Over the years I've visited this subject matter in some way, or other, several times. The sheer adrenaline overload produced by capturing a carp, any carp, from the network of drains that criss-cross the East Kent flatlands, is unlike anything else I've ever experienced during my angling adventures. I suppose it would be wise to quantify that statement by putting it into some type of context. The passage of time has mellowed my exuberance, allowing a far more realistic appreciation of this wonderful hobby! Catching fish is not my job, nor the purpose I was put on the planet, it is just my way of having fun. The older I get, it would seem, the more fun I'm deriving from this fascinating pastime. Looking back, oh for that gift when I was younger, I am now able to see the flawed logic used which had me chasing around the circuit as I targeted specimen fish all the while hoping for publicity in the angling media of the period. In simple terms, I was a twat!
Now whilst I'm sure that there will be a section of visitors, to this blog, who would question "What's changed?" From my own perspective I now do things my way, purely for my own satisfaction; no longer attempting to impress an audience. I was speaking with Alan "Camo" Turner, at his shop, on Saturday morning, about the stunts I'd pull in order to get mentioned in David Hall's Coarse Fishing Magazine's "Snide Rumours & Dirty Lies" column. I really was a silly, publicity seeking, individual but, loved every minute of those times, enjoying them for what they were. I was thirty-seven years old when I quit the hobby, embarking on that crazy foray into Kent birding, before, eighteen years later, rediscovering the thrills of catching big fish, by design. I think it is safe to say that it has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. My selfish behaviour costing me a marriage, yet allowing me to meet Bev who is now the rock around which my life revolves. Clouds and silver linings spring to mind!
|That's an original "Brolly Camp" behind one soppy muppet!|
It's nice to be able to look back, so many fond memories, but I'm happy to move on.
During my time on the bank, I've been extraordinarily privileged to have crossed paths with many talented anglers. I could name drop until the cows come home and still not mention everyone who'd impacted upon my angling development down the years. Yes, indeed, I've been very fortunate to have experienced the adventure life's path has taken me along. Getting back to why I started to write this rambling post. I now find angling has morphed from an obsession to a pleasure and with that evolution has come an appreciation of the much bigger picture. Today there is so much more to my angling than just catching fish and I'd like to share my thoughts by outlining how I now approach the challenges I undertake. I'll use three species, Carp, Barbel and Pike to assist my efforts.
Before I go any further can I make it clear that these are my opinions and not a case of "I'm right, everyone else is wrong" So long as you enjoy fishing, however you wish to approach the hobby, it's fine by me. So I'll start with my ideas about Carp fishing. Pretty sure that 95% of current carp anglers will be unable to align themselves with my thoughts, but that's the beauty of being an individual, I guess! When I got back into angling in the Spring of 2011, I was totally bemused by the array of commercial fisheries which had sprung up to cater for the pay as you go carp anglers. I had a basic grasp of what was required and set off with my ancient assembly of kit to do battle with these "mud pigs". It was like ducks in a barrel, they were that easy and I quickly established that floater fishing was the most fun way of catching them. How do you make floater fishing even more fun? Chuck a centre-pin in the equation, oh yeah, add a 1983 Duncan Kay 11' 1lb 10oz t/c rod and job's a good'un. It didn't matter if it was Longshaw, Tyler Hill or Marshside, the pure joy derived from hooking these fish on surface presented bait, Co-op Wholemeal being a belter, takes a lot of beating. Still, there is only so much you can stand before wanting to push barriers beyond that of surface caught scamps. My best carp during this period was a gnarly old Common, of 18 lbs 10 oz, taken from the margins of the Longshaw main lake.
I started to visit the Sandwich Coarse Fishery complex and offering my baits on the bottom, Seeing what everyone else was doing, I avoided competition with the bulk of other anglers by not using boilies and, instead, opted for particles as my feed mix and either Pepperami, prawns, or chick-peas for the hook bait. Plenty of action ensued and my best fish, since returning to the hobby, became a Mirror of 18 lbs 15 oz. I have nothing but praise for this type of venue and, indeed, the local club fisheries which also provided me with so much carpy enjoyment. However, it was never serious, campaign, angling and it wasn't until July 2015 that I discovered what I had, unknowingly, been searching for. Fate played a massive role in the discovery of the stunning wild carp which inhabited a network of drains out on the East Kent flatlands. That first trip produced a spectacular Common of 18 lbs 2 oz and the seeds were sown. There were carp swimming in fisheries where I could do my own thing, just the fish to test me and my watercraft. Back again just a few days later and I capture my first twenty pounder since February 1984. This was the game changing moment, I'd discovered a situation which suited my style and fired my imagination. Ability to be measured by results, not comparison with other anglers or any requirement for the use of excessive time.
