When, in 1981, Kevin Maddocks paved the way for the meteoric rise of carp angling with the publication of "Carp Fever", the majority of big fish anglers were all rounders. The National Association of Specialist Anglers was a creditable organisation which used the media to allow the views of specimen hunters to be heard. At this stage it was the established, and far more popular, match/pleasure angling community within the UK freshwater angling scene, who held sway at club level and dominated the popular media (Angling Times & Anglers Mail) of the day. Ivan Marks, Ian Heaps, Bob Nudd, et al, were superstars, held in the same esteem as Dick Walker, Rod Hutchinson, Ritchie Mc "Doughnut" Donald and Fred J. Taylor. I remember spending time with Roy Marlow, Ivan Marks' business partner and fellow member of the Leicester Match Team, at a Rutland Water Open Day, and being completely blown away by the attention to detail that he, and every other guy at that level of match angling, went to in order to ensure he was fishing as effectively as he knew how. By comparison, the speccy hunters of the period were, at best, agricultural in their thought processes, particularly in relation to bait presentation. Obviously, as Kevin Maddocks was to promote, that quest for a presentation edge was to be a massive turning point in big fish angling.
I was up on the banks of Wilstone Reservoir, Tring, at this time, rubbing shoulders with some of the most talented, high profile, speccy hunters of that era. Compared with the match anglers, our focus was on bite registration and indicator design, so we were still some way off the mark! Alan Wilson was re-writing the "speccy hunter's" handbook, further perpetuating the mythical status of a "time bandit" approach, which was completely at odds to that of the match scene. However, once Kevin had lifted the lid off the secret world of the carp fishing old guard, things rapidly moved forward to encompass bait presentation and placement. Obviously it was Len Middleton and Kevin who were to develop the hair-rig concept but, they were not the first to see this, off the hook, bait presentation as a way forward. Rod Hutchinson had played around with a similar idea at Redmire in the 70's yet failed to recognise the significance or potential.
As Fred Wilton first aired his views on the HNV bait theory I would still be catching perch, roach and gudgeon from the Grand Union Canal. However, it wasn't too long after I'd started to take an interest in catching "bigger" fish that the rumblings about milk proteins and amino acids came onto my radar. By the early 1980's, mainly due to my involvement with other Tring Syndicate members, I was fairly well placed to pick a few scraps from the rich mans table? If Kevin wrote the book, then it was Clive & Malcolm, the Richworth duo, who made the film! Their VHS offering was absolutely revolutionary, years ahead of the advent of social media, yet exactly the same impact upon those of us who craved carp fishing knowledge? By this stage, I was an established member of the NASA fraternity, regularly appearing in the weeklies with a photo or two, or writing for the monthly magazines of the period. David Hall's Coarse Fishing being the main outlet, but I was happy to write for anyone who was willing to publish my thoughts, thus keeping me in the spotlight! It was around this period that I crossed swords with Tim Paisley, at a NASA conference. He'd written a superb article, in one of the carp magazines, filled with theories and hypothesis, pertaining to the high protein base mixes being used at that time and their attractiveness to carp. Why?
My gripe was not with what Tim had written, his theories were based upon personal experience and well worth exploring but, and it's a big BUT! Is a carp angling magazine the place to seek constructive opinion upon such topics? Of course not! What do a hairy arsed bunch of carp anglers know, or care, about the finer points of amino acid effectiveness within such temperature bands, let alone the enzyme breakdown rates. No, I had absolutely no problem with Tim's ideas, just that he wasn't seeking the right audience to get any constructive input? I suggested The New Scientist might offer a greater chance of getting some better informed, science based, reaction. I was called a few names, and told to f*ck off! I work in a (Kodak - at the time) factory and if that's the best you've got you're on a loser. Neville Fickling was sat at that same table and, oh how he changed when I became a member of the NASA Executive Committee a couple of years later. Like I've said, I was a publicity seeking idiot, the speccy world my stage.
|6th July 1983 - 21 lbs 10 oz and I'm on my way|
If only Lester Strudwick, RIP, could have known how his influence on my angling journey was to pan out, I'm sure he'd be pleased? A talented angler, I have to say, but not so far removed from reality to be unwilling to spend time with us "Johnnie-cum-lately" types and share whatever knowledge we sought. A hugely generous guy indeed. It would have been in my second season as a Tring Syndicate member that Lester was to provide assistance with my quest for a decent PB carp. I'd recently caught a "twenty" from a local club venue, but needed to get close to twenty-five pounds if I was to be taken seriously at this point. You need to remember that all species were of equal merit and carp were just that, another species. All I required was a PB statistic which would stand me in good stead with my peers. Lester was a member of "The Carpike Specimen Group" and only too happy to point me in the direction of Stanborough Lake, in Welwyn Garden City, where he, and his mates, had enjoyed a fair degree of success in past seasons.
It was at this point that my thoughts on carp baits took a weird twist. I was well aware of what Rod Hutchinson, Geoff Kemp and Duncan Kay were able to offer the, ever growing, number of carp anglers seeking an easy option. I read through vast amounts of carp related info in the hope of gleaning a few snippets which might provide inspiration? It was crazy that I actually found my answer within the pages of Kevin's book and a mad Geoff Kemp publication called Kempastini's Book of Baits, which I still have!
The recipe which I finally came up with was as follows - this being copied from my diary notes of winter 1983/4
4 oz tinned Sardines, drain off excess oil and mash
2 oz bran with wheat germ
2 oz Nukamel (I don't have the first idea what this was?)
