It was 30 years ago that I first opened the gate to Marlborough Pool.
I found myself remembering the same feeling of excitement, as my son and I walked the same gravel path I had followed all that time ago. The lake was quiet, the odd muted ‘quack’ of a duck echoing in the mist as we crept round, peering over reeds and hesitating to watch the pads for signs of fish.
We settled in a swim known as ‘Middleton’s’. The swim was named after Len Middleton, a famous angler and one who had fished the Pool back in the 80s along with Kevin Maddocks - Maddocks documenting his winter exploits in his book ‘Carp Fever’. A book I read and reread as a boy, making notes, copying drawings and bait ideas, as many of us did back in those days.
As we sipped tea watching the mist dance over the lake, my 10 year old asked me what was the first fish I had caught from the pool…
“Only the biggest in the lake..!” I replied modestly.
My boys eyes widened, captured by the air of mystery and the thought of huge fish, perhaps, right now passing silently in front of us as the first rays broke through the trees.
“It was during the night.. I found myself battling with the biggest fish I had ever hooked. The rod was hooped over, the line cutting the glassy surface silently in the moon light…”
My son looked out over the lake, silent. The morning sun caught his eyes, his thoughts were far away imagining what swam beneath..
”What happened Dad?” he whispered, as if aware that talking loudly would break an intangible spell.
“After a number of runs stripping line from the reel, the fish began to tire. It surfaced, sending huge ripples over the lake.. As it came closer I got the net in the water and tried to bring the fish over it, then disaster. The line caught on a single reed sticking out in front of me, the fish was stuck and I couldn’t see it in the dark.”
“What did you do Dad?” his eyes wide with excitement.
“I couldn’t free the line. For ages I tried. I felt like crying. It just would not come free and eventually the line snapped. I left the net in the water, retrieved the now limp line and went to bed. The fading ripples the only evidence left to what had happened, they too, finally disappeared and the moment was gone.”
My boy was silent, as if imagining the scene as his Dad battled a huge carp, lit only by the moonlight.
“But you said you caught it?” He looked confused, then he saw the glint in my eye. "That's not the end is it?” his eyes lighting up in anticipation, the battle resumed in his mind.
“No son, it’s not. Hours later I remembered that my net was still in the lake, cold and dejected I reached for the handle and went to pull the net out of the lake. It wouldn’t come out. I cursed as I believed it to be caught on something and the thought of ripping it was the last straw. But it came up and there in the bottom, glistening in the moonlight was the biggest carp I had ever seen!”
“No way Dad!”
“Yes! I was shaking from head to toe. I stood in the moonlight and punched the air. I danced up and down the gravel path. And I cried with joy.”
“How did you know it was the biggest fish in the lake Dad?” he asked excitedly.
“It had one black eye, totally black. The fish was called Nelson. Many ‘big names’ in carp fishing had fished for him. He was a very sought after fish, not just locally”.
I found myself reminiscing the moment, I remembered the colour of the scales and how huge the fish was.
“He was a true ‘history fish’ in the carp fishing world and many locals tried for years to put this beautiful fish on the bank son.”
We fished on, both quiet, lost in our own thoughts as the sun steadily rose and warmed our faces.
Marlborough Pool has produced countless memories for so many local and visiting anglers alike. It has a place in carp fishing history. Its setting is iconic and beautiful. However, despite wonderful fish still remaining, it has suffered to otter predation and its future being threatened.
The Oxford side of the club has worked tirelessly to try and stop this predation, but with limited funds, are struggling. I have written this article in an attempt to raise awareness for this historic water and to perhaps prompt some readers into supporting our fight, as we desperately need your help.
We have set up an Action Group consisting of Dylan Harvey, Geoff Waddle, Paul Timmis, Matt Britton, Niff McColl, Russ Bates and Lee Haraway. All the people listed can be contacted via the Marlborough Pool Facebook Page for further information or discussions regarding support. Any donation will be gratefully received. Please help us save our water. Please help us preserve a part of angling and local history. But most of all, please help us save it for the beginners, the youngsters who fish with their dads, for it is these that are the future of our sport.
On behalf of the club and myself, a huge ‘thank you’ to CARPology for supporting us and providing space for this article on their website.
Best regards, Dylan Harvey