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Discovering Ashlea Pool
By Mike Mintram

Stories have abounded about Ashlea Pool, one of the earliest and most important big-carp waters. But as one of those who discovered its potential, Michael Mintram knows the truth here he debunks some of the myths, and tells the real story of those early days.

It is now almost 40 years since I first fished a small, overgrown and heavily weeded lake near Cirencester, Gloucestershire. Unbeknown to me this water, Station Pool later renamed Ashlea was to become very famous within the carp-fishing world.
In 1965 I had been carp fishing with my late father, Tom Mintram, for about five years. During this time we had fished various waters, catching carp to double figures, but we were constantly searching for alternative locations. In an effort to find that Eden, the lake could hold 20lb-plus carp, we left no stone unturned. Despite many fruitless journeys, we had not discovered anywhere remotely promising!
In August of that year, we went to fish a lake near St.Ives Cambridgeshire, owned by Jim Eggett. We had fished this water several times previously knowing that although it did not contain many carp, the few that it held were very big and hard to catch.
This in no way deterred us, and during this visit we were approached by another fisherman, a general float angler. He told us that he lived in Swindon, Wiltshire, and that not to far from him was a small Pool that he fished for tench. He had seen “very, very big carp” weighing, he thought, about 30lb or more in the crystal-clear water.
At first, Dad and I took very little notice. We had heard so many similar tales from various sources concerning numerous waters. However, the chap was persistent and during further conversations throughout the weekend. I began to feel there was some truth in what he was telling us.
He seemed an honest man and I was convinced that he did in fact know what he was talking about. Before he packed up and left, he gave Dad the name, address and telephone number of the owner of the lake, Hubert Perry, who lived in Cirencester. Dad, ever a man of action, telephoned Mr Perry when we returned home to Surrey to discuss to possibility of paying him a visit and doing a spot of fishing at his lake. Mr Perry was agreeable, and so we arranged a convenient date a few weeks hence.
At this time we were also fishing a water in Kent, which was also to become renowned: Fred Spice’s lake near Seven Oaks. It was in fact a working gravel pit that Fred had stocked with fish from Donald Leney in the 1950’s, and these were growing quite well. We had been quite successful, catching a fare number of these very difficult fish and have become friendly with a few of the regular anglers. I particularly remember three of the fishermen: John Cannacot, who came from Bexley Heath in Kent, and a duo we later referred to as the Battle Boys, who lived in Sussex.
These two, Ken and Jim, were seriously huge, the type you really would not want to argue with. One worked as a building trade labourer and the other was a plumber for the water board. Any problems and it was in your own best interest to have the Battle Boys on your team. Ironically, our nick name for them was not undeserved although it was based on their hometown, Battle in Sussex, and not on their temperament!
After learning of the pool near Cirencester and our subsequent visit to Spice’s, we decided to discuss our forthcoming trip with our three chums to see if they wanted to be included in the reconnoiter. Receiving and enthusiastic response from Ken and Jim but a negative from John (I can not recall why he was unable to join us now), we arranged to drive to Gloucestershire the following weekend to see if the stories we had been told held any truth.
Ken and Jim arrived the following Saturday to collect us from our house on Epsom Downs in an old American car. It was all red and chrome with massive tail fins and a multitude of tail-lights, similar to a ’57 Chevrolet, although I doubt it was the genuine article.
It fascinated the neighbours and was the talk of the road. It only did ten miles to the gallon and would have bankrupted them, had petrol not been so cheap back then – about 1s 6d (7 1/2p) a gallon. The lads were more than happy to drive hundreds of miles on a mission for bigger carp.
All the gear was stowed on board and father, myself, Ken and Jim climbed in with the suspension groaning. We were off on our latest adventure, which was not quite how my long-suffering mother described the jaunt! Out to Guildford we traveled up and over the road known as the Hog’s Back, a high point in Surrey with views over the rolling countryside. On to Basingstoke and Newbury (no motorways then), through the Kennet valley, passing charming rustic villages. (Chilton Foliat stays with me as a particularly fine example of an idyllic pastoral scene.) Then on to Swindon and finally to Cirencester.
