A Winter Silverfish & F1 Spectacular

A successful week competing in this year’s White Acres Garbolino Winter Festival!

My 69lb mixed bag from Acorn.

I always really look forward to a week of F1 and silverfish sport down at White Acres and this year was no different. The Garbolino Winter Festival is possibly the highlight of the season (other than Santa coming down the chimney delivering my presents, of course!). Since entering the event I think I’ve managed to finish in the top 10 all but once and was hoping to keep that run of form up.

This is a Winter Festival NOT a Silverfish Festival, so brown goldfish, crucians, carassio, F1s, shubunkins etc etc are all very legitimate fish, along with roach, perch, skimmers, tench and barbel. Only ‘proper’ commons and mirrors are not allowed. This works really well and makes for an interesting and fair festival. After all, once it goes cold the tactics you’d use to catch roach, perch and skimmers are pretty much the same ones you’d use to catch F1s, crucians and suchlike. I love this style of fishing as it keeps you busy and thinking.

After loading the van early on Saturday morning I managed to get down to not-so-sunny Cornwall for 11am. As soon as I’d checked in and unpacked I was chomping at the bit to squeeze a few hours fishing in. No sooner had I plonked my box on Peg 7 on Trelawney and the heavens opened. It bucketed down solidly for the next few hours but thankfully the near-gale-force winds were off my back. Fishing just five sections of pole I bagged up on everything I tried and my elastic was well and truly stretched by some huge F1s to 3lb as well as plenty of roach and skimmers. It was a wet and windy workout and I reckon the lake rose at least an inch from the torrent of rain running down the hills! I had no idea what bait or tactics were right but I was already acclimatised to the terrible weather we’d been forecast for the week ahead!

Sunday was the official practice day. I found myself drawn in D Section, which meant I would be on either Acorn or Sycamore on Day One. I felt Sycamore would be either skimmers or roach so I made no hesitation to head for Acorn early in the morning for my usual commando-style exploratory mission. It’s one of my favourite lakes and although all-roach weights of 40lb are not uncommon I felt a mixed bag including skimmers and F1s might play a part this year. I sat on a fairly sheltered Peg 5 and with yet more wind and rain I only gave it a few hours before packing away, drying my gear off and having a wander around the rest of the complex. I felt I had learnt enough, plus I don’t believe in clattering all the fish on a peg I could potentially draw the next day!

Day One – Acorn & Sycamore

69lb 2oz – Section 1st, Lake 1st

Peg 9 on Acorn was my destination and I was pretty happy with that. It was sheltered but at the windward end of the lake. It would be good for some F1s but I was also slightly apprehensive as I felt this could push any resident carp into my catching quarters as well.

In the end I had a very productive and busy day, weighing over 69lb for a section and lake win, ahead of French superstar Olivier Wimmer, who was 2nd on the lake with 60lb caught mostly shallow from Peg 15.

My catch consisted of around 25lb of F1s, 25lb of skimmers and the rest roach. As I expected, my best line was a short-pole ‘top kit plus two’ swim. What I hadn’t anticipated, however, was the shear number of nuisance roach in front of me. I had to fish worm heads on the hook purely because it was the only bait a small roach wouldn’t snaffle on the way down. If the roach were 4-8oz apiece I wouldn’t have minded, but I was clearly in a nursery peg.

I even started loose feeding heavily on a top kit line in an effort to draw the small fish away from my catching zone. Trying this line later on in the match I reckon I had getting on for 10lb of roach on a top kit to hand. However, it was the short pole ‘two plus two’ swim that did the damage and was responsible for the lake win. Only in the last hour could I get a double maggot to the deck and catch a few better fish on this option. Unfortunately, this also coincided with ‘carp o’clock’ and we were all hooking a few grizzly bears at this point in the match. Until then it was an out and out worm day, feeding regular hard, small balls of groundbait packed with casters, maggots and worms.

The best rig was a 0.5g prototype pattern I’ve been field-testing, shotted with a double bulk to help bomb the rig down. This terminated in a 0.095mm Fluorocarbon hooklength and a size 18 B911 F1 hook with doubled-up No4 elastic. Strangely I never had a single F1 down the edge and my few forays further out towards the island only yielded small carp. I didn’t waste too much time on either.

