Bob Dellar Coarse

For The Love Of Perch

There’s been a bit of a perch bonanza amongst fellow Essex Anglers bloggers lately, so I thought I’d show my appreciation for this magnificent fish too. 

Like most anglers, my very first fish was a perch, in fact I think I caught about nine, at the age of nine, from Highams Park Lake in Woodford Green, Essex, an estate lake originally part of a landscape designed by Humphrey Repton in the eighteenth century. That first session had a profound effect on me, and I was utterly hooked from that moment. Part of the allure was the fish itself; they were tiny but they fought like tigers, flashing back and forth in the pellucid shallows, all spikes and stripes with great, gaping mouths and huge, predator eyes. They certainly put a bend in my six foot Woolworths fibre glass rod. I’ve still got the folding, red fishing stool I used on that day and the Golden Virginia tobacco tin my dad gave me for my hooks and bits.

Perch loomed large in subsequent trips to the lake, as I’d yet to hone my angling skills enough to tempt any of the more wiley tench, roach and carp that lived amongst those kamikaze stripeys. Eventually, after discovering the revered books of tench guru Fred J Taylor, I managed to bank a tench or two, plus a 1lb roach. But that was a couple of years away, and me and my best friend and angling pal Gary were content to hoik out “wasp” perch on line thick enough to hang your clothes on.

Gary was a street-wise kid who’s personality contrasted with my laid-back, mild manner but our mutual appreciation of wildlife and fishing forged a strong bond. We once witnessed an older group of boys catching perch after perch and dashing them to bits on nearby rocks, laughing as they did so. We were utterly appalled and shouted at them to stop, from a safe distance obviously. Thankfully they did stop, despite hurling threats and abuse, but the shocking sight of those poor, eviscerated perch is still emblazoned on my mind.

Later on, after I left college and moved back to London, I discovered what was at the time one of the best big-fish rivers in the south-east: Coppermill Stream, Walthamstow. A short, two mile tributary of the river Lea it is nowadays a shadow of its former self but when I fished it was renown for specimen fish of many species including barbel, roach, chub, and perch.

I enjoyed good sport from all the above, apart from (and despite my best efforts) the perch.

I knew they were there, I’d heard the fishy tales from fellow anglers of giant stripeys, either caught or spotted skulking amongst the streamer weed. My own personal experience of these gorgeous giants was to be bitter sweet; to be truthful more the former than the latter! But nonetheless I’m glad I had it. One evening in the late summer I was fishing for barbel with no success. A few swims up was another young angler fishing hard up against concrete bridge pilings. He was hoiking out perch after perch, whooping with delight as he did so, every cast produced another fish. And they were massive, the biggest perch I’d ever seen. He was carefully placing them in a keep net and after a while my curiosity got the better of me and I walked up to him to witness his remarkable catch. He was a humble, good natured bloke and appeared almost embarrassed by his success. He asked me to take some photos for him and I was happy to oblige, a bit jealous of course but very pleased for him and in awe of his catch: six specimen perch to 3.8lb; not fresh, clean-skinned, fin-perfect youngsters these but old, muscular warriors, with scarred flanks, blood-red fins and bristling spikes. If there had been smart phones at the time I’d have asked him to text me a photo or two, but this was the late eighties and mobile phones resembled house bricks. I’ve still got some vivid memories of those perch though. The fella packed up shortly after, a very happy angler. I asked if he’d mind me poaching his swim and he graciously obliged, but although I fished into darkness I had not a touch, despite replicating his tactics: legered lobworm against the concrete pilings, feeding maggot over the top. 

Over a decade later, I would employ the same approach to catch my own big old stripey. Not a 3lb monster but a beautiful fish nonetheless. One autumn evening in 2004 at Dobbs Weir on the river Lea in Hertfordshire, I took the advice of a friendly bailiff I’d met at the weir the day before, and fished hard against the concrete bridge pilings adjacent to the weir. I had two perch, the biggest 2.12lb. Luckily, that same bailiff turned up again, and with a smile and an “I told you so” took a couple of photos for me. 

Here’s one of them.

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Nowadays, perch fishing is enjoying an amazing revolution. The opportunity to catch specimen fish from a wide variety of venues using a wide variety of tactics are legion. I have myself been bitten by the lure fishing bug, and in the space of a year have bought numerous multicoloured, jelly-like lures; some resembling fish, others the “Bugs” from Starship Trooper movies. But to be honest, although I’ve enjoyed fishing with them, I’ve not caught many perch! Plenty of jack pike though, which on light gear are a joy.

Saying that, I had two nice fish of around 1.5lb from the Great Ouse near Ely, on a jig resembling another perch! The little cannibals…

I had to resort to the time honoured perch catching marvel that are lobworms to get amongst something bigger. On a favourite stretch of the Suffolk Stour is an old railway bridge and a very deep pool with perch, (and chub), written all over it. One evening in December last year I  decided to give the pool a crack. As dusk settled in numerous fry were making their presence known, their tiny bodies iridescent in the margins. In went a link-legered lobworm and within twenty minutes out came a beautiful perch that pulled hard and shook its head all the way to the net. She went 2.2lb, again not a monster but a fish that had me buzzing for days after. 

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Bob Dellar Coarse Lure River

Avoiding The Football

I’m afraid I’m a tad indifferent when it comes to football. I only ever take a mild interest if Spurs, the team favoured through family tradition, or the national side start to perform well and show signs of actually winning something significant. Such was the case with England’s recent Euros performance but I have to admit as the final drew close I had a desire to escape the build up and hype as the doubts, anxiety and inevitability of failure came to the fore. So I decided to go fishing, and although failure is often inevitable with this pursuit also, at least I’d be outside enjoying the natural world.

The local river Stour in Sudbury was my chosen venue, and on arrival it became apparent that large swathes of the river were unfishable, either because of overgrown swims or copious weed growth. I should have known really. This year, probably due to the wet, warm summer, grasses, nettles, bankside reeds and all manner of vegetation has grown with wild abandon, completely transforming spacious, comfortable pegs into impassable jungles that would make even Indiana Jones hang up his machete. Nonetheless, there were enough accessible swims to make a cast or two worthwhile, so I thought I’d have a go with the lure rod as I love the roving nature of this type of fishing and the opportunity it affords to reconnoiter stretches of the river I’ve yet to explore. Also, I’d recently seen a photo of a 3lb perch caught from the Stour in Sudbury which had whetted my appetite, as had a dead perch of well over 2lb I’d discovered on a canoe trip last summer. But I’d have to contend with the pike, which the river is famous for.

My dog Indy was my fishing buddy for the day and true to form he did his usual impression of a rhino and bulldozed his way through the undergrowth totally oblivious to the stingers and brambles that were tearing holes in me and constantly snaring my landing net. 

I had a few casts to no avail, constantly thwarted by the weed and cabbages, so I changed from a jig to a Cheb rig, with a view to fish a creature bait using the “weedless” approach where you hook the bait in such a way as to conceal the hook to reduce snagging up. As I was rearranging my tackle (?!) I noticed that Indy had disappeared. 

I needn’t have worried. Tucked around the corner in the next swim were a couple of Polish anglers who had taken a shine to the dog and were feeding him bits of their lunch. 

“Nice dog”, the older one said as I walked up to them. “He’s always nice to people that feed him” I said. “Nice dog”, he repeated, nodding his head.

They were both smoking fags that smelled mighty pungent, not ghanja, more likely cheapies brought over from Poland made from weightlifters jockstraps sprinkled with festering grass cuttings or something. I bade them farewell and left before my nose fell off. After a few more fruitless casts, I found myself at a familiar spot, an old railway bridge  spanning the river, with arches casting deep shade and wide brick pillars descending into the depths; perfect ambush points for perch and pike. In addition, below a straggly willow is a back eddy above a very deep hole that on a winter’s evening the previous year delivered a nice brace of sizeable chub and a perch of half a pound or so, all on legered lobworm. I’m sure I’d have caught more had I not been scared half to death by the dog, who suddenly started growling low and deep and staring fixedly into the blackness beneath the bridge. It was all far too “Blair Witch” for my liking so I buggered off sharpish, dragging the dog with me who carried on growling all the way back to the car!

