I've just spent a week (ish - 20 to 25 May, to be precise) in Carlton Miniott, N. Yorks, so as to fish Woodland Lakes - a venue I've fished many times, which I'd chosen this time partly because of my familiarity with it; and partly because it's relatively easy to get to without a car.
On that point, I was staying at Landrace Cottage, which proved to be a very smart decision: absolutely quality accommodation, and within a few minutes gentle stroll of the entrance to the venue...
So I settled in on the Monday, and on Tuesday, after buying some feed pellets and sweetcorn from the fishery's tackle shop, I spent some time looking around before deciding on the southernmost peg on Partridge - the wind was pushing into it, and it was full of carp.
Including some lumps, as it turned out.
I didn't fish well (this being my first day on the bank since July 2016), and dropped far more fish than I landed.
My tactics were straightforward enough - Shakespeare Agility 11' pellet waggler rod (the four-piece - which proved to be a fantastic piece of kit over the time I was there) and Sonik SKSC 4000 reel loaded with 6lb Daiwa Hypersensor.
I started on size 18 barbless Drennan Carp Match Pushstop hooks to 5lb nylon; and a loaded waggler, fished more or less "pellet waggler" style, up in the water with feed going in on a little and often basis.
Because I was missing bites and dropping fish, I soon moved up to a size 16 barbless (a Drennan Power Bandit hook to nylon this time - again to a 5lb hooklength) and things started to come together.
Then I hooked what I can only assume was an angry motorised hippo, because I couldn't do a thing with this one: I found out later that there are fish well into the 20s in this water, so I can only assume I'd hooked a big girl. I played it for over 15 minutes - then the hooklength went...
On properly balanced tackle, used properly (I was ring-rusty, but I know how to play fish) a 5lb hooklength will get a man out, so it was a big fish, I'm sure - nothing about the fight suggested a foul-hooked fish. But I was using barbless, and the line had gone close to the hook, so little harm done, except to my ego.
I got back among 'em soon enough, including a Ghostie of around 6lbs which did everything it could to reinforce Ghosties' reputation for punching far above their weight - had I lost it, I'd have sworn I'd been into something at least twice the size - but although it was a warm day, my corner of the lake was in shadow and in the teeth of a cooling breeze from the north, so by 7 pm I was feeling cold, I'd had enough, and called it a day.
I couldn't go back to Partridge the next day - closed for a match - so instead I decided to fish an "island lake". After some fish-spotting, I chose the most westerly swim on Dragonfly - for no particular reason other than the fact that there were plenty of fish in that corner.
Unfortunately, the fish I could see were still more interested in getting their fin over than feeding - unlike Partridge, where the fish were clearly done with that malarkey and were interested in eating again...
But that's OK with me - it meant I'd have to work for fish, and I like that.
So the up-in-the-water pellet waggler approach was put to bed, and instead I chose to fish close in, at full depth, for bites rather than for carp. Off came the large, hard pellets, on went "all-rounder" baits.
Irritatingly, my first fish were Skimmer Bream - I'd normally rather catch nowt than catch Skimmers - but some were of a decent stamp, at least; and I got among some nice Roach and Rudd; and an Ide or two, too. These came to cut-down Mini Meaty Pellets, Dynamite Match Minis or Sonubait Band'ums.
This was OK with me too. Then I got to chatting (not that I had much choice...) with a chap who told me that he'd fished this lake the previous week, and although he couldn't get a bite on sweetcorn, he caught umpteen small Barbel on small pieces of meat.
What interested me there was the idea that he couldn't buy a bite on sweetcorn - it felt like a challenge!
So as soon as he'd buggered off, out came the sweetcorn. Pretty standard - undyed, but I flavoured it with some Rod Hutchinson Coconut Crunch Glug I had with me.
Next cast, the rod-tip whacked round, and the float went from under the rod-tip to the middle of the peg, in a blink.
Which was impressive for a 1lb Skimmer...
But it got Brownie Points for effort and enthusiasm, so it went back in the water with my grudging appreciation, followed by another corn- baited hook.
This time - a proper carp. Not a monster at around 8lbs, but it was a lovely-looking fish - distinctly orange, but not Koi carp ORANGE!, just a lovely buttery, honeyed wash all over that made it look like it was under "Golden Hour" evening Sun.
And - unlike many of the fish from Partridge the day before - its mouth and overall condition were perfect. The mouths of many of the fish from the day before were utterly ruined, because many match anglers are selfish twats who routinely ignore the barbless-only rule, to the ruination of the fish they catch.
So it went on: Roach. Bream. Carp. Rudd. Carp. Bream. Carp...
Several of the carp were Commons, including one which looked for all the world like a Wildie.
(Catching plenty of Commons is relevant to what follows...)
It was turning into a fun day: not easy, but very satisfying.
Then the float buried again, and I found myself attached to something significant.
