Drawing the line
What's British and what's not?

Ex. carp farmer, current carp fishery owner and long-time carp angler, Ben Gratwicke takes a closer look at carp breeds, stockings and what “properly” British means

“So where do you stand with what’s British and what’s not?’ For me, if it’s bred in the UK or is from a wild spawning from legal fish within a fishery, that is good enough for me and long may they grow and thrive. As to the parentage, well, how far do you need to go back to make it British, as ALL carp were imported and many of the remaining very special history fish were imported (or their parents were)?”

How times have changed within carp fishing and since my addiction took hold. I can only look back and smile at what a rollercoaster of a ride it has been, not only on a personal level but also at carp fishing on a whole. Who would have thought that all those moons ago the few waters that held these magical fish would become the seeds for an industry that is now worth millions and one of the biggest time-consuming hobbies known to man?

Having grown up on a carp farm, owned and run said carp farm, went to Sparsholt College to learn about carp amongst other fish species, lectured at Sparsholt College which included such topics as carp farming and carp fishery management, written articles about carp, run Diggerlakes carp fishery in Devon and ultimately I used to fish for carp without distraction, I now feel I need to put a few thoughts out there which I hope may make a few people think; it may educate a few and I hope to put a few things into perspective.

Being a fishery owner and manager I have always prided myself in being honest to my anglers, and when we opened Diggerlakes in 2011 our advertising stated that we had carp to 30lbs even though I knew there were three fish over that mark and one of which was around 35lb. It took quite a while for people to realise that these fish existed within our lakes but once they did, so the people came. Over the last few years with the rise of Facebook, it has allowed me to “advertise” the progress of the stock and I have, as always, been very open as to where I sourced the fish; half of which I bred with my very own hands, and almost the entire other half came from good friends Simon Scott and Viv Shears at VS Fisheries. The rest, some 15 fish, 10 of which are commons, came from long-time friend and fish farmer, Mark Simmons, which before he got hold of them were spawned by John Paighton at Fishers Pond.

Back in the 1400s the wildie arrived in mainland UK transported by monks for food. Thin in shape, the original carp were slow growing and of the common variety only. It was in the 1700s when the Aischgrunder and Dinkensbhul (commonly know as ‘Dinks’) strains of carp were formed by man’s intervention. They finally reached our shores around the 1900s and have become one of the major strains in the UK.
Next came the mighty Galician strain from a fish farm outside the village of Vassen in Holland. These fish shaped carp fishing as we know it today and under the expert eye of Donald Leney, the Leney strain was born in the 1900s
As we moved into the early 90s, enter John Paighton and Mark Simmons, a partnership which brought us ‘The Fishers Pond Strain’ which later became affectionately known as ‘Simmos’.
And then we arrive at today, with the likes of Simon Scott and Viv Shears of VS Fisheries producing some truly mind-blowing new crossbreeds.
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We have the most fantastic stock of fish and I see so many happy anglers posing with their catch, be it a PB or a fish to add to the CV. I have been lucky that I have had unlimited access to great strains of fish and always kept up to date with any different crosses Simon may be working on, be it a Black Mirror cross or what will be the next generation of monsters in the shape of the Harrow fish (watch this space…).

As many successful fishery managers throughout the UK will know, sourcing and buying fish isn’t easy, there are some very, very good fish farmers out there BUT it’s the other side of the coin we hear about all too much.

In my carp-filled career I have never even contemplated walking down the very dark path of sourcing large, illegally imported fish; there is ABSOLUTELY no need for this to happen and being so strongly opposed I actually sat on the initial ECHO steering committee. To this day I still cannot understand illegal importation, the risks are far too high to both imported and resident fish. We are so lucky that we have so many fantastic strains of carp within the UK, and thankfully over the last 10 years some VERY good fish farmers and fishery managers, who really care for their fish and fishery, have emerged, spending a lot of time learning their craft. Patience is a trait that a lot of fishery managers have learnt, and rather than buy big they are happy to nurture the younger, smaller fish and watch them flourish to create the fisheries we have today.

