Are commercial carp just too big?

The changing face of commercial fisheries has been highlighted again this week after it was revealed that one of the biggest match weights of the year – a colossal 430lb taken from Earlswood Reservoir – was made up by just 46 fish averaging almost 10lb apiece.

With the carp in other well-known stillwater match fisheries outgrowing their surroundings, questions are being asked on what the future holds for the commercial side of the sport.

In response to the trend, many fishery owners are switching focus, and beginning to cater more for specimen anglers, and less for the pole and pellet brigade. Tackle shop owners, too, have noticed the shift, with many reporting a gradual increase in the number of match anglers buying carp and specimen rods.

And those who remain loyal to traditional matchfishing techniques are having to beef up their tackle in order to cope with their outsized quarry, with line and hooklink strengths increasing all the time.

This was borne out by the tactics used by Oxford angler Nick Dean to set the new match record at Solihull, Birmingham bagging water Earlswood. To tame his heavyweight specimens, Nick fished an 11mm pellet or 8mm white boilie under a loaded 8g waggler, using beefy 10lb mainline, 0.20mm (8lb) hooklength and a size 14 hook.

It was the second event on the trot that the 43-year-old had won at the venue, and fell to pellet waggler tactics from peg 66 on the noted Engine Pool. Nick also lost a further 15 fish and could have recorded a mind-boggling weight of 600lb-plus.

Earlswood is owned by British Waterways, an organisation whose other superwaters, such as Drayton Reservoir and Makins, are already seeing anglers turning up with bivvies and bite alarms to target specimen-sized fish. Yet just eight years ago

Earlswood made history when Steve Gregory smashed the British match record with 414lb of carp, taken not on beefy tackle and strong hooks, but on a short pole and paste approach favoured by many traditional matchmen.

However, since becoming bigger, older and wiser, the fish in Earlswood have moved further out from the bank where Method feeder, bagging waggler and pellet waggler tactics have come to the fore. In response, BW constantly monitors its stocks, in order to move the bigger fish to a separate ‘specimen lake’.

BW angling co-ordinator Carl Nicholls said that the organisation has a cut-off point when fish become too big.

“A 15lb-plus carp is too big for match anglers. It’s not fair to keep such fish in keepnets and a match angler’s tackle often isn’t strong enough to land them. Once fish reach this size we either move them to a big-fish water or turn that venue into a specimen lake, as we have at Drayton,” said Carl.

Earlswood bosses plan to transfer the bigger carp from Engine Pool into its Windmill Pool this winter to create a specimen water. In the meantime, it has put 3,000 carp in the 2lb-3lb range back into the Engine Pool in an attempt to keep the fish sizes right for matches.

Elsewhere, England international William Raison has also seen a recent upsurge in specimen angling at Gold Valley Lakes in Aldershot, which he co-owns.

“Carp fishing on commercials is very appealing, especially to young anglers because it’s instant – it isn’t like polefishing because you don’t need much gear and you can catch plenty of big fish. We put all our 10lb-plus carp into Gold Lake and the smaller ones into our match lakes,” said Will.

But not all fishery owners want to keep the match and specimen fishing scenes separate. Phil Briscoe, boss of Maver Larford Lakes in Stourport, says that he wouldn’t dream of removing the hundreds of 15lb-25lb fish in his Specimen Lake, a water which is heavily matchfished. He claims his stance is in response to what his anglers want.

“I think match anglers are getting sick of catching F1s and smaller carp. They want something that pulls their string and it’s satisfying to land one. Obviously you have to gear-up correctly and use specialist methods such as heavy pole gear or the splasher waggler. There’s no problem with specimen-sized fish in commercials, provided the lake is big enough to house them,” said Phil.