Latest Issue December
Bill Cottam Columnists

That was then... concrete jungle carping

A near-death experience, a nighttime stroll across Hampstead Heath and the drum ’n’ bass vibe… it can only be our favourite satirical columnist and cultural commentator, Bill Cottam!

I consider myself quite fortunate to be here, and able to deliver month’s nonsense. Long-time mate, Colin Cutts and I recently spent a somewhat frustrating, but thoroughly enjoyable week on the lovely Echo Pool in France and it would be only a very slight exaggeration to say that we were lucky to make it home alive…

We found ourselves low on provisions by the middle of the week and decided that a trip to the local shop was required. No drama there you’d think, and that was pretty much the case until we had our supplies and were heading nonchalantly, back to the lake via a very quiet road with not a car in sight. As we approached a sweeping right-hand bend, all seemed good. Suddenly, from a distance, we were being eyeballed by 2,000 kilos of angry, snorting bull that had appeared from nowhere… it was heading straight towards us down the middle of the road! Behind the bull was your average, stereotypical 126-year-old French farmer who seemed completely oblivious to, and unperturbed by the fact that his bovine, four-legged pride and joy had changed direction noticeably and was heading straight at our vehicle!

Colin Cutts with an Echo Pool fifty-plus - sadly he doesn’t have any matador in him!

I enquired rather swiftly as to whether Col had any matador in him. It seemed that whilst he may have ‘enjoyed’ a slightly uncomfortable experience in Pamplona after a bottle too many of San Miguel many moons ago, he didn’t fancy wrestling with what was continuing to head in our direction - as his somewhat vacant expression confirmed.

As luck would have it - and just in the nick of time too! - Col spotted a farm track off to the right about twenty yards on front of us… I floored the Mystery Machine and hand-braked it on two wheels (okay, another slight exaggeration) to safety. As we ground to a halt, I peered in the rearview mirror and savoured a last image of the bull as he continued on his way, at speed, down the road.

The Mangrove Swamp was a place I dreamt of fishing

I remember my first trip to the famous Mangrove Swamp in Shropshire as if it were yesterday. I was a twenty-three-year-old sports centre attendant and swimming pool lifeguard and in the very early throws of setting up a bait company with my great friend, Tim Paisley. The invitation to fish the Swamp had also come from Tim, and my newly acquired passion wagon, a red Ford Sierra estate with a mighty 1600cc engine and I had one of our longest journeys to date ahead of us. In those days, the journey took me from my home near Rotherham, to Stoke on Trent via Buxton and Leek in the Peak District, before a final cross-country excursion into deepest Shropshire. From memory, this was a journey in excess of two and a half hours.

My excitement to reach the water I’d dreamed of fishing, was unlike anything I’d experienced before. I neared my destination and the roads got progressively narrower and villages, ever smaller. This seemed to add to charm and attraction of visiting a truly special carp water. Compared to what we’re used to in the UK, the Mangrove is in the middle of nowhere and the memory of those last few miles always struck me that that’s how things should be.

Early Mangrove Swamp success

Travelling back in time for a moment or two… after turning off the road, driving through a farm entrance, down a couple of farmers’ fields (dodging the cattle en route!), eventually you get your first glimpse in the distance, of around 18-acres of sheer, unadulterated paradise - not that you can see much of the lake until you reach the water’s edge mind, as the eight-foot-high rushes that totally surround the place limit your view until you fight your way through them. The Swamp has never been weedy; as should be the case with proper UK carp waters though, the margins were always thick with dense lilies.

I’ve been incredibly lucky over the years to have had the opportunity to fish some of the waters I have, and the Mangrove certainly remains right up there with the very best. Whilst growing up and cutting my teeth in the big, wide world of carp angling, I longed to fish Redmire, Ashlea Pool and, a few years later, Savay. I’d never claim that it has quite the history, or has had the same impact on the carp scene as the aforementioned legendary venues, but being able to spend time on the Mangrove really was a dream come true for me. Like all truly atmospheric waters, its location ensured it was free of road noise, air pollution and city light.

They all dream of Alan Blair these days!