This time, however, it was broad daylight and the sun was out, perfectly illuminating the space beneath the bridge along with all the beer cans, plastic bottles, fag packets and general detritus common to river banks nowadays; bloody horrible but not a knife wielding maniac.

Annoyingly, the bridge swims produced nothing so I flicked the creature bait into the hole beneath the willow and was rewarded with the smallest pike I’ve ever seen, a micropredator not much bigger than the lure. And that was it, not a sniff for the next twenty minutes so a move was in order.

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The micro pike from the deep hole

I headed for a stretch of the river that’s maybe three or four foot deeper than the general course where apparently dredging work was carried out in the sixties. I figured they’d be less weed in deeper water. First cast proved that theory was flawed when I reeled in a big chunk of lily rhizome but it was definitely less snaggy than the shallower area where I’d started, and there was also more fish action as I caught two jacks of about 4lb in quick succession, one of whom nearly tore the rod out of my hand with a thwack of a take. I was beginning to enjoy myself, and light levels were dropping as the evening rolled in so I begun to work the deep margin cover for perch.

But then what can only be described as rowing rush-hour began. One man sculls, two man sculls, four man sculls, they all kept coming in what seemed an endless regatta of men and woman in boats; puffing, blowing, shouting, splashing, laughing, swearing and even some waving at me and the dog. It was practically impossible to fish. During a brief lull in the paddling I chanced a quick cast and, unbelievably, hooked another jack! I just managed to land it before it was keelhauled by a single rower totally oblivious to me and the tussle going on beneath his boat. As I unhooked it, a passing two man scull shouted “show us the fish mate!”, which of course I did. And that was that, the boat traffic seemed to fade away and with it my enthusiasm to fish on. So my football avoidance session hadn’t exactly been Premier League but I had some sport from those lively jacks and had spent a couple of hours walking a river that was a pleasure to behold, watching ethereal dragonflies skim and dart and kingfishers hunt for fry from riverside perches. Which was, of course, way, way better than watching football.

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None the worse for wear despite the keelhauling!
Bob Dellar Coarse

Clarissa, a catfish and the Frankenpike.

In August 2004 I caught a 44lb carp, the same weight as Richard Walker’s record breaking common back in 1952. He named his fish Ravioli but thankfully someone else decided Clarissa was more flattering. My Clarissa was a common too, but I’m not a carp fisherman, I was after catfish.

Waveney Valley Lakes in Norfolk, a nature reserve and fishery endorsed by the late, great (albeit climate change naysayer) David Bellamy, is a beautiful place to be let alone fish. I booked a week on Marsh Lake, with a view to catch a catfish, beguiled by their uncomely strangeness and brute fighting strength, not to mention their size. Those big slimy tadpoles go to 65lb at Waveney Valley. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the sort of fight a fish of those proportions would give so I hoped I’d start off small and work my way up.

There was only me and one other fishing Marsh Lake, an unusual looking, elderly gentleman with more than a whiff of Catweazle about him. He had coarse grey hair to his shoulders, wore galoshes and an old waxed cagoule and wouldn’t have looked out of place on Ahab’s Pequod.  He had the perplexing habit of exclaiming “who me?”whenever I asked him a question when more often than not it was just me and him talking. I had to suppress the urge to shout “WHO ELSE FOR CHRISSAKE!” a lot during our chats. Despite his archaic appearance, his tackle was top draw, the very latest in carp fishing innovation, and his set up looked like a feature spread for Carp World. He was very proud of it and took great pleasure in cocking a sneer at my mishmash of assorted rods, reels and  threadbare brolly camp.

When I hooked my Clarissa her initial run were so powerful that before I could slow her she tore off parallel with the near bank straight through all of Catweazle’s three lines. The bite alarm’s catawaulling and light show alone could have filled an Ibiza dance floor. I felt very guilty at the time, more for the fish than for him but miraculously when I netted her the only terminal tackle visible was mine. He didn’t seen perturbed, however, and was gracious and congratulatory. “That’s the biggest carp in the lake,” he said, quietly. I wasn’t surprised, she was massive, the biggest freshwater fish I’d ever seen. Although saying that I had once caught a pike of similar rare proportions, but the two events couldn’t have been more different. 

Being in the presence of Clarissa was a joy, made more special by a fine, late summer morning with sunlight playing on her doubloon-like scales, whereas my pike was caught from a huge pit in the Lee Valley on a frigid, overcast December day and was a mottled, deformed leviathan so battle scarred she looked like she’d been swimming around since the Cretaceous. And to make her appearance all the more frightening, her entire left eye and part of her head was engulfed in an ugly tumorous growth of a ghastly mottled grey/red that looked like her brain was seeping through her eye socket. That December day was a fitting backdrop as it felt almost apocalyptic. I encountered no one else during that session, saw no one, spoke to no one. It was if the world had ended, and all that survived was me and the monster.

It all started with the rat. With a faint rustle, he popped out from the reeds only to immediately spin round and dive back in when he saw me. Next thing there was a plop as he’d apparently opted to travel by water rather than land. As he swam from left to right in the margins creating a little bow wave, a huge dark torpedo shape emerged from nowhere, tracking his progress. It hung motionless below the rat, which appeared oblivious to the threat. I braced myself for the strike, but it never came and the torpedo slid back into the shadows. 

It was an eerie sight, that pike. With trembling fingers I gently reeled in my popped up mackerel tail to within three metres of the bank, and waited. 

Five minutes later I was staring at a stygian creature on my unhooking mat, laying there in all her deformed glory. She had barely struggled during the fight and came to the net like a wet blanket. 

I tried to weigh her with freezing, shaking hands but my scales only went up to 25lb and, with a crash and a rattle, they bottomed-out.  At a guess I’d say she was well over 28lb but she could have been a thirty. When I returned her she loitered menacingly in the margins for a moment before slowly vanishing. I had no desire to fish on, because of the dreadful prospect of hooking her again. That was the one and only time I fished the pit with the Frankenpike.

I did manage to catch a catfish at Waveney Valley, and as they usually do it came at night. I didn’t hear or register the bite alarm initially as I was sat up in my brolly camp, struggling to breathe, suffering a hay fever induced asthma attack. They’d been coming on and off for about three days, depriving me of sleep, energy and enthusiasm. As I played the fish, in the dead of night with rattling lungs and crumpled under-crackers, the shocking, lunging power of catfish became all too apparent. Sapped of strength and vital motor skills, I tottered around the swim totally befuddled, head-torch on flash, trying to take control of a fight that was all too one-sided. I could feel the line grate ominously on the lip of a gravelly drop-off about eight metres out and gritted my teeth in anticipation of a break-off. I was still struggling to gain line when, to my tremendous relief, the cat seemed to turn-tail and head straight at me. After thrashing about in the margins for a few seconds, a commotion that drew the attention of Catweazle, the fish was on the bank. “Look at you covered in slime, they stink too don’t they?” This was his commentary on my slithery attempts at weighing my very first catfish, which was a muscular 25lb. In the end I was glad that all I was wearing from the waist down was underpants. For one it makes the photos more of a talking point, and for two it’s easier to wash catfish gunk from bare legs rather than fishing strides.

Out of all these angling escapades I think the capture of my Clarissa was the most special. From the minute the bite alarm announced her presence on that beautiful late summer morning to the bitter sweet moment I watched her great, golden shoulders slide back into the pellucid depths of Marsh Lake, I knew I’d been in the company of one of nature’s rarities, a real gem. 

