how fishing saved my life pt.5

Part 5 : Lessons

Originally I planned to call this final section of my ramblings “Becoming Carpy” but the more I’ve thought about it that title wouldn’t suit the content to follow and would detract from the whole point of this series of writings. “Lessons” is what this last year or so has been all about, lessons that not only taught me but have in fact literally saved my life. I feel that achievement deserves more premise in my story….

Spring came along so fast that year, maybe because I’d actually for the first time since childhood enjoyed the winter months and time had subsequently as the saying goes flown. My lure fishing days had been incredible, I probably enjoyed that stage more than any other up to that point because it felt so much more rewarding to stalk and catch my prey, moving around and learning the river whilst actively hunting and doing it with great results. Now though it was the beginning of everything all over again as life began to start a fresh all around me, from the lighter evenings and the budding flowers to the new born waterfowl scooting around the river and the lakes I fished…absolutely incredible and once again for me a true privilege to witness.

There was also a massive buzz inside me that had been brewing up all over the winter months, knowing that soon enough the carp would get back on the feed in earnest again and I could continue my learning in that area. Multi species angling has that fabulous quality of variation governed by the seasons and for someone like me it’s perfect because it spreads out the different forms of enjoyment I can attain. I get bored of stuff very easily but this side to the sport helps to prevent that happening…like natures way of limiting my indulgences one by one.

As it happened though the changing seasons had bought an early start to carp fishing, in February Chris from HF Angling told me he’d been asked to try out a small lake a few miles away from us. The owner of the land had dug out the pool 13 years previously and stocked it with carp, bream, chub, tench and even barbell but it had only been fished by a select handful of anglers as he didn’t want it to become overly used. Now he wanted to find out what the stock was like and invited Chris down to do some investigative angling so he could begin to promote the water a little more, he wanted it to be used but by responsible anglers who would respect the beautiful location. Chris was particularly busy at that time working on an upcoming open day so he asked me if I would go down there for him and suss the place out, obviously I was delighted to try any new water so Jonjo and I packed the car one day and drove over there full of enthusiasm. We met the owner who walked us around the pool and told us its history, not an angler himself but a nature lover he pointed out that he was concerned about the wrong type of people visiting and we assured him that we would adhere to his basic rules and treat the venue with the respect it deserved. It was beautiful, probably only an acre or two in size with a small island in the middle this place was mind blowing, it was set back from the road and surrounded by mature trees so it had an intense sense of natural seclusion. Eventually the owner left us to it and Jonjo and I looked at each other with eyes full of excitement and joy, it felt like our own private lake and we had all the time in the world to explore its potential.

We picked our spots and both setup two rods, one basic ledger and a float rod, we were using luncheon meat on the ledgers (at this point we’d never fished with boilies or pop ups, they were alien to us) and worms on the floats. We caught a couple of small carp and I think Jonjo got a chub too so no huge results but we knew there was potential as we’d seen carp activity further out in the water…we were absolutely buzzing but we knew it was time to up our techniques if we were to catch the bigger fish.

The next day we went to HF Angling and spoke to John and Chris about what we’d found and how we needed better tools of the trade to get the full benefit from this water, this is where we learned about “bolt-rigs” and bite alarms and this is where everything began to change.

By the second week in February the weather was abnormally warm, we had a two week spell where the average temperature was around 17 degrees every day and the sky was clear blue. Jonjo and I fished at the new lake every single day for the first week using a bolt rig setup, a float rod and of course bread on the surface. Between us we caught 47 carp in the first week, only up to about 9 pounds in weight but every single catch was not only a pleasure but a further lesson, we fell in love with the place. One day we were getting particularly frustrated with the persistence of the local water foul who were loving our free lined bread, we didn’t know what the species was called (we later learned they were coots) but I decided to refer to them as toucans simply because it amused me. One day Jonjo was fishing the other end of the lake and had been getting heavily pestered by the birds, he could be seen frantically waving his landing net around in the air to try to scare them away from his floating bread to no avail and after about an hour I heard him shout “Oh fuck off toucan you little bastard!!”. For some reason this tickled me to the point that I was in stitches with laughter for a good 20 minutes or so and it only added to the great sense of happiness the place was giving me. From that point forward we referred to the venue as “Toucan Lake” and for the next two months I fished nowhere else, I was totally and utterly besotted with it and I was happier than I had once imagined possible.

There was so much learning going on in those two months, all the little “edges” that John and Chris had taught us were now making sense and though we never caught anything bigger than around 11 pounds it was incredibly rewarding. One of the things I had found to be a new and total buzz was the moment my bite alarm went off, the feeling of anticipation as I picked up the rod was intense and like a drug kicking in, I loved it and still do to this day. Luncheon meat had remained the main bottom bait and I’d started using PVA mesh bags to create an attractant around it, I experimented with all sorts of things to put in the bags, pellets, peperami and various oils…it was all about learning and perfecting techniques. We did a few overnight sessions there too in the hope that the bigger fish (we’d been told there were carp up to 18 pounds in there) would be feeding at night and although we never caught anything of that size we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I’ll never forget those times with Jonjo at Toucan Lake, father and son and best of friends playing in paradise, laughing and learning every single day without a care in the world.

