Return to the Secret Garden Part 2: Continued Exploration

Return to the Secret Garden Part 2: Continued Exploration

Wednesday, 8th December 2021

We left the story of our September trip to the Secret Garden with a photo showing the extent of the erosion along the far bank, so as a starting point of part two let's return to that…

Yellow digger working on French waterbank.

Here's the digger at work shoring up the far bank. This work had certainly changed the topography of the lakebed over the far side, but just how would this work impact the fishing? In truth, the lake has recovered well since the work was completed and the lake refilled, so much so that you'd never know that the work had been done. I used my old, battered Viper Legacy to drop hookbaits at various distances from the far bank margins, the aim being to see if a) the carp were still visiting the area and b) if so, did they have a preferred depth at which they would feed? I was probably over-thinking the whole thing and not surprisingly the buzzers were steadfastly silent for the whole of the first day.

Thriving green waterbank, with still water.
As you can clearly see from this next photo, the far bank has recovered remarkably well. I went out in the boat with a prodding stick and this revealed that the material that had been used to shore up the undercut had settled and firmed up into a hard bottomed margin, the spreading undergrowth providing cover to carp browsing the margin.
Ken smiling whilst holding a large carp fish.

Day Two arrived with our confidence somewhat dented, but a blistering take from across the far side resulted in a long, lean mirror of 37lb. Holding it for the pix was like holding a block of solid wood, a young fish with plenty of potential for adding a few pounds…and so nice to be fishing in a shirt and shorts again.

A silver fishing line weight.

It was nice to get off the mark, as fishing for crafty carp requires patience and confidence in what you are doing and this capture told me we were doing something right. However, I got the feeling that I was a bit off with my presentation. Perhaps the paste on the very light lead trick was loosing its effectiveness. Two years ago when we had last fished the Secret Garden, we had put great store in boilie paste wrapped around the lead (and sometimes the hookbait) to add significant attraction to the area. Two years later and they seemed a touch reluctant to pick up such a presentation. Off came the light leads and the running rigs and on went heavy leads fished in a lead clip. Let's see if that makes any difference. Tat meanwhile was certain that paste wraps and maybe even a paste hookbait were the answer, so she stuck to her guns on her rods.

Shiny, circular green carp bait.

Previous visits had shown me that these carp like a big feed, but I am always initially reluctant to over bait. Who knows what the previous week's guests had used: I could be putting more bait over uneaten stuff left over from the pervious week. I would normally sit on my hands until I was sure the carp were there in the sort of numbers that would justify a big bait carpet. However, Jean has always stressed that in this case more truly is more. I had some semi-preserved bait heavily glugged in glycerin that I had set aside for use in our last few days. I decided that if anyone should know how much bait these fish could consume, it would be Jean, so I took his advice and added the treated bait to the crumbed UJB Squid, thus doubling the daily amount of bait going in, both down in the pads and across the far side in the margins.

3 giant gambas, bread butter and white wine.

We enjoyed a sumptuous supper that evening, a seafood extravaganza consisting of crab, mussels and best of all, giant gambas, all washed down with a nice sharp white and French bread and butter. Bliss!

A man holding a 31lb carp.

The weather continued to be rather changeable with rain clouds queuing up away to the west, ready to give us a bit of a soaking should a take occur during a shower. Still, it didn't seem to affect the carp too much and soon after the first cuppa I landed another thirty pound carp, a mirror of just over 31lb…another shirt sleeve scrapper.

Legacy bait boat on water.

The following morning dawned with low cloud threatening more rain, the resulting mist casting an eerie cloak over the tree tops. I used my trusty ancient Legacy bait boat to take a couple of rods down their, dumping a hopper load of bait over each hookbait.

Two rods over a still fishing lake.

My other two rods I kept in reserve as I didn't like the idea of having too many lines cluttering up what was in fact a comparatively small area. I always like to fish slackish lines as I like to think that this stops the possibility of carp spooking out of the baited area should they come into contact with a line. Tat was happy to stick it out with a couple of rods in the far corner and the far margin.

