Let's go back to my first carp. From the start of the season on June 16th 1949 I had been going to Paddlesworth clay pit in Kent at every opportunity either fishing, watching the carp or talking to other anglers. Every time I fished I could see carp were coming close to my bait, but I just couldn't get one to pick up that bait. It was exasperating, to say the least. I used to get quite angry because I couldn't catch a carp, that was until late July.
I well remember the day. It was a Friday, I had cycled to Paddlesworth pit with Peter Tillitt. Our idea was to camp for a few days so that we could fish day and night. We chose as our pitch the top of a high bank on the western side of the lake. The tent was a small white one, known as a pup tent. There was just enough room inside for the two of us. Our cooking stove was an old paraffin primus, for light we had a hurricane lamp. No sleeping bags or camp beds in those days, just a couple of old army blankets and some big safety pins.
Arriving in the rain we pitched the tent then wrapped ourselves in our old gas capes to keep dry. Later in the day the sky cleared and with the sun shining it turned very warm. We watched an angler on the other side of the pit catch a carp. I was envious wishing that I could catch such a fish. Then, looking down from the high bank where the tent was pitched, I spotted a mirror carp of about five pounds. I quickly grabbed my rod bag and tackled up. It was with fumbling fingers and a fast-beating heart that I threaded the line through the rings then tied on a hook, all the time frightened that the carp would swim off.
I baited with a piece of brown bread and honey paste, pulled a few feet of line from the reel and dropped the bait into the margin about twelve inches away from the nose of the fish, which was still rooting about in the bottom.
There was no reaction from the carp, which continued to dig into the mud causing the water to colour up. Only the occasional bubble appeared on the surface the water was muddy-something we called smokescreening. Through the murky water I watched as the fish straightened up onto an even keel, then move towards the bait. My heart thumped, my mouth was dry and my hands were shaking as I willed the fish to pick up my bait. It tilted its head downwards and the bait disappeared. With no more thought I struck upwards, there was a boil in the water, the fish shot out into the lake and my old wooden reel screamed and line disappeared off its spool. Then everything stopped: the fish had buried itself in the Canadian pond weed which was very thick.
Peter suggested trying to pull the line in a seesaw motion. I did, but nothing happened. Then one of the senior members came around from the other side of the pit. He also told me to try pulling the line in a seesaw movement. I did, the fish started to move. It was taking more line off the reel. The older angler said, "Lay the rod over to the left, lad." I did as he told me. The fish turned, I started to take in some line. But how was I going to get the fish out of the water without a landing net? This problem was soon solved when the older angler told Peter to go round and get his net. I don't think Peter had ever run so fast in his life. He was back in no time, with the fish wallowing on the surface the older angler took the net and scooped out my first carp. I was a happy boy. We carried it with pride across the road to the Newman's cottage where the fish was put on the club scales. It weighed four and a half pounds exactly. I left Peter and cycled off home to tell my mum the good news, then I cycled all the way back to continue our carp fishing. Forty years on, I'm still fishing for carp.
These days I only carp-fish a few days a year. Fly fishing the ocean has taken over much of my fishing time. Having said that I still try to fish for all species in both fresh and saltwater when time and conditions allow.
Today it's so very different from the 1940's. Recently I visited the United States to chase striped bass in Chesapeake Bay. Before this I visited Up-State New York to fish for muskies, smallmouth bass, and trout with a fly rod. After fishing the Grass and the Ausable trout rivers - where the latter is rated as one of the Blue Ribbon trout streams in the State - I was given a chance to fish for carp at Joe Babbitt's St Lawrence River Experience.
The trip started as usual at a wet and windy Manchester airport where I was booked on a Continental Boeing 777 for my flight to Newark New Jersey. Why does it nearly always rain when I fly out of Manchester? At Newark I changed flights for the short haul up to Montreal. Arriving at the Canadian destination around dusk, it wasn't much different from wet and windy Manchester.
John, a good friend of Joe Babbitt's met me at the gate, collected my bags then led me through a throng of people to his four wheel drive vehicle. John said It's about an hours drive south to the American border. From there another hour to the village of Waddington, a few miles from the main city of Ogdensburg. At the border I was asked for my passports and green card. After a quick check we were waved through. Some two hours from leaving Montreal we were at Joe Babbitt's camp on the banks of the St Lawrence river where they say dreams are made for carp anglers.