We managed to find Hubert Perry’s house without to much difficulty and Dad went to speak to him while Ken, Jim and I stayed in the car. After what seemed like an age (father liked to chat), he emerged with Mr Perry and we were formally introduced
Hubert was a stocky chap who walked with a pronounced limp, using a stick. We chatted for a while, Hubert telling us that as a young man, he had been a professional footballer playing for Bristol City but had sustained an injury, leaving him with what he termed “his gammy leg”. We were not particularly interested in his medical history and were only itching to see the lake he owned. But for courtesy’s sake we had to feign an interest.
Eventually he climbed into his car, a big old Humber Sceptre or Super Snipe, and we followed hom for a couple of miles though the lanes to a picturesque Cotswold village. Each house was built of the warm stone which typifies this beautiful area, most having slate roofs. Many had beautiful gardens where hollyhocks and roses spilled from dry stone walls in cascades of colour.
We passed though the village and came to a dilapidated field gate where we stopped. Hubert opened it and we followed him down a deeply rutted track into a field. It was then that I caught a glimpse of the water through a belt of trees as it glistened in the sunshine.
I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise: the magic that was Ashlea Pool had begun to cast its spell. It was simply the most ethereal place I had ever seen, totally concealed and appeared untouched by the ravages of the modern world.
We parked in the field and walked to the edge of the pool. We were struck by the clarity of the water and the overwhelming amount of weed. It was a beautiful little lake, very picturesque but sadly neglected. There did not appear to be any obvious swims and certainly it was not regularly fished.
The pool had an open aspect apart from the opposite bank, which was heavily wooded. Reeds covered the majority of one end where a broken-down causeway was visible. We stood speechless, amazed at the clarity of the water. It was literally as clear as tap water. Had it been ten feet deep, you could have seen the bottom.
However, all we could see was masses of lilies. Some appeared to reach the surface though most were submerged. These were a variety we had seen in some rivers and we referred to them as water cabbages. These invasive plants smothered the entire lake. There did not seem a clearing anywhere.
While the others stood chatting, I wandered away to the far end of the lake where the trees overhung the water in one corner. Looking in the margin, almost right at my feet I saw a carp. It looked about 7lb or 8lb, no bigger. As I watched, it sensed my presence and swam off, disappearing among the water cabbages.
I returned to the others and told them what I had seen. I can still hear Father’s acid retort to this day: “I hope we haven’t come all this bloody way for a few small fish.” We all felt a bit uneasy, having been in this situation many times previously, traveling hundreds of miles only to be disappointed.
Hubert Perry had an old bus parked in the field that he used as a holiday home for himself and his wife. It was an old 1950s coach, fully equipped with a cooker and all conveniences. He told us that he and his good lady spent a great deal of time pottering about at the lake enjoying the peace and quiet.
As Hubert wandered off to his vehicle, we decided to walk the entire circuit of the lake and pick our swims. We never saw another fish enroute: just endless quantities of water cabbages. However, when we reached the far side, we discovered a couple of clearings just several yards across, but only it that one area.
Jim decided he would fish into the clearing while Father, Ken and I walked back round to the bank where we had parked the car, deciding to fish in a line. We unloaded all our gear, got ourselves sorted out and spent the next hour or so setting up our swims. I went down to the far corner of the lake where I had seen the fish. Ken fished in the middle and Father went ot the opposite end of the lake. So in this fashion, we had the entire bank covered.
After we had organized our tackle, we had some food and tea and commenced the serious task of fishing, despite having seen no further fish. I think I put margin baits out if my memory is correct: two bottom baits, both in the margin there was no where else you could put a bait, due to the thick weed.
We all fished using Heron bite alarms, standard issue all those years ago, and settled down for the night. I remember that I had a pretty good unbroken night’s sleep, not seeing or hearing anything apart from an owl hooting in a tree close by. At first light I woke and recast the baits. It was then that Ken came to tell me that Dad had caught a fish in the night at about 2am on floating crust. I asked Ken how big it was but he told me that they had not weighed it yet. It was in a sack in Dad’s swim but it was a good fish.