Soon enough of course the desire to catch bigger carp set in and Jonjo and I both felt that we’d achieved all we could from Toucan Lake, it would always stay close to our hearts but now we wanted progression and the next step would be a small club water local to us. “Jacksons Lake” was a place I’d visited a couple of times before with Jonjo in the days when I would just fish a basic ledger setup (not a bolt type rig) with maggots as hook bait and I’d never even had a bite there, frankly I hated the place! My tendency to quickly formulate an opinion about things had made me feel the lake was a complete waste of time even though Jonjo told me he had previously caught decent carp there but in our search for progression I decided to give it another go.

Now of course I had a little more knowledge about fishing the bottom for carp and having caught a lot of fish that way at Toucan Lake I had enough confidence in my techniques to apply them here and forget my past failures at Jacksons. On our first visit there we both caught carp around the 10 pound mark and I quickly noticed how much harder the fish there fought, this of course ignited my determination to continue on the water and I was quickly fishing there on a regular basis. After resisting the idea of using boilies for so long one day I decided to try them out and bought a kilo of Northern Plum (one of HF Anglings own brands), I wasn’t too confident but using a premade Korda hair rig setup I cast out one day and sat in hope. Maybe an hour or so later my bite alarm screamed off and my rod bent over nicely before I grabbed it, I landed the fish which was at that time my PB of just over 12 pounds…I was obviously sold on the boilie approach! The next day I called into HF Angling and told Chris about my success and he happily reached under the shop counter and lifted out a large bag full of various colours and sizes of boilies.

“Here you go mate, try these” he said and handed me the bag, I asked him how much and he simply smiled and told me they were a gift, apparently loose ones that had come out of ripped bags which he’d collected over a few months. I was delighted, I don’t earn very much money and one of the reasons I’d avoided boilies was because of the extra cost so this was a fantastic gesture and another by the guys at HF that I won’t ever forget….off I went to Jacksons buzzing to catch more fish!

I’m not sure of the weight of that bag Chris so kindly gave me but there were at least 3 kilos in there so they lasted me a good amount of time (I hardly put out any freebies in those days just a PVA bag with 5 or 6 at a time). I carried on catching various sizes of carp there and was as always learning all the time, I often sat there remembering how I’d hated the place so much because I didn’t understand the difference in techniques. When that bag ran out I decided to learn how to make my own boilies and after watching a few short videos on Youtube came up with a recipe for my own and made 40 or 50 “Coco Chilli Killers” (you can guess the main ingredients) to try out. The next morning I arrived at Jacksons early unsure of whether I’d even get a bite but much to my surprise I caught 7 carp that day including a couple of beautiful looking mirrors, I was stunned and delighted. The feeling of catching your target species on a bait you have made yourself is something very special, the fact (as I’ve learned since) that the fish were just “on it” that day didn’t at first even come into it for me…my bait was amazing is all I thought and it felt fantastic. Over the next few weeks I came up with a variety of recipes and names and had varying degrees of success with them all.

Coco Chilli Killers, Coco Chilli Killer Turbos, Banana Buzzbombs, Rusty Nuts, Cray Pride (bright pink..work it out) and Old Skoolz to name a few.

Oddly the main thing I took from this stage of my angling was that carp will pretty much eat anything if the bait is presented properly and they’re on the feed but if they’re not…forget it!

These days I rarely make boilies simply because I don’t use that many of them, one of the limitations I have due to my tendonitis is that I can’t cast out very far and spodding repeatedly causes me far too much pain so I tend to use PVA bags with a small amount of bait in them. If I can’t get the problem sorted out I will probably have to go down the bait boat avenue eventually as I know I miss out on good spots at larger venues.

The next learning stage for me was making my own hook links, I avoided this for a long time due to my poor eyesight close up and again the fear of getting it wrong and losing out on fish but once I got the hang of it I’d added another strength to my arsenal and I wouldn’t go back to buying them again.

Since my time at Jacksons Lake (a venue I still visit fairly regularly and like very much for various reasons) I’ve moved forward massively in my knowledge, approach and love of carp fishing. I’ve done several overnight sessions with Jonjo, Chris, Ian, Josh and others at various venues and despite the pain of carrying all the gear I thoroughly enjoy them. I’ve fished at Winterley Pool, Mere Moor, Merrington, Gawsworth and a few smaller lakes and I’ve learned a huge amount in my time at all these venues. My personal best fish as of today stands at just 15 pounds and 5 ounces and my target by the end of this year is to catch a fish of 20 pounds or over but whether or not I achieve this goal won’t change the fact that I know I’ll enjoy trying.

Despite all of this I can say quite categorically that I am not a “carp angler” and I’ve come to realise this only in the last couple of months, up until then I thought that that was what I was becoming but as ever…things change.

