Best 5 Carp Competition, May 5-10 2014
Lake Raduta, Sarulesti Romania
It was late November of last year when I got a call from Bogdan the co-owner of K-1 baits. “Hey Iain do you want some boilies for Romania?” He had seen my name listed as a team member on the Best 5 Carp tournament website. It appeared my old mate Frank Warwick had forgotten to tell me he’d put my name down to join him and Guy Aitkins as teammates for the 5 day tournament on Lake Raduta, near Sarulesti Romania in May 2014. So it was with some trepidation that I explained the situation to my long suffering wife “Sorry dear it’s a done deal I’m afraid. I have to go…”
In the 1980’s the former communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in an ill conceived attempt to create a shipping route from the Black Sea diverted the Danube to flood a valley giving local villagers just 72 hours to abandon their homes. The derelict buildings later created some daunting snags for anglers along with more eerie swims like the ‘Graveyard’ where human bones often washed on shore from a flooded cemetery. In 1990 Robert Raduta leased the lake, built a lodge and began stocking fish to create what Carpworld then called the ‘Everest’ of carp fishing. As reports of big fish surfaced it drew many of the carp elite to its banks. Among them were Frank Warwick and Jurgen Becker. In 1998 the then world record common of 82lbs came from Raduta and further added to its reputation for producing big fish. Around 2002 reports came in of a significant fish kill and the loss of many of the big fish but by 2008 the word on the carp vine was that Raduta was once again producing some bigger fish for those prepared to put in the effort.
Even as a committed short session angler I can still easily load up a barrow for a few hours fishing here in North America. So the thought of a week long competition on a major European water soon had me maxed out on my two bags, each weighing in at just over 50lbs a piece. I was more than a little nervous at the thought of them going astray as losing my terminal tackle and bait (courtesy of my good friends at K-1) etc would have been a disaster. After heaving the bags on to the scales at check-in all was fine and with the bags & myself traveling via London and onto Bucharest I headed toward security and was met by the longest line I’ve ever seen at Boston Logan’s Terminal E. It stretched right around the terminal and would surely take over an hour to go through security. As I mulled over the situation I got talking to a couple of guys headed to Scotland for a golfing tour. They suddenly spotted a VIP being escorted through a separate line and without hesitation my new found friends grabbed me and proceeded to ‘escort’ me in the same direction. After some very polite discussion regarding the importance of my status in representing the USA in a European tournament we were cleared through in a matter of seconds and headed for a well earned drink!
The next afternoon I arrived in Bucharest and was happily reunited with my luggage. Emerging from the baggage area I was met by one of our hosts Alex who loaded myself and the British contingent of Rob Hughes, Harry Charrington, Brian Kirby and Jason Colenso into his truck for the journey south to Sarulesti.
Robert Raduta’s fishing & hunting lodge sits on the Southern most shore of the lakes and has been the focal point for many big fish anglers looking to catch some of the legendary fish in this lake system. It was also to be the headquarters for the Best 5 Carp tournament founded by Andrei ‘Toto’ Popescu and Andrei Vladeanu as well as the gathering point for the 200 competitors making up the 7+ teams as they arrived from over 18 countries.
A large covered seating area overlooks the water and after a shower we settled in for a few beers. As most teams would be driving to the lake they would arrive on Sunday in time for registration and the pre-event party in the evening. So it was a relatively small group who sat down to dinner on the Saturday night with Frank & Guy scheduled to land around midnight so would not reach the lodge until around 2am.
After breakfast on Sunday we sat around the open foyer and greeted the continual stream of teams as they arrived for the registration. As carping celebrities Frank and Rob were kept especially busy posing for photographs and greeting old friends. In the evening a welcoming party hosted by the event sponsors included a pig roast and music from our very own DJ Guy Aitkins. Unfortunately the storm clouds that had been gathering during the day finally gave way to a massive downpour with some very impressive thunder and lightening forcing everyone to retreat to their bivvies or take shelter back in the lodge.
As Monday dawned overcast, damp and considerably cooler the last few teams arrived. In the morning we busied our selves making final preparations and securing the loan of the rods, landing nets, bivvies, bed chairs etc we would need. Finally it was time for the draw and everyone gathered in front of a large map before a member from each team drew a number to determine the order for the actual peg draw. This is always a nervous time and one that Frank dreads as he has a reputation for getting a difficult swim. As he revealed our peg # and the sticker with our names on was placed on the map there were murmurs of approval from the crowd. Perhaps Frank’s luck had changed?
