A Mistake With A Monster
My return to England in 1969 marked some very significant changes to my life, none of them very conducive to doing much fishing. Not only did I have to go to work every day, but I also got married to the ‘wife from hell’ and not long after that I became a father. What fishing I did was just a few hours early mornings at weekends. Having no money and no time made sure that I could only fish for what I could catch quite quickly and easily. In the warmer months I fished the Rookery for bream and tench and when it got colder I fished for pike. I enjoyed every minute of it, I had spent seven years in Hong Kong fishing for little else other than carp and it made a pleasant change to catch something else.
The Rookery was full of small pike up to five or six pounds or so, but it was rumoured that a huge pike had been put in there. It had never been caught and I never saw it, but whenever I fished for pike I was always hopeful of catching it. Eventually I did catch it, three times in the same week in fact, it weighed just thirteen pounds and made a fitting end to my fishing for pike at the Rookery.
It was about this time that fate took over and started pushing me in the usual direction, a strange sequence of events made sure there was no escape from it. The first incident occurred early in September. I was spinning in the Rookery with a small spoon to see if any of the large perch were still present when I hooked what I thought was a better than average pike. After playing the fish for a few minutes it popped up in the margins and I could see it was a carp of about six pounds. Thinking I had foul hooked it I pulled it very gently over the net and lifted it onto the bank. I ran my fingers down the wire trace and was absolutely amazed to find the spinner right at the back of its mouth. I couldn’t understand why it had taken the spinner, but it had, and I was beginning to forget about all the other species. The weekend after this I was back again, this time I was going to fish with lobworms to try and catch a big perch. I didn’t catch any perch, but I did catch five tench and another six pound mirror. The perch, tench, bream and work all started to appear insignificant.
The next week at work was spent thinking about the carp – they would soon stop feeding so I didn’t have a lot of time left. All I wanted to do was to catch a few more carp but I was running out of warm weather. The next weekend saw me back at the Rookery. I had a walk around when I arrived and found a fish disturbing the water under a bush, I crawled into the bush and couldn’t believe what I saw. It wasn’t a carp at all, but a huge chub. I remembered that a few small chub had been stocked shortly before I went to Hong Kong, this one had become a monster. There wasn’t room to get a rod under the bush but not wishing to miss an opportunity I took the tip section of a spinning rod and tied five feet of eight pound B.S. line to the bottom ring. I tied a size six hook to the line and baited it with a lobworm. I then pushed my makeshift stalking rod under the bush and crawled in, dragging my landing net behind me. By pulling the line back through the tip ring until the bait almost touched it I managed to manoeuvre the tip over the nose of the chub and gently lowered the worm in front of it. The worm laid just a few inches from the chub lips and the chub laid apparently oblivious to the worm. As I sat watching a carp swam under the bush and gently sucked up the worm, I lifted the rod tip as firmly as I could and the carp jumped. It landed in the soft mud right in the edge and I managed to grab it.
As I emerged from the bush one of the bailiffs was walking past, we weighed the fish, a mirror of ten and a half pounds and put it back. The bailiff then started to point out the error of my ways. Using just the rod tip in his opinion was illegal as it was the same as a hand line, fishing under bushes wasn’t standard practice either and apart from anything else only carp anglers were allowed to fish for carp. If I wasn’t careful he was going to tear up my card. I was just old enough and wise enough to recognise jealousy. This was now the early seventies and a double figure carp was still considered an excellent fish. Despite all the bailiffs ranting I had already made up my mind to catch some more of the carp. Later that week we had a cold snap and I, like almost everybody else, thought that the carp would stop feeding and just stopped fishing.
Through the winter and the following close season I saved and bought a pair of carp rods, a large landing net and various other bits and pieces that I thought I would need for the coming season. As the weeks passed I began to realise that I just wouldn’t have time to fish for carp properly and so I decided to fish with carp rods and eight pound B.S. line for tench and carp. I would float fish in swims that I knew the carp frequented and try and make the most of any chances I got to catch a carp, if I got no chances I could still catch tench.
