This piece portrays my early years as an angler and also paints a picture of the way bait was regarded back in the day and how it came of age towards the end of the decade.
Way back in 1988, when carping was really beginning to take off, Tim Paisley started Carpworld magazine. I was asked to write for the mag and I considered this a great honour. It continued a relationship I had formed with Tim eight years earlier when as a know-nothing carper I wrote to him asking advice about bait. It is a relationship that continued unchecked until Tim retired.
When I look back over this article and the ones that followed over the years, I feel proud that what started as a part time pocket money earner, blossomed with Tim’s help, into a full time job in carp fishing, forming a working relationships with some of the biggest names in the carp fishing world, two of which, Haith's Baits and Nutrabaits, continue to this day even though I officially retired three years ago. So here is that 1988 piece, re-written only slightly and including some text and photos that were not included in the original...
"Bait! If ever a topic was more guaranteed to stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood it’s bait. Go to the regional meetings or attend the conference; eavesdrop on any conversation at random, and I’ll bet you a pound to a pinch that the main talking point is that ubiquitous four letter word. It seems as if carp anglers are obsessed with bait the exclusion of just about every other aspect of their sport. Buy why is this? Surely bait is only part of the picture. Isn’t location more important? And once located, what about the presentation? . . . and then there’s rigs! Yes, they’re all important, but at the end of the day it’s what goes on the hook that gets the most attention.
Now if you’ve taken those opening remarks as a criticism of the emphasis put on bait then think again, for I am a bait addict. I love talking, arguing and generally waffling on about carp baits. I’ve run the gamut from breadflake to HNVs, from sweetcorn to tigers, and the like. Flavours, enhancers, aminos, organic acids, oils essential and otherwise, and appetite stimulators; I’ve been through the lot to the point where I ended up so confused I didn’t know if I was coming or going.
My involvement with carp and carp baits over the years has been a long and at times frustrating journey but eventually I reached the point where I fetched up on the solid shore of belief in the effectiveness of one particular approach, the use of Nutritional Recognition and the concept of bait as food.
I started fishing a long time ago, round about 19... forget it. By the time I was in my late teens I had caught the bug and in particular the branch known at the time as specimen hunting. This would eventually lead to the affliction called Carp Fever and the rest is history.
However, my first attempts to be more selective in my fishing revolved around pike and barbel. Pike on the Thames and the Hampshire Avon, barbel on the lower Avon below Ringwood and specifically on the Royalty at Christchurch. This photo shows my trotting and ledger gear propped up against the fishing hut in the swim known as the Compound which is sited on the top weir of the Royalty. I had some fantastic times in the swim and count myself lucky that I knew a guy called Fred Crouch who had the final say over who got access to this extremely coveted swim, and who did not!
Another favorite swim on the Royalty was the Bridge Pool and it was here that I caught my PB barbel (11lb +) as well as a bonus PB salmon (18lb +), but the less said about that the better. By now the carp bug was spreading but there was a dearth of decent information on carp captures and tactics. Seldom were the papers graced with accounts or pictures of carp, and the capture of a twenty was headline news. On the rare occasions when some lucky sod did catch one of these leviathans, and was good enough to put the capture in the papers, the details were pored over and dissected for every available scrap of information. I was a carp fishing apprentice, but at least I was living in Kent and there is surely no better place to serve one’s apprenticeship than in the hotbed of carp angling.
The early trips were to Caesar’s Pool, and were remarkable purely for their futility. I knew there were big carp in there; from time to time I even saw one on the bank, but never in my landing net. I just sat there day after day watching my lines drooping motionless into the creepy dark depths of the pool, thankful that when a carp was caught I was at least there to see it and renew my enthusiasm. Really the place was far too hard for me to cut my teeth on and I moved onto easier waters in the county and across the border in Surrey.
