When Life Gives You Lemons...

Posted by CarpLife on July 6, 2015 at 1:55 PM



If there’s one thing I learnt from my most recent trip to Germany, it’s that you can’t catch a wild horse with a lemon. You might be thinking I’ve lost the plot with a sentence like that, but bear with me. You know the phrase, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ well the Germans translate that pretty literally, so any time you get a bit of bad luck, they say ‘only lemons’ and shrug their shoulders.


I’d been to Germany before and managed a true German warrior. I keep in constant touch with many guys around Europe and seeing the caliber of fish they catch keeps the appetite whetted for wanting to visit again. With this in mind, I’d booked to visit Avid consultant Bjorn Brandt, after questioning him about the whereabouts of some carp on his Facebook page at the Zwolle Show earlier this year. They were all dark, prehistoric looking things – my idea of the perfect carp.


My trip began, however, just as it continued, with constant bad luck. Delayed flight, loads of traffic, and when I arrived at the lake it absolutely bucketed down without warning. So with my only pair of shoes soaked to the core and the rest of my gear pretty saturated, it felt like it was going to be one of those trips.


The Horse Lake

The first afternoon it was quite muggy, the type of weather you expect to catch a few in! My host, Bjorn Brandt, had allowed me to fish one of his private venues in the wilderness – The Forgotten Germany he called it – somewhere really rural, with lots of farming and not a lot of anything else.


The two lakes we were fishing were just a few metres apart, one a small lake around 3-4 acres, with 30 carp or so, and another lake of 70 acres, with a fish per acre, at best. It was spring, though, and a good time to catch the fish just as they were waking up. Bjorn had put some time in prebaiting, so we were expecting some action during my three-night stay, despite conditions being relatively chilly for the time of year.


The smaller lake is known as the ‘Horse Lake’ as it lies in a field filled with massive horses. They’re like a Shire horse in size, but a normal horse in shape. They’re very inquisitive, too, and because they get stuck in the lake, there are long rubber ropes up to stop them entering the water. This means it’s a bit like the Krypton Factor to jump through the ropes and hit a bite, a bit of a mission when you’re fishing locked up solid with 50lb braided reel line!


On the big lake, Bjorn was manning the rods and these were boated out to areas he’d baited that had been cleaned off by fish. It was quite exciting to actually spook a fish from a large plateau on a lake with such an unknown, low stock. In fact, Bjorn knew of only half a dozen captures ever on the lake, the smallest an upper 30!


It was very different to the venue I visited last year, a difficult German syndicate lake where I met some great people. Friends Christian Kessler and Matthias Ploger both came to visit the Horse Lake with BBQ food and a few Colabiers that first afternoon. Yes, the Germans drink cola and beer like a shandy, the ‘dirty beer’. It’s surprisingly nice.


We talked for a few hours about the 22kg fish I managed last time and some other fish that lived locally to where we were fishing. I was wishing I was there for three months, not three days, and just as we were thinking our boisterousness and laughter could be spooking the fish, the middle rod nearly disappeared into the lake with a savage bite.


After two bumps and nods, the fish was gone and we were all left shaken. Bjorn could not believe that a carp could be the culprit, not as we had only placed the rods and baited them an hour or so before. I was fairly certain it wasn’t a carp, but Chris and Matthias thought it was. “Only lemons this session,” laughed Bjorn. We didn’t even know the half of it!


Tenched Out

My next eight bites were all from tench. I got absolutely soaked landing them all through the night, gamboling through the ropes barefoot and walking into the shallow margins to land them each time. It was a draining experience but as I was hearing the odd carp show, I knew it was worth persevering.


In the morning, as we reflected on the tench, Bjorn was telling me how he’d only had two tench, ever, in 10 years of fishing the lake. Granted, he only fishes it twice a year, at most, but it was still strange. I wasn’t even fishing with what I’d consider something at risk of nuisance species. It was a real eye opener.


