Monday, 5 November 2018

The Ricky Cons Years

I'm not quite sure what has inspired this post. I suppose I have a barely-suppressed desire to be a bit naughty really, because what I'm going to write about is actually against the rules.


Yes. Rules.

Twenty-odd years ago I joined a fishing club based in West London's Colne Valley, and under the heading 'Publicity' the club's rules state the following:

No member shall take or authorise to be taken any photograph of the RCAS waters and/or activities for publication or to write or cause to be written any report or article on any RCAS activity for publication without the prior consent of the committee. This rule covers all media including the Internet. Failure to observe this rule could result in a life time ban.

So yes, the rest of this post is pretty naughty. Especially the photos.

RCAS stands for Rickmansworth Conservative Angling Society. Keen carp anglers will know this club by its more familiar diminutive, 'the Cons'. To a newly-fledged carper in 2018, membership of the Cons is a non-starter. The waiting list was closed several years ago, and those currently near the bottom of it had better hope for good health and a very long life. In the mid-'90s it wasn't quite so bad. One of my old buddies was a member. He proposed me (which got me on the waiting list) and after a couple of years my name duly came up for consideration. And when I say 'consideration' I mean it, because membership was not a formality; you had to pass muster. You enjoyed the dubious privilege of an interview with three of the committee, whose shrewd quizzing was supposed to reveal whether you would be a suitable addition to the hallowed RCAS roll, or were simply an undesirable big carp glory-hunter. Meanwhile, your proposer sat meekly in the background, praying that you didn't say anything stupid...

So, Gavin, why do you want to join the Cons?
Well, I heard your lakes are stuffed with monster carp, and I fancy some of that...
Oh? Whatever gave you that idea?
Roy told me. Didn't you, Roy... [turns in dense, bovine fashion towards pale, sweating proposer]

A Cons ticket was hard-won gold dust back then, and even more so now.

Until recently you could visit the club's website and view the actual waiting list. Everything was there, the names, what year they were added, which particular sub-list they were on (ie., the family list, the <10 miles radius list, the >10 miles list, etc) but of course the latest data-protection laws have put paid to that. Scattered among the names was a mini Who's Who of prominent carp anglers. The Cons was, and is, an exclusive fishery with a stock of stunning, huge, highly desirable carp. But, because of the publicity ban, you'll struggle to find a published photo of a single one.

To non-anglers I'm sure this is all rather silly, and I must confess that I cannot think of any parallel within the birding, cycling or running world. Believe me though, to some carp anglers this is deadly serious stuff...

Anyway, I was hardly even a carp angler, let alone a deadly serious one. I simply (and handily) had a mate who was already a member, and I thought it would be nice to have access to a fishery with some clonking great carp in it. At the time I'd never even used a boilie or a hair-rig, which is angling code for 'I was a total carping noddie'.

However, by my final season (which was probably 2001-2) I'd managed to winkle out a few nice carp up to 35lb, and one night was on hand to witness a 51-pounder on the bank, a colossal beast which took my breath away. But rather than talk about me, I thought it might be more interesting to view the Cons years through my son's experience, because in Rob's book it was a formative chapter rather than just an amusing paragraph.

Rob was only 14 or 15 when I joined the Cons, and as family he automatically gained junior membership. He was thrilled, and so excited to be going night-fishing. However, initially he wasn't interested in carp at all. For Rob, it was all about eels. Dead keen, he would be down the lakes in all weathers, living up to the nickname he rapidly earned: 'Mad Eel Boy'...

An early eel, and a right wriggly handful by the look of it
Rob's biggest Cons eel, at 4lb 5oz. We knew of 6lb+ fish caught accidentally by carp anglers, which is very big for an eel.

Eventually though, the carp bug bit, and one day in September 1999 I got the call to photograph Rob's first Cons carp...

20lb 12oz, and the start of a mild obsession

Rob was 16. When I was that age, a fish of these proportions was a mythical creature encountered only within the pages of the Angling Times. A young angler cannot catch a fish of this size and not be fundamentally influenced by the experience. The desire for 'more' and 'bigger' bites hard.

Cons carp were far from easy to catch. A season's 'top rod' may land perhaps 15 or so. Winter captures were rare as the proverbial, and even in summer a week or two might pass without a fish caught by anyone. Rob rose to the challenge though, and in the summer of 2002, aged 19, landed his biggest Cons carp...

34lb 10oz of cracking mirror carp

Not long after this, things went a bit pear-shaped for Rob. Following some relatively minor misdemeanours involving one or two of his dodgy mates, he was invited to attend a disciplinary hearing. The verdict: guilty. The sentence: one year's ban. Shortly afterwards Rob moved down and joined us in East Devon and, when the ban expired, did not renew his Cons membership. I allowed mine to lapse also. In the unlikely event that any rabid carper reads this he will doubtless be gasping at this perceived folly. To many, it's akin to throwing away the golden ticket. And, funnily enough, both of us have a tiny tinge of wistful regret. Despite living almost three hours away, it would be kind of nice to be able to drop in and fish such a mega-exclusive venue when the fancy takes us. But do we miss it really? No. The lakes were busy enough back then, and with the fish even bigger now, I can't imagine there are fewer anglers chasing them. These days, both of us prefer the solitude offered by an unpressured venue rather than the cut-and-thrust of competing for the prime spots, and the associated bankside 'politics'.

