fly fishing sport fishing freshwater fishing
Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


04/08/2023 - Start of new season 2023

My plan for Friday June 16th 2023 was to fish an estate water, with a midnight start. I arrived around 1800 hrs on June 15th the start of my 82nd year of angling. My Life as an angler started June 16th 1941, with a ball of wool for line, a nut as the weight, with some penny eel hooks, I got from the local pram shop with my grandma, uncle Len who was home on leave from the Middle East, he dug some worms from the garden to use as bait. I caught 7 small rudd, from a clay pit close to the banks of the river Thames. Suddenly we had to end our trip, overhead was a large fleet of German bombers and fighters heading to bomb London. suddenly one was heading to the marshes having been shot down by Hurricane or Spitfire, two Germans had bailed out. Uncle Len said “We must go and get the Home Guard”. Now in my 86th year I still get that intense feeling of excitement and hope.





No longer being able to drive, I was picked from home around 1600 hrs, by the owner of the water. After pulling into the car park by the house, I went on a very slow walk around the pool, spotting several carp, just basking in the warmth of the sun, others were creating areas of disturbed silt, typical Smoke screening as Dick Walker described on page 91 of Still Water Angling published in 1953. Others were slowly cruising close to the beds of lilies, some with white flowers, an odd one a light pink colour, there were some big shoals of roach.





Getting My Gear Together





An hour or more later having chosen a swim, I collected my tackle bag and rod holdall, then back to my swim, after two more trips, collecting brewing gear, sandwiches, fruit cake, to keep me going through the night, also some extra clothing, it’s quite surprising how the temperature can drop just before dawn. Back in my swim I put together Sharpe’s salmon fly rod, which had been converted from 13 feet to 11 feet for carp or barbel, matched with a centre pin reel, my other rod was a Constable Forty Fore matched with an early 1950’s Mitchell 300 both reels with 12 lb bs line, I chose to start at the shallow end with its water lilies, beds of potamogeton and bulrushes, I also had a choice of fishing over gravel, or the soft silty areas where often could see a carp cruising about.





The pool today was quiet, apart from an occasional rolling carp, the view was a stunning with all Rhododendrons in full flowers, scattered around the pool were small patches of lilies with an odd bright yellow flower, lots of submerged lily leaves a vivid green in colour, known by anglers as cabbage leaves for their crinkled edges. Spotting a gap in the Rhododendrons, I quietly made my way through to the water’s edge, I noticed the water was coloured with poor visibility, other years, I could see the bottom over much of the lake bed. Though I did spot a couple of tench in less than two feet of water around 4lbs.I had a choice of baits, bread, potatoes, not tinned, but potatoes cut into chunks and cooked, I’d arranged pieces of potato to be thrown onto the gravel area for a few days, in exchange for a bottle of Grouse whiskey. I also had lobworms and sweetcorn. I had some silver paper for visual bite indication, also an alarm indicator which would alert me to an interest from a fish, should accidently fall asleep in the darkness. I sat there for around two hours just soaking up the atmosphere and the joy of being back, sadly most of my friends and others from the 1950’s 60’s have passed on, at 1000 hrs I stood for a minutes silence to remember all those no longer able to enjoy this special day. I certainly miss them all, we had so much fun, learning from each other as we progressed in our knowledge. Around 2330 hrs with no sign or sound of carp moving, I chose not to fish during the darkness and get my head down. Waking up around 0315 hours, after a quick shower etc, I quietly went out of the door, then slowly walked to my first pitch.





