Still Carping On
June starts - and the suffering of friends
As becomes a man who has more years behind him than in front, our esteemed Carpworld founder, Tim, reminisces on ‘opening day’ memories and those promises of a fresh-born June. As Tim writes “Once you start reflecting you stumble into an endless chain of connections” and so it follows as Bob Marley sang “Good friends we’ve had, Oh, good friends we’ve lost, along the way...”
People ask me how I would like to be remembered and I answer that I’d simply like to be remembered – Roy Orbison
TThis is the time of year when my mind turns to work parties, and the resumption of fishing, which I guess is a historical mindset going back nearly 20 years, and beyond. Until the mid-90s the middle of June always meant the start of a new season, not just on a few waters, but for everyone other than the chosen few who lived in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire or the Southwest.. The start of a new season after an enforced three-month lay-off was suffocatingly magical: just the thought of it was. There was still a closed season when I was drawn into carping proper in the mid-70s. I’d caught the odd carp and wanted to spread my wings, so I joined Snowberry Lake after seeing an advert in Angling Times, having no concept of what ‘carp fishing’ was about. My first trip to Snowberry changed me forever. It was an over-nighter, and I was out of my depth, even on that lovely water, which could hardly be called difficult (then). What bugged me, and captured me forever, was the timelessness of a practice that was entirely new to me, bivvying out by the water for a period of time. From that point I was addicted, not so much to the catching of carp, but to all that went with trying to catch them as part of a timeless pursuit on timeless sessions. Up until that time my escapes from reality had been in my head: since then the escapism has been real, or was until mobile phones made the escape a compromise between divorcing yourself from reality and keeping in touch with it.
Eight years later this escapism was reinforced by my first session on the Mangrove, then totally unknown as a carp water other than to a handful of locals, and Dave Preston. My invite from Dave I have referred to a number of times in print, but if Snowberry was mentally life-changing the changes wrought by fishing the ancient atmospheric mere known as the Mangrove were real. Carp fishing had to become a way of life, whatever chaos the changes caused in my private life. I got lucky, survived the chaos and, with a lot of help from my friends, found a way of life that has sustained me to this day.
Openers are usually a disappointment. There was a successful one at Snowberry during which I caught my first double (and second within an hour), and the first ten-day Mangrove one simply took my breath away – both in terms of its atmosphere, timeless beauty, and the fishing. But for the most part being there again after the layoff used to be more a climax to the three-months of anticipation than what you caught while you were actually there. It wasn’t just a question of the best laid plans etc. It was simply that mid-june tended not to be a great time to catch carp, when they invariably had spawning on their minds just when we wanted them to have reckless feeding on their minds.
I tend to couple the Mangrove and Birch in my mind, but I first fished the Mangrove in 1983, six years before we started running the Mangrove syndicate, and took on the running of Birch Grove, in 1989. Birch openings were special,
Carp fishing had to become a way of life, whatever chaos the changes caused in my private life
if not for the fishing then certainly for the nature of the opening session social occasions. They were precious occasions because there was always a very temporary ‘too good to be true’ feel to them. Mary loved Birch Grove, as Julie does now. The same peacefulness that pervades the Mangrove embraces Birch Grove. Looking back it’s almost as though opening sessions were about the building of memories, as much as the catching of fish. From time to time the fish would cooperate – not every year – but the memories of occasions which featured owner Bill Gwilt and family, Fred J Taylor, John Mason, Tag Barnes, Chris Ball, Micky Sly, plus John Lilley, Brian Garner, and the Mangrove syndicate during much of the day, will live long in the memory, and are revived every time I am looking through my back catalogue of pictures to illustrate the next feature. There is a feel-good aspect to going back to Shropshire each May for the close season work parties. I have long been in love with that part of the world and cherish the friendships we have made there.
There is a lesson to be learnt from openings, and that is ‘don’t burn out’. What you did by way of pre-baiting and assessing the water preseason, or during the first few sessions, may not bear fruit till the autumn. How many of you will still be sticking at it in the autumn, using the same bait which may be just about to start producing results? Stick at it, and learn. The biggest mistakes most inexperienced carp anglers make are threefold: impatience for results, overbaiting, and recasting too often. You go to school on the efforts of the successful on a venue not by asking (heaven forbid!), but by watching how they go about catching. How much bait, and how often? How often do they recast, and when? There are feeding times, and there are ‘getting caught’ times. Out of your comfort zone? What you learn from experience is that you are rarely in it! You tortuously put it together, and figure it out, and start to get some success, then the carp figure you out, and you are fine-tuning, or starting again. If things go well you achieve success, and then become the victim of your own success.
