Special days, special waters and anniversaries
Tim takes the time to reflect on some of his favourite venues from the UK and further afield and in turn, on the memories that doing so brings with it.
YYou write in your head, or I do. In fact I spend so much time writing in my head, that by the time I sit down to commit the next piece to the screen, I have to check back to make sure I haven’t already written what I have been thought-writing for the past few weeks! When you write reflective pieces they tend to cause you to reflect further. My last feature included some stuff about favourite waters, which made me think, and then the very next Carp-talk included a supplement by Briggsy covering 25 of his favourite waters. Twenty-five! I’m not sure I’ve fished enough carp waters to have 25 favourites. In my case that would perhaps be a bit like CD ‘Greatest Hits’ compilations, by people you have never heard of, or who were one-hit wonders back in the day. The timing of Briggsy’s booklet was mind-opening, though, because when I wrote the last piece I had already started to wonder about my own Top Five or Ten favourite waters.
Martin Lawrence was keen on Top Tens and Top Fives in his Bivvy Tramp books, and I liked them, but, of course, never agreed with them. And I think that is the point of Top Tens; they are there to be agreed with, or wondered about, or at least to make you think. So as a tribute to my influential friend Briggsy, to whom I owe most of any carp fishing successes I may have had, here are reflections on a handful of my favourite carp waters. I would have gone for a Top Ten, but I have other things to write about, and I suspect that my verbosity does tend to try the patience of the production department. Perhaps another time...
But then when you’ve decided to select a favourites list, you start to wonder on what basis the selection should be made. Nostalgia: atmosphere: beauty: photogenic qualities: results? In the end all that is incidental, a byproduct of favouritism. You simply like somewhere, then have to find reasons to rationalise that preference. My favourites have to be based upon the influence waters have had on me, and if they happened to be photogenic, or atmospheric, or rewarded me disproportionately, then so much the better. Think of five swims you would like to spend time in if you knew your time left on this earth was limited and there are your five favourites. At least some of my favourites have been disproportionately kind to me, as I will reluctantly reveal, but others were quite definitely not life-changing, or even especially rewarding.
When I moved on from just trying to catch carp, to trying to catch a big carp, my two immediate target waters were Waveney D Lake and Darenth Tip Lake – the latter of which, courtesy of Jacko, is back in fashion after a few years on the back burner for reasons we needn’t explore. The venue is historic too, in that the Big Lake at Darenth is the first public carp water where the ‘Hair’ produced results for Lenny Middleton and friends. I never fished the Big Lake, although I thought it was one of the best-looking carp waters I had ever seen. The Tip Lake I fished because it was a big-fish circuit water, and my friends Mark Summers, Bill Walford and Phil Turner were fishing it. I’d designed a successful bait for them, which turned out to be the prototype Hinu-val, the precursor for the launch of Nutrabaits. I liked the lake, but it was
Think of five swims you would like to spend time in if you knew your time left on this earth was limited and there are your five favourites
never high on my list of favourites, although one of my favourite pieces of my own writing, ‘To an Unknown Angler’ was Tip-lake based.
But Waveney D Lake was a favourite and, coincidentally was the scene of at least one of my alter ego Matthew Black’s better articles/ chapters, ‘Enter a Tall Dark Stranger’. When I went to Waveney my personal best was of the order of 21lb-plus, and I caught a thirty, Big Scale, on my first session there, which was down to the nod from Crafty Cockney Derek Cunnington on Hutchy’s Maplecreme flavour, and a large slice of luck.
You look back at those days of trailing to popular, distant waters and relate to what people go through when they are carp-lake bound at the weekend and know there will be competition for swims. D Lake and the Tip Lake were among the few known thirties waters back in the early 80s. I was mad for D Lake after that first session, suffered a struggling ten days in Swim One over Christmas and New Year 1982, and went back again the following autumn, hoping and praying that Swim One would be free. It was occupied, but coming free, so I fished E Lake for a night, then moved into D Lake’s Swim One. It was a memorable week. D Lake was doable, but not easy, but I stumbled on a tactic which gave me 17 fish in the week, including two thirties, Big Scale and the Leather. Stringers were the PVA tactic back then, but it was a very windy week and the best ‘stringer’ I could come up with to reach the big oak and the far margin was to PVA one free offering to the single hookbait. The outcome was so remarkable that I could only think that the fish were becoming wary of the ‘double hookbait’ tactic, and were then thrown when one of the baits sucked in easily; so they took the other one, too. I wrote about the tactic and I believe that the following year a smart angler pre-baited with double baits, and then fished the same tactic, with the same outcome. The downside to Waveney was the awful car journey to and from the venue, but when you are mad for it, you live with whatever fishing a particular venue throws at you.