Dawn The Start Of Some Action





Having spotted some action I catapulted a few bits of bread close to the far bank. “Life at last” I thought, as a few minutes later a fish nudged a piece crust, not sure what it was up to, as it slowly submerged and disappeared, “surely it wasn’t spooked”? I thought. A few minutes later I spotted a swirl around the crust, through my binoculars I watched the crust disappear, at least I’d got a carp interested in taking bread. Sadly not it seems as the other bits of bread were ignored.Picking up my cane rod and centre pin outfit, with a loaf of bread and landing net, I walked slowly to the opposite bank keeping well back from the water’s edge, I spotted a fish no more than three feet out, I dropped a piece of flake so it landed quietly, not even causing any movement on the water surface, by now the light had improved greatly, the sun beat down. I suppose twenty or thirty minutes had passed as I sat hardly daring to breath I could feel the warmth, from the sunshine.For some reason the carp then moved slowly to the bait, opening its mouth quietly it sucked in the flake. Slowly it moved away, not knowing it had a hook in its mouth, I set that hook firmly in the top lip, all hell was let loose, as the fish opened the after burners moving fast across the water to the opposite bank creating a bow wave as it did so.Before it reached the danger zone I managed to pull it off its direction several times, it then powered up the lake to the dam end, again I turned its head, after probably ten minutes or so, I was getting the better of this fight. The fish probably couldn’t work out why it was being dragged in different directions so often, I didn’t slacken off for a second. It’s surprising what 11 foot of quality bamboo, matched with a centre pin reel and 12 lb bs line can do, the power is perfect, at no time I did I think I would lose this fight. Eventually I got my prize in the net, a lovely common, on the scales it weighed 16 lbs 8 ounces, I was delighted.





It was time for a badly needed fresh brew.





During the course of the day had a total of ten fish, all on bread flake or crust, all within a few feet of the bank, the way for success was watching for a fish, then slowly stalking the quarry often on hands and knees, often through nettles. When in position it was a case of quietly lowering the flake or crust on the water surface often next to a lily leaf, so no line was on the water close to the bait, there is no rod rest in this type of fishing, at all times you are holding the rod, ready for instant action.I think it was the fifth or six fish that I spotted slowly moving alongside a large patch of lilies, moving into position some four feet in front of the fish, I lowered the flake on the surface, directly under the rod tip, so no line was on the water, I reckon this fish spent twenty minutes just lying dormant, I was getting concerned that it wasn’t looking for food.




Then it disappeared under the lily pads, but I could see by the movement of the pads, it was moving in the right direction. Suddenly it lifted up in the water close to my bait, then moved forward to gently nudge the bait. I thought “That’s a big fish” then a couple of seconds later, it sucked in the bait, all I had to do was lift the rod, the fish was on. It moved off extremely fast the reel screaming in protest, some thirty or more yards of line were stripped from the reel as it headed off towards the dam, I let it run, hoping it would slow down, it didn’t happen so I increased the power until I could feel the rod was bending in the butt joint down into the cork handle.I then walked backwards in the hope I could stop the fish in its track, all it did was turn to the left, heading for some flag iris growing in the shallows, also there were branches that had been in the water for some time. As the fish got in this very shallow water, it slowed down then changed direction. I reckon I’d had this fish on for around fifteen or more minutes, but couldn’t see it slowing up, having had a good view of this big mirror I realised I got a heavy fish, built for power. Another ten minutes, what seemed like a lifetime, also as most of the water is around three feet in depth, the fish often powered on through the silt. The water where ever the fish turned virtually black in colour as the fish ripped through the silt. The sun beat down, my arm was aching, I felt numbness in my rod hand, but I was determined to get this fish, I’d even made the choice




“I would go in the water if needed to keep the fish from the bankside lilies”.Thankfully I managed to get myself along the bank where I had a clear area for netting the fish if needed. Slowly the fish started to tire, the runs were becoming shorter, it often wallowed on the surface. I decided I must put more pressure on the fish, I also walked backward dragging the fish towards the bank. As this worked, I pushed the net out in the pool, then virtually dragged the fish over the net, dropping the rod I lifted, the fish was mine. I then struggled to get the fish from the water, onto the bank, the fish was thrashing about in the net, water going everywhere including me. I got well drenched, through it didn’t matter I’d got my prize. As I manoeuvred the fish into the weigh sling I thought of the words last season from the owner who said “Could there be a 20lb carp in the water” I said “Yes” On the scales I got a reading of 21lbs 10 ounces, punching the air with joy I shouted to no one “Yes it’s a new water record”




After a couple of quick pictures I watched the fish swim off strongly. Later in the day when the owner returned from his golf, I gave him the news. Of a new record for the water. During the session I had 11 carp all on surface baits of bread, the best ones were 21-10-0 16-8-0 15-9-0 15-3-0 with 5 more doubles, with two around 8lbs. The end of a very good start to the season.

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Martin James Fishing
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