Thom Airs goes off the beaten track for his carp-angling fix, and finds the perfect antidote to crowded day-ticket fisheries...
It took me a while to put a positive spin on the fact I’d got 40 miles into my journey before realising I’d left two rods behind.
With the false start adding well over an hour to the 200-mile cross-country trek it took flipping ages, in fact, to find any silver lining at all.
But four and a half hours after I’d initially set off, I realised my forgetfulness had allowed me to arrive at Gyrn Castle in North Wales in the fading light of a beautiful late-spring day.
If you’ve ever driven in rural Wales at sunset, the passage to this carp-filled estate will be familiar.
Miles of hedge-lined B roads twisting quicker than you can swivel your sun visor to ward off the blinding low sun; the regular white-paint reminders that the only Welsh word you’ll ever know is ‘araf’ and, bloody hell, is that the sea?!
All of these things put a smile on my face as I approached the village of Llanasa and navigated my way into the castle grounds bang on sunset.
The main lake at Gyrn Castle is rare – beautifully mature, full of carp and available on a day ticket. Sessions must be booked in advance but it’s open to all and, with swims on just two banks, it’s perfect for a group trip.
During my two-night midweek session I doubled up with my friend Craig in a spacious swim at the centre of the lake.
Neither of us had seen the venue before and the central location seemed ideal for intercepting passing fish and keeping an eye on other areas of the lake.
A week of warm weather prior to our arrival had pushed a bloom of floating algae to the surface, but temperatures had cooled and conditions looked good.
By the time I’d set up in our swim – lined with wood chip and skilfully edged with timber – darkness had fallen and we could relax.
Not many venues have such a thick atmosphere as this one. Ringed by dense woodland, the steep banks behind us rustled with wildlife, the stars shone brightly and a fox’s skull in the undergrowth provided a brief shock in the beam of a headtorch.
Off and running
Once we were shrouded in darkness, the first fish of the trip wasn’t long coming.
Falling to Craig’s rods, it was a pretty mirror around the 10lb mark, one of 75 singles and doubles introduced last autumn from one of the country’s premier suppliers, VS Fisheries.
Bizarrely, it also proved to be the only fish of our two-night stay to be taken at night.
The next action came to my rods at 7am and began a run of half a dozen bites in a few hours.
Rob, the part-time gamekeeper who lives in a cottage on the site, had given us a few pointers and initially both Craig and I fished tight to the far margins.
It was a tactic that produced those confidence-boosting first fish, but as the session developed we realised that dropping a few yards shy of the far bushes was a more productive tactic.
When I spotted a fish clouding up a weed-free area in open water I hesitated to bring a rod short but, after an underarm lob, received a bite within minutes and landed one of the session’s two ‘originals’.
Unlike the turbo-charged stockies, these older fish – descendants of, or possibly part of, the original stocking some 40 or 50 years ago – used their experience and comparative bulk to stay deep during the fight.
One of them, a battleship-grey mirror, had skin like sandpaper and a perfect silt-feeder’s mouth, while the other was a long common with overslung lips.
There are thought to be about 75 original-strain fish remaining here, with about 10 twenties up to a verified weight of 28lb 8oz.
Estate lake bingo…
On the second and final morning another scaly stocky on my rods at 5.30am brought our combined tally to 10, and proved to be the final action of the trip.
Sweet, fruity pop-ups over a very light scattering of mixed-size boilies, hemp and corn had proved a winner and bites had come in clumps as the fished moved through.
Although it was light by the time of that last fish, it took a further couple of hours for the sun to rise above the towering trees. Once it did, the fish were quick to head to the shallows to our right. Craig and I followed with a single rod between us.
In the warm sunshine, the fish circled the clumps of weed and floating algae before dropping down on a central clearing in about 3ft of water.
Frustratingly, we couldn’t catch one, but as the fish churned the water a terracotta brown and the sun lit up fresh green leaves we had a full house in estate-lake bingo, and that’s before you count the surreal view of a castle turret from the dam wall.
The lake dates back to the 19th century and locals have enjoyed carp fishing here for decades, but now with its fresh stocking and online booking system this is a classic fishery, open to all and futureproofed for years to come.
In a single word, fishing Gyrn Castle is a privilege. Go and drink it all in.