ISSUE 1 ARCHIVES
Main man at ESP and all round good guy Dave Ellyatt gives us an enigmatic account of his set of 'first times'. This was the opening piece to our very first print edition, following on from Dave's chapter in the ed's 'The Forgotten Chapters' which was also the opening chapter.. kettle on, stoke up the fire, sit back and enjoy.
First memory of angling
I was taken on family fishing trips from a very young age. We didn’t have a car until I was four or five but my grandparents did, and during the summer months we would all bundle into Granddad’s old Cortina, along with all the picnic stuff, and follow my dad who would have all the fishing gear on his moped - he usually had a head start! I suppose I had a proper apprenticeship and my earliest memory would be catching tiny rudd, along with my older brother, Mike, using one of my dad’s old split cane rods with a length of line tied directly to the tip ring, a tiny float and just fishing ‘to hand’.
First lake you fished
On these family trips we would always go to a couple of old gravel pits controlled by Farnham Common Angling Club, near Aldermaston in Berkshire. Aptly named, the Big Pit and Little Pit, they were very old lakes; mature, shallow and silty, full of fish and in the case of the Little Pit, thick Canadian pond weed. I don’t actually remember catching my first fish but it would have almost certainly been from the Little Pit in the way described above.
I also caught my first carp from the Little Pit, on float-fished sweetcorn intended for the lake’s teeming tench population. It was a common and weighed 5lbs 6oz and it nearly pulled my arm off.
They were lovely lakes and we continued to fish there until the late 80s when a gravel company took control and started to re-dig the Big Pit. The Little Pit became the dumping ground for silt from the gravel washings and is now just a damp, muddy depression where there once was a beautiful lake.
First set of kit you owned
My dad got me a bottle green, two-piece, 12’ fibreglass Avon-style blank from Oliver’s, a well-known rod builder at the time – although better known for fly rods, I think. He whipped the guides on and varnished it and that pretty much became my ‘fish-for-anything’ rod for a few years. Combined with that was the obligatory Mitchell 300 reel and an Efgeeco seat box. I remember saving up for that and buying it from the local tackle shop, – then spending the rest of the day sitting on it in the lounge! Contained within it was a lovingly put together and varnished, wooden float box made by Dad.
I remember Dad insisting that a 45” brolly wasn’t big enough, so I had to have a 50” Wavelock Nubrolli. They were the bright green ones with thick, rubbery material that everyone had, from match to carp anglers. This weighed a ton to a young lad and I hated it and left it at home whenever I could.
First boilie you rolled
It would have been the summer of 1989, and I was inspired by reading Rod Hutchinson’s ‘The Carp Strikes Back’ for the first time. I got hold of some trout pellets from the local tackle shop, put them in a bread bag and tried to smash them up on the workbench in the garage with Mum’s rolling pin. This was surprisingly successful and after a few attempts, and a few bags because they kept getting holes in, and sieving off the lumps, I ended up with enough powder to mix with the eggs. A paste was formed, rolled out and cut into cubes and then boiled. No flavours, oils or any other ingredients were used (I didn’t have any) but I’m sure I remember being reasonably pleased with the result. The next day I caught 11 tench on this bait! The rolling pin method was soon replaced with a small electric coffee grinder which made the task of grinding the pellets a lot easier.
First ‘big-fish’ water you fished
That same summer I started fishing Newbury AA’s Collin’s Lake. I’m not really sure why I chose this lake because it was reputed to be very hard and they had several much easier waters full of small carp, but Collin’s was ‘the’ carp water in the area. It was fished by a small clique of ‘proper’ carp anglers who I got to know and it was also reputed to hold a huge uncaught common. It was reed-fringed, gin clear, deep, weedy, and mysterious, which held a major allure to an impressionable teenager - nothing changes.
That summer I caught my first double from Collin’s, a PB mirror of 12lbs exactly and not long afterwards I followed it up with another of 13lbs 12oz, then another around the same weight. All were caught on my homemade trout pellet boilies, although the mix began to evolve as I started to add fish oil and soya flour and rolled them into 14mm balls on a Gardner Rollaball. The following year, I caught two PBs in one night; mirrors of 16lbs 10oz and 18lbs 11oz. This was the first time I had used Cotswold Bait’s Salmon and Shrimp extract in my bait, combined with the bent hook rig – the bait and rigs had advanced somewhat. I also remember reading ‘Tiger Bay’ cover to cover by candlelight under the bivvy that night, inspirational stuff!
