Road trip with Alan Blair

Jheeeze, for the first time in a long time I could actually do with Total Carp being a weekly as opposed to a monthly! In just the last few weeks I’ve been on some incredible road trips and could write about at least one a week! Yep, if you’re reading this and thinking “lucky sod”… I don’t blame you! It comes at some cost and with sacrifices though, but YES – I’m most certainly living my very best life and every day feel blessed to be doing what I do!

I’ve been on an EPIC session with Henry to France, been on a crazy Urban Banx mission through the UK, up to Scotland, Ireland and then Wales in just five days, had 24 hours in Berlin with Thilo (I didn’t even put this trip on my Insta story but oh my!!! Can’t wait to tell you about that Road Trip) and there’ve been some others too… a very busy and exciting angling month that’s for sure.

It’s the start of May as I’m writing this (I’ll come back to where exactly that is at the end of the piece), May is in my opinion THE BEST time to be out there. In just the last week alone EVERYTHING has turned green, there’s that strong aroma of blossom fragrance in the air, insects, cuckoos and the carp are super-active, super-happy and that means at their most catchable – ahh it just makes me happy.

Even though I referenced some of the most recent Road Trips above I’ll keep them in the can for harder times in the winter (or dare I say it… should there ever be such a thing as a lockdown again) and for this month’s piece tell the tale of a trip that happened over just the last few days.

Things kicked off as always with a strategic van load and a much later departure in the morning than usual, heading off to meet a gentleman called Martyn who I would be spending the next 24 hours with. Martyn had ‘won’ the 24-hour session as a prize through the phenomenal efforts of SO many people to raise an astronomical amount of money (correct me if I’m wrong but over £120K) after the passing of the beautiful human being Iain Macmillan.

The previous evening we had been messaging each other in anticipation of the session and I said to Martyn “Would you rather meet at 7am or 10 (my thinking being either miss the traffic before or after rush hour)? Martyn called it as 10 (which to be fair I was also grateful for as it gave me some more office time), however it was most certainly not the greatest decision as what should have been an hour and a half journey ended up more like two and a half hours due to the huge amounts of traffic on the road! I eventually tipped up at a really cool day-ticket lake, proper old school in terms of you put your day-ticket money in a brown envelope and then drop it in a metal tin that’s fixed to a tree!

At a couple of acres in size it’s intimate, has a decent depth, a proper marshy shallow end, great margins and as well as being reed fringed, it also has a main set of reeds which kind of separate the main body of water into two sections. The stock really is something else for the venue, and the fact it’s a day ticket, with a lot of twenties, a really decent head of thirties and even a couple of MEGA 40-pounders! However, with a stock like that comes PLENTY of angling pressure and the fish are far from easy – rock hard in fact!

I met Martyn at the top end of the venue and the pair of us began creeping round feeding some bread on the surface and tiny handfuls of Squid flake, hemp, 12-millers and corn in the edge, constantly checking where we had baited in case any coloured/pluming water had materialised or if we could hear that slurp of some bread being pulled down off the surface. There was one chance, a low 20 common puffing over some silt in a small bay so I headed straight to the motor to grab a Sawnoff for Martyn. However, by the time I had returned the fish had vacated the bay and the chance had gone! Lesson here folks – on tricky days/venues it really does pay to have that stalking rod with you from the off! I’m not saying it was a guarantee but right there, right now if we had have had the rod in hand then perhaps the outcome would have been different and a bite could have been on the cards.

We gave it probably an hour and a half, had a few aborted eruptions on the bread but sadly they were as ‘moody’ as ever and try as we might neither on the surface or on the deck did an opportunity really present itself. I gave Martyn the option – stick or twist, he twisted and we headed off to venue number two with a spring in our step and a new challenge ahead.

Venue number two was Park Farm Fisheries – another lovely mature, intimate venue comprising two main lakes and then a couple of smaller ponds – I’d fished there once before, knew it would be quiet and this would hopefully give us the opportunity to flit around with both the floaters and a bucket of grubbing mix, hopefully getting on some feeding fish and the first fish of the session under our belts.