My first trip was the first Saturday morning of the new season I had collected some lobworms from the lawn the night before and had also made some paste. The paste was made from breadcrumbs, honey and custard powder, it was stiffened up with some plain flour. I got to the lake at about five a.m. and almost all the swims were taken, each swim had an identical set up in it. The anglers were dressed in waders, parkas, dark glasses and floppy hats, their tackle was two carp rods painted matt black, two Mitchell 300’s and a pair of Herons, not always painted matt black. This was all new to me, there were obviously too many people there to catch anything but it had been a long walk, so I would stay for the day anyway. I found a vacant swim on the island and set up as quickly as I could. One rod was baited with a lobworm, the other with paste. They were both cast out to the edge of the pads and a few bits of paste thrown in for feed. Within ten minutes the float on the paste rod slid away and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing a common of about six pounds was landed. I didn’t have any other bites that day and neither did anyone else, an angler walked round later that afternoon told me that several carp had been caught through the night, I had arrived just in time for the tail end of the feeding period.
That summer I fished as often as I could, the crowds thinned out very quickly and by mid July it became quite quiet at the Rookery. I caught a lot of tench and a few carp up to about ten pounds but things had really changed while I had been away. Carp fishing had become very popular with a lot of people. There were two types of carp angler at the Rookery, there were one or two who caught very consistently and the rest caught very spasmodically. Some of them never caught any fish at all. They were all very secretive about bait and resented any new carp anglers on the water. They assumed that as I fished with floats I was tench fishing and they didn’t mind talking to me. I was told about their baits and it seemed that they were all fishing with sausage meat pastes of one type or another, I did try using it myself but it was nowhere near as good as my honey paste, although to be honest I didn’t really know what I was doing with it.
I remember catching two carp one morning while fishing next to one of the unsuccessful carp anglers, when he asked what bait I was using. I told him quite trut
hfully bunches of brandlings, he laughed and said, "That’s the last time I will ever tell you anything about my bait". He never spoke to me again, he just didn’t believe carp would eat worms. Over the next couple of seasons I caught a few carp, all of them were caught on honey paste or worms, the more successful anglers realised that my carp catches were not entirely accidental the less successful continued to believe they were accidental and wondered why the carp ate my bait when they never ate their latest sausage meat special. The age of the instant carp angler had begun.
Instant carp anglers are the most unfortunate anglers on the bank, it isn’t their fault. They have usually been taken by a well meaning friend and have found that they enjoyed themselves. Their next step is to buy the right equipment and get reliable bait, this is made very easy for them. Any magazine or weekly paper printed in the last twenty-five years is full of advertisements for both specialist tackle and bait. If expert advice is sought it is usually given very freely. The newcomer knows that he has the right tools for the job, what he doesn’t have is any knowledge of the habits of carp. In fact he or she has no watercraft whatsoever and while they are trying to learn this they sit and catch very little, some will persevere and become good carp anglers, most will fail without ever giving themselves a fair chance of catching anything. If they had spent just one season catching other species they would have acquired some knowledge of the behaviour of fish and almost as importantly they would have started to learn about ground baiting patterns. Ground baiting is in my opinion the main reason for success or failure in almost all types of angling. Just as a good match angler can win a match from a swim that a poor match angler would blank in so a good carp angler can catch from a swim that a poor carp angler would blank in. Both anglers would fish the same spots but the difference in success would lie in the ground baiting, both in quantity and distribution.
As I never managed to do as much fishing as I wanted to I tried catching Rookery carp in the winter, I had read in the Angling Press that some anglers had been successful with winter carping and gave it a try. I’d like to be able to talk about blinding success but I didn’t have any. I did lose two fish though both for the same reason. In both cases I had twitchy pulls on the paste bait and not being sure if they were carp or not gave a half hearted strike both fish were the largest I had hooked in the Rookery and both came adrift within a minute of being hooked. It was on one of these attempts at winter carping that a bailiff told me that the water had changed hands and that we could no longer fish there. I didn’t really mind too much that the Rookery was no longer available, a syndicate had taken control of it and I put my name on the waiting list. The fishing was not going to start until the next season, so would just have to wait, simple as that.