When Dad passed away, in August 2016, I became the owner of a rather primitive, Chinese, slide copying device which allows me to transfer images to a digital format. I'm well aware that there are far superior products out in the market place, yet this simple gadget serves a purpose and I've recently spent some considerable time revisiting the memories contained within the hoards of slides stored in tatty old boxes at the back of my study. There are so many faces from the crazy days of Hemel Hempstead; those guys who shared in the lunacy and adventures to the far flung corners of our specimen hunting domain. So many big fish of which I have no recollection, venues that are long forgotten and much, much more. I'd been toying with the idea of a post all about the early visits to Scotland but, with so many other places cropping up, these old pictures kept steering me down alternate avenues of thought. This only served to demonstrate how difficult it would be to ignore the influence these other destinations also had on my development as an angler, thus, I've chosen to widen the scope. It might get messy but let's see where it leads?
What I must also explain is that my use of these transparencies (slides) was a direct result of my employment within Kodak Ltd and my involvement with The National Association of Specialist Anglers, as a member of the Executive Committee. I used to travel quite extensively giving illustrated talks on fish photography and/or Catfishing on the Leighton Buzzard AC venues. Before this development, my photography had been very limited and the results were stored as photos within the pages of assorted albums, the whereabouts of which I have no idea today! So the very early days are not part of the story, as recorded in the slides I have been looking at. This is a pity, because there were some good times enjoyed on The Grand Union Canal, Pixies Mere and The Great Ouse during the 1970's none of which are anything more than distant memories as I've no photos to share. Although I was nothing more than a, Distribution - Southern Region, warehouse worker, the Kodak technical advisory team was based in the same building and I was able to access these guys on a regular basis as my fish photography became ever more important in the angling process. Unlike modern digital images, when using traditional film technology, if you screwed it up - tough tits! I'm forever indebted to the advice and effort those professional photographers were willing to offer me during this period.
|The Mill Pool at Mapledurham circa 1985|
Because Kodak were such an important part of my journey it's probably only right that I start this rambling nonsense at one of the fisheries which I could access due to this employment. Mapledurham, on the River Thames, just below Sonning, was a fabulous venue. The old mill pool home to huge numbers of pike during periods of flooding. Yet it wasn't only pike, there were good numbers of roach and chub, my PB equalling Barbel of 9 lbs 2 oz came from the main river some way downstream from the mill pool and there were even a few half-decent perch present, although they showed the sad symptoms of the disease which was decimating the species right across the country at this time.
|The head of my rather gnarly old barbel - no unhooking mats back then, just a weigh sling to rest on!|
I can't ever remember seeing a bailiff on this fishery and all the gang used to tag along to enjoy a social whilst awaiting the pike to feed. Cuddles had his first twenty from the river and we had many fabulous sessions when in excess of a dozen fish were landed, plenty of doubles included.
|Cuddles with his first "twenty" - 21 lbs 10 oz of Mapledurham joy!|
|The tail end of the mill pool as it flows out to rejoin the main river - two ET back-biters, ABU Cardinal 66X's |
& Duncan Kay's - just like 2020!
I've recently blogged about Fenland, but focused on the zander fishing. There were pike to be caught and the Sixteen Foot, Three Holes and The Counter-wash Drain, just outside Manea, were all visited regularly throughout the winter period. We experienced very ordinary results for the majority of our efforts yet, every so often, one of us would get lucky and the enthusiasm would return ensuring another trip wouldn't be too long in the offing!
|Paul Elborn, fishing for live baits from the bridge at Three Holes. Much to the angst of|
John Foster! Crazy really as Paul was the R/O for the Luton PAC Region!
It would be great fun, travelling up there, mob handed and generally running riot. It didn't take us long to cross swords with, the late, John Foster. He being the R/O of the Fenland PAC Region. Quite why he didn't stop and say something, at the time, choosing instead to use the angling media to voice his disapproval of our antics? I never did find out but we, eventually managed to overcome our differences and became chatty, if not ever mates! The fishing was great fun and my first real experience of the vastness of these flatlands, scenery completely unlike that of Hertfordshire and the Chilterns in which I'd grown up.
|Baz Adams netting a pike for Cuddles at Three Holes|
I think that both Simon and Phil Mitchalek caught Fenland twenties, yet it was Cuddles, again, who landed our best pike from the Sixteen Foot. I remember the fish, but for the life of me don't recall how heavy it was?
