All posts by Robin Falvey

Christmas fishing folk tales

Dicken’s Christmas Carol is one of the most famous ghost stories ever told.

The spooky writings of MR James were originally Christmas Eve tales the Cambridge don told to entertain his students; Susan Hill’s acclaimed gothic ghost story, the Woman in Black is recounted during a Christmas Eve house party. Christmas ghosts are a rich tradition that harks back to Victorian times and beyond.

But what about ghostly fishing stories? Tales of the sea, pond or riverbank that will have your carp fishing equipment trembling in your hands…

Hella Point

1. Shipwreck 525x350 Christmas fishing folk tales

Image source: AlienCat
The chilling tale of a missing sailor, love and a shipwreck.

The Southern tip of Cornwall is a wind ravaged place. Isolated and bleak, in winter, its cliffs and coves are storm lashed and lethal. When young Nancy fell for swashbuckling sailor called William, their union was frowned upon by the girl’s family and she was forbidden from ever seeing him again.

But the two met in secret on the beach at Porthgwarra, where they pledged their undying love for each other.

When William returned to sea, Nancy would pace the headland at Hella point, looking out for the return of her lover. But as weeks turned to months, and still there was no sign of him, Nancy became frantic with worry, and nothing anyone said could calm her.

Then one stormy evening, an old woman saw Nancy down in the cove. Sat on a rock, huge waves roared and seethed around her. The elderly woman began to hobble down to the beach to warn the girl of the danger of the tide. But then she stopped in her tracks, for there sitting beside the girl was none other than the missing sailor.

A breaker rolled into the bay, and broke over the rock. Nancy disappeared, never to be seen again. And when news came to the tiny hamlet, it told of shipwreck and disaster. Williams ship had sunk, and all aboard were drowned.

Dead fisherman’s family

2. Dead fishermans family 525x393 Christmas fishing folk tales

Image source: donatas1205
A starved fisherman’s family haunt this river.

The river Adur in West Sussex is a spooky body of water if ever there was one. One of the sights that greets visitors is an old wooden boat, long since wrecked, its rotting timbers slowly decaying in the turgid river current.

On dark nights, it’s said, anglers have been chilled to the marrow by the sound of sobbing that emanates from the boat’s crumbling bulwarks. Closer inspection reveals the spectral horror of a woman and her children damned to an eternity of sobbing despair.

The boat once belonged to a fisherman. One dark night in 1893, a tempest blew his fragile craft upriver from Shoreham harbour to be wrecked on the rocky riverbank. No matter how hard the poor man tried, he couldn’t refloat his boat.

Death by starvation was the fate of the fisherman and his entire family. Now the ghosts of those unfortunates appear hollow eyed and desperate, forever trying to push the boat back out to sea.

Jack Harry’s lights

3. Jack Harrys Lights 525x350 Christmas fishing folk tales

Image source: Digital Storm
A ghosty ship in St Ives Bay, yep, you’ve seen Jack Harry’s Lights.

If ever you’re out sea fishing at St Ives Bay and you see a ghostly ship cruise against wind and tide across the bay, put away your tackle and run for dry land. If ever you see the lights of that dread ship glimmer and disappear in the night – run for your your life because disaster will surely follow.

You’re gazing upon ‘Jack Harry’s lights’.

Jack Harry was the man who one afternoon watched a ship sail into the bay. He watched with horror as it sailed straight onto the rocks. Horrified, he ran to round up a rescue crew who rowed to the stricken vessel intent on saving as many of the crew as they could.

Just as they reached the ship and Jack went to step aboard, it disappeared. Confused and scared, the men returned to shore. Later that night, another ship was seen to founder. But fearing it was another ‘ghost ship’, nobody would put to sea to rescue her crew.

But this ship was real all right. The Neptune was wrecked on the rocks and next morning, the first of the bodies washed ashore. For ever after, Jack Harry’s lights have been seen up and down the rocky Cornish coast. And they’re always an omen of ill fortune and death.

The Ghost of Claremont lake

4. The Ghost of Claremont lake 525x393 Christmas fishing folk tales

Image source: n1kcy
A ghost with a grudge lurks on this lake.

Think phantoms are confined to wild Cornish coasts? Think again, all you carp fishermen. Claremont Lake in Esher is as haunted as they come. It’s a National Trust property now, but even if you could fish there, you’d do so at your peril.

