Gold upon Gold

Gold upon Gold

by Alan Tomkins

For almost the thousandth time that morning I hit the re-dial button on the telephone. It was now almost two and a half hours since I had begun dialing the number; my ear was stuck flat to the side of my head, and was beginning to ache. My boss at work was giving me cross looks - soon he would say something, and I would have to give up the quest. The telephone at the other end of the line had been engaged for all this time. Once I had got a ringing tone, but no-one had answered. What should I do? If it was a wrong number, I was wasting precious time. But if it was the right one, and I hung up, I may never get through again. I let it ring for 10 minutes, then re-dialed. Engaged again! Half an hour later, again I got a ringing tone, and this time it was answered. "Boobs 'n' bums corsetterie" said the voice on the other end. "Is this a wind up?" I replied. "This is Boobs 'n' Bums - can I help you?" said the voice, now getting cross. "Are you taking Redmire bookings?" I asked innocently. "Are you taking the piss?" replied the cross voice. I hung up. I had been through all this, for no reward, a year previously, when after two hours I eventually got through to a home for alcoholics (not a Freudian slip!). The moral to that story is not to trust your re-dial button! A call to the operator requesting the line be checked had resulted in me being told that it was out of order. At that point I had given up. When I did eventually get through I was told all the dates were booked, and no, the phone hadn't been out of order. Thanks Telecom. Now, I was idly wondering how many more times I had been ringing a wrong number, when what was probably close on the one thousandth call was answered by the unmistakable voice of Vic Cranfield, sounding rather knackered. "Is that you Vic" I said, equally wearily. He replied in the affirmative, though he didn't sound too sure! "Are there any Redmire bookings left" I asked with a definite note of resignation in my voice. "Nothing in the summer" said Vic, "What do you want - a week or a week-end?" "Just a week-end" I replied. "I've got one left at the end of October" he said. October - that didn't sound too bad. I perked up. "Yes we'll take it, where do I send the money?" Having got all the details, I immediately sent off the cheque, then phoned two friends to tell them the good news. In around 14 months time we would spend a week-end at Redmire. It was too far in the future to get excited - too far off to even think about. None of us knew how we really felt about Redmire anymore after all the hassle that had gone on. But we all wanted to replace our images of the place with the real thing. Time passes quickly between June and March, doesn't it. If you have to catch up on a year's decorating, gardening and house-mending it tends to pass quite quickly between March and June as well! Before we knew it, we were into a new season, and then the long hot summer had been and gone. As the first leaves began to yellow and brown, so the long awaited date approached. Both Kevin and John, my companions for the trip, phoned me two days before we were due to leave. Though neither of them had thought about it up until this time, they were now both very excited. And so was I - it was like having another start to the season - another June 16th, in October. I started to read the Redmire book again, something I hadn't done since before I made the bookings. I hadn't wanted to as it would only have made the date seem as far away as it in fact was. But now it had arrived. I could read the book, and begin dreaming again. After a couple of hours of being totally absorbed in "Redmire Pool" (many thanks to the authors for that piece of magic), it was time to get the tackle ready. I had already decided that Redmire was no place for 12ft 2 1/2lb test curve carbons. I would take my cane Mk IV's. I have 5 of these, three of the Sharpes impregnated cane. These are lovely rods, and I have caught many carp on them. They had in fact already been to Redmire in the hands of Roger Smith, from whom I bought them many years ago. It would be nice to take them back. The fourth rod would be one of the classic James Mk. IV's, less steely in action than the Sharpes, but a beautiful rod never-the-less. I hadn't used the Sharpes rods for a few years now, since I gave up fishing the small waters. I took them down from the hook, and removed them from the cloth bags (remember those?!). Attaching a Cardinal 55, I ran the line through the rings, and holding it in my left hand, pulled the rod round to about half its test curve, just to remind myself of the fighting curve of the cane. But the rod never reached anything like its fighting curve - to my utter dismay there was a loud crack and the cane splintered about 18 inches from the top of the rod. For quite some time I gazed at it, stupified. The feeling was similar feeling to that which you get when you have had your baits out for 3 days on a hard water, then reel in to find the rig tangled and your bait gone - there's