|Cuddles with our best pike from Fenland|
Driving up and down the M1 between Hemel and Peterborough, en route to Fenland, meant that we passed some famous fisheries in Northamptonshire. We looked at Billing, but finally settled on the fishery complex at Emberton Park to continue our quest for big pike. This venue provided some wonderful fishing and was the first one where I experienced regular night feeding by pike. Always a social activity, fishing at Emberton was a very successful distraction from our other venues. Ronnie Thomas landing our best fish, on my rods!, at 23 lbs plus. However it is loud music, Sharleen Spiteri and Texas in particular, emanating from Ron's VW Camper along with copious amounts of beer that will be my lasting memories of time spent at this venue. Big pike aplenty and mad times indeed.
|Ron was always the sensible member of the gang - he drank "girl's beer" and never played up.|
It is impossible for me to overstate quite how pivotal the reservoir complex at Tring was in my development as a "specimen hunter". Marsworth, Startops End and Wilstone each playing their part as my experience and ambitions were buoyed by the successes I was to enjoy at the various waters. I'd landed my first Wilstone tench during the long hot summer of 1976, when we were given permission to fish the centre bank. It went all of 4 lbs, but was to prove to be the start of an incredible period of irreversible impact on "big fish" angling within the UK and I am so very fortunate to be able to say that "I was there!"
|Elbs with a very nice tench from Cyanide Strait - Wilstone|
It was during that same summer that Roy Johnson and I took nineteen two pound plus roach in a single afternoon at Startops - all fish falling to bread flake fished on a simple open-ended feeder set-up. As the tench revolution took off, so my path crossed with so many of the big hitters of that period. Wilstone became the magnet for a who's who of all the speccy hunters of the time. Obviously it was the colossal tench which were the main draw, but there were still a few bream worthy of effort and, very occasionally, rudd and roach put in an appearance. An absolute privilege to have been part of this era of monumental change in UK angling. I caught so many huge tench that I began to think I was a decent angler, until meeting guy's who were the real deal and quickly realising that I was very ordinary by comparison. Still, the enjoyment wasn't diminished, nor was I too proud to ask for assistance whenever the chance arose. I received some superb tutoring, from guys who were at the top of their game and am truly grateful for their input and generosity.
|A very youthful Mr Turner with a rather modest Wilstone Esox|
Pike fishing at Tring was hard going, yet the rewards were there for anyone prepared to put in the graft.That Eddie Turner, Bill Hancock and Vic Gibson had used Startops to test their Vane Float techniques before turning their attentions to Wilstone was an absolute blessing. We got on really well and I was like a sponge, soaking up every snippet that was on offer. Neither before, nor since, have I seen anyone work harder at their fishing than these guys - a wonderful period which remains firmly etched in the memory bank. Just up the road, so to speak, from Tring is Leighton Buzzard and it was this angling club's fishery at Claydon which was to see some of the most outrageous antics by our crew.
|Claydon Middle Lake - Yours truly bent into another catfish at this|
wonderful estate lake.
Catfish had just started to become the centre of attention for a certain Kevin Maddocks. Yes, you know the one, that same guy who completely f**ked up carp fishing with the publication of "Carp Fever" in 1981. Well we were having none of it and deliberately set about ensuring we wouldn't be ignored. We caught loads of catfish from that muddy puddle, but it was how we caught them and how much fun, read Stella Artois, we could cram into a session that was to set us apart from the super serious approach of our arch rival. Strange as it may seem, we all got on really well. Kevin and Bob (Baldock) doing it their way whilst we did our own thing and the Catfish Conservation Group came into being with our motley gang becoming members from the very start. In fact I was to write quite a few articles for the early editions of Whiskers. the members magazine.
|What was I thinking? Have a word!|
The dalliance with catfish was to last for several summers, although we shifted our attentions to the Tiddenfoot Pit towards the end of the project. I look back on this period with great fondness, a bit like my memories of school holidays, I recall the successes and blot out the rainy days.
Although I was against the removal of the close season, the advent of any method trout fisheries was to be the beginning of the end for this traditional period of recovery on still water venues. John Carliki (I'm not too sure that's how it's spelt?) ran Linch Hill Fishery at this time and I was quickly on the case once I'd discovered that he allowed pike fishing, from boats, and would supply trout live baits as part of the deal.
It was a revelation, probably be better called a revolution? I couldn't go wrong and landed a succession of big pike, probably because I was one of the first off the mark? Yes, I'm fully aware of my current stance on live baiting, I'm also certain that I was in favour of the close season yet, as many other English anglers, happily went pike fishing in Scotland during this same period. Hypocritical as charged and offer no defence, it happened and I wouldn't change a thing but now use this experience to help me make better informed decisions when the need arises.
|My biggest pike from Linch Hill - photo by Pete Stone|
Well I think this has rambled on long enough. Scotland will have to wait for another day. Rest assured there a loads more images where these came from and hopefully I will be minded to get something together over the coming weekend.