By Royal Appointment
Crowy accepts an invitation from the Crown Estate.
When I received an email from the Crown Estate inviting me to fish in their Windsor Great Park I’ll confess I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Part of me wanted to believe it, but the cynical side of me thought it was one of the many wind-up merchants in the carping industry having a laugh.
I ended up deleting the message and thinking nothing of it until I received a call in the office a few days later. To my surprise, it was genuine; the Crown Estate had been trying to contact me after deciding to open up their huge Virginia Water to carp fishing.
Virginia Water is a colossal lake of over 140 acres which contained unknown potential. Although the lake had been open to angling for several years, it had restrictions in place which outlawed night fishing and prevented anglers from accessing most banks, meaning very few showed any interest in it whatsoever. It wasn’t until Paul Sedgwick joined the Crown Estate team that it was realised how much of a financial asset the carp fishing could be. Having been behind the opening of the much sought after Wellington Country Park ticket many years ago, Paul knows only too well how much anglers will pay for a syndicate if the fishing is of a high standard. His plan was to open up the whole of Virginia Water to an exclusive carp syndicate, which also incorporated the nearby Obelisk Pond.
The more I got chatting with the Estate, the more attractive the invitation sounded. The lake had been hardly fished by carpers other than a select few members of staff who had caught fish to just shy of 37lb. Some of the fish looked stunning, traditional English-style carp with big scales and an old, weathered look about them.
It didn’t take me long to come up with a plan of how we could make a trip work for both parties. The Estate wanted some publicity to promote the new syndicate and I needed somewhere to fish for a forthcoming Nash TV project. I was straight on to the lads at Nash to see what they thought of the idea. Within no time we were rolling with a short 20-minute film about carping in what was sure to be an amazing setting. The Windsor Great Park is world renowned for being a truly spectacular place to visit. It boasts loads of visitor attractions including some of the most amazing trees in all England, the oldest of which is said to be well over 1000 years of age!
I couldn’t get down until the second week of May, but Carl Smith and Oli Davies decided to recce the water to work out our best approach. They opted for a central part of the lake close to one of the big bays which looked ideal for intercepting any carp that were attracted to shallow water. They prebaited a couple of areas and we arranged to meet the following week. I’d invited Chris Felton to join me for the three days as he lived not far away. He’d heard a few whispers about Virginia, but like most of the lads I knew in the area, very little was substantiated other than what we’d received from the Estate’s office.
I’ll admit to being a bit apprehensive of what to expect on my way down. However, all was put to rest when Nick Day of the Estate office loaded us into a Land Rover and took us on a tour of the Park. What an incredible place it is; its own little world within touching distance of the busy M25. Whilst the public could access the Park from 7.45am until 7pm, we would have the lake virtually to ourselves at night. Only a small group of the Estate’s staff would be fishing at the same time and that was at the opposite end of the lake to where we were going to set up. They’d gone for the Botany Bay area whilst we’d chosen close to the Fishing Temple.
There were two main spots in our swim and I let Chris have the first choice. The left-hand side controlled the main body of water with depths dropping to almost 20ft out in the middle. These gradually shelved up to the margins where to the left side there were some lovely overhanging bushes. This area looked an ideal interception point, and it was here where one of the staff, David Marshall, had had some of his best catches from the lake.
I went on the right-hand side, which commanded a big bay. Opposite was a fallen tree and an out-of-bounds island. I was happy with what I had, although Chris’s side did look to have the most potential as it had more depth and options to spread the rods about.
As we began to set up the gear it was obvious there are lots of bream in the lake; we saw loads topping and rolling as the evening settled in. Luckily we’d found this out prior to the trip and loaded up with a good supply of the new Key Stabilised boilies in the 20mm size. We didn’t expect them to keep the bream at bay entirely, but at least they would thin out some of the smaller ones which might take an interest.
I decided to keep things light for the first night, trying to feel my way in. The left-hander I fished close in to my own margin in 5ft of water where I scattered half a dozen free offerings with the stick. The middle rod went opposite close to the snag and again I scattered a few freebies close by. As for the right, this was fished in open water. The aim was to work out if there were any fish going into the bay and how they were doing it. My first night on a new water is always done with the rods well spread about.
