Still Carping On
“...mystery’s all too involved, It can’t be understood, or solved.”
Another potpourri of angling related matters from the ‘godfather’ of carp fishing. As is usually the case, Tim’s feature addresses topical and varied matters that are swirling around in his mind at the moment
So we’re in our thirty-first year! I thought the 30th anniversary issue was magnificent, the only glitch from my point of view being that the feature taking an affectionate look back at Hutchy’s writings wasn’t credited to me, other than in the contents. The lead shot of Rod checking a typescript is one of my favourites of the great man still in his prime, taken prior to his detached retina operations, and ensuing physical problems setting in. The shock of his passing is abating. The memories get stronger. Thanks again, Rod, and here’s to the next carpfishing giant, and the next 30 years, with congrats to all involved in the conception and production of Carpworld 336.
The bait book, which has been 40 years in the making, is finally in production. Here’s a quote from the Introduction which explains how the book came about, and what it’s about.
“Carp were turned on by some amino acids. Were they by heck? It may not be apparent but I have a very logical mind. Fred Wilton was advocating proteins. Amino acids are the components of proteins, and carp were turned on by some ‘free’ amino acids. There had to be some sort of recognition factor there, but what? How could carp tell? It was that connection, and the later (for me) discovery that the most stimulatory amino acids are hydrophobic, meaning they don’t dissolve in water, that triggered in me a strong urge not just to know about carp baits, but to try to understand the relationship between carp, their food sources, and baits.”
That was the starting point really, going back to the mid-to-late 1970s. I wanted to try and understand a phenomenon that no one was trying to explain: how do carp know? Life is a chemical reaction, so what was the chemistry – or biochemistry – involved in carp’s researched and well-documented stimulation by a handful of amino acids? I haunted the reference library, and bought books on nutrition, fish chemoreception, biophysics and biochemistry, but they only took me so far. When you are trying to walk a road which has no map you get lost. In terms of trying to put together an explanation of what I referred to as ‘nutritional recognition’ I would get lost for years on end, which is why the book has taken so long to come to fruition. I suppose being in a dark tunnel would be a better simile than the road with no map. From time to time I’d see a light and think it may be the end of the tunnel, but it always turned out to be another resting point, until finally I arrived at the end of my tunnel, if not the tunnel. Achieving some grasp of the DNA molecule, and the concept of ‘messengers’, eventually took me as far as I can go. ‘As far as I can go’ involves hypothesising an explanation, of sorts. It’s even taken me a few years to arrive at a title for the book which I’m fairly comfortable with: Carp, Bait and ‘Nutritional Recognition’ (A hypothesis). A hypothesis is a way of saying ‘I think this is how it is, but I can’t prove it.’ I’m not even claiming it is a scientific hypothesis because try as I may I cannot get to grips with the equations you need to understand to fully come to terms with the biochemistry involved in hydrogen bonding, ionisation, attraction, or stimulation, which has to be the precursor to ‘recognition’.
I’m going ahead with publication of the book because I want it on record, and I’m not getting any younger. It involves contributions from Simon Horton, Lee Jackson, Kevin Knight and Rod Hutchinson, and acknowledges the great material, and influences on the subject of bait, that have been made available to us by such bait luminaries as Fred Wilton, Bill Cottam, Gary Bayes, Kevin Nash, Frank Warwick, Shaun Harrison, Mike Willmott, Charlie Dally, Harry Haskell, John Baker, Geoff Kemp, Duncan Kay, Keith Sykes and numerous others who have all written extensively about bait. In many cases they have made great baits available to us, and long may those who are still with us continue to do so. Some of the material has appeared in print previously, and some of it is new. The book is dedicated to Fred Wilton and
Rod Hutchinson, because it was Fred’s writings on protein and nutrition in The Third British Carp Study Group Book (previously published in The Carp) and Hutchy’s material on amino acids in Rod Hutchinson’s Carp Book that triggered my own exhaustive study of a subject which intrigued me from the start.
