To fish Redmire in its prime was the dream of many an ambitious carp angler. But every dream has its price and few that became bewitched managed to break away untouched or unscathed
After promising his carers we’d look after him, we twisted the old boy’s arm to get in front of his typewriter and tell us some tales about his early days at Redmire Pool
It was inevitable that any anniversary issue of Carpworld was bound to invoke a lot of memories in me. I can remember those early days of Carpworld at Grosvenor Square, with Steve Wilde on his Apple Mac and notable anglers of the day drifting in and out of the office. There was an excitement and joie de vivre at that time that towered way above the threadbare carpets and distressed furniture that an embryonic business engendered. It was a period in my life when I felt charged with anticipation of what every new day would bring – carp fishing was still a mountainous mystery, at times seemingly unsolvable, but as young bucks we felt we were on a spectacular road of discovery.
That was all a long time ago – but now locked into this memory game, one thought turns to another – especially at my age as the days when I smell the roses along the way become fewer, and I occasionally think about another use of flowers. As the perceptive Stephen Fry once remarked: “Don’t keep reminding me about my age, I’ve got my bladder to do that.”
So thoughts of my youthful fishing have drifted here and there, but it was my early carping that was the natural genesis which, I guess, blossomed into those unforgettable days at Redmire.
It’s always good to start at the beginning, or so they say – thus, I suppose, my first real connection with Redmire came through the British Carp Study Group. That was the first rung of the ladder in so many ways. Up until applying for membership of the Group I was just a local angler who had become a bit obsessed with carp, like a few before but so many since. Of course, I’d read about Redmire and its monsters via Walker – but the fishery was an intangible, somewhere I’d never visit and always a distant mirage.
The BCSG membership saw my circle of carp fishing friends increase significantly from my insular little world and my main fishing pal Mally. The local group of allies soon included Kev Roberts, Rod Hutchinson, Bob Ford, George Sharman, Mick Brown, Pete Melbourne, John Shucksmith, Pete Evans, Trevor Moss and Rex Elgood – and various invitations were arranged that allowed me to spread my wings from my home waters at
I suppose, my first real connection with Redmire came through the British Carp Study Group. That was the first rung of the ladder in so many ways
Brandesburton. I had a few trips with Rod to ‘his’ Pinetrees Pool and Cyprinids in Lincolnshire, and to Waterways in Cambridgeshire with Rex Elgood.
As I flexed my wings I travelled further afield for the odd excursion and, like a parched sponge, I was drawn to various gatherings organised by the BCSG. Fishing get-togethers, AGMS, and the inspiring conferences all helped to satisfy a junkie’s craving.
I think I first met Jack Hilton at a BCSG conference, or maybe at the famous Golders Green event, in about 1971, where just about every famous angler associated with carp fishing was present and approachable. Only one other event that I can remember came close – and that was much later at the Carp Society’s Dick Walker Tribute Conference. Anyway, I got Jack’s address from the BCSG magazine’s list of members (Jack joined in 1970) and I wrote to him in March 1972. I got a nice reply saying he had put me on the waiting list. I bumped into Jack a few times during the following years and always let him know that I was still keen on being a syndicate member – but made a point of not being a nuisance and pestering him.
In some ways it seems strange that a little sheet of paper can change your life – but of course it can, and does for many people in many ways. And I don’t suppose for a second that when Jack sat down and wrote that note in January 1975, offering me a syndicate place, that he imagined it might be a life-changing crossroads for the recipient. If I’d rejected the opportunity so many things might have turned out so very differently.
I was allocated the rota that had Len Arbery and Bob Jones already as members, and this rota happened to fall on the first week of the season which that year started on a Monday.
However, a bombshell rocked the syndicate in late April. We received a letter from Tom Mintram saying that Jack had given up fishing altogether and that Tom was now running the syndicate. I could hardly believe it. We’d had a close season
I bumped into Jack a few times during the following years and always let him know that I was still keen on being a syndicate member – but made a point of not being a nuisance and pestering him
syndicate meeting at Jack’s house only a few weeks earlier and Jack seemed full of enthusiasm and looking forward to the coming season at the Pool. I’d had a long chat with Jack about baits and he mentioned a few new ideas he intended to try out. It was difficult to comprehend and I couldn’t really get much out of Tom on the phone about it either, other than it had something to do with Jack’s religion – he was a Jehovah’s Witness (although that was the first I’d heard of it). Being something of a rank atheist myself I could never really understand Jack’s involvement with this particular religion. He was clearly a very intelligent man, seemingly rational, likeable and I never heard anyone who knew him say a bad word about him – but I’ve always found it difficult to understand that he could cherish that Old Testament absurdity. Tom clearly admired Jack and valued their friendship, and I’m sure he probably knew more than he was prepared to say, but this event was to have serious implications down the line.
