooked, this was another small one and I quickly had a small common to match the mirror from earlier. I was heading off to Reading for a few nights as my ticket was only valid for a weekend, on my way out I heard that Russ had managed five from the car park, including Tyson at mid-30. A great result which really demonstrated that you need to be on the right group of fish, but also left me thinking ‘what if?’…