Bob Dellar Coarse

The River Prince: An Encounter With A Wye Barbel

I don’t think there’s a more iconic and revered coarse fish than the barbel. A bold statement perhaps when you consider the hold that carp have over the fishing fraternity but you could argue that the sheer over exposure and ubiquitous nature of carp angling in the UK has diluted the enigma and mystery of the carp itself. I don’t think that’s the case with the barbel as yet, although there are nowadays many anglers involved in their pursuit. It may be that the barbel will be spared the decline into mundanity simply because of its habitat. Whereas many carp are stocked into manicured, man-made, tackle-shop-on-site, bacon-butty-delivered-to-your-swim fishing fun-parks, barbel inhabit fast-flowing wild rivers with gravel runs, streamer weed, razor-edged rocks to slice through you mainline and swims so precipitous you need a degree in mountaineering to even consider tackling them. Such was the case with the peg I’d chosen to fish on the river Wye near Hereford, during a recent trip there with my kayaking wife Cath and mountain goat of a dog Indy. 

This was my very first trip to the Wye and I have to tell you that it’s as impressive a river as I’ve ever seen, truly magnificent. Cutting its way through wooded, high-sided valleys and gently rolling farmland it’s a river that shouts barbel in every snaking meander, eddying slack and bubbling gravel run. Or so I thought. That first evening’s fishing produced four chub to 4lb on feeder-fished 8mm pellets. I was perched on a muddy ledge with barely enough room for my bony arse and a rod-rest. My landing net had to be fully extended to even touch the water. At the top of the back on a sun-kissed, grassy plateau sat my wife and dog, enjoying a picnic and totally indifferent to my precarious teetering. I had to sit to cast and to land fish as I darn’t move too much. Maybe it was just as well I didn’t hook a barbel as it probably would have pulled me in.

Nonetheless, four wide-mouthed, brassy-backed chub were a treat to behold and one of them pulled so hard I thought it was a barbel! 

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A nice Wye chub from a very steep peg!

That afternoon I’d bought a day ticket for some local stretches of the Wye from the famous Woody’s Tackle Shop in Hereford and Woody himself told me that a second spawning period had made the barbel lay-low over recent days. Not the news I wanted to hear. This was verified by the numerous anglers I met in and around the caravan park we were staying in. They’d been catching lots of chub, very few barbel. “Bollocks! I thought, trust me to book a fishing holiday during bonking barbel week.” Saying that, the odd one or two had been showing so I wasn’t too downhearted, and the Wye is so spectacular it was enough just to sit by it and marvel.

One early morning, while my wife kayaked her way up and down a mist shrouded river, I settled myself on a rocky spit built for salmon anglers. Here, the river raced over a shallow gravel run flanked on the near side by a deeper, slower “crease” that was crying out for a cast. On the way down to the peg, I slipped the last six foot on my arse, nearly snapping my rod tip in the process. Indy my sure-footed dog just sat and watched me floundering around, offering no help whatsoever. 

Eventually, and after some baiting up, I made my first cast, sat back and waited…and waited. I continued to trickle pellets in to try and draw the fish up but nothing happened until the sun had burnt the mist away and dog walkers began to appear on the footpath above me. Two pristine chub to 4lb in quick succession, then mild sun stroke. By late morning the sun was strong enough to make the stony spit hot to touch and the dog seek refuge in the cool, shady shallows. Time to adjourn to the caravan for a cold one.

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The salmon angler’s swim

That evening, after paying the wife off with the promise of a slap-up restaurant meal, I’d coaxed my way into another likely looking swim that boasted a small, pebbly beach and a gently sloping bank that didn’t require crampons to tackle.

The opposite bank was replete with a wall of huge willows that cascaded over the river.  At some point, a massive limb had crashed into the water creating a gently eddying pool that looked promising. There was also one of those hospitable creases closer to the near bank that was also worth investigating, so I had a couple of options. For the first twenty minutes or so I fed both swims with 12mm and 8mm pellets. Then I sent a feeder over to the far bank. Despite fish showing with reckless abandon, the far bank produced not a single twitch. So I tried the near bank crease and straight away caught a small chub, followed by a bigger fish of about 3.5lb, then nothing for an hour as dark descended and pellet supply dwindled.

What followed was one of those events that never happens to you but happens a lot to other anglers you read about. The classic “one last cast” and “I’d packed everything away apart from the rod and landing net” scenario. Because that’s how it played out as the sun set fiery-red behind the willows. I engaged the bait runner and got up to delve around in my rucksack for a head torch. Like a woman’s handbag, finding anything in there is a major operation. Cursing softly as I delved fruitlessly around, I noticed a sudden movement out the corner of my eye and turned to witness my 1.75lb test curve rod bent double and twitching furiously. Then the rasping whizz as line tore from the bait runner. I couldn’t take it in for a second, an actual wrap-around bite, that mythical phenomenon so synonymous with barbel. I grabbed the rod and immediately the fish thundered downstream, ably assisted by the strong current. Its power was breathtaking and it took line in shuddering jolts and surges for a heart-stopping spell, but eventually I began to gain line and soon had a golden torpedo resting in the net. It wasn’t a big fish, maybe five or six pounds but my God what a fight! I took a quick, poor quality photo and had it back in the river resting again until it kicked away, back out into the now dark-silvered, rippling Wye, a river that had delivered my first barbel for over a decade, and a river that I will return to, because once fished, never forgotten.

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My very first hard fighting Wye barbel.
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A conversation explaining the difference between dog treats and halibut pellets.

Bob Dellar Coarse

Two PB’s In One Day! I must be dreaming…

There I was, on a windy old day in May, next to a gravel pit called “Ivo” staring at an old, scarred, mahogany-skinned male, and no I wasn’t enjoying a day’s fishing with Morgan Freeman, but admiring the biggest tench I’d ever seen. 

It was my third outing to St Ives Fishery in Cambridgeshire, a complex of truly wild gravel pits containing some exceptional fish, including tench, bream, pike, perch and, of course, the ubiquitous carp. 

Carp take centre stage as far as the bulk of the anglers with a ticket are concerned, but there are also many fisherman who are there for the others, and by others I mean the tench and bream. Thankfully, the management actively encourage this quirky trait, and seem au fait with the gradual, but very perceptible, waning of all things carp, exemplified by the minor exodus away from fish-stuffed commercials towards the exciting challenge that gravel pit and river fishing can provide.

The prospect of a lovely big tench or bream, and the opportunity to hone my non-existent  gravel pit fishing skills, was the excuse I needed to buy a day-only season ticket. Night fishing, if my limited knowledge of pit fishing is concerned, isn’t a prerequisite when it comes to catching big tench, get your approach right and you can bank them at all times of day, so I saved myself the double discomfort of bivvy-back and sleep deprivation.

My very first trip to St Ives was in mid-April, but it felt more like February as the winter refused to give way to spring. By far the best-looking pit in that section of the complex is “Anderson’s”, a gorgeous reed-lined water of around three or four acres, reminiscent of an Irish lough, festooned with weed beds, bars, islands, spits and deep margins. It looked bloody tench-tastic and it had to be my first port of call.

I chose the only peg at the end of short, narrow spit that gave access to a fairly extensive area of the pit that included a large, emerging lily bed and a gravel bar at about twenty yards. I had a little rake around, chucked out a bit of spod mix, not much as in reality the pit was still in late winter mode, and followed that with in-line rigs, bagged-up, with red maggots on one and a worm kebab on the other; one against the lilies the other on the bar. Then proceeded to stare at motionless bite indicators and gradually freeze to death all day. So first visit was a blank. I wasn’t surprised, the place felt a bit dead, or not so much dead as asleep.

