This story by Mark Pilley about his hunt for a double figure Tench during his Sheepwalk Years, our Lockdown Legends Champ, current leader in Chase The Ace 2020 and active member in our Facebook group, is one of those stories about the challenges we set ourselves, the dedication it takes and the ways that life changes us that I think we can all relate to!
Anybody who knows me well enough knows there Is one water In particular that quite often will come up in conversation… a water that has produced record-Sized fish, frustrated dozens of anglers to the point of giving up and has seen captures by some incredibly well-known anglers as well as unknown amateurs with Incredible Patience… a water that I have grown Incredibly fond of, This particular venue Is Sheepwalk gravel pit.
If we go right back, I had known about this gravel pit since I was a child, walking Its banks with my parents as well as my grandad with the dogs. But come forward to 2003 when I was 18 years old and I remember seeing none other than Terry Hearn with a beautiful fish that I would later learn was a fish called ‘Split Tail’. This fish was Incredibly beautiful and huge! I always dreamt one-day Id catch a fish like that and 2 years later I had joined Feltham Piscatorial society with my dad. Sadly the year I joined the club, Split Tail had been found dead and any chances of having her were now gone (not that I ever stood a chance lol) This saw me turn my attention to a fish that the water Is even better known for after It produced a British record of 15lb 3oz 6dr In 2001, and that is its Tench.
To say It got off to a terrible start Is an understatement. The 1st 2-3 spring/summers produced little on nothing at all. I had seen the fish rolling, crashing, cruising the margins and even feeding! And no matter how hard I tried I just could not put a fish on the bank other than a few silvers and lots of eels. It got to the point that I realised why I was always the only person on the lake and thought ‘I’m nowhere near good enough to tackle a water like this’. Feeling like giving up If I’m honest, I’d joined forums, bought books, watched videos and did everything I could to try figure out how to put these fish on the bank and nothing seemed to work…. then one-day things changed.
This trip I had turned up with a nice south-westerly blowing across the lake and after an hour of watching the water started seeing fish rolling about 60 yards out. Naturally, I jumped into the swim with the wind in my face and started spoddIng a mixture of hemp and dead maggots over the area before putting two helicopter rigs with maggot feeders over the spots…. once again nothing! Around 10 hours later after multiple feeders cast over the spot, the wind had picked up and I was still sitting there without as much as a liner… so I decided to go lay on my unhooking mat behind the reeds to get out of the wind. As I lay there with my head about 3ft away from my rods just staring at the bobbins, I suddenly saw the right bobbin twitch ever so slightly before It slammed Into the rod like a rocket and my reel went Into meltdown! I jumped up almost as quick as the bobbin did and was on the rod Instantly! I couldn’t believe it, I was finally into something half decent and all those blanks could be worthwhile If I land this fish… that’s when It sunk In “I haven’t landed It yet”. I stood there shaking as I played this fish which wasn’t giving up easily, but before you know it, I was Looking Into the net at my prize, a Tench bigger than anything I had ever seen before. I quickly unhooked It while resting it in the net and rung my dad begging him to come down and do the photos for me. Living only 10min away he was down in no time, with my mum, sister and her partner! The fish weighed in at 9lb 5oz smashing my PB at the time by a couple of pounds and we got some great pictures before watching her swim away into the crystal clear water.
I thought that could be it for the next few seasons if the rest of my luck were anything to go by and then the left-hand margin rod was away just as my parents had driven out the gate. This time it was a big common carp which I sadly lost within minutes of seeing It come to the surface, all that time with nothing and then 2 runs within an hour. And It did not stop there! A couple of days later I was back down again, this time with my good mate Shane Corani. We decided to fish a big double swim together and after a walk around the lake, Shane said he had seen some Tench a couple of swims up and did I want a go at them? Never wanting to turn an opportunity down I quickly reeled my rods In and wandered around with one rod and the net… 15mIn later Id walked back into our swim with a big male fish of 7lb 10oz In the net, I don’t think Shane could believe it, a Sheepwalk fish on the bank! Shane wasn’t the only one to witness me catch fish from this lake as an after-work stalking trip the very next day saw me take another fish of 8lb 6oz just as my mate Lee Chandler had turned up to see me. Then I had another just over 8lb the day after that! The lake had strangely woken up!
That is when my angling hero turned up and started fishing the water, none other than Terry Lampard! I remember seeing him for the first time in the car park and could not believe It, terry Lampard Is fishing the same lake as me! He said, “good morning” and quietly I said “morning” back before I scuttled off down the overgrown path only to catch another Tench of 7lb 6oz. I could not believe it when later that week after seeing him almost every single day I had heard from another member that he had blanked during his 4-day visit and I had out fished him! Sadly, that did not last long as the very next week he had a nice double and I did not see him again until the next season. All I
can say is, what an incredibly friendly and humble man he was, a true legend of specimen angling and It was a real pleasure to have got to meet him. Fast forward a few years and I was still on the water, with a few more fish under my belt. I had witnessed a few nice doubles including my dad having a fish of 10lb 1oz from a swim I had vacated to go to work exactly an hour before, but my monster just never came.
Eventually, I settled down with my incredible partner Paige and we had our little one Archie back in 2013. All those years fishing this lake and suddenly
my priorities had to change, my time was way too limited to fish such a water which had since gone back to Its old ways of not given up any of Its precious fish easily and the club I’d been a member of all those years had lost to fishing rights to the pit. So, I made the decision not to join the new controlling club and said a final farewell to Sheepwalk. Bittersweet, in a way, as I never did manage my double. The club had a saying during the time I was on there… “life Is too short for Sheepwalk” and there were times I did wonder that myself. But I am so glad I did not listen to them as although I struggled like hell, they truly were some of the best days of my life.
I will be back though, one day…
… Mark Pilley