I suspect fossils around my age will have had comparable dreams to mine. Although different venues undoubtedly attract different types of anglers, I’m sure many of you will have also had youthful desires to fish Redmire, Ashlea and Savay. I’m doubtful though, as to whether the youth of today share quite the same aspirations.

Today’s up-and-coming carp anglers still have dreams of course, but the world continues to change and it strikes me that your average teenage carper these days, is much more likely to drift off to sleep thinking about inner-city canal basins, graffiti-ridden bridges and even more worryingly, Alan Blair and his back-to-front Burberry baseball cap!

Alan has certainly been at the forefront of, and is undoubtedly the driving force behind the new urban carping culture. Generally speaking, I’m not an avid watcher of carp angling on television or online, but I’ll admit that I’ve become quite a fan of his ‘urban banks’ stuff. It’s a zillion miles from my own preferred carp angling, but I can definitely understand and appreciate the appeal of the inner-city carping scene. I’m not sure that I’ll ever pack my bivvy away for the last time to spend my days dodging the joggers, smackheads and working girls of Sheffield’s towpaths in pursuit of what these waterways might hold, but I’ll admit to having had a sneaky peak at a few likely looking spots.

Urban carping

Having said all that, a few years ago, I happened upon a large head of carp in a local canal basin and popped down for brief dabble a couple of days later. I managed to fool a lively double relatively quickly, but cut my session short as I became aware of a small group of layabouts and ne’er-do-wells hovering around and eyeing up my Free Spirits.

I suspect full-on urban carping is predominantly a young man’s game. I say that because chasing from canal basin to canal basin, and from park lake to park lake is about as appealing to me as a slow, moonlight stroll across Hampstead Heath with my trousers round my ankles and a red rose between my teeth! As I’ve mentioned already though, I can certainly see what people get out of it - urban carping that is, not nocturnal jaunts across Hampstead Heath!

As with so many of the more diverse forms of angling, I suspect gathering together the right set of kit is vitally important for the inner-city piscator. Travelling light and carrying just the essentials, while still having the ability to turn your hand to a wide variety of tactics and methods is, I assume, a must, and Nashy and his group of merry men certainly seem to be leading the way for those of that particular persuasion that require appropriate kit.

Scoped up!

The Scope Ops and Dwarf rods, and luggage like the Ops R6 Transformer - developed obviously, as a result of Alan Blair’s bankside antics - all look terrific and they certainly open up numerous, previously unimaginable possibilities for being ultra-mobile and to facilitate upping sticks and moving across town on a whim.

A couple of years ago, I was amazed - and also very impressed - to witness several of the young guns I was working with on an exhibition, discard the cosy hotel room booked for them on the Friday and Saturday night, in favour of a trip into town with light gear in search the nearest bit of wet stuff that might hold a carp or two. As I say, angling like this and fishing the nights between tiresome exhibition days, is certainly a young man’s game that would leave me good for nothing for the whole weekend… it sure does sound like fun though!

Please excuse me for meandering off-topic a tad, but as you can no doubt guess from my impressive physical appearance, in addition to my lifeguard duties, I used to teach swimming and coach tennis and badminton in my early twenties. I had, I always felt, had a decent grasp of how it worked and what was expected of me. As much as I try though, I can’t quite get my head around paying seven grand a day for somebody to coach me to become a better carp angler. I say that, not because I don’t need to improve my skills, but because I’ve always thought that the most successful carp anglers simply have more time on their hands, access to the best waters and an endless supply of free bait - I say that obviously, with tongue firmly in cheek as in reality, there’s much more to it. Believe me though, having those three things at your disposal does give you a bloody good start.

The other day then, I got on the phone to a carp angling coach and he informed me that for half the value of my house he’d happily hone my urban carping skills. The first lesson apparently, would include all the important stuff: tying the ultimate bread bomb; loading and unloading a barrow in under 45 seconds; landing carp over, under and between wrought iron railings; ‘getting down’ with kids with the drum ’n’ base vibe; and choosing the right type of cargo pants and Air Max trainers.

Big up, carp tigers, and we’ll see you a little further down the road…

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