Just to note, I am not going to put weights on ‘big’ or ‘small’ as this isn’t relevant, as different people will have very different views.

With the mass of carp in this country and people working to continue this by development and careful management of fisheries, it is so sad to read comments made by a number of individuals regarding a fish someone has caught as “not counting” or it’s a “this fish” or “that fish” or “that lake’s full of that sort of fish”, it confuses and angers me as we are talking about English born and bred carp, not illegal imports or even legal imports; I am talking about carp with a passport held solely in the UK. If you don’t like them, don’t fish for them, but don’t judge others, we all have a choice!

If certain carp farmers hadn’t met the rising demand for faster growing carp then the supply of illegally imported fish would have continued to rise. FACT. And so would the importation of diseases such as KHV which, as we know, can spread from water-to-water with ease so why criticise such fish? Anyone can criticise, especially from behind a keyboard, but how many of these critics have tried to make a living from a fishery, or tried to run a syndicate, or even tried to rear a carp to be “ready” for a fishery?

My good mate Chris with a nice common which was originally from Mark Simmons

Looking at the bigger picture

Before I go any further, can I make something crystal clear: I would love to see nothing more than wild fisheries with a few chestnut coloured old characters swimming around in with no “real” swims and every fish you catch is only measured on the merit of the fish and its capture and not a weight. I have been there, done it, and loved it, and I love reading about people who are still out there doing it. Those unknown fish from not so well-known waters, no weight needed, it’s fantastic! These waters will always be out there but they are getting fewer due to the pressures of land prices, people renting/buying to commercialise them and I am afraid to say, otters.

Like it or not, commercial or well-managed carp waters are here to stay and this keeps the carp monster moving along. Without the majority of carp anglers, there would be no market for many of the tackle, bait and fishery developments we see today.

It was a very sad day when Wraysbury 1, a lake I hold very close to my heart, was re-developed but how could it survive as it had so few members at the end of the CEMEX era and luckily, and I say luckily, it is still a fishery and not a water park, jet ski lake or housing development, do you not think? The guys at RK Leisure are creating one hell of a fishery with an amazing stock sourced from some great farms. It will NEVER be the old Wraysbury again, but its future as a fishery is protected, albeit slightly different and in the not too distant future you will see it rise again.

For many years I fished Exeter Canal in Devon and caught some incredible fish, some which hadn’t seen the bank for years. They had no names and you were as happy with a double as a twenty. Very special fish indeed. The canal is some eight-miles long (don’t quote me on this) and joined to the river Exe via a series of lock gates so the stock isn’t fixed, but it still has a few very special fish in there which a few of my mates angle for. They are not trying to up their 20 or 30’s tally, as it usually produces less than five known captures of thirties a year but these guys are there doing it and loving it. Special, special times on an amazing venue.

Every year the reports from the group of mates fishing it come in as they find more and more remains of dead fish killed and chewed by otters. They cannot do anything but sit, pray and curse as the stock is slowly diminished. The Exeter Canal will NEVER be fenced to prevent otters so this is completely out of the question – end of story. Cost doesn’t even come into it.

The club who run it do have a stocking policy and this costs money which they get from their members who fish many of their other waters. With the Exeter Canal I would certainly imagine it not being a cash cow to them. On a very busy day there might be 30 anglers if you include those in one of the regular silver fish matches. That’s on eight-miles – 30 people with a double bank – and that’s on a busy day, once every two to three weeks, with days going by with only a handful on, so don’t tell me that’s making enough money to pay the rent.

Without these other well-managed, otter-proof fisheries there would be no money to keep the canal stocked and keep a small head of carp coming through, and over time the stock would become almost non-existent and the water may then be lost. Should this happen and not allow anglers to experience one of the true wild fisheries in Devon? The point I am trying to make is, fish don’t grow on trees, they take time, money and a whole lot of patience before you, as an angler, catch them, and without money from the commercial side of a fishery, club or fishing organisation there would be very few accessible fisheries and certainly not the standard of fish and farms we have today.

