by: Tim Richardson
The arguments roll on about the importation of carp and catfish of any size, whether legally certified or not, and the pressure to provide big fish for carp anglers willing to pay exorbitant sums is a growing phenomenon of the modern carp fishing scene. But they belittle the catches of extremely hard-earned smaller fish of both today and in the past! Read on to find out why this subject is so explosive and its big implications for you!
The growth rates and sizes of carp and catfish in the UK and in other countries has sky-rocketed in response to many multiple factors. In the 1970s and early 1980s the average UK carp angler would very often have been ecstatic to catch 20 twenty pound carp in a year or even just 5! By utter contrast the new instant carp anglers of today can immediately fish waters where this can easily be achieved in a week. But the small average carp sizes caught by the very top anglers of the past is due to the fact that big fish well over twenty pounds were exceptionally rare fish in the UK. This is why someone who has been carp fishing for over thirty years now with multiple UK personal best fish over 45 pounds from the last 10 years would have had what was considered an exceptional personal best of 35 pounds during the Eighties. But now a fish of 35 pounds is a relatively small fish in quite a few UK carp waters today. This is quite a paradigm shift for the much more experienced carp anglers around I can tell you!
So you can see that historically speaking, big fish waters in the UK were few and anyway the carp in them mostly did not exceed the low thirty pounds in weight. Very often the best waters in an entire county would only have 2 upper thirties in them – if that so you can see just what an achievement catching a thirty pound fish really was going back to the early Nineties and going back before that. At most the average UK carp water held a few twenties at best and only the odd far rarer big thirty, although this varied between regions in the UK to places where it was a real result just to find a water containing a few twenties let alone thirties!
By the time of the late Seventies and very early Eighties the vast majority of the twenty pound carp in the UK were estimated to be found in North Kent waters and Darenth was a magnet for thousands of anglers who wanted their first twenty! The Tip Lake even managed a couple of decent fish around 35 pounds but remember this was the absolute pinnacle of carp fishing possible to 95 percent of carp anglers in the whole country at the time! In fact during this period most average carp anglers never even saw a thirty pound carp or even visited a carp holding more than 2 or three thirty pound fish, let alone caught one!
During the Seventies and very early Eighties it was exceptionally rare to meet a carp angler who had landed a thirty pound carp because such fish were just so rare; I only ever met one and he really did have that strange look in his eye and have been through hell and back as the fantastic atmospheric carp author Dennis Watkins-Pitchford (BB) would say! (Confessions of a carp fisher has been my favourite carp book for decades aside from Cypry the carp by Peter Mohan and I guess these matched the time I began carp fishing when fishing felt very much the same as in the books as opposed to the rammed bivvy city circuses of today!)
On one syndicate water I fished it took me 8 years of very regular fishing every week to catch my first thirties from there. This was simply because they did not grow to that weight until they had been in the lake for 8 to 10 years. This scenario has been echoed in so many waters around the UK and even the legendary Darenth complex only held one upper thirty by that time. But now all around the UK, those twenties from 20 years ago are now in big thirty and very many are now in the forty pound bracket or bigger still! Beginners today know no different and these sizes are now taken for granted!
Note that the majority of truly English big fish of today now average 25 to 30 years of age or much more and going back to the real winters we used to have, we would even take a photo of a 6 pound carp in January because that is how rare and prized they could be at that time! It really does blow my mind that last week I did just a day session and in 7 hours managed 30 doubles to over 20 pounds; just how much do you truly appreciate, treasure and actually remember each individual fish in that lot?!
In fact my results began at zero twenties from Shotgate reservoir in Essex in a season circa 1982 and 1983. This was because during that season the biggest fish in that syndicate water was just 19 pounds and the average fish was a low double; for a bigger fish you had to fish Darenth or perhaps hope you hit the single thirty rumoured to exist in a local park lake.
But just look at how drastically catches have changed! By complete contrast, during my last ever session on the reservoir around 1991, over 5 days and 4 nights I banked an incredible 20 fish averaging 19.12 pounds, including the biggest in the lake at 35 pounds.
