THE HISTORY OF CARP IN THE UK
The Development of Carp Fishing in the UK
By Chris Ball
The roots of fishing for carp in the UK began from the need to eat a plentiful food source, to hundreds of years later becoming the greatest phenomena to hit UK angling during the latter half of the last century and into the present one.
Carp were in the UK as long ago as the late 14th or early 15th century and only a little later were being reared here too. Hand in hand with this comes the fact that the use of a rod and line as a means to catch a food source over time somehow became ‘recreational’ and a pleasurable interest to follow.
But there were hurdles to jump. I only have to delve into the written works of Robert Marston, the famous editor of the Fishing Gazette, who in 1904 wrote, “There are exceptions to all rules, but as a rule I should not advise an angler to waste much time in fishing for carp – life it too short and the art of catching carp takes too long to learn.”
This statement comes on the back of clear evidence that carp were being introduced for angling purposes from the 1890s onwards. Further weight to this comes from a vast research program conducted by my friend, Kev Clifford, who revealed that a prominent role in the introduction of King carp (selectively bred carp which displayed fast-growing characteristics) into the UK was being masterminded by a gentleman named Thomas Ford who ran a company called Manor Fisheries. This Caistor, Lincolnshire-based business supplied a good many King carp at the time which were distributed throughout the length and breath of the country.
However I can’t progress much further without mentioning an incredible character called Otto Overbeck. Here are some gems from Kev Clifford’s book, ‘A History of Carp Fishing’ published in 1992.
“It was the name and deeds of Otto Overbeck that really caught the public’s attention and there is no doubt that Overbeck was the master carp angler of his time. He went to considerable lengths in his study of carp, both at Croxby Pond (which held carp since the early eighteen hundreds) and with captive fish confined to a large concrete tank outside his home in Grimsby. He considered and developed various special baits and refined several aspects of carp fishing. Overbeck was born in 1860 and his association with Croxby’s carp began in about 1890. Over the next 30 years he caught many carp, twice landing five in a day and during this time he acquired some understanding of the biology of the carp and their habits. He was dismissive of a number of fallacies previously held about carp and, through his scientific training and background, was instrumental in bringing about some logical thinking into carp fishing. The acclaim he received at the time as the countries most successful and knowledgeable carp angler was largely deserved.”
However, other anglers started to gain some kind of association with carp, take Mr J. Goodwin who fished at long range (using a Malloch Sidecaster reel, a kind of forerunner to the fixed spool reel) at Richmond Park, London for the carp. But on the horizon was a notable carp fishery that was to hold the limelight for many years - Cheshunt Reservoir.
Extending to over 14-acres in 1910 it was leased by the long-established and famous Highbury Angling Society. Amongst its members were many influential and well-known anglers/writers of the time. These included William Senior, Hugh Sheringham and Robert Marston. When the 1911 season started a string of big carp were caught by members the largest weighing a creditable 17lb 2oz. Cheshunt was to rule the roost for the next fifteen years or so culminating in a new record carp weighing 20lb 3oz landed by John Andrews in October 1916.
A clue to how big carp could grow in the UK was on record throughout the early part of the last century with list of fish which were either netted or found dead. Records show that Virginia Water in Surrey yielded a 26lb fish in 1912, Hampton Court was the scene for a netted 37-pounder in 1916, also a 24-pounder was reported from a Birmingham reservoir in 1921 and in 1921 at a Kent lake someone found a 26lb mirror floating dead in the margins.
A new record
One of the most notable events to happen in UK carp fishing history was the exciting news from July 1930 that a new record carp had been captured from Mapperley Reservoir, Nottingham - a monster of 26lb. This 29-acre reservoir on the Shipley Estate which dates back to Medieval times, and had 14 farms, its own railway station, water supply, gas works, a canal and wharf. The carp had been stocked into the reservoir around 1911 by the then owner Alfred Miller, though the actual number of carp released into the water is shrouded in mystery, one thing was for sure, they found the environment to their liking. For many years they lay unnoticed save for a gamekeeper or member of the public who maybe glimpsed a vast dark shape gilding through the shallow water in the ‘inlet pool’ at the very head of the reservoir, or maybe witnessing a huge fish leaping clear of the water on a early summers morning.
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It wasn’t until the early part of 1930 fishing season that an individual, Albert Buckley, who would leave his mark forever in the annuls of UK carp fishing history, was to taste success. Having fished a number of the other lakes on the Shipley estate mainly for pike, Albert was told that the reservoir held some monster carp which no one had ever landed on rod and line. In early July Albert and colleagues were fishing for roach at the reservoir, a friend fishing close by hooked a fish from the dam wall which he said was a big carp. However, it didn’t stay in contact for long and was soon lost. Albert watched as his friend re-tackled and cast in. Sure enough within a short space of time his float disappeared again and another big carp was hooked. This one went shooting out into the lake at great speed, then stopped and turned back the way it came arriving back at the foot of the dam wall in double quick time. Then in spectacular fashion it shot off parallel along the dam wall for over 200 yards with angler and friends in hot pursuit! Suddenly it stopped just a few yards out from the dam wall. Albert peered into the clear water and just perceived the end of its tail. That was the signal for the fish to charge headlong straight up the lake and after all 150 yards of line was taken, the line broke fortunately near the hook. Albert estimated the fish was on for over 2½ hours… what excitement.
