Around 60 years ago, gravel extracted from a seam on the border between the Essex villages of Fobbing and Corringham was transported, first by pony and cart to Canvey Island, then by barge up the River Thames to east London. Twenty years later, with the extraction site flooded, the lake began to produce rudd, perch and crucian carp to a few local anglers. The company, Suckling, that extracted the gravel then sold the pit to a Grays (Essex) family business by the name of Reddington who, with their friends, enjoyed excellent fishing right through to the early 70's at which time the lake, which had matured nicely, was sold to my wife and I.

As is the way of most disused gravel workings, soon after flooding they somehow become 'naturally' stocked with rudd and perch, in some districts with crucian carp and in others with roach. In this part of Essex it is more commonly crucian carp that form the third species.

The devastating winter of 1962-63 took its toll on the fish stocks of the Reddingtons lake on Fobbing Road, Corringham. As far as was known the very few common carp that had somehow found their way in to the lake perished, along with countless perch, many rudd and crucian carp. The Reddington family took a bold step within a couple of years and restocked with mirror carp purchased from the nearby Stambridge Trout Fisheries. Quite separately and unintentionally, 5 small catfish that resided in an aquarium in Messrs W.C. Brainwood, pet food and fishing tackle shop in Clarence Road, Grays, also found their way in to the lake at about the same time.

Friends and invited guests of the Reddington family were basically the only anglers permitted to fish the lake throughout their 20 odd years of ownership, though sadly local residents, gaining open access through the surrounding trees and broken down fences also viewed the site as a convenient tip for unwanted cycles, prams and other waste metal. Some poaching by locals was also rife and the bailiff, who lived in an adjacent house had his work cut out trying to protect the property, often in vain.

The crucian carp were prolific and averaged just under one pound in weight. The rudd teemed, though rarely exceeded six ounces, and the perch literally paved the lake. Most of the perch weighed four ounces, though Roy Sutton, one of the invited guest anglers, caught a four pounder in the mid '60s. The mirror carp stocked in 1964 were mostly less than one pound in weight but grew quickly. In 1966 John Reed, another of the invited anglers, and one who fished with me for the lake's carp on those early days, caught the first of the 'new' mirror carp at 6 lbs 14ozs. In subsequent years this fish was caught by me (before I bought the property) at 16 lbs 4ozs, then again in 1976 at 21lbs. This carp is still alive today.

The lake itself is a little over 4 acres with depths, today, ranging from three to six feet. The lake bed is mostly clean gravel, picked over by the numerous bottom feeding fish. Over the years roach and tench have found their way in along with an experimental stocking of trout, some bream and a few pike. Little was heard of the catfish for many years however.

Two exceptions to this were a brace that I caught and a single capture to Martin Gay, each in the late 60's or early 70's. It was always assumed that the catfish were of the 'channel' variety as indeed at least one was, so no great regard was given them. All that was to change a few years after I purchased the property (in 1976) and some serious, specialist fishing began. In those days I was a particularly keen carp angler and probably for the first time the lake began to be fished at night and for prolonged periods using specialised methods.

In a break with tradition I gave limited access to a small local angling club and during one of their matches a contestant caught a catfish of over eight pounds. This one was no channel cat, but a Wels catfish!

As may be imagined, this capture, not so much a fluke as a surprise gave me cause to rethink my fishing plans on the lake. Apart from the few invited matches, and the occasional friend, no one other than I fished the lake for its specimen species at the time. The concept of fishing for what amounted to a new species and of also entering a campaign alone, was no small task for me. How many wels catfish did the lake hold? How big did they grow? What would be the favoured tactics? These and many other questions ran fertile through my mind. The only way to get to grips with them was to begin immediately and seriously.

It seemed to me that the sensible option was to, initially, team up with my carp fishing buddy Tony Ive. Using 'carp' style baits this pair of would-be catfish anglers soon caught a number of average sized fish to just over 10 lbs, but in so doing we learned new things about this exciting species. It wasn't long before the first twenty pounders began to show, followed by the mind-boggling concept of cats over 30 pounds!

Once the methodology was found and applied to these fish, which had quietly fed and grown to prodigious proportions, the lake showed itself to be not only a good catfish water but one of the very best catfish waters anywhere in England. To this day, how it kept it's secrets to itself for so long remains a mystery - but in doing so, it probably helped the cats to grow so large. This made the fishing even more exciting when they finally did switch on to anglers baits.

In those comparatively early days, fish flavoured carp baits took all the catfish that I could wish for. It was only after a few seasons of such fishing that the catfish began to wise up and a call for a change in tactics was needed. Legered live and deadbaits, prebaiting with fish-laced cloud bait and concentrating on very specific times of the day (and the night) almost to the exclusion of the remaining hours, bought results the like of which I could never have dreamed.

Alongside all this, the carp, some dating back in age to the 1960's were once again packing on weight. These same fish, which in the mid-70's rarely made twenty pounds began to show up with increasing frequency over that 'special' weight, with large numbers of really good double figure mirrors and commons to support them. The lake was demonstrating a new lease of life and the next few years - the theme of this series of articles - were to change the lives of very many anglers.