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Nick Helleur The Way We Were

THE WAY WE WERE Nick Helleur is back again with a tale from the old-school days, a tale of one particular capture, a tale of adventure, a tale that lives in his memory for ever and a day!


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The Way We Were

Upon retrieving the sack as dawn broke on the horizon, we got our first proper look at this fantastic old carp. Lying amongst the reeds it looked ancient and incredible and both of us just sat in silence and stared at it, one of Donald Leney’s original stocking from the early-’50s, truly a piece of living carp fishing history!

Nick Helleur


ver the years I’ve been ever so fortunate in my angling life, having spent many thousands of nights out on the banks and having so many good memories, some of which would make great stories if I could only find the time to get them down on paper! From that very first fateful summer’s night when, as a young boy, I lied to my parents by telling them I was staying at my friend’s, and he did the same, when we were really off to the centre of our universe at that time, our very own secret tench spot, a small farm pond on the outskirts of the village where I grew up. Lying on my jacket on the floor that seemingly never-ending summer’s eve, watching the old washing-up liquid bottle top indicator from beneath an old Efgeeco brolly was indeed to set me off on a long and winding road of angling experiences, both good and bad –more of the former than the latter, thankfully. Every single day

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Nick Helleur The Way We Were

and night spent outside has been enjoyable nonetheless and over time those collective experiences have shaped me into the angler I am today. Of course every moment spent by the water is memorable, but as one outing follows another, many are simply forgotten, or fade as time passes, lost amongst countless similar experiences until something, or someone, jogs a particular event or capture back to the forefront of our minds. Often though, for no tangible reason, some never seem to fade and stay particularly vivid as if they had happened only yesterday. There seems to be no explanation why some trips stay so clear in our minds. Perhaps deep in our psyche they relate to important periods in our life, or maybe it’s no more complicated; perhaps we simply enjoyed them more, whether we realised it or not at the time. Either way, the really great stories often

go untold. Recently, due to the winter we have endured, I spent a little more time than usual at home – only a little mind, as I was still out fishing short morning sessions when I did get out. So to occupy myself whilst sitting at home I decided to make a start at sorting through my huge collection of pictures and slides. A few days later as I sat in our spare bedroom one afternoon in front of the slide viewer, slowly and methodically working my way through the pile of shoeboxes full of assorted old pictures, a myriad of memories came flooding back. Memories of fish and friends, of waters far and wide, and of the countless experiences and adventures along the way, and it suddenly occurred to me that there was still so much to tell that hadn’t been told (except to close friends, that is). Tales of angling similar to those I grew up with, long before carp angling took

Tel was clearly buzzing and rambling at a hundred miles an hour but I managed to pick out the important bits, which were, “guesting”, “massive lake”, and “ancient old carp” There’s no place I’d rather be than secretly tucked away and waking up beside the lake, breathing in a new dawn.


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the bizarre twist it has in recent years, where it is only deemed worthy by many if the story involves pushing oneself to the limit in terms of effort and dedication to catch the biggest fish. Suddenly it occurred to me how we are in danger of forgetting that carp fishing should, first and foremost, be about enjoying yourself and your surroundings and escaping from the pressures of modern life. I know I simply want to read about the good times I guess, the enjoyable sessions and just great carp fishing, and with this in mind I’ve decided to pick out some of those memorable trips and write them down. For whatever reason they have stayed so sharp in my mind that I can still relate them in detail and share them with you in the hope that you will enjoy them. So, sitting among the piles of dusty old prints and boxes of slides, completely lost in a lifetime of fishing memories, I came across an old slide of me sitting surrounded by reeds. I was holding a magnificent old carp that I hadn’t seen for years and I was instantly transported back to that warm midsummer evening. The sound of the birds singing, the smells of summer, everything was as clear as if it were yesterday! I can’t remember the exact year but I do know I was still living at home with my parents. Well, perhaps ‘living’ is a bit of an exaggeration, I treated it more as a hotel-cumlaunderette and café, as I spent the bulk of the time out fishing, only returning periodically to pick up clean clothes and have a bath. Dear old mum moaned constantly, bless her. However, she always made sure I left with clean clothes, plenty of supplies, and even slipped me the occasional fiver here and there to keep me going when I was skint – which was usually the case, such was my obsession to be out on the bank angling. Anyway, for whatever reason, I was actually at home when I got a phone call, which was an omen in itself. It was Tel (Terry Hearn) on the other end. “Oi oi mate, fancy an adventure?” said the excited voice at the other end. We both knew that was a stupid question because I was always up for an adventure. “Where we off to then?” I asked. Tel was clearly buzzing and rambling at a hundred miles an hour but I managed to pick out the important bits, which were, “guesting”, “massive lake”, and “ancient old carp”. I knew exactly where we were going and that was good enough for me. I interrupted him mid sentence. “Pukka mate, when we off ?” “Tonight!” came the reply. Tel offered to drive and briefed me on his plan – there was always a plan where Tel was involved, which is totally at odds with my more ‘wing and a prayer’ approach. He would pick me up around midnight from mum’s, the reason being that the lake to where we were headed was a good hour and a half ’s drive away. Then there was the issue of the big manor house on the banks and also a busy day ticket fishery close by, which we would have to pass on our way to the big lake. We didn’t want to be seen by anyone, at any cost, for obvious reasons. This meant we needed to be doubly discreet and stealthy and go in when we were sure everyone would be asleep, and then be away again before it got light, so we planned the mission with