Albert Buckley had noted that on this day the wind was blowing from a westerly direction straight towards the dam and that a number of big fish, almost certainly carp, were heard crashing out of the water in the general area.
On Saturday 19th July Albert and his father set forth to do battle with the elusive Mapperley carp. The wind still blew from the west as the pair set up on the dam wall. It was the spot where he’d seen his friend hook a number of carp on previous visits. Albert cast in. He used honey flavoured paste fished hard on the bottom with 4 or 5 pieces of paste thrown in around his float. Nothing happened for an hour then Albert saw a great carp roll. After a few more minutes several other carp jumped much closer. Suddenly his float vanished beneath the waves and a great battle began. Having witnessed the disasters to his friend two weeks before Albert was well equipped with plenty of line on the reel. Even so it took around 150 yards before the fish stopped and very slowly came back toward him. Exactly 55-minutes later the net welded by his father lifted around the first verified carp even taken on rod and line from Mapperley Reservoir - it weighed 16lb. Within ten minutes of arriving back he hooked another and after a similar battle a 14-pounder was banked.
This brace of carp landed on light tackle showed Albert he was on the right track to land more and the following Thursday, 24th July was set aside for his next visit.
Fishing alone that day Albert wrote the following which appeared shortly afterwards in The Angler’s News, a fishing periodical of the time. “On July 24th I got four carp, 9lb, 11lb, 15lb and 26lb. I caught them all on with brown bread paste mixed with honey. It took me nearly 1½-hours to land the 26-pounder. I have a very large landing net but I could not use it, so I had to use the gaff, which broke, so I had to finish up getting him out with my hands. As soon as I got the carp on the bank I conveyed it to the gamekeeper’s house nearby. His scales weighed up to 25lb but these would not weight the fish. At this the keeper guessed it to be between 28lb and 30lb.” Albert could not get it properly weighed until 8.30pm when a weight of 26lb was recorded.
Buckley’s carp above all others inspired numbers of other anglers to try their hand at fishing for carp, indeed a full account by Buckley appeared in a very influential fishing book by one of the catalysts of modern day carp fishing, Denys Watkins-Pitchford, known better as the writer and artist ‘BB’. In his book published after the end of the Second World War, (1945) The Fisherman’s Bedside Book.
In the years that followed Buckley’s capture the greater availability of carp swimming in UK waters meant numbers of fish up to 10lb in weight were captured, mostly by accident (and a great many that were lost leaving the angler with a racing pulse as they were spectacularly busted up). But evidence now and then showed the fact that there were indeed monster carp swimming unseen in British waters. Mapperley itself provided confirmation of this when at least one fish was found washed up dead after being swept over the slipway at the dam end – rumour suggests some were in the 30lb-35lb class.
In 1937 Mapperley again provided further evidence that it held big carp when Les Brown captured a 23¼lb mirror (and followed that up in 1941 with 20½lb mirror.) But it was at the end of the Second World War that another famous water started to stamp it’s authority on the pursuit of fishing for big carp – Dagenham Lake in Essex.
Albert Buckley’s 26-pounder record breaker, one of four carp he caught in a day in July 1930.
The club that was involved in the development of Dagenham Lake, The Becontree and District Angling Society, was formed in 1932. Barely a dozen miles or so from central London was the society’s Boyer’s Pit - later re-named Dagenham Lake. It was stocked with carp in 1932 and the following year other carp were placed in the water. Then in 1938 a batch of Hungarian carp were added - all the fish, not just the carp, grew well in the rich environment.
In 1943 a 16¾lb mirror was landed by Harry Evans, this drew attention to the place for indeed this was a big carp landed by fair angling means on rod and line. Come early July and within two days of one another came two glorious 20-pounders. The first a 22-pounder landed on maggots by Arthur Horwood, the second a deep bodied 23lb mirror by Frank Scott. Soon speculation was rife that Dagenham lake had the potential to produce a new record carp. Though a number of dedicated anglers who fished for the Dagenham carp were to find out soon enough; those fish weren’t going to be a push over.
Major George Draper was one such angler. He was keen, he often fished two, sometimes three nights a week in the pursuit of the carp, he knew he was getting close to landing something special, but had to wait a further year before that golden chance came and a near record carp finally plunged into his waiting net. At 25lb 9oz it was the second largest carp ever seen on the end of a line in the country. Like a number of the large carp caught at the time it set up and we have details about this mirror - 33½in long by 30in girth. The following year, 1948, was a bumper season for Becontree & District members, right from the off double-figure carp were landed and as June passed into July bigger fish were caught, an 18lb 14oz common was recorded on 5th July, and then another 20lb carp was captured this time by name forever associated with the Dagenham carp, Harry Grief.
I once met this lovely old gentleman at the Carp Society ‘Richard Walker Remembrance Conference’ in June 1988. Though no doubt slightly overawed by the occasion he appeared onstage with other surviving members of the famed Carp Catchers’ Club to give a glimpse of what fishing for carp was really like in the 1940s/1950s. He still talked of carp in an excited voice as he relived some of those Dagenham moments.