Tat holding a large carp she caught.

Tat said that she wanted to do a big shop in the hypermarket in the town about five miles away. I had only just got the rods positioned to my liking so I asked her if she would mind if I didn't come with her. She said she actually preferred it when she went on her own, as I would fill the trolley with more than we needed. As ever she was right.

Neither of us had been in a big supermarket since March 2020 when the pandemic first struck but Tat said she felt more confident in going shopping in France, as they were reporting daily cases of around twelve percent of the numbers being reported in the UK. In fact, we later found out while chatting to a couple of locals that the village and its surrounding area had not had a single case of Covid since the pandemic had started. How hugely reassuring was that?

We have always done well during a shopping run. One of us invariably stays on the rods while the other does the shopping and nine times out of ten the lucky one on the rods gets a fish. For instance, how about this gorgeous linear? I was in a supermarket ten miles away when Tat landed this fantastic fish from the Commons Lake back in 1985.

Ken fishing on a still lake, with a long fishing line.

Now it was my turn. Tat was away in town and suddenly one of the two rods fishing the far end produced a flyer. At that sort of range the fight was dour to start with, however, once I had worked her back to the pontoon she went absolutely berserk.

Ken holding a 15kg carp.

On the mat she crapped out loads of my bait so I knew that our plan was coming together. With any luck we should get through to the bigger fish soon. Next came another gorgeous fish, a common this time, of exactly 15 kg, or 33lb in our money. What a magnificent fish. I had no sooner landed it than Tat returned, just in time to do the photos. This had been the first time she had been in a supermarket for eighteen months, all thanks to our fear of Covid. She told me she had been greatly reassured by the relaxed atmosphere in the shop, though shoppers were still maintaining social distancing and the majority wore masks.

Bait boat with black writing across the side, 'The Secret Garden.'

Normally my old fashioned bait boat is ultra reliable but it suddenly stopped working completely, a total shut down. I checked it from bow to stern and could find no fault, but Jean came to my rescue, as he had just bought a new ultra-high spec boat with more bells and whistles than anyone could ever want. It was also a right handful for my inexperienced hands; I simply couldn’t control it. I feel sure anyone apart from me wishing to use it will have no problems but for me it was like a mad thing.

Black raptor boat on the water.

Luckily there was also an inflatable standing by, one of the ever reliable Raptor boats and I soon found that I was able to row a bait down to the far end, drop it and then return to the pontoon quicker than was possible with the super-slow Legacy.

Ken holding a 43lb 12oz carp.

I didn't have long to wait and as I had hoped, the bigger fish had now come out to join the feast. A long, lean mirror of 43lb 12oz picked up a bait down by the pads. Just look at this carp, so solid and chunky and nearly a meter from nose to tail. It was like holding an iron bar, and clearly a young fish too with a lot much growth still to come. There truly is a huge amount of potential at the Secret Garden. It was becoming clear that the whole area was thick with feeding fish so another rod was set aside to be taken down there in the Raptor.

Still lake with slight mist over the trees ahead.

With that forty under my belt, I took the two rods back to the pads, spreading a fair bit of bait over a widespread area. With the autumn fog kissing the tree tops, it looked sexy as hell down there (in a carpy way, of course). I prodded around with the landing net handle trying to get a picture in my mind's eye of the make up of the bottom and the depth. For the most part the lake bed consisted of silt with the odd harder patch of gravel; the depth was no more than three feet. I dropped the baited rig on what seemed to be one of the gravel patches, and scattered a few baiting spoons full around it, then set off to row back to the swim.

Ken holding a 20lb carp.

I had no sooner climbed out of the boat and onto the pontoon before the rod was almost wrenched from my grasp, and line began to peel of the reel. That was quick, but like I said, it did look very carpy. Mr Crabtree would have been proud of me especially when I landed this tubby little beauty. A young fish introduced during the early days of the pandemic at a weight of about seven pounds. Now look at it; twenty pounds of heavily scaled beauty.

Still lake with black raptor boat next to decking.