There was an intriguing by-product of the Christmas session in Swim One. There was a snag some way short of the target big oak which was giving me real grief. Eventually I went out in the boat in the cold and wet, managing to rescue a branch of Christmas-tree proportions, which had presumably been blown in some time previously. The lost end tackles attached to the branch were a real education! I recognised Hutchy’s stainlesssteel carp hooks on a couple of the rigs and tugged him about the set-up the next time I saw him. He was surprised when I produced the evidence and had to come clean about the thinking behind the rig. (He usually threw some unbelievable blinds about rigs, like suggesting that the next stage on from the newly-publicised Hair was to simply remove the bait from the hook altogether! We didn’t buy that one...) I won’t elaborate on the end tackles I rescued, other than to say that the set-up
demonstrated how far ahead of his time Rod was in trying to out-think pressured carp. In fact the set-up is still 20 or 30 years ahead of its time, even now.
Lac de Madine was hugely influential. I first fished it in the first World Carp Classic in 1998. Back then it was a known big-fish water, but on the back-burner because of the limited access to the banks. The thought of the access to normally unfished swims was a real turn-on for Hutchy, and he turned the rest of his friends and Hutchinson Dream Team members on to it, too. Madine is 2,500 acres and I thought I would find the big-water experience fazing, but didn’t. I loved it, and found the fact that there might not be a fish within a mile of me quite attractive, in a frustrating sort of way. I was brought up on the idea that carp fishing should be difficult, and when the carp are nowhere near you and you can’t move it is definitely that! Since that first Madine experience, I have had no fear of big waters, or blanking. You can’t win ’em all, and the higher the stakes, the less frustrating the slow times and blanks become. You never enjoy blanks but when you are aiming high you have to accept that they are part of the currency. In Madine’s case, that philosophy has stood me in good stead: I’ve had far more blanks than successful sessions there, but last year’s World Carp Classic win with Jacko was a memorable consolation prize. This year’s September event is the 20th anniversary of that first session there, and also marks the centenary of the last few days of the First World War, fought out over that area of France. It will be an occasion for happy short-term memories, and very sad long-term ones. The tragedy of the nearby war cemeteries simply emphasises the futility of all that conflict. “They shall not grow old...” – but perhaps they would have liked to have had the chance.
Madine taught me a crucial lesson about bigwater fishing, which led to my area baiting and dinner plate approach. One of my early sessions there was with my friend Marsh Pratley. Leon Hoogendijk had enjoyed a major result there some time previously, which included a number of big fish. ‘What if twenty 40s turn up on my patch?’ I wondered. There had to be enough food there to hold them was my rationalisation of my baiting approach to that early, influential big-water session. So I baited the patch accordingly. On the drive home after a blank five days I rethought that approach. ‘What if one big fish turned up during the session?’ He’d have a quick unpressured snack and wander off to pastures new. From then on my
approach has been to make the bait available to them over a wide area of my patch, then narrow the baiting down to loaded dinner plates in likely-looking spots. Keep them hanging around your patch, if and when they turn up, and then gradually ease them into the confrontation with the hookbait, in other words.
The Motorway Pond, barely half a mile from the Carp-talk offices, may seem an odd choice as a favourite, but my memories of it are happy. Most of my fishing there was day-only – one of the few carp waters I’ve ever fished on that basis since I first spread my wings to fish distant national and international waters. There was a buzz to those dayonly sessions. My early hours’ car journey would be towards the east, or north east, so the lightening sky and the first signs of the sun coming up would signpost the way to the lake. When Julian fished it – and entertainingly wrote about it – he was eventually driven off by the sound of the traffic from the adjacent M62 motorway, but it never fazed me. In fact one of my favourite Motorway Pond swims was right under the motorway, one of its attractions being that I could park within a few yards of it. You have to negotiate a railed fence to fish that swim, which resulted in me finishing up in hospital in the middle of the night on one inauspicious occasion.
One year I successfully bid for a Motorway Pond night permit which extended my fishing horizons for the water. Thomo’s Point became my favourite for that year, when I could get in it. I loved that swim, and fishing it was special. There were alternatives, including a very shallow plateau to the left where you could follow the movements of the fish coming in over the bait. That added a real buzz to the fishing, and made you realise just how often carp do visit your bottom baits in the course of a day. To see the bow waves come in, occasionally followed by the buzzer sounding, is a special memory of the place, and the swim.
