Growing up for me in the fishing ‘world’ from the first time I held a rod at 3 years old right up until I was 17 was different to most. I wouldn’t say it was better or more privileged but it was certainly different.
I didn’t grow up fishing canals with my dad or fishing matches on local commercials. I also never rode my bike to the local pit with a school friend to catch perch after school. I grew up with pretty much sole access to an 18 acre estate lake. I say pretty much because you did get the odd poacher or local resident sneaking on. But the lake in question was privately owned with no public access allowed. I still could not access all the water myself though; I could get to 50% of the banks and reach 60-70% of the water with my youthful casting ability. It was your typical estate lake layout – Shallow bays, deep trenches and a big dam wall with depths up to 25ft. The whole lake was surrounded by trees with reed lined bays and lily covered margins. There were no swims, bark paths, peg numbers or railway sleepers. It was heaven; actually I tell a lie, there was one stage that my family put in reaching out from under a tree, but that was it. This stage is important and will appear throughout this story…
I started fishing at around 3 years old, my earliest memories are of my dad and uncles sat on wicker baskets with long floppy cork handled rods lying on the deck of the stage being propped up slightly by the lip of an old keep net, with tubs of maggots, tins of luncheon meat and corn dotted around precariously on the boards. Each board had a gap of around 15mm between it and the next board, and there was no lip around the stage, so the amount of gear that we lost below that stage would probably sustain a small store for weeks! Every time we went on the stage I was told to be careful, but every time I was told that I would kick a can of corn in or drop a pack of hooks between the gaps!
At this point I imagine I did what we all did as kids, I used to use a little rod my dad had and catch small silvers, Bream, Rudd etc on light float gear. We spent many years doing this, with the main highlight for me being a trip to Tillys Tackle Shop to by my very own reel, it was a closed face Abu Garcia reel. It was terrible. BUT at the time it was the greatest thing I owned! The only other highlights of these years were when my dad or uncle hooked into a Tench. WOW. The bright red eye staring back at us from the net and the sheer excitement of seeing such a specimen! We used to use lobworms for the Tench. I was never allowed one as my uncle used to dig them up from his garden before we fished so we never had many, but I remember how he would say “that has Tench written all over it” every time he got one out. From all of my memories as a kid growing up here I don’t have any about carp, we never used to catch them and I do not recall seeing them at all.
There used to be another man that fished the lake. As a kid growing up he was a strange angler, he would sit there on the adjacent bank for hours with his rods out and never catch. I always thought he was just rubbish! Here I was hauling roach in and I never saw him lift his rod! Whenever he was there though he was always there before we arrived and was still there after we left. His name was Ron. Ron turned out to be a legend. I used to look at Ron in the same way I looked towards Chris Yates in later years. He was my fishing idol and here is why…..
I found out from my uncle that Ron was a specimen angler. “What’s a specimen angler?” I would ask. “He only goes after the big hard to catch fish,” my uncle would reply. Those words stuck in my head and before long I had pestered my dad so much that one day we went for a walk around to him. (Ron was a farmer and one of his fields edged onto the lake). We approached the vague area he fished but all I could see was a 20ft deep bed of reeds that were so high I could only see the clouds above them. As we drew closer I saw the tail end of an old plank resting on the grass bank and disappearing off into the reeds. I followed this plank through the jungle of reeds taking each step as if it was my last; none of the planks seemed to be fixed down, just placed on-top of stumps and backed up piles of reeds. It soon opened up into what looked like a different world. Some old crates with plywood on top nestled in the reeds like a coots nest with a small clearing out of the lily pads in front. I remember that day, the sun beamed down on us and the light wind rustled the reeds around us. It was magical!
