I recently posted the following image on Facebook. It relates to a number of special events I was involved with 21 years ago in 1994. How time flies, eh?
There’s my pass to the very first Fish-o-Mania where I met Barry McGuigan for the first time (can you believe he recognised me!). My press pass from the World Champs were I was right on the spot to be the very first person to shake hands and congratulate Bob Nudd on his historic third win and a pass to the BBC’s Broadcasting House, where I had breakfast with the delightfully down-to-earth Liz Kershaw.
It prompted me to dig out some old articles and see what else I had been up to in 1994.
Well, I was fishing regularly with a young, up-and-coming bloke called Matt something or other. Oh, that’s it, Hayes. No idea what happened to him but he did live conveniently close to the Upper Great Ouse. I was staying at his place when I caught this rather nice barbel, float fishing with bread, would you believe? At the time it was the third biggest ever to come from the Ouse.
I notice now that immediately below my ugly mug you’ll see the teaser for an article by none other than Peter Smith who currently owns the Caer Beris Manor hotel from where I used to run fishing trips on the mighty Wye. Peter and I were later to share a trip to the same magnificent Cauvery River fishing for mahseer. Isn’t it funny how these coincidences run in circles?
In the same magazine that year I wrote about big nets of quality roach on hemp from the River Dearne, fishing with John Dudley for big Trent chub on wasp grub, and hundred pound bags of bream from the Idle. I also had a regular weekly column in Angling Times where I also contributed to the venue guide and form reports. Somehow I was also holding down a demanding full-time job. Looking back I wonder quite how I found the energy to keep on top of it all but in truth, this was merely the start of a fantastic roller-coaster ride that I’m still managing to cling on to.
1994 was also the year I embarked on one of my favourite all-time fishing adventures, to the good old US of A with a remarkable companion and thanks to the modern miracle of scanning hardware and OCR software I can now reproduce the tale first told in David Hall’s Coarse Fishing magazine. Trust me, it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface!
What do you do when larger than life groundbait guru Peter Clapperton calls you up and asks if you fancy a couple of weeks Stateside catching carp, catfish and other rod-bending creatures? -you run to your tackle shed, get sorted out and board that plane!… BOB ROBERTS got that call and here’s his story of a land of fish-filled opportunities…
Have you drooled over the recent crop of articles on mahseer, Nile perch, sturgeon, bone fish, wahoo, sailfins and so on? I have. And what about the continental carp and cats on offer? I’m sure you’ve all been there in your fantasies but in reality if you wanted to try you would need to invest in special rods, climb mountains or hire a boat at $500 a day. Worst of all is you visit a country where they don’t understand a word you say even if you shout at ’em!
Well I’ve got the ultimate answer for you. I’ve just come back from a country that is brimming with fish you can catch with your existing tackle, where there are virtually no private waters and the locals speak English fluently. A country where you can explore virgin waters for huge common carp that have never seen a hook. The same country offers you the chance to fish rivers where 100 pounds in an hour on the feeder is possible. It’s not a fantasy either because I’ve just returned and my arm still aches. Where am I talking about? America.
The New Klondyke
America is a Klondyke just waiting to be plundered by you. What’s more, if you have the right kind of pioneering spirit you can have a chance to try it for yourself next year.
I travelled there with Van Den Eynde maestro Peter Clapperton and first of all we had a date with the carp of Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota. This vast inland sea covers some 250 square miles and is regarded as America’s finest Walleye lake. The carp had never been caught on rod and line before and Doug Strange, Editor in Chief of America’s biggest fishing magazine had laid down a challenge. Catch one and he would write the magazine’s first ever carp feature. How could we resist a challenge like that?
Bait was simple. A 50lb sack of maize cost $5 and all we had to do was soak it, boil it for a while to soften it and add in some Nutrabaits Tuitty Fruity flavour, a dash of Sweet Cajouser and a bit of artificial sweetener and we were in business. We used the lot in just four days.
To do so we set up a bait rocket on a spare rod and simply whacked it out over and over again.This kept the carpet in a tightly controlled area.
Our rigs were dead simple too. Dave Chilton of Kryston advised us to forget sophisticated rigs like helicopters and so on. He suggested a semi-fixed 3oz lead, a nine to 12 inch length of 25lb Merlin for its abrasion resistant qualities as insurance against unseen snags or rocks. This was finished of with a size 6 series 2 Fox hook. The tag of the hook knot was used to create a hair and this was trapped on the shank with a piece of silicone so the bait came off the back ofthe shank opposite the point. To make our hookbaits stand out we popped them up using yellow rig foam and counter balanced this with a bit of heavy metal moulded round a power gum stop knot on the Merlin. Tungsten putty does not stick well to braids but a PG stop knot gives it something to grip.
How did we do? How does 40 fish from a 12lb tiddler up to a whacker of 29lb 8oz sound? Not bad for a pair of amateurs! By the way it is worth pointing out that the hooks were brilliant. I’d never used them before but we never lost a single fish. What else can I say about them?
So, we rose to the challenge and became the first English carp anglers to feature in In-Fisherman magazine. And a TV crew to recorded action. The In-Fisherman TV show reached 54 million viewers last year coast to coast. By this time next year Peter Clapperton and Bob Roberts will be the two most famous carp anglers in America. I bet that’s got one or two bivvy boys chewing on their floppy hats!
