Days and Ways....

REVIEW: Historical Carp Waters. Chris Ball. The Little Egret Press.

CHRIS Ball and Kevin Clifford are without doubt the nation's most informed and insightful historians of carp fishing: so much so, it is unlikely their achievements will ever be surpassed. You can imagine my delight, then, when I heard of a new book by Chris, called "Historical Carp Waters"

 I ordered mine from The Little Egret Press in September, knowing it was a pre-order; but such was my anticipation, I could not help putting in one impatient phone call and one email to publisher Wayne Cryer. (Sorry Wayne!). So, was the wait worth it? You bet! The depth of Chris's research is simply breath-taking and the number of rare images is a delight. There's even a colour still from a unique film of Richard Walker in action - playing a Delafields' carp, as Fred J waits with the net.

Some chapters are more gripping than others: but this depends of course on one's personal interests and experience. The Beechmere chapter contains a marvellous account of a successful session in suitably stormy weather, and I found the Waggoners Wells section pretty relatable to the kind or carp fishing I actually do, or like to do.

Beyond this, the work raises many subtle questions about the nature of carp fishing itself. For instance, Chris says of Fletchers Pond: "It's now over 50 years since it produced its first 20lb carp and in my book there's not that many waters here in the UK that can boast that."

Elsewhere, Chris states that a 10lb carp in the 1950s was "nothing to be sneezed at", and he regularly stresses how rare 20lb carp were in British waters until relatively recent times.

All this points to one conclusion - that much of modern carp fishing, with its mega-catches and mega-carp, is an artificial, commercial entity and part of the nation's leisure industry. Put simply, the carp fishing of the past was a totally different challenge to the majority of modern day carp fishing. I think that much of the magic contained in the pages of Historical Carp Waters is pretty hard to find elsewhere, whether or not significant waters have survived into the present day.

However, it is not as though anglers have to fish well-stocked, recently created waters with carp that have been tipped in at eye-brow-raising weights. We all have a choice, after all.

What I find most endearing about Chris Ball - and Chris Yates too, as a matter of fact, is that they both understand the significance of the moment. A carp in the net for them is not a stepping stone to another challenge and a bigger fish, it is a time for reverie and reflection. There is a philosophy underlying what I shall call traditional or classical carp fishing, and it is the fact that the capture of any carp merely completes a picture that incorporates aspects such as the manner of the capture, the time and the place. When it all comes together, then the angler is most satisfied, I believe.

When, in early 2009, I decided to become a "semi-serious" carp angler, instead of the occasional and casual carp angler I'd been since the late 1970s, I confess that aspects of the modern scene simply bewildered me. However, I knew I had a choice. I decided to set myself an old-fashioned challenge - to catch an unknown 20lb common without the aid of a hair-rig, boilies, bolt rig etc. I don't think I realised how incredibly difficult this would be. If Chris's new book had been out there in 2009, the penny might have dropped somewhat sooner. Fishing without the hair rig, and so on, presents serious challenges, as it always did; and if you fish mainly farm ponds, you can't expect to catch so many large carp. At best, Mother Nature will make sure that any big fish in there will be the rare exception, not the rule. More often than not, you are fishing for one of two large carp and, if luck is smiling, and if your watercraft and approach is half-decent, you might even fool one.The results, in all probability, will not put you on the front cover of Carp World! In my case, the fact I don't drive and I have to rely on public transport, friends, family or my kind wife Heather (X) to get the pools I fish all adds to the challenge I have set myself: but it wasn't so different for the carp fishers of the 1950s. The lack of peronal transport, more often than not,  was all part of the game. For many years, even Richard Walker did not own a car!

Now, almost nine years on, I've managed well over 1000 carp, consisting largely of high singles. My tally does include 50 doubles to 19lb 12oz, all without the hair, and, of course, the pursuit continues..!

I would not have it any other way.

I've just posted this on the Stoney and Friends Forum. I don't really want to get involved with angling politics or even with conservation to any profound extent: but sometimes you just have to step up. I'm still in shock about this news - a real double whammy for me, as the pool set to became a fenced off stock pool is "The Other Pool" and one of the pools at risk of being filled in is the Victorian, or older, "Clay Farm Pond"....

