Friday 17 April 2020

Carp Tales

There's been this 'hashtag' thing on Twitter just lately: #MeAt20. You simply post a photograph of yourself aged 20. For me this means 1979/80 vintage, and I duly posted a pic I've used on NQS in the past, of me with a barbel from the Royalty Fishery on the Hampshire Avon at Christchurch. It dates from the very last day of the 1970s, and therefore nicely satisfies the #MeAt20 hashtag criteria. However, I came across another photo which is even better, because I can get a blog post out of it.

Many readers will know that my first love was coarse fishing, not birding. From the age of five I was obsessed with the fishy contents of every pond, lake, river, stream, canal and ditch that I encountered, and as time went on I gradually became better and better at catching them. But one species always remained an enigma. Carp. Carp had this reputation for being almost impossible to catch, and throughout my boyhood years, and on into my teens, I do not recall ever seeing one on the bank. Certainly I never caught one, and neither did I see anyone else do so. And then, in the summer of 1979, a few weeks after I had turned 20, a little carp in the River Colne at Tolpits Lane accidentally picked up a bait I had cast out for chub...

I know. You'd think I'd look a bit happier to have caught my first carp...

I won't say this was a watershed moment, because it wasn't; I didn't suddenly become obsessed with catching more carp, bigger ones. Back in the late '70s/early '80s the reality was that carp were nothing like as widespread and universally available as they are today, and catching big ones by design was, frankly, out of my league. Nevertheless, most of my angling back then was based in the Colne Valley, and a London Anglers Association water I regularly fished definitely held a small head of big carp, one of them huge! We had seen them. As incompetent teenagers in the mid-'70s we had cast floating crust at them. We had watched them laugh at us and melt away like wraiths. And so it was that Springwell Lake became the scene of a concerted effort to catch a big carp. It was the closed season of 1981. I was married by this time, but Mrs NQS tolerantly indulged my regular pre-baiting trips to the lake. Butterbeans were the secret weapon. Butterbeans! What was I thinking?! Anyway, June 16th dawned, the first day of the coarse fishing season, and I had caught nowt. Against the rules (no night fishing!) my rods had been out since midnight, along with those of at least two other anglers. In the morning I packed up and walked round to see how they'd got on...

16th June, 1981. This lovely common carp weighed 13 pound something, and fell to sweetcorn.

This was the first Springwell carp I had witnessed on the bank, and to say I was green with envy would be understating things. It was gorgeous. I don't know the angler's name, but I hated him immediately. Obviously.

Anyway, 1981 was also the year in which the birding bug bit, and my fishing tackle was eventually all sold.

So the rest of the '80s, and many of the '90s, were the years in which I made a name for myself as a really mediocre birder, and it wasn't until my old mate Roy proposed me for membership of the Ricky Cons Club (aka Rickmansworth Conservative Angling Society) that carp once again featured on the agenda...

I always felt a bit of a fraud as a Cons member. The Cons Club was (and is) a carp angler's Mecca. I wasn't a proper carp angler. Proper carp anglers would give their eye teeth for a Cons ticket. I was just jammy. I even caught a few...

August 1999. My first Cons carp. A 19lb rocket.

September '99. This nice mirror weighed 23lb

By the end of the 1999/2000 season my biggest Cons carp weighed 28-something. It was a supremely ugly fish, which my son Rob still pokes fun at today, so I shan't sully this blog with it. The following season was my best, and also my last really, as far as proper effort goes...

September 2000, and 35lb 9oz of absolute carpy perfection.

This was my biggest. There are certain carp which have a kind of mythical status in the carp angling world. Named after a fish farmer called Donald Leney, the 'Leney' strain were stocked into many lakes from pre-WW2 onwards, including some in the Colne Valley. They have a certain 'look', and this cracker is about the closest I ever got to one. It might be a Leney, it might not, but I don't care. The whole experience of catching it is forever etched in a part of my brain reserved for happy stuff.

However, despite its evident magnificence, this was not my most pleasing and memorable carp...

One hot, sultry day in the summer of 2000, I spotted two nice carp with their heads down having a quiet nosh in a neglected corner of the lake. After a few minutes of this they righted themselves and slid away. I hurried back to the pitch where I had spent a fishless night, grabbed a rod and some bait, and sneaked back to where I'd been watching those fish. They hadn't returned, so I swung out my baited hook and lobbed in a few half-boilies and pellets to sweeten the deal. Then I laid down my rod and waited.