As we spoke, the right hand rod fished at the furthest point from my bivvy let out a quick double bleep, before the bobbin settled down to its original point. We both said “Tench!” I wound the rod in and found that actually, the swivel had exploded! It had literally been torn apart on the bite. “That was no tench, “ insisted Bjorn. “More lemons,” we laughed.


One of the rods on the big lake had let out a similar couple of bleeps an hour earlier, so I checked the receiver. Of course, another lemon! The batteries were flat as a pancake. Leaving nothing to chance, we wound in the Horse Lake rods and went to check it out. What happened next will haunt me forever. As Bjorn approached the spot, you saw the marker that was left some 40yds behind the spot as a reference point was in the island snags. The panic was mixed with high hopes and expectations, but after a protracted searching exercise, following the line into the overhanging trees, we found only half of the hooklink. The leader had been wrapped around the branches and then boom, the rig had obviously parted. It was gutting for both of us. What was clearly going to be a massive fish was gone, without us even knowing it was there. Bjorn explained how most of the fish in this lake were 18kg plus. 40lbers, for the most part, with fish that had been seen and witnessed at much larger. It was a bitter lemon to swallow!


Bjorn was disheartened, but I’m one of those people who doesn’t have the cup half full or half empty. My cup is full, all the time, so I knew if we kept plugging away and didn’t leave anything to chance, we would get a result.


No Limit

We spent extra time getting everything right for the second afternoon. Bjorn insisted my German Rig was too short for the fish in this lake. From experience, regardless of the baiting situation, he had done well using longer rigs tied from fluorocarbon. I wasn’t going to ignore his advice, he knew the fish better than anyone, so some 20cm rigs tied from 25lb fluorocarbon, using braided hairs and size 6 Avid LSK hook, were quickly knocked up. I tested everything to the limit to make sure it was up to the job.


Bjorn also suggested using some bright pop-up toppers on the rigs. My bottom baits with the tight hair situation on the German Rigs was too efficient for the tench, so a longer hair and a more blatant bait was used, in an attempt to avoid them. A 15mm Code Red bottom bait tipped with one of Bjorn’s yellow specials looked great, the perfect Snowman setup.


Bjorn had also suggested not baiting so tightly. I suppose that’s a habit from the UK, so rather than baiting only around the hookbait, I threw the smaller bits of hemp and crushed tiger into the snags, leading towards the hookbait where there was more bait, almost like an arrow pointing at the hookbait. Bjorn showed me some GoPro footage of the fish creeping out from under the trees to baited areas, but showed how they only came out if they had been fed in the trees as well. Fascinating stuff, it was almost like they were forgetting where they were as they scoffed the bait.


That day my thigh waders sprung a leak and my portable charger stopped working for a while. We got soaked in the random downpours again, it was raining bloody lemons!


As night fell, I did feel closer to catching a carp. The tench didn’t put in an appearance before midnight, unlike the previous night, and sure enough, my first bite was just as the darkness was fading. The right hand rod – the one where the swivel had been torn apart the day before – let out one bleep. Luckily I was stood over the rods at the time with a brew. Well the brew disappeared rather quickly and I simply picked up the rod and held on for dear life.


The carp in Germany don’t fight like UK fish. They fight like their lives depend on it and you literally cannot do a thing to prevent them from going where they want to go. I knew it wasn’t a particularly big fish, but I still couldn’t do anything with it. The fight wasn’t long, but it was aggressive, and after wading out a short way, a clean mirror that looked like he’d been born in the lake sat in the folds of the net. He was probably the smallest carp in the lake, but I didn’t care. Lemonade was being made!


Just as I was securing him in the edge, the middle rod was away. The tip bent around to full test curve in the blink of an eye, it was so savage the bungees securing the rod pod started flexing.


This felt a little bigger, but not huge. Again, it was a powerful force on the end, charging for the snags. I was using the 2.75lb MSX rods and I was glad, as I could really turn my back to the water and crank down, without really needing to use the reel. After another powerful battle, a distinctive-coloured common was in the net. He looked like he was smothered in gold leaf, with eyes like a teddy bear rather than a carp.