Our peg #14 (CPK Section) turned out to be the Northern most swim of the tournament on the lake. As a result we had high hopes that an end swim with a large expanse of un-fished water to our left could work very much in our favor. After the big thunderstorm overnight the tracks around the lake were still very muddy and it took a while before we were able to get a ride to our swim. It was already an hour after the start of the competition that I was dropped off with the first load of equipment while Frank & Guy waited on a second vehicle to pick them up. Overcast skies and a few drops of rain prompted me to quickly set up a bivvy and make sure our gear stayed dry. Once this was done I took sometime to wander around and explore our swim. Raduta is effectively 5 lakes interconnected by channels of 100 – 200 yds in width. Our swim included one of these channels as it connected to the main CPK section that opened out to our right. However the opening to this main body of water was accessible only through a narrow, 3’ deep channel through a large, reed edged shallow area (which included the derelict remains of an old and mostly submerged village) and a gap between a long point at the end of which another team (Peg #13 Team Tasko from Bulgaria) was set-up. Even more worrying was a net stretched right across the channel effectively blocking off any fish movement from the other water expanse to our left. This net turned out to be a barrier installed to prevent ‘farmed’ sturgeon escaping from the northern most lake. In the bay to our right there were three further pegs 15, 16 & 17.
Frank & Guy finally arrived and we concentrated on getting a better understanding of the depths etc around the swim before it got too dark. We managed just a few depth measurements before the marker rig became stuck fast in a snag and we lost the lot! Oh well we learned enough to be getting on with and having seen a couple of fish roll in the shallows decided to get on with it and get a couple of rods out and fishing before the light disappeared. I settled in to fish a small reedy area of the shallows close to some part submerged and fearsome looking concrete blocks with Guy on my left & set up where the shallows met the deeper water of the main channel. Meanwhile Frank fished longer range toward the point that separated us from the main body of water.
The boys at K-1 had provided me with 50lb of boilies specially formulated for Raduta with a super high quality fishmeal base in regular and soluble boilie formats along with a selection of their latest pop-ups and ATB corn. Meanwhile Frank & Guy were supported by local bait company CPK with a belachan based boilie and several kilos of particles along with some of Frank’s renowned hook baits. In addition to these regular baits we all had a selection of imitation baits from Enterprise including some of the latest buoyant corn.
We all fished Harrison 13’ Trebuchet rods that we’d been loaned by the organizers (along with bivvies, sleeping bags and bed chairs etc). I have to say these rods were absolute ‘beasts’ with test curves of around 3.75 and made my fishing at shorter ranges a little ungainly. Frank kindly loaned me a pair of his Shimano technium reels which were loaded with 12lb mono plus 30’ of Ultima 20lb shock leader which I connected to TFG safety leaders and either a #4 Multi Rig for pop-ups or a #4 long shank bottom bait rig.
On the first evening Guy got us started with a couple of fish around the 7-8Kg mark. A good sign as we hoped the feeding activity of these smaller fish would soon pull in some of the legendary beasts for which Raduata is renowned.
At around 2am I had a couple of beeps on my right hand rod that was locked up tight in the middle of the reeds and rubble. In a sleepy daze I grabbed the rod and began to walk backwards to drag the fish out of the danger zone. It didn’t feel anything special but as I wound down to get back towards the waters edge the left hand rod suddenly slammed round and the spool became an angry blur as line was torn off against a very tight clutch. Almost as quickly the rod sprang back and the line went limp… to say I was gutted would be an understatement! Meanwhile the fish I had on was soon in the net and looked to be another 7Kg fish. When I wound in the left hand rod the shock leader was cut clean and I was left to imagine what size fish might have taken off with such extraordinary force.
Guy soon became top rod landing several 6-8 Kg fish in the first 24 hours and unlike many teams ensured we at least had five fish posted on the leader board. As dusk fell at the end of day two Guy had a solid run from the edge of the shallows that put up a tremendous battle. My initial attempts to net this fish made me look like a complete novice and clearly had Guy worried at my competence. I finally got the fish into the net and once safely on the bank we discovered that the cord that should have tensioned the net between the arms was rotted through. This had allowed the fish to swim out before the net could be lifted high enough to trap it in the folds of the mesh. At least I no longer felt like a complete dunce but we did re-examine all the gear that had been loaned to us for any other potential problems.
Guy’s common weighed in at 12.89Kg (28.42 lb) and gave us a much needed lift in our spirits and raised our expectations that the real giants of Raduta were soon to come. Charlie our local official and weigh master turned up with our meal orders and told us we were now sitting in 5th place. The result sheet also revealed that very few teams had yet to even catch a fish which we initially put this down to the constantly shifting weather patterns.
As the skies cleared we were treated to a spectacular view of the night sky. There is very little light pollution, even from the local villages, so it was possible to see hundreds of stars and several planets including Saturn cresting over the horizon while the Milky Way lit up a brilliant trail across the sky.
Bucharest is a burgeoning European city surrounded by typical large scale agricultural operations. However village life in Romania has barely changed in decades. The local people farm small plots of land, often by hand while shepherds tend flocks of goats or sheep over the hillsides. As a result there is minimal impact from fertilizers and pesticides so this incredible environment hosted some of the most diverse bird and insect life I’d seen since my youth in rural England. I counted over 40 bird species in the first two days alone.
