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Paths to Paradise

Mike Winter
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Paths to Paradise

Mike Winter

Extract from Along Fishermen's Paths by Mike Winter

Illustrations by Quinton Winter

Occasionally, just occasionally, a long and tortuous path will end in what seems, at the time, to be paradise. I have thought myself to be in paradise on several occasions over the years only to find that with familiarity comes the feeling that it must, in reality, lie in some other lost and forgotten place. In fact I don’t think that ultimate angling paradise exists, although I cannot imagine ever giving up the search for it. Unfortunately I cannot tell you about the water that is the nearest I have come to paradise. Only a few are fortunate enough to be able to fish there and I am bound by a strict publicity ban. However there are others which, for varying lengths of time and for various reasons, have for me been paradisial.

If I was working during a weekend I would usually fish Sunday or Monday night, if not I’d fish most Friday nights. Whichever day it was, somewhere between 4 and 5pm, I’d hang up my white coat in my room at the Hammersmith Hospital and set off through the hustle and bustle to my flat in north-west London. Here my gear would be ready packed, along with a couple of large loaves and the ready boiled potatoes waiting in the fridge. After a quick meal I was away on the fairly short but often tedious journey through the slow-moving traffic. Once on the North Circular it wasn’t too long before I turned off north and then left down the lane by the phone box. Then I’d unlock the big gates leading to a short track past the keeper’s cottage and the parking area. Just a small gap in the bushes indicated the way to the steps that took you down the steep bank and away into the different and vastly more pleasant world. It was hard to believe that, as the crow flies, the very centre of London was only about 12 miles away. At the bottom of the steps a great rectangle of sepia-coloured water stretched away to the right. A narrow path followed the water’s edge all the way round, a path trodden by so many famous feet. Beds of lilies and soft weed grew in profusion, sheltered from the elements by a thick belt of 60-foot trees that completely surrounded the lake. Hidden beneath the trees and amidst the bushes were the huts and chalets, some with verandas, the weekend homes and shelters of those who came at every opportunity.

The water itself is famous. Some of the great pioneers of carp fishing frequented its banks; Mummery and Overbeck to name but two. It was the scene for Hugh Tempest Sheringham’s carp classic and in 1916 it produced the first ever rod-caught 20-pounder, a fish of 20lb 3oz taken by John Andrews.The lake had this aura; that almost tangible atmosphere that seems to emanate from and pervade some carp lakes. It was special, and I felt it very strongly. Back in those far-off days the big fish were ‘wild’ commons, and I often thought, in the many pleasant hours I lay on its banks, of the tremendous and exciting battles that must have taken place under those same great trees half a century before. Alas, when I fished the water those famous ‘wildies’ no longer existed, for in the big freeze up of 1962/63 almost every fish in the lake perished. (I think Jack Hilton was probably the last person to catch one of the old stock - a fine 13
1/4-pounder.)

It was only due to the efforts of the now late Bill Keal and Alec Lewis that the lake became a carp water again.The fish of all sizes up to double-figures came from places as far afield as Holland and Israel. In the old days, possibly due to Overbeck, the lake had been a ‘potato’ water and even with a completely new stock of carp, potato was still a good bait; evidence, perhaps, that carp prefer to eat what they are given most of! It was amazing how prolifically the new stock bred. When I fished there, hordes of chubby little carp from a pound up to 3lb greedily gobbled up anything they could get into their mouths. My largest catch was taken early one October morning. A thick mist hung over the lake as dawn broke, thicker than anything I’d ever fished in before, so dense it was impossible to see more than a rod’s length out. Bottom baits had remained untouched so I thought I’d try a floating crust cast out into the weeds to where I’d heard some muffled fishy sounds in the almost deathly silence. I cast out blindly into the grey ‘wall’ of mist and heard my crust land somewhere with a muted ‘slop’. Soon after, my line was rustling through silver foil. I struck and was into a carp. My diary records that was the first of thirty-nine fish (including a 2lb chub and a 3lb tench) that took my crust during the next three hours or so.They ranged from about 2lb up to 121/2lb. Eleven were between 8 and 12lb. It was a take a cast until, quite suddenly, the mist cleared and all activity ceased. It had been quite an eerie experience and I was glad to rest my aching arm.
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However it wasn’t just the carp, which I caught up to just under 15lb, that really kept drawing me back down the steps to the lake. It was a fabulous oasis of peace and tranquillity, especially considering its proximity to the metropolis and it was that tremendous atmosphere that was just as important as any fish I caught. The number of 10 to 12lb fish it gave me added to that pleasure. I was very much saddened when I recently learned that the angling society who had rented it for so long had, unbelievably, decided to give up the lease on their most famous and hallowed water - a precious and irreplaceable gem they should have been proud to keep and conserve for posterity . . .


If you would like to read more of Mike Winter's adventures in Along Fishermen's Paths, you can buy a copy here.
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