I caught my first double figure carp from Cut Mill on the Farnham, AS ticket, a lake that was being fished by the great and the good of the carp world at that time. I was therefore way out of my depth! My first carp took tethered floating crust chucked as far as I could chuck it - which wasn't very far! At the time I was quite happy with my results but then a few guys began to be much more successful than others, and they were fishing bottom baits with the new fangled “specials”. Rumours had been leaking out from the depths of darkest Kent of all manner of weird and wonderful baits. Everybody seemed to be talking about them, but nobody knew what they were! The secrecy behind these early paste baits was astonishing, but gradually the grapevine produced a trickle of detail, that soon became a flood as the word got round. These were the days of sausage and Kit-e-Kat, Nesquick or Complan: anything had to be better than floating crust.
My first special was the tinned cat food mixed with Pomenteg groundbait and plain flour. It was a right wind up to mix but was well worth the trouble for it was instant. Overnight the crusts disappeared (the carp must have wondered about that) and freelined or ledgered bottom baits were “in”. I was a Kent man good and true. Rods set up on four feet high rests fishing long drops to bottle top indicators. You had to strike at the twitches of course, or maybe pull it back to induce a take. The baits were good for perhaps an hour or two before they started breaking up and recasting was a major event. Often you’d get takes within the first few minutes of the new cast but I was too thick to figure out why.
The follow-on baits were the tinned dog foods and tinned fish. I used sardines for a while and had moderate success on them but by now everyone was on a ‘special’ of some sort or other and the novelty was wearing off. The carp were getting more and more cagey. Then I stumbled across a reference to luncheon meat as a carp bait and after just one trip on it I thought all my prayers had been answered. Sadly a lot of other guys had the same idea the popularity of the meat spread like wildfire, however, for a while things were grand.
The rapidly growing popularity of carp fishing meant more and more pressure on the fish and on the waters that I was fishing. In fact it all got too much for me and I packed it in and thus missed out on what was certainly the most exciting and innovative period in modern carp fishing bait development. By the time I came back to the fold things had really changed. The Wilton principle was firmly established and was emptying lakes all over the country, changing the face of carp fishing and incidentally, carp waters, forever.
In addition the particle revolution had arrived thanks to the Redmire exploits of Chris Yates and his tin of sweetcorn, and his partner in crime, Rod Hutchinson and his walls of hemp. Now any carp man worth his salt carried numerous sacks of various seeds and pulses around with him, and in fact, it was the wonderful black-eyed beans that brought me back into the game with a vengeance.
My old mate Bill got me into one of Pete Mohan's syndicates in Devon called Ockenham Lakes. This is Bill at Ockenham fishing single rod tactics. We would often meet met up for a trip there and over a pint in the local he finally made me realise how much I’d missed during my self- imposed exile from the carp world. He mentioned flavours and various ingredients and baits that had been developed and refined and put into use with devastating effect and I’d missed them all. I set about reading all the back issues of “Angling” magazine looking out for anything on carp and carp tactics: the articles that I’d just skipped through over the past few years. Eustace, Sharman, Hutchinson: I couldn’t read enough of their stuff.
Rod’s particle pieces had stirred the imagination and Bill and I went up to the syndicate water on the black eyes. They worked a treat and I guessed that nobody had tried the particle approach on the water at all. Bill never traveled anywhere without a few assorted sacks of pulses and other particles in the back of his van, and these came from a company in Cleethorpes called J.E. Haith & Son (now Haith's), a name that would figure large in the carp world in the decades to come and indeed in my own personal life as well.
The water was deep and gin clear, the lake quiet, peaceful and lovely. It was easy fishing if truth be told. You baited several spots in the deep margins close to cover, and visited them in turn until feeding fish were spotted. The fish loved the "blackies" and were often on the carpet within minutes. Then it was a simple matter to lower a couple of beans on a size 4 Au Lion D’Or 1540 spade end down amongst the feeding fish. The trick was to make sure your hookbait was positioned off to one side of the main carpet so you could isolate and identity it, a bit like floater fishing. The hair rig was still a far away glint in Lenny's mind's eye so you had to keep your eyes glued on the hookbait at all times and while you couldn't always see the fish, you could usually see when the hookbait just disappeared. This meant that a carp had come along and sucked it up so you just lifted into him and you were away. Pretty simple, but I tell you it doesn’t half get the old heart racing.
