The Things That Shape Us

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What a wonderful time I had at The Center School

Wow! Where has this month gone? It really has gone in the blink of an eye. I have had a beautiful month; there have been fish on the bank and high drama to boot.  But the highlight of my month came last week and to be honest is the inspiration for me to dig out one of my earliest and still most important pieces of work. Last week I had two days with the boys from The Centre School in Cambridge.

The Centre School provides a massively important programme for kids with emotional and behavioural difficulties. On the Thursday I did my mentoring session with the lads.  My talk basically tried to reinforce what the wonderful instructors tell them every day, but of course my life story and how you can make something of your life if you concentrate on your strong points.

Whilst talking to the lads I recounted a story that happened before the underwater revolution, although fairly distant in my mind I could see the kids eyes lighting up, and even to this day I have had many people asking me to recount extracts from my early underwater diaries, so it seemed kind of fitting that I did it this month.

As many of you will know I was the concept idea man for the Korda and Cemex underwater DVD’s, which were one of the first to feature underwater video of fish, and was working on these projects as long as 15 years ago, so it always makes me smile when people think they have reinvented the wheel.

Just before I pull the dairy notes out, and one of my original pieces, I would just like to dedicate this piece to the boys at The Centre and the marvellous staff. I was humbled, inspired and very grateful just to be part of a lovely two days, something I am hoping to do on a regular basis to tie in with the stuff I do for mainstream kids. If anyone has any old kit lying around or think they could help in anyway however small please drop me an email at Croxie, Stu, Ashleigh, Jordan, Casey and Luke, thanks guys you made my month.

After so many long, hot, frustrating summer nights trying to imagine life below the lake’s surface, I realised enough was enough! It was time to try and make sense of life in the abyss and so began my journey, my underwater quest!

The following article is based on detailed notes taken from my diary. You could just read it – or you could relive those formative underwater years with me…

The instructors are priceless - they play a massive part in the development of these kids

It’s late autumn and already the golden glow of the sun is diminishing. The leaves have served their purpose and are being offered back to the land. Overhead I can hear the last of the sweet summer song as the migratory birds push south in search of warmer climes.The wind is gently whispering through the valley where she embraces the lake, lapping at the surface, forcing the water to take on a silvery bronze appearance. It’s late afternoon and I am keenly watching the surface for the tiniest of signs, my imagination is ablaze as it contemplates life below the lake surface.

But for some reason today is different. I can no longer rely on my once faithful servant – my mind’s eye to relay the contours, gravel bars, silt beds and host of other devastatingly important features that will help me in my quest to catch carp, because I know it can be unwittingly deceptive as it tries to serve its purpose with conjecture and supposition.

Looking back I still can’t explain what triggered me that day, but something was about to change forever! As I sat day dreaming about my newfound mind bending plan, every now and again a bolt of electricity shot through my body reminding me what I was plotting to do.  I even tried to convince myself it would be a breeze. A sort of garden shed hobby-come-experiment after all, I bet in many a quiet, leafy suburb of England there were those who had designs on all manner of near impossible quests.

I had even once contemplated making a rocket out of scrap biscuit tins and then flying off to the moon, but I can tell you now my new found demented journey was to prove to be far more disturbed. It was time to strip off and get my feet wet, the lunatic had really escaped from the asylum but this time the only difference was this lunatic was wearing a wet suit … I wanted to become a Carp!

I knew there was little I could do so late in the year what with the water temperature about to take a tumble and of course the visibility of most waters was not brilliant at that time of year. Ok winter would bring clearer water, but it would also bring in activity and water temperatures far too cold for me to operate in.

I wanted to carry out my plans in the clearer, warmer water in the spring, (ok I was a bit of a girl) but it was hard convincing myself now I had made the decision to shelve the scheme, so I made a compromise and began making huge lists of what I wanted to prove to myself. Not only did I want to fully understand the habitual mechanics of my quarry, but also I had always questioned the ability of some manufacturers to give accurate information on how their products looked in the natural environment. I mean, let’s be fair. I can’t believe chucking things in 6 inches of water in the edge, or testing something in a couple of gallons tank could really be that representative of all the fishing situations that we as anglers are faced with on a regular basis.