William Kent was a renowned landscape gardener. When he was hired to revamp the grounds by Claremont House’s owner, the Duke of Newcastle, he must have been delighted at the prospect of completing such a high profile project.

Kent set to, moving streams and creating a stunning new lake fed from a grotto. But when the work was done, the Duke welched on the deal, offering to pay a paltry £100 for the huge works. Facing financial ruin, Kent argued the point, and the Duke responded by having the man thrown in his own lake.

William Kent caught cold and died a penniless pauper. Now on dark misty nights, the figure of the dead designer walks the grounds. Dressed in long brown cloak and gaiters, his tormented spirit is doomed to haunt the lake forever.  

Save our eels!

Eels are in danger of becoming extinct in our rivers, and without them, the fragile ecosystems of our wetlands will be seriously impoverished.

Since the 1980s, we’ve lost a staggering 95% of our eel populations – populations that used to be so vast people were once paid in eels. But now, as stocks dwindle, the last of the remaining eel fishermen are packing up their fishing equipment forever.

But while the eel is still with us, there’s hope, and now the eel men are fighting back. Read on to find out what’s being done to save the eels, and how can you play your part to help stocks recover.

Eels

Spotted Garden Eel Save our eels!

Image source: Peter Dutton
Eels are mysterious creatures.

Izaak Walton, who penned, The Compleat Angler, thought eels were generated by the “action of sunlight on dewdrops”; a wise old bishop once told the Royal Society that eels slid from the thatched roofs of cottages; some thought they materialised from the mud at the bottom of rivers; even Aristotle was flummoxed – he thought eels were “born of nothing”.

Now we know that eels are born in the Sargasso sea, but to this day nobody has ever seen an adult eel there, or for that matter an eel egg. What we do know is that they’re disappearing from our rivers.

Life cycle

Glass eels Save our eels!

Image source: Wikimedia
Glass eels, before they gain colour.

When eels hatch, they’re minute, flat, willow leaf shaped and see-through. It takes them about two years drifting in the Gulf Stream to reach the shores of Europe. By this time, they’re 7 – 8 cm – so called ‘glass eels’. They swim and slither up our rivers, gaining colour as they go, until they find a nice spot and there they’ll stay, males for around seven years, females for perhaps 12; some linger for even longer, eating, swelling, becoming darker in colour.

Then, for reasons unknown, one dark autumn night they turn mottled green on top and silver underneath, and leave the river, swimming the 3000 miles back to the Sargasso sea where they (apparently) spawn and die.

Concrete evidence

Grey Heron swallowing an eel Save our eels!

Image source: Gidzy
The eel faces a lot of threats – including the heron!

So why have populations crashed? Like many other species, the eel has suffered a battering from a multitude of threats – we’re talking disease, pollution, loss of habitat, climate change, water abstraction and flood prevention schemes. Chief culprit for the steep slide in eel stocks is thought to be the sheer number of obstacles barring eels’ passage up river.  

But now, thanks to EU intervention and the tireless efforts of eel campaigners, it looks as though the tide is turning. Huge efforts are being made to restock our rivers – this year alone, over 90 million eels have been translocated from estuaries into rivers all over Europe. That’s good, but to create a sustainable future for eels, much more needs to be done to fit eel passes to river obstructions. Unless they can get up and down rivers, eels can’t complete their life cycles.

Your help

Jellied eels Save our eels!

Image source: Jessica Spengler
Anyone for jellied eels?

The best thing you can do to help reverse the decline in eel stocks is to eat eels. This might sound counterintuitive, but sustainable fisheries are key to ensuring a bright future for one of our rivers’ most vital natural resources. That’s because, responsible fishing communities fight hard to look after their way of life.

Whether you like your eels, fresh, jellied or smoked, look for the ‘Sustainable Eel Group’ Kitemark on the packaging and enjoy a delicious, traditional treat, safe in the knowledge that you’re helping replenish our eels for future generations to enjoy!

6 Seafaring tattoos & their meanings

Ever considered having a harpoon tattooed across your chest? No? As an avid angler, perhaps you should consider it.

Traditional tattoos are imbued with deep meanings and as an enthusiastic hefter of a fishing rod and reel – the inking of a harpoon on your skin indicates you’re a member of the fishing fleet!

