From The Back Of The Van
Sam Meeuwissen tells CARPology the true account of how the former British record carp and her buddy made it into their new home… #CARPologyAt200
Footnote: This article was originally featured in issue 25 of CARPology (April 2006), and is being rerun as part of our 200 Issues celebrations.
There has been much speculation within the carp angling world, regarding the origins of the great fish known as Mary, Mallins, Cluster and The Pug. I have read and listened to the many and varied stories over the years, with some modicum of amusement. So here it is, this is how and why it actually happened. The following story is of my own experience, in my own words. The activities discussed within this article happened many years ago, when we didn’t have any real knowledge of carp diseases and the dangers of transferring stocks from one venue to another. At the time we also didn’t have the same issue we have with large foreign fish being transferred all around Europe and indeed the world, bringing with them new and exotic diseases to our native fish. Looking back now, we took a great risk in our actions, in the light of our awareness these days. However, I am sure you will agree that the lasting legacy far outweighed the risks taken that autumnal night.
Growing up at the southern end of the Colne Valley has been a blessing for my angling career. A short journey by foot, bike or the taxi known as ‘mum’ in any direction would find Dad and I at the water’s edge, usually the huge open expanses of Wraysbury 1, Wraysbury 2 or Kingsmead. Over the years I also fished some of the more local, smaller venues and the lifeblood of the Valley, the River Colne. As a kid there was always somewhere to fish.
Way past my old school gates and past the shops and post office, at the end of the village, lies a row of trees. To the onlooker, they appear to be just a normal row of old Horse Chestnut trees, with their huge broad leaves shading the road from the view behind them. Conker harvests galore were reaped every year by many a school kid as these were the most indestructible conkers ever.
Behind the trees however, were secrets. Because through the trees, if you could make it through the brambles and wild roses, lay one of those most magical places for a kid to discover, a lost pond! Well, maybe not quite lost, but as there were hardly any signs of anyone else fishing there; it was as good as being discovered for the first time every time I went there.
This pond was locally known as ‘Rayners’ after the family name of the local landowner. Formerly on the Queen Victoria ticket, it had lain fallow for a few years after a spate of backfilling, before being ‘discovered’ by a few of my dad’s good friends. A quality strain of carp had been stocked some time during the late 70s, and it was those fish that had grown on to become the targets of the time.
And So It Began…
The story really begins during the summer holidays immediately before the relocation. Most of that summer in school had been spent looking out of the classroom window, gazing across the fields knowing that the Colne Brook lay just behind the fence winding its way downstream through the nearby fields.
School wasn’t too exciting on that particular day, so I was looking forward to getting home and racing to the lake. Soon as I got home, I slung my trusty green ruckbox seat contraption on my back; I then practically sprinted to the aforementioned line of conker trees. Making my way on the opposite side of the road to the mechanic’s (he would call the landowner at the first sign of a poacher) I walked until his workshop was out of sight before dashing across the road.
A quick look up and down the length of the street, to see if anyone was watching and I was over the fence like a whippet. Through the undergrowth, with all the stealth of a junior commando, I made my way to the margins. Here I would swiftly unload my ruckbox and set about threading the line through the eyes of my float rod whilst watching the workmen on the gravel workings on the far bank. I knew that if I sat out of sight, they would leave me alone and not raise the alarm, which would then mean a visit from the local landowner, who had already told us all in no uncertain terms that we were unwelcome.
I would sit behind a fallen tree in one of my favourite swims and float fish the edge until they went home, and only then could I move round the pond to fish a larger area of water in the main open swim.
Those Creatures – carp!
At that time in my angling life, I was only a junior bait catcher. My chosen tactics were usually a big waggler or drift beater, a short drop to the hooklink with a single maggot on a size 18. For sure there were plenty of roach and perch to be caught, but I specialised in catching the bleak – huge herring like bleak. Some were saved for dad’s pike bait later in the year, but most of them went back to swim another day. I occasionally managed to catch the odd tench and bream whilst wading through the silver fish. However, amongst the snag trees and lilies lay those most elusive of creatures, the carp!
They certainly were not shy, and most times I was over there I could find them in a few out of the way places, as the pond was very snaggy and overgrown. Sprinkles of corn and maggots were sometimes carefully fed to the shaded leviathans whilst I sat there mesmerised. Considering the venues that I was used to roaming around and the fish I sometimes saw, these carp were amongst the biggest I had ever seen!
