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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


15/06/2017 - Back to the 1950's with Potatoes and Cane Rods.

Author with a carp caught on potato


Many men in their 40’s suffer a midlife crisis, buying a powerful motorbike, sports car or it’s a young blonde girl friend perhaps all three. My crisis happened as I near my 80th birthday I’ve switched to using my cane rods and reels of the 1940’s 50’s and selling all my modern gear. The following is an account of catching carp on potato baits.

June  is not just the start of a new season, it’s the time when I go in search of carp and tench. Today I’ve come to fish a pool that dates back to the early 19th Century, around and in the water are willows and alders, lots of yellow water lilies, floating leaved potamogeton, Canadian pond weed making it very attractive on the eye, around the banks and the surrounding land were yellow flag iris, rhododendron bushes in profusion, oaks, sycamore, ash, and beech trees dotted the surrounding land. I think it was 1959 when a past Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said "We hadn't had it so good" I reckon he was correct, I look back with fondness to 1950's it was probably 1953 when I started using potato baits in Ernest, though I had dabbled with the bait before. After hearing and reading the exploits of Maurice Ingham and Dick Walker who were using spuds at Woldale a Lincolnshire lake with good results I chose to use potato as bait. My rod would be a MK1V, reels either centre pin or Mitchell 300, bite indicator a piece of silver paper folded over the line, at night I used a penny on the spool with a galvanised tin plate beneath the reel, as the penny dropped it would act as a sound indicator should I drop off to sleep. Today I'm using a MK1V centre pin reel 12lb nylon line a size 4 barbless hook a silver paper bite indicator, even though I would be watching the bait.

For the past three days the swim had been baited with half a dozen well-cooked spuds, forget the parboiled nonsense, they need to be as soft as possible. There were just six places around the pool where it was possible to fish, at the top end of the pool behind the sedges I could sit quietly and drop a bait in the margins where the fish had grazed off the weed leaving a clean area about three feet square, no doubt an area where the carp feed on blood worms, in this spot I could watch any carp pick up the bait. Further along the bank was a small gap in the rhododendron bushes, with a good view of the pool, I could look across to the far bank where some overhanging oaks created what can best be described as giving cavern like appearance, to the right were a few yards of flag iris in flower, where a pair of moorhens were sitting on a clutch of eggs, to the left a large bed of water lilies shaded by a large over hanging willow. I use a baiting needle to pass the line through the bait then tie on the size 4 hook, on the bend of the hook is a crust pad, the potato sits on the crust pad.

My First Cast

Having seen carp patrolling early in the day, even watching a carp take one of the potatoes', I felt quite confident, though there is a lot of difference in fish picking up the free offering and where the bait is tethered to the line and hook. The bait was positioned around fifteen feet from the bank where fish patrolled, I suppose thirty minutes had passed when Paul the gardener appeared asking "Are you trying to catch the carp" I said “Yes” then out of the deep water a carp appeared moving towards the bait, the gardener said "That's a big fish" I agreed probably around 20lbs mark one of the commons, he remarked "It’s only a foot away" we watched it inch ever closer, suddenly it was over the bait pectoral fins all a quiver, slowly the head went down its mouth opened the potato disappeared I set the hook. The fish powered away, it made the reel screamed as I tried to slow the passage of the fish, This fish must have been on steroids at the speed it moved, the lovely cane rod made more than half a Century in the distant past was hooped over, however I tried to slow the pace of the fish it didn't make any difference.

Suddenly it went into a deep weed bed on the opposite side of the pool. For several minutes I tried hand lining the fish with a see saw motion on the line, all was stuck fast. during the time between hooking and retrieving the hook, Paul stood in silence he seemed awestruck and astonished. Ten minutes later I was slowing gaining line with a heavy weight on the end, after several yards of line had been retrieved I realised I was dragging in weed, the fish had gone. To say I was gutted would have been an understatement. I said to myself 60 plus years from using potatoes as bait the fish will still eat them. Paul said "I didn't know fish could swim that fast and be so powerful" and with that he disappeared back to his gardening.

Success at Last

An hour or so later I had a slow run the line hardly moving as what I thought was a good mirror picked up the bait in the margins then slowly very slowly moved a couple of feet along the bank, I set the hook into a very angry fish which shot off to my right up the pool towards the lilies, "If it gets in those I thought all would be lost, I leaned the rod over to my left cramping on as much pressure as I dare, the fish stopped in its track then ripped up the bottom creating a huge area of smoke screened water, slowly I gained a few feet of line, the fish continued to battle ripping out potamegetan weed, several strands were festooned to the line along with some Canadian pond weed. It was like a tug of war. I’d gain a few feet, the carp got most of it back, but slowly the pressure told as I bullied it towards me. Suddenly the fish moved into open water at last I could breathe a sigh of relief. A few minutes later I pulled the fish over the waiting net then all hell was let loose as it thrashed about sending water and weed everywhere, but the fish was mine as I heaved with both hands to get the net and fish on the weigh mat. On the scales I got a reading of 15lbs 12 ounces, I was more than satisfied, my idea of using potato's had worked despite my friends saying " You will waste your time" I proved them wrong. After a picture I watched the fish swim off strongly. Time for a brew and sandwich to celebrate, later in the day I had a 14lb fully scaled mirror. As it was getting near tea time, I threw in half a dozen potatoes then packed my gear away until the next day.