I think some of you already know that I was greatly influenced by Fred Wilton’s treatise on a personal level. If that was what carp needed nutritionally, what did we need? In the early 80s I was still a smoker trying to give up, and managed to do so immediately after I first digested Fred’s material. I gave up smoking, started running, took a greater interest in what I was eating, and started down the vitamin/mineral path which I still tread with great enthusiasm after adding numerous life-enhancing, health-protecting supplements through the years. (Re-browsing Derek Stritton’s book Too Many Rods recently I was intrigued to be reminded that Fred made Derek give up smoking in the 1970s – Derek being one of Fred’s ‘bait boys’ at the time, and still is I should add. Derek and I also have Big Bollocks in common, a comment which will be smilingly understood by Darenth regulars, and gleefully misunderstood by the rest of you!)
The only further comment I will make on the health score is regarding prostate cancer. I often get PMS on Facebook asking me to help raise awareness of prostate cancer, but without giving any recommendation as to what men should do about it. Alarm bells rang for me many years back when I read former MP David Steele describing the warning bells of ‘trotting down the landing to the loo’ six or seven times per night prior to him being diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was becoming that man and found a product called Prostease which I take as a safeguard. I’ve been on it morning and night ever since and my nocturnal excursions to the loo have been reduced to an unalarming level of once or twice per night.
Last month I commented that I had been intrigued by the chapter in the new Carp Society book Still For the Love of Carp about ladies’ carp fishing and the international exploits of the Miranda Brown-inspired England Ladies’ team, captained by our own Bev Clifford. There is also a lovely chapter about the Mangrove by my old friend Shaun Harrison in the book. I enjoyed the read, which brought back memories of one of my own all-time favourite swims on the Mangrove, Lightning Tree, and had me scurrying to the archives searching for the ‘unknown’ mirror of 38lb 4oz which was one of the fish in the record Mangrove brace landed by Shaun, which the chapter covers. The hoped-for comparison proved to be a tough ask. The problems with comparisons of Mangrove mirrors are threefold. One is that a lot of the original mirrors are similar lightlyscaled, leathery fish and difficult to compare. The second is that very often you are looking at the ‘wrong’ side of the fish when only one side has been photographed. And the third is that the Mangrove is a natural mere and contains fish that only get caught very occasionally. I suppose there is a fourth in that the water has been known as
a carp water since 1982, when Dave Preston first had it to himself (!), and the syndicate has been in existence since 1989. Changing personnel throws up another problem, of course, in that we haven’t always got access to pictures of all the fish that have been caught down the years.
I have hundreds of pictures of Mangrove fish. Shaun’s comment in his chapter that this was a little-known fish had me scurrying through the files to see if I could match it, and I’m not sure I can. I think it may have been my first 20 from the mere in June 1983, but can’t even be sure of that because the only picture I can find of that fish is a ‘captor returns’ shot, which makes comparisons difficult*.
I spent a great deal of time fishing the Mangrove through the late 80s and 90s and at one time had accumulated shots of over 100 different 20s. I mention that because my friend and neighbour, and now Mangrove syndicate member, Kip, had a lovely 33lb-plus mirror in a five-fish catch earlier this season, and I was keen to match it. I found it in my book Bivvy Three during my October 2014 session, but there is no picture of it on the syndicate cabin wall, and I can’t find it in ‘archive’ shots of mine and John Lilley’s, who was a Mangrove regular at one time and caught prolifically from the water. On Facebook I mentioned that it is a little-known fish, and was quickly corrected. It has become a quite well-known fish and former member and recordkeeper Roger Boocock sent me a number of trophy shots of the fish at 30lb-plus in the grateful arms of a number of Mangrove members, past and present. The fish has been named Son of Pawprint, a name I could happily apply to numerous mirrors I’ve caught from the mere. Pawprint is currently the biggest-know mirror in the mere, but I’m intrigued that Son of Pawprint never turned up in my captures, or those of John Lilley, through the 80s and 90s. Member Sherpa Dave insists that all ‘unknown’ fish have managed to negotiate the drainage systems to arrive in the Mangrove from another nearby mere, but my explanation is more practical: there are some carp which rarely, or never, get caught. The Mangrove is a very natural water in that it is a feeding environment in its own right, as many waters are, and there are fish in there that don’t appear to recognise baits. Current members will be surprised to learn that in the first few years it wasn’t possible to catch from the fringes of the pads, which now produce consistent results. Back in the day you had to try to identify the natural feeding spots and fish those if you wanted to achieve consistent open-water success. My obsessive water-watching stood me in good stead in terms of identifying feeding spots, and my winter result of 39 open-water fish from one spot in the mere in 1994 will always remain one of my outstanding carp fishing results. One of my mid-20 mirrors from that winter may just be Shaun’s mirror, but I can’t even be sure of that!
