The Wild Carp Trust
What’s your main role within the Wild Carp Trust?
As one of the Trust’s three founders, I’m a spokesperson and figurehead for the charity. In this capacity my role is to encourage support for the very special wild and feral carp we’re here to conserve.
I’m also Chair of Trustees of the Wild Carp Trust charity, where my role is to lead and drive the charity to ensure we deliver on our charitable objectives. Fundamentally this involves inspiring and encouraging those who volunteer their time, or donate funds, or support in other ways, to help us to collectively achieve amazing things.
What’s your vision for the Wild Carp Trust?
That some day we will generate enough support and donations to enable us to help the original true wild carp, perhaps by funding conservation and research programmes, or living gene banks, to ensure these fish don’t become extinct.
But we’re mindful to take baby steps and conserve one strain at a time. In this respect, my vision is that people – especially anglers – will see wild and feral carp as something special, historically important and valuable. Appreciating them bucks a 70-year trend for ‘biggest is best’ in carp fishing (and considerably longer in carp farming) so it’s a big but very important ask.
How will you achieve it?
By having clear and measurable objectives, supported by a plan of actions owned by people who are committed to achieving them, and being accountable to those whose donations fund the charity.
This sounds very businesslike, and it is needed, though I’m very keen for the spirit of the Wild Carp Trust to remain as we achieve our goals. The ‘how’ we do it is as important to me as the ‘what’ we’re doing.
Why? Because the charity is run entirely by volunteers; friends with a shared love of wildies. This friendship and camaraderie is important. Too many organisations become overly bureaucratic, cliquey or political. I want to avoid this with the Wild Carp Trust. Doing what we’re doing, therefore, should be fun and energised. People should want to help.
In volunteering their skills, resources or networks, people should be able to play to their strengths and see tangible returns for their efforts. So I’m keen for the Trust to report achievements so that we can track progress towards our goals and demonstrate that we’re doing what we’re here to do. Hence this blog, which serves as a lovely record of our achievements to date.
What do you hope that others will bring to the Wild Carp Trust?
Passion, energy, commitment, authenticity, conscientiousness, rigour, professionalism, humour, kindheartedness, complementary skillsets and experience, a genuine love and care for heritage carp and a desire to provide them with safe futures.
Your passion for wild carp
Why wild carp?
They’re living connections with the past and so very, very rare. Golden in colour, golden in value. They’re proper treasure, for those who can find them.
How and when did you discover wild carp?
Almost without knowing, I’ve been in the presence of ‘wild’ carp since birth. The cased carp that was displayed in my family’s living room (and now in my study) is one such fish. Weighing 6lb 15drms, it was caught by my grandfather in 1961. But I didn’t make the connection until much later in life. The cased fish was inscribed ‘Golden Carp’, and not ‘wild carp’ or anything indicating the long history of these fish.
It was only when reading the works of Kevin Clifford, Chris Yates and John Bailey in the eighties that I learned about these historic strains of fish. I’d become captivated with traditional carp fishing through the books of BB and had gone in search of old, lost waters. These led me not to uncaught monsters but rather to small, lean carp that I enjoyed catching but which felt – to my teenage self – like stepping stones to bigger fish.
It was only when fishing with famous carp angler Mike Winter at an equally famous lake in Devon in 1996 that I was taught to treasure these old fish. I’d caught a 14lb 9oz wildie and, although thrilled with the fight it gave me, had commented that I’d really hoped it had been a 20lb king carp. “I didn’t bother to photograph it,” I’d said, “as it didn’t quite make the mark.” Mike told me fair and square that the fish I’d caught was equivalent to a 40lb king carp and was most likely one of the original fish stocked by BB himself some fifty years earlier. “It is quite likely,” said Mike with well-practised schoolmaster scorn, “that you will never again catch such a historically important carp. BB brought that fish to this lake in wet moss laid in the footwell of his motorcycle sidecar.” Fact is, Mike was right. That fish remains my biggest-ever wildie and is the only one that I could claim was handled by BB and me. But as retrospectively frustrating as this capture was (I still regret never taking a photo), the event led to Mike taking me under his wing, educating me about wildies and setting me off on errands all over the country in search of them. The rest, as they say, is history.
Fishing for wildies
When did you catch your first wildie?
It depends on your definition of a wildie. My first-ever carp was a 5lb fish from a farm pond, caught when I was just 15 years old in 1989. I thought at the time that it was a small common carp but learned later that this water contained only feral carp. After seven years of fishing the water, my biggest carp weighed 12lb 10oz and I knew that few in there were bigger than this. But I wouldn’t call them wildies. Rather they were long, lean, feral carp.
