Having been carp fishing for six decades, Alan Taylor has seen it all. He’s fished some of the most famous and significant waters in the UK and France, and caught their very biggest residents. He’s set up a bait company, written for every magazine going, and now runs one of the Nene Valley’s premier fisheries. He talks to Paul Monkman about his life in the sport.
Paul Monkman: You have been carp fishing for longer than most of our readers have been alive. How, when and where did it all start for you?
Alan Taylor: That’s a good question… makes me seem like a right old man, but I guess I am! I have been carp fishing since the late sixties. That makes it six decades, so I must be really old!
When I was growing up I lived on the banks of the Grand Union Canal in Leighton Buzzard and fished with my dad as soon as I was big enough to hold a fishing rod. I also did some junior match fishing for Leighton Buzzard Angling Club.
Carp fishing started for me in 1969 at a very famous old sand pit, Tiddenfoot Pit (mentioned by Jack Hilton in his book Quest For Carp). It was just across the road from my school. The problem was you couldn’t buy a ticket until you were 16, so I used to do a bit of guesting. I got chased off a few times, but luckily I was a good runner in those days.
PM: Why carp?
AT: Well, it was different, quite mysterious and certainly not the norm. Most people pleasure fished, with the exception of a few specimen hunters and fewer still carp anglers. I also had a mate who was a bit older than me, and he was into carp fishing big time.
PM: What waters did you fish while growing up?
AT: Just local pits, club lakes I could get myself to on the Leighton Buzzard AC or Vauxhall AC permits. We used to venture over to Oxford occasionally, which seemed a long way (30 miles) in them days. These were just club waters with very low stocks of carp to low twenties. These places were quite mysterious, in as much as no one knew what they held really. Locally, I had caught most of the big fish, so it was a necessity to travel.
PM: As you became more adept, did big carp become more of a lure? If so, what sort of fish and venues did you target?
AT: I joined the CAA (Carp Anglers’ Association) at its inaugural meeting at the famous Billing Aquadrome. I got to know about other waters and actual carp lakes. The first real carp lake I ever fished was Marlborough Pool. I caught lots of doubles, 50 in a season, which was excellent for the time and got me an invite to join the BCSG (British Carp Study Group) – another step on the ladder.
A lesson I learned early on was that you could not catch big carp from waters that did not hold them. I started to fish further afield at Waveney Valley Lakes and some of the Leisure Sport waters in Kent. However, working Monday to Friday every week, this was not easy fishing. Turning up on busy lakes late on a Friday limited the use of fish location. Often it was a case of picking a swim from what was left. Busy day-ticket fisheries and lakes with unlimited memberships were and still are hard going.
Although I managed to catch, it became apparent that to get the best from my time available, getting into syndicates holding the fish I wanted to catch was the way forward for me, offering a more level playing field for all members. For instance the first syndicate I joined was Duncan Kay’s Mid-Northants Carp Fishery, one of the top waters in the country at the time. Duncan was a bit eccentric… well, mad as a box of frogs, truthfully, but he ran a fantastic syndicate. Members were hand picked from all over the country, and his rules on the hours you were allowed to fish, for instance, ensured there were no full-time anglers; only 48 hours were permitted per week with only 24 hours at the weekend. There was the occasional odd rule, like no bivvies for anyone under 50! Getting a ticket was difficult. I had been as a guest and fell in love with the place, and I was desperate for a ticket. I wrote to Duncan telling him I worked in a shoe shop and sang in a gospel choir at weekends (I am tone deaf) so only fished Wednesday afternoons – all complete and utter lies. He did a bit of checking up, so it was no surprise to get a letter back saying that I had tried to bullshit him over my job and how little I fished. My heart sank, but then he went on to say mine was the best bullshit letter he had received and – surprise, surprise – I could have a ticket. It was the water I caught my first thirty from and in February 1988 I caught what was then a massive winter fish of 40¼lb.
Withy Pool was another syndicate water I joined. Twenty-five members on two acres, a great bunch of blokes and a real mixture; some very famous anglers that hardly fished and a few keenies that attended most weeks. It contained 21 carp at the time, 14 of which were over 30lb. Another advantage of being in a small syndicate is the chance to get a bait working. Three of us really used this to our advantage one year, baiting the grannie out of it through the close season, but come the start we caught the first 11 fish from the lake before anyone else had even had a bite.
PM: You boast a list of UK personal bests for mirror, common and leather carp that any angler would be jealous of. What can you tell us about these specific fish and what you remember from the captures?
AT: My first one was from a famous northern syndicate water, a 52½lb common on a piece of plastic corn. It was an old estate lake situated on farmland overlooked by a castle, absolutely stunning scenery. As you drove through the locked gates it was like a little piece of heaven, so peaceful and quiet with some stunning big fish; a little bit of a brain-acher at times, but I loved my time on there.