Carl and Oli weren’t fishing. They were just there with their video cameras and sound recorders, filming every step of the way. It sure was a lovely place to be carp fishing, especially once the main gates were closed and suddenly everything went quiet. For the most part of the day there’d been joggers, walkers and cyclists passing by, all very friendly people who left us to it, but it was definitely noticeable once they’d disappeared. There was just us and the surrounding nature watching the evening turn into night, and we all remained optimistic for what lay ahead.
I was out for the count as soon as I touched the pillow; the long drive south had done me in. I still wouldn’t have minded a fish, but unfortunately nothing happened. Chris’s rods remained quiet too, but the good news was the lads from the Estate had caught three fish up to 33lb, the biggest being a really gorgeous heavily plated mirror. It was exactly the kind of fish we’d wanted to see because it showed us what the potential was.
Word on the bank was that the best time on the lake was during the dark. All of the better fish had been caught between 11pm and first light, and since the staff had started to fish it, there’d been half a dozen or so different thirties caught.
A beautiful day lay ahead and within no time the sun was up and everyone was stripping off the layers. It was perfect weather for having a wander and I spent the most part of the day having a look for fish in the bay. There were a few cruising about right down the bottom end, most of which were singles and doubles. I did notice one or two decent ones amongst them, including some really dark coloured fish which looked very attractive.
I grabbed a couple of 9ft Scope rods and a landing net to see if I could tempt one. Some three or four hours later, though, I’d given up because it was obvious they were spooky of my lines in the shallow clear water. Another plan was needed for the night ahead, as I fancied my chances if I could get a rod down into the bay.
There was a nice set of snags next to a boathouse on the opposite bank and I decided to focus my attention there. Anything coming into the bay would almost certainly go through the snags as they were so dense. It looked a great safe haven, so I baited it liberally, scattering a kilo or so off the end of it with the stick and dropping my hookbait right amongst the free bait. As for the other rods, I stuck with the one on the snag opposite and put my middle rod as close to the channel of the island as I could.
I was a little bit more confident going into the second night. We knew the odds were against us because of the size of the lake, but just on dusk I thought I heard a carp lump out down to my right. Chris had also seen one in front of him. It looked very promising.
I had to wait until first light for my first take, which came from the snag opposite. It was very bitty, which indicated the fish didn’t quite know what was going on. Once it felt the power of the Turo rod I was using, I heard it surface in the margins before it gently came towards me, and a short while later a lovely upper double common was in the net. I wasn’t bothered what it weighed, but I guessed its weight to be around the 17lb mark.
I redid the rod and got back into the bag only to be disturbed by the right-hander tightening up. This time it felt like I’d hooked into a log, it was so heavy all the way in. I knew it was something much better, and when I saw the big flank of decent mirror roll in front of me I knew I’d got what I’d come for! On the scales it went a very pleasing 33lb, a classic fish which would certainly put the finishing touches to the film we were making.
When I showed David the photos of the fish a short while later, it was great to hear him say: “We’ve not seen that one before!” It was exactly the kind of fish I’d wanted to get from the trip, a carp which had very likely never been caught before, a special moment from a very special water.
We fished on another night and day without any more fish. Action for the Estate anglers had dried up too, but we knew we’d only scratched the surface of what had been a cracking few days filming and fishing. The lads had got some awesome footage for the piece they were making, which will be online at the end of June/early July. I’d got the stamp of fish I wanted, and most of all the Estate had got a bit of promotion for their new syndicate which opens on 16th June.
I’ve already had a few lads asking me about what they should expect from Virginia Water. I can only give you an insight from my short trip, which really isn’t long enough for a big venue like this. I don’t think it’s heavily stocked with carp if I’m honest, but it definitely has some unknown potential lurking in its depths: fish which are going to be very attractive to the angler who likes the more traditional style of carping. The biggest carp caught so far is a 37lb and there are strong rumours of much bigger fish having been seen, which really doesn’t surprise me.
The lake’s main selling point is the ‘unknown’, which is definitely something rare in this day and age. However, its location most certainly adds to the package in a big way because it’s a beautifully maintained park and lake lying in a wonderful part of England. It’s also not very often you have the distinct possibility of bumping into one of the Royal Family whilst wetting a line: Prince Andrew lives on the Estate and it’s not uncommon to see the Duke of Edinburgh driving around from time to time.