The Matchman Metamorphisizes

In his last article, you'll remember condescending carp angler Mark Cunnington gave you the lowdown on all the equipment it takes to change from a matchman to a carpman. This issue we look at the things that can't be bought; actions, mannerisms, what to say and what to do, how to act and behave. All that gumph to make the step, the giant step, from bream basher to carp connoisseur.

So, you've got the gear, you're in the car park with it all slung over your shoulder and your knees are knocking more than the worlds worst domino player, and why? Because you don't know the scene. There's been no draw for swims, you haven't arrived altogether in some ancient coach like a bloody great river armada, you've left all the floats behind, not a maggot to your name and the bomb on the rig you've read about in a magazine, in which you have absolutely no faith, is big enough to kill a small rodent if you dropped it on the poor God forsaken things head. In short you lack the magic ingredient..... confidence.

Confidence is the major factor in being a carp angler, you must be brimming with it, you want it to ooze out of your ears like slime in a Ghostbusters movie. You need it to the point of total self-conviction, when you go through doors, they should have to jack the linings apart so that your ears don't rub when the old canister goes through. Never mind about what is felt inside, front it out, straighten those shoulders, put on the shades and get up to the lake with a stride that radiates authority. Remember with the three or so grand's worth of gear you have on your back you will not be sneered at, this insurance so to speak will help ease you in, first impressions will be good. The tackle will speak for itself, the problem will come when you have to speak for yourself.

At this juncture I think it is necessary to say that the ex-matchman, for that is what you are, should have done a fair bit of groundwork before bowling up at the venue. Whereas years ago this would have meant a four or five, maybe even longer, practical apprenticeship keeping out of the experienced crowds way, today this can be done by mastering one simple technique. Reading. Now people assure me that literacy amongst matchmen is fairly high, so we'll take it as read that you can read. Ha ha. On the list of musts are; Carp Fever, The Carp Strikes Back, The Quest for the Queen, Tiger Bay, The Syndicate and The Holsten Guide to Local Pubs. The Beano and Dandy Annuals 1963 onwards are also well worth looking at, noting especially Dennis the Menace and Beryl the Peril, both good yardsticks in the behaviour department. This should give you a good grounding in all aspects of carp fishing and save all that sodding about finding things out for yourself. Magazine articles can be of some use as well, but don't believe all that you read, especially some of the tabloid press, (Angling Times, Angler's Mail). This website is the equivalent of The Times and Independent rolled into one, and can be trusted.

So, we've a head full of concepts, a sackfull of tackle, a paramilitary uniform, a false confidence, and seeing as your amongst strangers who hopefully will become acquaintances, maybe friends, a belligerent attitude. Having arrived at the lake, you put down your gear and start to have a walk round. You are now about to commence a vital ritual and a practical one. Talking to other anglers and extracting as much information out of them as is possible. This can be very tricky, some will grunt at you if your lucky, others may tell you their life story and you'll wish you never joined. On the whole if you reckon on extracting useful information will be as difficult as fending off a rabid pit-bull terrier with a stick float you won't go far wrong. At the start of the first conversation you must remember to switch to carp fishing vernacular. For example don't say, "Had any bites, mate?" its "Had any takes, mate?" and for Christsake don't ask "What bait you using?" if they tell you that they're emptying the lake, not unless you're partial to being flayed alive with a bivvy guide rope or want your eyes gouged out with a baiting needle. Be subtle, use guile, be standoffish, and above all whatever crap someone comes out with, be prepared to top it. Been there, done it, seen it, caught it (only it was heavier), drunk it (only there was more of it), heard of it (and in fact used it two seasons ago), in fact never admit to being out done. Just sift it all out, extract reality from falsehood and store it away. If someone strikes you as being the real McCoy, take note, hang around when they cast out, look at the rig, see where they cast, how much bait they put out, all these little pointers, but, and it is a big but, it must be done in a subtle way. This cannot be stressed enough, underhand it maybe, deceitful certainly, but just remember the chances that the person you copy is doing something he actually thought up as opposed to something he has copied are slim. Everybody's probably fishing the same in any case. You've done the same sort of thing before, watched someone catching on a different tactic and swapped, might have won the match. It's part of life so don't have any hang ups about it. They'll do the same to you, if you're ever successful enough to take notice of. It's funny how popular one can become when you start to catch.