It costs thousands to fence a fishery, it costs thousands to stock a fishery, it takes thousands to continue to run a fishery, and I can tell you I have yet to see any return on Diggerlakes five years in. But I love it, and I love nurturing the stock and watching them grow and become characters which also provides the opportunity for anglers to angle for fish they have only seen in magazines and read about.

Not all commercials are holes in the ground
When does a stocky become a proper carp?
A UK bred 30
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Not knowing any different

Terry Hearn made a very good comment in his Rotary Letter contribution a few months back and I hope he doesn’t mind me re-using it here. He said that anglers coming into the sport today don’t know any different, and as an angler, when he started fishing for what was available, there were very few commercial ‘big carp fisheries’, so how can we stand and criticise new anglers in the sport and what fish they catch when they only know what they know? Education not condemnation.

The holy grail is the British carp record in a lot of people’s eyes and let’s be honest, like myself, many others would love to see the next record come from a “wild” fishery rather than a commercial fishery, and so it may, but what happens if a well-documented “stock fish” becomes the new record from within its protective compound, does this count? Redmire isn’t a big pond, it doesn’t have accessibility problems and can be pretty much fished by anyone, what if one of the managed fish in there was to make it to British record size, does that count? I am merely playing Devil’s advocate with the above but where do you stop chucking comments?

A lonely old carp cannot pick its parents. Yes, there are some very samey fish out there, but there is also a hell of a lot more carp out there than 20 years ago and if you don’t like them, don’t fish for them, but don’t berate an angler who enjoys fishing for these so-called “clones”. Each to their own should it not be? You don’t hear barbel, chub and pike anglers all saying, “Oh, another one the same as the last, mmmm not feeling this geeza?”

Dave Mag or Terry also mentioned it should be your quest and your enjoyment which guides your fishing. NOT because other people say it should be what you do.

With there being different fisheries for different anglers, this allows a whole source of great information to be fed into the carp super highway as anglers strive to hone their skills, and this also leads to magazines such as CARPology to be filled with great reading. Another publication I have had the pleasure of reading is Subsurface Journal which has really rekindled my love of photography. This is pretty much at the other end of the scale from the commercial world of carp but brilliant all the same. Keep up the good work Joe and team and Gareth and crew.

Would you as anglers want every style, standard and age of carp angler all fishing the same lakes every week? With the more managed, accessible waters you are spreading the load and keeping the quieter venues nice and quiet.

The sunsets over the mighty Wraysbury
One of our real history fish, Measles from Wraysbury and my first ever fish from the great lake. We can never replace these gems but we must unite and nurture our future and fight as one, together we stand, united we shall fall
The Exeter Canal: one of Devon’s wild carp fisheries will never have any protection from otters
It should be your quest and your enjoyment which guides your fishing
My eldest with his first ever carp caught on corn in the edge with a little help
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My stand point

‘Okay Ben, so where do you stand?’ you may ask. Well, here’s my thoughts and what I feel. If it’s bred in the UK or is from a wild spawning from legal fish within a fishery, that is good enough for me and long may they grow and thrive. As to the parentage, well, how far do you need to go back to make it British, as ALL carp were imported and many of the remaining very special history fish were imported (or their parents were), so I will let you guys and girls make up your own minds.

We have the most amazing sport which is accessible to all so why fight in-house when the bigger problems are already on the doorstep and sneaking round to the backdoor? EA licenses are down by some 40%, the EA itself has no funds to help or maintain waterways and the only reason our fishery ever gets checked by an EA officer is because it’s on his doorstep. We are fighting a losing battle on many fronts so really we should unite across the carp fishing spectrum and stand shoulder-to-shoulder.

But let’s never forget one thing: it’s only fishing and must be enjoyed.

Ben Gratwicke
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