Fishing – how things have changed over the decades

It is funny the way things change, in this case a change that has happened because of the rise of the commercial fisheries.

When I was growing up and learning to catch roach, perch and dace, carp, even quite small ones, were something really quite rare. Yes, they did get caught, sometimes by accident, and everyone knew about Clarissa, the British record carp caught by the legendary Dick Walker at Redmire pool, but they were, I think, for most anglers a bonus fish.

The Thames harboured some big carp, but most people fished with light tackle and lines that were not suitable for landing carp of any size at all. I’d say that even a carp of the size of this one, somewhere around seven pounds weight, would have been a challenge for many anglers, particularly those still using Spanish reed match rods, 2lb breaking strain lines and size 18 or 20 hooks for roach.

I can remember in the 1970s fishing for chub and barbel on the old River Lea at King’s Weir with a split cane Avon rod, 5lb line and a Mitchell 300 reel, using luncheon meat and cubes of cheese as bait on size 8 or 10 hooks. Perhaps I would have managed to land a carp on that tackle. I know that if I had, I would have been absolutely delighted. I remember that my first 4lb barbel was a big enough challenge back then.

Fishing back in the 60s, 70s and early 80s for me was mainly about fishing rivers and canals on light tackle, maybe stepping up when you knew that chub, barbel or larger bream were a possibility.

I know that then even chub fishing with maggot feeders and quivertip rods meant a size 16 or 18 hook and a 2 or 2.5 lb hooklength in many cases. This was certainly a standard tactic on waters like the lower reaches of the Bristol Avon, where I had a 5lb chub on the Crane stretch that was my best fish on a day when I had 15 chub in a quite fast flow in early Autumn using exactly the set-up I describe.

There are supposed to be a few big carp in the Bristol Avon too, especially in the lower reaches. I think I hooked one float-fishing on the Fry’s stretch once. It shot off and there wasn’t a great deal I could do about it. It smashed me up, predictably.

Anyway, the commercials. There were a few around back in the 1990s, which was when I last fished regularly, but I was still wedded to the rivers. Since then though, the number and variety has grown massively, due to the knowledge that carp are pretty easy to raise and stock, and that they are greedy fish who will, on the right day, feed quite madly.

The commercials are packed with lots of carp in the 2-8lb range, fish that in the past people would have treasured, but which nowadays are the bread and butter for many anglers. And, I have to say, they are great fun.

You do need to remember though that carp are strong. No 2lb hooklengths and size 18 and 20 hooks here, well not unless you are expecting to get smashed up a few times.

Tackle has moved with the times too. Apart from specialist large carp tackle, a world of its own, the mainstream has adjusted to the demands of the commercials and carbon fibre heavy feeder rods, 8lb main lines and ready-tied size 10 and 12 hair rigs are the norm.

These heavy feeder rods would be the ideal for river chub and barbel too, the kind of rods that most people could only dream about back in the 1970s, the standard then being the 1.25lb test curve Avon rod.

On the float too, beefy carbon waggler rods of 12 or 13 feet are standard. Again, these are rods that were specialist gear back a couple of decades ago, maybe for the dedicated tench angler or someone used to trotting big rivers for chub and barbel.

Yes, angling has changed a lot, but at the same time, it is still the same.

The important thing is being in the right place and using the right techniques and bait.

Even more importantly, it is about knowing what to do when you get that all-important bite, being it dipping float, a delicate tip nudge or quiver or a confident thump on the rod tip.

Anyway, much as I enjoy getting into the carp on a commercial pool, I suspect that come June 16th I will be heading off to somewhere like Lacock, after those chub and barbel on the river.
Tight lines!


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