Go fishing - you might become the sport's next big record-breaker

One of the great joys of fishing is the thrill of not knowing what you’ll catch next.

Wednesday, 4th March 2020, 8:00 am
Chris Hayes with a whopper of a pike, caught in Sussex

When the float slides away, the rod tip whacks round or your slumber is disturbed by the screech of a bait alarm, its odds on you’ll have no idea what has decided to take your bait.

For the pleasure angler, which probably covers 90 per cent of us, we really don’t mind what we catch – anything but a blank seems to be the prevailing thought. For others that bite might be the fish they have dreamed about, a real whopper, perhaps a record breaker?

Recently Colin Smithson, a member of Petworth and Bognor Angling Club achieved just that with a huge barbel that pipped the British record by just an ounce and it caused quite a stir.

For Colin it was a magic moment when all those days of catching nothing can be forgotten and for a period of time you become the proud owner of a new record. Until, of course, someone else comes along and realises their own dream. This record got me thinking, how easy is it to catch a record-breaking fish?

In recent years big fish have become quite commonplace. We are seeing a surge of potential record fish that have the record committee scurrying around trying to verify claims.

Much of this is due to the proliferation of commercial fisheries who see big fish as a major marketing draw and the incredible work done by organisations such as ARRT (Arun & Rother Rivers Trust) who have done so much to improve river quality.

Of course, it could also be that these locations see a high level of high-protein baits that fatten up fish like human bodybuilders. For instance, when Dick Walker landed his record breaking carp in 1952, the angling world gasped at its size, an impressive 44lb.

This record stood for more than 30 years until the same lake yielded a 51lb monster. Today fishing for carp is a boom industry and a whole series of lakes have been dedicated to produce huge fish. In the past 15 years alone more than 50 carp in excess of 62lb have been caught and the current record is a shade over 71lb but this record won’t last – already an 83lb fish was found dead at a noted venue and in Europe carp of 100lb-plus have been caught on a regular basis.

This has led to some ‘record fish’ being disqualified because the fishery couldn’t prove they were raised in this country. It looks like angling has joined the world of football and decided to import star players from overseas to attract the crowds.

Of course, some records have stood forever. In 1922 Georgina Ballantine caught a salmon on the River Tay that weighed 64lb. It took her more than two hours to land and it was nearly 5ft in length. Its still the only record held by a female angler and the delicious irony is the prestigious Fly Catchers Club of London commissioned a watercolour of the beast which hung in their posh lounge... a room and club that was forbidden to Georgina as it excluded women from its membership.

The good news for the late Miss Ballantine is her record is unlikely to be beaten – the bad news is the rapid decline in wild salmon entering out waters.

If you think these record fish are inaccessible or available only to a select few members of private consortiums then be assured that any one of you can catch a winning specimen,

Eleven record fish come from Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire, all caught on a daily ticket or club membership. You could, for instance, travel to the Wey at Shamley Green near Guildford and try to beat the current bullhead record which currently stands at just 1oz.

If you’re after something a bit bigger, pay your daily fee and have ago at the British record for silver bream at Mill Farm, Pulborough, which stands at 3lb 4oz, or travel to Godalming to catch our only true native carp, the crucian – the record is yours if you land anything over 4lb 10oz.

Or, of course, you can simply join the Petworth and Angling club and stand every chance of catching a record barbel.

Steve Penticost,

Petworth and Bognor Angling Club,