I wasn’t disheartened as I knew it often takes effort and a blank or two to crack a new pit. So a few days later I was back in the same peg, with more or less the same approach. This time, however, I felt I had a shout. The weather was much warmer and Anderson’s had begun to emerge from its winter snooze. Fish were moving about and topping over the bar I’d baited up. But when the bite came it was off the rig by the lily pads, and was a rip-roarer. I was dozing off when the alarm wailed, bringing me back to my senses in the blink of an eye and causing the old ticker to race. 

The fish fought like a demon and made numerous attempts to find snags but I held on and at last there she was, a beautiful female tench languishing in the net, still bristling and angry. I let her calm down a bit before I weighed her, 6.9lb of pristine tinca, an absolute beauty.

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A lovely female tench of 6.9lb

It was 10.30 am when I caught her, and I was hopeful for another run of two, but that was it for the rest of the day, despite fish showing themselves, the cheeky blighters.

I didn’t mind that much though, I was pleased I’d cracked Anderson’s and I was content to sit and watch the terns scything through the air above, calling out their harsh shout as they ploughed the water, sending up a perfect V of sparkling droplets. Sharing the air with the terns were swifts, still fit despite their long, arduous journey from Africa. 

I once knocked out a swift, as I cast a Driftbeater float out into a lake somewhere in Surrey. Poor little sod chose the very moment I cast to fly just above me and caught the rod full in the face. Naturally, I thought I’d killed it and was mortified. I laid his little body on the grass under a nearby hawthorn and began to pack up, the fishing was hopeless and frankly I’d lost interest. Then I heard a faint cheep, and a feathery shuffling sound. The swift had come back from the dead, tough little bugger! I picked him up gently and cradled him for a minute or two as his senses returned and suddenly, with an indignant cheep, he shot off, apparently none the worse for his bash on the bonce.

Anyway, back at St Ives, the day wore on and the fish failed to show, so it was time to go home. As I loaded the car, another angler stopped for a chat, and as is the norm for this fishery was extremely friendly and informative, despite looking like a vagrant! “Bloody hell, I said, how long you been bivvied up! Too long, I stink!” he laughed. And then went on to inform me that Anderson’s wasn’t fishing well and hadn’t since a flooding event a few months earlier. My best bet for consistent fishing was the pit called Ivo, a rectangular-shaped water of about four acres adjacent to Anderson’s.

So, without further ado, I dragged my marker rod from the car and had a little cast around before I went home. 

A few days later…yes, I was back again but this time I walked straight past Anderson’s and headed straight for Ivo. I’d found a tucked away peg with deep margins and a gravel bar at about fifteen yards, which was perfect as I prefer not to have to cast too far, and it’s much easier to bait up.

So, out went a few balls of groundbait and a couple of in-line maggot feeders…and, well, I refer you to the very first paragraph. 

I caught three bream in quick succession, all well over 6lb with a personal best of 7.9lb

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My biggest bream so far at 7.9lb. Would have been heavier with a full tail!

Then the old warrior came, and by God he fought. He wasn’t pretty but I was very, very pleased to meet him, my biggest tench ever at 7.4lb, not a monster by modern-day tenching standards but a monster to me and a promising start to my St Ives campaign; although that endeavour may have to take a back seat for a while because the rivers are beckoning and the barbel rods need a polish!

Best fishes,


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And here’s the old warrior, bashed up and wounded but still impressive. 7.4lb
Bob Dellar Fly

Casting Like A Dead Man: My Feeble attempts At Fly Fishing, Plus A Near Death Experience.

An old college mate of mine called Tony asked me whilst we were wetting a line at the fantastic Bury Hill Fisheries in Dorking, Surrey if I fancied a bash at fly fishing. He was a bit of a dab hand already, he is in fact one of the best all-round fisherman I’ve ever known. “Sounds like a plan,” I said, where shall I cast my first fly? How about Lough Corrib in Ireland?” was his intriguing reply.

Being a great fan of the Emerald Isle I promptly agreed to the trip, scheduled for the following March. I had about five months to hone my fluff-chucking skills. 

As is typical of me, I waited until two weeks before the trip to purchase an entry level fly rod, reel and some little hooks with colourful, tufty bits attached and names like “orange booby,” as well as to book a casting lesson at my local trout fishery.

On the day of my one-hour lesson I was greeted by a Jack Hargreaves’s doppelgänger, the man was a ringer for my boyhood “Out Of Town” hero.

He even had a pipe clenched between his teeth and that patient, amiable delivery that Jack was famous for. I never mentioned this uncanny resemblance to the man, I suspected he was reminded of it all the time, I just enjoyed the moment as best I could in between my utterly fruitless attempts at casting a fly. The Jack lookalikey even chuckled “you’re casting like a dead man” when it became apparent to him that I was a no-hoper. At the end of the lesson he was even reluctant to take my twenty five quid as I’d made no progress whatsoever. And this, sadly, was to be the my fate. Despite several trout, sea trout and salmon fishing sorties in England, Scotland and Ireland, I never got the hang of casting, despite catching numerous trout and an 8.5lb salmon. It was made worse by the fact that I was accompanied on these trips by anglers, including my mate Tony, of enormous technical and entomological skill that could cast to the horizon, or to a tight spot no bigger than a dinner plate, and could “match the hatch” with enviable accuracy. But they were good friends and never once mocked my fly fishing inadequacies, not to my face anyway!

My first trip to Corrib, a vast glacial lake covering an area of sixty eight square miles, was a highly enjoyable, but fairly frustrating soirée into the deep and windswept end of wild lough fishing. We’d rented a lodge on the northern tip of Corrib in a hamlet called Cong and the king of Cong was the lodge owner Roy, as Celtic as a man can be. Roy was as big as a house with a shock of fiery red hair and a matching thicket of a beard that cascaded almost as far as his chest. He had piercing blue eyes that spoke a thousand words, which was just as well because he barely said a word. If he’d turned up to greet us naked to the waist, covered in wode, wearing a kilt and swinging a shillelagh around his head it wouldn’t have surprised me.

In stark contrast was his wife Sorcha, a diminutive, dark haired lady with a sweet nature, a sharp wit and renowned creator of some the best packed lunches I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. One night after a exemplary dinner enlivened by the odd glass of Black Bush, I called her Scorcher instead of Sorcha, a slip of the tongue she found most amusing. Roy, however, just stared at me from a dark corner of the dining room. That night I wedged my bedroom door shut with a chair, just in case.

Fishing Corrib is wild fishing at its wildest. The quarry was pristine brown trout pursued from a nineteen foot Irish fishing boat, allowed to drift with the wind to cover as much water as possible.

I’ve no recollection of the names of the flies we used to fish for the brownies, but I do know they strongly resembled the multitudinous hatches of flying insects emerging from the shallower water surrounding the Lough’s many islands.

I fished every day for four days from one of those boats, and I never caught a thing. My fellow ship mates, however, often caught fish into double figures. It was a bit humiliating, but then I couldn’t cast far enough to fish effectively. 

Despite my complete ineptitude, the trip was great fun, and on one occasion, dramatic. The anti-English sentiment still simmers amongst a very small Irish contingent, and a member of that contingent decided to drive his very fast motor boat through all of our lines one day, simply because we were English. He lived to regret it though, because when Roy found out what he’d done, he persuaded him in no uncertain terms to never do it again, so Scorcher said anyway. 

I’ve no idea if it was the same guy but during a visit to a tiny local pub alive with laughter, music and excellent Guinness, I was threatened, up at the bar in front of everyone, by an extremely scary Irishman who stood well over six feet, with a bushy black beard, a battered donkey jacket and a look in his eyes that screamed death to the English. It was like a Western, the music stopped and everyone looked our way, there was total silence. I could feel my bowels turn to water, (the four pints of Guinness didn’t help), but in a flash Tony was by my side and we fronted the guy out best we could. He was obviously pissed and, thankfully, unintelligible, but his guttural voice held real menace. The landlady, with a quiet word and a hand on his arm, diffused the situation and he slammed his pint down and left. Instantly, the laughter and music flared up again as if nothing had happened. Two pints of Guinness, on the house, were placed on the bar for us and not a word was said. As I say, it’s a wild spot, Corrib. 