Read on to discover the significance of seafarers’ tats – nautical ink for salty sea dogs!

1. Hold fast

Hold Fast 6 Seafaring tattoos & their meanings

Image source: Thor
A very literal tattoo for some!

Never mind knuckles of “Love” and “Hate” – for sailors on the main, there was little time for bare knuckle boxing; far more important was to keep a firm hold of the rigging. Back in the golden age of sail there were no safety lines, no deck lights and no life jackets. One slip while working aloft  and you either thudded into the deck, leaving a nasty mess for your shipmates to clean up, or you plopped into the brine and sank to the “Odd Place” – Davey Jones’ locker.

No wonder sailors had the words “Hold” and “Fast” tattooed to their knuckles – it was an ever present reminder to cling on tight!

2. Compass rose

Compass 6 Seafaring tattoos & their meanings

Image source: Lady Dragonfly CC
Never get lost again.

Such were the rigours of life at sea that many an able seaman perished by cannon ball, man-overboard, tropical miasma, gruesome discipline, falling spars, swinging blocks…the list of ways to die was long. No wonder sailors are such a superstitious bunch.

Chief among the concerns of seafaring men was getting back home. The inking of a compass rose on your skin was for luck in finding the way to your loved ones. And the nautical star? That represents the pole star – with one of those tattooed on your body, you need never be lost.

3. Swallow

Swallows 6 Seafaring tattoos & their meanings

Image source: Tony Atler
One swallow = 5000 miles of sea travel.

One way to tell a seafarer who’d proved worth his salt was to see how many nautical miles he’d covered. But in the days before logbooks and RYA qualifications, sailors made a tally of distances logged directly on their skin.

Swallows, famed for their long distance migrations, were proof positive of distance travelled. Each bird flying across a man’s skin represented 5000 miles of passage making. A flock of birds made you a true salt.

4. Ship

Ship1 6 Seafaring tattoos & their meanings

Image source: Sarah-Rose
Made it through Cape Horn? Better get a ship tat stat.

Anglers are a competitive bunch. Let’s face it, if you’d caught a monster carp like Two Tone (RIP) chances are you might think about inking your achievement on a shoulder or arm – a permanent reminder of a day never to forget.

The same goes for the seafarers of yesteryear. There are certain experiences that make a man a man, and in the days of sailing ships, the toughest challenge of all was facing the “grey beards”, the terrifying, tumultuous waves of Cape Horn. And if you made it through that narrow, shallow bottleneck where the monstrous swells of the Southern Ocean squeeze between the Tip of South America and Antarctica – you’d want to celebrate your survival. A tattoo of a full rigged ship will do it!

5. Turtle

Turtle 6 Seafaring tattoos & their meanings

Image source: Tony Atler
A cute tattoo with horrid connotations.

“Hazing” was the name given to the ritualised humiliation of sailors who had not crossed the Equator. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be remembered with a shudder. You could be stripped, beaten, painted, dunked overboard – and all under the very noses of the officers who were supposed to maintain discipline aboard a man o’ war.

Your crime? You’d crossed the equator and entered Neptune’s realm. Once the torments were over – you were declared a “shell back”, and were permitted to have inked on your body the symbol of a true seaman – a turtle.

6. Anchor

Anchor 6 Seafaring tattoos & their meanings

Image source: Ettore Bechis
An anchor to keep you grounded.

Life on the open ocean was harsh and always dangerous, and sailors were away from home for months and often years at a time. It was a life of hardship, mishap and boredom – interspersed with moments of high drama, and terrible danger. Sailors were a breed apart, but like most men separated from friends and family – they dreamed of home.

No wonder that floating far from hearth and home, and separated from kith and kin, seafarers yearned for the stability of dry land, and familiar faces. They needed something to keep them grounded – an anchor tattoo with the names of their loved ones inscribed beneath. Mum!

Fish scales light the future

They coat your hands, rod and fishing reel, but ever wondered what makes fish scales from species like sardines, mackerel and herring shimmer and flash?

And come to think of it, what gives beetle shells, butterfly wings and peacock feathers their iridescent glimmer?  

It’s an effect that dazzles the eye and for many years, the explanation has eluded baffled scientists. But now they’ve found an answer, and the good news is that their discovery could revolutionise lighting technology.