It was a joy to arrive at the complex with just one other car in the car park, meaning plenty of freedom and hopefully plenty of chances. It was early afternoon by now and Martyn opted to get his barrow loaded with everything for the night ahead while I topped the bucket up with a bit more gear and prepared some slicker floaters by glazing them in the Scopex Squid liquid bait soak and dusting them off with stick mix to really boost their attraction, with small particles falling beneath to hopefully tempt the carp closer to the surface and to feed.

I should probably point out here that I only do a handful of these ‘fish with me sessions’ a year and all for some kind of charity or another. Before doing such a session I will not have met the angler/anglers before so you never really know what to expect in terms of what they would like out of the session until you really meet up. Yes, we had chatted on the phone but it wasn’t really until this point in the car park that I got to find out a bit more about Martyn’s angling, his experiences and his wish for the remainder of the 24.

It quickly transpired this was going to be far from a ‘tutorial’ and all Martyn really desired was nothing more than some time on the bank together – in fact, using the word ’tutorial’ in the company of such a bloke is actually somewhat embarrassing, because as the stories and tales unfolded it soon became apparent that Martyn had been at this game for a long time, certainly been round the block and in fact he told me tales of GIANT carp that I could only begin to dream about. He is also definitely more the BC, keep it real, no publicity kind of guy and although he was more than happy to be included within this piece he is definitely more of a quiet, go about your angling, enjoying it rather than banging his success over social media kind of guy.

We were getting on great, a TOP BLOKE and was incredibly interesting to chat with but with the time ticking away, enough of the tales – he headed off barrow loaded and I grabbed the Sawnoff and minimal gear – it was time to explore.

Park Farm is beautiful and as I described earlier the place looked alive, lush, green and there were carp bobbing about all over the place… easy, you would think! LOL – if only it was always the case! Martyn got on a group of fish clearly fizzing and bubbling in the centre part of the back lake, opting to overcast singles and retrieve them back, dropping the rigs in among the group with minimal disturbance while I headed off to settle a score from that previous session I had fished there in the hope of stalking one of the large ghosties that reside there. Quietly creeping around, feeding bread and slicker floaters as I went, it wasn’t tricky to track down one of the big ornamentals and a couple of casts later I had manoeuvred the Bread Bomb into position and struck into one of the better ghosties that live there. After a tense yet short battle a really old ghostie was beaten, a mega long fish and a great start to our time there.

With the carp returned the mission continued; however, the fun and games were cut rather short when from almost nowhere, the wind picked up massively and before we knew it we were caught out in a torrential downpour! Should that rain not have rolled in as quick as it had (or not at all for that matter) I’m sure there were other chances on the surface but the cold rain seemed to push everything down and it wasn’t showing signs of clearing up any time soon.

It was a good hour or so until there was a break in it; stupidly I hadn’t even put waterproofs on as I was too engrossed in the task at hand of trying to keep them on the surface feeding (to no avail I hasten to add) so it was back to the motor, quick change of clothes and then starting from zero trying to pull them back up again and get them feeding! The ‘better‘ angler would have reacted differently to myself, getting some bottom bait rods out there, which would have been much more the order of the day. However, the hunter in me wanted to stalk and floater fish so for the remaining couple of hours of daylight I persisted on the top, just happy watching the odd fish take a floater with the occasional approach to my actual hook bait being the real buzz – I just love being able to see them.

The rain kept coming and going and before I knew it I could no longer see due to the darkness and it was finally time to accept I had been beaten of a further chance and it was BBQ time and the chance to carry on chatting all things fishy. We had a lovely lamb and steak dinner, Martyn had brought a nice bottle of bubbles and we chatted away until I guess 10ish before it was time for me to eventually get the barrow loaded up and drop on to somewhere for the night.

I had a good old look around with the Moonshine Mega Lite, finding a few fish in one of the corners that had a dense reedy margin and what looked like the best chance of a bite through the hours of darkness. I stuck the waders on, grabbed a Sawnoff with inline lead and short slip D arrangement, to which I mounted a Cultured Hookbait via a bait screw before wading down the margin and hand placing the rig on a lovely polished off sandy gravel area along the edge of the reeds.