Despite my near death experience, I had unfinished business with the place, so exactly a year later I returned to redeem myself. My casting skills were much the same but due to the concerted and kindly efforts of an excellent ghillie called Tom, I managed to catch twelve brown trout over the course of four days, which resulted in a congratulatory grunt from Roy, the most the man had said to me in two trips!

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Heading out: Lough Corrib Brown Trout Fishing
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First ever brown trout from Lough Corrib
Bob Dellar Coarse River

A Useful Brother In Law, Or How I Started Fishing.

When I was thirteen in 1977 and living with my parents and younger sister in Chingford, north east London, a brother in law called Steve with a Triumph Herald and a spare rod introduced me to angling. And for that I forgave him his tendency to grind his teeth whilst driving, blank me throughout the entire journey and smoke Players that filled the car with carcinogens. Passive smoking was my next favourite hobby after fishing.

   Being thirteen and without transport, not even a push-bike, I didn`t have a particularly large fishing catchment area. Highams Park Lake was a fifteen minute walk away, the River Lee at Cooks Ferry an hour by bus and feet but that was about it.

   Having Steve on side was without doubt a major advantage when it came to discovering far-flung fishing-well far-flung to me anyway. Copped Hall lake in Epping (my first carp, a common, fit and five pounds;) Hollow Pond, Leytonstone (my first specimen tench, a shining olive-green and coincidently, five pounds, a big fish in 1978), and the captivating Norfolk Broads, (my first bag of bream and my first fishing super store, Lathams at Potter Heigham, like a million Christmases rolled into one.)  And during a session at Hatfield Lakes in Essex, Steve briefly crawled out of his shell, exposing a dash of true colour. A bullying bailiff, who refused to believe I was under 16 and therefore a junior, demanded we pay the full adult day-ticket rate. This riled Steve considerable. I remember the exchange had the two men referring to each other as “chief” frequently; the word punctuated almost every sentence in guttural explosions of derision.

     The tete a tete eventually culminated in the bailiff storming off and threatening us with the police, totally convinced I was at least 25 (I was big for my age, and the beard didn`t help.) Later on that day he almost caved his skull in whilst pulling a hung-up tree over with a tractor. We saw it all and we laughed, leading to a good many more “chiefs” being thrown around like grenades. I think if the bailiff hadn`t been bleeding from a head wound, he soon would have been.

   I`m convinced Steve let off a enormous head of suppressed anger and vexation that day. He was actually whistling to himself on the way home and tapping out a jaunty rhythm on the steering wheel, behaviour I`d never witnessed before.

   But our piscatorial adventures couldn’t last, under the circumstances. Steve was always fine to me but he was, essentially, a fairly disturbed individual. Despised by my mother and younger sister, barely tolerated by my dad, he was indifferent to his two young boys and his wife, my elder sister, who limped along permanently stressed and barely able to make ends meet due to the inadequate house keeping he afforded her.

   The final straw came when it became evident that he spent more money on tackle than he did his family, and thereafter, it just didn`t seem right to accept his fishing invitations, which eventually fizzled out altogether.

   A pal called Nigel suggested I join his fishing club, Intrepid Angling Society, to compensate for the recent decline in fishing opportunities, so in the autumn of 1977 I did just that.

   Before I knew it I was a fully paid-up junior member of I.A.S and attending my first club meeting. They were held at a factory’s social club off Lea Bridge Road, Leyton in a massive brick building that looked like an asylum, and it appeared to me that one or two of the inmates had infiltrated the ranks of I.A.S.

   Around a rectangular table in a tiny room filled to the rafters with eye stinging fag smoke, I was welcomed into the fold by a character who would have made a fine Worzel long before Jon Pertwee.

   Albert Challice dripped straw-coloured hair from every visible orifice, his ears especially were a haystack. His invisible lips permanently sucked on a No6, and his copious beard and tache were the colour of a public bar`s ceiling. He wore what could only be described as Jethro Tull`s cast-offs, (not the father of modern farming, but Ian Anderson, the front man of said band): a tight fitting tweed waistcoat; a rather flouncy but extremely grubby white shirt, and worn to a shine brown Corduroy strides. And whenever he moved, it sounded like a bead curtain in a boutique. Bangles and necklaces of wooden beads, glass beads and various exotic totems adorned his wrists and neck. This was the only outfit I ever saw him wearing. Even when he was fishing his clothes were the same, all but for the inclusion of a decrepit waxed jacket if it was cold or raining. He looked ancient to me, at least eighty, so you can imagine my surprise when I was introduced to his dad, Pop Challice, a man who looked so old he could have drowned worms with Izaak Walton.

     It wasn’t long before my very first outing with I.A.S dawned, although in truth dawn would have been preferable, because the agreed pick-up time was 2.30am. It was to prove an unforgettable experience.

  The night before, my mum hadn`t allowed me to store maggots in a bait box in the fridge to keep them cool and inactive, so I had stupidly left them in my creel in the front passage along with my rods and nets. When I dragged myself out of bed, bleary-eyed and groggy, I discovered hundreds of sweating maggots doggedly scaling walls and traversing skirting boards. They had escaped from an unsecured bait box. Green bottle flies were happily emerging from the house`s numerous nooks and crannies for weeks afterwards, alighting on us, our furniture, our breakfasts, lunches, dinners: it drove my family barmy.

   That was just the start. Due to the maggot exodus I nearly missed the club`s behemoth of a coach and had to run in the dead of night, sweating and clattering with prodding, jutting fishing tackle: I just made it. It shuddered to a squealing stop in a monstrous belch of nauseating fumes that, along with my recent exertion, had me gagging. I was deftly parted from my fishing gear and hauled aboard like a shipwrecked sailor. Suddenly, I had entered another world and was assailed by a fug of tobacco smoke and a maelstrom of undulating voices, like an expectant football crowd. A middle-aged man with mutton chops that bordered on the lycanthropic was sat near the front sucking on a Meerschaum pipe. This was George Fitzpatrick, the Feeder Man, because that was the only method he ever used, a maggot feeder the size of a jam jar. Generally, the float boys would out fish him, but occasionally the vast quantities of maggots he had liberally fed to the river would attract attention. I remember witnessing a George caught net of Thames chub the likes of which I’d never seen before or since. I can’t remember the weight or number of fish but it needed two men to haul the net from the river. When it broke the surface, the water exploded into a seething, foaming mass of silvery flanks. 

    My pal Nigel waved at me to join him and the blue swirling haze parted briefly as I made my way towards his trademark tartan cap. 

   ‘That was close, you nearly missed us. I told `em to hold on a bit for you. Bleedin` long way to walk, Purley.’

   For that was our destination, the middle reaches of the River Thames at Purley in Berkshire.

    Somewhere near Chiswick the beast of a coach required sustenance, and I was mighty relieved to get out and purify my lungs as well as stretch the legs at an all night petrol station.  As me and Nigel stalked the confectionary section, I witnessed a display of practiced pre-CCT thievery that fascinated and appalled me simultaneously.

   While keeping their eyes on the ageing pencil-browed blond on the desk, two brothers, Alan and Keith systematically fleeced the shop, artfully concealing cans of oil, spark plugs, crisps, sweets and thrash mags within the gamekeepers pockets of their fading Barbours; I looked on in disbelief.

   ‘Don’t stare you prat, you`ll draw attention,’ whispered Nigel. ‘Just stuff that Mars in your coat and move towards the door.’