Shimmer effect

Shimmer effect Fish scales light the future

Image source: Rich Carey
Ever wondered why fish scales shimmer?

It’s all to do with what happens when light hits a “dirty crystal”. Way back in 1958, a scientist called Philip Anderson noticed that when he shone a bright light through a crystal containing multiple flaws, instead of passing right through the object, it bounced around inside. The many different layers of the crystal mean that rather than traveling in a straight line, the electrons are diffused through the medium.

Beyond a certain point, if the crystal is too “dirty”, and the movement of the light waves too disordered, the light cannot pass at all. But in less flawed crystals, the light eventually escapes from the object giving it a metallic glow – so called “Anderson localisation”.

Science

Science Fish scales light the future

Image source: darrenmbaker
Scientists are Bristol have been on the case.

Now scientists at Bristol University have discovered that the iridescence in the natural world is the result of light passing through multiple layers nano-crystals – minute structures that produce the same effect that Henderson discovered decades ago.

The different effects we see in nature are courtesy of variation in the layering and arrangement of millions of tiny crystals. So although the multicoloured shine of a beetle shell is different from the silver flash of a sardine scale and the metallic blue glimmer of a butterfly wing, in fact the effect is the result of the same basic principle: that light cannot pass directly through a “disordered” medium.

Refraction

Refraction Fish scales light the future

Image source: theseamuss
Confused? Think about crystals…

For fish like sardines, super reflective scales are perfect for helping to reflect the ambient light of the waters through which they swim. It’s a natural technology that makes them harder for predators to locate. And it all comes down to those crystals, to be specific, birefringent guanine crystals.

Baffling? Definitely, but here’s a simple explanation: Fire a light beam at a birefringent crystal and the light is refracted (bent) differently depending on whether the light source is directed horizontally or vertically (and everywhere inbetween). And the prospect of the development of  a light that beams in multiple directions simultaneously is getting scientists and technologists seriously excited.

Lighting the future

Lighting the future Fish scales light the future

Image source: Rangizzz
Shine on!

And as is so often the case, nature provides the answers to very human problems. As we hunt for ever more efficient ways to heat and light our homes, it appears that nano-crystal technology may hold the key to helping scientists to develop better lighting systems. In an era when global warming threatens and at a time when peak oil makes energy saving a top priority, the discovery of what makes fish scales shine is surely a case of the right discovery at the right time.

Fishy sayings debunked

Ever wondered why people say they’ve “gone fishin’” rather than “gone for a walk”? Or why carp are forever associated with complaining?

Ever stood on the riverbank and wondered why angling is called angling or why a kettle of fish is such a bad thing to be in? Wonder no more.

We’ve put our heads together to come up with solutions to some common fishing sayings – so next time you’re out fishing, all you need to think about is the fish.

Gone fishin’

Gone Fishing Fishy sayings debunked

Image source: William Scott
So have you actually gone fishing, or not?

You’d be forgiven for thinking the meaning of the term, “gone fishin” is so obvious it’s undeserving of a mention, but that’s where you’d be wrong. Because there’s a whole lot more to the popularity of the phrase than meets the eye.

Until 1951, in America, if a shop was closed and a sign in the window stated the proprietor had gone fishing, they probably meant they’d taken their fishing equipment and  – gone fishing. But then along came Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong, and recorded a little ditty called “Gone fishin’” and hey presto, the phrase passed into the mainstream. Later re-recordings by Pat Boone and Gene Autry among others helped to cement the phrase in the public imagination so that now, if you’ve “gone fishin’”, you might have headed to the river bank, or equally, you could just be taking a break!

Kettle of fish

Kettle of fish Fishy sayings debunked

Image source: Alexpurs
The origin? Fish stew!

Two meanings in one cauldron with this one: a “fine kettle of fish” as in a bit of a pickle, and a “different kettle of fish” meaning something altogether different. But where does the phrase come from? Nobody seems to know for sure. However, like the sleuths we are, we did manage to track down a couple of possible explanations.

A kettle of fish seems to have been an 18th century innovation, possibly linked to a practice among Scottish Lairds of giving a “kettle of fish”. An outdoor picnic would be held by the banks of a river, where the nobles and their pals would wet a fly or two. To the delight of all, the catch would be cast alive into a big vessel of boiling water to be cooked and eaten.

