A river on a summers evening is a magical place, and tonight I was on the Lea in search of a lone dark one. By the time I had hooked a carp it was almost nightfall and when I managed to finally scoop the carp into a fully extended landing net, darkness was all around me. My swim (one of the secret swims) was so small that no space was free to take any decent photos as I disentangled the rod, the net, the line and the hook from one another. The carp was a lovely dark old fish of around fifteen pounds that was quickly released back into the inky blackness.
Each year around this time, the 16th June to be precise I get the urge to buy a machete and cross the Hackney plains and down onto the River Lea to clear a few swims from the giant hogweed and stingers. After much deliberation I fear that this plan could result in my body being riddled with holes from the rozzer, the machete plan is put aside for yet another year.
Thankfully this plan is never put into action as another fisher of the Lea cuts out three or four swims in a very discrete manner along a run I like to fish. From the path no one would know you are there, a passer-by would not notice these clearings or the small space created for someone to stand and cast a line. I am also impressed that I have never seen anyone fishing these swims which makes me think I have either a guardian angel watching over me (Izaak?) or more likely this fisher is a night stalker. One of my first ever posts on The Tuesday Swim was called Night Stalker on the Lea Navigation, about a young carp fisher I came across one night on the Lea Navigation, perhaps it is he? Thinking it could be the later, its good to know that someone out there shares the same desires to fish the harder places.
Saturday morning started with torrential rain that lasted for a few hours, when it subsided I walked out into the garden to find that it was very warm, almost humid, it felt very carpy. Using my transcendental water crafting skills I surmised that the Lea Navigation was finally going to offer up a carp for me. It was midday when I decided to embark on a reconnaissance trip on the bicycle with Polaroids, a catapult and some bait. Within fifteen minutes I was cycling back home with some haste, I had spotted for the second time this week a group of carp feeding, all congregating next to a natural looking stretch of the canal with reeds, lilies and over-grown bank-side vegetation. Once home I gathered my rucksack, Mark IV and net, downed some lunch, spooled up some new 12lb line and then returned to the canal, making sure I kept calm, too much excitement can cause mistakes.
I prefer to fish the canal early morning or late in the evening to avoid the flotsam and jetsam on the towpath so being early afternoon I was visited by the usual mix of cyclists, joggers, walkers, continuous cruisers and loners escaping the city. To be honest this part of the canal is relatively quiet so I quickly got settled with my fishing and started to trickle in the bait and try to get the carp to feed with confidence.
Within and hour I had a carp take a floating bait in the clear water which resulted in a terrific powerful run straight down the middle of the canal, I could see its flanks quite clearly, a linear mirror of around 15 to 20 lbs, my clutch was set right, the rod was well sprung but after the first initial run the hook pulled! Inspecting the damage I discovered that the knot has failed, it was a classic school boy error! Even now I am unsure why I was so slack on tying this knot, it was a blood knot of four turns (I usually use a palomar) and now looking back I’m thinking I didn’t even tuck the knot, mistakes like this were done in the 1980’s, my mind was not focused and I had lost a great fish.
A re-tied hook using a palomar knot was cast out but there were still two knots in my rig that had not been looked over, despite being annoyed with myself I carried on fishing, carp fever had taken over and once again I had another run. This time the carp ran in the other direction, the fish was on for a good minute until again it came off under a lot of pressure. During the fight a man rocked up in his tracksuit and witnessed the battle and the parting carp. With a Polish accent he said “you downt haver the right equipment, my friend?” Right now I didn’t need this interloper but I looked at him and said “I had 12lb line and the gear was fine” I had nothing else to add. As I reeled in the line to inspect the catastrophic failure for the second time I found that another knot has failed on the rig, another blood knot! The man came close and looked at the curly end of my line, “you down’t know how to tie ze knots!” “F**k off ” was my only thought but in truth he was right, I had ballsed up big time and now this cock-sure tosser was swaggering off down the towpath pointing at the water and calling out “hey, my friend, I can zee your big fishy swimming away”.
I had to re-group, start again with new knots, take off the last fifteen feet of line just to be extra safe and as it states on the side of my mug that sits on my desk ‘Keep Calm and Go Fishing’. While I re-tackled I put out more bait and after a good wait the carp came in to feed. With only a few minutes before I had to get home I had my third run. Again the carp ran down the middle of the canal, the clear water showing its flanks, everything seem to be holding tight. The carp came in close and ran along side the towpath, as this happened another carp of a similar weight chased after it thinking it was in a amorous mood, but it wasn’t it was angry and fighting with real power. These canal carp really do fight so hard, at first they don’t know they are hooked but once they sense a problem they go berserk. After a few more minutes of playing the carp I very carefully netted it and bought it up and onto the towpath.
