Enough of Clarissa the carp - I want to catch Gerald the gudgeon!

Steve Penticost with a carp, whose name has yet to be confirmed
Steve Penticost with a carp, whose name has yet to be confirmed

Recently I was asked, as someone who had returned to angling after nearly 40 years, what I thought had changed the most in my time away.

Initially my reaction was that it was equipment – easy to understand when you’re in a well-stocked tackle shop surrounded by a massive array of tackle dedicated to catching almost everything that swims.

Much of it was entirely new to me, I had never heard of method feeders, boilies, hair rigs and pellets.

The array of multi-coloured baits reminded me of an old corner shop and its jars of sweets. Who knew fish liked a bit of chocolate orange? However, one thing did stand out: carbon fibre. Now rods were lighter, stronger and in the case of poles, longer. In fact, I didn’t recall seeing a rod made out of any other material. My old fibreglass float rod would have stood out like a museum piece.

But despite all this immense array of gear and having spent time working out what is could do, I came to the conclusion the biggest change was not equipment or fancy science-based baits and complex hook arrangements, it was much simpler. It was a fish.

Even if you only fish your local club waters, you cannot escape the fact the one species of fish now dominates the scene, carp. It’s even more evident if you go to one of the excellent local commercial fisheries and it’s easy to see why.

They are tough, fight like crazy, live a long time and grow fast and big. There also not difficult to catch. Recently I was part of a competition in Lancing, where in six hours, 27 anglers caught more than 1000lb of carp.

The modern angling scene has become obsessed with carp almost to the exclusion of any other species. However, this is not exactly new – the story dates back to even before my time.

In 1952, on a private water in Herefordshire, a monster was caught. The angler was Dick Walker and he had just landed a mighty common carp weighing 44lb. This had been no fluke, for Dick and a few like-minded mates, had been dedicating huge amounts of time trying to catch a record fish.

The angling press went wild and even the national press got excited and for a while Dick was as famous as that other legendary angler, Mr Crabtree. To make the moment even more memorable the fish, now oddly named Clarissa by the press, was not released back into the lake but given to the London Zoo, where this author stared wide-eyed at this specimen on a school trip in 1963.

Today there are more column inches in the angling press devoted to catching monster carp than any other species. You can even watch `celebrity anglers’ catch them on TV. Our tackle shops are full of dedicated equipment including underwater cameras and remote controlled `bait boats’.

There’s even a full range of camping equipment so you can spend days by the lake. All of course are guaranteed by the makers to help you catch the fish of your dreams. Of course, you don’t need all this equipment, but anglers, like golfers, are often suckers for the next big thing.

For us mortal anglers you can, for around a tenner a day, stand a very good chance of landing a big carp, but you will also catch plenty of smaller versions that will still give you a lively time.

Clarissa was the flagship of her species and she stood supreme for 20 years, today the British record stands at over 60lb and yes, she and every other big carp swimming has a name too. I can’t think of any other fish that has been given this status.

Perhaps as a counter, we should all start doing this for every good fish we catch.

So, anyone up for trying to catch Gerald the Gudgeon, the mighty (little) monster of the Western Rother?

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