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“I’ll never be carpy!”

I spent the first three months of my return to fishing mainly on the river Weaver and once again used basic tactics without targeting any specific species, I was just happy to be back in the beauty and peace of nature. I found a spot that suited me perfectly, plenty of space for all my gear and away from the majority of passersby. I was catching dace, small perch, bream and roach and I loved every minute of it. Because I was fishing so often I would visit HF Angling almost every day for bait and end tackle and so quickly got to know Chris and Jon, they were not only a superb source of advice but we found a common ground through humour and fast became friends. Jonjo and I said very early on that a visit to the shop before a fishing session had become an integral part of the trip, here we could get all the supplies we needed, ask questions about baits, methods and equipment whilst at the same time have a laugh with the guys. We also slowly got to meet other regular customers and learn from their experiences too, the place was like a headquarters and we loved it.

When I go to HF it’s not like visiting a shop anymore, more like going to see good friends with whom to share laughs, frustrations and even coffee and biscuits. It wasn’t long until we went fishing together, a great chance to build our new friendships and at the same time gain more and more knowledge from these seasoned anglers…perfect! A few months later Josh started working there part time and it wasn’t long before he too became a friend, Chris and Jon had chosen the perfect member of staff here, not only another passionate and experienced angler but a genuinely decent guy who’s always been incredibly helpful by passing on his knowledge and advice. I can’t say enough good about the team at HF Angling, yes of course they’re a business that needs to make money as we all do but to me they are so much more than that, true friends and allies in the never ending campaign to catch more and better fish. I have thanked all the guys personally for the education they’ve given me and the kindness they’ve shown and I’ll do it here too…guys you probably don’t know the extent to which you’ve helped me not only as an angler but as a person, this journey I’m on would be nowhere near as complete and enjoyable without all three of you, thank you so so much, I love you dearly.

Around mid September I had had a painfully quiet week on the river, the hot summer had lowered the water terribly and I had blanked every day for far too long. I bumped into a mate Steve Worrall who has been fishing forever and is a treasure chest of knowledge and told him of my frustration.

Steve told me about a place not far from me where I could be guaranteed of catching fish, “Just take three or four loaves of bread, a rod, line and hook and you’ll be catching all day” he said. I found this a little hard to believe but knowing Steve as I do I also suspected he would be right so Jonjo and I visited a few days later. We arrived at the venue at around 10am armed with exactly what Steve had advised, looking around the lake we commented that it looked pretty bleak, very few features, no reeds…just a mass of water but we setup our basic tackle full of hope anyway.

Jonjo had his rod ready first and cast out some bread flake about 20 feet in front of us, I was tying my hook onto my line and only moments later…”I’m in!” he shouted. I looked up in disbelief only to see his rod bending over and his drag clicking away furiously, I couldn’t believe it as it must have only taken thirty seconds from when he’d cast out. I stopped what I was doing and watched him land the fish, a beautiful looking creature that I’d never seen before…a common carp.

Now of course I was buzzing with excitement, Steve hadn’t been exaggerating at all!

A few minutes later I was ready and out went my bread flake, I watched it like a hawk and was literally shaking with anticipation….for about one minute and then a wave appeared around it and it was gone! I struck instantly and felt the tension on the line and rod, the pull got greater and greater and it this point I quite simply fell in love with carp fishing! The power in the fight was unlike any I’d felt before, tugging and pulling with more determination than any fish I’d caught previously and it wasn’t quitting any time soon. I hadn’t got that much of a buzz from landing a fish before and I knew that all I wanted to do from that moment forward was experience it again and again. The first carp I landed was about an eight pound common, I was amazed at its beauty and the solid muscular build that had given it the ability to fight so hard, what a species I thought and after putting it back excitedly put more bread flake on my hook.

Four hours later Jonjo and I had caught around sixty carp between us, we couldn’t believe what was happening but had begun to feel that this was strangely too easy, there was no skill required at all and it kind of spoiled the magic. We’d also noticed that most of the fish looked terrible in that their mouths were mutated from being caught so many times, as much as we’d enjoyed our session it felt somehow wrong. On the way home in the car we discussed our experience and how it was good but didn’t feel right in a way, we felt that the venue was more about profit than fish care and it just didn’t quite sit right. I visited the venue a couple of more times always getting similar results but always left feeling that I hadn’t really done anything of worth to deserve catching the fish, I eventually made the decision never to go back but knew that I wanted to catch more carp…what to do?

Jonjo and I were both now determined to do more carp fishing, he’d done a fair bit years ago with friends and caught some lovely fish but to me this was something totally new that I needed to know more about so I went straight to HF Angling to ask Jon and Chris for advice. At this point I was simply thinking about floating bread for carp as it appealed to me so much, waiting to see that bread disappear to that trademark shlurping sound and then striking at the right time to get that tension on the line had given me so much satisfaction, frankly it’s all I could think about and I wanted more.

When I arrived at HF I was however a little apprehensive because I had seen all the various carp fishing equipment and heard people in the shop talk in a language I didn’t understand, this was to be the beginning of one of those very valuable lessons in angling and in life.