After a very friendly and warm greeting from Joe Babbitt, I was shown to my cabin which was home for the next few days. It was warm, comfortable and clean with an excellent kitchen area and wood burning stove for those cold nights. After a mug of tea it would be off to bed for a good nights sleep. As I sat sipping tea, Joe told me all about the fishing available. In one sentence he said "You might catch a forty, perhaps fifty pound carp". I thought a twenty pounder would satisfy me. His next sentence really got me excited when he told me "There are some good muskie, pike and small mouth bass in the St Lawrence and the Grass River". Then it was off to bed.
Sometime after nine o'clock next morning Joe knocked on the door. " Martin? Want some breakfast". It sounded a good idea, I shouted back "Give me fifteen minutes" Having showered I was ready for some bacon and eggs. As I climbed into Joe's vehicle I noticed the vehicles, buildings and ground were covered in frost. The wood burning stove had certainly done a good job of keeping me warm through the night. It had certainly been a cold one.
During the short drive to Joe's favourite diner in Madrid I spotted a group of five deer, also several skeins of Canada geese and some wild turkeys. The trees looked wonderful in all their magnificent fall colours. Joe said "I use this diner in Madrid because they bake their own bread daily and the food is good" That was OK with me. After the crispy bacon, eggs and some home made bread with lots of fresh coffee served by a good looking blond waitress I was ready for the day ahead.
Joe said "Come on, I will give you a tour of the area and take a look at the Grass river. The river in Madrid and Canton certainly looked fishable. The riverside trees and bushes were quite magnificent in their autumn colours of reds, golds, oranges and yellows. The autumn sunshine of course made them look even more spectacular. No doubt the view would have been different on a cold wet misty morning. At Canton we stopped for coffee. Two hundred yards below the coffee shop on the far bank was a most magnificent soft red maple tree casting its beautiful red reflection across the river. During the following days I caught small mouth bass on a white and red clouser minnow tied up on a size one hook in conjunction with a floating line and a six weight rod at both Madrid and Canton.
During that first day tour we visited the City of Ogdensburg, the local tackle shops and the farmers market where I purchased some fruit at what seemed like bargain prices. Next on the itinerary was a visit to Wall-Mart for the necessary fishing licence. I spotted a fly/spinning rod marked up at twenty seven dollars and bought one. It was a four piece seven and a half feet in length for use with a six weight line or casting weights up to half an ounce. At this price I couldn't go wrong. It would be ideal for those days when I take a beginner fly fishing or spinning. Now I had a fishing permits I could go fishing.
Back in our cabin, I sat around with Joe drinking tea, talking about the fish in the river below our cabin. Joe said "The weed bed alongside the jetty holds bass, pike and the occasional muskie and of course carp. Further along the bank to the left the water backs up. This is good for carp with many twenty and thirty pounders being caught. Sometimes an angler will land a forty pound plus fish" I asked Joe about tackle and baits.
We had various types of carp rods including Voodoo model carp rods from Masterline International, Shimano bait runner reels which are all spooled up with the best branded lines. Fox bite indicators and rod rests, bed chairs, seats, landing and weigh nets, weigh mats and scales. In fact everything a carp angler needs. I feel one of the great benefits of using the St Lawrence River Experience for carp fishing is it takes away the worry of transporting your bait and tackle to your holiday venue. You don't have to worry about baggage handlers breaking your valuable rods or the airlines getting them lost, all for a one off payment of around 75 dollars. You can of course bring your own tackle and save on this 75 dollars. Personally for peace of mind, I would advise you to make the payment.
I would also advise you take a good waterproof coat and some thigh waders. Far better would be a pair of chest waders. These will allow you to wade out on the shallows when playing a big fish. A small rowing dingy is available should you get weeded by a big fish or snagged up. Of course having a boat on site allows you to bait your chosen swim more accurately. Boiled baits and corn are supplied. In fact Joe will bait your swim in advance.
On my second day I decided to give the carp fishing a try. My tackle consisted of twelve foot, two and three quarter pound test curve rods, bait runner reels and all the other bits and pieces of tackle. Weights were four ounces, lines fifteen pound breaking strain with a fifty pound shock leader.