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Another old Leney from the big pit on a subsequent mission, the fish were full of character and came in all shapes and sizes.

knotting anticipation that only an angler could understand. Eventually I saw headlights turn into the road just before midnight, I prayed it was Tel because I couldn’t bear waiting any longer. It was! We loaded the car as quietly as possible in order not to wake my parents or the neighbours and were soon on our way down the lanes and out of the valley heading towards the motorway. With the roads quiet, except for the nightly comings and goings of rabbits and the occasional badger, and being lost in an excited conversation, the journey passed quickly and before we knew it we pulled off the lane and into the nearby fishery car park shortly after

1.00 a.m., where we parked up out of the way in a quiet corner. Stepping from the car as the engine was cut I was immediately struck by the stunning silence; the warm, moist scent of water mint filled my nostrils and my pulse quickened as the rush of expectation took hold of me. There was no point rushing like fools and besides, we wanted to be certain of getting to the lake without being seen, so we decided to have a cuppa and a smoke before heading off on the long walk down the lane and then along the drive to the big house. We were both buzzing at the prospect of what lay ahead and neither of us actually finished our tea before we decided to head off into the unknown. It was a totally still and eerily silent night, the sort of night where your senses are heightened to an almost superhuman level and everything around seems to make an incredible amount of noise. Every step I took seemed to spook something in the hedgerow and within a minute or so I found myself literally tiptoeing down the pitch-black, deserted lane, trying to keep sight of Tel in front. Neither of us said a word as we neared the entrance to the driveway of the big house, as just to the left the road literally skirted the edge of the day ticket fishery. Even though it was pitch-black, the little moonlight there was, was lighting up the lake and silhouetting the outlines of several bivvies and their snoring occupants. They lay asleep oblivious to our presence, only a few feet from where we crept silently past, like ghosts in the night. We had now been walking for a fair while and I had

Nick Helleur

almost military precision! Now, to many of you reading this, a 150-mile round trip to fish a huge lake with only a dozen resident carp for just a couple of hours would seem absurd, madness even, but it was clear that by risking any more would almost certainly mean that this would be the first and last visit, so we needed to be cautious and stick to the original plan. There was a lot at stake because after all, a 100-acre+ lake containing some of the oldest carp in the country is special… very, very special indeed. I spent the evening pottering around organising my kit. Tel had been and recced the area and had identified a likely spot that the fish appeared to frequent. Because of the lake’s overgrown and wild nature there was only a tiny gap from where it was possible to fish without leaving evidence that may have prevented us from returning. This meant we would only be able to use one rod each. It was a beautiful, still and warm evening with not a cloud in the sky, so we would sleep on our unhooking mats – that’s if we could grab any sleep at all. A brolly or bed was out of the question as Tel had explained that we would be tucked away close to a country lane, and would be easily seen if we set up, and besides, we wanted to leave as little evidence as possible that anyone had been there, especially if we were to return at some point in the future. To kill some time I watched the telly while I set up a rod with a simple bottom bait rig and a leadcore leader and packed my small bag. As usual, the hours seemed to drag on forever, as they always do when you’re waiting to go fishing and full of a burning, stomach-

The Way We Were

My good mate Spence with another of the old Leneys, but from a neighbouring pit. After delving into the local history it transpired that several of the adjoining pits had at one time been part of the big pit and had been separated at some point many years after the first stocking. It turned out that the lake was a cheap club ticket, so we joined and, sure enough, as we expected, it too held a handful of magnificent Galician mirrors and we went on to catch some of these lovely carp from the lake.


