When I look back now, they were halcyon days in the truest sense of the word. That might sound like my fishing these days is jaded or perhaps lacking something – it most certainly isn’t, I love it more than ever. The difference is that nowadays my angling tends to be very intense and focused, chasing tricky fish from testing waters. Back in the early 90s, it was different on many levels. Firstly, we didn’t try to catch a particular fish, we simply tried to catch a ‘a fish’ and secondly, most importantly, we would drench that pursuit in two key ingredients: laughter and lager.
Fishing as a close knit band of would-be fishing heroes: Paul, Mark and myself would spend every single weekend on the banks of the Broxbourne Lagoons. It intrigues me to reflect on how the passage of time has increased in tempo – there is no doubt that as you get older, time marches ever more quickly. Now we fish all year long and often quite intensively, from April to November, yet back then there was a close season, meaning that we didn’t start until the 16th June. Despite this late start, those summer days seemed to last forever, much like school holidays did as a kid.
Collectively, we fished the South Lagoon, gravitating to a grassy area at the south-western end, adjacent to the caravan parks. We were less interested in fishing effectively by being mobile, than we were with catching them on our own terms when the winds brought them to us. We’d set up our brollies, pepper the swims with Quench boilies then pop up the ‘offy’ for as much Castlemaine as we could carry.
Successively the summers were good; long periods of high pressure bringing light northerly and easterly winds which, rather fortuitously, blew directly into the area we had our traps set. Don’t get me wrong, to us, carp fishing was a very serious business, in fact we lived and breathed it throughout the working week. We would strain at the leash of reality until finally it snapped on a Friday afternoon, then we were off, racing up the motorway with the smell of beer, wet nets and barbie smoke in our nostrils.
In spite of our rather static and hedonistic approach to carp fishing, we caught more than our fair share. Mark’s success was down to really good angling, Paul’s down to being able to cast accurately when he couldn’t even speak coherently and mine down to the fact I was using tiger nuts which were most definitely banned...
The fish in the Lagoon were known to be big. In fact such heroic luminaries as the Famous Five had fished there, along with Zen and Nashy. The biggest was a 30lb common, one that had appeared in a Mainline advert at a huge weight of 33lb. Believe me, back then that was a very big fish and possibly the biggest common in the general vicinity, aside from the gigantic Snake Pit fish just over the county line, in Essex.
Mark came and woke me one misty, early July morning. Something monumental had befallen him and together we walked down to his swim, the dewy grass soaking our trainers. At the time, neither of us had caught a 30lb fish – carp of that size being reserved for the superstars of the period, and we certainly weren’t those. Mark heaved the fish onto the mat and as we peeled back the sack we were met by the most amazing, dark, immaculate common. We realised it was the big common and it weighed 30lb 4oz; the most incredible thing either of us had ever seen.
The summer blurred on in a haze of sunburn, carp slime, kebabs and sore heads. Late August and I was back but rarely on this occasion, angling alone. Paul and Mark had fished the early part of the weekend but I had missed it due to a stag do and as I was best man, it was understandably hard to get out of. As soon as my duties were duly executed, I headed lake bound in the small hours of the Sunday morning, arriving exhausted and slinging the rods in the edge.
I awoke mid-morning and surveyed the scene. A fresh northwesterly had begun to blow with vigour into the area. As I looked, the water was quickly whipped into white tops as the first real oxygenation in months coursed though the water column. After a few minutes, I saw a fish roll – then another and then another. The last one looked like a very big common...
I rebaited the rods, casting them toward the activity and can still vividly recall the tremendous drop I got as the rigs landed in shallow water on hard ground, atop a bar that ran parallel to the swim. I followed the rigs with some boilies, set the alarms and put the kettle on, all the while, glued to the water as I waited for another show.
The bite came perhaps two hours later, the soft Daiwa taking on a savage bend as something serious surged off in the waves. And so began a fight of rather epic proportions, lasting maybe 25 minutes and one which, fortunately, I was allowed to be the victor of. The fish was none other than the coveted big common, the sight of which in my net, still gives me goosebumps today.
At 31lb 4oz it beat my best by a couple of pounds, was my first thirty and proved to me two things: that we could catch them from big pits and that we could do it on our terms. Halcyon days indeed.
That feeling! The coveted big common – Broxbourne Lagoon, 31lb 4oz