George Draper captured his second twenty-pounder a few weeks after Harry’s fish and days later the best Dagenham carp of the year was taken by a Len Singer at 21lb 15oz which displayed nice proportions of 30in length by 27½in girth.
Dagenham carp burst forth in ever greater numbers during 1950, with Harry Grief coming within a whisker of beating the Mapperley record fish with a 25¾lb common – it turned out the be the largest recorded from this marvellous fishery, but not Harry’s last big’un from the lake. Nearly fifteen years after catching his first notable carp from the pit Harry Grief banked a mirror of 23½lb on the opening day of the 1958 season.
The redoubtable Richard Walker caught his first 20lb carp at Dagenham on the last of July 1952 along with a 17½lb mirror the same afternoon – this catch caused much excitement and admiration amongst members.
Though Dagenham Lake reined supreme as a major carp fishery throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, (during the 1950 season alone the first eight places in the Angler’s News Notable Fish List for carp, including three 20lb plus fish were from Dagenham Lake.) However, it was about to be eclipsed by another lake far away on the other side of the country. After Redmire Pool was discovered in late 1951 it would cast its shadow over carp fishing for the next forty years and become a dominate force which drove fishing for carp to new exciting heights that the general angling public could never have dreamed of.
The unearthing of a small, almost insignificant reach of stillwater, initially stumbled upon by anglers who fished in the Ross-on-Wye district of Gloucestershire was to bear much fruit. Angling in the early 1950s was only just starting to recover from the war years, and not unreasonably most people just wanted to catch anything, let alone a carp which had a formidable reputation of taking a lifetime to grow big and if you ever unlucky enough to find yourself attached to one… well it was goodbye to hook, float and several yards of line.
Anglers by nature love stories of big fish and places that hold them and it was this spark which probably first alerted one or two members of the Gloucestershire Anglers’ Association to the potential of a small private pond near Llangarron to the west of Ross-on-Wye.
This pool, around 3-acres in size, had been formed possibly as far back as the early 17th century by damming the small stream that had gouged out a path in a fold of the Gloucestershire countryside. It held trout sometime in the early 1930s though its main purpose in life was to supply water to the big house on the hill - Bernithan Court. This task was achieved by the installation of a hydraulic ram-pump situated in a small pump house to one end of the dam (this small building still stands today).
Continual problems with weed and scum clogging the intake of the pump value forced the owners to look at ways to improve the situation. Help was sort from the company that had supplied the trout to the Court, The Surrey Trout Farm and United Fisheries.
Many carp anglers will have heard of carp called “Leney’s” named after the man who headed the Surrey Trout Farm - Donald Leney. It was probably at the farm’s suggestion that stocking with carp might alleviate the problems with weed and in turn help the pump situation. In any event carp fishing history is blessed with evidence that Bernithan Court Water (renamed Redmire Pool in late 1952) was stocked with 50 yearling carp on 10th March 1934. They came from the Midland Fishery, a part of the Surrey Trout Farm operation at Nailsworth, some 30-miles or so from Ross-on-Wye. These prime, fast growing, mainly mirror carp of the Galician race of carp, were released into a water with a haven of food that had little else to feed on it. These massive events were to unfold less than twenty years later, and what happened changed the face of UK carp fishing forever.
The first anglers
When researching my book, The King Carp Waters (Crowood Press 1993) during the late 1980s I went with Chris Yates to the Royal Arms in Langarron - probably the closest pub to the lake - to meet with a character that Chris and Rod Hutchinson had met in the pub when they first joined Jack Hilton’s Redmire syndicate back in 1972. His name was Jack Farmer (Jack the Roadman) and he knew the area around the Bernithan estate since he was a boy. Though he’d been on the land surrounding the pool after the Second World War, he could never remember seeing any big fish floating around - though he did ‘snitch’ many an eel from the pool.
One of the first accounts of giant carp being spotted in Bernithan Court Water came from Bob Richards, a Gloucester tobacconist; he reported the following in the Carp Catchers’ Club rotary letters.
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“I first heard of it in the autumn of 1950 from a member of the club I joined to get experience on fishing generally and to learn the ways and outlook on fishing from those men who go fishing in inter-club matches etc. The member who told me, Harold Bolton, had fished there all one night and the next day, in the year I believe 1949, quite by chance owing to the River Garron being in flood at the time. He told me he had no luck at all but during the day while fishing from the punt he saw monster carp cruising about near the surface.
“He explained to me it was very weedy and difficult to fish from the banks because of the weed, but I could doubtless get permission if I cared to try, which I did that evening, and had permission to fish the following Thursday; the owner, Mrs Barnardiston, asking me to call at the Court for the paddle for the punt, which on all occasions I did.” Bob Richards managed the odd day in the autumn of 1950, but without luck. However the first Bernithan carp had been landed a few months before, a 6-pounder to a Mr Munro.
With renewed vigour, Bob Richards, determined to come face to face with a big carp fished a total of ten trips during the 1951, often accompanied by his friend, John Thorpe. On one of the trips Bob hooked a carp which promptly ran into the weed and broke him. He was shaken by the power of thing - would he get another chance?