Because I was a new member I’d previously asked Jack at the syndicate meeting if I could go down on the Saturday to familiarise myself with the lake and have a mooch around. I later confirmed this with Tom, after he’d taken over, and whom I always found to be very amiable and generous, and he readily agreed. I suspect this willingness to say ‘yes’ eventually started to cause some issues during Tom’s control of the syndicate. I’m the first to accept that the role of a syndicate leader is not an easy one, despite what some folk might think, and being in control of the fishing at the country’s premier carp fishery would and did entail plenty of difficult decisions for Tom. ‘No’ is not a simple word like ‘Yes’ – it’s a much more complex one, and often difficult for both parties to manage.
I think that extra time I had at the Pool, prior to the rota beginning at midday on the Sunday, got me off to a bad start with Len Arbery though, who turned up late afternoon on the Sunday at the normally allotted time. I suspected he, not unreasonably, thought this extra period had given me a bit of an advantage – which undoubtedly it had since I’d naturally been slipping a ‘bit’ of bait into a few likely spots. The outcome was that, without being too immodest, I turned the place over. The existing members had used sweetcorn in the past but thought it was blown. I knew it wasn’t. They hadn’t caught enough fish on it because they hadn’t really understood how to use it effectively. I’d been using sweetcorn almost exclusively for the past couple of years, on various waters, since being the butt of a rude awakening by watching Dennis Mcfetrich clean up on Waterways with it in 1973.
From what I could discover about fifteen 20s had previously been caught on sweetcorn, yet, during that weekend before Len arrived, I’d counted at least 40 carp that looked over 20lb, together on the shallows and odd ones scattered around the lake. I’d also come to the conclusion that the biggest fish was Bowskill’s ‘38’ and the next biggest looked to be about 30lb. No monsters, but a truly incredible number of 20-pounders in such a small water and a lot of them as yet uncaught on sweetcorn – one of the most effective carp baits ever! I could hardly believe it when I catapulted some out on the shallows and carp started picking it up almost straight away.
As it turned out I caught nine carp over 20lb in that first week. That is certainly small beer nowadays, but judged by what had been caught previously it was eye-opening in 1975. Jack’s best
season at Redmire was 1971 when he caught five 20-pounders. Bill Quinlan caught a total of seven in 1970, Chris Yates had eight in 1973, and Hutchie stood head and shoulders above them all, managing eleven in 1973 and thirteen in 1974. Redmire had gained a reputation of being a very difficult water, but, in all honesty, it shouldn’t have been – 40-plus carp over 20lb in a bit less than 2½ acres is never going to be difficult if you get it right.
There were desperate struggles to get an effective bait going at times by some of the syndicate. But this surprised me a bit. I mean, you can soon come to a conclusion about a bait in a water where you can see the carp’s reaction, and why some of them fished baits like sultanas and potato was a mystery to me. So many of the baits they had used were simply rubbish. Yet some members persisted with them for months and years. You only really had to climb the trees and watch the carp’s reactions to different baits to learn if they were attractive or not. It’s not rocket science. Of course carp will eat almost anything edible – eventually. Once you’d seen the reaction of carp to sweetcorn, in a water where it had never been used before, you knew a lot of previously ‘accepted’ carp baits were virtually useless. I had been here before, of course, with the ‘scales falling from my eyes’ in about 1970 when a carp angler from Kent showed me the difference between his sausage meat/gravy browning paste and my potatoes!
Being able to fish Redmire in its heyday was a wonderful opportunity – all thanks, of course, to Jack Hilton, and I look back at those times now with many happy memories. It is difficult to articulate but for me it was a magical place. I find it impossible to adequately explain why, so I’m not going to try – but it had something I’ve never found anywhere else. Alone there at night, particularly on those early visits, cocooned in all its wonderful history, you would sort of drift into a kind of contented serenity that you had at last found Shangri-la.
I made some long-lasting friends that have endured to this day, but paradoxically isn’t it strange that a dream starts to lose its potency once you start to live it. A bit of the familiarity breeds contempt syndrome, I guess. So, the intensity of Redmire also brought with it some not so-good memories and, I guess, if the truth be known, everyone involved shouldered part of the blame in varying degrees.