I fine tune, then rely on a large dose of luck now and then. I have no great expectations. I’m more surprised by success than failure. When I gave my stage talk, or interview with Hughesy at Five Lakes, I felt fairly apologetic about some of my successes, and said so. Success at carp fishing is occasional, and fleeting, and a talk focuses on 50 years of occasional highlights. Or it is for many of us. Each carp image is a reflection of a thousand non-images. The price of success is failure. Hang tough for however long it takes, and enjoy the whole evolving process because deep inside you need the patience to understand that at the end of the road success will come. But not necessarily on the opening session – or three!
The older you get the more people mean to you, and the passing of Len Gurd threw up more than its share of memories, and connections, not least in connection with Len himself. I penned a few tribute words on Facebook when I learnt of Len’s death, but on reflection they were far from adequate, as tributes for someone so multitalented and influential are likely to be. Len was a very successful, highly regarded, old school carper but his talents and achievements far outweighed his carp-fishing successes. Some of the earliest successful carp fishing videos were published by the Original Video Company, aka Len Gurd. He was a talented artist, and illustrated a number of books, including the Fourth and Fifth BCSG books. He was the proprietor of the original Linear Fisheries complex, Linford Lakes, and was involved with the owners in the development of the now-famous Linear Fisheries complex.
Len’s involvement in the latter-day Linear meant his sphere of influence was enhanced enormously through the events that were run there. For a few years, for me, August became special for the Young Carpers Championship, and the MNDA Fish With the Stars events, the venue
being made available for both of them by Len and his colleagues. Stars were launched from the Young Carpers’ events, and went on to enhance the Stars’ events. Many now-growing carpers owe their involvement in those events to the organisers, Angling Publications and their helpers, and Len for making the events possible. The fire that burns brightly within them now may well be passed on down the line to future generations. That is an impressive sphere of influence, probably unrecognised by many of those so influenced.
Some years back Len lost his wife Shirley to motor neurone disease and eventually struck up a friendship with Fran Best at MNDA meetings, which eventually resulted in their getting married (Fran had lost her husband to the same disease). I think the honeymoon was a fishing one because I purchased Fran’s bedchair in an auction at one of the MNDA Fish With the Stars events that Len and Fran ran for a number of years. The only time I ever saw Len in less than total control of his emotions was immediately prior to the first Stars event. The prelude to the event had worn him out, as organising these events can do, as I have found in the past. ‘Never again...’ was his assessment on the eve of the first event. I assured him that afterwards he would feel so rewarded by his efforts, and the outcome of the event, that it would become an annual fixture – and so it did, for a number of years, until I think it was felt that the cost of philanthropy was getting too high.
The support Len received for these events from stars and paying guests alike spoke volumes for the regard he was held in by young and old alike, and I make no apology for using pictures of the stars from two different years. I’m sure they have all paid their own tributes, but this is one further ‘thank you’ to Len from all of us who were present for those special, unmissable occasions. I’ll come back to Linear because I have another special memory of these events which I’ll relate.
Fittingly Chris Ball gave one of the tribute addresses at Len’s funeral, and touched on his talent for film-making. I think I omitted this aspect in my Facebook tribute, which was remiss of me because I was involved in at least two films made by Len, one at Birch Grove and one at Orchid Lakes. The Orchid one I had completely forgotten about! In a feature a couple of months back I touched on the subject of repeat captures, and one at Orchid had completely slipped my memory. I fished the water through the winter of 2001, and eventually had some success there, which was presumably why I was asked to take part in the Gardner film. I was already familiar with Len and his film-making because he had filmed us at Birch
Grove in the 90s. He was laid back, easy to work with, and very successful. Filming carp fishing is a frustration, as it must have been for Len who was probably a better carp angler than many of the people he filmed, a category into which I would willingly volunteer myself. My most notable fish from my winter campaign on Orchid had been a February mirror of 35lb 8oz. During the Gardner filming I caught a mirror which looked vaguely familiar, but weighed in as a high twenty. It was the same fish. Was I disappointed by the weight? Not in the least. When you go to film at a water like Orchid you feel you are on trial, so to have caught anything was a cause for rejoicing, whatever the weight and however many times I had caught it before.