Although I have not put too many hours into catching a canal carp, it has taken a good five years doing the short stints to finally get one on the bank. In the past all my carp have come from the River Lea, so this was a special fish.
As an experiment this season I don’t take scales with me, I would rather spend time getting fish back in the water than fiddling around with weigh slings and sticking a number on it. For me it has added a new element to my fishing, to appreciate rather than record it. But for those who insist on a number it was probably around 17-19lbs, the carp was long and wide, the photos below don’t really do any justice to the shear size and length but it does show the wonderful dark colouration on the top and the scale pattern. After her return she sat on the canal bottom and sulked for about two minutes, something that I was quite akin to doing after my costly mistakes, thankfully this carp put me in a considerably better mood.
Confession over, expletives made, and now the canal carp curse of ‘BB’ has been lifted. If you want to read any of my previous close encounters with London canal carp please click here.
I think its time for a bit of tackle talk, its been a while and I quite enjoy it…
I’m constantly chopping and changing when it comes to my general carp set up, the rods stay pretty much the same, for jungle warfare I use my B James IV with six inches missing off the top (possibly my favourite rod), general carp fishing a standard B James Mark IV full length, and for slightly heaver fish or snaggy swims my Allcocks Carp Superb with its longer handle, this rod has a little more back bone in the butt although it sports a Mark IV taper.
When it comes to reels though I can never make my mind up. For margin work I always use a Speedia Wide drum with 12lbs line or an Allcocks C815 for lighter lines, say 8-10lbs. But when it comes to fixed spool reels I keep using different models and find they are not quite right for one reason or another. I have the problem that my basement is fast becoming a museum for old fishing tackle, I’m a user not a collector so I am trying to sell the ‘deadwood’ and use the ‘keepers’. Letting go of the ‘deadwood’ can be a hard process but I generally have never regretted selling any old tackle especially if it under performs.
For a fixed spool reel you need something that pairs well with a cane rod (my rod material of choice), call me a bit of a tackle tart but it needs to look right and feel well balanced. The obvious choice is the Mitchell 300 but that scratchy clutch, no line roller, and general coffee grinder mechanics can leave you with a heart-in-the-mouth moment when a larger fish takes flight. The Hardy Altex has a beautiful smooth clutch and casts very well but I don’t trust that bail arm, maybe its because my particular example has let me down in the past, I keep thinking its going to let go just at a critical point.
So where do we go from here? I want a good retrieve, good size spool, excellent clutch, decent size handle, quality engineering, overall reliability and finally something that sits well on a cane rod. I think the answer comes from Sweden.
Finally after some trial and error I have found my reel of choice for carp or indeed pike and barbel fishing, the Abu Cardinal 66. The clutch is so well set up that I can use it as a Baitrunner, slackening off the clutch and then with a quick twist engage the reel into a fighting fish mode. The engineering is superb with a metal spool, roller on the bail arm, ultra smooth gears, decent sized handle, tight springs on the bail arm that slam it shut with a clunk, its the right weight, and overall it is the right size, not too large or too small. The green and cream is a good looking reel that sit well on a cane rod, only draw back, getting spare spools, anyone?
Looking forward I have a plan for the ultimate rod and reel set-up. I would stay with the Mark IV cane option but place something completely modern on it, a reel that showcases the best of new technology but already holds some form of cult status. I still want to experience the qualities of split cane but combine it with high octane engineering incorporating quality clutch control and line lay. The analogy could be that of placing a modern tuned and reliable engine with efficient brakes and cram it into a classic car. The reel I’m thinking of is the Daiwa SS2600 Tournament or its little brother the SS1600. Will it look strange? Possibly, but not as strange as the looks in the tackle shop when I rock up with a Mark IV and ask to place a SS2600 Tournament on it! Personally I can see this working, it could be a joyous set-up to use. Ok, tackle talk over and out.
With limited time to go fishing there is always pressure to get it right and make the trip successful, you never know when the next trip will be? In an ideal world I would have a few different rods set up for different situations and a river or lake at the end of my garden to fish from. I could be in constant contact with the water observing the fauna and pre-baiting some chosen areas, then spend short sessions of a hour or two. Unfortunately that isn’t going to happen.