As I turned my head I was met by Ron, he had a massive smile on a weathered wrinkly face. He wore an old knitted jumper and dark blue trousers. I vividly remember the smell…… It was a mix between years of farming and cigarettes. For some reason I liked the smell and it made him even more mysterious. His deep voice boomed down to me – “well hello there!” My dad already knew Ron and introduced me; my response was a sheepish “hi”. The conversation went on from there as every fisherman’s conversation has ever gone since the dawn of time; we discussed the lake, the weather and the fish I was catching. We then moved onto his stories. I could write an entire book on the stories Ron told me; some I now know are Fishermans tales, others were not. But at the time they were all so real and so exciting.
Unfortunately for Ron this first visit opened up the flood gates. Every time I was at the lake and saw Ron I would jump over the sheep fence and run round to him. I was always met in the same way, a massive smile and a booming “hello!” I would sit with him for a good hour every time, sometimes not talking, just watching. Other times I would ask him so many questions about everything he was doing.
I remember his gear was space age to me. He had 2 rods each set up on tall bank sticks with coils of sheet metal attached to his line to weigh it down between his reel and front bank stick. The rods looked like shark rods with big reels brimming with line. He would sit on his chair under a big heavy umbrella and open his tackle box to show me what he used. It was a treasure trove! Big hooks and weights, spools of Dacron and other oddities I didn’t understand. For bait he would mainly use small potatoes and spam, sometimes he had massive lobworms like snakes or tins of corn with him as well.
The odd thing is that I never ever saw him catch a fish, ever! Actually, the entire time I fished the lake with him there until he sadly passed away I never ever saw him catch anything! BUT he did catch, and he caught some absolute monsters. I was either arriving too late or going too early.
At the age of 10 or 11, after years of catching small fish and watching Ron sit there all day waiting for a bite I decided enough was enough and I needed to expand my horizons.
I had now convinced my parents to drop me off at my grandparent’s house (on the bank of the lake) and leave me there. All of our fishing tackle was stored in a shed in their garden so all I had to take was bait. Sometime we even left maggots there so there was always something to fish with, but more often than not we would arrive to a stinking bait box full of dead flies and rotting castors as the shed was more like a summer house than a cool area to keep bait fresh! So I started to take some spam and corn with me as well as maggots or worms. The good thing about the shed was that all of our tackle was stored there.. Everyone’s even including my uncles! This was bad for them but great for me as I would rummage through everything to get what I needed, leave it in a mess and head down to the lake.
I don’t actually remember how long it took me to catch my first specimen, it was a Tench, and I don’t even remember how I caught it; but what I do remember is the moment my eyes were well and truly opened. I was fishing an over depth float (basically the lift method) down in a quiet corner of the lake at the end of the dam wall where there was a round sluice, the area was completely chocked up with lily pads apart from a couple of small holes here and there. I was using my dad’s 13ft float rod and one of his Mitchell reels. With this rod I could easily get my long float rig into the holes. I had the float fixed about 6 foot up the line with a float band, 2 swan shots about 6 inches away from the small hook where 2 castors were carefully attached. With this I would catapult a few castors and maggots into the holes (and all over the pads)…. and then I waited.
The most perfect moment in my fishing life happened, and one that replays in my head from time to time and makes the hairs on my arm stand up to attention…..The float twitched slightly and the base dipped into the water, the orange tip rose ever so slowly until it was half-cocked and then started to disappear like a sinking ship (a real Crabtree moment). I struck…… It seemed like the float and line did not move but my rod just bent, and kept on bending for what seemed like an eternity but must have been a split second. In that split second I thought I had lost whatever it was and I was snagged on a lily stem, but oh no! The lily pads erupted, the rod buckled over and a tidal wave moved at speed away from what used to be a beautiful hole in the lily pads. The reel handle wrapped my knuckles as it spun in reverse frantically trying to keep up with the fish as it moved at hyper speed away from me. I saw a fish’s flank that was scattered with large gold scales and a large sail like dorsal fin that was held high as pads were pushed away like paper in the wind. Then it was gone. All I was left with was my rod and reel in my trembling hands and a curled up length of line lying across the remnants of a lily pad bed.
