Chris Ball | Back in the Day : Britain’s largest carp water

Carp have probably been in the River Thames since the Middle Ages, so Chris delves into a little of its carp fishing history

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Britain’s largest carp water

What is the largest body of water in the country which holds a reasonable head of carp and could be termed a ‘carp water’ – worthy of anglers’ attention? These days it has to be the River Thames. This massive watercourse, which has its beginnings way up beyond Oxford, then much later tumbles its way through Greater London, through the heart of England’s capital, and ever onwards to finally end its journey by feeding into the massive area known as the Thames Estuary. The non-tidal area of this vast river, changed by the Thames Barrier in the last 20 years, possibly holds the largest carp too – however, that depends on who you talk to!

With the tremendous catches reported in 2018, including the first authenticated 50-pounder by Nick Helleur, the Thames is very much the focus of attention by a growing army of dedicated carp anglers.

Some history

The River Thames has had carp swimming in it for centuries, there are references to large fish as long ago as 1739 and, indeed, a 20-pounder was reported all the way back in 1883. I can find references to 400 king carp being released at Henley in 1895 by the Henley Fisheries Preservation Society. Whilst another club, the Thames Angling Preservation Society, released 3500 fish between 6 and 10 inches in size at Hampton Court, Ditton and Twickenham in 1908. And let us not forget the countless carp that have made their way into the river at times of flood – for there are many gravels pit and other stillwaters adjacent to the meandering path of the Thames.

In my special (photo) album I have a double-page spread of Thames carp caught over the years. It includes a picture sent into the newsdesk at Carp-Talk in the late-90s of a truly magnificent tidal-caught common; it weighed 38lb. However, let’s turn back the clock even further, to over 45 years ago (1974) and tell the story of a new Thames record carp caught by notable big fish angler, John Cadd.

Two years before John Cadd connected with his big fish, the Thames had thrown up its first fully authentic 30-pounder in the shape of a 30½lb mirror to Allen Champion. This fish (unfortunately, the picture quality is unusable) came from a stretch at Sonning in October 1972.

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A famous stretch

The Medley is a famous stretch of the River Thames. It runs through Port Meadow, a piece of common land on the outskirts of Oxford, and is the scene of many historic events that date back to the Domesday Book. For as long as John Cadd can remember, 100 root aspen trees have stood like sentinels along the towpath, as if guarding the jewels of great fish that lie in their tranquil shade. John Cadd had fished the Medley all his life, but it was only in the late-60s, when the Thames night-fishing ban was lifted, that he realised the Medley’s full potential.

The famed shoals of Medley’s large bream were what John Cadd specialised in. He had caught many 100lb-plus catches from an area called Sandy Banks. It was on one of his first night-fishing sorties around that time, that he realised there were some unseen monsters lurking in and around an area of cabbage patches. One chap was even broken on 7lb line – an unusual occurrence. Then, one night, John actually hooked and landed one of the swim’s big fish. This turned out to be a barbel of 8lb 12oz. That’s it, he thought. The tackle-smashers must be barbel.

However, this theory was short-lived because two weeks later he and two other pals were broken, each on 5lb line, on the same night. Furthermore, what appeared to be massive fish, far bigger than any barbel, could be heard leaping far off in the darkness.

Forty-minute battle

The first week of September 1974 came and John’s usual Friday night stint was planned. The evening was mild, with a slight hint of a breeze. It had rained heavily in the week and the river was running slightly faster than normal. John tackled up with his 10ft swim-feeder rod, along with a trusty old Mitchell 300 reel loaded with 4lb breaking strain line.

He had a busy night with plenty of bream falling to his tactics – but then, as a distant clock chimed 3am, as if by magic, the bream stopped feeding. It was almost 4.30am when he had a half-inch pull round on the rod tip. He struck firmly and the ‘thing’ was on. Unlike the other big fish lost in the swim, this one just powered off downriver instead of making for the safety of the cabbages opposite. It took maybe 100 yards of line in a single rush, getting perilously close to the backing on the reel. In all, John reckoned it must have taken 40-minutes to land. As he staggered up the bank in the half-light, he could see a huge leather carp in his landing net.

Later in the morning, the carp was weighed and then photographed in front of at least 30 people, many of them who gave up their morning’s fishing to witness the carp. It was weighed in a hessian sack on a brass Salter 40lb spring balance. When the sack weight was taken off, this made the true weight of the fish 31lb and, in turn, a new River Thames record.

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Mick Clifford