Of course this all sounds crazy to new carp anglers today. A complete beginner can go to any of the new brand of commercial instant carp angler fisheries, armed with ready made baits and all the fancy over-priced rods, reels, bivvies and alarms etc. Now beginners can hook thirties, forties (and even fifties and above) on their first ever cast; so you can appreciate why such catches are pretty meaningless now compared to the past! Such fisheries really were not a part of the carp fishing scene 30 years ago when I really started after bigger carp, but all this just demonstrates how meaningless setting targets based on weights alone (like a certain Mr Maddocks did) are utterly meaningless today. This weights and goals thing is to my mind complete BS and what genuinely matters (and lasts) is how you catch your fish, how much of yourself you put into it and what every single individual carp caught truly means to you individually!
I remember taking a walk around a well-known commercially-oriented fishing water at a complex in Sussex; you know the kind take their money and ram them into as many swims as possible even if it means completely stressing the fish out and meaning crossed lines of other anglers on takes because they are only fishing yards away from competing anglers lines! (Knit one pearl one as they say; this is knitting rather than carp fishing!)
This is the typical kind of water where loads of so-called noddies or not really committed occasional carp anglers are in abundance and long may they stay there! I have tried to help new anglers and less experienced anglers wherever possible to deeper their appreciation of their fish and their fishing environment because so many seem to take the gift and great privilege of carp fishing today we have today so much for granted and too often see fish as trophies and objects not even as living creatures with individual consciousness and unique histories and development that have carved out their own unique place within their environment.
Far too many carp anglers especially those of the instant must-have mentality kind, seem to read the carp magazines (with very biased advertorials) and end up becoming like members of a tribe or part of a herd of fishing clones! They unfortunately follow all the fashions and copy everyone else without a hope of breaking free of the bullshit and ever seeing the bigger picture thinking this will bring them the real joy and inner satisfaction and are like hamsters in a wheel; never seeing the cage from outside in. One example is if you put a tonne of over-priced commercial crap bait into a water (via the majority of copycats using it) then the majority will catch on it in the short term as it becomes the most abundance food source for the carp for a while.
Relatively few guys get it that that you will catch 5 to 10 times or more big fish than average copycat anglers do if a unique well very well designed bait is applied; but the truth is it takes time and very hard work! Apart from pure natural talent there great secret of success of football and basketball stars, pop stars and martial artists like Bruce Lee and other athletes, is that they practiced literally for hours every single day just to maintain their form let alone improve it to get to the top and stay there for a while – and the same goes in so many cases for countless well-known anglers who in reality are more or less full-time anglers!
When I think about it now, when I fished the Big Grange years ago, I barely remember a guy by the name of Danny Fairbrass; success takes time! I rate very many high profile anglers because they have obviously done the work, paid the personal price in hundreds of thousands of hours on the bank and they earn the results they get. It is not easy either when jealously in carp fishing is now so pitifully rife! Of course some better known anglers think they can treat lesser known anglers like a lower form of life and even stitch up lakes big-time which is very considerate, but that is the face of carp fishing today where uncompromising commercial pressure for market share can lead to extreme behaviour.
So back to those magazines and advertorials! The motto of the International Academy of Consciousness is; do not believe anything you hear. Question everything for yourself so you do not live in a fake world where deceptive appearances warp the true reality of so many things! Great anglers do the work themselves in the main but too many carp anglers have the impression they can achieve the same results without the work and without being more or less full-time anglers with all the development and refinement advantages over competing anglers that this tiny advantage brings! I get emails all the time from ordinary carp anglers who want help with bait advice who are struggling and using popular readymade baits that are producing so many big fish for those big names!