Of course I could have cast it, could have also shipped it down there in the pole but much like the surface fishing earlier, I really do like to ‘see’ everything if I can; whether that be the fish themselves or in this instance the spot. With a second rod positioned similarly but down to my right alongside a big overhanging tree I eventually jumped into the Sleep System around midnight, hoping one of them would bust of before morning came round.

I wasn’t disanointed either when at around 4.30 the rod positioned alongside the reeds tore off and I found myself playing an angry common and another lovely fish from Park Farm. With the fish popped in the retainer, I managed another hour or so’s sleep before a beautiful day lay ahead of us, mega sunrise, morning chorus and that first coffee of the morning.

With the fish photographed there were no further signs of carp in the area so I cut my losses, got packed up and headed round to see Martyn with the stalking gear and importantly brew kit. Martyn’s night had passed quietly and he was also getting itchy feet, so with a coffee and a croissant down us it was time for another hour or so’s stalking before the 24-hour session was coming to an end. The last hour or so was really exciting with Martyn fishing the lift float over bubblers and fizzes and although that float twitched and bobbed on many occasions it was only liners and sadly a bite never actually materialised. I managed a final low double common on the Bread Bomb but it had all too quickly come to an end and as much as I was having a lovely time and could have happily stayed I had to bid Martyn farewell and head off on the rest of the road trip… and this was no short drive either, with the next destination actually being Folkstone as I was heading back over to Europe. The drive down to the Tunnel was hassle free, I managed to get my crossing on time, which is always a bonus and although my usual tactic while on the train is to get some rigs prepared I was absolutely shattered and ended up drifting off to sleep only to be woken by a lady banging on the window saying “time to leave” with all the other motors in front of me already off the train.

My next destination was a solid five odd hours down through France where I would be meeting with our French videographer Thierry to film an episode of ‘Catch Me a Carp If You Can’, which I have explained in a previous piece within Total Carp back in December I believe. The concept is pretty simple and self-explanatory – catch a carp, but the format is a wheel is spun, which gives me the region to fish in and then a second wheel spun as to the type of venue it must be on ie. gravel pit, river, canal etc. Thierry and I had already spun the wheel the day previously so I knew the region but it wasn’t until I met with him much later that night when I could spin for a second time to find out the venue type.

On the way down I stopped off and looked at some sections of river and some crazy abandoned pits as I may well be returning in just a week or so’s time to fish and film with Oli. The river looked stunning and the pits, well, they were absolutely crazy! Ridiculously overgrown and I actually got lost on more than a few occasions with not even Google Maps being able to assist me with which way to go. All really exciting stuff, proper off grid and certainly somewhere I’d love to head back to and explore in the future.

With a quick Burger King pit stop I eventually met up with Thierry just before mi dnight, at a stunning river, deep in the French countryside and after a big old walk along about a mile of a stretch I’d found some decent barbel and chub but no carp, so opted to fish in the deepest and slowest water I could find; placing some big 20mm Squid Cultured with just a few freebies around them, before eventually crawling into bed deciding we would spin that wheel in the morning to ascertain exactly where and what I’d be up to next.

The night passed quietly, which was no surprise really; when fishing these kind of rivers you need to be on your A game, ideally not sleeping and recasting every hour or so to prevent a build-up of debris on your line – I was just happy to get the four odd hours of sleep with a carp from here being an absolute bonus… but it wasn’t to be on this occasion!

We were both up at first light, the wheel was spun, the venue type decided (wild gravel pit) and we packed down before implementing the final part of the concept, which was the ability to ‘phone a friend’ to gauge what might be on offer in terms of wild gravel pits in that particular region. With both Thierry and I living nowhere near where we were in France we called up one of our French team members, the loveable giant John, who rattled off a number of options for that area so over a brew I made my decision and chose a pair of gravel pits, with a total unknown stock and only a 50-minute or so drive from the river. With the van packed terribly (literally everything thrown in) the Road Trip continued and we headed off for the final 48 hours of the trip.