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Nick Helleur The Way We Were 42

become aware of my own heavy breathing, so took a deep breath and held it until I was sure we were well past the last of the bivvies. Off in the distance, a fish walloped out, breaking the silence and spooking the coots whose cries spread around the lake, but they slowly faded as we turned away from the lake and headed off towards the long gravel drive to the big manor house. The stones on the drive were big and deep and difficult to walk on, not to mention cringingly loud, but the borders were high and dense, meaning there was no other option but to creep. We had a good couple of hundred yards of this before we could slip through a gap and down the bank to the banks of the big pit. Those next few minutes as we crept along the drive, constantly looking over our shoulders, will stay with me forever; at any second I was expecting a car’s headlights to come into view and turn into the lane. If that happened it was curtains because we had nowhere to hide. With only 50yds to go, the unthinkable happened, and the night suddenly lit up as a car came hurtling along the lane in the distance, the noise of the engine getting louder with every second… Oh ****! Our footsteps became louder and more frequent, then one of us, I don’t remember who, broke into a run, so we both bolted for the gap in the hedge, almost running straight past in the process. We needn’t have worried because the car didn’t slow down as it neared the entrance and it passed just as we dived down the steep bank to safety. Picking myself up off the floor I was met with a truly atmospheric scene as I looked out across the vast expanse that lay before me in the moonlight. A veil of mist hung eerily a foot or so above the surface, the sort you only get after

A superb fully from the little lake. Sadly the controlling club didn’t know what they had and stocked it with small carp to satisfy the demands of their members. The stocking killed off most of the established old Leneys – a familiar story over the years.

a hot midsummer day that’s followed by a still, clear night, and once more I became aware of my breathing against the stunning silence; man, it summed up in one glance exactly why I do what I do. A big tench rolled out in the lake, breaking the silence, and for the first time since leaving home I started to relax as I took in deep, slow breaths of the cool night air. It was here we switched to autopilot, and without saying a word, we set about getting a rod ready to drop in. The spot was a small, clear gravel area right in the edge, surrounded by thick, deep Canadian weed. The gravel lay in 3ft of water just below a pipe that trickled in from a nearby irrigation channel, directly in front of where we were sitting. It had formed after years of floodwater

had gushed into the lake through the pipe, depositing stones that had eventually formed the gravel hump. It was such an obvious area for an ambush and was visited regularly. Clearly it played a big part in the daily routine of the dozen or so ancient old Galician mirrors that had lived in the 100-acre+ lake for more than half a century. The tiny gap in the hedgerow, although overgrown, had obviously been made by the estate keeper who had, at some point, cleared the grill behind the pipe to drop the level in the channel earlier in the year. When we were both ready, which took a little longer than normal as we didn’t want to risk using a torch, we crept down to the edge and, ever so slowly, lowered our respective rigs onto the hard gravel, with a small PVA bag of chopped boilies and pellets attached to each

It’s early doors on a massive stretch of water and it’s time to pack up the trolley and toddle off before the world awakes!

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Big natural waters holding classic old carp… give me a piece of that any day of the week.

Wet, tired, and happy, the adventure was far from over as we had to get back to the car and away without being seen

stayed there and watched the magnificent lake come to life as the day dawned, but we had to be away, and time was of the essence. Within a minute we had packed the kit and placed it ready for a quick exit and then, without saying a word, we went through the routine we had both performed a thousand times before and set about weighing the ancient beast before choosing somewhere to take a couple of shots. I can’t remember why, but for whatever reason we only got a couple of shots of the great fish, either one of our batteries had died or we had no slide film, I don’t recall which. Either way, the shot reproduced in this piece is the only one in existence and isn’t of great quality, although in truth that doesn’t matter one bit because the memories of that trip will stay with me forever, and it summed up exactly why I fish for the carp I fish for. With a long, lingering look I gently lowered the linear back into his home and held it until it pulled from my grasp and slowly ambled off through the weed. That carp was more than twice my age and it was a great privilege to catch and hold it. Wet, tired, and happy, the adventure was far from over as we had to get back to the car and away without being seen. It was now light enough that we could easily be seen, so we decided to make a break for it and bolted along the drive keeping low and tight to cover. We made it to the lane with no problems and as we passed the day ticket fishery further along the road, we pulled up our hoods and kept walking, hoping that if we were spotted by any early birds they would think we were just turning up to fish. We needn’t have worried because the snoring occupants of the bivvies we had passed on our way to fish were still snoring loudly, which set us both off and we chuckled all the way back to the car. It had been a truly great night. All that way and all that effort for just a few hours’ fishing. Was it worth it? Oh yes, and then some! Adventure, friends, and magnificent carp, all the inspiration I’ll ever need to keep at it. Till next time. NH