By the follow year Tom’s management of the Pool was causing disquiet amongst several members. I won’t go over all the issues, most of them have been well aired in the past, but half the syndicate in 1977 felt that Tom wasn’t really cut out to control the fishing. It was a very difficult situation because everyone liked Tom as a person, but some of us didn’t like certain things he did. I guess the main event that turned me against Tom was the way he handled Dick Weale and Lenny Bunn’s application to join the syndicate. I personally found it unpleasant, and said so to Len
Arbery as we left Tom’s house after the meeting.
Dick and Len had made something of a name for themselves with their incredible success in Norfolk, especially at Waveney Valley Lakes. They had invented a new bait they called Black Majic (it was later shown that this was based around some 1960s research into fish olfaction and amino acids by Dr Mike Pawson at the MAFF laboratory at Lowestoft, although Dick and Len obviously kept this to themselves at the time).
At the meeting in the close season of 1976, Tom told Dick and Len that the Redmire members didn’t have secret baits and all information about baits had to be shared. This was ‘sort’ of true in a way but was all rather vague, and Tom himself had told me as we sat together talking at Redmire in June 1975, that he was trying out a new bait, and if it was successful he might reveal it to the rest of the members!
So the punch line at the meeting was that places in the syndicate were available to Len and Dick, but only if they revealed the ingredients of their bait. It seemed to me that Len wasn’t at all happy with this, and I suspect if it had been down to him alone he would have told Tom to stuff it and walked out. Dick Weale was clearly of two minds and eventually asked to go outside the room to discuss it in private with Len, who I thought at this point had resigned himself to not agreeing to the ultimatum.
You can dress it up in any way you want, but it was nothing more than a shabby shakedown. Although I don’t know for certain, I’m sure Dick and Len were nowhere near the top of the waiting list, and Tom bypassed several deserving anglers and used membership of the syndicate just to find out the ingredients of their successful bait. There was no option suggested by Tom that they could be members if they promised not to use Black Majic. It left a bad taste in my mouth as I know it did with some of the others, including Len Arbery.
Of course all this acrimony came to a head in 1977 with the so-called ‘take-over’, which was no such thing. Perhaps foolishly, half the syndicate wanted it operated by exactly the same members but in a more democratic way. It’s a fact that the owners were inclined towards this until Jack stepped in to fight Tom’s corner. I don’t blame Jack for that, loyalty is one of the real measures of true friendship, despite the fact that many nowadays think it’s only purpose comes with a plastic card.
Myself and Tom’s other challengers were verbally attacked, particularly by those who ran syndicates themselves, such as Pete Mohan – top honcho in the British Carp Study Group. I could see their point of view, but the alternative suggested by these critics was that we should have approached Tom directly with our complaints was just simplistic. My view, even nowadays, is that such an approach would have had even less chance of success on our part. Sometimes there is no easy path, but what is clearly evident now is the naivety we all displayed at the time. One big mistake, which might have made a difference, was being talked into making a statement to the angling press. This was promoted by Ron Felton, who clearly was briefing his pal at the Angler’s Mail, Roy Westwood, about the goings-on. Our carefully worded statement, agreed with the owner’s solicitors, was passed on hastily to Roy Westwood, by Ron in a phone box, as soon as we exited the solicitor’s office. That left me a bit uneasy. Naturally, the Mail sensationalized our statement and I’m sure this did not sit well with the owners.
Another abiding memory connected with Redmire is the injunction Tom issued against Angling Times and myself in the High Court in 1977. I’d started writing a series of articles about carp fishing after my departure from the syndicate, and eventually wrote one about the general history of Redmire, why I believed that carp had grown so well and how I felt it was past its peak and would slowly decline. Nothing particularly remarkable or revealing. The Angling Times gave notice that the article would be appearing in the following week’s issue, which obviously alerted Tom.
In 1976, Tom had instigated a no-publicity condition of membership – previously Jack had just insisted that any publicity or mention of the Pool in articles had to be cleared with him. Tom subsequently considered that his new rule was binding for life, which was clearly a nonsense for numerous reasons and despite the fact that he had no control over events that had happened previously, or anglers who’d fished Redmire before his tenure. His second point in the injunction was that I was about to reveal sensitive facts about the syndicate (he imagined I might disclose what he was paying for the syndicate lease and the owners’ details) and that would jeopardise his situation. The two points were connected because Tom believed that this particular information
was ‘privileged’ and couldn’t be revealed because of my nopublicity agreement.