After an early flurry of success when I first fished the water in 1983 the fish became
very reluctant to get caught, and you got the impression that a lot of them simply didn’t recognise bait, or didn’t need it. Weather-wise the summer of 83 was similar to the one we have just enjoyed: it was a golden summer in every sense of the word, and Dave and I had the Mangrove to ourselves throughout that summer. It was known to the locals, and I first met John Blumfield, Steve Corbett, Tim Clent and Ray Stone that summer – and Fitz (Mark Fitzpatrick), who were all Erehwon members. Fitz had introduced Dave to the Mangrove but he wasn’t known to me until this guy clearly clad in carp gear appeared in my swim one morning. Oh dear: where to from here on this closely-guarded-secret water?
“Any good?” he asked, an opening gambit to many conversations between carpers.
“Not a sign. I’m fishing for bream, and haven’t had a touch.” I said, not knowing who I was talking to and brazenly lying through my teeth.
“That’s a shame. I’ll go and see Dave then,” he said, and left. I realised then that I had just made the acquaintance of the mighty Fitz, or Stig as Dave used to refer to his friend in his writing – the guy who had introduced Dave to the mere. Oh dear again!
A couple of days later Fitz was back. Dave had gone home and I was on my own. Would I go and photograph a fish for him? Would I ever! That was my introduction to the hallowed banks of adjacent Erehwon, and also turned out to be my introduction to the incredible Pinky, which weighed 38lb at the time, and went on to feature strongly in the national big fish lists through the 80s. Sometime later, during one of my cherished Erehwon sessions, I got the opportunity to photograph Pinky for Fitz as a mid-40. Those first two 1983 encounters with Fitz are treasured memories of a golden summer when my life dramatically changed direction – in my head, if not in reality for a few more years. It’s a strange coincidence that 1975, my first summer on my other life-changing water, Snowberry, was also a golden period weather-wise.
Shaun Harrison’s favourite swim was Lightning Tree, as it was mine and many other people’s for many, many years. I spent hundreds of hours in Lightning Tree and Fallen Tree through the 90s and just loved their isolation, charismatic beauty and productiveness. I enjoy bivvy life, and I love to have a big stretch of water out in front of me, which must be a throwback to some previous
existence. When I went to Lac de Madine for the first World Carp Classic in 1998 I was surprised how quickly I took to fishing the big waters, and I still enjoy having an uninterrupted view to some distant far-bank horizon where I can empty my mind (in theory) and sit and gaze into nothingness for days on end.
Looking back there was a lesson to be learnt from my initial Mangrove ‘success’. It was early in my bait experiences but I knew that one of the scientific study papers on which carp flavours were being based (the 1960 Loeb Report) was an American study to find the artificial flavour carp responded to quickest. (The study was to find a flavour carp would respond to naturally so they could poison this nuisance fish!) Maple proved to be the most effective, so I chose maple flavour for my first Mangrove session. The fact that it worked so effectively on my first couple of sessions was down to the findings of the Loeb Report, and the fact that my new-found local friends John, Steve and Tim had been baiting the swim I fished with maple-flavoured baits prior to the start of the season! Lucky me... The mere later repaid John when he joined the Mangrove syndicate a few years back and caught Pawprint at 40lb-plus, the Mangrove’s first 40. I’ve never asked him if he started on maple-flavoured bait 27 years on from when he inadvertently pre-baited my first Mangrove swim for me – which was actually the only swim on the mere at that time. Dave was a bit of an animal and you wouldn’t readily describe the pitches he fished as ‘swims’!