Nick Helleur

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turn the bend and disappear from sight up towards the big house. “Man, that was a close one,” said Tel, chuckling. Indeed it was, but, if anything, it only made the night and the capture of the carp even more special. Dizzy, with my heart pounding and with all the adrenaline pumping through my body, I had to sit and roll a smoke and regain my composure for a bit before sorting out the fish, and it was nice to sit for a couple of minutes and take in the predawn, which was truly breathtaking in all its splendour. The vast lake was millpond calm, stretching out like a giant mirror before us. I could easily have

The Way We Were

rig. Our hookbaits were only a few feet apart so it really would be pot luck who would get the pick-up if any carp drifted in for a look while on their travels, but that didn’t matter one bit to either of us, as the whole mission was a joint effort. The whole adventure was what was important and it wouldn’t matter which of us got a bite, just the chance to see a piece of living history on the bank, to touch it, and examine it at close quarters in all its majesty would be reward enough. With the bait out on the spot and the line slackened off, I lay the rod in the grass, loosened off the clutch, and got comfortable on the mat beneath an old corkscrew willow tree and began to roll a smoke. The only sounds in the dead of night were the occasional bark from a muntjac deer far off in the distance and the occasional slosh of tench rolling out in the lake over the thick weed. We talked in whispers for a while and shared a flask of hot tea to keep out the chill. Tel is a tea addict and is never without a flask. Me? Well, I can take it or leave it, but I was glad of the hot drink because I was starting to feel the chill a little. Another smoke and I pulled my coat over me and huddled down on the mat to keep warm. Tel set his alarm for 3.30 a.m. as we wanted to be sure to be back to the car and away before the world awoke. Tiredness quickly overcame me and I was soon out like a light, and lost in the most vivid dream I’d had for a long time. The next thing I knew all hell broke loose, I could hear a clutch ripping – well, more of a tortured howling is probably a better description, as what was obviously a carp bolted like a scalded cat from beneath our feet and very nearly took the rod with it. I must admit that it took a few seconds before I came round fully and realised it was my rod! The carp responded as all uncaught big pit fish do and bolted for the middle of the lake, fast and hard, flat-rodding me savagely time after time until the incredible pressure and weed slowed it to a stop, far out in the lake, by which time it must have gone nearly a full 100yds; such incredible power. Straining into the mist in the half-light, I ever so slowly gained line a few feet at a time. All the while we could hear heavy and deep sloshing as the carp kept wallowing on the surface. It was clear that it had used up much of its energy on that first incredible run and now it was just a case of keeping the pressure on and pumping it back through the weed towards Tel, who was waiting quietly with the sunken net in readiness, crouching on the very spot where only minutes before it had been feeding. We were so involved with the battle and landing the fish that we didn’t notice the approaching car till it was almost too late and a pair of headlights swung into the drive, just as I pulled the now beaten carp the last few feet and over the drawcord of the net. Amazingly, Tel lifted the net around our prize with seconds to spare, and we both dived against the steep bank and lay face down as the car passed within feet of us on its way towards the manor house. A close call for sure, and for a split second I thought we’d been caught, but I looked up, spitting dirt and grit from my mouth and wiping leaves and twigs from my forehead, just in time to catch a glimpse of the car’s tail lights

This shot was taken in 1972, and the angler shown with the brace is Gerald Stratford. The carp he is holding is the very same carp I caught all those years later – just check out the scale pattern! Chris Ball kindly found this picture for me and sent it with a letter from Gerald detailing that the carp had, indeed, been stocked in the lake by Donald Leney back in 1955!


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Way We Were CW225  

‘THE WAY WE WERE’ BY NICK HELLEUR, TAKEN FROM THE JUNE 2009 ISSUE. Nick Helleur takes us back to the old-school days for a tale of one part...