nothing at all to be done about it. After all those carp, the rod was finally finished, and there was not a thing to be done about it (unless someone out there has any suggestions - please??). I suppose it could have been worse - it could have happened at Redmire. I must have stood for nearly five minutes, staring disconsolately at the broken rod top. Well, I still had four Mk. IV's left - one down, four to go! I thought I had better check the others. On examining the top of one of the other Sharpes rods, I noticed hair-line cracks near the place where the first rod had snapped. I didn't like the look of that! I didn't want to break that one - even if I never used it again I'd rather it stayed in one piece! The third of the Sharpes trio looked O.K., so I threaded line through the rings and tied the end to my rucksack. It survived a pull to its test curve, so I left it set up. I wanted to take four rods, so eventually decided to take my pair of through action Kevlars, plus two of the surviving Mk. IV's, the Sharpes and the James. Choosing rigs was a difficult one, but I settled for a combination of fixed leads and paternosters, with varying lengths of hooklinks, using Kryston's Supersilk, Merlin and Silkworm. Baits had been prepared some weeks ago, Nutrabaits fish meal, Hi-Nu-Val, and a particle I'm not allowed to talk about. (and which didn't work anyway!). All the gear was ready - the only other thing I was tempted to do was to make a sticker for the car window announcing "We're going to Redmire!". I didn't, though I almost wish I had. Friday dawned. Though the week-end sessions at Redmire are a little short, starting as they do late on a Friday afternoon, it did make a change to set out on a fishing foray at a civilised hour. We didn't know how long the journey would take, so allowed ourself plenty of time. We didn't mind being early, but we certainly didn't want to be late! We set off down the M40, normally a nice relaxing motorway to drive on, ideal to keep you in the right state of mind. Ten miles into the journey, and we were sitting stationary in the one lane left after the others had been closed for major roadworks! What a good start! I refused to get wound up - I was in a Redmire mood, and I was going to stay in one. Eventually the roadworks were left behind, and we were travelling through the beautiful countryside of the Cotswolds. For some time I had noticed John stealing furtive glances out of the back window. "What are you looking for?" I asked. "Ducks" he replied. "Ducks - what ducks?" "That swarm of tufties that follows you everywhere!" It wasn't long before we had by-passed Ross-on-Wye, and were on the last leg of the journey, looking for the signpost to Glewstone. As we travelled through the last of the country lanes before reaching the entrance to Bernithan Court, I imagined how Dick Walker and his friends must have felt when they got this close. Imagine going to fish for a week on a lake that almost certainly contained carp of 60lbs - in 1952! That would be like finding a three acre lake holding 90lb fish now! No wonder their car jumped from its chassis! At long last, there was the magic sign - "Bernithan Court". How it made the adrenalin flow! But we were an hour and a half too early. We decided to make for the nearest pub, and driving on through Llangarron, eventually found the Royal Inn. We hoped this was the place all Redmire anglers had visited, though there was no sign of Jack the road man! Inside a picture of Redmire pool hung over the fireplace. Though I've seen many pictures of Redmire, this is one of the few I have seen which show the whole pool. Taken in winter, it was not as atmospheric as it could have been, but inspiring never-the-less. We ordered pints of best bitter, and bar snacks, then began chatting to the friendly landlord, a relative newcomer, who it seems is getting well used to carp anglers and their strange ways. Time passed quickly, and before too long it was time to leave. I tried to get ahead of Kevin, who had driven down separately. I didn't want my first view of Redmire to be obscured by the back of a Volkswagen van! A few minutes later, we drove over the cattle grid, and into the estate. "Now" said John, "remember, don't turn off your ignition and coast down the hill. If you do that, neither your power steering, nor your servo brakes will work, and we'll probably end up in the lake!" God, imagine that! Our first view was from the top of the old track which led down to the dam. We couldn't see much, just a small tri-angle of water glinting through the trees at the edge of the dam. I was a little disappointed that a new track had been made - I wanted to go down exactly the track that all those famous anglers had gone down in times past. I stopped at the gate and John held it open while Kevin and myself drove through and parked in the secluded car park. The first thing we had to do was to stand on the dam. Excitedly, we walked along the path, climbed over the stile, and trying not to look too much at the lake until we had reached our