The fenced, rhododendron-girt, and lily paved two acres, were to be tantalizingly viewed by ordinary anglers as mere glimpses through the foliage. For them, such high flown pleasures were to be had only vicariously, as the true elite unlocked the gates to gain entry, and studiedly locked them again to keep out the great unwashed. >From now on, just as I myself had done for many years, small boys would point at me through the locked gates and whisper Im going to be a member there when I grow up. At the impressional age of fourteen this was all the proof I needed - I was clearly an angler to be reckoned with. What pretentious humbug.
Even at that tender age, I was a specialist carper. My Mitchell, Mk.IV and Heron buzzer declared me so, and proved it, at least to my own satisfaction. My apprenticeship had been served down among the rowing boats and duck-feeding week-enders of The Boating Lake. There were about ten of us I seem to remember. We sat in a distinctly superior huddle in our corner of the lake, discussing the latest Walker revelations in Angling Times, and occasionally, very occasionally, landing a carp. The catch rate was staggeringly low, perhaps one carp a month between the ten of us, but in all honesty that wasnt the point. The real point was that we were the in crowd and much admired by the hoards of tiddler snatchers, who occasionally summed up enough courage to ask us questions. My particular chum was John Shepherd. Then, at nineteen years of age, John was a proper grown-up with all the authority that comes from such a great age. I thought him tremendously impressive. Wherever he is now, I wish him well.
Oh fickle and shallow youth: without a backward glance I left my excellent and loyal companions to take up my new membership at The Club Lake. The change of scene and the fishing were a revelation to me. New to my fishing life was the Pavilion, a low wooden club-house with a verandah that might have been transported in its entirety from the touchline of an Indian North-West frontier polo field, to this little haven of post Raj exclusivity in South London. The Pavilion housed members angling chairs, a tea-room, and rows of stuffed fish from an earlier and even grander time. On match days a bell would signal that tea was served. With a steaming urn of tea, and rows of home-made cakes at sixpence each, it was a very ambitious angler indeed that failed to draw in his bait when the tea bell sounded. There was also the less weighty matter of the pretty daughters of the older members, who were on hand to serve the tea. On the matter of those gamine lovelies, I will admit to nothing more. Nevertheless, as I write these words, a pleasing glow of tender reminiscence warms my middle-aged heart.
The Club Lake held carp - loads of them. On a good day, using slow sinking flake, or worms dangled over a lily-pad one could catch half a dozen common carp from perhaps three to nine pounds. In the late fifties a nine pounder was considered to be quite a big carp, and ten pounders still made front page news in the Angling Times. Sinking baits produced plenty of fish, but floating crust was even more deadly. Unfortunately, floating baits were banned by the club committee, for fear that someone would complain to the Parks Authority when the odd duck had to be landed amidst much quacking and flapping of wings. All the same, the clubs young Turks chanced their arm occasionally. To my everlasting shame, I was required to serve a one season suspension when I once succumbed to temptation. I was caught in the act by a committee member, Jack Maile, an amazingly successful carp catcher, and a long time friend. Jack was sad to have to do his duty, and his request for leniency certainly saved me from permanent sacking.
Anyone who remembers those halcyon days will remember also a wonderful old character who haunted the lovely swim under the huge spreading cedar. If I ever knew his name I certainly can't remember it now, but I can still see him in my minds eye. He was a Victorian soldier of very advanced age, probably nearer ninety than eighty. He sat on a folding camp armchair with a dangling Abdullah Turkish cigarette that stained his billowing white Kitchener mustache a most particular shade of ochre. We all knew him as Colonel, and his speciality was fishing for crucians, or as he referred to them - Little Gentlemen. Manys the portly Little Gentlemen I saw him catch, good ones too, well over two pounds some of them.
The Colonel couldn't bear to hear anyone whistling, which he thought to be a very common habit. I once committed the cardinal sin of whistling the old Shadows tune Apache whilst sitting with him under the Cedar. In a polite but firm manner he suggested that if I had to whistle, it should only be the Adagio from Mozarts Serenade in B flat major. That shut me up, although I have since discovered that it is indeed a glorious piece of music - and blissfully, impossible to whistle.