Then I joined the syndicate at Chad Lakes, another absolutely lovely place to fish. The big one in there was Black Eye, an absolute monster of a carp, very long and scaly. I often observed him swimming around in the clear water; a couple of times I could have touched him, he was that close. I dearly wanted to catch him. He was a bit of an escape artist; people had hooked and lost him a few times, and he knew the pool well as it had been his home for many years. I dreaded the thought of hooking and losing him, and when I finally hooked him, he gave me a right old battle. When I got him close in and saw what fish it was, I was desperate to land it. Then he ploughed into a weedbed and panic set in, so I just launched myself into the lake and went after it! Happy days – 55½lb.
PM: Your ‘unweighed’ capture of the Lady from Ringstead when it was weighing close to the British record is legendary. What can you tell us about that particular capture?
AT: I had not been to Ringstead for some time because it was always busy. Swims were held for mates, it was really heavily fished, and some of the members were really annoying and a pain in the butt; I can’t say I really enjoyed my fishing there. I used to go occasionally for a social with a mate, but could not get my head around fishing it seriously, although I had caught some big fish from there. I had actually fished it on its conception when the fish were moved from Duncan Kay’s original Mid-Northants. The British record was caught from Ringstead, Scaley at 55lb about 20 years ago now. I had caught it from the old lakes but it only weighed 27lb at the time.
Anyway, the big one in Ringstead, the Lady, had grown steadily to an incredible weight of over 60lb and had not been caught for 18 months or so. Everyone who had seen it said it looked massive and would weigh more than the British record if caught. I had heard that the lake was fairly quiet as nothing was getting caught and was very weedy. The day I turned up the lake was empty of anglers. I find that when there are very few anglers on a water that is mostly very busy, the carp take advantage and act quite normally, swimming around with gay abandon rather than hiding out of the way. I had a good walk around, spotted a few fish, and it was all looking rather good. I set up in a little corner swim that I knew well, making it easy to get some traps out without making too much disturbance and putting the carp on edge. I managed to hook and land the Lady after a really epic battle. Sure enough, it was very big and my third carp over 50lb!
PM: You used to own a bait company called Whacker Catcher Products. Is it still going? What made you go into bait in the first place?
AT: Yes, it’s still there, but in name only now. It was only ever a part-time business, which started from when bait ingredients were not readily available in shops and had to be sourced. I used to purchase these direct from manufacturers, flavours, ingredients, etc., and often had to purchase more than I could ever use before going out of date so I started supplying a few mates. It gradually got bigger, a few shops and a wholesaler. The logo was a bit controversial. It was only lighthearted and a bit of a joke, but a few of the posh people in carp fishing took offence. Our logo was a picture of a well blessed dog accompanied by the saying of the day: The Dog’s Bollocks. We used to advertise in Carp-Talk, and you would get a few letters of complaint. We used to take it all in good spirit and not take things too seriously. They were lucky we didn’t go for our original choice: The Donkey’s **** – ha ha!
PM: These days you spend a lot of time fishing at Rainbow Lake in France. What is it about the Lake that’s grabbed you?
AT: I have been going to France for 30-odd years now. I did my fair share of pioneering and ducking and diving in the days of no night fishing, but I am getting a bit old for all that now. I am a bit more relaxed and chilled out these days. I love Rainbow, as it’s as near to a wild lake as you can get for a pay lake, without any of the problems. The fish and the surroundings are fantastic, and the actual fishing is very exciting with lots to think about.
PM: Are there any particular fish you are trying to catch from Rainbow?
AT: Not really. I have been lucky enough to catch the biggest common, Eric’s at 82lb, and the biggest mirror, Ten Scale at 84lb; both absolutely stunning and fish I would not even have dreamed about.
PM: There aren’t many anglers who are as experienced as you. Which branch of carp fishing do you like the most, fishing in England or overseas?
AT: I just love carp fishing full stop. If I can sit behind a set of rods somewhere I want to be, I am a happy man – wherever it is.
PM: Let’s look at your waters at the Ecton complex in the Nene Valley. When did you begin to have an interest in running your own lakes, and what can you tell us about the lakes and fish on the complex?
AT: I always dreamed of running or owning my own carp lake, and I took over the lakes after a local club had given them up. They had become very neglected and have taken years of hard work and considerable investment to get them where they are today.
When I took them over there were some stunning Nene valley originals remaining, which have survived and thrived. I have a stocking policy where I have been introducing mostly young C3 fish in the 3-5lb bracket. Some of these are now upper thirties and I am sure this season or next they will break the 40lb barrier. I like to try and mix them up a bit, but always get them from reputable reliable sources. I have used VS Fisheries, Fishers Pond, Dinton Pastures – all fish dealers I would recommend to anyone. I get a major buzz from watching ‘my babies’ grow on and make my members happy when they catch them, but I don’t like to see them get hauled out too often and I insist they are handled properly when they are. I try to keep the lakes looking as natural as possible and fished lightly but enough; it’s all trying to strike the right balance.
The lakes are an ongoing project. I run the syndicates how I would like them to be if I was a member; that is my criteria.
PM: How about you? Do you still think you’ll be carp fishing 10 years from now?
AT: Yes, as long as I am fit enough and still want to go, I will keep at it. There are a couple of gentlemen who are a touch older than me and they are hardcore (aka Mr Tim Paisley and Mr George Sharman). I get some inspiration from them.