There is a line of thought on flavours arising from the Loeb Report and a comment Mark Walsingham made some time back. There are fish which simply do not respond to unnatural foods, i.e. baits. Taking that further Mark believes that as fish get older they become increasingly predatory. We’re all familiar with the syndrome of carp feeding on tadpoles and fry, and much of their diet is based on live creatures, which raises a train of thought. Long ago Fred Wilton commented that the nearest protein to a carp’s requirement is carp, because it has the same amino acid profile. Live food also has active enzymes which presumably the carp can make use of. I know from personal experience that our enzymes become less efficient as we get old(er). I used to live on fillet steak, but can’t digest it now, and a number of other foods I used to enjoy fall into that category. To a great extent I’ve become unadventurous with bait. Find something they feed on and sit on my hands until
they feed on it confidently enough to get caught. That’s not quite true, because during the period when I’m starting a session and trying to win their confidence I’ll fish an attractor bait on one or two rods as a possible shortcut to early success. My goto attractor is Pineapple Juice, but there is a case to be made for ringing the changes with a range of attractor baits on one rod. To my mind flavours work because they imitate a carp’s natural food sources, so ringing the changes may just provoke a carp which doesn’t feed on baits to have a go at a new smell out of curiosity, or mistaken belief. In a recent issue I mentioned a special day when I had six Rainbow carp in a single day, including two 60s and a mid-50. What I didn’t mention was that in my early hours’ agonising that morning about what may or may not be happening in front of me I’d stacked a range of attractor baits on my bivvy table with a view to making changes on a couple of rods once it got light. As it happened I got lucky and had a fish just before light, which convinced me to hang tough and let my first line of attack take its course and come good – which it did.
The basis on which the Mangrove and Birch Grove are run has changed this year. Pip used to arrange the Birch Grove bookings, while I ran the Mangrove syndicate and the Birch winter syndicate. As you know Pip has moved on in life, Angling Publications is no more, and the Birch summer and autumn bookings in particular needed an office presence on the end of a phone or email to make and keep track of the bookings, and arrange payments. Long-time Mangrove and Birch member successful carper Steve Guy runs a company in Telford, and he and wife Lisa have taken on the Birch bookings, and are now involved in the admin of both waters under the Carp Waters’ banner. Continuity in the running of the waters is essential, and while I may yet be around for a few more months, or years even, the duration of one’s future is not a precise science once you reach 80 and more – notwithstanding the health supplements – so Steve and Lisa, with some assistance from my friends Sherpa Dave and Scott Green, represent the future running of the Shropshire waters when I lose any organisational ability I currently still aspire to, or my ability to breathe. Pip used to be the focal point for Birch bookings and would-be Birch winter syndicate and Mangrove members, and her role has now passed to Lisa and Steve. The postal address is Carp Waters, c/o KDS Solutions, Hortonwood 66, Telford, Shropshire, TF1 7GB. Email addresses are: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org The website is www.carp-waters.co.uk.
After many years of convincing myself of the validity of introducing new stock to both Birch and the Mangrove we finally achieved a confirmed mix of Fontfish mirrors and Mangrove/birch stock in one of our stock ponds over a period of nearly two years. This confirmed compatibility has enabled us to introduce some new blood to both waters, and to achieve a cross-breeding of the ‘home’ Isle-
“I think it is scandalous that by law we are still not allowed to ‘discourage’ otter predation by any means, other than the fencing of those waters that can be fenced”
strain fish and the new blood. The new fish in both the Mangrove and Birch are doing well, although there was a frustrating sequel to the Birch stocking last November. I used a picture of the best-looking of the new Birch fish to illustrate my feature in January’s Carpworld 328, and a couple of months later Sherpa Dave found that very fish ottered in the copse at the far end of the pool. Scott Green had three of the new fish in a winter session, two of which showed some otter damage, but since then both waters have been turning up some lovely new fish, a couple of which are shown here.