It strikes me that Walker and the Carp Catchers' Club were living in a Nirvana-time: not many folks interested in catching carp, combined with unpressured lakes and ponds.This is not to belittle their achievements in any way; I'm merely saying that things were different then. The problem is, a good many of us have bought into the dream, and the dream is increasingly hard to find. I'd dabbled with canal carp as a youngster; in the late Seventies and Eighties, carp were still mysterious. I dabbled for carp again on a medieval moat in the early years of this century, then fell headlong into obsession in 2009, during a spell of redundancy. Carp fishing then became my "other life": I'm sure a good many folks know what I mean by that. The problem is, I wanted a specific kind of carp fishing - the traditional sort. I'd used cane carp rods at the moat - but encountering slightly larger carp at a farm pond prompted me to switch back to carbon, and glass. Eight years on, I'm still into free-lining for carp close in - stalking, float fishing and not using the hair. I catch plenty of carp - not big ones, - not at all, by the magazine standards, but enough to put a smile on my face. The problem is, there are terrible divisions growing in the modern scene. Commercial carp fishing cannot be the same experience as that enjoyed by Walker and his Joyous Crew. Carp that are programmed to eat pellets and boilies are not acting in a natural way, for instance. Each to their own, folks will say - and yes, I agree with that- but it's getting hard, painfully hard, to find waters that are geared to the traditional approach, where watercraft and stealth come into play. Each to their own - but we traditionalists are not being left alone, because our waters are being destroyed for commercial reasons. Let me give you a few examples, from my own experience. I visited my local fishing tackle shop a few weeks ago, to be given two disturbing reports.
1. A snaggy carp pond I love is to be drained. All the immaculate doubles will be dumped into a nearby match/bagging pond where most of the fish, by contrast, have damaged lips and split fins. The many snags in 'my' pond will be removed by digger, then it will be refilled and used as a stock pond for the match pool - F1s are not an impossibility! A chain-link fence and CCTV will then surround a pool I've loved... a lovely, isolated and mysterious place.
2. A farmer plans to fill in two Victorian-era farm ponds where I've had nice runs of doubles in the past. I no longer fish these pools all that often - perhaps once or twice a year, but I've launched a battle to save them. The county planning officer is now involved. No planning applications have been received but some damaging preparation work has already been carried out by the farmer. I plan to stop him.

My point is - such awful events will inevitably push the traditional carper towards the commercial scene. But will he or she be welcomed there? I wonder - given a recent claim, for instance, that catching carp off the top is "cheating!" In fact, taking a carp off the top, in my view, is the 'dry fly' end of carp angling - the highest and most pleasurable achievement.

I've three interesting sessions lined up for this autumn: each one at a water that's more or less natural and traditional. I have something to look forward to. But I'm scratching my head about where to find a regular water for next year....
If it's a commercial-style water, I'm just not interested. I've seen and heard too much for that, I am afraid.

UPDATE: I contacted the county's enforcement officer and I went with him on a site visit to both Victorian pools. The owner of the pools has subsequently given an assurance, to the officer, that the two pools will not be filled in, and churned up areas of mud - due to heavy machinery that has been on the site, will be tidied up and re-seeded with grass. I hope, therefore, that these two pools are safe - even though no fishing is allowed on either at present.

 

The Picture - a wintry scene of the pool I call Clay Farm Pond.

Hoveland carp are getting more and more 'spooked'. News is spreading locally that the day ticket water has a good head of doubles and this summer has seen a sprouting of more green mushrooms than usual at the one acre farm pond: no double peopled by serious-faced modern carpers behind batteries of buzzers. I don't really know how they've done, because I've hardly fished the place as a result of this extra angling pressure. Yesterday was different. I arrived there expecting the pool to be packed out again but, apart from a nice family there for a weekend's camping and fishing, I had the place to myself. The kids, I noticed, were having great fun catching decent roach on light tackle, which was good to see. Our sport needs this.

I soon realised, however, that the carp have become even more nervous than usual. Bottom baits, presented with a sight-bob, resulted in twitch after twitch. I also noticed that surface baits were being mouthed and rejected quickly, especially in open water. In fact, it proved impossible to take a carp off the surface in open water yesterday. Something else was needed, and I suppose this is where experience came in. Last year I had one of two good days there while "long-trotting" surface flake and crust along the line of the bank. I let the baits drift with the wind until they swing in and rest against the bank - and here they are taken by carp. It's still a long wait for each take; and then there are plenty of frustrating "mouthings" and missed takes. However, yesterday I found it was the only way to catch carp at Hoveland. The one thing the carp there haven't realised yet is that free offerings blown into the margins are not always safe. I managed four carp in total - to 13lb Ioz - shown here. On the whole, it was a good result, especially with another double and two high singles in the mix. 

