The vast majority of my carp fishing life has been spent in a state of excited anticipation. Anticipation fuelled by the thought of what is just about to happen, what there is to be caught and, equally as important, what it’s going to take to ensure one of the lake’s inhabitants sees the inside of my landing net! There are always thoughts of the landscape I am going to be spending some time in, and the wildlife that call this environment home. Will the fish give me the signs I need to establish my traps, that will hopefully catch them, and will they fall for my cunning ruse? There is probably only one definitive thing which will happen, and that is I will enjoy it all, whatever carp fishing has to throw at me. I have no wish for it to be easy, after all, isn’t carp angling supposed to be the most challenging of pastimes? It’s this feeling of almost impossibility that makes a lot of us come back for more but, just as importantly, isn’t it the escape from our real lives with a dream in our hearts that counts? As it happens, I would never have it any other way.
Probably one of the most important aspects about the pastime which I have allowed to dominate my life in such an enthralling way, is not actually knowing what is going to happen once my alarm clock rings at some ungodly hour of the morning. It has exactly the same impact as one of my alarms screaming its battle cry, and it rarely gets to let out a second series of bleeps. Indeed, there have been so many times when I have been staring at it for as much as an hour before it calls me into action. Which only means I will be leaving much earlier than anticipated! Invariably, it will still be dark, but I am always amazed at how awake I am, and I never have to start proceedings by engaging my autopilot. Everything will have been packed ready to rock and roll, the last thing I want to be doing is sorting out the gear at that stage of a mission. Any two or three day session begins a day or two before my departure, and anything that takes my thoughts away from the search for the ultimate experience will have been taken care of well before the pedal hits the metal. Whilst it isn’t my forte to have too many preconceived ideas, the rods will have rigs already attached to them. These are normally the Short Chod rigs converted into Stiff Link pop-ups, which allow me to cast at showing fish on arrival – if that is what I want. Water butts are filled, the all important teabag container is checked, and my slightly spartan food supplies are packed. Interestingly, I never cook on the bank, and all my food is eaten from the packaging. Ham, beef and chicken along with a cheeky packet of Rich Tea biscuits – it’s just that I’m always too excited to hover over a stove and cook! Come winter, spring, summer or autumn that is the way it has always been, and probably why my tea consumption goes to astronomical levels when the cold weather arrives. Even the freezer bait would have been air dried the day before, in an area that helps me protect them from a serious magpie attack, and then packed into the van. My fishing attire would have been laid out ready to be quickly pulled on, which always makes me smile. You see, I wear the same clothes every time I go. I have never used lucky charms to aid my fishing, but wearing the same underpants, socks, trousers and tops seems to have become a pleasant habit… they’re all washed and ready to go for the next trip, of course! All that is left to do is steady the ship with a quick cup of tea, and an obligatory distraction as the ablutions are taken care of. The final thing to do is quickly, and very quietly, kiss Lynn goodbye. There could be times, I would think, that some would suggest I was jealous as she is curled up so comfortably in bed. However, even in the harshest of winter conditions, nothing could be further from the truth – I’m going fishing! And as much as there are far more important things going on in my life, in that moment nothing else seems to matter. And do you know what, I guess it never will.
Of course, the next manoeuvre is to get on the way. Climbing into my van, the most important piece of fishing tackle I will ever own, and I often have to dial up some techno information into the satellite thingy. I am a complete and utter dinosaur, and very often look at the damn thing like it’s just fallen off an alien spaceship. The same can be said of my mobile phone, but it’s vital I suppose, especially if I need the directions to a lake I have never been to before. There are times, however, when even if I have visited the venue before, I have to dial up the coordinates. I have been so excited about going there that I forget how to get back. Crazy I know, but it’s hard for anyone to imagine just how ecstatic I am about going fishing! And that childlike stupor should really have gotten me into trouble by now.
I drive out the end of my road at a sedate 25mph. After a mile or so I reach a dual carriageway on which I may tweak the miles per hour up to around sixty, and if the journey takes me on to the M25, the M4 or the M3 then I can guarantee I will end up staring open mouthed at the speedometer with my hair on fire, and my tyres begging for mercy. How I have never been ‘collared’ I have no idea, but then it’s a bit like my fishing really – I have always found it better to be lucky than good.
The rest of the journey is spent listening to music, and not just any old music either. So many of my adventures have been accompanied by certain artists – from Aynsley Lister at Ashmead, to Guns ‘n Roses on the way to my Northampton Estate Lake. They all break up the journey and occasionally take my mind off the fishing for a while. Anyway, the only thing I am really concentrating on is the ‘miles to do’ reading on the Sat Nav (see, I do know what it’s called!), and when that reading gets to single figures I can actually feel my brain turn to the task at hand. Which, in all honesty, brings the excitement levels up to cataclysmic levels! God knows what my blood pressure is doing, and my heart is beating like a drum.