We’ve had a frustrating time bringing our mixed-strain fish to fruition. Two of our stock ponds are like Fort Knox in terms of protection against otters and cormorants, but our third pool is more natural, and tree-fringed, and we didn’t think we had a predation problem there. Unknown to us the cormorants had found it last winter and gorged themselves on our first-year Fontfish/mangrove crosses, so we have had to start our breeding programme over again this year. Over the Bank Holiday weekend we put protection in place by way of stringing the pool, and we now know that we have hundreds of 2-3 inch crosses from this year’s spawning activities. Nurturing some of these fish to adulthood in one of our Fort Knox ponds will be an exciting venture and we are very keen to see if we can push the upper weight limits of our main pools up in the years ahead as the crosses reach maturity. We will be adding to the stock of both pools at the back end of this year with double figure and a few 20lb-plus fish from our proven source.
The mention of predation warrants a reminder of the problems we will all face over the winter months. It’s mid-september as I write this and the cormorants are already showing an interest in our stock ponds, and we are getting reports of possible otter sightings on the Mangrove. (These may be mink as we definitely have mink present.) I think it is scandalous that by law we are still not allowed to ‘discourage’ otter predation by any means, other than the fencing of those waters that can be fenced. There was an Otter Workshop run by the IFM and the Angling Trust earlier in the year which a number of us attended on behalf of The Carp Society and The Predation Action Group. The PAG has seemingly chosen not to comment publicly on the workshop, but I will.
For a start an Otter Workshop is meaningless
without the full impact of all predators being considered. Otter predation is more far-reaching than it need be because of the activities of a range of predators, three of which (otters, cormorants and goosanders) enjoy what seems to many of us to be an unnecessary level of protection. Mink are not protected, but are a contributory factor, and the most worrying aspect of all is the spread of signal crayfish throughout our water systems. Why is that so worrying? Because signal crayfish predate on eggs and fry and their spread and increasing presence means that the chances of our waterways recovering naturally are rapidly disappearing.
The Workshop should have covered all aspects of predation because there is not enough prey to go round, and no chances of recovery. The authorities just do not seem to be able to grasp this. Worse than that, from my point of view as one of the voices of carp fishing, the tone of some of the delegates at the workshop was to talk down to the carp-fishing element. Where would the angling trade be without carp fishing? How big is the contribution of carp and specialist angling to the economy as whole? How big is its contribution to fishing licence income? How big is its contribution to the countryside economy? It’s massive on all counts, and far and away the highest angling-sector contributor to all these aspects of the economy, other than the tourist trade.
Ah, the angling tourist trade... This largely means salmon rivers, and the salmon rivers are in steep decline. There are a number of significant research papers dating back to the early 90s laying a large portion of the blame for declining salmon stocks on predation by cormorants, goosanders and otters. The number of smolts making it back to the ocean is in irreversible decline, and is rapidly approaching zero on some important salmon rivers. The research bodies say predation is a significant contributory factor. The Environment Agency chooses to overlook this conclusion in its 2016 recommendations for the reinstatement of salmon stocks.
The only current solution to predation is limited predator control by licence, or to fence it! There are an increasing number of carp waters and RSPB reserves being fenced, but you can’t fence the big natural waters, and you can’t fence rivers and canals. The over-protection of predators makes no sense whatever. A species is protected when its numbers are threatened, or it is in danger of extinction. No one is claiming that otters, cormorants and goosanders are threatened, or now in danger of extinction. The bird lobby protects our feathered friends, give or take the odd animal and bird species that the RSPB culls annually. The otter lobby protects otters. That’s as it should be, but who protects angling? Ask the Angling Trust for a solution to the otter problem and you are told “The ministers have told us not to go there...” which is a tad pathetic. However unpopular it makes us in the short term we should be going there to seek a meaningful end result in the long term. No one said it would be easy.
