Anyone fishing for carp during the 1960s would have to have been blind not to notice that the county of Kent was seemingly awash with carp – many of them decent fish, with a fair sprinkling of 20-pounders. The angling press, week after week, would report on carp caught from what was coined at the time as, ‘the carp county.’
This statement is not hard to understand, for if we peel back time, the origins of carp appearing in such numbers in Kent can be largely traced to the stocking policy of the influential Kent River Board who masterminded the introduction of in excess of 80,000 carp from the latter half of the 1950s through to the early 1970s. In a quite audacious move for the time, the KRB imported thousands upon thousands of 4-6in carp directly from Italy. Though some may have been stocked into unsuitable venues, or suffered inordinate predation, the numbers involved meant a huge amount would have survived.
Even earlier introductions of carp can be traced to our old friend, Donald Leney, of the Surrey Trout Farm, who supplied some 500 small ‘Leney’ carp to the Dartford & District Angling and Preservation Society in November 1951, some of these being placed into their Brooklands fishery. DDAPS it appears were keen on carp from early on, for in July of 1932 some 300 carp were collected from other waters and moved to Brooklands – which at that time was called Ellingham Ponds.
These early Brooklands stockings produced some of Kent’s first 20lb carp with Laurie Zurcher banking a 22-pounder in August 1960 and there were others too. The following year my friend, and long-time big fish angler, Bob Buteux, banked his first twenty in the shape of a crust-caught 20lb 4oz mirror. Horton Kirby alone received masses of Kent River Board carp, and being a comparatively young set of gravel pits, the rich food-chain meant the tiny carp grew at an alarming rate. Early reports, plus information gleaned from friends, indicated you were more likely to catch a carp over 10lb at Horton Kirby than under, by the mid-1960s – though I did on my first visit in the summer in 1967!
The lower lake, around 10-acres in size, became the main carp water and was fished by all and sundry including people who were later to leave their mark on carp fishing. The closeness of the Farningham Road railway station also made ‘Kirby’ a venue that appealed to anglers who lived further afield, and there are tales of hurriedly catching the train to fish Horton Kirby, and also trying not to miss the last train home – carp dependant of course.
There was a whole generation of carp anglers (and would be carp anglers) in their late teens/early 20s who reaped the rewards of the well-stocked Kent waters. I met quite a few of them when I first went and fished in the summer of the late 1960s with my friend, Dave Rudd, from Kent. The first place I fished was Horton Kirby and though the first night was a blank, in the morning the chap next to me, Chris Barnett, landed a lovely 12lb leather. The following night I was off the mark with a mirror a tad under 10lb in weight and later Dave netted a 14-pounder for himself. We went to the nearby pub, The Bridges, early on Saturday evening and there I was introduced to Pete Badley, Dave Hayes, Bernie Cooke, John Merriman, Graham Stephens and others whose names I forget. Some of them had landed the ultimate prize of a 20-pounder from lakes in Kent with Snodland, Brooklands and the School Pool being the prime venues. On another visit the following year, at the same pub, Dave Rudd nudged me, “See the bloke over there, he’s caught three 20-pounders this season.” “What’s his name?” I enquired. “Oh, that’s Pete Cranstoun.” Now, over 50-years later, Pete is still at the top of his game, a quite extraordinary angler.
Also in 1968 I fished Brooklands for the first time with Dave and caught myself a 12-pounder. Also for the first time I saw a 20-pounder on the bank and made a nodding acquaintance with someone loading his van in the car park next to ‘The Ashes’, who turned out to be Jim Gibbinson.
They were such exciting times; the Kent carp boys were way in front of what was happening in my home county of Surrey. I came away with sausage paste along with some knowledge of rods for distance casting that featured big rings and sparse ringing patterns, besides seeing some impressive, large carp landing nets that were hand-built to a high standard which beat hands down anything you could buy in a tackle shop. I’m pleased to say some of the people mentioned are still friends over 50-years later.