The Colonel used only one rod, a battered Allcocks Wallis Wizard, with brass fittings, and a spectacular droop born of thousands of battles. His reel was a pre-war Aerial with very little line on it. This short rein didnt matter, because the Colonel always fished under his rod-tip.
If the Colonel were alive now, hed have to be over a hundred and twenty years old. Whether or not the Club Lake still has crucian carp I dont know. I hope so. In the world of modern carp fishing, whackers have taken over from my beautiful little commons, and the Little Gentlemen are oft-times considered to be a nuisance. But for those anglers with soul, I'd like to say that there's more to carp fishing than mere avoirdupois. Fishing for crucians is delicious fun to remind one of the days when aspidistras stared balefully from the netted windows of parlours without televisions. Given use of the right tackle they can provide wonderful sport.
You dont need a thumping great Mk.IV for crucians. These little chaps are tremendously strong for their size, but Clarissas and Bishops they aint. A two pound crucian is a good one, and a three-pounder the fish of a life-time. The Colonels Wizard was just about right for the job. They're eleven feet long, and as my fellow Golden Scale member Demus Canning points out, with the uncanny in-built knack of being real fish catchers. Proper Wizards are hard to find these days, and they're snapped up by knowing anglers just as soon as they are put up for sale. Still, there are any number of proper cane rods, both old and new, that will do the job as well. I like to use a rod that would be as suitable for chub and tench fishing. Linsleys Stour Perfection, or Barders Merlin would do the job beautifully. These rods can't be used for hurling 3 oz. leads into oblivion, neither can they be used for pole vaulting, but they can be handled with love on a wet and windy November evening, and they can catch fish beautifully when used as their designers expected.
Provided you're not frightened by its lack of frills, and its inability to cast into the next county, theres nothing quite so pleasing as a centre-pin reel for this sort of short range work. For float fishing you want line with a breaking strain of around 4 lbs. I use reliable old Maxima on a Witcher-renovated 3 1/2" Aerial dating from the 1930s.
Always provided that there are crucians in the lake or pond you're fishing, the method employed can be simplicity itself. I like to use a Norfolk reed float. The best are made by Colin Whitehouse from Barders Newbury premises, but they are so stunningly beautiful that its heart-breaking when one is lost. Crucians just love fresh flake, with or without a little squirt of added flavour. A pinch the diameter of a 5p coin on a size 10 or 12 Drennan Specialist hook is just about perfect on most occasions.
There are times when a crucian will sail off with the bait without hesitation, but often they will offer only the most finicky bites, and at such times a sensitive rig is required. I then attach the float bottom only, slide the shot to within an inch of the hook, and fish slightly over-depth, lift method.
For groundbait there's nothing much to beat stale bread dipped into lake water and finely mashed with a potato masher. I've also had excellent results from lightly watered Sensas crumb-punch groundbait.
Theres something to be said for using a keep-net if you want to take several crucians out of a tight swim. I've sometimes had the impression in the past that fish returned instantly might have panicked their fellows. Use the widest ringed net you can find. Mine is home-made, and is 27" in diameter. I have it in mind to modify the bottom of this net with some sort of release system to save having to slide the fish all the way up to the top ring.
Crucians are very fond of cover, so if you can find an over-hanging branch or two, try under those first. In the absence of trees, you can hardly do better than to fish tight up against a bed of lilies.
Inevitably, you will pick up other fish, particularly tench. If you've been sitting over a long range battery-emplacement of glistening carp rods for four days, only to have your bait snaffled by a two pound tench, then I can understand that the attention may not be particularly welcome. However, when fished for with tackle that has more finesse, tench are the most delightful of visitors. Also inevitably, a fifteen pound common will eventually turn up and hastily disappear stage left. You may just be lucky enough to land him though.
Fishing for crucians, particularly with traditional tackle, is to step back in time to a less hurried age. Despite what some high-tech and other battered tweed anglers have to say about each other, there is room in angling for all approaches, but by adhering week in week out to the 16" gun attack, I feel that many of todays anglers are missing out on some of lifes simple pleasures. The Colonel knew a good thing when he found it, and he knew a true Gentleman when he met one.