Chris Ball | Back in the Day

Chris again rummages through his store of epic carp tales, and the ‘pages’ this month fall open at the story of a monster carp that existed in the 1970s in a small secluded Kent lake, known as East Peckham

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I was afraid to breathe, afraid to blink. I was, I think, afraid of the fish!” Those words were written by the late Mike Harris when describing an encounter with a carp of huge proportions he saw in 1974 at East Peckham Lake, in Kent. Mike, along with constant fishing companion Bruce Ashby, had got to hear of this four-acre lake after Mike met Steve Alldridge. Steve and his friend Henry Weeks had found a small lake, and had approached the owner who lived in a big house at one end. They persuaded him to allow the two of them to fish. Things then moved on at pace and ultimately the lake was netted and as many of the small resident roach and bream as possible were removed. It was then stocked with Donald Leney carp and also carp from Peter Caslett.

They grew and thrived and soon became big fish. The trouble was, only six people were allowed to fish and the chance to become a member seemed remote – after all, who would give up the prospect to fish a place like this?

However, when Mike and Bruce least expected it, Steve Alldridge rang to say a couple of places had become available. Needless to say, the following day, the pair were on the bank of East Peckham watching great big carp basking and cruising – they thought it was paradise. There seemed plenty of carp in the lake but besides a 19lb common on the first visit, hooked by Bruce, it was a few weeks before another was caught, again by Bruce. By the end of the first year Mike had caught none.

The following year and almost to the day of them joining, Mike got one, a beauty of 27lb. The following day Mike caught a 25lb, a 22lb and an 18-pounder. From then on the pair caught with increasing frequency. In fact, the following year the duo landed 21 carp over 20lb, which caused quite a stir in the carp world. As time went by their best fish from East Peckham weighed 34lb and they thought mid-30s were as big as they could expect. Then a phone call from Steve Alldridge rocked Mike and Bruce. Henry Weeks had caught a fish which he thought was over 40lb – remember this was 1972. Henry was fishing on his own, caught the fish, but for some reason had no scales to weigh it. In one of the outhouses near the big house he found some rusty old Salter scales and found the carp to be 40lb in weight. On Mike and Bruce’s next visit they checked these old scales with their reliable ones and these pulled round to 42lb at the point the old scales showed 40lb.

This carp was so much bigger than anything that they caught or had seen. When they quizzed Steve Alldridge he informed them that at some stage a few fish bigger than the general run of the original stocking had been placed in the water. This was great news, for neither of them wanted to know the weight of the biggest fish in any water – as Mike said, “I like to keep my dreams alive.” Two years later on a warm sunny September day one such dream was so nearly realised...

Mike soon found three good fish circling around on the top in a windward corner. However, to his dismay he found that instead of putting a bag each of floaters and sinkers in the car, both bags were sinkers. The only thing Mike had that would float, were some crusts off his sandwiches. He baited with a small crust and crept carefully round to where he had seen the carp. The first cast caught on some grass behind him and landed only 10ft out, but he decided to leave it there to see if a carp came across it. It soon drifted in to end up a couple of feet from the bank. Just as he was about to recast, he thought he saw something deep down, a kind of orange flash of colour. It then moved and Mike realised it was a carp’s mouth opening and closing. It came higher and higher in the water – it was a gigantic carp, far bigger than anything he’d seen before. Then, with Mike still in shock, it moved towards the crust, opened its mouth and sipped it in. As he set the hook a huge eruption exploded under his feet as the rod was slammed down... the reel screeched and the hook pulled out!

The following year, in October, the same carp (almost certainly) was spotted by Mike and Bruce swimming just below the surface. As they watched Bruce said in a rather shaky voice: “That is enormous – it’s a monster.”

Although Mike and Bruce were always looking for this particular fish on their visits, they never saw the leviathan again... ever.

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Mick Clifford