Day Two – Twin Oaks

37lb – Section 5th

I was extremely happy to kick off the week with a win, but could I continue that form the next day? Er… no! I drew what I felt was a really good peg in the shape of Peg 31. This is one of my favourite lakes and I have a great record on it, if I do say so myself. The day before it had fished its proverbials off with no fewer than three 100lb-plus weight of F1s and, although I never knew it at the time, the winner had even come off my peg! However, as I set up the lake was absolutely flat calm, more like a mill pond compared to the storm the day before, and the only fish I saw roll were big clonking carp tight across.

Edge fishing dominated the day before and my peg plumbed up superbly with two identical depths of 3ft tight in down each margin. This was where all the action was the day before and I could see why. I love a bit of F1 edge bashing too.

I started short with tiny ‘pigeon eggs’ of groundbait containing just three or four dead maggots. I felt this might fool a few early fish. It did… but what initially felt like F1s soon metamorphosed into huge grizzly carp to 10lb! With three hooklengths already gone I decided an early look down the edge was in order and eventually managed an F1 on maggot. “Another carp!” I cheekily shouted down to Olivier on 29 as I swiftly popped it in the sprout sack. Sadly I think that little fib jinxed me the rest of the day as I only managed one more F1 over the next two hours. Oh dear!

Two nice bream down the edge helped me out but I needed a shoal of F1s to appear sharpish. After three hours I had probably got 12lb in the net while Olivier had nearer treble that! Incidentally, he was the only person I saw catch anything decent on the long pole all day. Mick Wilkinson was on my favourite Peg 27 and faring even worse than me while Pete Archer on 25 was hooking carp after carp, too. I think it’s really unusual to see so many big carp showing in everyone’s pegs on this lake. They’re normally tight over or down one windward end, so no wind, mild weather, coloured water and the previous day’s food had clearly switched them all on. Steve Sanders was winkling a few fish out from his edge on Peg 23 while end peg 35 was clearly winning the lake from what I could see.

I just couldn’t get a bite and felt I got it completely wrong. I tried caster shallow for a bit but all I could catch was tiny roach. Perhaps I could have chucked a waggler tight across early doors just to put something in the net, but proper carp were rolling there all day and I never felt a waggler would win the section. I went with a maggot approach as it’s something that’s worked so well for me in the past. However, I think if I had fished a negative, dripped-in caster attack I might have caught enough silvers and the odd bonus F1 to sneak a 3rd in section. I’m not sure I could have doubled my weight, though. Even doing it half wrong I’d have expected to catch a few more F1s than what I did.

It looked like 90% of the fish on the day were caught down the edge which is a really strange phenomenon that happened all week on this lake and a couple others. It must be to do with the mild weather and coloured water but I still cannot believe I only managed one F1 all day in the deeper water, and that was at 5m with just 40 minutes to go.

I ended up with 37lb and was just ounced into 5th in the 8-peg section. John Deakin on end peg 35 won with 70lb with Steve on 69lb and Olivier on 51lb. A far cry from the three 100lbs the day before, so the flat-calm conditions had clearly affected the sport. With my best four out of five results counting, this strange and disappointing day would have to be my dropped result if I was to stand any chance of a top-10 finish. Incidentally, I think Peg 31 won the lake two or three days, yet Lee Edwards was last off it one day and he’s brilliant at this style of fishing. This week would be anything but predictable!

Day Three – Trelawney

45lb – Section 2nd, Lake 2nd

This was another weird day on a lake that always seems to bite me in the bottom! As I stood in the draw queue I told everyone I was going to keep on drawing until peg 8 or 10 stuck to my hand. First dip in the bag and Peg 10 was staring back at me. Bingo! It’s a great area so I ran to it full of confidence.

Hmmm…. after four hours I hadn’t even got 10lb in the net while Olivier on Peg 8 had double that and was showing me up once again. This was starting to get a bit repetitive! I must say how impressed I was watching this guy fish, though. Darren Cox told me before the week begun and he was dead right; very smooth and fast but also very determined and completely at ease with ‘English’ styles of fishing.