Like anyone who goes carp fishing I’ve had a lot of “blanks” which for the non anglers reading this are sessions without a single fish caught. Carp fishing properly takes a hell of a lot of learning and practice and I for one know that I’m only a small amount of the way through that process but I’m also confident now that I know a fair bit and will continue as I have done over time. When you put in so much effort and then go through periods without the reward of a catch it can be extremely frustrating (that’s not to say it isn’t still enjoyable in other ways though) and I can fully understand how this can put people off. I’ve been there and can even say I have been recently but because of the importance and deep love I have for fishing I won’t let that frustration put me off, put simply I know that if one person can catch a 60 pound carp…so can I, it will just take time, devotion, effort and a little bit of luck. However I like to catch fish and sitting behind rods on alarms for 24 hours without a single bite can get extremely boring for me and believe me I’ve done that a few times and no doubt will again for whatever reason. So lately I’ve been returning to my fishing roots by going to the river and a couple of multi species venues with a basic float rod setup (and sometimes a carp rod as a bonus) and targeting some of my old friends like perch (without doubt my favourite fish), chub and sometimes just anything at all. At first after all the carpy time put in I thought I might not enjoy fishing for these species but happily I was wrong, the buzz is still just as great and the variation of fishing styles, techniques and catches has been as rewarding as it ever was. Being a very obsessive person as I am I can easily become very single minded and I had felt that about my fishing with it being all about carp but then I had slowly noticed that something was lacking in my angling and so made the return to my old ways whilst still retaining my plans for carp fishing. What I have realised from this recent experience is that I am now 100 percent, without any doubt an angler for life and I’m thoroughly in love with the sport more than I have ever been.

Conclusion

I hope that anyone who has been reading these ramblings has enjoyed doing so, I’ve never done anything like this before and can say from my heart that it has been a surprising exercise in many ways. Thank you for taking the time to read my story and I hope with all my heart that it has in some way helped anyone who has been or is in a similar situation that I was in, that is the main reason I’ve done it. I felt painfully alone in my problems for a very long time, although I have an amazingly loving family around me and some incredible friends, I always felt that there was no one who really knew who I am deep inside and therefore none of these people could understand or really help me.

The truth is that I was right and though the title of this story is how fishing saved my life, I now realise that in fact it didn’t…I did.

I won’t theorise about addiction (though believe me I have for many years) because I now believe that everyones experience of it is different in many ways, the symptoms can be similar but how we live within it varies dramatically from one person to the next. What I can say though is how it affected and affects my own life journey and how it for too long led me to believe in many things that guided my choices in my life. I no longer believe in rights and wrongs or black and white factors that apply to everyone or every situation, I see now that we are all beautifully unique and for me without any doubt that realisation is a life saver. I have always felt that I don’t fit into society or even humanity, that something in me was vastly different to anyone else I ever met and I don’t mean by that that I was in any way superior to other people. In actual fact for a very long time I felt inferior, not good enough or just plain rubbish and much of how I acted in my life was a result of desperately trying to stop people seeing that. Alcohol and drugs were my relief from the solitude and fear that those beliefs created in me, with them I could become something else, someone else and I could feel confident enough to believe I was normal and accepted. I’m 53 years old now and realise of course that I am what I am and have always been and finally I accept it but more importantly I feel happy with it. I still get down from time to time like many people and I still have obsessive thoughts be they positive or otherwise but now I see that I can exist within this life without having to be someone else and that in itself makes a drastic difference to my every day existence. What saved my life was me making a decision to change it because I’d come to realise that the chemically altered state I’d hidden away in for so long was not only killing me but simply wasn’t working anymore…I got bored of it. Fishing was simply a new start, something to bury my head into to give me focus away from my old ways and choices, it was what happened after that that really started to make me a happier person and began to teach me so many lessons. My advice to anyone struggling in a similar way to how I was is this, change your habits and surroundings because it’s those that will keep pulling you back to where you’ve been and don’t believe the nonsense that says there are rules to how you can get better. There are no rules, no normalities and no limits but you will only see this as you move forward, like climbing a ladder to get to the top, you simply cannot get there without moving from each rung to the next. Life is all about stages of learning and each stage is vital in order to see why you move to the next, it sounds incredibly simple because IT IS.

On the 19th of September 2018, one year ago from the release of the final part of this story I woke up and decided to live a real life and stop drinking alcohol, though I know there will be battles to come for me I also know that I can win them. Oh and I haven’t wanted a drink on one single occasion since I stopped…something I never thought possible.

My sincere thanks go out to Chris Taylor and Jon Bailey of HF Angling for publishing this story, you are both fantastic people and great friends who I cherish and love dearly.

To the friends I’ve made and will make on this journey, Josh Roberts, Ian Locker and the rest…thank you also, you’re fucking awesome!

To my friends of old who I still see and have stood by me and understand the changes I’ve had to make, thank you so much it means more than you probably think.

To Kat, thank you so much for your support, understanding, love and friendship, I don’t know anyone else like you and having you in my life enables me to carry on even in the hardest of times…don’t go changing x

To my family, I love you all deeply and thank you for everything you are to me along every step of the way.

To my sons James and Jonjo, you are EVERYTHING to me, were it not for both of you I wouldn’t be here anymore, you are both the most incredible people I have ever met and I am beyond proud of you.

Now I’m going fishing…see ya!

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