|The first "twenty" to my net after a gap of thirty-one years!|
I passed my landmark sixtieth birthday in December of that year and with it came another tool for raising the enjoyment level even further. A 1959 split cane Richard Walker Mk IV Carp rod was gifted me by the family, I soon purchased a second as I have to fish a matching pair. Mitchell 300 reels were obtained, in order to remain in keeping with these iconic relics and off I went in search of more fun. It was The Royal Military Canal, not the flatlands, which was to give me the first taste of split cane action. A beautiful "leathery" Mirror graced my net, the scales registering 21 lbs 7 oz. We, Benno & myself, were only at the venue because of close season restrictions imposed upon the Stour Valley catchment area. However, I've certainly not ruled out further adventures along this wonderful waterway, the carp population being wild as any that inhabit the flatland drains. (If you avoid the Hythe section!)
|It doesn't get any more "carpy" than this for me.|
A pair of split cane Mk IV's & Mitchell 300's poking out of a gap in the reeded margin
of a flatland drain
I set myself the challenge of a "split cane thirty", something I promised my Dad shortly before he passed away in August 2016. It's an open ended project and, in many respects, why I joined my local syndicate fishery. A superb facility, my fellow members being a bunch of nice guys, but after two seasons I now realise that it's not for me. I simply don't fit in with the modern carp scene. All that show boating, time banditry and brand label snobbery. What's the purpose of three, matching, 3.5 lbs t/c rods, fitted with "big pit" reels, cradled on some fancy rod pod, at a puddle where I can cast a centrepin nearly half-way across? I'm planning on seeing out my ticket as I've some unfinished business with a shoal of roach, but that thirty pound carp? I don't know if I even want it from this type of situation now. The flatlands have cast their spell. If I am to succeed then it will have to be with the capture of a fish which inhabits the uncharted depths of a lonely drain, or some remote section of the RMC?
One of the major benefits of being able to please myself is that I am completely at liberty to walk away from any situation in order to recharge flagging enthusiasm levels and seek the simple pleasure of a bent fishing rod. To this end I am indebted to the local commercial fisheries, plus Sandwich & District AA and the Wantsum AC, for providing opportunity to get a carp fix at one of their splendid facilities. Stocked with numbers of good quality fish, some of which are worthy of a place in anyone's angling album.
|A club water twenty - a lovely carp taken on a margin presented floater and split cane Mk IV|
I'd now like to explain how I perceive the barbel angling scene and the huge influence that Fred Crouch (RIP) exerted upon my own angling methodology. I won't dwell on the politics surrounding the illegal populations of these magnificent fish in river systems across the length and breadth of England. They are now in these waterways and that's it. When Benno and I decided that we'd like to have a bash at barbel fishing, way back in 2013, we took a drive up to the mighty River Severn, at Hampton Lode, where we managed to bag a few fish between us. The technique involved wouldn't have been out of place on Deal Pier or Dungeness beach! Rods pointed skywards, with massive feeders hurled into the strong current. Bites being registered by savage tip movements as our quarry hooked themselves on this crude set up. It was hideous, yet successful, and if I peruse Youtube, there are still plenty of exponents of the art of sea fishing for barbel publicising their antics, via this popular media platform, to this day.
This style of barbel fishing is a million miles away from the lessons imparted by Fred way back in 1985. Attention to detail was everything, accuracy of baiting and rig presentation paramount if you were to succeed in your quest. It was these lessons which I shared with Benno as we embarked upon the campaign which was to see us both capture PB barbel from the wonderfully clear waters of the Kentish Stour, just outside Canterbury. When I was being mentored by Fred, usually at "The Compound" on the Royalty Fishery - Hampshire Avon, it was maggots all the way. The use of a bait dropper was an essential part of the whole process. Nothing was left to chance and accuracy paramount if you were to make the most of your angling prospects. Staying back from the water, minimal movement and being organised, thus having everything you required close to hand, all key parts of the jigsaw. Fantastic times; the watercraft and bankside etiquette has remained ingrained in me ever since. So when time came to attempt to lure a barbel from the River Stour, I was already thinking along the lines of "how would Fred do it?"