destination, followed the track onto the dam. In truth, in late October, without weed-growth, and without those majestic weeping willows which graced the banks like living fountains of green in the days of Walker, the sight of Redmire is not exceptionally impressive. It's a very pretty lake, but were it not for its history, you would think no more of it than that. But the feeling you get when looking at it, knowing all that it has meant to so many anglers, knowing all that has gone on there in the past, is one that is hard to describe. It is a lovely place, surrounded by beautiful countryside, and it feels good too. We were unfortunate to find Redmire in sombre mood, on a grey drizzly day. One's first sight should be of Redmire in mellow sunlight. But as far as fishing goes, we thought the weather ideal - a sunny October day can mean a frosty night, and that was the last thing we wanted. As we stood on the dam, leaning on the rail like so many had done before us, Redmire gave us its best welcome, as it hurled a twenty pound common carp from its depths to greet us. To be there was enough - but if we could catch one of those... We had a walk round, trying to identify the various swims. I had though, already chosen mine. As I had organised the trip, I had (at my suggestion!) been given first choice. And there was no choice for me - I wanted to fish the swim in which Walker caught the "44". A quick look at the Redmire log for the previous week gave us no real clues, so after unpacking the cars, and agreeing that he who caught the most fish would clean the toilet, we set off to our swims. I must confess that this was a trifle devious on my part; note I said "fish" and not "carp". I knew Kevin was intending to fish maggots, and I also knew the pool's population of small carp loved maggots; as did the eels, and they all counted!. If Kevin reads this, guess who'll be cleaning the toilet next time! (next time?). An hour later, during which time several more fish had crashed out in various parts of the pool, I was all set up in the Willow pitch. I had two rods cast to the edge of the deep water (does that sound familiar fellow Walkerites?), and a third in the far corner of the dam, by the outflow. Though fish were moving in the deep centre channel, I remembered reading that they seldom seemed to feed there. Anyway, there were also fish moving closer in, so I was happy with the positioning of my baits. Meanwhile, Kevin had set up almost opposite, in the (haunted?) "Evening Pitch" and John had bravely gone further up into the "Stumps", also haunted I believe. There was not a breath of wind, and as the light faded into one of the blackest nights I have known, the quietness of the place became intense. One hardly dared to breathe for fear it would break the spell, and eating a bag of crisps sounded like an earthquake! Kevin was already well on the way to becoming toilet cleaner, having taken two fish of about a pound each, one on maggots, the other on paste. Carp, some of them very large, were jumping out all over the place. Had we been fortunate to pick one of those periods when the carp threw caution to the winds, and really got their heads down? Well I don't know about the carp - the eels certainly liked the conditions. Kevin caught one of about 2lbs, then sat up until five o'clock in the morning striking runs he couldn't connect with. At about 2 a.m. he woke me to tell me he had landed a 7lb common. "Did you weigh it?" I asked. "No" he replied. "Did you photograph it?" "No". Kevin and I play this game, where we act like noddies, and exaggerate all our fish weights, saying things like "Well, I didn't weigh it, but it certainly looked like a forty!". It's a send up of those many anglers who always catch big fish, but never seem to weigh or photograph them! It's a wonderful game wherein all your carp can be twenties, (at least), all your pike doubles, all your chub over 4lbs, your barbel 8lbs plus and every roach ounces over the coveted 2lbs. I'm sure he did catch a 7lb common - all I'm saying is that I never saw it! Anyway, as he was the only one using maggots, it gave him an unassailable lead in the toilet cleaning stakes! Morning was heralded by the noisy cavortings of a multitude of rooks, in a rookery somewhere behind the east bank. Though it was still dark, I knew the light was coming, and wanted to watch Redmire wake up. Nothing but line bites (were they?) had disturbed John and I, and Kevin having had no further action, had now fallen asleep. Most of the fish activity had ceased around 10 p.m. Apart from when fish are spawning, I had never in my life heard so many fish leaping about as I had the previous evening. It put me in mind of fishing a good sea-trout pool at night. Quite a few of the carp were over the baits too, indeed we had all had them jumping over our baited areas. Speaking as one who spends most of his fishing time with baits in the wrong place, it was nice to know the carp weren't far away - not that they ever can be far away in Redmire! But either they were not feeding in the