Eric Higgs was the young son of one of the work hands on the estate, he met Bob a few times and was no doubt interested in seeing someone fish at the pool. By early October 1951 Bob Richards had talked to young Higgs with a view to him baiting up an area - breadpaste thrown into a spot in front of the big willows which formed such a striking feature close to the dam on the west bank.
Bob had planned to go fishing the following week, 3rd October, the weather being quite mind for the time of year. Little did Bob realise that this day’s fishing was to be a turning point from which UK carp fishing would never look back.
He had six bites that day, several fish were lost, but the last one hooked turned out to be a new British record carp in the shape of the countries first carp landed over 30lb - a magnificent 31¼lb linear mirror.
Though the fish had perished at capture it eventually turned up at the doorstep of a gentleman named Richard Walker. This man was a passionate angler with a real interest in carp - he was probably one of the, if not, the most successful carp fisher of the time. Richard made a fine job of mounting the fish and was naturally more than interested to hear more of the water from where it was caught.
During the winter of 1951/2 plans were laid for other anglers to fish at Bernithan, these included Richard Walker and his friend Pete Thomas and another carp fisherman of note, Dick Kefford. All had arrangements in place as soon as the following season started.
Opening the Floodgates
These set of circumstances opened the floodgates to the captures of large carp hardly anyone at the time could have dreamt of. The first weekend of the season Pete Thomas fishing with Walker landed the second largest carp recorded, a mirror of 28lb 10oz. Maurice Ingham from Louth, Lincolnshire banked a 24¾lb mirror in late July, then in September Richard Walker landed what was to become one of the most historic carp the UK had ever produced.
In the early hours of 13th September 1952 Dick Walker landed, with essential help from his friend Pete Thomas, a carp so large that the angling world at first thought it must be a hoax.
At the time the impact of a carp weighing 44lb landed from a small pool on the Welsh border is hard to explain. Perhaps an idea can be gotten by comparing someone running a 3-minute mile at the next Olympics. The difference is as stark and as great at that.
Better still was Walker’s decision to arrange to have the fish transported to the London Zoo at Regents Park. It became an overnight sensation and over the years masses of anglers and other folk came to look in wonder at this truly monstrous freshwater fish.
With Angling Times commencing publication the following year (1953) and Dick Walker writing a weekly column, carp fishing was given much attention. And of course Redmire Pool (re-named by request of Bernithan’s tenant) got plenty of coverage. When Dick Walker landed a 31¼lb common (true weight 34lb - but that's another story) on the opening weekend of the 1954 season, people then starting to talk as though he was a new messiah in fishing - and in many ways he was. To hold both first and second place of a species in the freshwater record list was something very few, if anyone, has done before or since (I’ll have to think about that one.)
Others fished at Redmire Pool through the 1950s; in the main they were friends of members of the Carp Catchers’ Club, (the original specimen group.) Indeed a number of guests landed big carp including Pat Russell, Jack Opie, Derek Davenport, Bob Rutland, May Berth-Jones (wife of CCC member Gerry) and Harry Kefford (brother of another CCC member Dick).
Maurice Ingham caught another 20-pounder in 1954 and Bob Richards another 30-pounder in 1956. Fish like these were just not around to be caught in the UK at the time, unless of course you fished at Redmire.
Another milestone event in Redmire’s history came in the early autumn of 1959 when Gloucester farmer and avid carp fisherman, Eddie Price, banked the UK’s second forty-pound carp. This carp went on, 21- years later, to become Chris Yates’ record mirror of 51½lb.
The Redmire Monsters
This subject would fill a book in itself, but suffice to say that the stories surrounding uncaught monster carp at Redmire almost rival the accounts of fish that were caught!
Many moons ago when corresponding with Dick Walker he wrote and told me in 1970 stating, “I don’t doubt that at one time there were carp in Redmire weighing in the region of 60lb or 70lb. My friends and I often saw fish that I would guess as being in this category, though I don’t think there were ever more than two or three of that size in the pool.”
Few of the early captures of big carp caught at Redmire were available again to be spotted in the water - they had either been removed or had died. So comparisons with other fish swimming about were plainly out of the question.
However in the early summer of 1954 Richard Walker handled a carp somewhat larger his record 44lb fish. The following extract comes from a letter I have from Dick dated 29th July 1970. “The biggest fish that I was ever able to weigh at Redmire was one that I caught in a landing net in 1954. This was a female fish that had been driven into shallow water by two or three smaller male fish, that being the year when the fish decided to spawn towards the end of June.
“This very large female fish had been driven so far into shallow water close to the bank that it was lying on its side and looked in some danger of remaining permanently stranded, so I paddled out, clapped my big carp net over it, pulled it to the shore, weighed it and then carried it down, with some effort, to the deep water near the dam and released it. This fish weighed 58lb; but I must add that it was considerably distended with spawn.”
Then we have the now famous picture that Eddie Price took in July 1958. This quote comes from Eddie Price’s diary written at the time.