My first wildie, from a proper historic strain, was caught in 1991 from a moat next to a manor house that was listed in the Domesday book. This really whet my appetite for fishing for wildies in historic, timeless locations.
Never really ‘of my time’, even as a kid, I always loved the escapism to be found when immersing myself in ‘olde-worlde’ places. Hence why I became a traditional angler. The vintage gear was lovely to use and looked right in these traditional settings. I quickly understood what Chris Yates meant in the penultimate chapter of his classic book Casting at the Sun when he said he was “fishing for an image”.
What’s your favourite way of fishing for wildies?
Having been a fly fisher for trout long before I discovered coarse fishing, I’ll always enjoy rising a fish. So do enjoy catching wildies on a dry fly.
My favourite method however is floating breadcrust, freelined and drifted out on a breeze that’s blowing from behind me. I use a centrepin and split cane rod, and it feels like long-trotting on the river. Such a slow and relaxing way to fish. It can take half an hour for the bait to drift into the taking spot, but during that time I’ve unwound as much as the line from my reel.
And, of course, freelining a bait takes some beating. Not having any weight on the line gives a totally different feel when playing a fish; they swim differently and, when using a centrepin, the connection is so much more immediate.
What’s your favourite wild carp water?
Pant y Llyn in mid-Wales. It’s the one I refer to as ‘The Sanctuary’ in my Wild Carp book and is where I go to fish and escape my woes. It’s up in the mountains, wild and very remote, so I can go there and be alone for days on end. Bliss.
Also I have some secret pools that I fish, and these are really special as they’re known only to me and a small number of friends. That makes them very special, knowing that visiting them involves privileged access and an equally big privilege in keeping their secrets.
Any waters you’d still like to fish?
There are loads. There’s a big reservoir in Cornwall that contains wildies, also some pools in Norfolk and Northampton that have been on my radar for some time. And, such is the joy of hunting for wildie lakes, there are still more on my doorstep in Wales to explore.
Really, my big dream is to fish for wildies overseas. The strains in mainland Europe are potentially older than in the UK, maybe with Roman origins. There are some lovely fish in France and the Netherlands that I’d love to experience, let alone those in remote areas of eastern Europe or around the Mediterranean.
And I’d really like to fish for river carp. This isn’t something I’ve done much of before but the fish look really lean and powerful. Some of my fly fishing friends catch stupendous wildies in rivers overseas. I’d be up for that, for sure.
However, I get a bigger kick out of conserving wildies these days than I do in catching them. Fishing for them feels like I’m taking something from the water (even though I put all the fish back), whereas with conservation it feels like I’m giving something. So my ultimate ambition is to see and touch a true wild carp, especially if it’s one that the Wild Carp Trust has helped to save.
Conserving wild carp
Why conserve wild and feral carp?
Conserving true wild carp is obvious – they’re threatened with extinction. No species should become extinct, especially – as with wild carp and so many other species – when it is a result of man’s activities on the planet.
Conserving feral carp is less obvious. Personally, I believe that each heritage strain should be conserved for its historic merits – much like is done with farm animals by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. It’s the age of the strain, not the appearance (shape) of the fish that’s important. For example, I was emailed recently by an angler who suggested that feral carp are not worth conserving. “Given that they’re just common carp that have reverted in the wild,” he said, “if they were wiped out then all you’d have to do is wait another 700 years and you’d have the same lean fish again.” Therein is the point. In 700 years time, the strain that had been wiped out would have been 1400 years old. Older, rarer, better. So we should conserve them now, to protect their heritage as much as their future.
Conservation, as I’m learning, is a contentious and political subject. There are those who believe that wild creatures should be left to their own devices, to survive on their own in the wild. Then there are those who seek to improve their habitats, or reintroduce animals to the wild that were bred in captivity, and there are those who believe that keeping animals in captivity – either in a safari park or zoo – is the best way to prevent them from becoming extinct. All approaches have their merits, but the things I abhor are passivity and apathy. Not taking action when something needs to be done frustrates the hell out of me. There are too many researchers, academics, interested parties and so-called conservationists simply ‘observing’ the decline of our natural resources rather than taking action to protect or preserve them.
If I could take some 100% authentic wild carp from their native river and put them into a zoo then I’d do it if this meant the strain would survive with its genetic integrity intact. (And of course, their offspring could be reintroduced to the wild.)
It’s long been known that anglers are the ones who most care about fish and the health of our aquatic environments. (Hence why most of the Wild Carp Trust’s supporters are fishermen.) But I’d like the plight and fragility of wild and heritage strains of carp to be known outside of angling circles, so that the general public – and especially younger generations – express interest and take action to support these rare and incredibly beautiful fish.
So, if there’s one thing you do, please spread the word about wild and feral carp.