Just as I was sitting there sorting out the rods to get them back out there, the receiver for the big lake stuttered into life with a slow take. Beep, beep, beep, beeeeep, beeeeeeeeeeep. I legged it over there just as Bjorn arrived at the rods himself, only to see a tufted duck going bananas over the spot. It was clear what had happened.


Bjorn shrugged his shoulders, “F*cking lemons, fuck you!” he said under his breath. He looked up at me and I was still smiling. “Why you smile?” he asked. Then it dawned on him. “You catch a fish?”


I said “No, Bjorn, I’ve had two!”


He hugged me like a lost brother, jumping up and down with excitement that I had caught. That is very much Bjorn’s character. He only wanted for me to catch a fish, to have a good trip. I did not want for anything during my stay. I reckon if I’d asked him to sing me a lullaby every night he’d have done it – one of life’s truest gentlemen.


We waited for the rain to slow down and called over the horses to try and get them in the background for the photos. They give a real sense of place and I will always remember them galloping around each day. Some photos from the past have the horses trying to lick the anglers and the carp – it’s an amazing place.


Wild Horses

After some lovely photos, we spoke of how I’d somehow managed to catch more tench and more small carp than Bjorn had managed himself. He surmised that the UK setups had more finesse and also thought maybe his prebaiting had switched on the small fish. Normally, he doesn’t prebait at all. He goes to the lake in the spring to make sure they have survived the winter and see if they bigger in the build up to spawning, and then again in the autumn, once spawning is over, the weed has died down and the algae has gone. The lake is virtually unfishable during the summer and as Bjorn is the guardian of the lake, he only really lets a few farmer boys and his father fish it from time to time. In short, the fish can go years between captures.


“No wonder they fight so hard,” I joked. “They are wild horses,” smiled Bjorn. “Like the horses in the field. Like the weather in the spring. They are free. They do what they want.”


We celebrated with an English cup of tea. The Germans love Yorkshire tea and I take boxes and boxes as gifts each time I visit. Again, the tea was thrown quickly into the air as the right hand rod burst into life. This time, I met more resistance!


Like before, the fight was so raw. I didn’t feel like I was carp fishing. I know that using the braided line gives you more direct feedback, but this was ridiculous.


This fight was longer, as I got the fish away from trees early and then played it on the deep shelf. The margins were 1ft deep for around 20yds, so you had to walk to the shelf to land anything. Bjorn was with me the whole time and as the carp kited right, nowhere near ready for the net, Bjorn simply hunted it down and scooped it up!


“It’s the Early Grey one,” Bjorn smiled. He was as excited as I was.


I was buzzing like a little child. I’d seen pictures of Bjorn with this fish and it was love at first sight. A grey fish with almost a handprint of scales, “Four fingers and one thumb” on one side, Bjorn said. “You are only the second man to catch him.”


The name amused me because I explained to Bjorn that Earl Grey was a type of tea in the UK. In translation it had been lost a little, so he was called the Early Grey. An even better name and another story to add to what is a great character fish. I was beaming during the catch photos, he was a proper old German fish, probably 30 years old. He was truly grey, with a creamy belly and blinging gold scales. It reminded me of some of the old Yateley carp, with the underslung mouth and big front end. An epic beast.


An Irresistible Force

We replaced the rods and the weather changed. The wind was now blowing towards the right hand spot, the most productive so far, and it couldn’t have looked any better. I was living on my nerves a little bit, I could feel myself winding up like a coiled spring. Normally I’m really chilled on the bank, no panic, no stress, but I felt a pressure to catch a bigger one. It wasn’t a pressure from Bjorn or from anybody else, just a pressure on myself. I make no secret of being target driven, of wanting to do more, to be better at everything. So on this trip, I was desperate for a big fish. Bjorn told me that every carp in the lake that hadn’t been caught that year was over 15kg. He also told me that every time he’d caught the Early Grey, the next fish was one he called the Brown One, which looks more like the Black Mirror than the Black Mirror! I was ready for action at all times and for the first time in a very long time, I felt nervous.