“On the Sunday, midday, I took the punt out and drifted down the lake to observe any fish basking and to see if there was much fry about. There was little fry but I saw and photographed what was probably the biggest carp I shall ever see. Its head and part of its back protruded from the thick weed masses, and without exaggeration it seemed a foot across its back. I was only a yard from it. On my drifting nearer it slowly drew its bulk from the weed and slid silently from my view into the depths, leaving me with bulging eyes and a memory of a lifetime.”
Death and re-birth
By the early 1960s at Redmire Pool it maybe shown that the carp had learnt quicker than the anglers, catches of carp at Redmire over 20lb dwindled - five being caught in three years - before the UK become locked in ice for 12-weeks starting around Christmas 1962. The great freeze-up of 1962/3 is little remembered by anglers these days. It caused havoc at thousands of stillwaters and rivers - parts of the river Thames froze and even the sea froze around the stanchions of Brighton Pier! At Redmire the ice was thick enough for a farm hand to drive a tractor across its frozen wastes.
Come the thaw and many thought Redmire Pool’s fish stocks had succumbed like many other waters. Prior to the season starting few carp had been spotted and some reports claimed the pool was lifeless. Even though Pete Thomas landed a fine 20lb common in September 1963, many thought the place was finished.
But all was about to change in the extraordinary story of Redmire Pool. In the spring of 1965 two keen specimen hunters, Bob Rolph and Grahame Igglesden decided to find out where the hallowed pool was. To their credit they did just that, and upon entering the property over farm fields from the east they suddenly were confronted by the Redmire shallows. The most important thing about this event was the carp they saw. Loads of them and some big ones too, so it seemed the stories about the carp dying in the freeze-up where unfounded.
A chain of events happened where come the 1966 fishing season members of major specimen groups at the time could fish at Redmire on a day ticket basis. It was notable carp angler, John Nixon, himself the captor of a Redmire 23-pounder in 1961, who made all this happen after Bob Rolph and Grahame Igglesden had made known their visit had proved that the Redmire carp had survived the mighty freeze-up.
Fresh minds and youthful energy was put to the test as new techniques and baits were tried at Redmire. Some great fish were caught culminating in Devon Specimen Group member, Roger Bowskill, landing a superb 38½lb mirror in September 1966 - it was the same fish that Eddie Price had caught in 1959.
The following September a gentleman who would have a strong association with Redmire Pool in coming years made a successful visit to the pool - his name was Jack Hilton. Jack caught a 35lb mirror on that trip and for the next eight years the pool totally dominated his life. There is little doubt in my mind that Redmire had Jack Hilton by the throat… his house was named Redmire Cottage, his business was named Redmire Landscapes (his son Keith still has the same company business and name) and from 1968 Jack ran a syndicate on Redmire until he gave up fishing 1975.
Failure was not in Jack’s vocabulary and he stated at the time that here (at Redmire) the syndicate had the biggest carp in the country to fish for. The rules governing the fishing in no way hindered anglers and with just ten trusted dedicated carp anglers in the syndicate something was likely to happen - a record carp could be on the cards. And happen it did, once the days of potato and breadpaste were over in came such delights as maggots, sultanas and ultimately sweetcorn.
The amount of 20lb carp and bigger that Redmire held at the time was impressive – how does 60 such fish sound, in just 3-acres.
The experiments in baits yielded amazing results, people like Bill Quinlan, Tom Mintram and of course Jack Hilton were catching numbers of 20lb and even 30lb carp in the early 1970s at Redmire. However in 1972 things were about to change again in the story of Redmire Pool.
Two young carp anglers gained access to the syndicate at the time, their names Rod Hutchinson and Chris Yates. They brought a fresh and totally unfettered approach to the fishing at the mighty pool. With energy and commitment plus a touch of quirkiness the pair ran roughshod over all that had happened before. It was the small particle approach that won the day for these Redmire anglers. Rod, ever the bait experimenter, tried all manner of baits including hemp (very successful), chick peas, mini-maples, haricot beans, black eyed beans, jelly babies (I kid you not) shrimps and god knows what else. While Chris threw in pigeon racing beans, mungo beans, aduki beans and the most successful of them all, sweetcorn.
The sweetcorn incident is worth recording. Chris had taken a tin of Jolly Green Giant sweetcorn with him to eat. It was opened one July morning in 1972 to form part of the filling for an omelette. Using half the contents for the dish, it stuck Chris that it might be useful as a bait. He put a piece on the hook and threw it out. Within minutes he had a run; he put another piece on and had another run. Though the fish were small by Redmire standards, the bait showed promise…
Both Rod and Chris caught a great many carp from Redmire on particle baits that showed, at the time, a way forward. This theme was rammed home by Kevin Clifford in 1975 when he landed an amazing nine 20lb carp in a week. The thing Kev did different was to identify the sheer amount of sweetcorn a single carp could consume. Gone were the days of a small can or two of corn - Kev went armed with catering sized cans of the stuff.
The late 1970s saw the use of boilies at the pool for the first time. Successful Kent carper Roy Johnson used high protein boilies to great effect, and then later Len Bunn and Dick Weale with their ‘Black Majic’ amino acid based boilies did the trick.