My main place to fish is in Sussex, if I leave London at 6.00am I can get from my front door to the lake in one hour. My problem is I have no idea how the lake is fishing and I don’t have the luxury of pre-baiting so this un-known element brings on a sense of uncertainty and indecision can set in (making decisions is not one of my strong points). I like to travel light but with unknown conditions I tends to take too many baits and probably a rod or two too many.
This weekend I was going to head down to Sussex and try for the tench and some of the larger rudd but on the Thursday I was struck down with some weird 24 hour bug which scuppered all my plans to fish. On the Saturday morning I woke up at 5.30 am bright as new penny and thought, what the heck, its a beautiful day, sunny with some mist, perfect. With only sweetcorn in the house I grabbed my rucksack (always ready to go), four tins of Green Giant, a small bag of food and tea making equipement and two rods. This last minute decision stopped me from taking too much tackle and bait. Freedom!
7.00 am I arrived, peace….
At lunchtime my chance of a tench was fading but the carp were showing on the top…
By mid-afternoon it was hot but walking around with the simplest of kit, a rucksack and one rod, crouching down on the long wet grass under the shade, this is how I remember fishing to be as a teenager.
After many months I spotted my first carp on the Lea Navigation just a few days back, a single common carp of around twenty pounds. I watched it for a few minutes casually cruising along side the canals near bank.
Yesterday I saw a huge shoal of bream in the same place all around the five pound mark cavorting amongst one another, dancing a spring time jig. How these huge flocks of bream keep themselves so well hidden throughout the year is a ghostly trick, but I must have seen at least fifty or so preparing to spawn.
For now my sights are on the Sussex tench but this weekend is far too windy for my first proper expedition, hopefully the weekend after will be a little more inviting. Yes, after my last post The Syndicate my renewal came through that very same afternoon, so I have promised myself not to just dream but to actually go and fish this great old millpond.
In the meantime I shall meet with friends and talk of fishing instead…
Each year I have a dilemma around March-April when the renewal letter slips through the letterbox. My Sussex syndicate membership is due and I have to ask myself the question, is it worth it? On average I make it down twice a year, which makes each visit quite a luxury plus petrol and it all adds up to an expensive day out. But this year my membership renewal has not arrived, reason unknown. I have asked a friend and member if his renewal has arrived and it seems that he too is in the situation. Hopefully this is an administration problem and all is well with the syndicate.
With the possibility that the syndicate has run into problems and my access to this water could be lost has made me realise that my membership is very important even if I am unable to get down to Sussex as often as I would like. Knowing that I can jump in the car and be by the water within ninety minutes is a tonic. The mill pond is a good size and was dug about three hundred years ago. Below the lilly covered surface is a good head of tench, some large old carp, pike of all sizes plus huge shoals of roach and rudd, in a way it is perfect although sometimes it can be really quite difficult to fish, often it sleeps much to my frustration, but on occasions it has given up some wonderful catches. So now I wait in hope that my membership renewal arrives so that I can continue to fish there and not not just dream of such a place.
In London on my wall hangs a postcard from 1931 which shows the mill pond, little has changed, perhaps the same carp are still alive from when that photograph was taken? An eighty three year old carp, well it’s possible?
Looking back it seems we all experienced the local pond in some form or other, whether it was a village pond or a lake in a park. In hindsight to those of a certain age I think the illustrations in Ladybird books had a lot to do with such halcyon memories, launching wooden toy yachts or fishing for fry with a net, but for me I remember quite vividly trying to catch the goldfish from Lindfield Pond in Sussex until a prim old lady from the local parish and resident of the private road that ran along side the pond, would come over and tick me off then send me packing.
These ponds seem to have certain features, an island and a willow tree, a few mallards, possibly a pair of swans and occasionally an unwanted pet terrapin would break the surface for air. In the winter the pond would seem quiet, almost lifeless but as spring warmed, frog spawn would appear in the shallows, while water boatmen would skit about on the surface film. The spring would also bring fry darting about in the margins, while roach, rudd, orfe and goldfish (often discarded pets) would swim in shoals in the deeper water. As a boy these signs of life were potential targets, armed with the most basic of equipment and a worm or a blob of bread, this is where many boys dreams began, hunting for fish and larger monsters of the deep. Chris Yates In ‘Casting at the Sun’ writes of his first encounter with the local village pond in Burgh Heath, Surrey and his attempt to capture a golden carp with his ‘boys’ fishing kit. These experiences seem to be the spark for so many life-long anglers.