   Back on the coach, Alan and Keith jovially distributed the spoils of their labours and somehow I ended up with a copy of Hustler in my lap.

   ‘Feast your eyes on that’ smirked Keith, a bit of a step up from your usual Kays catalogue underwear section ain`t it?’

   It certainly was. The dusky brunette on the front cover was enough for me. But it was nothing compared to the jungle of eye popping gynaecological gymnastics on the inside. The models sported hair everywhere: great tussocks of it. It was after all the Seventies, when a Brazilian was merely a citizen of a South American country. I was disgusted. But given the hair-trigger nature of an adolescent’s loins, I shot my bolt straight into my new khaki fishing trousers. 

   The river at Purley was beautiful, utterly beguiling. My perception of the Thames up to that point had been of a colossally wide, tea coloured urban watercourse flanked by world famous landmarks. But the Thames I fished that day was draped in a veil of eddying autumnal mist, soon to be replaced by flakes of gold leaf sunlight as the day warmed. It spoke a lilting, liquid language I would come to know well and to this day whenever I have the good fortune to fish it I’m reminded of that first encounter.

     My swim was next to a gnarled willow amongst a drift of nodding Bulrush. It took me a while to set up my fishing tackle as I was so enthralled by the teeming life around me.

   As it turned out I caught very little. Only three tiny perch, striped like a sergeant, graced my keep net. It would take many years to acquire the watercraft and piscatorial know how to do this river justice. But as I watched a pulsing, electric blue damselfly balance artfully on my rod tip, catching fish was merely the icing on the cake.

   It`s May 1978 and my very first Intrepid Angling Society’s Annual Dinner and Dance. I looked hip and swish in my Travolteresque white shirt, cream jacket and black strides, although future examinations of the photos my mum took would prove otherwise.

   By some fluke I`d managed to secure a prize: The Junior Roach Shield for Best Specimen Roach. On a bitterly cold day in January, when every inch of me was an icicle, I caught a roach of 1lb 12oz that shone like an ingot of freshly minted silver with eyes and fins a deep blood red. It was the best fish I`d ever seen and it was mine, and to this day still remains my personal best.

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Intrepid Angling Society Presentation Dinner, 1979.
I’d won the Junior September All-In on the River Cam
Bob Dellar

The Night of the Five Pound Tench

Hollow pond, a century old 13 acre gravel pit on the borders of Snaresbrook and Leytonstone, north east London holds some great memories for me. 

Tearing up and down the hillocks of sand and gravel on my bike with my mates; rounding-up a herd of Epping Forest cattle over the plains adjacent to the pond like a cockney cowboy when I worked as a trainee forester; being chased by a large, half-naked, wild-eyed old man when my dog disturbed him banging one out in the undergrowth; and at the age of fourteen, catching a five pound tench on a balmy August evening as traffic rattled past on the Whipps Cross Road while bikers, skinheads and police mixed affably by a roadside cafe, not twenty yards from my swim.

“I think you’ll find that’s a specimen fish,” said Alan, a mate of my brother in law Steve. Steve mumbled something about me nicking his swim. This was our second evening on the venue and, as the previous one had been fishless, Steve had graciously let me fish the swim he’d been baiting up for himself over the course of the day. “It’s your fault, chided Alan, you put him in that peg!”

“Wish I hadn’t now, moaned Steve, that’s a beast.”

It was indeed a beast. I couldn’t believe it at the time and even now, forty three years later, I still can’t believe it. A five pound tench in 1978 was a very large fish. In 1975,  Len Head’s famous Bures Lake brace of 7lb and 8lb fish was considered groundbreaking and unique, so this may offer some perspective. 

Obviously, I was completely unaware of this. I was just a young lad who loved fishing and loved tench especially. 

It all started when I spotted a group of strange, dark fish loitering in the shallows of Highams Park Lake, Woodford Green, Essex, my go-to water as a boy. I’d climbed an old yew tree, (that’s still there to this day looking much the same), with a view to spot fish. Up until that point all I’d caught from the lake was the obligatory tiny perch that are often the only fish greedy and undiscerning enough to oblige the young, naive angler with his thumpy-feet, too-thick line and too-big hooks. But that changed after I spotted the tench, although I had no idea what they were, I had to look them up in my Ladybird Book of Coarse Fishing. 

Those tench set something stirring in me. They were different. Not silver, striped, red-finned or spiky, but olive green and smooth-scaled with endearing, almost friendly teddy-bear eyes. I really had to catch one.

My local library had a surprisingly good section on coarse fishing. I remember turning a nearly-new copy of ‘Float Fishing With Ivan Marks’ into a dog-eared mud-flecked shadow of its former self, the amount of times I borrowed it and took it fishing. But Fred J Taylor came first, he was my way into the world of tench. 

I borrowed his famous tome ‘Fishing For Tench’ and never looked back.

So, armed with Fred J’s wise words, an Ivan Mark’s ‘Persuader’ float rod and a loaf I descended upon Highams Park Lake in the vain hope of making contact with my very first tench. It was a sunny Saturday morning in June, just a few days into the new season.

On arrival I was relieved to find no one fishing in the yew tree swim, so I shined up the tree again to see if my quarry was at home. They were there, three beautiful tench shimmering olive in the shallows surrounding a small, overgrown island some fifteen feet from the bank. I nearly fell out of the tree in my excitement, to this day I have a scar on my shin to prove it. 

I remember having to sit down for a minute to calm myself. I’d had the tenacity to set up my float rod away from the bank beforehand so all I had to do was bait up with breadflake and cast out, as close to the fish as I dare. For the very first time, I was using the Lift Method, all because of Fred J. 

I cocked the small section of peacock quill with a gently turn of the reel handle, threw in two or three pieces of flake around the float, and waited.

It was text book stuff, the bite that eventually came. The quill fluttered slightly, dipped, and then rose majestically to lay flat in one smooth motion. I struck into a fish that dived deep, shook its head violently, but came to the net quickly, a gorgeous roach of just over a pound, still to this day one of the biggest roach I’ve ever caught.

I was well pleased, but it wasn’t a tench.

Without letting the swim rest I cast straight out again after returning the roach and re-baited with a few pieces of flake, hoping that the tench hadn’t taken exception to me extracting one of their red-finned cousins.

I needn’t have worried. Soon, the float was twitching and dancing again and this time, instead of a lift, it sailed-away, disappearing instantly as the rod tip arched round. This time the fight was a good deal more intense. I’d read that tench fight hard but you’ve no idea how that feels until you’re doing battle with one. I was lucky to land that fish, I just held on for dear life and did my best to keep it from diving for the cover of nearby lily pads. In desperation, I made a great lunge at her with the net that could have been disastrous but suddenly there she was, all 2.5lbs of her, laying at my feet, a wonder to behold, the biggest fish I’d seen at that point in my fledgling angling adventures; stocky, scarred, her flanks a glistening deep olive with tiny flecks of green and gold and of course the red teddy bear eyes. I ran most of the mile and a half back home, despite a protruding rod bag and carryall, to announce my achievement to a surprised and faintly amused mum and dad, who never really got fishing themselves but understood why it appealed to me.

I’d weighed both the roach and the tench on an old brass set of Salter scales that had, until the previous day, been hanging up in my grandad’s shed, supporting a bag of onions, so it’s feasible the weights were a bit out, but I don’t let that diminish the sheer joy of my first tench, and let’s face it, she could have weighed more!

My Hollow Pond tench was weighed on state of the art scales that brother in law Steve used for his carp fishing, and witnessed by his mate Alan plus a couple of bikers who had wandered over, curiosity getting the better of them. One of them clapped me on the back in congratulations and I remember the faint whiff of leather and oil as he walked off, a scent that to this day triggers a Proustian moment of recollection that whisks me back to the night of the 14th of August 1978, the night of the 5lb tench.  

