The Carp Catcher’s Club
By anybody’s standards, the Carp Catcher’s Club must count as one of the most important clubs ever founded by British anglers and yet it never had a home, except by the waterside; and the members rarely if ever met as a group, virtually all of its activities depending on a circular letter.
The club was founded by Richard Walker, Denys Watkins-Pitchford (aka “BB”) and Maurice Ingham one day in the summer of 1951, by the side of the lake that Ingham would later immortalise in his wonderful book, Woldale. In Ingham’s own words, the three had become obsessed with catching carp and couldn’t understand why others didn’t share their interest, but at the same time, they recognised the formidable barriers that other anglers faced in the quest to bank the most sporting of all fish. Unbelievable though it may seem now, in those days, carp had a reputation for being uncatchable and there was a complete dearth of information about the species – the angling press behaved as if carp did not exist. Add in the fact that there wasn’t any commercially available tackle suitable for landing the species and that good carp waters were few and far between, it is understandable why carp anglers were regarded as complete eccentrics.
Walker, BB and Ingham set out to change this, although that day was only the beginning of the evolution of what became the Carp Catcher’s Club. The few dedicated carp fishers the three knew were scattered all over the country, so a circular letter seemed the ideal way of keeping everyone up to speed and from there it was a logical conclusion that the membership should be limited to about half a dozen to stop the letter cycles becoming unmanageably long.
John Norman, Jack Smith and Harry Grief were the obvious candidates, but the Club was later expanded to include Bob Richards, Peter Thomas, Bernard Venables, Gerry Berth-Jones, Dick Kefford and Fred J. Taylor; all the members being elected by unanimous vote. As Ingham confirmed, the only qualifications for membership were dedication and a proven ability to catch big carp. In the early 1950s, a ten pounder gave bragging rights in the pub because only a dozen fish over eight pounds were taken every year in the entire UK – but in the first two seasons of the Club’s existence, the members caught more than that number amongst themselves, including two records of 31¼ pounds to Bob Richards and 44 pounds to Dick Walker, the latter standing for many years and becoming one of the most famous fish of all time. As the members regularly began to catch fish over 20 pounds, they might easily have kept the secret to themselves, but the whole purpose of the Club was to increase interest in carp angling and they always shared their knowledge.
The Carp Catcher’s Club didn’t just increase the general level of knowledge about methods, it also spawned specialist carp tackle, thanks in particular to the inventive mind of Dick Walker. Walker had long been interested in rod building and it didn’t take him long to solve the problem of building rods which were simultaneously sensitive enough to detect takes, yet strong enough to stop powerful runs; the result being the legendary Mark IV and the Mark IV Avon. But Walker didn’t stop there and he also designed the first really effective electronic bite indicator and a folding net that was big enough to land really giant carp, yet small enough to carry around comfortably.
The Club didn’t so much disband as slowly fade away, the last letter being passed around in 1957, by which time carp fishing had been transformed from a pastime for idle eccentrics into something resembling a science. All the major aims of the Club had been realised and newcomers to the sport could find a solid grounding in the method simply by reading the magazines – not only that, they could at last go out and buy tackle that would let them catch one of these, the most elusive of all fish.
By the 1970s, carp fishing had become so popular that there were calls for a national organization to represent the interests of carp anglers and this was duly born, in the shape of the Carp Society, in 1981. Maurice Ingham always felt that the Society was the spiritual successor to the Carp Catcher’s Club and although it has a much wider remit, there is no doubt that the Society is the standard bearer for the impossible dream that three anglers had one day on the shore of Woldale.