The best fish I had yesterday, at the Other Pool, came to my first or second cast in the bay; but I almost deserved to loose that high single common. A great deal of water had been taken off the pool, for irrigation purposes, and most of the bay is only 2ft deep at present, and the bistort is having a field day, of course! A good many carp are in and about that bistort, and some good fish too - some perhaps touching 20lbs. But the carp are hanging out by the sunken tree stumps in the bay - I've always wondered how many treacherous stumps are present and now I know for certain, because of the exceptionally low water levels. There are eleven sunken tree stumps in the bay. It is a veritable fortress for carp that do not wish to be caught. And that means all of them, effectively! The high single came in wrapped in bistort: from a fight in which I gave very little line and allowed the AKN 116 to absorb the considerable shocks. I had to scramble down the bank to net that fish, while balancing on a devilish slope of mud. Tricky stuff! Despite the presence of bigger carp in the bay, I decided that, given the snags and the bistort and the shallow water and the mud-slope margins, it wasn't fair on the fish to try for more.The fish I caught, on surface flake, was truty beautiful in any case. I ended up catching two smaller carp off surface flake, up near the dam, - and eight more on sight-bobbed sweetcorn, from the shingle beach of the Pipes Swim. Before anyone congratulates me on a fine result, I must admit that five of those sight-bobbed fish were very small indeed - under 1.5lbs in weight - the babies of the pool. But it was still good sport. Perhaps the most useful observation came when I was fishing surface flake in open water. Twice, a large carp came to investigate and twice the fish backed off. Why? In short, I think the slight bow in the line, driven by a soft breeze, was pulling the surface bait along at a slightly quicker speed than the surface drift, due to momentum. That at least was my observation, and it's something I need to think about a little, for future sessions. The problem is, over-correcting the line will also put fish down.... 

The Other Pool remains a glimpse of how carp fishing must have been, not so long ago, when semi-abandoned pools were found by use of maps: as eager-eyed carp fishermen looked for those little blue shapes. Clearly, nobody has fished the pool since my last session. On the island, the nettles were literally chest-high and, while I am no giant, neither am I a Hobbit ! - so that gives some idea of how tricky the fishing can be there. I wouldn't have it any other way, however - because this is real angling. It's so real, I still don't have any clear idea of how many carp the pool actually contains. Yesterday was sunny, and there were fair numbers of carp on the surface - one or two were much longer than the carp I have been fooling. These mysterious carp were lengthy dark shapes, always cruising through at a distance. I managed seven smaller carp - all off the top, because that's the way I decided to fish. The last carp was a repeat capture - the fully-scaled mirror - which I had to play from the island while chest-high in those very potent nettles. I was virtually stung from head to toe! It was the largest fish of the day; the fish shown here was only the third largest of the day - but perhaps it was the most memorable, because of its rather feral lines. It took off like a rocket, managing a 50 yard run against a fully bent AKN 116 - and that was impressive, given the carp's modest size. So, what do I know about the stock here? Well, to repeat myself, I know the pool was stocked around 30 years ago, and these were certainly king carp. On the two occasions I fished the pool with St John - (who at the time was Redmire's assistant baliff) - he commented on the similarity between Redmire commons and The Other Pool king commons. Were some fish stocked from Redmire or are they Leney carp from another source? I don't know and I can't say. However, I have since discovered that the pool contained carp before that particular stocking; - what sort of carp? Again, I don't know: but given that some of the carp seem to show wildie/feral characterstics, I'd put my money there.

Latest comments

05.11 | 13:44

I agree John - it's all about magic - and at first Redmire, Woldale etc were not 'fisheries' but waters that were discovered...off the beaten track...

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04.11 | 13:48

Gary,

I hold the same philosophy as you.
Somehow I cannot bring myself to use hair-rig & fixed lead tactic. Having to strike still encapsulates the magic.

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26.10 | 20:37

Nets in those days were not always so great!

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24.10 | 22:22

I and a friend had aluminium nets both had bent arms mine by acarp his by a lawnmower strange world isn't it?

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