At times, though, I do actually think about the fishing itself. I have never really been the guy who searches for information like a leech sucking blood. My fishing is my fishing, for want of a better phrase, and the more I can do it all for myself the more satisfying the end results will be. Be aware of tactics, but don’t be a slave to them. Just because everyone is catching on a certain style or tactic probably means that is what everyone is using… being different can be just as successful, if not more so! There is also the argument that I have only myself to blame, which is what I like, because when all you can do is blame others and the tackle or bait you are using for the failure, you lose the ability to learn. That said, if I do speak to people who fish a particular venue, although I try not to ask, they sometimes come out with some useful information. And as long as it was unsolicited, I take it all onboard. Probably the main thought going through my brain is: how many are fishing there, who’s fishing the lake and what swims are they occupying? The thing that affects carp fishing more than anything else, is angling pressure. Tight lines streaking out through the water column, the noises on the bank and the sounds of spods, leads and marker floats raking the surface, all have an effect on how the carp will react. Whatever the case, I have to work my way around it, but it very often has a great bearing on how I fish.
Isn’t it amazing how one thing can shape carp fishing, and not only from the angler’s point of view? My thoughts are always on the gear I have packed in the van, and more to the point, the gear I may not have packed! Several times, although I am totally convinced it’s there, I’ve pulled over onto hard shoulders or lay-bys to quickly and rather embarrassingly, check. And then, of course, speed limits have to be tested as I try to make up the time. I’m amazed I don’t turn up to wherever I am going, having gone completely insane. But then again, I think I just maybe, considering the lengths I go to driving there in the first place!
The next part of my adventure is getting into the fishery itself, which invariably starts off on a very disorganised footing. I have always tried to arrive at venues just before the light starts to fill the sky, and of course, it’s dark. The only problem is I need some light to guide me through the gates and padlocks that secure the site. After messing around inside the back of the van like a headless chicken for a few minutes, because I forgot to put a headtorch in the glove compartment, I eventually find one. I’m certainly embarrassed all over again by my ineptitude! And if there is a padlock on which I have to enter a code, it is remarkable how my fingers start to resemble ten Cumberland sausages. Once safely parked up, however, my thoughts are channelled even more towards the session itself. I hurriedly grab a water bottle, or some other essential piece of kit, and set off for the first lap of the lake. Eyes peeled and scrutinising every inch of the water’s surface just gets the juices flowing even more. I try desperately not to talk to anyone, not through rudeness, but simply because I like to make my own mind up about what I should or shouldn’t be doing. Then a fish will show, a line of bubbles may hit the surface or maybe the birdlife is disturbed by something in the depths beneath them. All the evidence I need to be shown the fish are in situ. At which point I put the water bottle or bucket down to reserve the plot. The next phase of the operation is to get my gear into the swim. I take my time just in case I see something else to investigate but, in all honesty, I can’t get back to the van quickly enough.
With all the gear loaded, I return to the swim, and as much as that should be the end of the melee, it isn’t. I find it hard to breathe, which makes everything from then on a bit of a chore. If the fish are still present then it might just delay things a little, after all I don’t want to put them on the run with all my casting. As much as my patience allows, I will sit and watch them until they fade away quite naturally. Then, of course, I engage the ten Cumberland sausages once again, and try and get angling. Casts have to be made to isolate the spots, be that with a bare lead or a marker float. Once happy, the line on the rods I will be fishing with has to be placed in the clip, and then measured around the sticks. Being completely useless at remembering anything, I write the details in my diary… that’s if I remember, of course! Hookbaits need to be attached and pop-ups balanced until just before they are cast into position, where they are dipped for a while, just to remove any alien smells I may have given them. All that is left to do is cast out the rods and bait the spots, but even this can have its problems, especially when the excitement levels have reached a crescendo. It’s a painful experience when you just ain’t hitting the clip or the cast is slightly off line. However, when the last rig has found its mark there can be no doubt the breathing becomes a little easier. How much bait is the next problem, and invariably it probably looks as if I have given them too much. However, history has dictated that carp are eating machines and in most cases, I’ve just about got it right.
With my lines slackened off slightly and the bobbins attached, I often can’t help but feel I’ve missed something. I really cannot understand at this point what all the frantic behaviour was about, and why I had to cast every other aspect of my life into File 13. Of course, it is important to be that way, it’s what sharpens your reactions and ensures you arrive ready for action. But I will ask myself repeatedly: isn’t carp angling supposed to take us away from all that toil and torment of everyday life? It always amazes me however, when my lines have settled, and the steam rises slowly from the boiling kettle, I have to ask myself….what’s the rush?