‘Thomo’ was the late Geoff Thompson from York, whom I later became friendly with, and who accompanied me to Domaine de Boux on one trip, when I got to know him well. He was good company, and after my Motorway Pond days were behind me and I was still involved in production at Carp-talk (CFN produced Carpworld for many years), I used to call in to see him to pass the time of day. On one occasion he had a good fish in the sack, but didn’t know which fish it was. “I think it’s only got one eye,” he revealed. “Perhaps it’s Nelson, then,” I suggested, putting two and two together and coming up with four in identifying a fish I had never seen, but knew about! His bemused silence suggested he wished he’d thought of that. Nelson it was.
He was a nice guy, Geoff, whose private life went through the wringer before and during the divorce from his first wife, but who then later found happiness when he picked up a taxi fare who turned out to be a lovely lady from his past
life. I think they lived happily ever after until a brain tumour caught up with him and ended his days. I hope ‘his’ swim is still named after him [It is – Kev]. It was a special place to spend a few days and nights, and yielded one of my most memorable fish in the form of the Long Fish, which lead me a frantic dance late one night until it very reluctantly agreed to join me on the bank.
Having spent over half a year there, on and off, over a 13-year period, I have to include the scenic and atmospheric Rainbow Lake among my favourites. Some waters are good to you; others just give you a mauling no matter how much time you spend there, and no matter what you try. Rainbow falls into the latter category. I had some success there, and just now and then it relented, but either I didn’t get it, or I was a tad unlucky. (We’ll not take a vote.) And even that ‘unlucky’ tag I have to put into perspective. Compared to the most successful Rainbow anglers I was a non-starter: compared to those who have struggled there, I had my share of success – but on a pared down scale.
We’re told we shouldn’t have favourite swims, but as most of my carp fishing has been based on fishing swims I like to be in I can’t subscribe to that philosophy. My Rainbow favourite was Swim 18, partly because there were usually fish there, and mainly because fishing the swim didn’t involve scrambling into the boat every time the buzzer bleeped. The buzzer sounding is what we live for; in some swims at Rainbow it can be panicinducing. Tom Duncan-dunlop and Briggsy act as though they were born in boats. They act and look accomplished in the art of pursuing a monster carp in a boat. In some swims a boat is a necessity because there are many minor snags on bars – in addition to the more obvious major ones – which can spell disaster. Swim 18 is mainly snag fishing, which entails being on red alert for a week, or a fortnight, but when the buzzer to the locked-up rod does sound and you are alert enough to hang on in there and walk the fish away from the snags into open water you then have the option of landing the fish from the bank, if you so choose. I so choose. Tom jumps into the boat at every possible opportunity, on one unmemorable occasion to land a bream at Les Teillatts! Occasionally you have to use the boat, even in 18, if a fish comes to a halt in open water, but almost all my swim 18 fish have been landed without recourse to the boat.
Of my two or three most memorable one-day results one was in Swim 18 at Rainbow, as recorded in Bivvy Three, and one at the Mangrove, and they had one thing in common. They both came on a day which dawned with me at the end of my tether with the water, the swim, carp fishing, and life. Both occasions were literally and metaphorically ‘the darkest hour is just before the dawn’ moments. The Rainbow Sunday came after a day when I’d had problems with a line-trailer in the swim, which meant frequently repositioning end tackles you hoped to have in position for days, not hours. What follows is how I described the
start of both days in Bivvy Three – Rainbow first:
Sunday morning, 4.30 a.m. ‘Running out of sleep and feeling depressed by the session now. I keep giving it my best shot here, and it keeps giving me a mauling, partly through bad luck, I guess, but it must also be down to the fact that I’m not very good at fishing here! I’ve been lying listening to the night noises and the sounds of an occasional fish topping but haven’t been able to suss their position from the horizontal, so I’m up to chop some baits and put some hemp in soak...’
My penned whinging was interrupted by the buzzer to the right-hand rod, a take which yielded a common of 48lb 12oz. Through the day that first fish was followed by commons of 56lb 8oz, 62lb, 26lb, 62½lb and 41lb.
There was near-repeat of that experience, on a lesser scale, on the Mangrove a couple of months later:
Friday morning, 5.20 a.m. ‘Rain on and off through the night, with a couple of liners to the left, then the mandatory orgy-ing ducks through the right-hand lines on half-light. Are rain and low pressure a depressant? I’m never at my happiest when it’s wet, although I suppose a decent fish would have me singing in the rain. I don’t know what the forecast is, and daren’t look. It might depress me further. Work party tomorrow or I’d be away today.’
Shortly after that entry I had a mirror of 27lb at around 7am, and then landed a 32lb common, the mirror Pawprint at 38½lb, and a mirror of 29lb 8oz in two hours that evening. I’ll not include the Mangrove here because I mention it frequently, and it is beyond favouritism: it is my life-changing spiritual home.
