With lots of anglers currently talking about otters after the Countryfile program aired on BBC1 last week, I thought it was the perfect time to write some background story of an amazing carp which was recently lost to our furry friends. The fish was over 50 years old and, as anyone will tell you, carp of this calibre are something of a rarity in this country. What’s more amazing is this one lived up north and had a special history.
I first heard about the fish in 2015. Well, that’s not exactly true, as I actually got told about it quite a few years before then but didn’t follow it up. It was my mate Tony Delaney who tipped me off that an ‘unknown’ common close to 40lb had been caught in the spring of 2015, a capture which made its way on to the ’Net as having been caught from a Yorkshire venue. The exact location was being kept quiet, but because fish of that size are rare up here its true location was soon uncovered. What was more interesting was the fish was also caught alongside a mirror of 37lb which had exactly the same pedigree.
I know that fish!
It didn’t take long before I started having a look at the venue where these two fish had been caught from. At the time I didn’t tell many people where I was fishing, but just as I started regular trips a lad called Lee Mason landed the mirror at 38lb 6oz and sent the pictures in to Carp-Talk. It was at this point when Paddy Webb on the newdesk thought he recognised the mirror as one he’d caught many years earlier.
Paddy takes up the story: “Back in 1974, I was 11 years old when my mum managed to get me into the local angling club as a junior member. The club had only one venue, Redbourne Pond, the largest and most mature water on a small complex of clay pits we referred to locally as the Brickyards, or Bricky. Redbourne was special because it was the only pit containing carp, having received a single stocking in the sixties according to the older members. Fast forward four years to 1978 and I wasn’t fishing for the carp, but I had discovered night fishing for tench and bream. That was how I got to know the couple of carp anglers who’d turned up from around Lincoln; we nicknamed them the Lincoln Imps. The elder of the two was John Shucksmith and the younger, only a little older than me, was his brother-in-law, Gary Bayes. Yes, Mr Nashbait as he is now! It’s a tale for another time, but the Lincoln Imps’ presence was a catalyst for me catching my first carp in August 1978, and the start of the 1979/80 season saw me hitting the banks as a carp angler after a close season of treetop observation. I had my first double at 10lb 14oz on the second day of the season, but then all I managed to do was lose fish until mid-July when I landed a 13½lb mirror which eventually came to be called Pinky. This is the fish I recognised Lee Mason holding at 38lb 6oz in the summer of 2015.”
Once Paddy recognised the fish he told me all about it. I then opened up to him about my trips to the venue and what else I knew. Paddy already knew the fish had not been caught from Yorkshire but instead much closer to his home in Crowle, North Lincolnshire.
When I showed Paddy the pictures of the common at almost 40lb he recognised it instantly as a fish he’d been chasing in the 1970s and 80s when both fish were only doubles. Paddy again: “I never caught the common myself, but that one was the first carp I ever saw take a floating bait, back in the close season of 1979. Though it was only a low double at the time, it was one of only two commons in there, and as it was always a couple of pounds bigger than the other one, we called it the Big Common.”
The Forgotten Pit
The amazing thing about these two fish is that up until 2015 when they started getting angled for regularly, they had lived an almost stress-free life for at least 25 years. They were no longer in Redbourne Pond, but instead in another pit which had been virtually neglected. Paddy again: “In the mid-eighties, Redbourne, the brickworks and much of the surrounding land, which by then included three or four further unstocked pits, was sold. By 1986 or 1987 there was a syndicate on Redbourne and I’d lost touch with the place. Fast forward 15 years or so and I returned when I was asked to have a look at a couple of the other ponds to assess their suitability for development as fisheries. Even though they were on the same Bricky complex, they’d always been separately owned. I’d fished there even before I fished Redbourne, but for many years they’d been run as a put-and-take trout fishery, full of rainbows.
“I set foot on the place for the first time in about 20 years to find things had changed. The trout syndicate had done a lot of earthworks, rearranging the layout from what I remembered. The vast reedbeds had gone from what we called the Power Station Pond, to be replaced by causeways to make casting easier for the fluff chuckers. As we came to a smaller adjacent pond I’d always known as the Blackwater, the lad who was showing me around said, “There are some carp in this one.”