'This was the first time I had used Cotswold Bait’s Salmon and Shrimp extract in my bait, combined with the bent hook rig – the bait and rigs had advanced somewhat. I also remember reading ‘Tiger Bay’ cover to cover by candlelight under the bivvy that night, inspirational stuff!'
First major loss
After catching my first-ever carp from the Little Pit, we had returned the following weekend and understandably, I opted for the same swim, not so much because I had caught a carp from it but more because it was an excellent tench swim. Part way through the morning the float buried and I hooked into something very big which charged off. I managed to get it back on my light float gear and a tug of war ensued that seemed to last forever. We saw the assailant and it was another common, probably a double, but at the time a monster of unbelievable proportions to me. Eventually, it buried itself in weed and the hook length snapped. I remember feeling absolutely distraught.
First angler you tried to emulate
There are two that spring to mind, stemming from the first two carp books I read. Obviously, making my own bait was inspired by reading ‘The Carp Strikes Back’, by Rod Hutchinson, who was THE authority on bait at the time. Then there was ‘Casting at the Sun’, by Chris Yates. I brought that with Christmas book vouchers not long after it was published in 1986 and read it from cover to cover, twice in two days. In it, Chris talked about finding mysterious carp pools using Ordnance Survey maps so I went out and brought maps covering my local area. I didn’t find much but poring over the maps looking for unknown tell-tale patches of blue made me feel very much the Yates-esque pioneer.
'Chris talked about finding mysterious carp pools using Ordnance Survey maps so I went out and brought maps covering my local area. I didn’t find much but poring over the maps looking for unknown tell-tale patches of blue made me feel very much the Yates-esque pioneer'
First fish you targeted
This was quite a few years later after moving to Oxford. I began sporadically fishing a neglected club lake for its small head of carp. One day while fishing, I got chatting to another angler who told me about an old 33lb mirror he had caught the previous year from an Oxford park lake. It was apparently the biggest of just a very small handful of carp. I had heard of the lake but never seen it so, very tempted, I went for a look. It wasn’t the most attractive of settings, being an old reservoir of 10-12 acres that once supplied the city’s water. It was almost hidden away, sandwiched between old, terraced streets that ran off one of Oxford’s main arterial roads and the Oxford to London railway line that hugged the far side of it. The lake was long and relatively narrow and spanned by a footbridge that allowed you to look into its tantalisingly clear water and view the dumped motorbikes, bicycles and other junk that littered the lake bed.
A small boating area and an outdoor swimming pool bordered the opposite side of the lake to the railway, as well as a pocket of actual green space complete with trees and a playground that you would expect in a municipal park. Aside from the usual families and dog walkers, the park also seemed to attract the unsavoury element with tramps and addicts frequenting this urban ‘idyll’, but despite all this, I was very tempted to have a go…
'Aside from the usual families and dog walkers, the park also seemed to attract the unsavoury element with tramps and addicts frequenting this urban ‘idyll’, but despite all this, I was very tempted to have a go…'
…so the following Sunday I returned to the park lake armed with my gear. It was intended more as a bit of a recce than anything and I took with me 3kg of boilies to deposit if I found any likely-looking spots.
I chose a relatively quiet area towards the far end of the lake off the main footpath. Breaking out the marker rod, I had a feel around and as you would expect for an old reservoir the depth was very uniform, averaging only nine feet and feeling very soft and silty. However, I found what felt like a slightly firmer, smoother area at around 50 yards out and cast a couple of rigs onto it, accompanied by a bit of bait.
Nothing happened but before leaving in the evening I put all the remaining bait I had with me onto the spot, vowing to return the following Friday, which was the Good Friday at the start of the Easter holiday.
I had good intentions of arriving at dawn before the park opened, but overslept and didn’t arrive until after 9am. Heading straight for the baited swim, I was relieved to find it empty; in fact, I was the only angler on the lake. I cast a couple of pop-ups out onto the spot and scattered a few freebies around them, then put the kettle on and sat back to wait for something, anything really. I wasn’t feeling especially confident and I didn’t know much about the place, so although I was in a pre-baited spot I really felt like I was just chancing my arm.