I suppose if you spend long enough in a swim simply because it is your favourite it will eventually turn up something special, but not as special as on those two memorable occasions! And when I refer to Swim 18 as being a favourite, sessions in it tended to only be every two or three years. It was many people’s favourite!
And so to Redmire, which has inspired mixed emotions in me down the years, but will always remain a favourite because of its history, the impact it has had on all our lives, and because it is a lovely place to spend time on the bank. I was a carp angler long before I caught a carp and went on to fish for them. The story of Walker’s common
was inspirational, not just because of the size of the fish, but because of the circumstances of the capture, too; camping out in the dark and landing that huge fish after a prolonged two-man battle involving Pete Thomas. My first experience of camping out to fish had nothing to do with carp fishing. It happened on the Lancaster-liverpool Canal near Garstang, and I camped out because I wanted to be at the water at first light. The details of Walker’s record fish were vague, but stuck in my mind. Somewhere deep inside I was that man, although it took the accidental capture of a 6lb mirror carp to start to trigger the metamorphosis from normal citizen (debatable) to carp angler – a quantum departure from normality by anyone’s definition. I have an addictive personality, and was a golfer, and life didn’t allow for two time-consuming addictions. In addition to which, carp were fish in other distant places, which other people fished for. For the most part they were still the stuff of other people’s dreams in the 70s, although there was undoubtedly a growing carp-fishing culture, or subculture as Jim Gibbinson famously described it.
So from a distant figment of my imagination I gradually evolved a relationship with Redmire which evokes many memories. I defended Yatesy’s record fish in Coarse Angler, and was accused of attacking it by the syndicate committee! The outcome of that must have been that the syndicate committee felt guilty about the misunderstanding and when they wished to be interviewed over some comments by Kevin Maddocks in the book Redmire Pool, published in 1984, I was asked if I would go to Redmire to do the interview. Well – yes! So I went to Redmire and recorded the interview with Tom Mintram, John Carver, Dave Short and Barry Mills in the Willow Pitch. It was a grey, cool day and not exactly an inspirational occasion, or one to ignite a love affair with the water: more a coveted dutiful journalistic one.
The ramifications arising from that day were remarkable. The interview was converted to paper and submitted to the book’s authors and publisher, Kevin Clifford (with Len Arbery) and Kevin Maddocks for comment/approval. There were comments KM objected to, so the interview was gradually watered down to an acceptable format for all the parties involved. Then the Society committee chose not to publish it because it was controversial, so it wasn’t until my book Carp Season was published in 1988 that it saw the light of day, by which time it was hardly current, but undoubtedly had a place in the Pool’s history. The book also included my coveted interview with Jack Hilton, which came about through the good offices of Tom Mintram, arising from the Redmire interview, and a subsequent meeting. The discussions with Kevin Clifford, which included KM by phone, took place while I was fishing the Tilery, and the second meeting with the Redmire committee while I was fishing the Tip Lake. The interview and aftermath took in Redmire, Tilery and the Tip Lake all in a few months. I was on my bike in those days!
For some years my relationship with Redmire was as Les Bamford’s co-director in Redmire Pool Ltd. Gradually my affair with Redmire became an angling one, and morphed into a love affair. A special memory is my weekend there shared with Colin Dyson, Len Arbery, Fred J Taylor and black dog. Then I
spent a week on the Pool in the company of Paul Roberts and Geoff Cartwright, aka Dai-wa and RHM in Carp Season, and Chris Ball, who fished the Willow Pitch on the night of 13th September, the anniversary of Walker’s record fish capture. Much later I felt the need to go there as a personal pilgrimage to wallow in its history and share the atmosphere that the Carp Catchers had passed down to us from the 50s and 60s. I was able to spend some time there on my own during two or three years’ of visits, which were magical experiences. The lovely pool was kind to me, too, and I was able to land a number of 25lb-plus fish, including stunning 27lb and 28lb commons, which are definitely among my most memorable-ever fish. I didn’t see any real monsters at Redmire, but I certainly heard one late one night, when a huge fish rolled over/crashed, not more than five yards from my bivvy in the Willow Pitch. Hundreds of anglers still can’t wait to make the pilgrimage to Redmire. It is the mecca of carp fishing, and is currently undergoing a facelift. It is a very special place and I look back on my varied experiences there with nostalgia, and great affection.