Clearly, Tom hadn’t got the faintest idea of what I had written so was taking a huge gamble. A High Court injunction on a newspaper is not something you undertake lightly, even when you are sure of all the facts and are a wealthy individual. Such action has the potential to be extremely costly and it was self-evident that the publishers, East Midlands Allied Press, who were a very large company, would defend their position to the bitter end. I never understood why Tom didn’t get in touch with me before he took out the injunction. As it was there was only a few days between the issuing of the injunction and publication and, because of the very serious ramifications of the newspaper not being published, the hearing was held on a Sunday – a very rare occurrence getting a judge to sit on the Sabbath!
Knowing what was written in the article, and realising that the hearing was very likely to go against Tom and cost him a lot of money, I decided (against the advice of the legal team at Angling Times) to contact Tom directly (we hadn’t spoken since he’d regained control of the syndicate lease). We spoke on the phone for some time and I explained the general content of the article and I gave him my word that there was no reference to the value of the lease, what syndicate membership cost, or any details regarding the owners, the real name of the lake, or its location. Tom seemed to take a combative stance during our conversation, and eventually stated he would only consider withdrawing the injunction if he was sent a copy of the actual article by the Angling Times’ solicitors. I knew this wouldn’t wash – newspapers will never get into a position where they let thirds parties have a say on what they believe they are entitled to print. It’s a question of principle.
The injunction went ahead and the presses rolled. The article was printed exactly as intended and Tom was left to pay his legal advisors a significant amount of money. I was told at the time as we left the Court, that Tom also had to pay Angling Times’ legal costs. I truly felt sorry about this incident, and still do to this day. It could so easily have been avoided but I don’t know what else I could have done, or what I could have done differently. A few years later I met Tom on the stairs at a Carp Society conference. He was coming down and I was going up. He was with someone, regrettably I can’t remember who, and they suggested we shake hands. We did, and I think it was some measure of the man that he didn’t object. That was the last time I saw Tom. A significant part of our lives had a shared common thread – carp fishing ran through our veins and we fell under the spell of the same mistress for a while.
That intoxicating period of my life slipped away. I fished Redmire again after Clive Deidrich wrested the lease away from Tom, but it wasn’t the same – the magic had gone. Perhaps too much blood had been spilt, too many friendships damaged. Maybe I had changed, moved on? I can look back now and think: How the hell did I let carp fishing take control of my life? People at the time told me I had an obsession – I told them they were wrong, it was simply that carp were all that mattered to me. Maybe Redmire was the climax of my madness, the fever broke with the loss of my syndicate place and I recovered my sanity?
Those times at the Pool bring back lots of memories and emotions. There were great highs, some disappointments, regrets, laughs, abiding friendships forged, and experiences never to be forgotten. I wouldn’t have missed one single second of it for the world.
LEFT Dick Walker many years after his association with Redmire Pool ended – but there is a link in this image. I took the photo of Dick, my favourite actually, at a small estate lake I managed at Cave Castle in East Yorkshire. Dick caught the carp (on sweetcorn), which was one of a handful of six to eight pounders that I’d purchased from Jack Hilton, which he removed from Redmire after a successful spawning
LEFT A youthful Rod Hutchinson with a rainy-day Redmire common – his obsession came to an abrupt end when his Redmire membership place wasn’t renewed by Jack Hilton
TOP Jack Hilton (left) is pleased by the capture of the famous ‘38’ by his good friend Tom Mintram ABOVE LEFT Jack’s ‘Narnia’ letter, opening the door to a world of mythical beasts and majic! ABOVE RIGHT Tom’s letter came like a thunderbolt in the Old Testament
ABOVE A unusual two-tone carp weighing 22lb 3oz. The only one I ever came across from Redmire Pool
ABOVE A typical Redmire common weighing 24lb – another victim for the ‘matchstyle baiting’ of sweetcorn
ABOVE A brace of 20-pounders caught during a visit in August 1975 with Bob Jones
ABOVE Dick Weale with a 30lb 2oz mirror caught in 1980. The author caught the same carp in 1975 at 26lb 12oz but unfortunately dropped it badly. The fish swam off but looked decidedly ‘dodgy’ and he was half expecting it to turn up dead soon afterwards. The following year Kevin spotted it feeding but didn’t have the heart to cast a bait to it after what he’d put it through
ABOVE TOP Maybe it was just obsessional madness, but I wouldn’t have missed one single second of my ‘Redmire times’ for the world
ABOVE BOTTOM Happy times, and Tom with the famous Redmire leather, landed by myself in 1975