A new record
Is there any better day to catch a record carp than opening day - when of course we here in the UK had a close season. Well that’s just what Chris Yates did on 16th June 1980 when he captured the UK first 50-pounder. It’s a little recorded fact that Redmire produced the first, 30lb, 40lb and 50lb carp, but there again we are talking about Redmire.
The capture of Chris Yates 51½lb mirror was a giant step forward in size anglers could expect carp in England to grow, yet now as I write over thirty-five years later we have an English record carp weighing over sixteen pounds more!
Other big carp
Many lakes in Kent which had been stocked with fast growing carp some years before started to produce wonderful catches in the 1960s onwards to the likes of fast rising stars such as Gerry Savage, Jim Gibbinson, Mike Harris and Bruce Ashby.
After a numbers of years, two 40lb carp were captured during the 1966 season, neither were from Redmire pool. The biggest a 42lb common came from the famous Billing Aquadrome, the other, a 40½lb mirror from a Hertfordshire Pit called Westbrook Mere. Ron Groombridge, a young apprentice carpenter, who lived nearby had the carp bug (real bad) and knew this local lake held some whoppers. To his credit he targeted these fish and one July evening his floating crust was taken by the monster.
It was during this period, the late 1960s, which saw an influx of young and determined men hell bent of catching ever larger carp. With fresh minds they reached out to catch their dreams, and in truth many succeeded, but likewise thousands didn’t. However progress was being made. Take the revelations of fishing for carp during the winter months. This really took off in the late 1960s. Anglers such as Kent’s Gerry Savage were catching more double-figure fish in the winter months than most other carp anglers did in the summer time. Gerry along with Jim Gibbinson, Mike Winter, Keith Dickens and Elliott Symak wrote extensively about cold water carp catching which spurred on many, including this author, to try their hand. Now fifty years later some truly huge fish (including a new UK record carp) have been landed in the depths of winter.
This was an era when thousands of new hopefuls joined the ranks of carp fishing. The availability of worthwhile waters holding decent carp were growing as each season went by. Tackle and tactics were becoming more and better refined and baits were being much more closely investigated. The likes of luncheon meat, sausage paste, Kit-e-Kat and other pet foods and eventually trout pellets were proving effective the country over. These were initially known as ‘specials’ and when the idea of boiling these baits which had eggs in their make up that formed an outer skin, the term ‘boilies’ became the name that has lasted ever since.
However the ingredients in boilies went through a revolution when the mind of Fred Wilton, a Stevedore from East London, gradually put together milk protein based powders along with vitamins and minerals to form a highly nutritional bait that once sampled by the carp was then searched out by them when on the feed. Fred Wilton’s high nutrient value (HNV) baits started to take waters apart and those first on his mixes (his friends) enjoyed unparalleled catches at the time. I can think of many successful carp anglers who fell under Fred’s spell, people like, Bob Morris, Robin Monday, Steve Edwards, Chris Haswell and even the great Jim Gibbinson.
Though a great deal of conjecture was aired at the time as to the validity of Fred’s theories, we know with hindsight that he was dead right. Simply put Fred Wilton unlocked the door to the now vast world of baits and ingredients which have become a major (world-wide) business in carp fishing.
From 1974 onwards the size of carp being caught could be judged by surveying the big carp lists of the period, indeed you needed to catch a carp above 31¼lb to get into the UK top ten from the mid 1970s onwards. One-time ace carp catcher from Kent, Roy Johnson, appeared five times in the top ten captures for the seasons of 1975 and 1976… quite a remarkable achievement.
Anglers of note who also started to appear with big carp under their belt included Rod Hutchinson, Clive Diedrich, Derek Richie, Vic Gillings, Ritchie McDonald, Keith Cayzer, Bruce Ashby and so on.
The availability of carp fishing venues had never been better and a number of the top anglers, who had tasted great success already, were starting to look at big windswept gravel pits, waters that had a reputation of containing big carp where few, if any, anglers had yet appeared on the bank. One such fisherman, Peter Springate, showed what the potential of places such as these could throw up. In 1978 he along with pal Ken Hodder astounded the carp world with the biggest ever brace of carp at the time - 36½lb and 38½lb.
The 1980's & the beginning of the carp society
On the same day (16th June 1980) that Chris Yates caught a new British record carp, over in the Colne Valley a small syndicate of carp anglers were let loose on a large gravel pit close to Denham, west of London, which had a reputation of harbouring large carp. Indeed this place, Savay Lake, has seen some spectacular catches made by Mike Wilson in the mid to late 1970s, though these had been kept very hush- hush.
When the likes of Rod Hutchinson, Andy Little and Lenny Middleton started on their campaign at Savay soon incredible catches were made. Savay contained large numbers of carp over 20lb, besides a healthy number of fish over 30lb… it was a time of plenty. I always remember Rod Hutchinson telling me about frantic trips he would make to a local telephone box along the road from the fishery (this of course was years before mobile phones) and ringing the weatherman. “When are we going to get some wind?” or “Is there a low pressure looming?” These questions meant a lot to those fishing at Savay. If a change of wind direction was due within 24-hours, Rod would move his pitch to be where the wind was going to blow. He’d then pile the bait in and wait for the fish to move on the wind. Andy Little was the same, on one occasion Andy banked four fish in quick succession, three of them being over 30lb.
