When Bev asked me to write a piece for this special feature I was honoured, even though it was going to take time to recollect my first 30 as it was almost 30 years ago that I achieved this target. Oddly enough I’d caught my first 20 in 1980 and quite a few 20s came my way over the next five or six years, but some friends had joined Harefield Lake – aka The Madhouse because of some of the vicious gravel bars whose sole purpose seemed to be to cut you off. They asked me if I fancied joining them as it had a few 30s to go for – about half a dozen in about 45 acres – and was more challenging than some of our local Bedfordshire club waters.
That year, 1986, I also met a chap that fished other lakes in The Colne Valley – on the banks of St. Cassien in the South of France of all places. His nickname was Keith the Tooth and we instantly started a friendship and when I told him I was going to join Harefield he said I’d need a bit of luck and that we’d probably bump into each other in the infamous Horse and Barge pub.
Well I joined, and he was right, as Harefield wasn’t easy, but I did get lucky in the first couple of seasons with a number of 20s up to 28lb. I’ve got to admit I was still learning, but fishing amongst the ‘who’s who’ in the Valley I learned fast in every aspect of carp fishing. The lake was busy most of the time, midweek or weekends, and it didn’t matter when you rocked up to the lake there were always anglers there – though not so many in the winter as it had a reputation of being able to kick you in the nuts in the colder months.
Anyway, in my third season I got lucky one weekend and had a five carp session from a swim known as The Mad – my best result up to that moment in time. One double, three 20s, and one of the biggest mirrors in there at the time – Tattoo at 34lb 4oz. Of course I was over the moon, not many anglers had caught this carp, so I was amongst a small group of members who’d had the pleasure.
What just came into my mind is the bait which I was using was actually crap – well to me now it was – a cheap birdfood type bait and I’d roll one mix with geranium oil and the other with bergamot oil – and used the two baits together at the same time. They tasted disgusting, but obviously some carp liked it otherwise I’d wouldn’t have caught much.
The following season I moved onto a much better, highly-digestible, fishmeal-type recipe, with a combination of Rod Hutchinson attractants and a dash of Solar’s Squid and Octopus. My word did this bait stink, but by heck was it a winner – not just for me but also for whoever I shared the knowledge with. We may think bait doesn’t make much of a difference to our angling, just like rigs, but I was soon catapulted into the limelight simply on my results. This was great as they were stocking more carp and the carp were packing the weight on. Amazing to think back now but within three or four years my results went from half a dozen over that magical 30lb mark to about 20.
I went on to catch the three biggest carp, and then double up on them. The Big Fully-scaled at 34lb and 36lb, Nelson at 36lb and 37lb 8oz and Small Pecs at 35lb and 39½lb. With a different bait and rig I soon began to catch a few in the colder months too, though most of these were from a small area at range and from one swim. Having cracked The Madhouse it was now time to move on, another ball breaker had come to my attention and the possibility of my first 40-pounder.
Not only had I now sunk a few pints in the Horse and Barge – I’d met some very good anglers too, and so it’s only right I thank my friends Gary Bearman and Simon Day for suggesting I join them on some carpy adventures.