We like to catch a few carp each year, but rather than go to some overstocked water where the fish are hungry, or spend days and days waiting for a run from some well known monster that likes to get its picture in the angling journals occasionally, we pop over to Canada for a week and catch enough carp to satisfy our addiction for the whole of the season. We just haven't got the time to waste in the latter years of life, and certainly not the inclination to be uncomfortable in any way if we can do the same sort of fishing in comparative cosiness. But before I chat about Canada, someone asked me to tell the tale of the 221b. carp that I beat on 2lb. b.s. line.
During the winter I usually have a day or two fishing my early hunting grounds, the tidal Thames. Unlike those days in the past when I would be spending time on the bankside, I now have the luxury of being afloat, fishing with my young friend Anthony Myatt. As a member of the Francis Francis Angling Club, a very famous old club based at Twickenham, and as a qualified puntsman, Tony has the use of a punt, which gives ease of mobility on the river as one doesn't have to cart the gear around, a real bonus for a wrinkly, and the advantage of fishing areas that are difficult or impossible to fish without the availability of a boat. Also, Tony knows the tidal reaches extremely well and where fish are likely to be at certain states of the tide. This has given him some tremendous catches at times, of several species.
Although winter fishing in the tidal can often be difficult, as elsewhere in the cold months, I know that I am in with a better chance of a fish or two if I leave all the decisions to Tony. This, despite the fact that I knew the river so well in my young days, and crafty that I am, if the day doesn't come up to expectations, I cannot be blamed. There isn't any point in getting old if a certain amount of shrewdness doesn't compensate. On this particular day, as I recall, we moved about a bit as the fishing was slow. We were after roach and bream, and bream fishing has become excellent in the tideway in recent years, with plenty of fish taken by Francis Francis members in excess of 51b, and heavy bags too. Myatt fishes light when things are difficult, and obviously was on this day as he was taking more fish than I. He often does, and I taught the beastly fellow much of his techniques.
Whatever, he was suddenly into a fish that was taking line from the reel at a tremendous rate in the winter current, straight downstream, and he was in imminent danger of running out of line. Like me, he is very fond of the old Young's Rapidex centre pin, and was using one at the time.
"How much line have you got?"
"You'll soon lose that mate. You had better up sticks."
For those of you who don't know about anchoring a punt, practised by professional Thames puntsmen of the past and no doubt elsewhere, to keep it stable without movement, long poles are pushed well into the gravel bed of the river at each end of the punt, to which the punt is anchored with a system that allows it to rise and fall with the tide. These poles, called ryepecks, are heavy, strong, and with metal spikes attached to the thicker end to enable the pole to penetrate the river bed more easily. Even so, it is not as easy task to get them into position so that the punt is anchored nicely broadside to the flow, and it takes considerable skill and strength to correctly position a punt in the fast winter flows. So when I told him to 'up sticks', I was suggesting that he got the ruddy ryepecks out of the gravel fast so that we could chase off after the fish. He shoved the rod in my hand, rocked and pulled out the poles probably quicker than he had ever done before, and off downstream we went after the fish. He was almost out of line, and by the time we had caught up with the fish and regained all the line, it was a quarter mile down from where it was hooked.
Once free of the anchorage, apart from playing the fish I was trying to get him to take his rod back, but he either ignored me or shook his head, and so I told him to get downstream of it so that I could have more control. He did so, but as soon as I put more pressure on, the fish went off down again at a fair old pace.
"What breaking strain have you got on here."
We were very lucky, as we managed to pass through an area of boats and anchor chains without mishap. We were then on the opposite side of the river to where it was hooked which is mostly over 100yds in width, and actually in another county. Although I had been told how fragile was the line, I still kept the rod fully curved or there is no doubt I would still be there playing the thing, but I was not making much headway.
Down and down we went until at last I managed to get the fish off the floor. We were the best part of a mile down from where it was hooked by now, but I knew that whatever it was, failing a mistake on my part, that fish was going to end up in the landing net. We obviously suspected that it was a carp, but not having seen a sight of it hadn't a clue how large it might be - or small if it turned out to be foul hooked. Thirty pounders have come from the tideway, and with the fish dictating terms over such a distance, it could easily, in my opinion anyway, having had to do the work, have been of such a size.
As with all fish, a feeling of weakening through the rod, and that little bit of extra pressure that one then exerts, and up comes a good carp. Not the monster that I had hoped to see, but a good fish to beat on such thin line. Extra care as it wallows around until the net is under it and all is safe. Out come the scales, and the camera, and we both have our picture taken with it. It was exciting stuff, but neither of us could lay claim to the fish. Tony had hooked it and made it possible to land by speedily removing the ryepecks from the bottom, and by skilful manipulation of the boat, and I had managed to play it without failure of the ultra light gear. So for fun we claimed 11 lb each.