This was my first experience with a Carp. This exact moment carved the way for the next 26 years of fishing and counting.
After the experience with a Carp that destroyed me I know I had to try and catch one. There was only one problem with that. I had no idea what I was doing!
I don’t recall how long it was before I was back at the lake after my carpy encounter but I do remember trying loads of different things to try and catch a Carp. I tried luncheon meat, corn, worms and anything else I could find but none of it would work.
The first Carp I caught actually fell to the simplest of methods. It was summer time and the lake was in full bloom; Lilly Pads were everywhere and the trees were under the full weight of leaves. I had slowly started to notice tell tale signs of carp and by now they were all over the place, it seemed like everywhere I looked I would see a Carp or two sunbathing in the pads or cruising round just off the margin. They looked massive to me, and certain fish looked almost too big to swim. I hastily ran up to my grandparents house and managed to get some bread off them so I could try to tempt one of these fish. I started to feed the carp in the pads some small pieces of crust to see what they would do; they seemed to slurp the bread from between the pads without any hesitation at all!
My next task was to try and catch one. I used one of my dads old lure fishing rods, it was about 8 foot long and quite heavy, probably not ideal but it was the best thing I could find! It already had a reel on it, some kind of old Mitchell with some thick line on the spool. I tied a hook on and folded a piece of bread around the shank. I remember being so nervous and excited at the time that even though the Carp were only 10ft away I kept missing the hole in between the pads and losing my piece of bread in the process! Luckily for me the Carp stayed where it was and I managed to finally get my bait where I wanted. It didn’t take long either, what probably seemed like minutes was actually seconds as the carp inhaled the bread and my hook. I struck into it and the Carp immediately bolted off through the pads leaving a trail of destruction behind it. The rest of the fight I do not remember, I don’t even remember landing it! Luckily for me my granddad had come down to the lake with me after getting the bread as he wanted to see what all the fuss was about and he had with him a disposable Kodak camera.
After catching that Carp nothing else would occupy my fishing time apart from the odd Pike session later in the year where we would catch lots of Jacks up to 11lb or so but never anything bigger. But they gave me a bit of a break from chasing Carp round and it was great fun.
I started to visit Stapeley Water Gardens more often which was easy for me as I only lived a mile down the lane so I would jump on my bike and go as often as I could. This was when Stapeleys angling centre was a small room at the back of the garden centre and if I remember right it was just starting to move though to the front as it needed more space. I learnt a lot from Stapeley, the staff were always really helpful and the gear they had in was amazing! I started to gather more tackle; bits from Kryston, Fox and other brands that were big into the carp scene at the time.
I had also managed to ‘borrow’ some Optinics alarms off my uncle from the shed. I ended up with a make shift 2 rod set up, mismatched rods, 2 alarms, some bank sticks and twigs for ‘bobbins’.
Before long I had well and truly joined the Carp train and I wasn’t getting off any time soon! I started to use boilies; Richworth Strawberry and Tutti Frutti were the main ones, sometimes I would use white chocolate or Pineapple and on the odd occasion I would use the Honey Yukatan (mostly because they smelt amazing, I never caught on them).
To start with I never did very well on boilies, the odd fish here or there but the results were very sporadic. This was until I figured out that the fish had never seen them before so were not used to them. I decided I needed to put more boilies in but I couldn’t afford it. I was only a teenager and I did odd jobs for my parents for pocket money which just about supported my bait needs and bits of tackle so I made the decision to make my own. It was a decision my mum hated as soon enough her kitchen was covered in rolling tables and stank! I rolled my own Richworths; Strawberry cream and White Chocolate. They were not the neatest or probably the best but they fit in with my budget and I could make loads of them! I started to bait the lake regularly with all the boilies I made, sometimes 3kg a week which at the time to me was a lot, but looking back it wasn’t nearly enough!
