Does size matter?
Well, according to Mr. Chillbert, does it buggery!
It wasn’t that long ago when the size of the carp you were catching had very little to do with their capture, but rather revolved around the senses of achievement, fulfilment, and dare I say, enjoyment. It was simply about catching one, which was the whole point of angling for them. Consequently, there were very few fishermen that wanted to “waste” their time sitting and waiting for a bite. Bites that may only come once or twice in a twelve-month period, and as Richard Walker explained, the passing of a couple of seasons without a capture didn’t upset them at all! It was classed as a pastime for the slightly mad angler, and whilst they may have been a bit crazy, they were also the most industrious and driven.
There was no specific tackle designed to catch such fish, you couldn’t walk into a tackle shop and go into a bit of a head spin as you would at the astronomical array of tackle on display in today’s marketplace. No, they made their own, and very inventive it was, too. Indeed, some of it became legendary as the MK1V Avon rod would show. I believe the one on which Walker caught his then record in 1952, is insured for well in excess of £20,000! It just goes to show what people think of that era, and the hardships those guys had to endure.
The same couldn’t be said of our existence on the bank today, of course, and I would be the first not to want to sleep on the ground under a tarpaulin sheet. However, you would probably be surprised to know that’s exactly how I fished whilst I was in the Army. Maybe a sucker for punishment, eh?
For me, the thing that stands head and shoulders above man’s ability to invent, adapt and overcome the hurdles that fishing posed, is the fish themselves. From the early 50s right up to the early 80s, there were so few waters that held carp, they became something of a mystery and a myth. Their captures were discussed in hushed tones, and kept secret nearly as much as the tackle and bait that was used to catch them. Redmire was the biggest (and probably the only) Mecca for carp angling at the time, and with such limited access, others had to contend with the fishing that was available elsewhere. It was their difficulty in capture, whatever their size, that made them so special.
Things have changed today, so much so that I often feel that the carp themselves aren’t so special anymore to most, and the importance now comes from how many you catch, not what you have caught.
In the early 80s the Hair rig became widely known, and it was that one invention that changed carp fishing forever. Anglers of the pre-Hair era went from chasing carp around trying to hit twitchy bites, connecting with a tiny percentage of them, to catching loads of fish every time they went fishing. Whether we like it or not, the whole carp fishing game is infinitely easier now than it has ever been, and the more fish that were stocked into lakes, the more the mystery and desire was taken away.
I expect that what I have written so far, will to some of you, make me sound like some gnarly old dinosaur, but I can’t help thinking about what makes a carp special in this day and age. Is it simply the size of the fish, regardless of its shape, scale formation or dare I say, origin? Or is it because it was part of an 80 fish haul from an overstocked venue? It’s personal choice, of course, but surely there are other reasons which could possibly make more of a difference to the fish we want to catch? There’s no other way in carp fishing to explain what the hell you’re on about, than giving an example or two. And whilst some may think I am only trying to blow smoke from a certain body orifice, I’m not. It’s just that without an example, I will find it hard to get my point across… if you see what I mean!
Way back in 1996 I obtained a ticket for Horton Church Lake. In many ways it was probably one of the best Meccas in the land, and contained some of the most famous carp. Indeed, the second carp I caught from there was the incredible Jack at 49lb 4oz, and was one of only 38 carp over 40lbs caught and reported to the press that year! There is more than that figure caught every week now, and this in itself detracts from their notoriety doesn’t it? Several of those 1996 40lb fish were recaptures, which should also show just how limited access to such fish was. However, it was the very first fish I caught that means so much more to me, even though it was much less than half the size of Jack!
It was the morning before my birthday, June 7th 1996, and only hours before I landed Jack, that I managed to get a hookbait covertly inserted into the margins of Weedy Bay. I had spotted several very big carp investigating the area the evening before, and once their backs were turned, I scattered a kilo of 15mm Grange on the spot, deciding to fish it at first light.
I was awake just before dawn, ready to rock and roll, and with Keith Jenkins up a tree to tell me when the coast was clear, I lowered the hookbait onto the weed-free patch, inches from the bank. It was only moments before the take occurred, and for about five minutes I played my first Horton carp. At 20lb 12oz, no-one was sure what its name was, but I couldn’t have cared less. I had caught a carp from the then, extremely difficult, Horton!
It was some ten years later that the fish was eventually identified as The Missing Mirror, and just to put this capture in perspective, here’s a short, potted history of his life: He had lived in a lake just down the road, Longfield, which was fished by the greatest carp anglers around for over 35 years, and he was never caught… ever! When netted from there and stocked into Horton in 1990, he decided he would disappear all over again.
It’s hard to describe how I feel about catching such a fish; it wasn’t just another carp, he was a special carp, an elusive carp, and I can’t help feeling that is how they should all be regarded, but unfortunately they are not… or are they? Just my opinion of course.
P.S. Ironically, I wrote this piece four days before certain fish caused an amazing national controversy. It’s getting close to Halloween, and I couldn’t help feeling how damn spooky that was!