My own "specimen hunting" journey can be traced back to around the summer of 1974, Baz Trowbridge, Tony Box, Roy Johnson, Tom Riley and myself, travelling around the various local venues, Tring Reservoirs and the Upper Great Ouse included, seeking anything that would take our baits. I think it was a trip down to a caravan park on Canvey Island which was to see my own carp angling take off - we had sweetcorn! Fuck me, we were good - or so we thought at the time? I don't suppose the largest carp weighed more than six pounds, but we caught loads of 'em and we were on our way. Chub, tench, barbel (the Rose Revived, day ticket, stretch of the R. Windrush) and, in particular, roach followed - we had the brilliant mid-70's roach fishing on Startop's End - 19 two's in an afternoon to a single rod - all on bread! Yeah, they were some very special times and we learned quickly - like sponges soaking up every bit of info that was offered.
Wine, women and song broke up this merry band, but the bug still remained within us all - we went our separate ways. I was to bump into Tom again, when I started working for Kodak - 1979 (?) but it was a short-lived re-acquaintance. The major factor in 1979 was that Kevin Maddocks published his book, Carp Fever, and that was the moment when the blue touch-paper was lit! After this event, there could be no turning back the clock - carp fishing changed from being a secret world of fishy cunning, into a technical pursuit of ruthless efficiency - some legacy? Without this single event, carp fishing would still be a single option within the big fish angling scene - all species being treated as equals - thus the term specimen hunter and the relevance of The National Association of Specialist Anglers (NASA) on which I am very proud to have served as a member of the executive committee, would remain significant. But sadly not to be - the dominance of carp fishing has been the catalyst for the incredible upsurge of commercial fisheries that are now available and, also, a complete about turn in match angling priorities.
So Kevin had blown the lid off a whole new world - carp fishing, as Dick Walker and Jack Hilton had pioneered, was no longer a factor. Boilies, bolt rigs - cum - hair rigs, heavy duty line - broom handle-type rods and reels that could hold 300m+ line - it was a complete rethink of what had been the accepted practice (Continuous improvement for want a better definition?)
This is where my real journey begins. The Ritchworth guys - Clive and Malcolm - had spotted the opportunity and utilized the VHS video technology to corner the market in Carp Fishing promos! (No Youtube back then!)
Optonics had already replaced Herons, but it was about so much more than that! These guys were taking Kevin's book and replacing words with moving pictures - it went in to hyper -space after this event. If I wanted to know how to tie a rig or make a bait - the Ritchworth videos had it all. It is purely down to this factor that my time at Stanborough was so successful. In a recent Nash TV interview, Kevin (Nash, not Maddocks) describes it as "having an edge" - in 1983 I'd definitely got it!
By this stage, being based in Hemel Hempstead, I used the St. Alban's branch of Leslies of Luton (tackle shop) run by Ian "Creepy" Crawley. I was in pole position - this retail outlet had everything, and more, that I required. It was Ian who put me on to the high modular carbon blanks that he was using to produce custom-built rods for the clientele of this busy shop. The blanks were manufactured by (possibly for?) Bruce and Walker - a top quality rod maker, in their own right, at this time.
Kitted out with a pair of 12' 1.75 lbs T/C fast taper rods, with matching Shimano Carbomatic GT4000 reels and all the other latest gizmos, the carp in Stanborough didn't stand a chance! PVA stringers, braided hook-links with the hair-rig and baits to die for! Semolina and Soya flour base mix, but I had the best dyes, flavours, enhancers and sweeteners that were commercially available at that time - more than compensating for the atrocious nutritional value of the actual bait.
|The Bridigo carp - 21 lbs 10 oz taken on floating "Slyme" 5th July 1983
In 1984 that carp was a very respectable PB for any specimen hunter and I sought my challenges for other species in other arenas. I went back to Stanborough on a few occasions, catching some more very nice fish but, already there were the tell-tale signs of the impending rise of the "tackle tart" and complete disregard for water craft and angling etiquette! I knew that carp fishing no longer held a mystique and I was happy to walk away with what I'd already achieved, to show for my efforts.
I was obviously aware with what was going on in carp fishing, Vic Gillings and Kevin Maddocks were integral in the Claydon catfishing scene during the late 80's and I'd get to hear all the gossip from the Colne Valley (carp angling central in the 1980's), in a round about way, at the shows and conferences I attended. Ritchie McDonald and Roger Smith, in particular, were stalwarts of these gatherings and we'd always find ourselves in some state of dis-array, talking absolute bollocks, in a bar or pool room late on the Saturday night - proper happy daze! The "Looney Rota" couldn't sup sasperrella - bloody light weights, all of them! (Take drugs like champions - stupid pricks! - and, sadly, all these years later it shows) Any how - I make it to August 1993 before I kick angling (all angling) into touch and embark on an eighteen year long "Kent birding sabbatical".
|The Stanborough fish - 23 lbs 14 oz 25th February 1984
2011 - my reluctant return? The Scottish trip re-ignited the desire and, despite being a very different guy, with a whole lot of new priorities, the bug bit hard!
Pike have always played a part in the angling season, as decreed by tradition. Getting back from Scotland and now being allowed to cast a line in all calendar months it was the lure of the commercial "carp puddles" that fanned the flames. I dis-liked, intensely, the commercialism of the whole concept, yet couldn't fault the experience. Long Shaw Farm, in particular, provided me with some of the most enjoyable days of my angling life. It wasn't testing, I didn't require anything special to provide myself with an edge - it was easy, fun fishing. It was a situation that allowed me to re-acquaint myself with the nuances of centre-pin angling, bait presentation and the awesome power of a hooked carp. For that I will remain ever grateful - Tyler Hill and Sandwich Coarse Fishery also had a part in this rediscovery process - fantastic, enjoyable, fun fishing - but not what I was looking for.
Long Shaw was great because I discovered that carp were still able to be captured on floating crust (a method that has now been banned at this fishery) and Sandwich Coarse Fishery provided the facility which allowed me to experiment with particles and centre-pins, it was a blast, best fish going 18 lbs 15 oz (so far!)
|On my return - Tyler Hill - 11 lbs 15 oz of commercial fishery fun!
In modern angling mentality, a double isn't worthy of another glance - I beg to differ!
|I have nothing more to say about this carp, which I haven't already said!
A magnificent fish from an East Kent drain - way beyond the realms of my dreams?
Seek and ye shall find - effort equals success! I concur with all that vibe. I will continue to journey back through time in order to relive that perfect moment when a carp becomes, once again, a creature of mystery and cunning - not a statistic on an Excel Spreadsheet and a photo on a fishery promo ad!