My first big summer on there was when I was probably 14 years old. I had been baiting the lake throughout the start of the year and through the spring and now it was the summer holidays! I would spend all day there casting stringers out to my baited areas and I would catch! Consistently as well, the bait was working, it seemed like they were well and truly ‘on it’.
A momentous occasion came when I caught what was to be my PB at the time. I was fishing the narrow part of the lake and I was using the Richworth Strawberry again, with some on a stringer attached to the hook and some on a stringer attached to the lead (I don’t recall my end tackle setup at the time but it was probably some pre-made rigs and running leads on hard black plastic booms). I always used bait out of the bag on the hair as well, never pop ups or anything fancy like that! I ended up having to go in the lake to land it as the pads were so dense but she was mine, and my grandfather was once again on hand with the Kodak to take a picture. My Avon scales went round to 23lb 8oz and I was over the moon, it was my first carp to be weighed on scales as these were also ‘borrowed’ from the shed!
The summer went very well catching more fish on the same tactics which really helped me get a routine down; I was still only fishing days at this point as night fishing was just a dream, an expensive dream!
During the summer though I had also worked my backside off doing jobs and earning money any way I could, I even bought fishing clothes! I had a Tee from some company called Nash and a Jumper from my favourite company Fox! I was well and truly into it with every breath I took.
The year moved, in September it was my birthday and I managed to get some more important bits for my armoury and then we got to December, Christmas was coming up and I had a list as long as your arm, I needed everything Stapeley had to offer and more! I woke up on Christmas day to no gifts just a card. I was gutted! My dad entered the room with a smile on his face. His words were simple…..”First thing tomorrow morning shall we go to Stapeley and have a look around”.
..It was the greatest day of my teenage life. I was lucky, don’t get me wrong!
I left Stapeley that Boxing Day with 2 carp rods, 2 bait-runner reels and a whole host of bits and pieces. But most importantly I left with A Rod Hutchinson Apotheosis Bivvy.
This changed everything and led onto what is possibly my greatest fishing time ever….. But I would have to wait until the following spring to use it.
Once again I spent the winter fishing for Pike with my family, but now some of my school friends were also into fishing and they would come with us! It was great, I had friends from school that liked fishing, one or two in particular were into it as much as me. All winter we discussed spring, summer and Carp.
March could not come quick enough. But it was certainly worth the wait!
This part is going be slightly off with the dates, primarily as I cannot remember them! But secondly, I think it reads better.
The spring of 1996 through to the summer of 1997 was probably my favourite time fishing of all, and it probably still is to this day. The amount of fishing I did and the memories that were made I think of on a regular basis. I have so many stories of fishing with school friends that I could share, but I don’t think writing them down has the same effect as the memory itself. So I will save most of them for another time! There are four moments from this time period that stand out to me the most. And these are what I will end my blog series on.
Spring had approached and after spending the winter pike fishing I was looking forward to getting out for the carp. I now had my bivvy and this changed things so much! My first real hard memory is catching my first carp at night. I know I went night fishing before this but my timeframe memory is completely shot I’m sorry!
We had decided to set up on the long dam wall and pitch the bivvy up on a clear stretch of bank about 20 meters long, this way we could both have our rods out near the bivvy. I had cast one of my rods to an overhanging tree, and the other to the pads on the far margin. I was with my school friend Alex who I spent most of my time on the bank with, he was to the right of me, fishing to the narrow bay (where I caught my first Tench from). I don’t recall if Alex caught anything that night, but I certainly remember my capture! It came from under the overhanging tree in the middle of the night on the ever faithful Richworth Strawberry. It was my first ever night capture. We even managed to get a picture as we had taken our own disposable camera with us. It was a common; short and fat, with a hunched over back. Certainly not the prettiest fish in the lake, but a very important one for me! If memory serves me right it was an upper twenty.
That summer I had decided I wanted to do a proper stint on the lake. Another school friend of mine called Tom was also a keen angler and was well up for a big session.