On my second day I didn't get the chance to go fishing until after lunch, in the morning I had to attend a National Health Service walk in centre to have the dressing on my back changed, I must say the NHS certainly give us an excellent service when we need it. After lunch I put together my Constable Forty Four carp rod, matched with a centre pin reel holding 12lb breaking strain line, picking up landing net, weigh mat / sling, along with the bait bag holding potato's bread, lobworms and cheese paste. Twenty minutes later I'm sitting in a swim with a commanding view of the pool, I could see the odd carp moving from left to right, suddenly a big fished moved into view then tilted its head downwards, within seconds a potato had disappeared, it was with a beating heart and shaking hands that I put the line through the guides, using a baiting needle I passed the line through the potato then attached a size 4 barbless hook, cutting a small piece of crust, it was hooked to sit on the bend of the hook so the potato could rest on the crust cushion. By this time the fish had moved on, it was time to place my bait fifteen feet out from the sedge's so it settled in front of some water lilies, certainly a popular patrol rout where several potatoes having been taken, I’d also seen a couple off fish the previous day. An hour or so later a big mirror carp cruised under the rod four feet from the bank, too late to change the position of the bait, I would spook the fish, as it rooted around it created a huge smokescreen, I couldn't see the fish, occasionally a big whirl appeared as it waved its tail about. Fifteen minutes later it moved away allowing the water to clear, two potatoes I'd dropped in the margins had gone, certainly a fish missed.

Three Double Figure Carp

An hour later a carp moved from the left towards my swim, a good mirror, within minutes it was in front of me, I was amazed how slowly it approached the bait, it seemed to take ages but was probably only minutes to get within inches of the bait, then pushing the bait before circling the potato at close range, several minutes went by before the fish lowered its head, the potato disappear, the fish moved off slowly line tightened, lifting the rod I set the hook in an angry fish. Line was taken off the reel at a fast rate of knots, thankfully it was heading down the pool away from the danger of water lilies, I slowly exerted more pressure which had the desired effect as the fish slowed up considerable then turned right before rubbing its head in the silt creating a big smokescreen. I got some line back using the full strength of the tackle, then worked the fish back towards me, occasionally I lost a few feet of line but I was winning the contest. Minutes later I pushed the landing net into the water then pulled the fish over the net. Laying the rod to one side I grabbed the net with both hands then heaved the fish ashore, lowering the net and fish on the weigh mat. Sliding the fish into the weigh sling I got a reading of 16 lbs 10 ounces, after taking picture I lowered the fish into the water watching it swim off strongly. Around tea time I caught another mirror carp of 11 lbs, though this fish was smaller it did give me a good run around for several minutes before it was in the net. Just as I was thinking of packing up I got a third fish of 14lbs 11 ounces again on potato

Chef Anthony Morris Catches a Nice Common Carp

Around 1800 hrs I got a call from my friend Anthony to say he would be with me in half an hour, Kate had cooked for tea a steak pie in red wine sauce with potatoes with carrots, after which I would try and help Anthony catch a carp, I’d given a lot of thought to the challenge and chose to stalk a carp around the margin with some bread flake and crust, After circling about three quarters of the pool we found a common carp slowly moving along the edge of some sedges, I suggested to Anthony he fish a small piece of crust and drop the bait quietly some three feet in front of the cruising fish, this was done very quietly hardly crating a ripple, we sat quietly watching our quarry approaching the crust, slowly inch by inch the fish edged closer to the bait, then without warning it just moved forward quite quickly and sucked in the crust, as line slowly went off the reel Anthony set the hook, the water boiled as the fish on realising its mistake shot off towards a large patch of water lilies, I told Anthony to lean the rod over to the left keeping it low so he didn't snag any tree branches, this did the trick as the fish was pulled away from danger, then it went off to the open water and soon a beaten carp was pulled towards my landing net, as it dropped into the mesh I lifted saying to Anthony "Well done I reckon it’s a mid-double, on the scales it went 14lbs, after a picture we watched it swim off strongly for the sanctuary of the weeds and deep water. Anthony went off home with a smile on his face. The next day I had two mid doubles one on flake the other on potato later in the morning I spotted a carp close to the rhododendron bushes I dropped a bit of crust in its direction which was quickly taken, it turned out to be the fish Anthony had caught the previous evening this was one fish that didn't learn a lesson





A nice mirror carp

Anthony with 14lb common carp

Fully scaled mirror carp

A quiet corner of the pool

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Martin James Fishing
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