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.
Through my membership of the BCSG, attending meetings and helping with their stand/s at venues like Gerry’s of Wimbledon show I became friendly with Jack Hilton and Tom Mintram. I arranged to commission a painting of Jack’s forty presented to him when he retired from fishing. Keith, Jack’s son tells me he still has the painting. Sitting at Tom’s house one day and talking to both of them I mentioned the success I had with trout pellets and noticed they gave each other a sideways glance. They had no doubt not heard of it although Jack had tried pony cubes that broke down and melted on the bottom.
Anyway, it transpired Tom rang my wife and suggested a place in Redmire but to only tell me if she agreed. It took a while – the fee was huge for the time and I was struggling but there was no greater honour during that period than being a member. Time on there was divided into three rotas with Tom, who ran the syndicate able to fish anytime. It was pretty sad for me that Jack had announced he was retiring from fishing and the prospect of fishing with him was no longer a possibility. I was on the last rota with John Carver and Roy Johnson, Kevin Clifford was on first rota with Len Arbery and Bob Jones. The other three were Ron Lalley, Tony Abbot and Ian Sewter. Ian, when he saw how bad the weed was, never fished. The first meeting was at Jack’s house and then one at Tom’s, where most members were present it was agreed to work together and keep a log. After lots of suggestions from good to ridiculous it was agreed the prime bait was to be cockles backed up by Tender Morsels. Anyone could try a bait but if it was successful then either the recipe or the bait should be available to everyone. Cockles did not last long and eels like them!
Roy fished the whole week most of the time whilst John and I could only fish the weekend. From the outset I would say Roy was the most accomplished and best angler I had seen on the bank at the time. He caught fish from the start using a Wilton recipe but rolled into pancakes and cut into rectangles. It was totally new concept and the reaction of carp to it was mind blowing. He also put us onto a superb Abulon line, showed us how to make more room in a bivvy with an extension to the centre pole. His alarms were revolutionary – the antenna had a U shape and vibrated back and forth. They had a dual circuit in case one failed and I believe his rods were the first carbon/?glass I had seen and compound taper. The rest of us were using Herons with the normal antenna.
I struggled, lost big fish, caught some doubles – presented a piece of malt loaf to the Bishop on the surface, didn’t realise it sinks and the fish just drifted away. I tried my hand at making a bait similar to Roy’s – trout pellets rolled into pancakes and cod roe the same. My only Redmire twenty came on the cod roe rectangles. At one point Bruce Ashby told me about using small pieces of root ginger but you could not bait up with it as the carp only picked it up out of curiosity but did not like the taste. I never caught but John captured his first twenty on it when I left some for him.
Because of the agreement and the fact Roy was honour bound not to reveal the details of his bait he was told to stop using it. He did try other baits and caught a few – he was intense in his attitude and tried to utilise every opportunity. During one week, Roy, unusually left early and before leaving went all round the pool throwing in bait. I followed and picked up some pieces and showed them to John. It was Roy’s bait he had been told not to use. When confronted his first comment was it’s Mike’s cod roe bait and in reply I suggested I would get it analysed and then see what it was. He offered John and I his bait but we refused and told him he would have to confess to Tom. Tom let him fish out the season but he was replaced next year by Bill Quinlan on our rota. Anyone who has read the Redmire Book will see it says he did supply us with bait,and it was OK for a while. I tackled Kevin Clifford about this some years later and apparently he was told this by Roy although it was untrue.
The next year I managed to obtain a bottle of the flavour Roy used. It came via my father-in-law from a baker in London. Sad to say I blew the flavour by putting in about 50ml per mix. The Wilton info had not been published at the time. I fished little that season – the pool was very low in the drought of 1976 and I was renovating a house in Herefordshire. My place was not renewed the next year but was offered to me again after the abortive take over when fortunately Tom retained the place with Jack’s help.
I would just add that a common of 13lb 12oz was caught by me and transferred, with permission, to Ashlea Pool where it became the famous Ashlea Common.
My only Redmire twenty at 26lb 2oz. This would remain my biggest common until 2014 when I caught one of 27lb 4oz and in 2016 it became 28b from Ashmead. I was invited to fish Redmire again in 2014 for two days with Jack’s son Keith and Tom’s son Mike. John Carver had to drop out because of illness. I caught three carp – the biggest is shown here.
Footnotes: Whilst I have fished there twice in recent years and visited friends on other occasions, Redmire does not now have the magic for me that it did those forty years ago. I believe the Carp Catchers Club and the syndicate run by Jack then Tom and John Carver saw the best of the place. All that is now left is the history.
About 1974 a mini show was held at Ash near Aldershot to promote the opening of one of the first carp gear only shops – Tackle Up. Many of the BCSG celebrities were there including Gerry Savage and Bruce Ashby. Tom and his wife came to my house nearby at Seale for a party that evening. Gerry later interviewed me twice – once when I got into Redmire and when the Carp Anglers Association was formed and I had the honour to be the first chairman. One of the interviews took place at his house where he showed me many bait ingredients and I later fished with him at Bysingwood in Kent.