I was quite excited by this news and hurried along to see Dad, who was calmly making tea before he proceeded to tell us how he had caught the fish. Apparently, in front of where he was fishing, there were some lilies that reached the surface and sometime around 1am, he heard a sucking noise coming from them. He was certain it was a carp on the surface feeding, so he wound in one of his bottom baits and cast out a floating crust.
It had only been out there a short time when he saw a big swirl as the fish took the bait. It took him about ten minutes to land the carp on his own as it dived repeatedly into the weed and got bogged down several times before he was able to get it free and into the net.
Ken, who had heard all the commotion, went to see what was happening. After the fish was landed, they decided to sack it up and wait for morning before weighing it. Ken and I heaved the sack out of the water and weighed the fish. We took some photographs, though Ken’s turned out to be considerably more professional! The mirror carp weighed 18lb 4oz, and we returned it to the water, watching as it swam above the lilies before diving for cover.
I have heard the comments over the years by several people that we never caught anything at Ashlea the first season we fished it. I can categorically assure all the sceptics that, to the contrary, Dad most certainly caught one the first night he fished there.
Jim, who had come around from the other bank, told us that we should go and see the fish in his swim. He said they were far larger than the one we had just returned. Off we trooped to the far corner where Jim was setup. Sure enough, as we stood there, four fish appeared as if from nowhere.
Into the clearing they swam inline to where Jim had his baits. We had an exceptional view owing to the water clarity and held our breath as they passed over Jim’s bottom baits, completely ignoring them.
They were certainly larger that the one Dad had caught and made an impressive sight. After breakfast we continued fishing, seeing more fish on the surface, but not in great numbers. We tried floating crust but they were not interested. We stayed another night without any action and left the following morning arranging to return soon. It was possibly a fortnight before we did.
On our next trip Ken, Jim and John Cannacot joined us. John was a chap in his twenties, keen as mustard on carp fishing and a good angler. Everything he did was based on Dick Walker’ writings. He even camouflaged his line as per the Walker philosophy.
He had built a set of Mark IV cane rods from kits supplied by JB Walker, and a beautiful job he had made of them too. They were certainly the best home-built rods I have ever seen. He was a very clever chap and a real perfectionist.
John fell madly in love with the place. Not only was it picturesque and unfished, but it also had a carp-fishing ambience. Modern anglers would find this terminology fanciful now, fishing - as they so often do – bleak expanses of water with no character in their quest for big fish.
You had to of lived trough the early days of carp fishing to appreciate that each water had it’s own appeal, and Ashlea certainly had that in abundance. Many waters I have fished had a similar atmosphere, but none more so than Ashlea and, as I later discovered, Redmire. John, being a receptive chap, felt much the same as I did about the pool, appreciating both its seclusion and tranquility. The other attraction of Ashlea was its unknown quality, and thus it presented us with a challenge that only added to its allure.
It was about this time that Father started talking about forming a syndicate to control the fishing. After much discussion with Hubert Perry, he managed to persuade to allow the water to be run on this basis.
There was a great deal of haggling over financial matters. Hubert, being a wily old country chap and always keen to make some extra money, finally agreed an annual fee. I cannot recall the amount but feel it was possibly about sixty pounds or thereabouts.
Hubert wanted to retain the facility of a few day-tickets for friends and this was agreed. To the best of my knowledge, know one else ever fished there.
The other clause forming part of the contract was that we should undertake a lot of general clearing up, weed removal and swim clearance. Hubert was very anxious that the rushes growing in the shallow end were encroaching too far into the water. We assured him that once the fishing had ended, it would be are first task, never appreciating how difficult this would be.
We rashly agreed his terms, little knowing what we had let ourselves in for! In retrospect, we had really undertaken a mammoth task, being over-enthusiastic and somewhat naïve. The restoration was to be undertaken in the winter of 1965-66.
When Father suggested the syndicate idea to John, Ken and Jim, they jumped at the opportunity for regular fishing there, despite all the proposed work. This was the start of syndicate fishing at Ashlea back in late September-early October 1965. Today, forty years later, the water is still fished by a small group of anglers.

Part Two: Catching Fish in those early days.

 

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