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.😆