Bob Dellar

The Carp and I. Part 2

I feel, before I continue recounting my carp fishing exploits, that I’m not actually a carp fisherman, more of a general coarse fisherman. I’m certainly not an all-rounder either because I don’t fish in the sea and, although I have fished for trout and salmon in England, Scotland and Ireland I rarely go game fishing because I am utterly shite at casting a fly any distance or with any accuracy. So that’s me-a coarse fisherman.

Also carp are not my favourite quarry, that accolade belongs to the tench. Saying that, the old ticker still misses a beat at the sight of carp with dark, broad backs loitering in the margins on hot, sunny days, and the great watery slap as a big old lump makes its presence known directly above your bait. As a boy and still to this day, I revel in the somewhat surreal tales of mythical carp and characterful carp fisherman related in the writings of BB and of course, his natural successor Chris Yates. 

But, as Chris has alluded to, the wonderful prospect of discovering a carp fishers El Dorado, an idyllic lost pond that is effectively an untapped, virginal water that has never seen a fisherman is nigh impossible nowadays as any such water has either been filled-in, is entirely private or has succumbed to the attentions of a carp syndicate and is busier than Tesco’s when bog-roll’s scarce.

So, in short, the circus that is modern-day carp fishing leaves me a bit cold. I witnessed an example of this phenomenon first hand last summer when I went fishing with a young angler of seventeen who has only ever fished for carp, just like his dad and brother. He’s a lovely fella and good company but the concept of trotting for roach or link ledgering for chub is for him an alien landscape of tiny hooks, rods that actually move when you wobble them and line that isn’t capable of straddling pylons. The only bait he bought to the session were 15mm pink pop-ups. His face dropped when I told him that boilies were banned from that fishery. I gave him a tin of flavoured meat I had knocking around in my bag and a lesson in fishing the margins as opposed to simple launching his rig out into open water but he still didn’t catch anything. He came up and sat behind me when the boredom set in after ten minutes or so and was fascinated by the fact that I was using bread for bait. While he was there I caught a couple of small bream, a baby tench and a crucian. “See, a genuine mixed fishery, not stuffed full of lipless, bashed-up carp and bugger-all else,” I said. “Yeah but bream, I don’t like bream, they’re slimy and they don’t fight,” he replied. 

“Not like carp but river bream give a good account of themselves, have you ever caught a bream?” I retorted. No never, only ever carp,” was his telling reply. 

So, if my young friend is anything to go by, the obsession continues into the next generation and very likely beyond. Still, if it keeps them off the rivers…😉

Despite my reservations about modern-day carp fishing, I still find them a fascinating fish. It’s their propensity for huge size, wiliness, sheer power and, let’s face it, breath taking beauty that attracts me to them, although I draw the line at those colossally obese “mud-pigs” banded around in the angling press so often; they’re just plain ugly, in my eyes anyway.

As I said before, I’m not a carp angler, in fact my biggest carp, a common of 44lb, came while I was fishing for catfish, an escapade I’ve recounted in a previous Essex Anglers blog.

But I have targeted them on occasion, mainly on canals and rivers where the fish could be deemed as “wild.” For a few years I was lucky enough to live adjacent to the Stort Navigation in Sawbridgeworth, Herts. The canal there is a beautiful stretch of cascading willows, naturalised banks teeming with wildlife and a permanent flotilla of brightly painted narrowboats. One evening, whilst on a dog walk passed a marina, I noticed dark, mysterious shapes just below the canal’s surface, caught in the glow from the pontoon lights. They were carp, and big ones at that. The very next evening I was back with a couple of carp rods, some white chocolate flavoured boilies and very high hopes. But all that succumbed to my sweet-flavoured bait was a couple of battered old bream, which is better than blanking but nonetheless a bit disappointing.

Next night I was back again with with fish-meal based boilies that I thought might deter the bream. And I was right. At around 11pm a roaring take resulted in a 14lb mirror that, even in the harsh light of my head torch was as black as old mahogany, as if carved from wood. Despite the prospect of work the next day I stuck it out as the carp were on the feed, I could see them patrolling the far bank and occasionally slurping at the marginal lilies. At around 1am the rod was off again and I was attached to something bigger, a fish that tore off towards a raft of stringy, underwater roots. Side-strain and a clamped-down reel turned its head but off it went again in the opposite direction which, thankfully, was open water. After a short but highly energetic scrap, I was face to face with my quarry, a spectacular buttery-yellow common of 23lb. It was a great feeling to have located and caught outstanding fish right on my doorstep. But for various reasons I never went back, just those two sessions. 

Nonetheless, I’d now become aware of the treasures canal carping had to offer and so, on a week-long narrowboat holiday on the Oxford Canal, the rods came with me. 

The Oxford is a narrow, bucolic waterway of gentle meanders and secluded stretches way off the beaten towpath. On a sultry summer’s evening a couple of days in we found a perfect mooring with no other boat, or any other sign of human habitation, in sight. The opposite bank was a tangle of overhanging trees, lily pads and occasionally, patches of fizzing bubbles that could’ve been escaping gas or feeding fish. Just in case, I chucked a few boilies in that general direction. As night fell and darkness enveloped the far-bank I was very excited to hear that slurpy-suck sound, the onomatopoeia of feeding carp.

Just before bedtime, I lobbed a couple of rigs as close to the lilies as I dare, placed the rods on the pod set up on the stern of the boat and settled down for the night. At some ungodly hour the bite alarm woke me up and groggily and in nothing but my underpants, I lifted into a fish. As I played it I realised that the landing net was way out of reach on the boat’s roof. I had to alert the missus who was still fast asleep. “Cath, Cath wake up for God’s sake, I can’t reach the net!” I hissed. The fish wasn’t a monster but there were lots of snags and the night was pitch-black so landing it quickly was a priority. “Bloody hell, Cath!” The dog, bless him, had woken up immediately and in so doing proceeded to jump on Cath’s face making her wake, spitting dog’s hair and swear words.

“Land this fish for me, I can’t reach the net!” And so she did, leaning over the handrail and expertly netting a 12lb canal carp. She’d had the sense to turn on the boats outside light as she got up and I was mightily surprised and amused to see that she was completely naked as she hoisted the fish onto the unhooking mat. It was a glorious sight, the wife and the carp, smouldering in the half-light of a hot summer’s night.

Back in the early noughties I had the good fortune to befriend a tackle shop owner called Barry. He was a highly likeable wide-boy with an uncanny ability to catch big carp. One day whilst I was slavering over the shiny-new rods in his shop, he called across to me. “Fancy some french carp fishing Bob?” I’m organising a trip in the summer, it’s a lovely lake with some fucking lumps, up to 60lb.” “Yeah alright,” I said. And so the scene was set for my first ever foreign carp adventure. 

They were a motley crew, the carp anglers who went on that trip, good natured in the main apart from a bloke called Carl who had a dislike for policemen, especially one called Kevin who happened to be tagging along. After a few days of bickering and mithering at each other the inevitable happened and it kicked off between Carl and Kevin, over breakfast actually. I made a hasty retreat back to my bivvy, dodging haymakers and flying sausages.

The lake itself was set somewhere in Northern France, a relatively short drive from Calais; I can’t remember its name but it was quite big and nice looking with gravel bars and deep margins to fish to. During the course of that week I had nine carp to 36lb and a friendly encounter with a coypu called Colin, or at least that’s what I named him. I never met him face to face but every night he paid a visit, snuffling outside my bivvy at the little pile of boilies I left out for him. 