areas where they were leaping, or they were avoiding the hookbaits. One at a time, I checked the rods. All baits were O.K., but I put fresh ones on anyway, as they had gone a bit soft. Whether or not to put any more free offerings out, that was the question. In many waters, free offerings may be cleared up by roach, bream or tench. But in Redmire? I didn't think the gudgeon could manage the boilies, but the small carp could, and perhaps the eels too, though they were only being caught on maggots, and seemed to be of the small mouthed variety. I didn't want to get it wrong - you can always put more bait in, but you can't get it out again! I'd had a few twitches on the HNV rod, so decided to put another 50 small baits around it - there had certainly been plenty of fish in evidence there during the night. There had been nothing on the fish meal, but I put another 20 out, as I like to have fresh ones out occasionally when using the fish feed oils. The particle rod had been very quiet, so I left it as it was, having put a pound or two out the previous evening. I then set up a fourth rod and cast it tight to the margins, directly in front of the new boathouse, after having crept round and thrown a mixture of particles and crushed boilies in there. Around 10.30 a.m. John came round. He was debating moving swims and thought he might go in the "In Willow" on my left. After a quick look, and a check for "vibes" he decided to move there, and departed to get his tackle. Half an hour later, he had the first load piled up by the stile, which is about 15 yards to the right of the "Willow" pitch. Being a good lad, I helped him carry some of it to his new swim. Off he went for the next load. Don't we take some gear! Good job we don't have to go by bus! This he again deposited at the stile, and went off for the last remaining bits and pieces. I hadn't noticed him leave the second load, but looking from my swim a few minutes later, saw it leaning on the fence. I decided to carry some of it into the "In Willow" for him. I'd got just over halfway to the stile, when one of my buzzers gave out a single beep. I stopped. BEEEEEEEEP! Jesus - a run - a Redmire run! Though not as fit as I used to be I can still cover short distances pretty quickly. I was in the swim in about 1 second! The HNV rod was bent round towards the dam with line screaming from the loosened clutch. I picked up the rod, put my finger over the spool and struck, at the same time tightening the clutch and slipping the anti-reverse off. The rod pulled right over - those kevlars have a lovely fighting curve. The fish came to the surface almost immediately, boiling some halfway between me and the "Oaks" swim. John and Kevin had heard all this, and were now looking across to see if I needed assistance. I knocked all the other rods from their rests, and sunk the tips to lay the line along the bottom. Even so, I would have preferred it if they could be reeled in. "Help" I called to the others, "can someone come and reel these rods in?". Both John and Kevin immediately legged it across the dam, having heard my shout, and seen the fish swirling on the surface. It looked as if it would go double figures at least. By the time John and Kevin arrived, the fish had safely cleared the two right hand lines, and only the left hand one remained a threat. Someone, I forget who, reeled that rod in for me. I honestly can't remember much about the fight - it wasn't spectacular and I only really had trouble when the fish was under the rod top. We could see it was a common, and quite a good one. Having lost a few fish lately with the hook pulling out, I didn't want to put too much pressure on this one. It kept swirling a rod length out, coming tantalisingly close to the large net being brandished by Kevin, then rolling out of reach again. I got the usual "Come on - stop messing about" remarks from the others. No way was I going to rush this one though. Having got the fish near the net, I needed to walk backwards to draw him over the cord. I was a little worried about doing this, as the bivvy was directly behind me. "Come on" said John, "you can walk back here". I briefly turned and saw that one of the others had moved my chair, and there was room to back up a bit. This I did, and slowly the fish came over the net. Kevin stretched out, and I saw the carp come over the net cord. Then Kevin lifted, and the fish was trapped. What a moment that was! "It's in!" I shouted. Carp anglers will know how I felt at that moment - a bit like I did when David Platt knocked in that superb last minute winner against Belgium in the World cup. "It's in!" I had shouted then too. But this one was mine. I put the rod down, and Kevin lifted the net from the water, and layed it on the grass. I didn't like to say it, but the fish looked like a twenty, very much like a twenty! "It's a twenty, isn't it" I said cautiously. "It's easily a twenty" said Kevin. I can tell you, there was much whooping and air punching over the next few seconds! I dug out the scales, and the weigh sling, wetted the sling