As a nation we love anniversaries, and currently there is a great deal being written about Richard Walker to celebrate the centenary of his birth. I’m compiling a chapter for a tribute book, which is turning out to be a labour of love. Thirty years ago I had the good fortune to be put in charge of the compilation of Dick Walker... a Memoir, the launch of which coincided with the 1988 Carp Society Dick Walker Tribute Conference. Becoming friendly with Dick’s friends Fred J Taylor and Maurice Ingham, elevated Walker’s greatness in my mind as an inspiration, pioneer and angler, because they thought so much of the great man. Any second-hand knowledge I had of Walker, whom I never met, came via his friends Fred J and Maurice, whose admiration for the great man was boundless. Fred unashamedly used the word ‘love’ in connection with his friendship with Walker, and of the number of portraits
Maurice painted for me his favourite was the one of Walker, reproduced hereabouts.
Ingham and Taylor were giants in their own right, but they felt they were dwarfed by Walker, as every angler has been before or since. But it was a paragraph in the Memoir tribute by Jack Thorndike, one of the early editors of Angling Times, which stuck in my mind and which I revisited recently:
It is the ombudsman aspect that has been increasingly borne in on me over the years – and has been irreplaceably lost to us. I was one of the co-founders of the Carp Society, which had political aspirations from the outset and has always done what it can for carp anglers, and does now in support of the Angling Trust and the PAG. I have been involved with the Predation Action Group for nearly ten years now, and our struggle with the unseeing and uncaring authorities is hotting up via the recently published Fact Sheet and DVD. But the more you learn about Richard Walker the more you understand how irreplaceable he has become, because he stood astride the angling world like a colossus, a role no one has been able to fulfil since he was lost to us. We are 100 years on from the birth of Walker; 66 years on from the capture of that fish, and 30 years on from the Society Conference to celebrate his life. My bookshelves are groaning under the weight of copies of his books, books about him, and books ultimately inspired by his deeds. His greatness appears to grow year on year, which is as it should be. His memory is as inspirational as his personality, deeds and pioneering efforts were while he was alive.
Thirty years on... We are also nearing the 30th anniversary of the birth of Carpworld, an event I have been asked to help reflect on in next month’s issue. I’m working on it. Don’t go away: see you next month.
The Carp-talk supplement by Briggsy which got me thinking some more about favourite carp waters I enjoyed a memorable 17-fish week in D Lake’s Swim One, which included two thirties, Big Scale and the Leather, pictured here Waveney D Lake was a favourite in the early 80s: action in Swim One looking out to the target area of the big oakTOP LEFT TOP RIGHT ABOVE
LEFT AND ABOVEThe Dry Dock on Darenth Tip Lake – in the early 80s a bigfish CIRCUIT WATER AND NOW ENJOYING A REVIVAL UNDER THE STEWARDSHIP OF MY FRIEND LEE JACKSON, PICTURED HERE IN THE NEXT SWIM TO ME DURING MY TIP LAKE PERIOD
ABOVELac de Madine was hugely influential on my carp fishing, and big-water thinking: a 1999 pleasure session in the old night section, fishing with Rob HughesBELOWMy biggest from those early sessions weighing in at 39lb 12oz. Madine taught me a crucial lesson about big-water fishing
ABOVEThe Motorway Pond, barely half a mile from Carp-talk’s offices. My Favourite swim Is Centre of shot, under THE BIG WHITE ARTIC
LEFTA memorable capture from Thomo’s Point in the form of the Long Fish at 28lbBELOWI have to include Rainbow Lake among my favourites: early hours in Swim 18 at Rainbow with a restless angler trying to catch the atmosphere of the moment Some waters are good to you; others just give you a mauling no matter how much time you spend there, and no matter what you try. Rainbow falls into the latter category
BELOW BOTTOMThe biggest fish of my one-day six-fish catch from Swim 18 at 62½lb Shortly after that Mangrove early hours entry I had a mirror of 27lb, the start to another memorable day when all seemed lost. John Dunford doing the filming at the tail end of the TV film starring Chilly
I went to Redmire and recorded the interview with the syndicate committee, pictured here on the dam wall: from left Barry Mills, Dave Short, Tom Mintram and John Carver ‘Camping out in the dark and landing that huge fish after a prolonged two-man battle involving Pete Thomas’: the Brian Naylor drawing depicting the scene from my first published book, Carp FishingABOVE TOP LEFT
ABOVEA special memory is my weekend there shared with Fred J, Colin Dyson, Len Arbery, and black dogBELOWA 26lb 4oz bar of gold from the Willow Pitch
TOPI was given the memorable duty of compiling Dick Walker... a Memoir to celebrate the 1988 Carp Society tribute conferenceABOVEOf the series of portraits Maurice painted for me, his personal favourites were the ones of his old friends, Dick Walker and Fred J Taylor