Red­mire Mem­o­ries

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

Carpworld - - CONTENTS - - Kevin Clif­ford

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

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