|The first Kentish Stour "double" of our campaign fell to Benno's rod.|
Maggots were out, right from the start, the massive population of eels ensuring that they weren't an option. We decided to use a mix of "pigeon tonic" and halibut pellets as our freebies with a "Robin Red" pellet on a hair-rig presentation as the hook bait. The bait dropper routine was quickly adopted, the river lending itself to close range tactics. A single rod, complete with Match Aerial centrepin (Benno used an Avon Royal Supreme), was fished parallel to the river's surface with bite alarm and "night lite" used to aid indication. What's rather weird is that all our fish came after darkness fell, we never got a bite during daylight? There were loads of other little tweaks we employed, as the campaign evolved, but never once did we feel the need to copy the techniques of other anglers, fishing nearby, with their rods pointing towards the stars. Under no circumstances can I say that we "cracked it" yet every fish landed was celebrated and well deserved. I remember ringing Benno the morning after he'd captured our first "double" of the campaign. "How you feeling?" I enquired. "Still grinning like a imbecile" came his reply. Been there and done it so many times, myself, over the years, should it ever stop then it'll be time to sell the kit and take up dress-making or, even worse, golf?
Pike have been the one constant part of my angling cycle, ever since the early 1970's. They are my favourite species which, over the years, have provided so many wonderful memories as I've captured specimen sized fish from such a wide variety of fisheries. In 2021, I would say that my pursuit of these apex predators has changed more than any other aspect of my angling? Obviously our trips up to the, peat stained waters of, mighty Loch Awe are an exception, but I now find myself completely at odds with my early years expectations. Right through the 1980's and into the early 90's, the bigger the pit, the more at ease I felt about the prospect of big pike being present. Of course I toyed with pike which inhabited other venues, travelling to the Cambridgeshire/Norfolk Fenlands, the Thames in Berkshire and even The Royalty on occasion, yet the real draw was the big expanses of still water provided by the reservoir complex at Tring and the gravel pits along the M1 corridor around Bedfordshire/Northamptonshire and also those over in Oxfordshire. Big waters = big pike, or that's how I perceived it at that time. I wasn't to be disappointed, as every winter period provided me with the decent fish required to support this theory. I certainly didn't do anything special, yet generally managed to land one or two which stood in me good stead with my peers within the Luton region PAC.
|Royal Military Canal perfection|
So what has happened to change my outlook? Two anglers need to get a mention here. Firstly Jim Gibbinson, whom I've met but certainly don't know, yet made me aware of the fact that " pike thrive on neglect" and secondly Eddie Turner - who I did know very well back in the day. Up on the banks of Wilstone Res. in the late 1980's we had a conversation based around my decision to cease using live baits. Eddie didn't preach, or even question my decision, instead offering his wisdom. "Make sure you find an edge" and by this he didn't mean drop my bait in the margin. We spoke about flavour, colour and buoyancy options. Since that time I've played around with many other aspects of dead bait presentation which has ensured that I certainly land my fair share of pike over the course of a winter. I now find myself focusing my attention on remote areas of the RMC, courtesy of Google maps, whilst always finding time to drop a bait into the local drains if at a loose end. Expectations are not as high as when I was circuit chasing, yet my ratio of "doubles" to bites is far higher than it was during my "serious" phase.
I stated that fun is now the overriding factor in any angling situation and I whole-heartedly stand by that statement. It doesn't mean that I've lost any of the desire to continue chasing big fish or push boundaries of my angling techniques. I just know that what is involved to achieve my goals doesn't sit well within modern angling devotees. My rod choice, for 99% of my angling will be one with a test curve between 1.5 & 2 lbs, be it cane, glass fibre or carbon and if I can use a centrepin, so much the better. It certainly doesn't mean that I'm so stupid as to ignore the huge advances in tackle manufacturing or, indeed, that of modern bait. If bait-boat technology allows me to present a dead bait at 120m, whilst using a centrepin, I'll use it! Old school I ain't. My reliance on electronic bite alarms is purely a symptom of my pathetic attention span. If I'm on the bank, then there's so much to distract me that staring at a float doesn't come into my thought processes. Yeah, I'll use as much technology as is available, so long as the end result is via that of a hooked fish and thrill experienced due to a bent rod.
|No amount of money could purchase this feeling of elation.|