So I was pleasantly surprised when only an hour after casting out, the right-hand bobbin pulled up tight and I lifted into something that didn’t really feel like anything special. I had heard that the lake held some big bream so thought the thing plodding around on the end could be one of them. I kept it coming toward me without too much resistance, just expecting a bream or tench. Then this huge, pale shape appeared just below the surface about ten yards out and my legs turned to jelly. It rolled around on the surface for a bit and then I just scooped it up in the net.
The whole fight must have only lasted a couple of minutes, but here I was with a whacking great mirror looking up at me. At that moment an old man who used to come down every morning on his bike to feed the ducks pulled up behind me. I don’t think he was too impressed because I was occupying one of his daily feeding spots so rather disinterestedly he asked me what it was.
“It’s a carp mate!” I said with I’m sure a tad more excitement.
He considered it for a few seconds then asked, “How big is it then, about 10lbs?”
I looked up at him in surprise then confidently said, “I think it might be a bit bigger than that!”
He still didn’t look impressed and mumbling something, he cycled off down the path, looking for some ducks to feed.
Leaving the carp in the net, I fumbled for my sling and scales and recorded a weight of 35lbs 14oz. I really couldn’t quite believe my good fortune. Then after sacking the fish in the margins while considering who to call to come and take some photos, I phoned my mate Adam.
Funnily enough, I had only purchased my first mobile phone a couple of days before and hadn’t even used it yet, so the very first call I made with it was to report my first 30. Adam was fishing up in Bedfordshire, on Elstow Pit 2. Whatever I blurted out conveyed the utmost importance that he drop everything and hot-foot it back to Oxford in record time - luckily he agreed…
'Adam was fishing up in Bedfordshire, on Elstow Pit 2. Whatever I blurted out conveyed the utmost importance that he drop everything and hot-foot it back to Oxford in record time - luckily he agreed…'
First magazine cover
… Adam arrived an hour or so later and we marvelled over the gnarly, old mirror. It looked ancient and its stubby fins explained the plodding fight - it was then that we christened her Stumpy. He did me proud with the photos and a few days later the slides came back. I sent a couple off to Carp Talk and was even more surprised when they put it on the front cover; the main story that week being the tragic news of Steve Neville’s workshop burning down.
A couple of years later, I returned the favour and landed the big mirror for Adam after popping down to see how he was getting on. The take came while we were sitting drinking tea. It completed a fine campaign for him after catching most of the lake’s other special residents; it became apparent that the lake held just seven carp. Adam’s capture was Stumpy’s last, as far as I’m aware. She was found dead the following year.
First lake that beat you
Another park lake and this one was considerably further away from home. I started fishing it in August ‘11 through until the end of November that year, so it was hardly a concerted campaign, but I put a lot of miles, effort, bait and time into fishing it for just one 20lb common. Any fish from this lake with it minimal stock of carp is a worthy capture, though, and I was happy just to have caught one. I really enjoyed my fishing over there and on one occasion had the big’un show over my spot twice in the space of a few minutes, but, alas, that was as close as I got.
I found out sometime after I fished the lake that the big’un had been caught just a week before I started fishing it, but it was kept very quiet. This fish rarely put in more than one appearance a year, and had I known that, I think I could have spent my time better elsewhere, but that’s angling and you can’t win them all.
'on one occasion had the big’un show over my spot twice in the space of a few minutes, but, alas, that was as close as I got'
I wrote about this capture in ‘The Forgotten Chapters’. While writing this piece I have just picked up the book again and reread my account for the first time since the book was published a couple of years ago. It brings it all back and I must admit that reliving that capture and the events leading up to it sends a tingle down my spine. It was one of the most exciting angling episodes in my life and although moments like that happen all too rarely, I suppose it largely sums up why I go fishing.
That capture was the result of one of my most intense spells of angling in recent years. I walked literally miles around the windswept pit before eventually finding some fish, and then spent the night trying to sleep on my unhooking mat in the teeth of a chilly northerly. Then, the next day, I watched the big fully return and feed in the edge before I somehow managed carelessly to throw some bait on its head and spook it. I thought the chance was gone until the clutch on the almost forgotten rod lying on the ground started screaming and my prayer was answered.
'I walked literally miles around the windswept pit before eventually finding some fish, and then spent the night trying to sleep on my unhooking mat in the teeth of a chilly northerly'