The fish were old and not all that big to be honest, but they were pretty as a picture and great fun on the stalking rod, and very obliging too. Sadly I got into a bit of a row with the syndicate leader Peter Mohan who accused me of nicking fish so I lost some great fishing, probably because I caught too many!
I was accused of taking fish for "my own pond in my back garden". What! I was sleeping in the car park of the Seven Stars Inn, our favourite local watering hole, in the back of my old Renault 4 with a mattress spread out in the back, passenger and rear seats removed. Where was I putting them between Sticklepath and Fowey? The fact that I was living in a flat with no garden front or back cut no ice with him and thus I lost the easiest, most obliging fish I have ever experienced. Still at least the lake really rekindled my love of carping and also told me that it was time to fish other waters.
The local area where I lived in Cornwall didn’t exactly encourage carp angling, but eventually through a mate’s intervention and a prod in the right direction I found some good waters belonging to Roche AC and in particular a lovely pool called Wheal Rashleigh. It was reputed to hold doubles and even a couple of twenties, but a recent stocking with a reported 2,000 small carp meant that it would not be easy to sort out the better fish.
While fishing Ockenham Bill had put me onto the hair rig and birdfood baits, and in particular Robin Red. I say in particular because quite honestly it changed my life. The red stuff became my edge, of that I’m quite certain. Nobody else in Cornwall was on it, nor were they using the hair, and I could take Robin Red boiled baits and the hair rig anywhere and catch. In fact on only my second trip to Rashleigh I caught the lake's biggest mirror and the biggest common within half an hour of starting. Robin Red and the hair made carp fishing comparatively easy and I became a carp addict. Carp fishing became an obsession that has stayed with me ever since.
The basic bait was a stunningly simple:
• 6oz Nectarblend,
• 2oz Robin Red
• 2oz Gluten.
Bill was a big fan of Geoff Kemp's and Rod's flavours and he put me onto Rod’s Banana and Geoff Kemp’s Maple, and another of his called Perfume Spray, a staggeringly good flavour based, I believe, on a blend of essential oils. I was never a big fan of jumping from one flavour to another and soon found that the trick was to keep the levels low and the base mix consistent and the carp will keep on having it.
Once they caught onto the bait they just kept on having it! Granted, you had to give it a bit of thought in terms of location and presentation, but the bait was a winner. It has to be said that I was lucky in probably being the first onto the pool with the hair rig but even so I still thought it was the bait that was the great leveler and I soon realised that it was the Robin Red that made the big difference.
I stuck with the Banana and the Maple when I moved off Rashleigh for a few weeks to go onto a new lake called I had stumbled upon called Salamander Lake. I put it about that this was a private lake whereas in fact it was nothing of the sort. It was a park lake where the locals go to walk their dogs and feed the ducks! The lake held mostly doubles and low twenties but in time the stock would grown to become big twenties with a couple of thirties thrown in. I know I was the first to use boilies at the lake, and the Salamander carp went potty for them, the Robin Red proving absolutely instant. Add to that the fact that I was also the first to put a hair-rigged baits into the lake and you can guess how easy it was.
I soon got among the bigger fish and was fortunate to land my first ever twenty pound fish from the lake in 1979, a carp that came to be known as Big Daddy.
There has been much speculation over the years that continues to this day about the reason for Robin Red’s success. As I have no idea of the recipe and don’t want to make a guess that may prove wrong, I will just limit myself to saying that it is the natural oils, spices and peppers in the mix that are the most important factors.
After a while on Salamander I went back to Rashleigh. It wasn’t that I was getting blasé about the Salamander fish but they were ridiculously easy after initial groundwork had revealed their feeding habits. Mind you, having the hair and Robin Red, and being the first one in the county to use both certainly helped! For the return to Rashleigh I changed the bait for the first time switching the main ingredient to PTX and using Cinnamon flavour, along with 5 mils of Hermesetas sweetener. I wanted a dense, sweet, hard bait for Rashleigh and made them up in 25mm size to try and sort out the bigger fish.