Savay’s influence is still felt today over thirty five years later, the place is teeming with big fish and a few years ago it produced its first fifty pounder.
Also on the same day (16th June 1980) this author was fishing at a lake that was largely unknown at the time, and though it was the start of the season, few anglers were about and in fact I may have been the only one to cast in at midnight.
By 6:30am on an overcast morning I’d landed a brace of twenty pounders and also met someone who would become an angling buddy ever since. His name was Jan Wenczka, the water was the Yateley Match lake. As with Savay, the Yateley complex on the Surrey/Hampshire border was to become a famous venue over the years for its carp stocks.
Around this time two anglers Len Middleton and Kevin Maddocks starting looking at ways to help with what drove carp anglers mad at the time, “twitch bites.” Though side hooking a boilie helped, where the point of a hook was proud of the bait, it was when Lenny and Kevin hit on the idea of a bait being attached to a fine link and this link, “the hair,” being tied to the bend of the hook that the Hair Rig was born.
The word on this rig slowly got out, I first heard of it in the late summer of 1981. Used correctly and cast into feeding areas it revolutionised catches and sometimes made the catching of carp, including big fish, seem easy. The effect of the Hair Rig is such that over thirty five years later few carp anglers (or other big fish anglers for that matter) would ever consider casting out a bait without it attached to some sort of hair rig… an amazing concept that has stood the test of time.
The Carp Society
The early 1980s saw the birth of a new organization for carp anglers - The Carp Society. Also with the society came a breathtaking publication, Carp Fisher, the likes of which in terms of design and production had no equal at the time. The fact that The Carp Society could come up with such a ‘swanky’ publication drew a sharp intake of breath from the monthly magazines at the time, many of which were printed solely in black & white on relatively poor quality paper. Carp Fisher caused a revolution in the fishing magazine printing world, but it took time for the rest to catch up. The Carp Society grew from strength to strength and became active at all levels including terrific conferences and a network of regional meeting which saw well-known and successful carp anglers give slides shows/talks, beside the Society having a political involvement in angling.
The 1980s was another period of tremendous growth in carp fishing influenced greatly by the publication of two milestone carp angling books. The first was Rod Hutchinson’s Carp Book, the second Kevin Maddock’s Carp Fever. These two books almost single-handedly changed the face of carp fishing forever. Both were full of new ideas and information on tackle, tactics, baits and understanding the quarry. On one hand you had Rod Hutchinson explaining just what catches were possible by using particle baits and the whole thinking behind his fantastic methods. Also for the first time Rod exposed anglers to a ‘spod’, a ‘throwing stick’ and the use of PVA. Rod’s reputation at the time was sky high; his catches were just outrageous where ever he went. His writings were also amusing which made all his later books turn into best sellers. Though he took his fishing seriously he was hardly what I would call an organized angler. He didn’t have to have his rods in perfect spirit-level straightness and though the fishing was enjoyable, so too was the pub and the curry house. Indeed Rod wrote almost as much about this side of his fishing as he did about his catches.
Kevin Maddocks on the other hand waged a war on carp with an almost military type of precision. Besides having vital information just like Rod’s book on tackle, tactics and bait, Kevin Maddocks made fashion statements too. Within a year or two of Carp Fever being published, you just weren’t a serious carp angler unless you went fishing in a green army jumper with shoulder patches... I kid you not. Kevin Maddocks also championed a reel that was to take over from where the mighty Mitchell 300 and 410 had for so long ruled as the carp angler’s mainstay reel. In all the pictures and featured heavily in Carp Fever was the ABU Cardinal 55 fixed spool reel. This all black with gold decal markings reel was, and still is, a beauty (I still have three 55’s from 1979, the year they was introduced in the UK.)
Though I’ve mentioned briefly of Rod Hutchinson’s carefree style when he went about his fishing, (and many liked this), Kevin Maddocks methodology was in stark contrast to this. Why there was a two-page picture feature in Carp Fever which showed you how to strike a fish while lying down on a bedchair, get out and put on your footwear without loosing what was attached to the end of your line… brilliant! Oh, by the way, I too at the time had the regulation green army jumper with the shoulder patches!
These two anglers led the way during the early 1980s, however there were a wealth of other talent in carp fishing at the time, the likes of Roy Johnson, Bruce Ashby, Jim Gibbinson, Ritchie McDonald, Andy Little, Clive Deidrich, Bob Morris and Chris Yates.
Of these anglers the capture by Ritchie McDonald of the second largest carp caught at the time, a massive 45¾lb mirror caught in October 1984 from the North Lake on the Yateley complex, sparked many of the top carp anglers of today into big carp hunters forever.
An important event happened in early June 1988. It was announced earlier in year by The Carp Society that a special Richard Walker Remembrance Conference would be held to celebrate fifty years of carp fishing. This remarkable event which embraced many of Dick’s old friends and his family was an outstanding success and a major triumph for organiser Mike Kavanagh and The Carp Society. Then to cap it all it was announced that the Society, through the sterling work of Les Bamford, had gained control of the famous Redmire Pool – Les continues to run the fishing to this day.