I should talk for a minute about the boat that Jean provides, at no extra cost. This was my introduction to the very popular Raptor, a Dutch inflatable, that was to prove invaluable to me during the trip. It was a bit cramped with the engine and the battery in place and as I like rowing anyway I put them ashore and used the oars. That's better. Yes, the engine can make life easier, but I like the intimacy of drifting silently over the area I am fishing. I think that even using the electric engine you create a lot of unnecessary disturbance that could spook the fish. By gently sculling with a single oar I can shuffle noiselessly and with minimum disturbance into the baited area, and the fact that I hade three takes from fish within a few minutes of returning to the pontoon in my swim proves that it is an effective way to fish and to bait up.

Large outdoor swimming pool next to relaxing sun lounger space.
Though it was only late September, by now the evenings had taken a distinctly chilly turn but not so cold that it put Tat off the swimming pool, and after a dip she would go back inside the gite to prepare dinner as the sun went down.
  Ken holding a giant 40lb 12oz carp he caught.

The clear sky dropped the air temperature quite a bit but still the fish continued to feed and I caught a humpy back yet sleek tummy mirror of 40lb 12oz before winding in my other rods and joining Tat in the house. Away to the west the clouds were gathering ominously and I was glad I was not out in a bivvy, as the weather looked decidedly dodgy.

Lightening strikes with a purple sky background.

That evening we had the worst storm I can ever remember. Many parts of central and southern France were put on Red or Orange alerts which is pretty 'hairy'. The lightning was fearsome and the thunder deafening, and the storm centre seemed to be right overhead. The rain was torrential, bringing the water level up about ten inches. This is normally a peaceful part of France for weather but that night the storm knocked out the electricity, blew up the router, tripped the main fuse no less than five times. We left it off in the end while we waited for the storm to pass but that took over four hours. In the meantime chaos reigned across our little piece of heaven.

That was the last day Tat used the pool. The water temperature of the pool's water fell several degrees thanks to the rain, and the force of the wind and the intensity of the rain brought down branches and smaller twigs, and littered the pool with windblown leaves. And it turned cold; very cold. Suddenly autumn looked to have arrived with gusto.

First thing the following morning we tidied up as best we could and Jean came along to check that we were OK.. He was concerned at the level of the lake so together we managed to lift the boards at the outflow, releasing a massive surge of flood water into the channels and culverts below the dam. The level would drop pretty quickly now. Meanwhile I needed to empty the boat, which had about a good foot of water in it. Luckily I managed to turn it upside down and the flood of water went down the nearest drainage channel. I was keen to get a bit more bait into the pads area, which I did from the boat.

Brown-red bait in a green bucket.

The UJB bait was by now really working well and I felt sure that the fact that it was crumbed and boosted helped enormously. Two years earlier I had used pop-ups and wafters exclusively, these were from Eddy Sterckx's eponymous bait company, and also baits from what was to be the forerunner of Handcraft Hookbait, namely Blake's Baits. Since then Gavin Neal had left Blake's and branched out on his own with Handcraft. Mark Pidgely had agreed to join Gavin and knowing how effective the previous incarnations of their hookbaits were, I again chose from HH's range. The company makes the most delightful-smelling little twelve millers, the Dark Sting being my favourite - though I'd love to know the flavour. As for Eddy's baits, well the Red Angel had done the business for me two years earlier so it was a logical choice. (I just wish I could identify the smell of this one too.)

Large stone church behind a cobbled wall.

We decided to give the fishing a miss for a day so as to allow the lake to recover from the deluge. We have often found that resting the lake for a few hours, overnight maybe, or even for a whole day can pay dividends. The storm had left a legacy of soaking grass and sodden paths and the lake had turned a dark chocolate colour. Though lifting the boards in the outfall was helping to lower the level I thought it would be a day or two before the huge influx of floodwater passed through and the lake return to normal. We decided therefore to take the day off and drive into the Limoges, a that town has a rich history and there is lots to see and do. We did the touristy bit then found an excellent restaurant and gorged ourselves for four hours on fine food and great wine. Lovely-jubbly.