Carl the cop-fancier was ensconced in the next peg to me. Most nights he would come and chew the fat armed with his weed pipe and a can of Stella. In the end, old Carl actually grew on me. He had major issues, no doubt, but he was likeable, warm and very funny. On the last night he overdid the weed and beer and passed out, dead to the world. In the early hours I awoke to a cacophony of screaming bite alarms, flashing lights and sweary fisherman. Carl had a run during the night but was so inebriated he remained comatose, while the poor old fish tore round the lake taking out numerous lines as it did so, mine included. It was a hell of a job, sorting that lot out. The carp that did the tangling was a mirror of around 25lb that swam away none the worse for its experience. Carl, needless to say, wasn’t invited again.😆

Bob Dellar

The Carp and I. Part 1

My first memorable fish was a five pound common carp, caught from Copped Hall syndicate lake in Epping, Essex, adjacent to Rod Stewart’s salubrious gaff, although Rod wasn’t in residence then, I suspect he was shacked up in some sordid sex-den with Britt Ekland, the lucky so and so. I was about thirteen years old, obsessed with fishing, but beginning to walk the rock-strewn path to manhood, where I’d alternate my attention between the Angling Times and the ladies underwear section in mum’s well-thumbed Kay’s Catalogue. My brother in law Steve had fronted the annual £40 membership fee on my behalf because I’d helped him a bit with some DIY and decorating, although if the truth be known I was more of a hindrance than a help, spilling paint and encouraging my two toddler nephews into frenzies of mischievity. 

Copped Hall carp lake was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen in all my young days, a gorgeous old estate lake, jewelled with vast beds of yellow and maroon water lilies, amidst a mature woodland that seemed to envelop the lake on all sides; oppressive and foreboding at night but sun-kissed and replete with life during those long summer days.

And it was at night that I caught my carp. I’d tucked myself out of the way in a quiet corner where I’d seen fish cruising during the day, convinced that they’d still be there after dark. I baited up with corn and luncheon meat and fished with my 9ft fibre glass leger rod, rigged with a coffin weight, size 6 hook and a big cube of Spam. Bite detection was state of the art, a Fairy Liquid top, nicked from the bottle on the draining board at home long before its contents had ran out, much to my mum’s annoyance. 

I remember the night was sultry and warm, and the close proximity to the woodland’s velvety-black depths and moist, decay-infused scent had me imagining orcs and goblins, vampires and werewolves. Brother in Law Steve was a reassuring fag-glow on the opposite bank, but he was too far away to completely allay my fears. 

As is often the case with an adolescent’s mind, my thoughts scuttled from one improbable to another, namely, what it would feel like to be eviscerated by a werewolf to fondling school nymphet Elaine Archer’s prematurely buxom chest.

But in a flash my attention was centred entirely on the fishing as the red bottle top crashed into the rod butt and line zipped from the reel. A few minutes later, after a short but powerful scrap, I was admiring my biggest fish to date, a common carp of around five pounds, scales all shades of bronze and gold in my head-torch’s harsh-white glow.

I fished Copped Hall with Steve a good few times that summer, watching double-figure carp basking in the shallow margins or slurping at bread crust cast to nestle amongst the lily pads. But they were elusive and wise those carp, often favouring and rapidly devouring all of the crusts apart from the piece with the hook in. This frustrated Steve, a man not renown for patience and c’est la vie, and rods would occasionally become javelins as yet another bite was missed.

I never bettered my five pound carp, but I caught many smaller fish and my very first crucian, on my favourite yellow-tipped peacock quill tight against the lilies.

I only enjoyed the one summer at Copped Hall, Steve never renewed my ticket as my dubious DIY skills became obsolete on completion of his home improvements.

So alternative fishing venues were sought. 

Around that time my best mate was Gary. Where I had near black hair and brown eyes he was Nordic blonde and blue-eyed with skin that quickly reddened in the sun. He was good at maths, me at English; I could beat him in an arm wrestle, he could out-throw me in a stone chucking contest; he liked a scrap, I’d avoid them. But we had one thing in common: a love of fishing. Our hunting grounds were the forest ponds and lakes of Epping Forest and the River Lee at Waltham Cross, Enfield and Cooks Ferry, Edmonton. 

Once, on a school visit to Tudor hunting lodge in Chingford, allegedly frequented by Elisabeth the First when the forest was an exclusive playground for the well-to-do, Gary and me were drawn to a stuffed fish in a glass case. It was an enormous carp, still majestic and lifelike despite being caught and mounted in the thirties, a testament to the skill of the taxidermist.  But what really intrigued us was the location of the capture: Warren Pond, a tiny water right opposite the lodge on the edge of the forest; entirely overlooked by us as it was so choked with tall reeds and overrun with lilies that you could barely see the water. How could such an incredible fish come from that stagnant puddle? We had no concept of the passage of time’s effect on a pond, especially in a woodland where decades worth of autumn leaves and general detritus, plus unchecked vegetation can eventually render it unfishable. Nonetheless it was worth investigating and early one summers day during the school holidays we set off with float rods, bread, worms and maggots in the vain hope that a scaley-backed descendent of that glass-case leviathan loitered somewhere in the ponds silty depths. But all we ever caught were tiny rudd, despite two or three visits, and the odd scuff and bruise after a stone-throwing battle with a couple of other boys bent on  disrupting our fishing. 

One summer’s afternoon two or three years later, I happened to be walking my dog around Warren Pond. The Conservators of Epping Forest had been busy since my last visit. Large swathes of reeds and lilies had been cleared revealing areas of open water that looked eminently fishable. And tucked away in a quiet corner, someone was indeed fishing: an elderly man with a flat-cap and an old glass fibre rod.

‘Had much?’ I asked. ‘Not yet son, but they’re down there’, he replied. ‘What are?’, I enquired. ‘That’s for me to know and you to find out’, was his tight-lipped response. So I walked off none the wiser. At the time I was mildly offended by the the old boy’s taciturn retort. But now I’m mildly amused by it, and grateful to him for preserving the mystery.

When I started work in Epping Forest as a trainee forester, I discovered many more ponds, large and small, at various locations throughout the forest. Some were bomb-craters where V2 rockets aimed at London missed their mark, others were much larger gravel workings dug out to supply sand and gravel for road construction and building materials.

One such larger water was Wake Valley Pond adjacent to the Epping High Road. As a trainee I was consigned many tasks, and one was litter picking. The pond was a popular site so litter was abundant. I always spent more time than I should of there scanning the water, as an elderly forest keeper called Phil had beguiled me with stories of huge, uncatchable carp roaming the depths. And it was deep too, well over 10ft in places. 

I only saw them once, despite many visits. In the reed-lined shallows on a hot summer’s afternoon, seven ancient, black-backed carp basked in the warm, daphnia flecked margins. One or two were well over twenty pounds. I sat and watched them for an age, mesmerised. 

And that was the one and only time I met the carp of Wake Valley Pond. I never fished for them, as a local club’s ticket was required. I could have poached it, as some did, but to have any chance of success night fishing was a necessity and I really didn’t fancy chancing my arm with the nutters and deviants who frequented that neck of the woods at night. And that reality eventually put-paid to any chance of a specimen from the ponds and lakes of Epping Forest. A few years ago, and I have to add allegedly before this statement, many fish were removed to discourage fishing, as the incidence of harassment, tackle-theft and mugging had increased to such an extent that the risk posed to anglers was deemed too great. Maybe the risk of litigation by an aggrieved angler against the Corporation of London (who are responsible for the upkeep of the forest) may have also played a part in the decision, but that’s open to speculation.

Thankfully, according to my nephew Tony who fishes an old estate lake within the forest in Woodford Green, Essex, things are looking up. He regularly catches mint-conditioned baby carp that should eventually replace the lost specimens in that particular water. Let’s hope he gets to those big girls before the electro-fishers.

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A pristine little carp from an Epping Forest estate lake. Circa 2020.
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The best bite indicators of all time.
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Me with a lovely little Copped Hall common. Circa 1978.