One memory that always comes back to me was the walk from the car park up on to my first club water, I will never forget it. Having just passed my driving test, a whole new angling life presented itself to me. The lake was called Holts - now known as 'Stream Valley Fishery'. It was on this water that I really learnt how to fish. I remember the lake looked so big and daunting, the reed lines and the woodland that surrounded it looked like a watercolour painting. There were rumours of a few monsters lurking in the deep, and the beauty was that I had absolutely no idea how to go about catching them, so for a long time I didn't even try. I started on the float, doing this allowed me to slowly soak up the simple joys of fishing and grasp how I was going to attempt to fish for the monsters I occasionally caught a glimpse of.
The Dead SeasonI could sit for hours happily catching Roach, Rudd, Dace, Perch, anything and everything that went for my little red maggot. The whole concept of ledgering was something I had no idea about. A year or two went by before I started to fish with a second rod, I would have one on the float and the other on the bottom.
I first was shown the knot-less knot by Graham who use to own Crowborough Tackle. I remember practising how to tie it thousands of times and then trying to suss out how to set up a safe and effective rig. This took me a long time because there was a lack of components available on the market and there wasn't a great deal of information kicking around. After immense months of trial and error I finally came up with something that seemed to work. The biggest problem I had to overcome was tangles, they drove me crazy and the concept of the bolt rig really confused me. I was under the impression that when the carp felt resistance they would drop the bait, I just couldn't get my head around the point of it hooking itself on the bolt.
I spent days mastering the cast, rig tying, knot tying, everything that I could soak up I grabbed on to. Back then there wasn't a huge amount of bait kicking around, I remember Kevin Maddocks boilies, Mistral, Mainline were very small, Nash, Rod Hutchinson, Richworths and of course Starmer, who I am lucky enough to be fishing with now. The first boilie I ever used was the Tropicana Pineapple and I caught a 3IB mirror, they smelt so amazing, just like today, I got massively into my bait.
After sometime I started to make my own, I used a Solar sweet birdseed mix and hand rolled 'The Quench', 'Wild Strawberry' and 'Caramel'. It was a great feeling when you caught on stuff that you rolled yourself. To this day I still have fond memories of Salmon Supreme, Meaty Mix and The Sting. When I look back and see how far bait development has come, it's pretty incredible, I would never have second guessed it would become a multi-million pound industry. The good old classics will always catch though, and they're the ones that I still like to use. That's one of the reasons I like Starmer so much, they have all the classics mixed in with new innovative ideas. Back then there wasn't really heavy marketing regarding the boilie bait so you just went with what smelt the best, such simple times.
In regards to tackle development, I feel now more than ever tackle is sold more from the 'what's in fashion' point of view. The market is so overstocked with items that personally I feel I just don't need, it's too easy to fall into the tackle trap. Too much focus is put on "what the best bite alarm is", "what's the best reel and rod". Again this is a prime example of just how commercial everything has become. To be honest I feel that watercraft and fish care are the main areas people should be investing their time and energy in to. Without that, it really doesn't matter what you are sitting behind on the bank because if you aren't on the fish then you aren't going to catch them. If you can't handle them in the correct way then they aren't going to live long, prosper and continue to provide enjoyment for those who fish for them in the future. Our sport is all about preservation, in more ways than one.
After a while the float rod was hung up and I got myself two carp rods and some bait-runners, this was where the love affair with carp started. There was a group of around eight of us that carp fished, we would fish the day tickets and the different clubs around East Sussex. Tanyards was our local haunt, this was before it was established and they didn't have the third specimen lake dug. We pitched camp at Pippingford Park, Barden in Tonbridge, the ballast pit, Frant Lakes, the rivers, the list went on. We were covering a load of waters and starting to get some good results.
During this time I learnt so much about carp and the different methods I could use to catch them. All the waters I fished were different, some were really weedy, others big with a low stock, silt, clay, gravel, it was perfect because it really got you thinking. Funnily enough my first twenty was caught on floating crust and a 5IB line, this was the Crowborough club record at 22IB 5oz. Thinking back, one of my best seasons was just simply using a rod, reel, line and hook, I surfaced fished all the way through until winter and managed to catch all the big fish from my club.
We all slowly progressed to night fishing, that really started to change things. I loved the sense of escapism, we'd go out for 4 nights at a time and really get lost in the waters that we fished. They became worlds, meeting places where mates would spend time together, laughing, joking, smoking and chasing monsters. It's this time period in my life that will stay with me forever.
It's funny because through the years I stopped doing nights, when I really started to apply myself fully to my angling I felt the periods I spent under the stars weren't as productive as I first thought they were. I got more into the escapism factor and pitching up a tidy camp for days, more than actually concentrating on my angling. I was so tired after a day or two that I spent more energy trying to stay awake than actually catching fish. My catch rate and perspective has improved so much since I have been sticking to days and short sessions.
My Old Setup
There was a period of time come the late 90's where I moved up to Manchester to play in a band. I took my fishing gear with me, I didn't live that far away from Lymm dam so I would pay regular visits to the place when I wasn't busy rehearsing and playing shows. The water was huge and there were some very big carpy residents haunting the place. It took me a long time to start to catch them because I had never fished a water so big. From my time spent at Lymm I landed fifteen fish ranging from 20IB up to 28IB. I will never forget those times and how special those carp were.
Time passed, the band fell apart so I headed back down to East Sussex again. Upon arriving back, adjusting and getting back out on the waters, it was at this time when I first noticed a huge difference in the angling scene. It appeared, gone were the days of great mates alone on the waters building a creating fishy memories. Now it's as if every man and his dog had suddenly discovered a bivvy and a bite alarm, as I started to visit my old waters to take a look and reminisce about the good times, everyone fishing was turning around and staring at me like I was a piece of shit, it was like this on nearly all of the lakes. It was such a strange atmosphere and there was just a feeling in the ether that had somewhat changed things. After sometime it became clear that this time shift was the beginning of the end of carp angling as I knew it, it felt like the magic had somewhat faded. My old carping mates were falling by the wayside, the summer days and the winter nights so very reminiscent of 'A Passion For Angling' would become ghosts.
It was this point in time that I really felt a jolt in the sport, it's so hard to describe it in the right way, a very important element had died. I didn't spend a great deal of time in East Sussex anymore and I didn't feel like fishing any of my old waters. I moved up to London in another band and pretty much spent my days sleeping on peoples couches, rehearsing and playing shows. My carp angling took a back seat for a while.