Black J-hook for fishing.

Restarting the next day I lost a couple of fish one after the other, so I changed the hooks on both rods. I use JPrecision hooks for all my fishing these days and while they are expertly sharpened to the n'th degree the point can get damaged or the point loose its edge. It pays therefore to inspect the points carefully, especially after a capture. I guess I must have neglected to follow my own advice here, as when I looked closely I could see and feel that they points of the two fish on which I had lost fish were turned over slightly. Silly boy!

Hookbait made using Haith's fishing ingredients.

Tat was concentrating on the far corner without much success so I asked her to move down to join me on the pontoon. She was happy with her presentation, using paste to trap the hooklink into one of the grooves in the Fox paste bomb (if you've seen one you'll know what I mean). You can make a very attractive paste bait using any of the egg biscuit-based ingredients, Red FactorNectarblendEgg Biscuit Softfood and CLO. Add your choice of liquid attraction - flavour, food liquid, liquid hydro etc. - to water and then add your chosen ingredient Use a fork to blend the two together. At first the resulting stodge it may seem fairly soft, but leave it for a while and the paste will firm up. You can then mould it around the hookbait or the lead. It is very effective if you use it to bind the hooklink to the lead. This creates a temporary bolt rig set up, but it reverts to a running lead once the fish has pulled the hooklink free.

Paste hookbait next to stocking mesh.

We had both done well on paste hookbaits in the past and it is a trick that has often produced for us. We use stocking mesh a lot of the time but there are alternative meshes out there. The great advantage of pastes is that they don't lock in the attraction, as is the case when the paste is boiled. Paste allows the attractors to escape into the water in the zone surrounding the hookbait, drawing the carp into your swim, where you hope they'll make a mistake on the rig. If you've never tried it, go on, give it a try.

Tat holding a fishing line into a still lake.

Refreshed from our trip to the town we made an early start the following day…or rather, I made an early start. Her highness stayed in bed until mid morning, which made what followed all the more galling. It was mid afternoon on a mild yet overcast day, ideal in fact for fishing. Jean had just arrived and the three of use were chatting by the rods when one was away to a flyer. Tat was on it like a shot and as she bent into the fish it was obvious this was something out of the ordinary. I wanted to stand close and give advice but I knew she didn't need any, so I stood and watched while my lass played that carp like the old hand she is.

Scales showcasing large fishing catch of 27 kilos!

It took about twenty minutes to work it back towards us but as the carp neared the pontoon we could all see that this was not just big, it was BIG! It wallowed on the surface and soon was in the net. Together Jean and I lifted her onto the mat and only then did we realise that this was something very special. While I cleared the net and unhooked the fish, Tat checked the scales, which we had zeroed earlier, and then together Jean and I lifted her up. It was a bit of a struggle.

Up on the scales she went. I couldn't look. It was certainly a PB but by how much? Jean did the reading and I heard him say, "Twenty-six point (something) kilos," I didn't hear what he said after the 'point' but when I looked at the scales myself I saw that it was closer to twenty-seven kilos than to twenty-six, and as twenty-seven kilos is as near as damn it sixty pounds in our money, it was definitely a big bugger!

Ken will his jaw dropped at the weight of the fish on the scales.

My jaw dropped. Clearly a PB and a gorgeous fish to boot. We settled on a weight of 59lb 12oz and Tat was well pleased with that. There's a video of this whole capture which encapsulates all the reasons we love carp fishing so much: The emotions, the excitement, the anticipation, the delight and eventually the euphoria. Link below (Try to ignore the fat git wandering into shot from time to time.):

I could watch this on a loop over and over again.

Tat smiling, looking happy.

"Good job, Miss!" from Jean; "You are a jammy devil," from me.

Tat laying next to a large, almost fifty-two pound carp.

