Having passed my exams and been appointed as a Magistrates Clerk, I really felt able to put more effort into fishing once again. I can’t tell you how depressing it was to have to study hard between March and June each year for five years on the trot, whilst my pals were enjoying what they called the ‘clubbing months’ when the carp seemed most catchable. Balancing studying with fishing (the harder months) I’d still managed to build up my profile through consultancies with Nutrabaits and Daiwa, and with regular columns in Carp Fisher, Carpworld, Coarse Fisherman, etc. I had been successful at a number of waters but, in all honesty, couldn’t give the fishing side the attention it needed. Constantly flitting between waters, doing every other weekend and odd nights, meant I never milked any one water but scratched for fish from many. The 90s were not going to be like that, I told myself, and the graft I’d put in during the 80s was surely going to pay me back tenfold. What it did teach me is that you can always find a different angle to look at things, providing you look at the big picture and not just live in the moment. Even today when things are not working out on the catching side of things, I just tell myself that it’s one step closer to the ultimate success I am looking for. Sometimes stepping back, clearing your head and looking at the big picture works wonders.
So, living at home, having an un-mad girlfriend, being settled at work and having the time, cash and waters at my disposal, led to what can only be described as the golden years. I’d target one water a year and rather than fish weekends, I’d fish two or three overnighters each week from March to November. I’d choose one bait and apply it regularly and milk it as much as I could (getting in first with Big Fish Mix, mass baiting, the bent hook, etc., also helped). Weekends would be for family, fun, writing, concerts and everything else besides. Without boring you too much it really paid off, all those nights spent studying at home, being derided for catching small fish, being criticised for wanting to make a name for myself, were all worthwhile. Three Lakes was turned into a syndicate which I ended up running and, two years in a row, I caught over forty 20s on overnighters only. As it was on my way to work, even if I wasn’t fishing, I’d walk round and bait up – which was a massive edge in those days. I took the same approach back to Motorway, Tilery and Drax and had equally good results. You simply can’t beat the equation of venue/bait/time and determination. I had all four and by the sackful! Of course, it was tiring fishing three overnighters a week but when opportunities arise you have to milk them. I would usually fish Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday nights but, if the carp were having it, I’d think nothing of fishing three consecutive nights and going to work the next day.
Not only was the fishing going well but I’d had my first book published by Angling Publications. It was called Carp Waters and John Bailey had further commissioned me to write another for Crowood, after he’d seen how popular my work had been in Coarse Fisherman.
Although carp fishing had started to take off in the 80s it was clear to me that it was going to explode in the 90s as specimen hunters moved into carp fishing. More anglers were starting to target individual, large carp and not serving their apprenticeship with the smaller roach, bream and the like. I guess I was lucky enough to be the right person at the right time in the right place. Why? Perhaps luck played a part but a lot was down to the sheer graft and planning I’d put in during the 80s and my self belief that it would all come good. Some call it vision, I call it being true to me. The book that Crowood commissioned was Practical Carp Fishing and in many ways things were never the same again. I loved Carp Fever which came out in the early 80s and felt the time was now ripe for another instructional book, but more up to date and aimed at anybody who wanted to catch carp. I fished hard that winter but, from March to August, never wet line as I spent any free time writing it by hand – all 120,000 words of it. Launched in 1993 it was an instant hit and to date has sold almost 13,000 copies which, believe me, is good going. The winter it was released I ‘toured’ it to death, doing 27 slide shows as far afield as Kent, Scotland and Wales – and all whilst still working.
Back fishing again, I was almost a victim of my own success in many ways. Crowood commissioned me to write a follow-up a year later entitled Successful Carp Fishing and Kevin
Maddocks asked me to do two more – The Beekay Guide To Starting Carp Fishing was aimed at newcomers and The Beekay Guide To Carp Rigs was produced under both our names. Angling Times realised that carp fishing was the next big thing and for the next six years I wrote a weekly column for them that grew from a quarter page, black and white affair in 1994, to a double-page colour feature in 2000. Carp fishing really had exploded. Add editorial duties for Carpworld, Crafty Carper and Carp Fisher, plus editorial guidance for Advanced Carp Fishing and it was crazy time for me. Videos (six), radio slots, conferences, slide shows – the full works. Amazingly the fishing did not suffer one iota and whatever I was doing certainly seemed to be working. The two or three overnighters were producing the goods, the winter trips far and wide were successful, and it truly was a golden era. Heck, I even left home and bought a beautiful house in the country with Julie, and still fished just as much.
But what goes up must come down as well, and yours truly was no different to anyone else. Milk it whilst you can they told me because one day those indicators will stop sounding, the companies will stop ringing and the magazines will stop wanting. You don’t see it coming at the time, but no one is that lucky for that long without a wheel or two coming off the wagon. Join me next month when I look back at the 10 hard years that followed where, at times, I had to dig myself out of many holes and carp fishing kept me sane when it felt that the world around me was collapsing. The 10 golden years of the 90s were followed by 10 gruellers in the noughties but, with light at the end of the tunnel, I made it through with the last 10 years getting me to where I am now. Tales of heartbreak, blank months, terrible seasons, being dropped from magazines and consultancies but somehow finding the strength to see beyond that and come out smiling. And that’s not including many a nutty girlfriend too... See you next month.
TOP LEFT Early Nutrabaits days and sat on top of my base mix ingredients in the first Nutrabaits premises Trips further afield were made by train. A brace of 80s winter carp in the presence of carping royalty Chris Ball and Andy Little The twentieth 20-pounder that year Winter carp fishing was hard in those days, with the canvas overwrap being state of the art when it came to protection and warmth Applying bait and fishing regularly was the key TOP MIDDLE TOP RIGHT LOWER LEFT LOWER MIDDLE
LEFT Milking it at Three Lakes, one of five fish including a 30 that night
LEFT Over forty 20s – two years in a row
FAR LEFT With my exams over I could fish three overnighters a week. Carp Team Daiwa and Fox bedchair days Rolling baits in winter was a common task until I found a professional bait roller LEFT
TOP LEFT The Angling Times days as a Mick Rouse image is shot for my column TOP RIGHT Filming for Beekay. James on the camera with Liam Dale directing BELOW LEFT Tilery days taught me a lot about location, determination and bait application BELOW RIGHT Toughing it out all winter before I started Practical Carp Fishing