It was a good job, too. Just as one of the more entrepreneurial farmer boys came to visit with fruit and salamis, the right hand rod folded like a cheap suit. Seriously, the tip went from 12 o clock to 5 o clock in the time it took one bleep to register. Despite the reel being cranked as tight as it could go, the fish still managed to take a few ticks of line as I picked up the rod.


With the previous two carp, I’d been able to pick it up and walk backwards, with this fish I simply got dragged down the bank, sliding in the wet mud. I kept the rod at full test, knowing that everything should hold and the fish would eventually turn. This just simply did not happen. Just at the point you would expect the fish to lose the battle, it charged again, and then again. The rod yanked in my arms like I’d hooked one of the horses, not a fish!


This rod was fished two rod lengths from the trees, but I knew he must be close. Before I even had chance to touch the reel, the fish charged again and then like the view from a train window, he was there and then gone forever. It was like the music had stopped, everything fell silent as I wound back nothing at all. The 50lb braided reel line had been cut clean. It hadn’t broken, the hook hadn’t pulled, nothing had given way, it was cut like somebody was swimming underwater with a pair of scissors.


Bjorn walked away from the lake, hands in the air, swearing under his breath. The farmer boys eyes were so wide open he looked like a cartoon character. Had his jaw dropped to the floor and his tongue rolled out like a red carpet, I wouldn’t have been surprised.


I didn’t really know what to do. Part of me was egging myself on to just get the rod back out there and fight for another bite. The other part of me knew that a fish swimming around with a leader on such a small lake was going to have a detrimental effect on the fishing. A million emotions washed over me at once, like downing too many different flavoured shots on a stag do. My head was spinning and I felt lost.


After a while, Bjorn returned looking like he needed a cuddle more than I did. “This was the Mama,” said Bjorn. “I cannot believe it. The Mama, no, no, no. Why the Mama?”


We both inspected the braid looking for the reasons and wound in all of the rods to go looking for the fish. If a decent length of braid had been left behind the fish there was every chance it could be tangled up in the trees. We didn’t see anything and Bjorn returned to the lake for a few weeks looking afterwards too, so that was a weight off my mind.


The problem was, the “Mama” was last caught at 23kg. There was every chance it was well over 50lb now and if it was, indeed, as Bjorn suggested, it would have been the best example of making lemonade with only lemons I’ve ever heard!


Bjorn told me why he thought it was the Mama, the mother of the lake, the biggest fish and the hardest to land. The last time he caught it, he did not give an inch of line but did not have the power in his arms to wind the reel. The reel simply would not budge! Instead, he walked up and down in the field, his line singing in the wind. His story didn’t make me feel any better. I knew I’d lost a donkey.


(Bjorn actually filmed the “Mama” a few weeks ago and it looked absolutely colossal. Nearer 60 than 50, and another reason why I simply must go back to the Horse Lake.)


The other reason I must go back is because I’m not used to being unlucky. I’m generally a jammy so-and-so. On the last day, more shit came my way. Right on bite time in the morning I had a take only to hook another tench. Just as it was nearing the bank, I went to pass Bjorn the net and slipped. As I flew through the air landing arse first in the mud, just half an hour before we had to leave, my feet smashed into my bite alarms, snapping them clean off the banksticks and sending them blurbling into the water.


Bjorn’s father had just arrived to fish himself, and as they both fell about laughing, Bjorn looked at his father and shrugged his shoulders. “Only lemons,” he smiled.


Bjorn’s father’s eyes brightened. He looked at me and he said in the typical matter-of-fact German way “Mat, you do know you cannot catch wild horses with only lemons. You must come back and try again.”


I can’t wait.



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