‘The Kid With Bent Pin’
Dad and his friends were involved in the closely guarded world of fishing for these big carp things; it was ‘guesting’ at its best. The carp world had barely progressed from being a fledgling aspect of the sport, and there were still a lot of ‘secret squirrel’ methods and ways. Captures were kept secret and bait recipes were guarded even more closely.
All I can mention about some of the baits used was that it was my task to separate the different coloured cat biscuits and to roll the smaller baits, whilst Dad and Mervin were obviously professionals because they could roll three boilies by hand at once! ‘Ultracult’ was the word used to describe the attitudes and tactics in those days and staying one step ahead meant keeping quiet, and that was obviously easy if there were no other anglers about.
There was some strange fascination with matt black, which was liberally daubed on most items of tackle. My role evolved into the ‘kid with bent pin’ who hung around the pond, warning Dad and Mervin if any other carp anglers showed up. If they did, I was quick to approach them and ask all sorts of questions, or rather punish them until they divulged the information I was after. The details of which were then passed on to Dad who adjusted the diversionary and counter carp capture tactics accordingly.
It was whilst on one of my early evening sneak about trips I bumped into a pair of what appeared to be carp anglers. They had all the ‘ultra cult’ gear and looked like they knew what they were doing, so I politely asked if they had seen anything or even caught anything. Appearing as no threat, they proceeded to blab about how there was a 30 in this particular pond and a load of 20s they were after. Knowing the largest resident in the lake had been out at over 29lb, I assumed they knew what was in there.
I kept my mouth shut and let them provide some more information. Before long, they had told me what baits they were using, where they had seen fish and more importantly, what they were going to do once they caught them! I made my excuses and quickly disappeared through the undergrowth and bushes. My legs ached as I ran all the way home.
“Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad! There’s some carp blokes over the pond with Robin Red boilies saying they want the fish out of here for their lake!” I said whilst gasping for breath. My story rang true with the information given to Dad, upon confronting another angler in the woods the following day, carrying a sack that obviously contained a fat carp. That time the carp was returned to the pond, but the next time, if they had got lucky, I doubt we would have realised until it was too late.
A plan was needed. Pretty soon my Dad and Mervin were one step ahead again with a counter plan. Something had to be done pretty quickly, as the landowner was also getting frustrated with trying to throw us off all the time. Sending his dogs round as we sat up trees and even waiting for us in the swims in the hope of catching us out, anything and everything was used to try and prevent our attempts to fish his lake. I can distinctly remember the smell of the wet undergrowth as I spent many an afternoon hiding in the nettles and waiting for the landowner to clear off. That smell of fallen Horse Chestnut tree leaves and conkers haunts me to this day, that particular bank of the lake still has the same aroma that always reminds me of those happy times.
Time To Move…
What with the landowner getting on top of us, his repeated threats to fill the lake in, the imminent threat of carp relocation to a local nightmare water and the extra attention the lake was getting from some of the locals meant that something had to give. Other carp anglers blatantly fishing the pond meant that our risk of being caught guesting was increasing by the day. I was even shot at several times with an air rifle during an afternoon’s bleak bashing. That was it, the magic had started to wane and these fish were in danger.
A New Pond…
It was after the following weekend when the inevitable happened. Mervin had bagged a brace of twenties on the Monday afternoon and something had to be done to secure their future. Unbeknown to me, the plan had already been cultivated and my role was already decided. I was playing the part of the ultimate goalkeeper and to ensure both of these fish were comfortable during transit. I had understood that they were to be relocated to a venue that would be more conducive to longevity and quality of life, a huge expanse of water where they would remain, to a certain extent unmolested – Wraysbury 1.
The Same As Many Others…
That night was the same as many others. Home from school after a hard day’s swimming, learning and wishing I were fishing, Danger Mouse and Stig of the Dump were on the telly, sausage, peas and mash for dinner – lovely!
Just before the Munster’s began, the phone rang. There was a very animated Mervin calling from the phone box across the road from the pond. That was it, the plan was set in motion. Dad and I headed off on the short walk to the pond. Past my school, past the shops, past the pub, past the mechanics, quick glance to see if the mechanic was about, over the fence, through the undergrowth and into the swim. Phew!