Jon and Chris are very keen and experienced carp anglers and obviously I wasn’t and that bought out a side of me that had actually affected my life in many ways for a very long time and at this point still was. I’ve very often shunned and even criticized things that I don’t understand, though I hadn’t been fully aware of it at the time I’ve learned now that it was because I feared failure or being seen to be no good at something. The reasons for this obviously lie somewhere deep down in my character and I have a few ideas as to where they come from but I won’t go into those here as it would take another story completely. What matters is that now many months after this happened I can see what had been going on in my head and how it has limited my life in so many ways; once again my journey in fishing was teaching me life changing lessons.

So with this side of me still active I told the guys quite firmly that I wasn’t interested in all the other ways of carp fishing but just wanted to surface fish with bread and at this point they half jokingly began something that would carry on for a few months.

Won’t be long till you’re carpy mate” said Jon.

Instantly my old trait kicked in and what I now recognise as my fear activated my defence system so I became dismissive and critical.

“Mate, I’m not interested enough to start buying all this unnecessary nonsense you’ve got in the carp section, that whole industry’s obviously just a massive rip off and I can tell you now……….

I’ll never be carpy!” I think now about all the areas of life I’ve missed out on by blocking them out because of this trait, I don’t regret it (what’s the point) but damn have I learned from it?!

What I really wanted to know at this point was where else I could go to fish in that way, somewhere that the fish were better cared for and that would be more of a challenge for me, a few places were suggested but again the fear in me stopped me from going…too many people will be there who’ll know so much more than me…I’ll look stupid…blah blah blah!

So instead I returned to river fishing and put the desire to catch carp to one side, I was happy enough with that decision as I was still thoroughly enjoying the challenge of catching bigger fish and species I was yet to net. I mainly stayed in the same spot, the one where I felt comfortable (again limiting myself because of my inner demons) and set about trying to improve it by baiting it up massively over a few weeks. It actually worked too, I managed to catch some decent sized perch and a cracking chub but soon enough nature had its way. The area went quiet for a day or two and I couldn’t work out why, how could all those fish come into the swim and then not be there anymore? Then at the end of the second quiet day I found out why, natural selection was at work.

I’d been fishing a very basic and frankly crude ledger setup with 3 red maggots as hook bait and after sitting there getting more and more frustrated for an hour or so I decided to bring it in and pack up. As soon as I started reeling in there was a good strong knock on the line and I was into what felt like a fairly good fish, it was putting up a pretty good fight and I thought it was a perch or possibly a chub but then I saw it and I was amazed! It was a small jack pike, the last thing I’d expected or actually wanted to catch and I was gobsmacked…a pike on maggots? I’d actually dreaded the thought of catching a pike, I’d always thought of them as ugly creatures with a disturbing amount of sharp teeth but I was actually amazed at its beauty. The next day on Jons advice I took a few lures with me to see if I could catch another and amazingly enough on my first cast I hooked a slightly bigger one than the day before followed by another even bigger one an hour or so later. Excellent, another species to target and another method to work on, I loved the take on a lure, from nothing to fish on in an instant and also direct contact with the fish making for an even better fight. My arsenal was growing and my passion for angling just kept growing stronger and stronger, these were magical times and I loved every aspect of it.

Some weeks later Jonjo and I were fishing on the river when we bumped into another angler who we’d not met before, we got chatting and he told us that there was a small pit in town where you could fish free of charge and were almost guaranteed a few carp. Without delay we made our way there armed with a couple of loaves of bread and a basic rod, reel and hook setup, to think that there was somewhere so close to us where we could feed our hunger for surface fishing was amazing. The pit was indeed very small and it turned out that Jonjo had fished there many years ago with friends when it was part of a day ticket venue, since then it had closed down and been left to its own devices. It was around late September now but the weather was still good and we soon saw a few small carp cruising along the surface so we baited up and cast out full of anticipation. I think we caught 4 or 5 carp each that afternoon, probably only up to around 7 pounds but at this stage weight was irrelevant. We were delighted to have this place to fish and started to go most days pretty much always catching a few nice fish. Of course my obsessive side took a hold of me and I must have fished there and there alone for 3 months solid right up to mid December until the fish naturally went off the feed. I loved that little venue, it was normally just me alone floating bread and then float fishing with meat or worms, I learned a lot and was completely happy to be there and nowhere else…awesome!

During this time I was still regularly visiting HF Angling if not to buy things I needed then just to see the guys and have a chat, coffee and a good laugh. Jon and Chris would sometimes make the “Dan’s becoming carpy” comments and I’d still laughingly dismiss the idea…even though deep inside me I felt things were changing but hey, I wasn’t ready to admit that to myself or anyone else just yet.

As winter steadily crept in I knew that my time at the pit would be put on hold for a few months and that a return to the river was imminent but that different techniques would need to be employed and lure fishing was about to become the best way forward. Fortunately I’d had the previous success with the pike so my normal dismissive tendency didn’t block that path at all in fact I was one hundred percent ready to pursue it further.

Chapter 4 “Snow pike and frozen tackle” coming soon.

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