So Martin ‘Lucky’ Locke has lived up to his nickname by landing the world’s biggest carp at 94lb. Well done, Mr Locke,that is one serious lump of fish.
If you need some reference point to help you establish just how big a lump, consider this. Even if you took Dick Walker’s old British record and doubled it, there would still be room in its skin for more. That single fact alone makes Martin’s achievement, statistically as well as historically, worthy of the inevitable fanfare.
But, I wonder, am I the only one who won’t be joining in the celebrations?
Am I the only one who greeted news of the capture with a huge bout of indifference? Am I the only one who has the urge to shrug shoulders as oppose to clap hands?
It’s not that I have any personal axe to grind with Martin Locke. Not at all. He is clearly a very dedicated and very successful big carp angler who has been successful both in the UK and abroad. It’s not even that the fish came from France and a venue in Rainbow Lake that is so inaccessible to the average angler that it might as well be on Mars. No, it’s something more far-reaching than either of those. It’s that carp angling has, as far as I can see, become very predictable. Boring even.
Over and above any other branch of the sport, it has suffered from the affliction known as ‘same fish syndrome’ ¬ a condition that gives all but the most obsessive a severe dose of the apathetics. The sport, I’m afraid, is growing tired of seeing the same fish being caught from the same water by the same anglers.
When I heard the world carp record had been broken I knew, with enough certainty to bet a month’s wages, that is was going to be one of two fish.
That surety of foresight doesn’t, I should add, make me some kind of mystic genius, it just very succinctly helps reinforce my point ¬ that carp fishing has lost its lustre.
This feeling is only reinforced when we increasingly hear of carp being caught from abroad. Despite the fact the planet has become a much smaller place in the last few decades, the majority of anglers have still never left these shores to fish. Even if they do, taking on somewhere as daunting as Rainbow Lake is unlikely to be on their agenda.
Assuming you can book a peg (dates are few and far between and generally carved up among carp fishing’s glitterati) and assuming you can afford it (a week’s fishing costs around £500 in peak season), you’ve then got the job of actually trying to remove its enormous inhabitants.
Such is the incredibly snaggy nature of the place, heavier than usual tackle is essential. And so is a boat. These are essential not just for rowing rigs out to otherwise inaccessible spots behind islands and in snags, but also for playing fish if ¬ and it’s a big if ¬ they are hooked. Supreme confidence too, is an absolute necessity. How else would you have the mental strength to leave your hookbait in the water, like Martin Locke, for four days without retrieving it?
Suffice it to say that the normal rules of engagement are left behind at the fishery gates ¬ Rainbow is only for those at the extreme end of carp fishing. I’m not saying extracting one of its giants isn’t skilful, it’s just not angling as most of us know it. The trouble is, what you’re left with when you combine this lack of accessibility to the frequency with which these French monsters are caught are fish so unattainable, so remote, so outer-worldly even, they have little or no public love.
Yes, I know this is the first time that Briggs’ Fish, as it’s known, has taken the mantle as the world’s biggest carp, but it’s far from being the first time it’s been caught. Martin Locke himself had already taken it at 84lb in 2008 and it has been a semi-frequent visitor to the banks since Steve Briggs put it on the map in the mid-2000s. Naturally, because of its size, it’s made headlines with each capture and that fact alone has made so many of us immune to the impact. The old cliché might need something of a tweak but familiarity, while not breeding an emotion as strong as contempt, has engendered a feeling somewhere close to apathy. The upshot is a group of fish, led by the biggest, that are only really relevant to top-end carpers.
You could, of course, say the same about other specimen fish and you would, to some degree, be correct. But carp angling is the country’s biggest single species branch, with dedicated tackle companies and magazines able to survive and flourish because of its numbers. As such, repeat captures ¬ not just because all the big carp have names ¬ are far more obvious and easy to spot. The same chub can be caught from the Dorset Stour, for example, week in and week out but because it isn’t known as Old Rubber Lips, it’s not likely to suffer from the same level of reader fatigue.
Barbel fishing is the recent exception. When Adam’s Mill on the Great Ouse burst on to the scene in the late 1990s, we went through a period when the record changed hands on an almost weekly basis. It wasn’t long before most observers had been left cold and the front page headlines had morphed to small stories on page seven. Only when it broke 20lb did the angling world sit up and take notice once again.
I suspect it’ll be the same with the world record carp. Reach 100lb and the milestone, in a sport defined by statistics, will be major news. But every capture until we get there looks set to be the victim of predictability. And that, more than anything, is what has damaged carping the most ¬ that there are so few surprises left.
Consider this. In five minutes of typing the words ‘Rainbow Lake France’ into the internet, I had all the information I needed about the venue. I’d learnt all about which pegs produce which fish and when, what bait has been the most successful and, of course, a breakdown of the stock. There is nothing I couldn’t find out.
We live in the Google era now, a time where information is so freely available and so readily shared that there’s barely a big carp that swims that hasn’t been comprehensively documented.
Knowledge, often perceived as the greatest weapon, has, in fact, stripped angling, and especially big-fish angling, of the one thing that surely underpins why we picked up a fishing rod in the first place ¬ the sense of the unknown.
What happened to the simple craving of trying to discover nothing more than what lies beneath the surface?
Nowadays many anglers, especially carpers, won’t leave the house unless they’ve established exactly what individual fish they’re fishing for. As far as I can see the problem with that mentality is that those individuals aren’t left with anything other than pounds, ounces and another notch on the landing net handle. It all seems fairly soulless to me.
Maybe I’m being naïve. Maybe I just need to accept that carp fishing is just a different beast to everything else in fishing. After all, these are anglers who don’t actually want any ambiguity creeping into what they do ¬they want to fish for specifically-named fish and not waste time on waters without a track record. The element of surprise isn’t so much in what they’ll catch, but who’ll be the one to catch it.
When Martin Locke arrived on the banks of Rainbow Lake, he knew exactly what was in there and exactly what he wanted to catch. That he successfully did it provided him with one of his finest angling moments and, ultimately, that is what really counts in an individual sport like ours.
But what we should also remember is that a big moment for Martin Locke isn’t necessarily a big moment for angling.