The river was huge with big cargo carrying ships designed for the ocean moving up and down during the day and night. All this activity didn't stop the carp from eating. I also felt I was fishing the ocean. I did say to one of the anglers. "All I needed was to change the boilie bait for a bit of squid then I could imagine I was fishing Dungeness for cod or bass". The size 1 hair rigged hook was baited with two standard boilies with a pop up on top. The whole lot was then thrown out some fifty or sixty yards out into the river. Some of the other anglers were casting even further.
What I will say is, the fishing is incredibly easy. Put in the time and you can soon build up a big list of carp with thirty and perhaps forty pound fish. If you're extremely lucky you might get a fifty pounder Even the kids catch thirty pounders. Catch a fifty pounder and you get a free weeks holiday!
Some ten minutes after casting my bite alarm sounded its strident note. Picking up the rod I felt myself hooked to a heavy object. No line was given and apart from the fish shaking its head a few times I just pumped the fish in to the landing net. It felt like a cod with its head shaking, but turned out to be a beautiful looking common carp that weighed eighteen pounds.. I stayed fishing for another half an hour catching another common carp weighing 25lbs. Then it was time for tea and some fly casting from the jetty in the hope of catching smallmouth bass.
The next day was spent sight seeing and a bit of fly casting practise. After tea I went off and fished for the carp. It's a very sociable occasion; everyone sits around chatting until a bite alarm sounds its warning of a take. Using the same tackle as the previous day I cast out two boilies with the pop up on top then joined the other lads. Some ten perhaps fifteen minutes later the indicator sounded. Picking up the rod I felt a fish move to my left. I cramped on some pressure to stop it then started to pump the fish in. Suddenly the line went slack. One nil to the fish. Winding in, I found the bait OK and threw it back out to the baited spot.
Thirty minutes later I was attached to another fish. This one took about five yards of line, then it was the pumping game. Lower the rod, take in the line, lift and repeat. Soon a good carp was a few yards from the net - where it decided to jump, but couldn't quite lift its tail.. We all shouted in excitement at this unusual behaviour. You don't expect this behaviour from a carp. That was the highlight of my carp fishing on this trip. A couple of minutes later it was netted. It looked a good one. It was. My first thirty pounder, weighing thirty pound four ounces. For two or three minutes it felt good to have caught a personal best carp, then I realised, it's all so easy! Give me a bass from the ocean on a fly I thought.
Half an hour later I caught a fully scaled mirror carp weighing twenty four pounds. Everyone thought it was wonderful. Someone shouted "What a fish, you only capture one of them in a thousand" I couldn't understand all the fuss. Later I had another good common, weighing about twenty five pounds. I thought this is certainly easy, a carp angler will love this, it was all too easy, thanks to Joe Babbitt.
For those who like to catch lots of big carp my advice is go and fish the St Lawrence Experience with Joe Babbitt. You're guaranteed a lot of string pullers and from my experience it's excellent value for money, and from what I witnessed by the other anglers you will catch a lot of big fish.
There are three types of packages, If you want to fish twenty four hours a day then the Bivvy Package is for you. It will of course keep your costs down. This package includes a top quality bivvy, bed chair, sleeping bag, lantern/lamp per person, cooking stove, pots, all the utensils one needed, igloo cooler box, toilet facilities, communications equipment and a first aid kit. There is boat transport to ferry you various swims with a twice daily visit from Joe. Who will also collect and deliver paid for supplies and food to your bivvy. Joe also brings ten pounds of cooked maize per person a day for baiting up swims.
For those of you who want to bring their wife or girl friend, perhaps the children, and spend some time touring the area, visiting the shops, museums, art galleries etc., the package for you is the self catering / trailer home. Accommodation is in a two or four berth trailer with electricity and running water, bed linen, pillows, towels, crockery, cooking utensils, shower and fridge freezer. Fresh milk and bread will be delivered to your trailer home on your day of arrival.
For two couples going across for some fishing and other activities I can thoroughly recommend the self catering cabin with its two bedrooms fitted with shower and toilet. There is a good size kitchen and lounge area that looks out over the St Lawrence river. Everything you need is supplied.
For further details E-mail StellmarkSolve@aol.com or write Joe Babbitt PO B722 Waddington New York State 13694 or E-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org