Few people can claim to have influenced a past generation, the current one, and future ones, too, which will be Len’s legacy through his films, his drawings, the waters he ran, his fund raising, and his support for the Young Carpers Championship, which will have inspired numerous carp anglers of the future. Thanks Len: you were special, and one of the nicest guys it is possible to meet. You will be remembered.
Once you start reflecting you stumble into an endless chain of connections. As many of you will know Marsh Pratley, owner of Orchid Lakes, is terminally ill with cancer. His terminal illness is being stoically borne – you would expect no less from a hardened warrior like him – and I’ve been down to see him a couple of times and spent time with him at Five Lakes. I became friendly with him during the winter of 2001, was impressed by him, as you would be, and approached him to become chairman of the Carp Society when that vacancy was coming up early this century. He was made a life member for his services and as a result has been a serving director since the successful outcome of the boardroom battle two years back. His service to his country, charitable causes, and the angling community has been terrific and our thoughts are with him during these difficult days. Hang tough, old friend, as we know you will.
I was taken aback when Big Ron Buss turned up at Five Lakes in a wheelchair. I hadn’t heard he was ill, but the big fella had suffered a heart attack, had died and been revived, and was champing at the bit because of his invalid status. Ron is one of those larger-than-life characters you meet and trade insults with from time to time, and a few of those times were annually at the Linear MNDA events. As it happened my birthday tended to coincide with these mid-august occasions, and word got round. So I’m back with Chris Ball now and the auctions he ran at Linear in aid of
the MNDA. A book came up for auction which I wanted, and I found I was bidding against Big Ron for the book. When it reached a silly price I dropped out of the bidding, and next morning Ron brought the book round. It was my birthday present and I’d pushed him up to a silly price to buy it for me! My memory not being what it was (or never was) I think this may have happened two years running!
Ron lives near Portsmouth and his longsuffering wife Jo had driven him up to Five Lakes, doubtless suffering a running commentary of insults regarding her driving capabilities throughout the journey (Ron ruefully admitted as much). I would guess that Ron can be a handful at the best of times, but he won’t take at all kindly to being incapacitated. Hope you’re on the mend, big fella. There is a lot of affection out there for Marsh and Ron and our thoughts are with them, and their loved ones who are on hand to help them cope at this difficult time.
One more sad reflection, I’m afraid. Maurice Steeles, who is back on the scene after a long sabbatical, rang to tell me that Graham Reedman, from Nottingham, has died fairly recently. Graham’s name will be known locally, but he and wife June were active on the national scene during the early days of the Carp Society. Our paths hadn’t crossed in a long time, and I gather he had been far from well for quite some time, but you develop a distant affection for all those people whose involvement made the early days of the Society such a successful crusade. You are remembered, Graham; rest in peace.
Age sucks, and so it goes on... Chilly was one of the on-stage interviews at Five Lakes. It was a brilliant, emotional interview, which both Chilly and Hughesy handled delicately, and entertainingly. Chilly is on the mend, but doesn’t know if he is really out of the woods. He isn’t allowed to drive, his parents down in Plymouth are far from well, and of course wife Lynn is semiinvalid. Our man is far from happy and just wants a degree of normality back in his life so he can give more practical support to his loved ones, and get on with his beloved carp fishing. He is an addict. His trials and tribulations are hard to handle from afar. He is one of my closest friends in carp fishing and my thoughts are always with the ongoing problems he and brave wife Lynn are coping with.
I was nervous that I would have an audience of three for my stage interview, but it was well attended, and well received. I was billed as the Godfather of Carp Fishing, which doesn’t thrill me for reasons I’ve explained recently. Part of my show was taken up with predation images, and I included a handful of shots of those giants of the carp and angling scene Richard Walker and his friends at Redmire. Endeavouring to be at the sharp end of carp (and therefore angling) politics, my admiration for Walker grows year by year. He was a giant who stood astride the angling world like no one before or since. I’m repeating a recent comment, but would he have stood for the predation nonsense we are having forced on us at the moment? No, he wouldn’t! He had a force of character that I can’t aspire to, and which I don’t see in any of my Predation Action Group colleagues – hard-working and courageous though they are. I hope none of them takes offence at that. I sense that Walker would have been hammering at the doors of the House of Parliament demanding justice for anglers, and the ecology, and we have not aspired to that – yet.