This lake is full of great big F1s yet I had managed just one proper one about 2lb, one small one about 12oz, one weird little tiny one about 5oz and a few skimmers. Other than Olivier, everyone else I could see was in a similar situation. I had Steve Sanders to my left on Peg 12 who knows this game inside out, yet it took him over three hours to catch his first F1!

With edge fishing once again seeming like the only way I was going to get out of jail and with only one person catching any fish I had no option than to start up a new swim towards Monsieur Wimmer. This was around 11 metres up the edge, as near to him as I could go. Thankfully, it worked an absolute treat. I suddenly went into bagging mode, putting 35lb in the net in less than an hour. I clawed back a massive deficit but when the final whistle blew I knew I’d left it too late.

I had lost one big 4lb F1 at the net and had a bit of an embarrassing five-minute tussle when another one went under my platform… twice! I ended up with 45lb to Olivier’s 51lb. I’d saved my face with a late surge for 2nd in section and 2nd on the lake. A good result in a points-based festival but I still felt I should have caught more off such a flyer. One consolation, however, was my French companion had neglected to go in the pools… so I got the lake winning prize by default. Merci beaucoup!

Day Four – Jenny’s

38lb 14oz – Section 1st, Lake 1st

Phew, this was a day where I felt I had actually fished a pretty good match! We had the joy of staring into the teeth of the wind and rain for five hours, so it was far from a comfortable day, plus I needed to retrieve half my gear from the hedge behind me at the end of it all, but I had a really good day fishingwise.

I had pulled out Peg 2, which is an end peg. No surprise there, I hear you say! However, anyone who knows Jenny’s will tell you the red-hot pegs in this mini section are further along and numbers 6 to 9 are where the F1s and carassio hang out. As an example, the last time I drew this end peg I had a lovely day catching 38lb of tench while the noted pegs had 70-80lb of F1s! However, being so windy would hopefully make the section much more of a leveller…

My match was very simple by my standards. I fed two lines, left and right, plus a margin swim, all with four bits of pole. I also had a waggler set up to try in the lea of an island and an 11m skimmer swim. I had a 10-minute go on the wag and corn for one skimmer and a roach and never tried the 11m swim all day. The rest of the match was spent rotating the three closer lines.

I fed small balls of groundbait containing dead maggots, pinkies, casters and a bit of chopped worm and fished either worm heads, pinkies or maggots on the hook. Rigwise, I used a 0.6g AS1 float shotted with an olivette and two No10 droppers to a size 18 B911 F1, 0.095mm Supplex Fluorocarbon trace and No5 Slip elastic. For the edge I used a prototype design in a 0.1g size with No6 elastic. Main line on both was 0.14mm (3lb) Supplex which I feel is the perfect choice on commercials as it’s robust and strong and can unravel easier than thinner stuff if you ever have a tangle. It’s also strong enough to leave the main line intact and only lose the hooklength if you are broken by a rogue carp.

Rotating three areas I kept plonking small skimmers in the net plus the odd better 1lb+ sample. Amongst the skimmers I also managed two little tench, six crucians and two small F1s. After five busy hours battling the elements I estimated I’d got 25lb in the net, so was pleased to see my catch go 38lb 14oz on the scales! I was first to weigh in and my rain-sprayed spectacles meant I couldn’t see what else was going on in the section. That’s why I was really surprised to see the next weight was just 16lb. Harry Billing won the other half section with 33lb off Peg 15, so I’d also scored another lake win. I was extremely chuffed and now needed a top two in section tomorrow to stand a chance of the top 10.

Day Five – Pollawyn

30lb 1oz – Section 2nd

This is my favourite lake at White Acres. The forecast wasn’t half as bad as the day before… but they got it wrong as it blew a gale again! I wanted to draw one of the ‘points’ swims on the opposite bank as they had been fishing really well and would hopefully be more comfortable to fish. I had to make do with 25 on the High Bank instead. A really nice peg in the middle of the section, so I definitely wasn’t complaining.