My first trip back on the lake produced a repeat of the biggest common plus eight other fish in a short day trip and certainly the bigger baits also lead to bigger fish and I soon landed the first of many 'twenties' that were to come from Rashleigh.
My wife Carole started fishing with me then and she too was quickly into fish, taking a double on her first visit. We just couldn’t go wrong. I really don’t know how many fish we landed from the two Cornish lakes over the course of that summer and early autumn; we had over sixty from Rashleigh alone, so if you ever wonder why I keep going on about Robin Red perhaps you’ll understand now.
Just as an experiment and not because the bait was loosing its way at all, I fancied trying something different! Since first reading “Carp Fever” I had been fascinated by the idea of jelly baits and wanted to try these out on the Rashleigh carp. Once more simplicity was the watchword. We used a straightforward 80/20 PTX/Robin Red base, which was added to two sachets of gelatin, dissolved in 1.5 pints of milk, with 3 mils of the Cinnamon flavour and 5 mils of liquid Hermesetas. Once the jelly had set, the resulting mat was cubed into small luncheon meat type pieces, and fished on a standard bolt hair with a backstop. Though the basic ingredients and flavouring was identical to those we’d used in the boiled bait, the change in shape and texture proved deadly.
It was all very well having success on the relatively unpressured club waters. After all, we were well ahead of the game down in Devon and Cornwall but we I we wanted to fish a few harder waters for wiser carp. The confidence was working overtime by now and we arranged a trip to meet Bill on a trip up to Waveney for a week on the complex. Bill had been using a liver-flavoured (Feed Flavours's Liverade) Nectarblend, Robin Red and Casilan base mix all year and had done well and this was the bait we decided to use for the Waveney trip.
We’d hoped to fish D Lake even in those early days it was the first on the complex to fill up and you couldn’t get on the front lawn for love nor money. We started off on C and had a couple out from the corner on a Robin Red boilie fished over black eyes but when a couple of swims on E Lake came free we moved onto the better known lake like a shot. We both fished long across to far bank using the bait with the liver at 20ml and were blessed with a marvelous five days fishing. I know we caught a lot of fish but I can’t really remember it all that well. The mere details have been blotted from my memory simply by Bill’s capture of a mirror of 27lb 12oz and then the Leather at 31lb 4oz. It was the first time I’d ever seen a thirty in the flesh and the capture of these beautiful fish dominates my memory of the trip to this day. That big leather...What a fish!
When we got back from Waveney I fancied going back onto Rashleigh. The Casilan/Robin Red bait had gone so well up in Norfolk that it was an obvious choice for the local pools. Apparently the place had been fishing like a pudding for the past couple of weeks. I went in a new swim that I fancied the look of that I called the Long Chuck. That’s a laugh. It was certainly long in the early 80s but by today's standards it's an underarm flick, no more than 70 yards at the most! I caught five doubles in a short day session and that liver flavour (not in fact a flavour as we understand the term today, but a natural product) was absolutely instant. In addition I think the Casilan certainly improved the quality of the base mix. The Long Chuck was very kind to us that summer and we both caught the lake's biggest specimens on several occasions.
Success followed success culminating in a new PB from Salamander - see above image - Meanwhile Rashleigh continued to be kind to us, but it was clear that there were too many carp in Rashleigh competing for insufficient natural food. The Robin Red baits, being a nutritionally valid high fat bait were a natural source of energy and this could have a lot to do with their long life on the water. I know at that time the venues we were fishing were in the main, relatively un-pressured, and, yes, we were the first on the hair down here, and I’d be the first to admit that these factors played a significant part in our success, but you’ll have a hard job convincing me that the crucial element wasn’t the bait. I had so much faith in the red stuff that I couldn’t wait to find another water where it hadn’t been used before.
But things were changing. There were more carp anglers around with each new season and the pressure was telling. I wanted to spread my wings a bit and try a new approach. College . . . Tim Paisley and his effect on my sanity . . . enzymes, aminos, HNVs . . . they were all just around the corner and I’ll bore you with them next time.