Right, I’m going to have to wrap this up as quickly as I can now, which is a huge shame really because the following 48 hours could be a piece on its own but I am so up against it and seriously overrunning on the word count, so here goes!

Arriving at the pair of gravel pits was utter bliss! The sun was shining, we were remote, no phone signal and the closer I got to the lakes the bigger my smile got! John was there to meet me having fished here once before himself and after passing over the little info he had about the place I rapidly got the boat pumped up to head out and explore the ultimate carp angler’s playground!

One of the pits was around eight acres in size and while the boat was inflating I actually saw two shows – RESULT! The other was probably three times its size, and a lot more mature, overgrown and incredibly weedy! I spent the next three or four hours out in the boat, with the aquascope, prodding stick, underwater camera, leading as much as I could, as quickly as I could, knowing the importance of actually needing to catch one in order to make the film a success. The remainder of the afternoon was spent preparing my bait for the coming session and getting some rods in the water before finally kicking back just before sunset with a cold beer to reflect on the day.

I’d opted to park the motor between the two pits, which gave me access to put a couple of rods in each of the lakes. The smaller gravel pit clearly contained a half decent number of carp; as I had been patrolling the margin in the boat it wasn’t hard to find the odd group of fish and I picked an area close to three large fallen trees, fishing one rod over particles and the other over boilies to just see if there was a preference.

The other bigger pit, however, was much more of a challenge and I saw absolutely ZERO carp while out exploring. Thierry did, however, put the drone up and although the lake was very weedy it wasn’t deep – it was tap clear and other than 20 odd grass carp he only saw a maximum of six carp in 25-odd acres of water! Of course there could have been fish he hadn’t seen but it certainly wasn’t a venue that had been stocked with carp and with a river running close by he explained that the few fish that were present had no doubt found their way in there through the floods over the years.

The fishing here was a lot more technical. One of the rods was fished with braid so I could maximise indication at like 300 metres range to a clearing in the weed and the second on some silt I had found that clearly contained bloodworm as I could see the casts and also the scalloped out areas where at some point carp had fed there. I’d worked hard, I was happy with my choices – it was now down to the carp to hopefully reward me! The night was pretty crazy to be fair and far exceeded my expectations! I managed five carp from the smaller pit to mid-twenties in size; lovely fish, clearly they had been stocked at some point and it had meant mission accomplished! The cherry on the top though, was catching a really mega long common from the bigger pit and what a fight that was! Due to the water clarity I fished heavy fluoro snag leader so that along with the braid it meant absolutely no stretch in my entire setup. The take was savage, as was the battle, which literally saw me being dragged about in the boat by the angry common.

However, on this occasion I had won, it had been a night of minimal sleep but I couldn’t have wished for a better start to the film. In fact, it was so hectic I stopped replacing the rods in the end of fear of getting absolutely no sleep whatsoever and come morning all four rods were leant up against the hide! That’s not like me but six fish in and a bonus personal best bream, I really didn’t have it in me and needed a little sleep in order to be able to function and importantly talk to camera that following day!

With the fish all filmed and photographed, plus a decent sausage baguette for breakfast, the onslaught continued throughout the remainder of the morning and the rest of the day in fact! Six carp turned to 12 by that afternoon with me moving the rods from the deeper water up on to the shallows under some tree cover to keep the bites coming. It was so good in fact that we could get brave and actually positioned a GoPro on one of the rods, managing to record three bites underwater – a huge buzz for both Thierry and I.

It was the perfect day, in great company, with good food and beautiful carp. With another delicious BBQ down us the action continued into the night and come morning that tally had increased to 18, including another mega wild common from the larger of the two pits.

As I say, I’ve not been able to do it the justice it deserves in the limited space, but as I speak it’s time to reel the rods in where I’m currently sitting, up in Norfolk, to continue with my current Road Trip that will no doubt appear in a future issue of Total Carp. Have a good month folks, make the most of it before they spawn, which as we all know is just around the corner – I’ll see you next month!