For a little light relief we spent a couple of hours on the Rum River sitting side by side, Peter on the feeder and me on the maize rigs. The picture shows just part of the bag we took. No prebaiting was necessary and we certainly had no prior knowledge of where to fish. We simply arrived, cast out and were catching within 10 minutes.. The river is the nearest thing you will ever find to carp soup.
Our next port of call was the mighty Mississippi river. Imagine if you will a river twice as wide as the lower Trent, twice as fast as the middle Severn and you have the Mississippi more than a thousand miles from the sea. It is awesome. It is also solid with fish. We took Doug Stange’s son Nathan with us and showed him how to fish the swimfeeder, a method the Americans have never seen.
The picture of him is of historical note because it shows the first kid in America to catch on the feeder and what’s more he loved it. Before we left we fixed him up with enough kit to begin the revolution. What have we done?
You can drive all night in America and get no-where. We did precisely that and hardly moved on the map. Destination Oklahoma and a room in a motel on historic Route 66. Base camp for phase two.
We were here to make a promotional video for feeder fishing products with Ed Womplar. You just don’t get names like that in Barnsley do you? En route our driver, Randal Aikin (who has twice fished for Mental Mickey’s Mob in the World Championships), lifted up the arm rest between the front seats and said, “Here, seen this?” and handed me a small heavy object. “Careful, it’s loaded.” Jeesus!! I nearly wet myself! Guns are something I can well do without but the thought that the guy you just carved up could be carrying one sure improves road manners. It also adds reality to my favourite bumper sticker, “I’ve got PMT, I’ve got a gun, any questions?”
Our objective was to catch a bag of catfish on the groundbait feeder. Solution, head for the Arkansas river in the heart of downtown Tulsa and empty it. Believe it or not cats love spam. Bites are unmissable and they fight like a cross between barbel and tench. It’s a pity the Trent isn’t full of ’em.
We set off mid morning with temperatures in the 90s, a cloudless sky and humidity like a sauna. I had my doubts about anything feeding in these conditions but nevertheless we started to catch. Things were going well until I caught my first turtle. Ever tried to unhook one? Each time you show it a disgorger its head vanishes!
Cats came to order at first but as the swims built up carp moved in and took over. Eventually you couldn’t cast in for the blood things! It was a carp a cast. Not big fish, say three to 8lb mainly, although there were animals that set off for the next state and never came back. It was bedlam even on tackle strong enough to hook and haul. Had we been inclined to we could literally have caught hundredweights of them. It was amazing and we were deliberately trying to avoid catching them because the cameraman needed cats.
We had no choice but to abandon the river and seek an alternative venue. Can you imagine how it feels to turn your back on fishery so prolific even Syd Huggins could catch there? And all under a clear blue sky and not another angler to be seen.
A Costly Extravagance?
We spent the next day on a typical farm pond tracking down more cats and struck gold. Waggler, feeder, it didn’t matter. We had a succession of cats with the best creeping into double figures. It sure as hell beat any pond fishing I’ve done. So there it is. A paradise? I think so. A costly extravagance? Well that depends. If a group of you really wanted to give it a go for two weeks then it would set you back around £6-800 quid each. Taking everything into account like the massive savings to be made on bait costs, the total bill is not that much higher than a two week trip to Europe.
Each state you visit requires a different licence. Visitor permits are cheap and run for 7, 14, 28 days or a full year. They are available from any bait or tackle shop and at all the K-Marts. Don’t even consider fishing without one because the rules are rigorously enforced. Rangers patrol on foot, cycle, horse, truck, boat etc. They are armed, accompanied by dogs and impose punitive on the spot fines if you are breaking the law so be warned.
Are you kidding? This is the land of opportunity You can fish almost anywhere free of charge. The only place we paid to fish on the entire trip was on the carp filled Rum River in Kathio State Park. Entrance was just $4 for the car which allowed all the occupants to fish for two consecutive days.
For carp fishing you can afford to step up your English tackle in both hook and line sizes. The fish are hardly shy and when you hook one you will be glad of it. These are long lean commons that scream off like wildies when you hook them.
You need to take plenty of leads with you because those we found in shops over there were simply too light. Likewise you won’t find tulip beads or rig tubing anywhere. Tackle shops do not carry carp tackle of any description other than dead cheap Berkeley line so make sure you have plenty of everything with you.
Similarly for feeder fishing, you need to beef up everything on the feeder because the chances are your next bite could be from a 20lb carp or 40lb cat.
Fishing English methods means you will be a centre of attraction and quizzed at length by every passer by. They will be amazed that you do not kill everything you catch. When you catch something locals will come and fish right next to you. This is their way. You must accept it and not go falling out with them. Remember they could shoot you!
As for the violence and crime you read about in the papers you can safely forget all about it unless you choose to walk downtown late at night carrying a camera looking for crack. Once away from the cities America is a damn sight safer than Barnsley. Just don’t be stupid.
Special thanks go to Peter, Daiwa, Fox, Kryston, Nutrabaits and Barry’s of Goole for their support, advice and co-operation. Without it none of these catches would have been possible.
* * * * * * * * *
Perhaps one day I should revisit this article and tell the whole story. About meeting ice fishermen like the incredible Dave Genz, on the trail of a 70lb carp, bow and arrow fishing, grass carp, poaching, bear hunting, the American Carp Society’s first ever fish-in, Peter’s dream, appearing in a 12-page spread in In-Fisherman, the very first carp article to be published in a major publication on that continent, why and how a non-indigenous species like carp can now be found everywhere. How this led to follow-up trips to the mighty St Lawrence River, the Great Lakes, Cats on the Red and much, much more.