For people that don’t know Mike Starkey, his carp fishing career is nothing short of astounding. Having fished some of the most iconic venues in British carp fishing History along with working on fourteen fishing related books, he has immersed himself in the sport for over 50 years. In this series of blogs, he talks about his time fishing legendary waters and rubbing shoulders with some of the forefathers of modern day carp fishing. 

Back living in Guildford I was asked by Chris Ball whether I wanted to join a project baiting up the Army Lake. This was a lake that had been stocked by Leney but many had been caught and removed to other lakes in the area. Jan Wenzka and Andy Little were also involved and as Andy was with Crafty Catcher the ideas to bait up with boilies flavoured with Meat Supreme. At the time I was working at Guildford Tech and did not work Friday afternoons. So, I was making boilies every week in the close season and going to Hawley to bait up. Chris came with me on one of the trip but it was only me baiting up. When the season started I could not fish until the Friday but heard someone had already fished early mornings and caught. It came out the fish were on tiger nuts. Now I am baiting up all close season with boilies so what was the point. Anyone who knows me realise I hate tiger nuts and have never used them. They cannot be digested by carp, go in one end, out the other to be eaten by the next carp. They gain no nutrition from them and when used in excess carp lose weight. Fortunately most clubs and syndicates, these days have banned them.

Surprisingly when I fished the weekend I did catch a small twenty on boilies. Although I caught this fish I pulled off not long afterwards until later in the year. (Actually night fishing was not allowed but it was easy enough to hide in the rhodadendrons that grew right up to the water’s edge). The biggest trouble was if the yacht club guy saw you early on when he would drive through your swim in his motor boat. Myself and two other angles witnessed this one morning on an open bank. I fired stones at him with my catapult but he erred on the side of caution as there were three of us.

That first twenty was caught again later in the year at a slightly heavier weight, I caught another twenty in a hidden bay and one evening lost two very big fish I could not stop. The hook link snapped after rod bending minutes and when tested at home was breaking at 6lb. This was the new, at the time, Sylcast braided – their mainline was fine but the braid was crap. I saw a couple of other nice twenties on the bank and Chris caught a thirty on the surface, in the winter, from an incredible area close to the bank, covered in bushes with all roots in the water. An amazing feat from a very difficult spot.

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Andy had claimed to have seen up to 60 fish cruising and reckoned when swimming the bottom was firm and sandy. As it happened Andy never fished there. On a later session I stripped off and went out and the bottom was very muddy in the area we fished. With repeat captures I doubted there were more than thirty fish in some 60 acres. A strange place to be wandering around at night – scary running into hidden, camouflaged soldiers with guns in the dark. Manoeuvres sometimes involved putting up metal Bailey bridges and motor launches would cruise across the lake at night.

To my shame I did at times poach it in the close season. You had to leave your car and walk some 600-700 yards to fish the nearest part of the lake. You could drive all around the lake but parking was not allowed although the spot we first fished had spots where the car could be hidden. Returning to my car one night a car screamed up beside me and two men jumped out. “What are you doing”, was the question. “Just been fishing”, I said. A bit obvious when carrying your kit. “Oh, OK we just had a report of someone trying to break into a car”. It turned out they were Military Police. I don’t think I went there again!

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Photos: Steve Neville with a twenty (2nd Photo). He had to strip to his underpants and go out for the fish in the weed early one morning. Steve Sorrell (above) with a typical mid twenty Leney. I was called out from home at the crack of dawn to do the pics. He was part of the young Hawley Mafia who always knew what was going on. They referred to Jan as that ‘Polish Geezer’. I look like I have seen a ghost with a mid twenty in my arms.