The year of 1988 was also significant for a number of new carp books, including Rod Hutchinson’ Carp Now and Then, Tim Paisley’s first two books, Carp Fishing and Carp Season and Rob Maylin’s first book Tiger Bay. In addition Carpworld became the first news stand carp magazine ever, published in August 1988.
The late 1980s also saw Rob Maylin become the darling of the carp world. His amazing catches and his successful books made him a household name. Rob reminded me of a ‘relaxed’ version of Ritchie McDonald. Rob coming from a match fishing background went on for a number of years as one of the dominate forces in carp fishing. Though he waned a little as the new millennium approached he reappeared in force during the last few years.
Throughout the 1990s carp magazines were a prime example of the growth of carp fishing in the UK, Carp Fisher moved from six-monthly to bi-monthly, while Carpworld went from bi-monthly to monthly. In April 1991 Rob Maylin started publishing his own magazine, Big Carp. Then perhaps the most startling publishing event happened on 18th June 1994, a weekly carp news/magazine became a reality with the birth of Carp-Talk. This 68-page publication entered the marketplace with a 30-year-old and 40-year-old product already established. But the massive roller coaster of carp fishing saw that the weekly was here to stay. Now over 20 years later it’s still the main source for all that is happening in the carp world on a week to week basis. The magazine’s popularity made both the other weeklies, Angler’s Mail and Angling Times, sit up and take notice, and they too had to find ways to cater for what was obviously an expanding carp market.
Even the TV media became a vehicle in the mid 1990s for the ever growing world of carp fishing when the highly-acclaimed Passion for Angling, series was broadcast by the BBC - the series had plenty on carp fishing.
Many venues during the 1990s became famous for their truly huge carp stocks. Here are some of the highlights, Savay lake produced whopping braces of carp to the likes of Max Cottis and Albert Romp, (the largest of each brace weighed well over 40lb). The Yateley North Lake mirror (which Ritchie caught in 1984) was still growing with Don Orris recording a weigh of 46lb 1oz in June 1991. A month later Pete Springate stunned the carp world with a monster 45lb 6oz mirror from Wraysbury, and in 1992 Dave Cumpstone landed Britain’s second 50lb carp from Wraysbury. Another much coveted carp from a secret Colne Valley water made an appearance at 45¼lb to Jason Haywood, and in December 1994 one of the carp world’s most likable, respected and successful anglers, Martin Locke, banked the third 50lb carp in the UK.
The year of 1995 turned into a watershed for fishing in general in the UK, for it was the first year when the old close season was abolished. Clubs, associations and riparian owners of stillwaters had for the first time the right to open or close their waters at any time during the year. Many opted for all year fishing. Almost straightaway controversy was caused by Roddy Porter catching a record carp in the ‘old close season’. This carp weighing 53lb 15oz was within a week or so landed again (after the old season this time) by Alex White at 55¼lb. The clearly spawnbound fish later died.
I haven’t had much to say about the growth of carp fishing books, especially in the 1990s. The prolific pen of Tim Paisley accounted for four books published, Big Carp, Carp Amid the Storm, From the Bivvy and To Catch a Carp, Kev Clifford’s superb A History of Carp Fishing was published in 1992 and this author also had his book, The King Carp Waters published in 1993. Others that were greeted with critical acclaim were Phil Thompson’s Waiting for Waddle, Dave Lane’s An Obsession with Carp, Terry Hearn’s In Pursuit of the Largest, Paul Selman’s Carp Reflections, and perhaps the most remarkable of the lot, Jim Gibbinson latest carp work, Gravel Pit Carp,. It was Jim’s fifth carp-only book over a forty-year time span, an unprecedented achievement.
The mention of Terry Hearn reminds me of the great happenings that befell this young angler in November 1996. After becoming adept at catching some of the biggest carp around, Terry went straight to the top of the heap when he caught one of the countries most famous carp, from one of the most famous UK lakes and, this turned out to be a new record carp as well. The fish was named Mary, the venue Wraysbury No 1 and the weight 55lb 13oz. Incidentally to get into the top ten recorded captures of 1996 you had to catch a carp weighing at least 50lb 5oz. Such were the size of carp being caught.
Even the neglected art of surface fishing for carp had come of age as the end of the millennium dawned for at least 25 carp weighing 35lb or more had been landed, most during the last decade of the millennium.
The new millennium and beyond
As I write the massive growth of carp fishing during the last twenty years has seen maybe as many as 70,000 disciples here in the UK alone going carp fishing. The statistics of catches are truly mind boggling as are the size of the carp in the UK nowadays and, it would take a book (or several) to catalogue what has happened. So I will end at this point.
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The whole substance and magic of fishing for big carp is summed by Denys Watkins-Pitchford better known as “BB” who wrote in his delightful little book Wood Pool, (Putnam 1958 and republished by Medlar Press in the 1990s) “At Redmire there is always the consoling thought that you may be suddenly taken by a really fabulous fish. I have seen at least one there which was like a bronze row boat. I hesitate to estimate its weight, but I certainly put it at over 50lb. These creatures seemed to me, in the hours of darkness, as fish not of this earth, they are at least prehistoric monsters.”