But please appreciate that if these anglers took their eyes off those big expectations that the adverts and catch reports build-up, and took the time and effort to understand carp senses, metabolism, behaviours and digestion etc first, and exactly how bait substances really do their work second, they would be in a hugely powerful position. With this knowledge they would be able to test out and discern all the very best readymade and homemade baits they wish for the rest of their lives – instead of changing bait companies and brands etc like headless chickens with wildly varying levels of confidence!
Of course what are the big companies trying to do but groom as many carp anglers as buyers as life-long customers with strong as possible brand loyalty where often it does not matter what the product does not matter so much as the price tag that can be flaunted to all on the bank! It reminds me of Cliff Fox (boss of Fox International) fishing Shotgate while I fished there, with all his gadgets and new gear. He really understood what he was doing and how to leverage to the maximum his newly improved gear and baits and he really knew how they worked by design too! (Note; he was the first person to bring out a commercial bait dropper in the Sixties so again, success at international level was far from instant!)
Unfortunately for so many newer carp anglers, they generally forget the one thing that matters to avoid being an average angler for life – i.e. being different and thinking for themselves. This actually means thinking like a carp having actually studied them and all that impacts upon their environment, all related ecosystems, reasons for modes of carp feeding and changing carp behaviours and adaptations to threats and opportunities presented by anglers. (I.e. generally thinking for yourself scientifically.) The measured scientific approach is the one single breakthrough that turned carp from being mythical monsters into the sport fish millions of carp anglers fish for today in the UK and around the world all year round!
So back to the commercial complex of lakes in Sussex where too many noddies rammed the banks for their own good! I met a rank beginner who had set up in the morning and landed 2 thirties and 3 good twenties by late afternoon. Comparatively speaking this is probably about as meaningless as 12 year old kids banking forties on Darenth! (Where on earth do you go from there for the rest of your carp fishing career?) Talk to Damian Clarke who says he probably caught his outstanding catch of the difficult Snake Pit common too early in his carp fishing career which maybe was actually detrimental in some ways.
I thank God I have caught all my fish in progressive steps right from the singles, doubles, twenties, thirties, forties and fifties pluses, and did not hook a fifty on my very first cast! I chose to fish what was regarded as the harder water on a Sussex complex and in about 15 sessions came away with 15 forties and a huge amount of jealously and resentment from other anglers. This was mainly because they thought I was some kind of noddy beginner or occasional carp angler like them and thought these catches made them look stupid. But then the definition of average anglers is that they think and therefore do what the average think and do; what you think manifests as what you do after all! (What is wrong with telling the truth?)
What these tiny-minded detractors and ignorant jealous haters did not realise was that I was no rank beginner. I had previously paid for my success having fished for 10 years on a very similar water against some extremely good anglers and was a very tough experience. That earlier water was extremely hard by comparison to the Sussex one and I only landed 2 forties and something like 30 thirties in 10 years of very consistent regular fishing throughout each year I fished it including right through winters! Consequently catching 3 forties in just 4 days with another lost at the net was easy at the Sussex water and that was the truth!
Although I can complain about the huge numbers foreign fish now present in UK fisheries, imports have allowed far more anglers access to big fish without having to fish for over thirty years as I have. But it does totally belittle catches of smaller fish which may in the past have been some of the mostly highly regarded, most significant and difficult fish to catch in the countries best known carp waters from the past! In fact they also make past achievements that rank very highly in the memory look stupid if you only focus on fish weights. I vividly remember the season I first caught 2 English thirties in a season. Buy comparison Im not so sure of the year I first caught over ten thirties from a commercial fishery because these catches were so easy compared to proper English fish captures!
Frankly the 20 forties I have banked to date from UK commercial waters do not compare at all with the achievement of my first few thirty pound fish. This is because of how many years the thirties took to grow in a water where I caught them at double figures and twenties first before catching them at over thirty pounds. This is despite the captures of some of my forties that were the result of some of the most intelligent fishing and bait designing I have ever done! Probably one of the biggest most dangerous problems of imported foreign fish is the mixing of slightly differently adapted carp immune systems and carp bloodlines etc, naturally developed in response to various conditions, diseases and parasites etc. We all know about the koi herpes virus and spring veremia; which have tragically killed many carp, both imported and more recently indigenous to UK lakes.