My underwater experience has changed my life

Now I am not a scientific person by any means but even I knew there were – and still are – so many variables, so many different situations that we as anglers needed to understand. We deserve more than a slogan on some packaging saying ‘Sinking whatever’ or ‘completely invisible’ this or ‘floating’ that!

Now you could argue that this was about to become a crusade being aimed at the industry, but to be fair it wasn’t, and in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. Like probably so many others I realised that to maximise my own results and to get the most out of our sport we needed to look below the surface of the water to find the answers. Gone were the days that we were being told how things looked and reacted when there was no proof backing it up. Carp angling was becoming, and has now become, a revolution, and if in some small way at some point in my journey I could make a difference to just one angler or one manufacturer, or even if I could prove to myself what really happens underwater, then I have achieved my goal!

I will never forget that first morning. It was about eight months after the initial idea, and it was a really long eight months through the winter then into spring then summer quietly turned up one morning and I knew it was time… I had enough plans, schemes and equipment to submerge myself somewhere near Beachy Head then go off and single-handedly find the lost city of Atlantis. Well ok, I may be exaggerating, but I was without doubt ready to rock!

It was about 5.30am on a gloriously sunny Friday morning at the start of my first underwater summer, the lake was clear as a bell and everything was looking so perfect. The water was warm, the birds sang their little hearts out and everything was starting to bloom. Perfect. Absolutely perfect!

I was fishing with a mate of mine, Geoff, who had opted to fish one rod tight to a reed bed about 40 yards off to his right. The night before he had spodded about 5 kg of particle out so I thought I would give it a little look as it was one of the most accessible places.  I had the shortie wetsuit on, mask and snorkel and began to tip-toe across the reed bed until I was at the water’s edge some 15 foot from the bank. At this point I lay down in the part water/part silty mud slowly submerging my head between the reeds, taking my first breath with my extra long snorkel.

At first I couldn’t see a thing but as the silt disturbance began to clear I was astonished to see spod mix everywhere, a few free offerings of boilies and then the hook bait only inches from my face!

As I was acclimatising my semi submerged body to the feel of water that wasn’t quite as warm that I had first thought, I couldn’t help thinking that Geoff was fishing much tighter to the reed bed than he had reckoned on. The reason for my train of thought was that he was fishing on an incline that was about four foot, and I am pretty sure he thought he was fishing at the bottom on the lake bed, not nearer the top on a slope, but the line lay in the water looked pretty good as he always fished slack line, and the rig was looking very invisible with the hooklink material straightened out nicely!

I've even managed a slipper this month

I was now almost fully submerged – some would say due to my weight – although hardly my fault that my once athletic body had betrayed me for Chinese food, and beer, but I saw what was to prove the real catalyst in my underwater quest.

It was a long, lean common that almost commanded homage as it graced into view with rays of sunlight majestically sparkling from its warrior scales. I hardly dare breathe as it was close enough for me to reach out and touch, and I can’t help but think in some mad way that it could see me, but didn’t consider me a threat. Although I had no idea at the time, I now believe there to be a specific reason for Carp being unafraid of humans submerged in the water.

After talking to a mate of mine, I’ve come up with this theory: Humans only learn to be cautious from their mothers who actually teach their offspring about danger – day in and day out. “Mind the road,” “Don’t speak to strangers,” and so on.

Just imagine if children had to learn by their mistakes… I guess you could halve the population of the world in a heartbeat. Ok, so I guess fish have a natural in-built defence system, but are they really conditioned to be cautious at seeing a bloke in a wetsuit in their environment? I think to an extent they are not. Alright, anything above the surface, but not below. The only thing they would be wary of underwater would be predators and angler’s traps which proves why, on many occasions,  I have reached out and touched Carp while I have been underwater and they have been exceptionally receptive to a hand down their flank… before bolting!

Anyway, back to the long common. He wasn’t feeding but was more curious than anything and I was ready to get out of the water well pleased with my first sighting when bang – I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! A shoal of five mirrors had come in over the bait and were mopping up the lot in front of my very eyes. Within what seemed like only seconds there was nothing left, nothing except maybe 3 or 4 boilies – and one of them was on the hook bait.