Two years ago at the Secret, Tat had landed a PB Common of close to fifty-two pounds. At the time she had her leg in plaster after slipping off the kerb, breaking three bones in her foot and ankle. The fish was too heavy for her to lift for a traditional trophy shot, so she decided to lie down alongside it. Now, as this big mirror was even bigger, she again lay down by the mat, but whereas back then the ground was pretty clean and dry, this time it was muddy and the grass was soaking wet. Did she care? Not at all!

We pulled the other rods in and went back to the house for a celebration, and what a celebration it turned out to be, but we'll draw a discreet veil over those proceedings.

Ken holding a shiny carp.

I suppose you might imagine the final few days would be something of an anti-climax, but you'd be wrong. There are thought to be two, possibly three other carp in the lake in excess of sixty pounds so no way was I taking the fishing lightly.

A small common with a broken tail came to the net soon after I started fishing. It fought quite hard considering it had been munched on by the lake's sole catfish. It was a bit of a sorry sight, floppy tail and all. I have no idea why lake owners feel the need to put catfish in a carp lake. They may clear up uneaten bait and may also eat small fry, bream etc. but they will also readily attack carp. The cat in the Secret Garden had now grown so big - 75lb plus - that it was becoming a pest, so Jean has since got rid of it.

The next run produced something truly special, a perfect 'zip' linear of thirty-four pounds. A long lean torpedo of a carp that took a bait across by the far bank, the first to come from that area for several days. The heavens opened while I was weighing it and doing the pix but that didn't detract from the sheer pleasure such a beautiful fish can bestow.

By now the fishing had slowed down in the pads but by contrast a few fish were venturing along the far bank again. I decided to now concentrate my fishing efforts away from the pads area, so used the Raptor to spread bait along the far bank's margins. Again I used Union Jack Baits Squid boilies that I crumbed and treated with liquid food diluted with hot water, as described earlier. The fish didn't respond straight away but a nice low forty was all the encouragement I needed to keep putting bait along the far margin, still maintaining a watchful eye on the pads.

Ken holding a huge open-mouthed carp in dim lighting.

The Secret Garden's fish clearly had been affected by the lack of our bait over the course of the pandemic when the lake was hardly fished at all and this sleek beauty clearly missed her quality grub. No doubt she will bulk up a bit over the coming winter.

There is no doubt in my mind that anglers' bait plays a big part in a carp's day to day diet, which is why I put such an emphasis on the quality of the baits we offer them. It is true that you can catch carp on any old rubbish that contains the right attractors, but attractors alone do not put fish on the bank. No, you must back up the 'eat me' messages put out by the attractors with a food that confirms and reinforces that message. That is how you keep carp coming back for more. So though Jean had been putting pellet in during the pandemic, even the greatest pellet in the world will not surpass the food quality of a good 'food bait'. UJB's Squid is just such a food and as we baited up more and more heavily each day, it was clear that they were responding with gusto.

Ken kneeling with a huge carp in his hands.

To give the lie to what I have just written, some carp clearly have better food metabolisms than others. This one hadn't missed our baits one little bit and had filled her face on pellet in the absence of anglers' bait. She was one of five forties that came to the rods in the final three days.

Ken holding a carp after a successful fishing trip.

So that was it. Fishing short day sessions with long and convivial lunch breaks we managed eighteen fish between us with a near-sixty and seven forties, to say nothing of that fabulous linear. What a magical place it is, that Secret Garden.

Our yearned-for return to the Secret Garden was over and with a waiting list now stretching well into 2024, and what with my own concerns over my health, we'd better get our names down sharpish…you should too.

You won't find many better house and adjacent lake combinations, so if you have had your appetite whetted by these Blogs contact, Carmen at Armfield Angling, the venue's booking agent. Hurry up!


There is an interesting and sobering postscript to this tale of mighty carp and exciting exploits. In November of 2021 we returned for a further two week visit to the Secret Garden. November is usually a very good time to fish for carp - something we have proved many time at le Queroy - but for some strange reason we blanked; not even so much as a lost fish or dropped take! That is why it is called fishing, not catching! Undaunted we have booked a further trip in 2024…The Secret Garden is that kind of place.


Written by Ken Townley

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