Shortly after moving to the southwest, Rob borrowed my red hat and took it barbel fishing to the River Stour near Christchurch. It duly did the business, and Rob landed this humongous barbel, which, at 13lb 2oz, remains his biggest ever...

February 2003. A really nice red hat.

So, yes, a door had closed, but in angling, as in most hobbies I imagine, there are countless others. And frequently both Rob and I are pleasantly surprised at what lies behind them...

The rather delapidated shack pictured below was once the Cons club hut. Situated on the banks of the Cons 'Big Lake', it commanded an idyllic view across the fishery. It's long gone now. The photo was taken in about 2002 I reckon, by which time a new, bigger club hut had been built elsewhere, and it's hard to believe that one beautiful spring day in the mid-'90s I slightly nervously walked through the door of this glorified shed, sat down in front of the committee panel, and managed not to muck up my membership interview.

It's pleasing to realise that all the photos above are an indirect consequence of that occasion...


  1. Sounds like a very priggish rule that is calling out to be broken. If you do pluck up the courage one day please let us all know.

  2. I thought your “bank side politics” was very politically correct and rather tame from my carp fishing experience. I would go as far as to say that the antics of a lot of them were childish tantrums and downright bitchiness. I sold all my carp fishing gear and books years ago but I remember one of my favorites was Quest for Carp by Jack Hilton. The other was Redmire Pool, which told of the legendary Redmire which was top secret to all but a select few.
    My biggest was a lowly 24lb, I think I have a photo somewhere. Your 34lb’er is impressive.

    1. A couple of classic fishing books there, Mike. It must be well over 20 years since I read them.

      To be fair, the Cons members were a pretty decent bunch when Rob and I fished there, but these days both of us are happier at much quieter venues.

  3. Hi

    This is interesting, as I bird at Wilstone Reservoir, Herts, where there has recently been a notice warning members of Tring Anglers about the rules which ban just such publicity for club members, including on blogs, etc, and noting that the rules have recently been broken (seemed to imply action had been taken).

    I can't for the life of me understand why you'd ban a blog post on the lines of 'Caught a Pike at Wilstone'.


    1. Me neither! I fished at Tring many years ago, and there wasn't a no-publicity rule back then. I wonder why it's changed?

  4. Takes me back does all of that Gav.

    I too must accept a place in carp heresy as I've been offered membership of places such as Waltonians and the Fisheries no less.

    It's the price I paid for being interested in anything but carp.

    Didn't; and still don't, fancy paying the (now humongous) fees involved.

    My copy of 'Quest for Carp' gathers dust untouched for years.

    I'll probably rejoin the LAA for the prospect of an idle day on the Thames (Appleford maybe) after a slimy Bream.

    1. Heresy is probably an appropriate word, Ric, because carp angling is definitely a religion to some...

  5. At the time your talking my dad was chairman of the cons, he tried to relax the stupid rules and stocked new fish, like the double linear which is now well over 60lb,the members said 20lb stockiest were too small lol, then found a way too oust him, funny that the monsters that are now in there are all the fish my dad got stocked as all original fish were stocked in the fifties and are all dead, the 51 you saw was probably a fish called elvic or the original, both are now gone, we fyke netted eels in there up to 8 lb and netted an 18lb bream, a record at the time, and I caught a 26 inch long tench, which unfortunately wasn't weighed. The lake next door, north Troy had monster tench, record breakers, an a 13lb male was caught, north Troy got stocked with loads of ghosties which are now well over 40. Sickens me that all of the arseholes on there that tried to stop progress are the ones still there catching the fish that we fought to put in there that were apparently too small, and stunning fish too leney crosses!

    1. I guess Tim Spencer is your dad! Tim was chairman when I joined, and very forward-thinking. I remember that didn't go down very well with some, and yes, though I wasn't party to the politics, he was somehow ousted. I know a load of back-stabbing went on in the club. I caught one of the N Troy ghosties at 21lb in 2000 or 2001; they hadn't been in there many years and were clearly growing incredibly fast. The 51 (it might even have been 53 - my memory is a bit sketchy there) was out of the Big Lake. The bloke that caught it was banned shortly afterwards for using a bait boat! Even with its monsters, the Cons is not the kind of fishing that would interest me now. Say hello to your dad from me...if he remembers me! And thanks for your comment. Much appreciated.

  6. I went on the cons as a guest which I think was allowed only in the winter months this was over 20 years ago still got the picture 36lb mirror I had dont think I was allowed back after that lol my mate didn't ask me again he probably got some stick from the members 😄

    1. Nice result! Yes, I think you're right, and guests were allowed in the winter months. I'd forgotten that. Only permitted on North Troy nowadays. And I can imagine your 36 might have made one or two members go a bit green! 😄