Why all the fuss about a great big carp?

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Image: Rob Hales

I SEE it didn’t take long for the bullshit story about the new British Record carp and the so called online death threats to be twisted out of all proportion by our wonderful tabloid media here in the UK and to be pinged around the world.

I appreciate all the reasons why you Aussies are trying to resist the spread of a non-native species like carp in your waters and why, as a consequence, you must think it beyond parody that British anglers could get worked up over something you consider to be nothing more than a pest which is only fit for garden fertiliser.

So let me start by saying that whilst I’m not by any means a dyed in the wool English carp angler I do enjoy catching them from time to time as they look good and pull hard. I’ve even been lucky enough to land one or two whackers including a brace of fifty pounders. I also have huge respect for those dedicated guys who are prepared to spend them time trying to crack hard waters for big carp that have seen it all before.

Of course, it’s a bit bonkers that certain fish get given names as if they were pet cats but I can tell you that whilst smaller carp can be almost suicidal in their desire to be captured there are plenty of bigger, wiser specimens swimming around in European waters that are the very opposite of pet fish. The average Aussie angler wouldn’t believe the lengths we have to go to persuade these creatures to even pick up a bait.

Consequently, there are carp fishers who are up there with the finest anglers I know and who could catch fish anywhere. Others are mono species specialists who only know how to fish one way – but what’s new about that? I’ve met plenty of fly fishermen who wouldn’t know one end of a spinning reel or baitcaster from the other and vice versa.

Young Tom Docherty landed the fish of his dreams when a new record carp weighing 69lb 13ozs finally rolled over his outstretched landing net at the prestige Avenue Fishery run by respected carp enthusiast Rob Hales in the beautiful English county of Shropshire. I want to congratulate Tom on a great fish and Rob on creating a great fishery and that really should be the end of it.

Sadly, we now live in the internet age that has enabled the sad, bad and mad to become overnight journalists and commentators. Sadder still is the fact that recreational fishing, that most relaxing and natural of all pursuits, is by no means immune from the outpouring of bile and vitriol that is all too often a feature of social media. I saw plenty of it in my time living and working in Australia – more often than not from redneck apologists for commercial over fishing weighing into those of us who made the case for conservation and sustainable fishing practices.

Having spent over half of the 25 years I served as an elected representative in the UK in an web free environment I can tell you I was glad to get out of it in 2010 and leave the internet trolls behind. Our recent poisonous debate over Brexit was an unedifying spectacle in general and particularly so online where the levels of naked racism plumbed new depths. So the point I’m making here is that carp fishing, like any activity enjoyed by large numbers of people, has its fair share of mal-adjusted followers who feel empowered by the platform, and anonymity, that social media provides.

Apparently, the charge sheet against Tom and his fish included claims that it was imported from abroad and stocked in a manmade puddle “not much bigger than the average Australian backyard swimming pool” so it could be easily captured as a new British record fish. The truth is obviously, somewhat different.

The Avenue is one of a number of specialist carp fisheries run by Rob Hales and is far from a puddle. It is a rich, 17th century estate lake of over ten acres in which fish thrive and prosper. Rob deliberately grows on fish he has selected for stocking in nearby reservoirs and ensures that only the fittest and the best are stocked into his waters. He uses the offspring from the fastest growing and healthiest fish to ensure that the best possible genetic lineage is maintained in his fisheries. And what on earth is wrong with that? Stocked fisheries exist all over the world and are an important angling resource.

Here in Australia, in Queensland, you have stocked barramundi into your dams where they’ve grown to trophy sizes and provided great sport. Down in Victoria you can find Atlantic salmon swimming in freshwater lakes and in New South Wales I’ve seen Murray cod and bass introduced into natural river systems to boost populations of native fish.

Even now I get regular emails on the latest developments at the Gaden Trout Hatchery which supplies the Snowy Mountains with its fish. To object to the capture of a fish just because once upon a time it was stocked from somewhere else is to object to the basis of a fair amount of what we do and enjoy as anglers.

Although, it was exaggerated out of all proportion there was a bit of jealousy and unpleasantness around on social media but as far as I’m aware the “death threats” are not being taken seriously by either Tom, Rob, the police or anyone else who can hold a pencil the right way up. I’m afraid they are the product of the age in which we live and if you look hard enough on Facebook or in the unmoderated comments section of most major publications you will find the same trolls posting stuff online that they would never dream of saying face to face.

I hope Tom’s fish is accepted as a new British record carp and that he carries on enjoying his fishing just as much as he did before all this kerfuffle sprang up. I’ve always found the delete button a more than useful tool in these circumstances.

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