Much comes down to your personal reference points and opinions in regards to when exactly does a carp count as an English carp. Perhaps if a carp is imported as a fingerling (as were many of the countries biggest carp,) or maybe when their progeny reach adulthood perhaps then you might think these qualify as English? As we have no indigenous carp at all as they all have been imported right from Roman and medieval times and so on there are no true English carp just as there are no true English rabbits!
Maybe you think the only true English carp might be considered to be the original wild carp. The irony is that these are notoriously slow-growing and very low in weight compared to other strains and to catch even a double-figure truly wild carp would be a fantastic feat if you could actually find any and verify they are pure-strain that is! Certainly the appearance, abnormal growth rate, less than classical lines and prematurely short lived Mark Symmonds type of fish do not seem to be favourites among any carp anglers I have ever spoken to on this subject.
Personally I would much rather fish for carp that will potentially live to over 50 years and more but maybe only reach thirty pounds maximum in thirty years. I would far rather know that stocked fish will probably still be swimming around in a water for the next 50 plus years and earn their true place as part of English ecosystems than ugly artificial monstrosities that remind you how fake they are each time you land one. Ugly big fish are not required thank you very much! Ironically enough, although certain of our prized big fish in English carp fishing were originally imported, at least they are now old fish and have a pedigree involving a long history of being caught over many years and quite some decades in some cases.
Probably the hottest potato as it were is whether any angler would care anyway if any of our biggest so-called English fish were actually proven in the light of day to be not quite as truly English as they might have been presented. Would new evidence prevent anglers actually fishing for them because the desire to catch the biggest fish is so crazy in many anglers I doubt it very much anyway! Well, the controversy, arguments, doubts and questions continue on, but inspected legal foreign carp are in the modern carp fishing system and here to stay today – as much as in the last 30 plus years! Very few anglers realise how much corruption of fisheries and carp blood lines could have taken place over the decades due to the illegal importation of foreign fish. It is certainly a possibility that in some more questionable cases, just a few of the big carp most of us know of by name are not necessarily fully English (if you get the drift!)
The amount of big fish over the years that have suddenly appeared in waters and been recognised as coming from other waters is evidence of movement but what about all those smaller fish that are perhaps less distinctive and identifiable? It is such a shame that fish are actually being security tagged these days who the hell wants to catch a chipped fish; just how screwed-up and unnatural is that?!
When a water has some history as a big fish you can have so much more certainty as to whether a fish has been there since birth or as a fingerling or not. As an aside, how Withy Pool ended up with the UK catfish record is worth asking, because it was not exactly the most prominent catfish water in the country during the preceeding decades unlike the long-established catfish waters not a million miles away from it. But whether a fish is from the River Po or an estate lake or not it is still very much part of our our heritage to know every single bit of history of any of our record fish right from birth and if possible view details of records of captures of these big fish when young!
It is a fact that even clean certificated foreign fish (as well as English fish) can still pass certification but carry unknown factors which can kill our indigenous fish because the scientists do not know everything about them yet in order to identify them! Considering it can take a carp over 30 years to realise its potential as a sport fish and such a fish can be lost in an instant, importation whether legal or not is something every carp angler has great reason to be concerned about, but the same applies to risks involved even in moving fish from one English lake right next door to another!
But having said that, carp are an incredibly adaptive species and fish wipe-outs frequently leave individual fish which are naturally far more immune to various threats. often seemingly minor genetic changes and mutations that turn out to be highly beneficial occur in humans and carp all the time; after all what are koi carp, ghost carp, goldfish and king carp like the mirror, and leather carp etc after all, but natural and artificially induced mutants! Like I say it makes you think! For further details on carp bait making and big fish bait applications to gain competitive edges over your fellow anglers, see my unique carp and catfish bait secrets ebook at Baitbigfish!
By Tim Richardson.
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