On the other hand by the time this appears our 16-page publication, Fact Sheet: Some Unwelcome Truths About Predation will be available and will be winging its way to everyone we feel may be willing to study it, and act on it. The idea for the Fact Sheet came about through exchanges on Facebook. There are people out there willing to act, if they have the ammunition. The Fact Sheet supplies some ammunition. The Barbel Society petition was from the heart, but short on ammunition. It was cruelly put down by the Environment Agency, whose regard for anglers and support for certain predators verges on the negligent. We are hoping that there are some unwelcome truths in the Fact Sheet that it is going to be very difficult for the authorities, including the Environment Agency, to ignore. The Fact Sheet will appear on the PAG’S website, and will be published in hard copy. You can obtain your own copy along the lines published in the adjacent panel. We hope at least some of you who are affected by predation will obtain a copy, take it to your MP, and ask him/her what the government intends to do about the situation. Someone is going to be alarmed by the reality of the situation and take up arms on our behalf at the highest level.
So what happened at Five Lakes apart from me and Chilly being interviewed by Rob Hughes and the visitors who were royally entertained by the usual suspects? Well it snowed both days, which was a bit of a downer for Essex in mid-march. Bev, Pip and Jemima work tirelessly to make a success of the event, then the elements give them a mauling. A much higher percentage than usual of pre-show ticket buyers didn’t turn up, which will almost certainly have been reflected in the shortfall in the pay-on-the door footfall, too. Having said which I think it was one of the best shows we’ve had, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole weekend (although my legs didn’t).
Highlight to me was the Question of Carp panel quiz, featuring stars of carp fishing and show business – the latter being represented by TV star and addicted carper Scott Maslen, who was on fire. The quiz was lively, and included Scott doing a lap of honour round the stage for getting a question right, then standing on the table with his fists in the air when he got another one right. Unfortunately, I’d put my camera away by the time that happened so wasn’t able to record it for posterity. The outcome was that
The outcome was that Julian’s team won the quiz by a short head, followed by what looked from the back of the audience like Julian pretending to urinate on the losing team!
Julian’s team won the quiz by a short head, followed by what looked from the back of the audience like Julian pretending to urinate on the losing team! Jules has recently retired from being a respectable legal eagle so perhaps this remarkable example of him letting his hair down was by way of a ‘school’s out’ (‘Court’ actually) celebration. Enjoy your retirement, Jules. My money is on you soon being gainfully employed in some carp-fishing capacity...
Two off-show incidents to record... Scott groped me in the hotel corridor (playfully), acting like a luvvie in full flow (witnessed by Chilly and Lynn), and Julian reneged on his Facebook threat to buy me a drink to celebrate his retirement. He obviously felt that not buying a drink was a better way of celebrating. I blame myself. When he arrived I was sitting in the foyer watching the Friday afternoon/evening arrivals – an enjoyable annual practice – and he came across to see me. I explained I was drinking Merlot, and that a medium glass only cost £6. I realised from his reaction that was a mistake. The carefully sprayed-on tan fell off, he turned white, and steered well clear of me for the rest of the weekend, other than to say he would join us for dinner, which he didn’t!
Thanks for the support for the PAG stand over the weekend – manned by chairman Toby Gibson and supporter Merv Pennell – to everyone who contributed by way of prizes and buying tombola tickets, supporting the on-stage auction masterfully conducted by Rob Hughes, and making donations. Gary Bayes of Nashbait now makes an annual donation of £1,000 to PAG funds having seen the ongoing effects of predation at close quarters, and the Carp Society also makes a four-figure donation. The predation film was previewed at Five Lakes and will be available shortly, and Big Picture Two will be published in late May as a more comprehensive follow-up to the Fact Sheet. I’ll give more details of I realised from his reaction that was a mistake. The carefully sprayedon tan fell off, he turned white, and steered well clear of me for the rest of the weekend, other than to say he would join us for dinner, which he didn’t!
the availability of these projects in the near future, but our thanks to everyone who is making our existence, and our work, possible. All our efforts are entirely voluntary, but we are approaching the stage where we are going to have to employ someone part-time to field reports of predation, and explain to people how they go about fencing waters, and just what their rights are where predators are concerned. The fact is that the situation is going to get a whole lot worse before hoped-for fresh measures are introduced and give the ecology a chance to turn the corner. My own view is that it is too late. Too many heads have been buried in the sand for too long.