My little 11-year-old legs had never moved so fast since the 100-metre race on sports day earlier that year. Mervin had already filled a couple of large buckets in his van with water from the lake. Now his van sat just across the road from the hop over the fence. One small hop for man, one mighty leap for carp angling, but of course we weren’t to know that at the time.
The carp sacks were carefully prepared for placing in the huge bins full of water. Both of which were already tied up tightly to prevent any accidental escape attempts. They were gently lowered into the buckets and the battery-powered air pump was switched on. As the life giving bubbles streamed through the water, the van was put into first gear and we began our historic journey the short distance to Wraysbury.
All the time I sat there crouched over the buckets, making sure their gills were still moving through the material and gently talking to the fish as they sat quietly in the water. We soon reached the Douglas Lane car park and the van was carefully reversed up to the water’s edge. Removing the sacks from the van, they were secured in the edge before the photos were taken of the release. It was the first time I had seen the pair of these fish on the bank, having seen them in the water plenty of times over the past couple of years and even on the bank individually. Even now a brace of 20s is impressive, but back then, to an 11-year-old, they were the most impressive sight a young angler could cast his eyes on.
The photos were taken and amongst them are the pictures that personally, capture the moment. The image of Mary being slipped into Wraysbury 1 for the first time will forever be with me. She (he) was soon followed by the one now known as Mallins – the other half of the brace.
It was so dark that I had to stand behind Mervin with a torch on to give Dad something to focus on. One of the things I remember vividly is the initial panic when the camera wouldn’t focus properly. There was Mervin, two fine carp and no camera flashing, just the repeated whirring of the automatic focus trying to work. Eventually the pictures were all done and both fish slipped gently into their new homes to face pastures new and a small amount of fame in a few years.
Those fish were joined by another brace that were moved on separate occasions, a couple of high doubles that have since grown on to become other household named carp, Cluster and The Pug. These were again placed into Wraysbury 1 to escape the possibility of being buried or even worse, relocated to another local, heavily pressured venue.
The following week saw a transformation at the pond. Apart from the increase in anglers, the local landowner went round the lake in a bulldozer, smashing trees into the margins all around the lake and carving a huge pathway through the trees which opened up all of the swims. Dad also lost a very good fish they had nicknamed ‘Goldie’ that made the spool of his Mitchell 300 explode. Despite Mervin’s efforts to net the fish in the snag, he had no option but to unhook it underwater and let it go. Who knows how big that one would have gone in Wraysbury 1, as it was later relocated to the back lake at Rayners, by an old friend of mine. I fished for it in the early 90s, but alas it died in 1993 at the massive weight of 39lb. Perhaps if it had gone with its brothers and sisters, it may still be with us today and positively huge!
So What Happened To Mary?
The first time Sir Peter caught her, the suspicions were aroused, by the time he caught her for the second time as part of ‘that’ brace, the phone was in meltdown. Mervin had come out of hiding, well; Wraysbury 1 had taken so much out of him, he had taken up shooting and fly-fishing. The place seemed to do that, people were absolutely ruined by angling there and grown men were reduced to tears, divorce and golf.
The past had caught up with us and the cat was well and truly out of the bag as there were a few close friends of my dad’s who were not told. The few that were in the know had known for years. It was no good, old photos were dug out and a few more phone calls were made. It wasn’t as though Mary or any of the relocated fish hadn’t been seen before, I believe Kenny had one of the doubles at a pound or so heavier than when it was relocated. Dave Cumpstone, who I will always remember from my childhood as he was permanently lodged at Wraysbury 1, bagged Mary at 28lb, 2lb heavier than when we re-homed her. The rest, as they say, is truly history in the making.
So, the legacy from that episode in my life was to provide the carp fishing world with some of its most loved and cherished targets. Fish that have frustrated and elated so many and for an all too short a period had come to epitomise the ‘top of the tree’ of carp captures. Seeing Mary, Mallins, The Pug and Cluster at over double the weights from when I last saw them, in the arms of some of my friends and the country’s finest anglers, was the icing on the cake. Although I never got to fish for her in her adopted home, I will always have very fond memories for that ultimate of big English carp, Mary. RIP.
Our 200th anniversary collector's edition is on-sale now! An A to Z celebration of the events, products and people that have shaped CARPology, and indeed carp fishing, through our last 200 issues. ORDER YOUR COPY NOW