I didn't have any real snags to worry about - an island in the middle, and some boards in the margins - and the balanced tackle and 5lb hooklength meant that I always felt in control, even when I had to lean on it a bit to keep it from the margin boards. But it kept me occupied for a good ten minutes before going in the net.
I'd made frequent use of the trick of putting the rod-tip under water when pulling the fish towards me - it's amazing how quickly and effectively you gain ground by doing that - but as soon as I saw it I realised that if I'd known it was this big, I'd have been a lot more careful playing it!
One of Woodlands' staff happened to be passing as I was getting it to the net, and once it was safe he whipped out a set of scales and asked if I was interested. Normally I'd say no, but this was certainly the biggest carp I'd ever caught on float gear, so I made an exception.
Ounces under 17lb - and after I'd put it back in the lake, the lad admitted that he hadn't zeroed the scales before weighing, so I could probably add about a pound.
Either way, a cracking fish - a linear Mirror - and again it was a looker. I rarely take pictures of fish (being a "proper" photographer, having to resort to a phone is rather infra dig! ), but I wish I'd taken a picture of this one. And given that I never felt I wasn't in full control of this fish, it begs further questions about what it was that saw me off the day before.
I fished on until I was out of feed pellets, caught a load more, and was back at the cottage by about 8:30 pm. A clean up, a bite to eat and a cuppa, and all was well with my world. Then as dusk fell it was out onto the patio with another cuppa to watch the bats..!
On day three - back to the same spot.
This time, because I knew I was going to be fishing close in, I decided it was an ideal time to christen my latest (of many) centrepin reel(s).
I'd actually brought both of my Shakespeare four-piece Agility pellet waggler rods to Yorkshire with me, and I'd set them both up in the cottage on Monday evening; one with the Sonik reel, the other with the 'pin: so on the bank it was no effort to choose the 'pin - no unrigging and rerigging a single rod.
The set-up rods were transported to and from the water's edge in my Korum Two Rod Protecta Quiver (four-piece rods being eminently capable of impersonating two-piece rods). A clever bit of kit (the tip cover section is actually made of strong rod tube-type material, which zips around the rod tips), and like a lot of things I've bought lately (including the rods), no longer in production.
I'm very glad I went with the 'pin. Enough fish for it to be enjoyable, and - although I didn't catch anything as lumpy as yesterday's fish - the fish-playing abilities of the 'pin were properly put to the test.
My best fish of this day wasn't the biggest fish I caught, though. I was getting some nice carp again, and I hooked what I thought was another 3 or 4lb Common carp. I'd had lots of them over the two days on this lake, and this looked like a Common in the water, so I played it accordingly - which is to say I didn't dick about.
And yet again, when it hit the net I found myself being grateful that the gear was working as well as it was.
It was the second-biggest Crucian carp I've ever seen! *
It completely filled the bottom of the 22" net, and then some. I've caught enough fish over the years to be a pretty good weight estimator, and this was easily 3+ lbs in weight, possibly closer to 4. It didn't quite have the classic "bin lid" shape of some Crucians - it was a bit slimmer, top to bottom (very like this one, in fact - and mine honestly looked bigger) - but it was unquestionably a proper Crucian. And again, pretty near pristine.
Nobody around with scales this time, but not knowing exactly what it weighed doesn't diminish my pleasure at catching it, one little bit - but again, I wish I'd pulled out the phone and took some pics.
There's just something right about catching a big Crucian on a 'pin.
Unfortunately, at around 4 pm I suddenly found myself in urgent need to change my plans for the rest of the day. I had enough bait to get me through to 8 o'clock or so, but a sudden and dramatic flare-up of my IBS put paid to that in a pretty unequivocal manner - I barely made it back to the cottage with my dignity - and underpants - unsullied!
Even worse, it persisted throughout the next day (and on into a rather nerve-wracking journey home on the Saturday), so my plan for a third day on Dragonfly went - literally - down the pan.
So that was that. I'm not just gutted because of the effect this had on my trip, but because it was the first proper bout of IBS I've had in nearly a year, and I did not appreciate the timing...
Still, I'd had a brilliant few days. I'm already planning my return to Landrace Cottage, and even though the last day was a bust fishing-wise, it was enough for me just to potter around in the local countryside for my final day.
I'd probably be just as happy staying there with my camera gear instead of fishing tackle to be honest, because there are birds everywhere, and I lost count of the number of times I got so close to a confiding bird that I found myself wondering why this never happens when I'm out with my camera.
But no, I'll be fishing again when I come back - unfinished business with Dragonfly..!
* The biggest was a fish I caught from Weybread Pits on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, in the early/mid 90s. It weighed a fraction under 5lbs and - although we didn't realise it at the time (the internet was in its early days) - it would have smashed the UK record: so it went back appreciated but undocumented.
I mention it here and now, purely to get it out of my system..!