Who am I?

An individual, of no great importance, who is unable to see the natural world as a place for competition. I catch fish, watch birds, derive immense pleasure from simply looking at butterflies, moths, bumble-bees, etc - without the need for rules! I am Dylan and this is my blog - if my opinions offend? Don't bother logging on again - simple!


Friday 31 July 2015

Swimming against the tide - my carp fishing journey

I think that I would be safe in saying that my first knowledge of carp came via the pages of The Angling Times. Dick Walker's "Clarissa" had been on display, in the aquarium at London Zoo, for nearly twenty years before I became aware of these magnificent fish. In the early 1970's, carp were still a very treasured capture and a lengthy apprenticeship was required before anyone could be considered a proficient carp angler. Par-boiled potatoes, Mk IV rods, Mitchell 300's and Heron bite alarms - these were the tools of the pioneering anglers who were to lay the foundations for today's, carp dominated, angling scene.
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
1983 had already seen me pass two milestones, before I set foot on the banks of the Welwyn Garden City municipal fishery. I caught my first ever double, an 11 lbs 4 oz mirror, from the Kodak AC Water End Pit - March 9th then my first twenty , 21 lbs 10 oz, from Bridigo Pond - 5th July (it was off the top on floating "slyme" - a Duncan Kay concoction!) It was on 17th September that I had my first session at "The Cracker Factory" (as named by Rob Maylin) and I got off to a flier! Three bites in a short afternoon session, topped by a mirror of 15 lbs 9 oz - it was 1983 and this was still a very nice fish! I fished the venue whenever I had the opportunity, a November session providing me with three "twenties" in consecutive casts, absolutely outrageous results for the period. I fished the whole winter until 25th February 1984. On this date I landed my PB carp (which it remains to this day) of 23 lbs 14 oz - this event, and those leading up to it, are the pinnacle of my carp angling career. Ever since that date I have been striving to get back to the ethos and romanticism of the Dick Walker era.
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
It would be farcical to describe that period as anything other than fantastic - I had highs and lows, just as in any other obsessive pursuit, but the good bits far outweigh the bad times - I'm very grateful to all those who assisted my quest - I came out the other side a far better individual than had entered?
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!
Obviously it is my problem, and mine alone, that I can't take these fisheries at all seriously - they are "carp puddles" and the fish in them are like "ducks in a barrel" - I am not competing with the fish, but other anglers and their priorities.  I don't want to know that this one's called "Cedric" and came out last Tuesday at 19 lbs 7 oz! My journey has gone far beyond that; so now I seek those same situations as would have been typical to an angler in the "Dick Walker era". I seek isolation, the unknown and the adrenaline rush of the uncaught, wild, fish.

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?
Brand labels, fashion statements, time bandits and tackle tarts - whatever? I find myself so far removed from this modern carp scene as to be an angling alien! My desire to rediscover the very essence of this pursuit is what drives me to get up at an un-Godly hour to bait up a remote drain. I have, from a very personal perspective, discovered a lost world - a place in which dreams have a chance at becoming reality, but only to those of us who are of a kindred spirit.
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!


  1. Dylan,

    I don't understand much of the angling "talk" but whilst reading this latest chapter of your life and admiring the photos of somebody who could of easily fitted into a photo shoot for a heavy rock group, I was struck by the fact that birdwatching has followed similar lines of commercialisation and lack of personal integrity. Birdwatchers these days have to have certain makes of binoculars and scopes, otherwise they don't look the part. Then there's the expensive camera and multi lenses, the multi-use mobile phone with an app that plays important bird calls for luring a bird from vegetation and most importantly, the pager. What serious birdwatcher can go out without one of these and risk missing out on a bird that someone else has found. I feel quite naked wandering around the marsh with just a pair of binoculars, a notebook and a cheap £30 Nokia from Tescos.

  2. We have to laugh looking back at some of the old carping photos, sheer quality and bliss back in the day. Love from us all at CarpCritic