‘Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer for this son of York...’ Actually it has been a quite enjoyable winter, and I’m from Cheshire via Lancashire anyway, but who’s telling this? Fishing beckons, including the odd session on the Mangrove and Birch and then on where my fancy takes me. The long overseas slogs are on the back burner, apart from the defence of the World Carp Classic title with Jacko and Benji in September. I haven’t fished since the Rainbow session in December, so I’m starting to build up some anticipation for the renewal of my love affair with bivvy life, carp, and nature, or what there is left of it.
The sun has just come out at last, and the dawn chorus is kicking in well before daylight – and well into dark in the case of my resident male blackbird. The timelessness of bivvy life beckons, which I think is the element of carp fishing that escapes the uninvolved, or even dayonly anglers. “Don’t you find it boring?” Of course, but in this day and age of ‘hurry, hurry, hurry’, and demanding deadlines, bivvy boredom is a luxury to be savoured, and wallowed in. It is what captured me in the first place, and that element of my attachment to it all hasn’t changed one iota.
Savour the frustration, and enjoy just being there. See you next time.
“Don’t you find it boring?” Of course, but in this day and age of ‘hurry, hurry, hurry’, and demanding deadlines, bivvy boredom is a luxury to be savoured, and wallowed in
LEFT A timeless reminder of a lifechanging experience: Dave Preston outside my bivvy on the Mangrove, 16th June, 1983
ABOVE Mangrove opening session success 1983: check out the ultra-cult bobbins, the foamed butt ring and wired-up Optonics
RIGHT Birch as it looked when we took it on in 1989, with the ancient redwood sequoia still intact
BELOW Birch opening after we had moved from the compound to the present lodge site. From left: Tag Barnes, Bob Tapken, Youngie (check the Barnet), Pip and friend, the late Dave Phillips, and Andy Mcalister
BELOW Birch opening 1989, with Mary catering and members of the Mangrove syndicate present. From left: Tony Baskeyfield, Joe Bertram, Paul Britton, Brian Garner, Bob Tapken and Ray Stone. I’m in the background talking to a couple of locals
ABOVE For a few years Linear in August became special for the Young Carpers Championship, and the MNDA Fish with the Stars events. Crowy conducting the prize-giving at a BYCAC finale
ABOVE LEFT A nice memory of those occasions. Pip and Jemima’s youngsters and friends did some fund raising of their own for the MNDA cause and presented the proceeds to Len and wife Fran
ABOVE RIGHT & BELOW The number of stars who gave of their time to support Len, Fran and the MNDA bore witness to the esteem in which Len and Linear were held. The line-up from two years’ events
ABOVE LEFT Chris Ball and the auctions were a vital part of the Fish with the Stars events. Chris and Len fund raising
ABOVE The Orchid filming session I had completely forgotten about! From left: Chris Ball, Richard Gardner, Martin Bushell, Marsh, Frank Warwick and Len
BELOW LEFT & RIGHT My Orchid February big fish came to visit me again during the filming session, for which I was truly grateful
BELOW Chilly was one of the on-stage interviews at Five Lakes. It was a finely BALANCED BLEND of THE touching AND THE entertaining
ABOVE Big Ron Buss at a Stars’ event. Unknown to me he was bidding for my birthday present!
ABOVE Highlight to me was the Question of Carp panel quiz, dominated by a wired-up Scott Maslen (what was he on?), and a recentlyretired Julian Cundiff
ABOVE Gary Bayes of Nashbait is a strong supporter of the PAG having witnessed its devastating effects at close quarters. Gary touching wrist bands with chairman Tony Gibson
RIGHT The on-stage proceedings were masterfully conducted by Rob Hughes, including an impromptu auction on behalf of the PGA. I donated Colin the Cormorant, shot by John Wilson on his waters some years back and successfully bid for by Dave Lane for £50. Thanks Dave
TOP Looking forward to defending the World Carp Classic title with Jacko and Benji at Madine in September
RIGHT First brew of a new bivvy session. It may not get much better than that moment, although you always hope it might