As the fish lazily moved off I could just make out a single fish heading to the spot. I dare hardily move in anticipation.

Wow, what a stunner! It was a leather of about 25-28lbs and was proceeding to clear the last of the freebies when ‘schlurp’, in went the hook bait… and out it came without a fuss. No drama, and off the leather gently swam, it’s worth mentioning that I couldn’t actually see the bait until the fish moved off and when it did there it lay.

Jesus, what had just happened? What the hell was that all about? Why hadn’t this fish been hooked? Why was this fish feeding alone?

Even though I was gutted for my mate I was left slightly perplexed on more than one account. The prime one being: why was the hook bait the very last thing in the swim? As I had a last ponder I could make out the earlier small shoal was back, and again they came in on the feeding angle, bang in the mouth of a low twenty it went and out it came. Then another fish lifted the bait, what the hell was happening? It’s as if in a warped way these fish were playing Russian roulette. Then the ultimate, in went an upper double on the feeding angle and hoovered up the bait, and as it tried to eject the boilie, I saw for the first time what was to become the now common sight of a fish violently shaking its head –  and off it went like a stabbed rat!

Making my way back to my bivvy tingling with excitement, I dried off and changed. I could hear Geoff shouting to me, “Jonny, get round here son, I’ve had one!”

Back at his swim he hit me with a load of “overslept again boy…”, “look, the Master’s had one again…” “Who’s the daddy!” and so on.

What is it? I enquired. A perfect 19lb11oz mirror – hmmm I thought. Bigger than I had first thought so maybe the biggun’ that had successfully ejected him earlier that morning could have been a scraper 30.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him what had really happened that morning; in fact I kept quiet for a week or two. Oh my Lord, I was enjoying this, although I think the carp gods had shown me a lot more than they normally would, just to set my brain on fire!

Two of the biggest questions that left me confused that peculiar morning was rig efficiency, and that single hook bait standing on the spot like a toy soldier!

Now I think it’s fair to say that Geoff is a bit of an innovator in the rig department, so I was hardly surprised to find out that on the morning in question he was using a super, anti eject, double looping, semi recoiling, hinged rig etc etc… I think you get the picture.

So that day he was convinced that his super-dooper rig was the reason he caught and others didn’t, but what he didn’t know was if he had made things a little simpler he would of probably caught a much larger fish, but without seeing underwater how could he have known?

The other big question was the hook bait being there ‘til the death, then the fish playing Russian roulette with it.

I have since come to the conclusion that even on the waters where you think the fish don’t have it in the day, I believe in a lot of cases they do.

The difference being as dark falls they find it harder to see your trap, thus tripping at dusk, night or first light, but by day I have witnessed them selectively tip-toeing around the hook bait with all the finesse of a ballet dancer. By day eating everything in their path. Then the guy a couple of swims down walks over to you and tells you they don’t feed in the day on this lake, its an historical thing with this water…

You see, look at it this way. How many times do you hear anglers saying ‘yep, just switched over to my day rig, a one ounce lead with a size 10 hook with 8lb fluro carbon?’ Exactly! Not often. Now you can ponder on the possibilities for the days!

I would like to bet that for the spodders and baiters that get their business done early in the day, there are loads of times when they go into the night completely cleaned out with only a single hook bait on their spot.

If you look at it another way, why are singles so productive?

Ok, it may be midnight and there may only be an orphaned grain of maize on your spot instead of the three kilos that you put out in the afternoon but again, think on this: I have seen a fish that must have been pushing 40lb make three or four visits to a spot to investigate a single grain of maize that they knew was there. I mean, how much use could one single, solitary grain of maize be to a 40lb fish?

I believe without a doubt that the later you bait, the more chance you have going into dark with a baited spot. A spot that hasn’t been wiped out by Carp and bits. But then again, if you are fishing a relatively well stocked water whether it is rock hard or not, if you are fishing a known spot that fish make regular visits to in the night to feed, and all they find is a single bait, then of course you will be playing the numbers game massively in your favour!

There are so many questions and so few answers, or are there?

See you next month

Jonny Banister

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