“It was a bright, sunny summer day and three quite large carp were basking near some marginal reeds. I crept closer for a good look and was astonished to see that the middle sized fish was a common I recognised. “That’s the big common from Redbourne!” I told my companion; the big chunk missing from the middle of its dorsal fin was unmistakable. I estimated it to be about 30-32lb, quite a bit more than twice the size it was last time I’d seen it. All three fish were within a couple of yards of the bank, so I got a really good look at them. The biggest was a mirror of about 35lb that I was positive was Pinky. I didn’t recognise the smaller one, but the identity of the other two made me sure. “They’re all from the Redbourne,” I said, “I’ve caught that big mirror twice. I wonder how they got in here?
“My immediate thought was one of the local carpers who’d been fishing Redbourne when it went syndicate might have moved them (there were no locals in the syndicate to start with). However, I’ve recently talked to someone who fished it after I left and found out that the complex flooded regularly in winter in the late eighties and the separate pits effectively became one big pit for several months throughout winter and spring. It could be as simple as that.
“I told Crowy about the fish I’d seen, but he didn’t follow it up because I don’t think he believed there were such big fish in this area which were off the radar. It was in 2015 when the owner of the Redbourne side managed to acquire the remaining pits on the complex and angling was officially allowed on Blackwater for the first time in years. I say “officially” because the pits had become very overgrown and forgotten about, and I’ve since found out that one or two lads had fished there and kept it quiet.”
Most of Paddy’s own pictures from his days fishing on Redbourne have been misplaced, so he chased up one of his old schoolmates and angling companions, Mark McAnaney, to see if he could help with matching up the fish. Paddy also managed to trace some images off another old schoolfriend who fished Redbourne in the early days called Stuart Wortley, who caught the common from Redbourne when it was a double. Mark’s pictures reproduced the best and the common and mirror were matched up with those caught in 2015, substantiating their history.
To cut a long story short I ended up catching both the common and the mirror in 2016. Just as I started to fish for them in 2015, they were being referred to as the ‘forgotten fish’ and the venue where they lived was called the Forgotten Pit. Both fish were caught at least twice in 2015, although there was a bit of a mystery surrounding the common as the last captor decided to move it. It then remained uncaught for another year until it was located in the Power Station Pond and eventually caught last summer by West Yorkshire carper Damian Lyles. It was at this time when it started getting called the Missing Common.
As I write this in the middle of January 2017, as far as I’m aware the mirror known as Pinky still lives in the Forgotten Pit (aka Blackwater), although it hasn’t been caught since I had last May. The common, however, was sadly found on the banks of the Power Station Pond just before Christmas showing classic signs of having been killed by an otter. I never saw our furry friends whilst I was fishing for either fish, but I have been sent pictures of another carp on the complex which has survived what looks to be a certain otter attack. Its tail is all ripped and it has claw marks on its flanks. None of the pits are fenced and otters are known to be in the area.
I can’t put it into words how exciting the fishing was when I chased these two incredible northern carp. I landed Pinky in the spring weighing 37¾lb and went on to bank the common in the autumn weighing 38lb. Both quests involved very quiet fishing on pits that had no named swims and lots of mystery. It was like stepping back in time.
To see one of these carp chewed up on the bank was heartbreaking. My head just dropped when I saw the pictures sent to me by Jimmy Hibbard, as I knew straight away which fish I was looking at. The story behind these two fish is special and indeed very rare in today’s carping world. How they had survived under the radar for so long you could only imagine. I spent most of last spring and summer chasing those fish, and whilst I was rewarded for my efforts I know of others who weren’t as lucky. The common was older than me, so to see all of that history lost in one meal was absolutely devastating. I have seen similar pictures of other carp killed in this way, but because this one meant so much, it went deep.
I’m a massive countryside lover and I’d never wish to see any hatred brought towards any wild animal. Otters are only trying to survive. However, the fact is they are having a big impact on our sport and it is only going to get worse, which is why the work carried out by the likes of Embryo and the Predation Action Group needs our full support.
Otters aren’t going to go away. They will keep on spreading and, unless a piece of water is fenced, you can absolutely guarantee that sooner or later it will be visited.