My plan revolved around three short-pole swims – two swims, left and right, at around 7m for skimmers and a shorter ‘barbel swim’ a few metres from the bank as they’d been having a chomp all week. I then plumbed up a 13-14m long-pole swim and set up several shallow rigs to cover various depths over the top of this spot. I also dripped a throwaway edge swim just in case.

Starting short I had four chunky skimmers pretty quickly at 7m on double maggot over small balls of groundbait, maggots and casters. All the while I was loose feeding a shallow swim at 13-14 metres quite heavily. After 30 minutes it was time to see what was there. Usually you can expect a peg like this to be solid with big skimmers and roach up in the water and I knew some massive weights can be had this way. Today wasn’t that day, however. All I caught were tiny roach, the very odd big roach and one good skimmer. I tried every depth, single and double baits to no avail. I had no option than to drop back short and catch some more skimmers.

From this point the wind picked up so much that the shallow swim was impossible to loose feed anyway, so I had to fish short for the rest of the day. I probably should never have come off this line in hindsight. Fishing a 1g float I caught fairly well. I wouldn’t see a bite if I laid too much line on the bottom but the wind and tow meant the odd foul-hooked fish was inevitable.

Steve Sanders was on end peg 15 and struggling and I couldn’t see anyone else catching any numbers of fish in my section, other than Pete Archer next door who somehow snared a very rare 6lb tench! However, I had spotted Tony Gilbert on Peg 28 panning a really big barbel from the corner of my eye and instantly knew he was the danger man in my section. This peg has a bit more room and had already thrown up a few section winners with quality fish.

After five hours I could do no more. I’d caught a satisfying 30lb of skimmers but no bonus perch, F1s or barbel, which is really unusual on this lake. I walked up to see what Tony on 28 had caught and when he said seven tench, three big F1s and a 2lb+ perch my heart sunk. I instantly knew that would relegate me to a 2nd in section. The scales settled at 35lb and confirmed my fears. Fair play to him, though, as he’d fished it dead right, especially as the High Bank had fished really poor by Pollawyn’s standards after five days of heavy pressure.

The Result

I ended the festival with two 1sts , two 2nds and a 5th. I was really pleased with that, but deep down I was also gutted not to have won the section on the last day. That had cost me 2nd overall in the festival! Harry Billing was a very deserving champion as he was the only angler to score a maximum 32 points. That left six of us on 30 points; Andy Power, Adam Wakelin, Matt Godfrey, Derek Hammond, Cam Hughes and myself. However, your ‘dropper’ always comes into play in the event of a tie, so I ended up a very respectable 7th. At one point it didn’t even sound like my points score would get me into the top 10!

Looking back it was the strangest Winter Festival I’ve ever fished down at White Acres because of the wind, the coloured water and the unseasonably mild weather. It was still a great week and there were plenty of valuable lessons to be learnt for next time.

Thanks to Steve Waters and Ian Didcote for being good lodge buddies, Dan ‘bait boy’ Varney for the casters, Clint Elliott and his team for organising it all and doing the weighing in atrocious conditions, Grant Albutt and Simon Fry for giving me yet another nickname worse than last year’s ‘Jonny Three Nets’, Olivier Wimmer for the lessons, Darren Cox for sponsoring it, Mick Wilkinson for nabbing my precious €2 coin and everyone else for making it the best and friendliest festival down at the Acres. Here’s to next year!

Top 20

(80 anglers fished)

1st Harry Billing, 32
2nd Adam Wakelin, 30
3rd Andy Power, 30
4th Matt Godfrey, 30
5th Derek Hammond, 30
6th Cam Hughes, 30
7th Jon Arthur, 30
8th Kian Wardle, 29
9th Giles Cochrane, 29
10th Grant Albutt, 29
11th Nathan Hughes, 29
12th Andy Renton, 29
13th Darren Cox, 28
14th Olivier Wimmer, 28
15th Simon Fry, 28
16th Steve Hemingray, 27
17th John Deakin, 27
18th Des Shipp, 27
19th Dan Varney, 27
20th Ramon Ansing, 26

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