We had to plan this one out a little as we had decided to so do the best part of a week on the Lake! It took a couple of car loads with my dad to get the stuff there, and then I cycled the 6 miles or so from my house to the lake so we had a way to get to the village shop for food etc. Tom’s dad dropped him off at the lake with his gear and we were set.
This is where the benefit of having your grandparents house on the banks of lake come in! We set up on the cut through; a narrower portion of the lake that separated the two main bowls. It was also right in front of their house so we could run an extension cable down to the bivvy for a TV! Yes you read that correctly…. a TV, all the mod cons. There was no I Pads back then! Our parents were also happier with this as it seemed ‘safer’ to them. From a fishing point of view there was actually a massive advantage, the fish always used this narrow part, they didn’t really hold up in it but they were always in there so we knew we would always be on the fish.
Over the week long session we caught so many fish; I have a number of 29 in my head. We wrote them all down in a journal which is now sadly lost. It had temperature, wind, cloud cover, rain, fish size, bait and rig information all over its pages and it was a fine read. All the fish were upper double to upper twenty. No big girls but lots of fish! Truly amazing memories that will never be forgotten, and if I find some pictures from it I will do a more in depth blog of it!
My Third memory actually happened after my fourth memory; I am assuming this from how old I look in the picture! I’m sure Alex will correct me if he reads this.
It was another session down the long dam wall, by this time we had caught countless fish between us, but nothing had crept over the 30lb mark, we knew they were in there as we had seen them up close! We even had a name for the biggest one we saw which my dad aptly names ‘Big Momma’. She was HUGE, dwarfing anything she swam near. I think the bigger fish were weary, very weary. I mean we were never really ‘quiet’ on the bank shall we say. And our rig presentation was probably terrible, and our rigs themselves probably awful! So the older weary fish either did us over every time or sat over our rigs laughing at us.
Something must have gone right this session though as I landed a new PB. This fish still stands as my PB to date. Clearly my rigs are still just as bad! She pulled my scales down and over the magical mark, stopping at 31lb 8oz.
This memory for me tops all others, which is why I decided to end on it. It was something that will never happen again but if there was any doubt in my mind about being a Carp Angler, this removed any trace of it.
Once again Alex and I were on the lake, we had been on for the previous day and night in a slightly different area than usual. We had set up at the start of the dam wall, in a corner by the driveway. It’s not somewhere we normally fished at night, it was a great pike spot in the winter but we hadn’t really dedicated much time to it for the Carp. I don’t recall why we chose there, but for the first day and the night it hadn’t done anything for us so we decided to go for a walk to see if we could see anything.
Naturally we left all of our rods in, I mean, we were only fishing right by a massive bed of lilies so it seemed like the responsible thing to do……..
We had managed to walk right over to the stage; this is a good 300 yards away. Why not though! We hadn’t had a bite and I had my new shiny Fox RX transmitter and receiver! Foolish I know.
We stood on the stage for a minute or two, and then we looked at each other… “Can you hear an alarm”?
Our faces dropped and we ran as fast as we could back to the rods. TYPICAL!
We arrived to carnage, complete carnage. All four rods were bent round. Great. Which one has the fish on? We started to pick rods up, but every time we picked a rod up, the line went a different way…the craziest and scariest half an hour then passed. We had a different fish on every rod. All four had gone. Luckily we had 2 landing nets and some slings. Somehow we fumbled the four fish into safety, not one was lost.
I ran up to my grandparents house and quickly ushered my granddad down to the lake with his camera. He helped us get them out safely, weighed each one individually and then onto a big long bed of grass for some pictures. All four were over 27lb with the biggest being a hair under 30 if memory serves me right (this was one of Alex’s).
He then took my favourite ever picture to date. A double, double bubble.
I had many more amazing memories at THE LAKE. And it is still my favourite place on earth. It’s the timeframe from my life that I want to re-wind to and live over and over again. But for now at least they are just memories. Maybe one day I will be able to go back again.