and zeroed the scales with the wet sling attached. Laying the weigh sling by the side of the fish, I slid him across from the net, tucking his head and tail into the folds at each end of the sling. The moment of truth! I attached the scales, then carried the whole lot to where I could steady the scales on a firm branch of the willow tree to the left of the swim. "Twenty one pounds ten ounces" I said, and the others agreed. Many photos were taken, and my lasting impression will always be of a big, golden fish. I did notice though that it had an irregular scale pattern towards the front of the left flank. At first I thought it might be the fish that Bill Quinlan is holding in the Redmire Pool book, the common with the distinctive scale pattern, weighing twenty one pounds. (In the second edition, it says 23lbs). Since I have compared the photos I have to say I'm not so sure - the irregularities are remarkably similar, but not the same. I don't know if they might have changed at all over 20 years. The fish also had a slightly mishapen top tail lobe, though this could have happened recently. One more picture of the fish going back, then I let it slip gently from my hands, to disappear into the leaf covered margins to the left of the swim. Though I had caught the fish, Kevin and John were really pleased for me - and no matter who caught it, we were all delighted to have seen one of the big Redmire commons on the bank. Talk about icing on the cake - that was like gold upon gold! What a fish! After a while, the others drifted back to their swims, and after re-baiting and re-casting, I sat back, almost in a state of disbelief. Surely everyone who comes to Redmire for the first time wants a 20lb common. I was fishing the swim where Walker had landed the "44", casting to almost the same places he and Pete Thomas had placed their baits, and I get a lovely great common - what more could anyone ask for? Whatever happens to me for the rest of my life, I've been to Redmire, and I've caught a 20lb common; no-one can take that away from me. Later, during the afternoon, I reeled all the rods in and had a walk round the shallows, to look for fish and take some photographs. The light was still very poor for colour photography, but I wanted some record of the trip, even if the pictures were a little dreary. There were so many fish up on the shallows you could hardly see them among the clouds of mud they were sending up. I suppose I could have tried putting a bait there, but I didn't - there wasn't really enough time - it would be getting dark again in a few hours. John and Kevin had a go for them, but without success, and as dusk fell, we were all back in our respective swims. I had lingered on the dam for a while, as you must, before returning to my swim. Looking down I noticed some figures inscribed in a strip of concrete. Looking closer, I realised that they read 34 1/4 44 51 1/2 the weights of the three records Redmire has produced. The concrete didn't look very old, so I think it must have been inscribed relatively recently. I've never seen it mentioned anywhere, so if you go to Redmire, you may be interested to look for it. And you may well wonder, as I did, whether that list will ever be added to. A cold north-east wind was now pushing up the lake - I wasn't keen on that. I hadn't intended fishing four rods overnight, but once you have baited an area, it does make you very reluctant to pull your hookbait in. I decided to take a chance and leave them all out, after all, this would probably be my last ever night at Redmire. Fish were not as active as on the previous night, though one very big carp did keep leaping somewhere in front of Inghams. Kevin's small carp had deserted the swim - I think the eels put them off as he hadn't had any carp since landing the two eels. Through the night I kept hearing his optonics and thought he must have caught something. But it turned out he was striking runs, to find nothing there. I slept fitfully, as I always do when carp fishing. I only know I've been asleep when I can remember dreaming. They are long, these late October nights, and this was another black one. And a quiet one, with just the occasional beep on the left hand rod, which come daylight proved to be a piece of reed stem caught on the line. John had had no action at all, and now we had the spectre of packing up and leaving hanging over us. Just after 9 a.m. the bobbin on my right hand rod rose to the top, and the clutch started ticking. I struck it - nothing. I set up a stringer and re-cast. Twenty minutes later it did it again - still nothing. I had set up with a small hook, 1 1/2" hair and a running lead. I reeled in changed it to a fixed 2oz lead and bent hook (2oz. is about all the Mk.IV will cast!) Ten minutes later the bobbin went up again, and the rod pulled round. I struck again - still nothing. What was occurring? I cast it back, and this time wound everything up tight to the lead, and half tightened the clutch. Next time it pulled it.... Not long after I had done this, I noticed Kevin strike