Two years ago we moved to a new area (although not completely alien to me) Lower Clapton in North East London where just up from our house is a small pond. Lower Clapton Pond was dug in the 1600’s during the reign of James I, originally a watering hole for livestock and then later a reservoir for the supply of water to the local area. In 1898 the ponds were saved from being filled in and re-landscaped by the local Hackney Vestry with gravel paths, a footbridge, miniature islands, trees and a small fence. In the 1970’s the ponds were re-modelled again but then fell into the hands of drug addicts, alcoholics and other unsavoury characters, Lower Clapton Pond was a bit of a no go area. Then in 2002 the Clapton Pond Neighbourhood Action Group was set up and once again the ponds became a safe haven for locals to enjoy after another re-design.
And now, in 2014 I peer down and see goldfish, orfe, a lone terrapin and more surprisingly under the weeping willow a single large carp of around eights pounds! How these one off loners get into such ponds is a mystery to me but a good one to ponder over, no pun intended!
Considering my friend Dax and I were teenage boys, getting up early to fish was never a chore. Dax’s mother was more than happy to get up and drive us to Shermanbury Place (a distance of about twenty-five miles from home) looking back I think she wanted to encourage more wholesome activities like fishing rather than the more troubling pursuits that sixteen year old boys were attracted to, best to say no more on this issue but fags, girls and booze was high on the agenda.
Setting off at dawn to fish is an experience that I will never tire of and I can remember this particular trip so well. This was my first real experience of fishing a specimen carp lake, the excitement and anticipation while been driven through the beautiful Sussex countryside has stayed with me to this day. Although I was now obsessed with carp fishing this had not fogged my appreciation for nature and its landscape and that particular morning was a classic misty summers dawn with a chill in the air, the sun was very low in the sky and shrouded in heavy mist, the tones were mid-greys and yellows as we sat in the car, smoking roll ups.
When we arrived I found the lake and surroundings to be a vision of perfection, the mist was still heavy and we soon found a spot where reedmace surrounded the whole end of the lake apart from two small breaks, perfect for us to set up and fish.
Before I tackled up I threw in a few handfuls of my new bait, strawberry flavoured boillies, even the sound of the boillies dropping into the water gave a new and satisfying scatter-gun sequence of plops, punctuating the stillness of the morning. I set two rods up, one with a boillie close in to the far side by the reeds and a second float rod just to my left baited with sweetcorn.
Looking beyond the reeds I could see the outline of a trimmed hedge with a gap and beyond that a manicured lawn that dissolved into the mist, it was ghostly but for now my attention was focused on the emerald-green water and the occasional knocking reed signifying life below. This was a different type of angling experience, enhanced by the knowledge that some very large carp were present and because the lake was relatively small they were not far away from my bait, it made the whole experience electric.
As the morning progressed the sun started to burn off the mist and in front of me past the reed bed and through a break in the hedge I could see the silhouette of Shermanbury Place, I was experiencing Arcadia emerging from the greys,whites and oranges of a summers morning.
Back in my swim there were more signals from the monster below but nothing was taking the corn or the strawberry temptations so by mid-morning we decided to explore the rest of the lake. Walking around I was surprised to see there were other anglers already set up, these carp anglers were not like the wheelbarrow pushing types we get today more focused on comfort than watercraft, these men of the 1980’s were quiet, discrete, loners and armed with a bare minimum of gear, the only indication of their presence was the occasion ‘bleep’ . I set up with just one rod now partnered with my only Optonic and kept low and quiet like the others, foolishly I felt holding a float rod did not seem the correct thing to do amongst these men of specimen carp.
By late-afternoon I was really not convinced anything was going to happen and our lift home was due at around five. While sitting on the dusty bank in my ripped faded old jeans I smoked and thought about this magical place, catching was not on the agenda today but something more important had happened, I had become entranced by large carp. As I moved small piles of dust around on the bank with my fingers creating patterns on the bank my Optonic burst into action, a run! Line spilled off the Mitchell 300 spool and ran through the rings making the monkey hit the rod as hell let loose. Looking up I could see line shooting through the water towards the opposite bank, then it stopped. My chance had gone.
Since that day I have never returned to Shermanbury Place and I don’t want to as it was my Arcadia. Since 1986 a lot has happened in carp fishing and this lake could have become ‘commercialised’. On a positive note I can’t find anything on the Internet about this place, perhaps it has gone back into private ownership to one lucky individual?