This was my era when I became a fanatical angler and an obsession for carp was born. It is considered that the era of the 1950’s to the 1970’s was the ‘golden age’ with the likes of Richard Walker and later on in the 70’s, anglers like Rod Hutchinson were developing new tackle and technique like multiple rods and electronic alarm to make the capture of carp more intentional and less of a freak occurrence . So without shocking those out there who think I am some old fuddy-duddy stuck in the 1950’s with an old wooden stick in my hand and an old tweed jacket slung over my back, here is my account of my own golden age of carp fishing that took place in the 1980’s, memories of early (almost) matching carbon rods, tutti-fruitti boilies, hair-rigs and monkey climbers.
Back in 1981 when I was eleven years old I had just started to fish, mainly with the help of some hand-me-down tackle and a small how-to fishing book, the journey was slow the results were insignificant but catching small gudgeon and the occasional chub on the Sussex Ouse ignited the spark that made me become a life long angler. For me it was spectacular in a unspectacular way, modest catches but most memorable.
Around that time an un-known face to me came onto the angling scene, wearing an old Barbour Jacket, floppy hat (looking not un-like a young Ian Anderson) he was pictured in all of the angling press cradling a 51 lbs 8 oz carp, his name was Chris Yates and in his arms was a creature of unimaginable size, especially to an eleven year old boy. It was caught by means considered unconventional by early 1980’s standards, using a cane rod, a knob of Plasticine and three grains of sweetcorn. In years to come Chris Yates would become one of the most influential anglers in Britain just by his use of simple back to basic techniques and of course his love of old fishing tackle.
Up until the capture of the Bishop I perceived carp fisherman to be a secretive bunch and generally shy of any publicity especially in the angling press, perhaps they feared that their exposure would reveal the waters they fished and more importantly the carp that swam in those waters. Richard Walker who was officially* the carp record holder at that time, came from the old school set of the 1950’s, mystery men with access to private pools like Redmire, these carp and waters were too far away from reality to a teenager like myself living in Mid Sussex in the 80’s.
On various bicycle reconnoissance trips to lakes around Sussex I came across the odd lone angler, normally dressed in camouflage and more often than not lying low between small breaks in the reeds or hidden behind large expanses of Himalayan Balsam. They stood apart from everyday anglers, their kit was different, no keep-nets, no seat boxes to perch on and normally two matching rods, on one occasion I saw three! If approached they would give you a look that made you feel un-comfartable…these fishermen wanted to be alone, nine times out of ten I did just that, but I was intrigued by them, their tackle and their quarry.
Around the same time Pete Mohans’ Cypry the Carp was serialised in the Anglers Mail. He told a tale of a young lad called Andy who grew up in search of a particular carp called Cypry, reading this at the back of the classroom during double chemistry on a Wednesday morning is still a very vivid memory of my teenage years and fired my desire even further to pursue and catch a carp, at this point it seemed a far off goal, no commercials to get on the specimen carp ladder, just old farm ponds to seek out and fish or take an even bigger step and financial investment…join a local club.
It was hard finding waters that held carp that I could fish so I finally decided to join the Haywards Heath & District Angling Society the local club to where I was living. At the same time I also had access to a little pond that lay in an old ladies garden in Horsted Keynes through a school friend of mine, Mark (one of the Horsted Lads). He had managed to get permission to fish it whenever we wanted including at night and I knew that he had already caught some carp from this little half-acre pond but I now had concerns about my kit not being up to the huge battle one had heard about in double chemistry or read about in the Anglers Mail. At that time my basic kit consisted of a Shakespeare Strike match rod and an Intrepid Black Prince reel, both horrible bits of kit. So with a little nagging, a paper round and an early birthday present I became the owner of a Marco 10′ fibreglass carp rod and a Mitchell 3330z reel, the Mitchell 300A or the Abu Cardinal 55 was the carp fisherman’s reel of choice but they were out of my financial reach for now.
One of the first ponds I started to fish in the guise of a ‘specimen hunter’ was a HHDAS water set just outside of a village called Ansty. It was a good forty minutes bike ride which when laden down with fishing gear was quite a trek but soon became a regular haunt as I could see evidence of carp cruising up one end of the pond by a reed bed. After a few visits I finally hooked my first carp a strong fighting 2 lb beauty, elated but committed to catching a bigger one I continued to fish for carp over the summer of 1982 through to 1983. While catching these smaller carp I noticed that as I was leaving at dusk the bigger residents would arrive, unfortunately I had to leave and under-go my forty minute bike ride before darkness set in. I had to fish a night session, it was time to put the finishing touches to my specimen hunters kit so that I could do a night on the pond.
Night fishing introduced two problems, bite indication and staying warm and dry. The first problem was solved by attaching a swing tip to my carp rod with a Starlight taped to the end making sure that the swing tip didn’t enter the water or the tape would un-ravel and the Starlight would drift away causing panic and a potential fish-less night. The second problem was solved by using my fathers old World War II army pup tent which had the added advantage of being open all along the length for more milder nights and allowing easy access to the rods. With a few added extras like a camping stove and an Army surplus jacket I was feeling pretty much like a ‘proper’ specimen hunter rather than a run-of-the-mill ‘pleasure’ angler.
Next time the monkey climber years and my first ‘double’…
* Richard Walker was the British Carp record holder from 1952 to 1995 when Roddy Porter caught a 53lb 15oz specimen . Chris Yates 51 lb 8 oz carp was never recognised as an official British record although most specimen groups including NASA did recognise Chris Yates record carp.