After what seemed an age, one of the fish returned. It hoverered over the baited spot for a bit, then slowly lowered its head and had a little prod. My heart was in my mouth. My eyes were jumping from the fish to my rod and back again, desperate for some sign that it had picked up my bait. Nothing. Again, it righted itself and swam off. Agh! I kept telling myself: just wait. Wait! Several minutes later it returned, and went through the same routine. Head down, tail up, munch, munch, munch. Again it righted itself and swam away. By now I was shaking. Quite obviously it had not picked up my bait. I could see it still, on the lake bed with a few freebies. I waited again. Sure enough, once more it returned, and up-ended. Within seconds I saw it freeze momentarily, its fins all extended and stiff, knowing it had made an error...and then it bolted for the weed. My rod was nearly ripped off the bank, but I was on it instantly. The battle was short and frantic, and soon I was gazing down at the most immaculate common carp I have ever seen...

25lbs of mint common carp. Like a wood carving.

The angler who took these photos was the proprietor of my local tackle shop. He rattled off a whole film on the fish - I think he was as impressed by its perfection as I was - and then gave me the whole pack of prints and negatives when they were done. Compare that generosity with the other club member who threatened to report me for technically fishing two swims (against the rules!) because I'd left the rest of my gear in the spot where I'd spent a blank night. I don't miss the bankside politics which goes with the carp scene on occasion.

And finally, a couple of miscellania...

Adjacent to the Cons lakes was another lovely Colne Valley pit called North Troy. I caught some nice tench from it, but one night my tench bait was picked up by this stunner...

This striking beast is called a ghost carp. It weighed 21lbs, and gave me a proper run-around on tench tackle.

Another accidental capture was this one from the River Thames, probably around the late 1990s. I was fishing for chub with Rob, at Mapledurham. I forget how much it weighed. 11lb? 13lb? I don't remember. But it is the only Thames carp I've ever caught, and also the only 'leather' carp, ie, one entirely without scales...

River Thames at Mapledurham. Leather carp.

Carp are very long-lived, and are frequently caught many times through their lives. I know, for example, that my 35-pounder from the Cons reached a top weight of 38-something before it died, but I would be intrigued to know what became of my incredibly distinctive Thames carp. Did it grow into a monster one day? And what about that ghostie? It could quite easily be swimming in the clear waters of North Troy still, giving someone else middle-of-the-night palpitations. I hope so.


  1. Fantastic read Gav and some nice photos too! Mapledurham? Was that on a Kodak ticket? I spent many a session pike fishing the weir and mill pool at the top of the section and also did reasonably well further down the stretch with some decent chub and a lone barbel (9 lbs 2 oz!).
    Great memories - thanks for sharing them - stay safe - Dyl

    1. Thanks Dyl, you too.
      By the 1990s I was fishing Mapledurham on the Reading & District ticket. Same stretch of the river though. The carp was from the upstream beat, above the weir. Almost always had the whole place to ourselves. Good times...

  2. Great post Gav.

    That first Carp of yours is a proper Wild example of the species. I've only seen one other, a 4 pounder by Steve Gorrick from the GU by Stockers - it tail walked!

    My first Carp (1976) weighed about six or seven pounds from the Gade behind the mill at Croxley. Floating crust. I didn't have any scales with me, since they were with brother Phil with you and Paul Hunt down at the Royalty fishery after the Barbel.

    Remember being served sweetcorn for dinner?

    1. Thanks Ric. I remember your Gade carp, thougn I'd forgotten it was in '76, while we were all catching our first barbel on the Royalty. And I do remember I was envious!

  3. That common is an awesome fish and would rate highly in anybodies list of captures - I hate you ;o)

    A very enjoyable read and some great pictures.

    1. Thanks Dave, it made such a nice change to have a fish photographed in daylight, by someone with a decent camera, and who knew how to use it! Doubt I'll ever catch a more immaculate carp.

  4. I'm not, and never have been, into fishing, but I thoroughly enjoyed that post. Bloggers are ten a penny, but ones who can actually write are a much rarer beast. Great stuff.


    1. Bit of a self-indulgent post on my part, if I'm honest, but I'm delighted to hear you enjoyed it, Malcolm. Thanks for your kind words.