Our swim was in a field that as we discovered later hosted some fascinating plants and insect life and would also be shared with several cows and horses that would be turned out to graze each day. The horses kept their distance but the cows proved to be more problematic and we resorted to an occasional well aimed boilie to keep them from trampling our rods and bivvies. A local farmer also brought his horse and cart down to scythe and collect nettles for his pigs which he assured us greatly improved the flavor of the pork.
At night we were serenaded by crickets as well as the neighborhood dogs trying to out compete each other with their incessant howling and barking. This was only interspersed by an occasional rooster or cuckoo intent on being the first to welcome in the dawn albeit a few hours early… Oh and if that lot was not enough I soon discovered that Guy could drown the lot out with his snoring!
On the Wednesday I emerged from the bivvy I shared with Guy to be met by a scary sight! As the dawn sky began to brighten ahead of the sunrise the eastern sky was streaked with vapor trails. My initial reaction was that the situation in neighboring Ukraine had suddenly escalated triggering what appeared to be a massive missile launch! I urgently woke Guy who reluctantly emerged from the depths of his slumbers by which time the vapor trails had come considerably closer to reveal them as a number of aircraft presumably merging along a route to destinations further west.
As Wednesday merged into Thursday we could only sit out in the warm sun and watch as the team sitting on the point and fishing into the other side of the shallow area to ourselves continued to catch. We were all but cut off from any fish reaching our swim from the main lake as their lines and the disturbance created by landing fish proved an effective barrier. Our only runs came from a couple of sturgeon that had obviously escaped from the net barrier to our left and each evening the results sheet confirmed our demise as we slipped further down the leader board. As if to add to our misery we discovered that a large bag of jelly beans had gone missing from our food supply. This mystery was later solved by a text received from none other than Rob Hughes who was holding them hostage and threatened to eat them if we didn’t submit to his demands!
As Friday heralded a change in weather with a shift in wind direction and possible rain later in the evening we decided on a change in strategy. Frank’s exceptional casting prowess was put to use by launching a bait some 150 + yards into the shallow area to our right and nearest the main lake. This meant that we also needed to remove some thistle like plants along the shore line as they threatened to impede landing a fish from this area. We also launched some baits with the high performance carbon throwing sticks we’d each newly acquired to the area. Meanwhile we loaded the drop off to the left of the shallows with K-1 solubles and the CPK belachan baits in an effort to drag a fish or two through the narrow channel and under the lines of the team sat on the point as the wind would now blow any scent in that direction.
In the evening a run on the far distant rod raised our hopes but dropped off before we could pick up the rod. A little later a second run resulted in a 6kg fish that did nothing to improve our best 5 score. That night the wind came up still further and other than a couple of beeps there were no more runs. The dawn on the Saturday was as over cast and gloomy as our mood. We did not look forward to packing away the wet gear from the occasional shower that had passed through. There were now only two hours remaining before the competition closed at midday when suddenly one of Guy’s rods sprang to life. This fish immediately went off on a long run and there was no doubt in our minds that this was one of Raduta’s bigger residents. The event had produced only a couple of big fish in the 15-18 Kg range and we knew this one could dramatically change our fortunes in the competition. After a tense few minutes battle the fish set off on another run when suddenly the rod sprang back and the line went slack. We were gutted.
In the end we placed 15th out of 75 teams so while it was not where we had hoped to finish it was not for a lack of trying on our part. After we wound down with a few beers and a celebratory shot or two of vodka over lunch at the lodge we then headed into Bucharest for a few more beers and an overnight stay before flying out the next day. I had to take my newly acquired throwing stick as ‘carry on’ as it was too long to fit in a bag. It took some explaining to the security personnel that it was not a lethal weapon while the now rancid smell of the fish meal baits that lingered inside caused one of the female officials to turn green and start gagging!
Sadly Raduta had not have lived up to its big fish potential with only a couple of fish over 15 Kg being landed while several teams struggled to even catch a fish. However being able to experience some of its extraordinary ambiance in the company of two very fine carp anglers made it a very memorable and enjoyable experience.
A huge thank-you to Frank and Guy for inviting me, Mihai & Bogdan at K-1 for providing me with some top class baits and to Toto & Andrei for hosting a well run tournament. A very special mentions goes to local top carp angler Florin and his wife Diana who knew Frank and Guy of old and went out of their way to help us. In addition to making a much needed expedition to a supermarket to buy extra food, snacks and drinks they also loaned us a ‘pop-up’ shelter to supplement the two bivvies we’d borrowed. A big thank-you also to Jurgen Becker who also loaned us a much needed stove so we could brew tea and heat up meals.