It had been hooked in one town in Middlesex, and landed in another town in Surrey on the other side of the river, about a mile away from where it was hooked. No way without the punt.'
And then the inquest. "Why wouldn't you take the bloody rod back?"
"Well Dave, that will pay you back for the couple of times that you caught me when I was a kid, and you shoved your rod in my hand with a salmon on the end - and you sometimes only had 1 lb. bs when you were grayling fishing."
It is true that if I hooked a salmon when fishing for grayling, which happened often 20yrs ago, I would ask any friend or guest fishing nearby to hold my rod for a minute while I went off behind a bush. Then I would watch them running up and down the river chasing the fish and having palpitations. I'll say this for all of them though, they nearly always beat the fish and carefully returned it. My friends are skilful devils!
I remember once playing the same trick on my old friend Richard Ogden. I hooked a 14 lb salmon on a trout fly rod, and when I saw him coming along for a chat, I slung some loose line in the river so that the rod wasn't curved, and then asked him to hold the rod while I went to lose some water. I didn't bother to go back and got a right telling off later.
"You b*****d. It took me nearly half hour to get that salmon out. My arm's falling off."
I know that they all loved playing the fish really, despite what they might say, as I did when playing that tidal carp. After all, it might not have been a monster, but it was 221b 2oz.
Last month's Canada trip? I'm not going to write too much about that as I did so in an article for this website a couple of years back, which explained how fantastic the fishing was. It still is, and to make all you carp addicts out there dribble, I have sent the Editor some pics with this piece, of forty pounders that have already come out this season, plus a couple of our lesser catches, to satisfy the ego that the Editor told me we all have. I deny it!
We went over about three weeks earlier than usual, and because of the vagarities of the weather all over the world this year, we caught less than we have on previous trips. For Kay and I, we actually liked catching less as it gave us a chance to relax more, and have a cup of tea and eat our sandwiches. We sometimes had to wait as long as half hour before the rod whacked over, instead of only 5 or 10 minutes, but it was still fast fishing when relating it to the carp fishing one is used to in the UK.
When we go over later in the year, we tend to fish in fairly deep water, about 25-30ft as that is where the fish seem to want to feed. I'm sure I would have mentioned in the previous piece about Canadian carp, that the St. Lawrence is considered to be one of the cleanest rivers in the world, and there is stacks of food down deep. One Canadian told me that carp have been caught from 70ft. of water, and Paul Hunt, the carp angler from Essex, who, with his partner, runs the 'Canadian Carpin' set-up that we patronise, takes his clients to fish at depths of 40ft later in the year. At this earlier time, because the snowmelt is still coming down the river, as cold water sinks, until it gets down to zero anyway, it is running along the bottom, putting off any fish from feeding there. But there are still plenty of areas to fish. There are many shallow bays within the river system, and as the days lengthen, and the strength of the sun increases, the slowly circulating flows of the bays warm up, helped normally by a warm south-west wind. This year, because the weather system has not followed its usual pattern, for the month preceding our visit, there had been continual cold north-easterlies. Even so, there were still plenty of fish willing to feed, and although slower than we expected, our group caught enough fish to satisfy anyone.
Altogether, in 6 days, the group caught 411 carp. Mostly we fished for about 8 or 9 hours each day, although Kay and I fished one or two shorter days. Of that total, 87 were twenties, and half of those were big twenties. There were also 12 topping 30 with the best going to Trevor Fribbins at 36 lb. Fab fishing, and with the chance of something really big. I'm sure that I hooked a very large fish as it ponderously took off without any apparent difficulty, against all the pressure I could manage with the 4lb test curve without changing a two-piece rod into a three-piece rod. After about 80yds had gone, it got into a snag, and suddenly all went slack as the heavy leader was cut off against the abundant, razor sharp, zebra mussels. The friend mentioned earlier, Richard Ogden, has just come back from a week's fishing at Paul's, and tells me that the Canadians who hunt carp with the bow and arrow, killed a 47 and 501b fish on the day they were hunting near the swim he was fishing.
Most of the group we were with had been before, which speaks for itself, and already they have bookings for next year, and also from Kay and I who will need a 'fix' by then. We are going over with a well known angling personality who hasn't fished much for carp, and consequently he has never caught a 20 pounder. Years of angling should make me too wise to stick my neck out, but I will guarantee that he will catch a 20 pounder.
To change the theme somewhat, anglers who read my May article will perhaps recall that I mentioned I had never caught a brown trout exceeding 10 lb, but I had the opportunity of doing so, and with a 'holier than thou' attitude I was leaving it alone. Well, before going to Canada, and fearing the possibility that it may have gone off downstream, or moved up, before I returned, I succumbed to temptation and chucked a fly at it. It went l0lb 12oz. It was around for a while after I returned it, but was gone when I came back from Canada. I only hope that wherever it is now, if it is caught again, that the captor gives it its freedom.