It was the close season, three months of torment, three months when we couldn’t fish for our chosen quarry. Yes, we could go fly fishing for trout, but back then I couldn’t afford the tackle I needed to fish for the fish I did fish for. Setting up for fly fishing as well, simply wasn’t a possibility. Even if it had been, I didn’t really have any easy access trout fishing that I could get to on pushbike.
So, my three-month enforced lay off would see me wandering the banks in a lost world, dreaming of the glorious 16th, or even the 15th when I could at least once again go and set my gear up at the side of the water and await the 16th.
This lay off didn’t help when you had a water within easy cycling distance with incredibly clear water where the carp loved to queue up to be fed during this safe period. Looking at these fish then, you just couldn’t believe that they were quite tricky carp to trick. They had attracted the attentions of many of the big names of the day. Even Rod Hutchinson would drop by on his return from Redmire. I could list many names, but I am sure you get my gist. They had been fished for by the best.
The carp would generally congregate around the beach and ash tree area and attracted a lot of anglers during the close season. So many test baits were devoured, and confidences would be at an all time high. How different things would be once the season started though.
It was the close season between leaving school and starting work and few days would pass when I didn’t go and seek out a carp that had become a bit of an obsession of mine. The first time I had seen it, I had become transfixed. It wasn’t the largest carp in the Levas pit but was up there with the top group. It seemed to hang back a little whilst most the others all moved onto the bait straight away. Perhaps this is what drew me to looking for that fish each trip. It was a fish of mystery, not showing itself with such abandon as many of the others and would always be very slow and methodical when taking crust off the top. All the old and not so old bread from home would be thrown at those carp.
There was mixed stock in this pit as carp had been trickled in from all over the place as was often the case back then before we had the worries of the diseases that were imported in years to come. The one carp I had become slightly obsessed with was a beautiful scaly Leney. In the late 70’s there were still a fair few of these around, magnificent fish, but not particularly rare beasts like they became. To me, this carp was a perfect carp shape, in perfect proportions and those scales. Those scales would lift and expose the white flesh beneath as it manoeuvred around. Indestructible facing anything, but vulnerable if it turned away. It was like armour, with access points.
I used to sit in the tree, not far above the water and hope hard that fish would turn up. I have always been a nonbeliever in gods, but I’m sure I even got desperate enough to send a little prayer to the gods of Sir Izaak at times. Often, I would just get a fleeting glance as the dark shadow passed by, lower in the water than the others, those small white flashes behind the scales though would confirm which fish it was even if I couldn’t tell from above if it was a mirror or common passing by. See the whites and yes, it was here, my obsession.
My last visit before the season was magical in the extreme. I was sat in my favourite spot feeding the carp when the beautiful heart tailed Leney turned up. I trickled bait and it got closer. Finally for the first time I had a proper eyeball to eyeball with it from just inches away. I could see every scale on its magnificent body as clear as though it was on the bank. There was a perfect four with a central fifth scale on its shoulder. It was the first time I had seen it clear enough to notice this.
That meeting appeared to go on forever, we seemed to be staring into and penetrating each other’s brains. It was such a strange situation, as though after all this time that fish had been watching me too and finally accepted, that I represented no danger. Not right now anyway.
That encounter left a huge impact on me. Those scales on its shoulder kept coming to mind. It was at a time I had not heard of anglers targeting a particular fish, in fact I wouldn’t have had a clue how to target a particular fish, but I really wanted that one. Out of all the carp I had fed that close season, that was the one that had got into my soul.
The season started and all the pent-up tension was finally gone, it felt to me like a huge pressure valve had been released. I was free again to live life doing what I really wanted to be doing.
I had caught some carp from the Levas Pit and was holding my head high. I would fish a lot of evenings back then and I think it was the second week of the season and I was down with one rod stalking and had ended up floater fishing in the rain. Did I tell you I was keen?
I had long hair back then; my hair grows in corkscrews being naturally curly. Something I hated as a kid, but as I got older in my teenage years, I realised quite a few girls appeared to like my curly locks, so no longer would I sit with a hat on at home as well as one of mum’s old swimming hats, yes, you just read that right, trying to make it go straight. Instead, I started to encourage my flowing locks. By this stage they were more than flowing, but I guess it was why I was comfortable floater fishing in the rain as it took a lot to penetrate through to my scalp.
Few were feeding, but what were feeding appeared to be big fish for the time. It was proper close armed combat. I was free lining cat biscuits, that shows how close they were and how stealthy I was having to be. Eventually a dark shadow emerged from the depths just behind my hook bait. Had I been stood up I’d have seen it coming in the crystal-clear water, but my ultra low profile left me only spotting it at the last moment. Its shoulders lifted through the surface film and the brakes came on as it paused to look at my hook bait, so agonisingly close to it. I dare not breathe although the moment appearing to be stuck in time probably only lasted 2 seconds before its mouth opened and that familiar slurping clooping sound engulfed my bait. Auto pilot set in and I struck hard as the water erupted and line was stripped from my reel.
Cardinal 55’s hadn’t been out long and it was the dream reel at the time. I had been lucky enough to be allowed some new reels for my birthday the previous April, I had gone to the shop for 55’s but had come out with 155’s. The shop assistant had done a good job in downgrading me and taking less money from me. They had the same spool as the 55 but had plastic side plates and silver decals rather than the gold of the 55. Also, the handle was left hand wind only, not that it mattered to me.
Anyway, that small spool spun frantically as the carp charged off. My fibreglass North Western home built SS5 wrapped around so much, it was practically pointing at the fish. I loved the softness of those rods at the time, but no wonder some of the fish took so long to land. Particularly if you had a bit of depth in the margin. I had a few hairy moments with the rod thrust right under the water to the real seat to keep my line down from overhanging trees and trailing branches. The Au Lion Dor hook remained in place, the Brent line never parted and eventually I had the carp ready for the net.
Just then a shiver went down my back, it couldn’t be. It looked like my newfound obsession gasping at the surface. I pushed the metal Lift Bar Specimen Net into place and teased the carp those last few inches over the net and then finally with all the power I could muster, I lifted that heavy old landing net and my capture was complete.
Quickly I went to check that shoulder and those 5 scales from our last meeting were there. I was elated, but also felt I had betrayed a carp that had finally appeared to accept me. On the scales I had a new personal best and what a carp to have had for a personal best.
It wasn’t long afterwards that George Sharman’s Carp and the Carp Angler book was released. Whilst eagerly flicking through this incredible book, I suddenly stopped on a picture of Rod Walker. I couldn’t believe it; he was holding that same fish at a time when we didn’t really know individual fish in the same way as we do nowadays. I had caught a carp that had appeared in a book!
Now that was special.
Footnote – I was to go on to catch that fish more than a couple of times over the following years. Never as big again, but always a beautiful carp to catch. I do miss those old classics.
Best wishes as always