If your livelihood wholly or partly depends on an income derived from a fishery then you should legally be allowed to protect that fishery from predation by whatever means necessary. We (the PAG) went to a great deal of trouble to spell all this out quite graphically in our latest Fact Sheet publication (Some Uncomfortable Truths About Predation), and now that the urgent need to be out fishing may be abating perhaps some of you would give more thought to obtaining and sending a copy of the PAG’S Fact Sheet and predation film to your MP. I suspect we will be hearing a great deal more about predation in the months ahead until mating small mammals and ground-nesting birds and nesting water birds are easy pickings for the ‘ground predators’ again in the spring and early summer. In the meantime overwintering goosanders and cormorants (totalling 40,000-plus according to official figures) will be devouring their daily requirement of one pound of fish per day, and signal crayfish will be proliferating and feeding on eggs and fry. And the Angling Trust think we can solve all our problems by holding a meaningless Otter Workshop, which I think concluded that otters are not as big a problem as they are claimed to be.
Excuse the expression but when it’s too late and the predation reality shit finally hits the fan our uninformed or unseeing authorities will have a great deal to answer for. In the meantime is your conscience clear about any possible contribution you could be making in the battle we have on our hands to convince the authorities that more needs to be done about predation before it is too late? Never mind ‘What are they doing’ – what are you doing to help, other than chucking a few swear words and some misguided ‘shoot them’ advice onto the social media from time to time?
LEFT The lead shot of Rod checking a typescript
BELOW Draft cover of Tim’s new Bait Book
BELOW LEFT & RIGHT The new Society book had me scurrying to the archives searching for the ‘unknown’ mirror of 38lb 4oz which was one of the fish in the record Mangrove brace landed by Shaun, which the chapter covers
ABOVE Derek Stritton fishing the Mangrove many years ago. We have giving up smoking, under Fred’s influence, and Big Bollocks in common
ABOVE & RIGHT I think it may HAVE BEEN MY FIRST 20-POUNDER FROM THE MERE IN JUNE 1983, BUT I’M NOT SURE. (*I FOUND THE TROPHY SHOT AT THE LAST MINUTE AFTER THE FEATURE WAS FINISHED.)
KIP HAD THIS LOVELY 33LB-PLUS MIRROR IN A five-fish CATCH EARLIER THIS SEASON
BELOW My second encounter with Fitz turned out to be my introduction to the incredible Pinky, weighing in at 38lb summer of ’83. This carp featured strongly in the national big fish lists from 1982 to 1991
RIGHT & FAR RIGHT The Land of Make Believe: fishing Lightning Tree winter and summer through the middle 90s
LEFT ABOVE I’ll fish an attractor bait on one or two rods as a possible for starters as a possible route to early action
LEFT BOTTOM I’ll fish an attractor bait on one or two rods as a possible for starters as a possible route to early action
BOTH LEFT I used a picture of the best-looking of the newly-stocked Birch fish to illustrate my feature in January’s Carpworld 328, and a couple of months later Sherpa Dave found that very same fish ottered in the copse at the far end of the pool
ABOVE New Carp Waters’ administrator, long-time Mangrove and Birch member and successful carper Steve Guy pictured in 2007 with the aforementioned Son of Pawprint at a weight of 26lb 7oz – now my earliest record of the fish
RIGHT We have had to start our breeding programme over again this year. Bank Holiday work party time for yours truly, Sherpa Dave (Haughton), Steve Guy and Scott Green. We were taking anti-cormorant measures and setting up the automatic pellet feeder on the breeding pond
TOP AND MIDDLE RIGHT A couple of the new Mangrove fish are shown here: Luke Pegg (a charity auction guest in May) and member Dean Power in August