Having had a look round, the chances are that some blabbering amateur unable to contain his one moment of success has given you some clue. If they are all pros they won't have told you the time of day, or given you it. You must remember that the carp world is a clandestine, secret affair, full of cliques and crooks, niches and nooks and Noddies. Putting your first cast halfway up an oak tree some ten yards away from the far margin is quite likely to put you directly in the last category, even if it is done with £150 rods. The supreme equipment that you have purchased possibly to the extent of not eating for weeks, will only get you so far. You must be able to use it with some degree of dexterity. Although you might be able to cast a waggler 30 yards unto the area the size of a bait-box. Casting a 2 1/2oz bomb with a 13ft, 3lb T.C rod 90 yards rather than 60 or 110 onto the area the size of a boilie bag is different. It requires practise and skill, not something you possibly deemed relevant in a carp-fishing context. It won't be so easy, Mr. Matchman, mark my words and after you've put two up a tree, lost the boilie, fiddle for 15 minutes each time to put it back on, stuffed one short by 20 yards, pulled it in to have another go only to see the bomb go one way and the boilie go into the overhanging tree which you forgot about because you usually only use a ledger rod about 2ft long. So practise first or the own goals will flow.

If you've followed my advice you should be fishing away nicely by now, bullshitted the rest by more than they've bullshitted you, looking cool, sitting behind impressive gear, fairly accomplished in the suitable mechanics, fairly well up on the latest info, possibly having gleaned a smidgen of local knowledge and straining your guts out not to recast after 10 minutes. Old habits die hard, and twenty years of being on the swimfeeder are going to hang around in the old brainbox for quite some time. This is long-term fishing boy, before you even touch that rod again the match could possibly have been over, what's five hours or whatever it is you fish? A drop in the ocean, a pebble on the beach, a grain of sand in a long-jump pit, a time so short as to be considered unnoticeable. And you're freaking out after 10 minutes. There is
lots to do, don't panic. Passing time is a knack the carpman must conquer, if he doesn't then I'm afraid there will be another of the 'carp tackle for sale, the works, cost over a grand, will sell for £500. Tel. La de da' type ad that litters the small columns at the back of angling publications. There are plenty of them and all from poor sods who have blown out because they couldn't take the pace, or rather the lack of it.

So, what's the answer? Well, we'll assume rightly or wrongly, that you have a brain. Use it. Don't be too taken in by the Maddock's theory of carpfishing, 9" from bedchair to rods, never move away from them, watch the water all the time, only nightfish if you can set up everything in the dark, never take a torch, close your eyes during the day when fishing so that you'll get used to doing it in the dark, ruin the zip on your sleeping bag so that you can never do it right up. B******s. You're there to enjoy fishing, not to participate in some weird religious denial doctrine. Read a book if you want, personal stereo (turn the alarms up), personal T.V, talk to people, write (articles, letters, homework, tax returns) in fact do anything that will not directly annoy others that is conducive to sitting down on a chair. Now I can hear the baying and clamouring from readers already about these opinions. So let us be honest. A. Carp fishing is very time consuming. B. It gets boring. C. There is only so much you can do in terms of changing tactics, swims, rigs etc AND they must be given time to prove their worth. So if something helps you become less impatient, more composed and clearer in thought, do it and forget the few bleaters. In anycase everybody does them to a greater and lesser degree and no Mr. Matchman it doesn't include the five knuckle shuffle. The other great reliever of boredom and time is kip. Simple as that. When the going gets tough, the tough get their head down.

We're nearly there now, all under control, equipment, confidence, manual dexterity, information, image, and we are the master of time. Then it happens, the thing that blows the brain, that shoves the adrenaline into warp factor 9. The thing that you have waited and prayed for with both hope and trepidation. A RUN. Cliché time. Optonics screaming. Reelhandles churning. Indicators dancing. Bow waves bowing. Rods lurching. Bending double. Line singing. Heart pounding. Body shaking. Cardiac arrest. No, no but what a shock. I am convinced, and this is just a personal theory mind you, that the optonic bite alarm has contributed more to the essence of carp fishing than any other single item. Just an indicator shooting up would still be exciting granted, but that noise! That dedededededededede high (or low) pitched noise. What a shock it is. I've seen grown men of 20 years experience say "I'm going to get a take in a minute, the fish are there," still go into orbit when the banshee wails. A bloody line bite nearly gives me a heart attack. Volume is also directly proportional to heart palpitation, you have been warned.

How do you cope. Difficult, very difficult. First ever run, only used to pulling in bream and tench. You're in for a culture shock if it happens to be above 6 or 7lbs. What can I say, keep calm, hit that run and hold on, play that fish like you've played no other, give it your best shot and keep praying while you do it. And if your prayers are answered, and Lady Luck smiles on you and all the knots and line and gear hold true you may see it. And when you see it, the knees may go weak, the heart starts banging and banging even more, look at the size of it, a long, wide, black submarine boring and boiling and circling under the tip. Feel that power. Wow, something else. The crowd behind you stares in jealousy, you catch the mumbled words "It's the big one." And you pray, and all the stories you've read you can now relate to. And you do it, you land it, you look at it and Christ it's big. And beautiful. And now you know why you changed, for all the hype and crap, for all the boredom and struggle, this is why you done it. Now.... finally, you've discovered the fascination of carpfishing. Until some bastard comes up and says he had it last week only it was bigger and it's a mug fish that always comes out.

Mark Cunnington -