yet again. "Ah!" he shouted, "a little one to finish with". I sat watching him. "Aren't you going to come and help me" he called, "this is a good fish". "I thought you said it was a small one" I replied. "No, it's a good one" he said, "get round here". I sprinted round to the other side and stood behind Kevin, who had hooked the fish on an Avon rod with 4 or 5lb line. The fish started to kite to the right, towards the old 'Boathouse' swim. "Get round there and throw something in" said Kevin desperately, "I can't stop it". I ran into the next swim and looked vainly for something to throw; there was nothing, only a few tiny twigs. I threw some of these in, and then began jumping up and down on the bank, hoping the vibrations would scare the fish out. It seemed to work. Kevin confirmed that the fish had turned, and I went and stood alongside John, who by now was standing behind him. I held the net, and after a minute or so we caught our first glimpse of the fish. There it was, plain as day, a pretty Redmire common, all of 3 1/2 lbs! Kevin eventually landed it, to much ribbing from John and I about his monster carp. I then remembered that I had left one of my rods 'wound up tight' so hurried back to my swim. Nothing had moved, and indeed nothing did. Around 11.30 a.m. Kevin manfully performed his toilet duties. He'd actually been trying not to go, reckoning that if he didn't, he could quite justifiably claim that someone else should do the job. Unfortunately for him, he had succumbed at the last minute! A life time of curries makes you fairly regular, if nothing else! At 11.50 a.m. I packed the last of my tackle away, loaded it into the car, and went and stood on the dam to say goodbye to Redmire Pool. We all felt very sad to be leaving - how we would have loved another day or two. It's funny how the place gets hold of you - when we first envisaged the trip, we all agreed that we only wanted to go there once - now we were racking our brains to find a way to get back again, even though we know it no longer contains really big fish. Indeed my local water probably contains 9 or 10 fish which are all bigger than anything in Redmire these days. They're not Redmire fish though - that is the difference. It is a lovely place to be at - a friendly water. Even the mysterious sounds in the night (on the first night I heard a noise that sounded for all the world as if someone was picking up my rod bag, but there was no-one there) are not frightening. If ghosts there are, then I think we knew whose they were, and they were probably trying to help us, or see what baits we were using! It had been really nice too, sharing the place with just two good friends, knowing that not only was there no-one else there, but there wasn't likely to be. It is amazing that the place hardly looks as if it has been fished. It's a real credit to the Carp Society and its members. During our stay, I never found one single item of litter, not even a matchstick, or the almost obligatory bits of dental floss. There was nothing that hadn't grown there. So we left, envious of the next trio of anglers, who would be spending a whole week there. A week has now passed since I returned from Redmire, and I have thought about it a lot, and spoken to both John and Kevin. We all felt much the same at first - that we really didn't want to fish anywhere else. I spoke to Tim about it, and he said he had felt the same, but it had faded. And so it has to some extent; life goes on, and you pick up your fishing as before. One thing we all did independently when we got home was to sit down with the Redmire Pool book. How nice it was to look at the pictures again now you could identify them; and to read of events that happened long ago in swims you had stood in, or fished. I would very much like to go back to Redmire - this time for longer. A full week may be too long for me, but the current week-end is definitely too short. Perhaps a three/four day split would be better - I'm sure there are many anglers like myself who can't manage a whole week, but find the week-end too short. Whether Redmire will ever again produce monsters I don't know, but it must be possible. I know at least some of the old Redmire mirrors are still in there, including the big fully scaled. What a pity though that Jack Opie banged that other fully scaled on the head - who knows what a fish that may have become. I know it was common practice to have fish set up in those days, but I fail to understand how anyone could kill such a beautiful fish as that was. Returning to the present, I think there are far too many small fish in there now. If some of these were netted, I'm sure clubs would clamour to buy Redmire carp, and the Carp Society could possibly raise funds that way. But even if it remains the way it is, it will always be a very special place. Most anglers wanting to go there will want to visit it not because of what they may catch, but because of its history. Thankfully, nothing can ever change that.

Alan Tomkins


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