I see it didn’t take long for the recent story about the new British Record carp and the so called online death threats to the lucky captor Tom Docherty to be twisted out of all proportion by our wonderful tabloid media and to be pinged around the world.
Within 24 hours I had requests from colleagues in Australia to explain what on earth was going on. The Aussies by and large hate carp, quite unreasonably in my view, and are trying to resist the spread of this non-native species which they blame for damaging both the habitat and recruitment of their indigenous fish. As a consequence, they think it beyond parody that British anglers could get worked up over something they consider to be nothing more than a pest which is only fit for garden fertiliser.
Now whilst I’m not by any means a dyed in the wool carp angler I do enjoy catching them from time to time as they look good and pull hard. This season I’ve spent some enjoyable time catching fish well into double figures off the surface and by float fishing in the margins. A few years ago I spent some time targeting carp in my local River Thames which was challenging but fun. I’ve even been on the occasional carping holiday abroad and was lucky enough to land one or two whackers including a brace of French fifty pounders. So I have huge respect for those dedicated guys who are prepared to spend them time trying 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 we all know that while smaller carp can be almost suicidal in their desire to be captured there are plenty of bigger, wiser specimens swimming around in our 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 wily 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. And there are others who are just mono species specialists who only know how to fish one way – but what’s new about that? I’ve met plenty of fly fisherman who wouldn’t know one end of a stick float or fixed spool reel from the other and vice versa.
Like all branches of our sport carp fishing is not to everyone’s taste and it does have its critics but here at the Angling Trust we remain enthusiastic advocates for both carp and those who choose to fish for them. We have spent a fair bit of time successfully lobbying the Environment Agency so that carp anglers can benefit from the new rules allowing a three rod licence and we have secured increases in funding for otter proof fencing to protect fisheries at risk from predation. Only last week we were delighted to announce a new tranche of Angling Trust Ambassadors including Bev Clifford, the owner of Carp Talk magazine and the TV star and carp enthusiast Scott Maslen. Our ranks were recently boosted with the appointment of Carp Team England manager Rob Hughes as one of our Angling Promotion Officers and we are working on finding new ways to involve carpers in the work of the Angling Trust.
But I digress.
There is no doubt 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 wanted to congratulate Tom on a great fish and Rob on creating a great fishery and that really should have been 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. 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, 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 a swimming pool” so it could be easily captured as 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. Far from being a swimming pool 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 reservoir 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.
The Aussies have stocked barramundi into their water supply dams where they’ve grown to trophy sizes and provided great sport. In the USA largemouth bass are regularly stocked to supplement local recruitment and here in the UK most of our stillwater fisheries have received some form of stocking at some time in their history. 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 to anyone’s 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. As for the trolls and keyboard warriors – well I’ve always found the delete button a more than useful tool in these circumstances.