1 oz Codlavine (ground Munchies I believe)
1 oz wheat gluten
2 oz white yeast
2 crushed Vitzyme dog conditioning tablets
1/2 teaspoon of Marmite
3 eggs - once mixed, roll into balls (15 mm at a rough guess) boil for 45 seconds and leave to air dry for 24 hrs. I have in a footnote that this concoction was very similar to a Duncan Kay paste and very sticky! The only other tweak I managed was after a chance meeting with Keith Sellick, proprietor of Middlesex Angling Centre. He provided me with some incredibly strong "spicy" flavouring which he called Pizza. 3ml of this liquid was pungent enough clear the flight terminal at Heathrow!
|The biggest of the trio - 21 lbs 9 oz|
With the help of Ian Crawley, proprietor of Leslie's of Luton (St. Alban's branch) I was quickly kitted out to do battle with any carp that lived within the murky water of this municipal country park. Bruce & Walker HMC (High Modular Carbon) rods and the first Shimano reels in the UK were all in my possession as I set out my stall for a campaign at Stanborough. At no stage in my thought process did it occur to me that I'd be undertaking a winter campaign? I was just going carp fishing! November 6th 1983, I take three "twenties" in consecutive casts and, as a result, grab a few column inches in the angling tabloids of the period. Problem was, the heaviest of the trio only weighed in at 21 lbs 9 oz so the quest continued. Stanborough was a really great place to go fishing, the other anglers we met being a wonderful mix of characters, all of whom simply enjoyed their angling. I think that the best bit about being there was the atmosphere. With the average carp being mid-doubles, there was no jealousy of others successes and, if a big fish (twenty plus) was landed, the congratulations were genuine.
|In 1984 this was a very "big" carp|
Under no circumstances could Stanborough, at this time, be described as a difficult venue. Carp were caught on almost every session I undertook. It wasn't until 25th February 1984, however, that anything of note was to occur. It was a single bait, cast into the entrance of the boat yard - all of 70 yards! - that produced the only bite of the day. A wonderful old Mirror Carp, of 23 lbs 14 oz, was my prize and, as such, ended my project. A carp of that size was a very respectable capture within the ranks of the all-rounders. I went back a few more times during the following summer, taking a lovely brace of nineteen pounders, but in reality my carp adventure was over as there were other targets on the horizon.
|One of the hardest fighting carp I've ever caught - 19 lbs 11 oz - 25th August 1984|
It wasn't until the start of the 1985 season that anything happened to change my opinion about the way I, and my fellow speccy hunters, approached our angling. I said, at the start of this piece, how talking with Roy Marlow was a real eye opener. Barbel fishing with Fred Crouch took me to another level completely. Lester had been extremely generous with both his time and knowledge; being with Fred was like listening to the Beatles, watching George Best or Mohamed Ali. I knew I was in very special company and soaked up every bit of advice he was prepared to offer. Accuracy of baiting, rig presentation, were fundamental to Fred's angling. Nothing was too much trouble, close wasn't good enough. If it wasn't right, fix it. All these lessons have stood me in good stead ever since. Indeed, looking back at my Stanborough campaign I wonder how I managed to catch anything?
So I now need to fast forward to 2015, a break of thirty years, eighteen of which had been spent birdwatching around Kent, thus no fishing involved. The accidental capture of an 18 lbs 2 oz Common Carp being catalyst to my return to carp fishing, of sorts! With social media now offering unlimited advice on any subject you choose to peruse, it is little wonder that carp fishing continues to dominate UK freshwater angling. Having now retired and re-joined the syndicate, I have ample opportunity to spend time in search of that elusive "split cane thirty" which has been a target since my Dad's passing in August 2016. What also seems likely, however, is that I'm not simply chasing a target only to walk away once achieved. Having now sampled the absolute thrill of flatlands carp angling, size being almost an irrelevance, there is so much more for me to discover beyond the circuit mentality of the mainstream. Carp angling will now become an established part of the angling year, much as pike fishing has always been. Should I get distracted by perch, barbel, chub or roach? It won't be of any problem to change tack then return when that particular challenge has been attempted.
|All the while carp like this are swimming in the flatland drains, I know why I still go fishing.|
What is without doubt is that I'll be working as hard as I know how to ensure that I have an edge. Down at the syndicate waters, this will mean thinking way outside the box. As Fred had taught, all those years ago, it's all about attention to detail. I have a number of options open to me, none of which will involve the use of bait which can be purchased off the shelf. I do know one thing, Bev won't let me start knocking up boilies in the kitchen if I'm wanting to recreate that Stanborough mix! I haven't even cast a line at the fishery this year, but did go down for a quick look on Easter Monday. The four anglers present, all nice guys, looked like adverts from a tackle catalogue with their bankside presentation on show for all to admire. I'm gonna have some fun down there this summer, that's for sure. Centrepins, a baiting pole, particles and split canes, I should fit in seamlessly.
|Might cause a few raised eyebrows?|
When we finally escape the restrictions of "lockdown" I have high hopes of getting back down to the RMC. There are carp swimming around in that venue which are every bit as "wild" as any out on the flatlands. And, should I ever be at a loose end, there are always the carp in the tidal reaches of The Stour to provide a challenge. Having been fortunate to have caught big fish, of so many species, and crossed paths with some extraordinary characters whilst doing so, "Carp Fever" isn't something I'm likely to succumb to at this stage in the adventure. Yet I can't deny the adrenaline rush caused by drawing a decent carp over the waiting net chord. Now, at the start of a new chapter in my journey, who knows where it will lead?