Another explanation comes from over the pond in Newfoundland where 100 lbs of fish was called a “quintal, kintel or kental” It’s thought the word, “kettle” evolved through repeated mispronunciation.

There she blows

There she blows Fishy sayings debunked

Image source: Shane Gross
This phrase was bad news for whales.

Did you know peak oil actually occurred all the way back in 1846? Of course we’re not talking about Brent crude here, but that other oil boom of yesteryear – the sperm whale oil business. Up until the mid Victorian period, whale oil supplied lubricants and soap and was also used in the processing of textiles. But its main use was for lighting and spermaceti was the best oil money could buy. Scientists still don’t know what the oily contents of a sperm whale’s head is for, but back in the day, it was the brightest, cleanest burning oil money could buy.

A single sperm whale could supply as much as three tons of the stuff. “There she blows” was the battle cry of the whaling ship’s masthead lookout – and all too often, it spelt doom for an innocent creature. Whales were hunted to the very brink of extinction. What saved them? The invention of the light bulb.

Stop carping

Carping Fishy sayings debunked

Image source: Kletr
Poor carp have an unjustified reputation as a nag.

Ever been told (or told someone) to stop “carping”? Ever wondered what the poor old carp has done to deserve its reputation as a nag and a moaner, whilst really just trying to avoid your carp fishing tackle? The answer? Nothing. That’s because the verb “to carp” actually has nothing at all to do with the fish of the same name.

In fact, “carping” comes from Middle English – a form of English that was in use from the 12th to the 15th century. It was the lingo of Chaucer’s Canterbury tales and developed from Old English after the Norman invasion. In Middle English, the word was “carpen” or “to speak”, and this came from an even earlier old Norse word, “karpa”, which meant “to brag”. Relax – it’s not the fishes fault!

Angling

Angling Fishy sayings debunked

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Richard III is to thank for angling.

Here’s a riddle: What has angling to do with a car park in Leicester? For the answer we need to travel back in time to the late 15th century and the very late, King Richard III. Before the murderous monarch cried, “my kingdom for a horse,” (according to Shakespeare anyway) was gruesomely killed and buried in what became a carpark, he may well have told his squire to pack some sandwiches, his fishing rod and an angle or two for a day’s fishing.

An angle is middle english for apex or tip, fishing is fishing, but fishing with a hook is angling. An angle is a fishing hook.

Want to catch big carp? Head to Thailand!

Do you dream of one day catching a carp so big it defies imagination?

Or a catfish so huge it makes every other fish you’ve ever caught look like a tiddler? And how about the legendary Arapaima, the ultimate freshwater predator and one of the biggest freshwater fish on the planet? Why not make your day dreams a reality with the angling trip of a lifetime?

We’re talking about Thailand – so pack your carp fishing gear, here’s our brief guide to this stunning tropical destination, home to some of the most monstrous freshwater fish in the world.

Why Thailand

Thailand Want to catch big carp? Head to Thailand!

Image source: Iakov Kalinin
A fisherman’s paradise.

The only country in South East Asia never to have been colonised, in the days of Empire, Thailand formed a buffer zone between the competing great powers of Britain and France. A constitutional monarchy, Thailand’s head of state, King Bhumibol has reigned since 9th June 1946, making him the longest serving monarch in the world.

Travel to Thailand and you’ll be treated to a welcome that’s hard to beat; it’s not for nothing that Thailand is called, the “land of smiles”. There you’ll find exquisite white sand beaches, teeming cities, a kaleidoscope of exotic street food, and most importantly, some of the best fishing in the world.

But do check the latest Foreign Office travel advice before you go. Attacks on tourists are rare but they do happen. In May this year, the Royal Thai military seized power and imposed martial law. Planned and spontaneous political protests in Bangkok and other major cities have turned violent. Tourists are currently advised to stay away from the South of the country as well some parts of the Eastern border with Cambodia – but if you heed advice, your trip should be a happy and trouble free experience.

Where should I go?

Jungle Fishing Want to catch big carp? Head to Thailand!

Image source: Patrick Foto
Fancy a spot of jungle fishing? Thailand’s your place.

Jungle fishing, river fishing, lake fishing – Thailand has it all. If you’re not ready to go it alone, you’ll find a plethora of fishing guides advertising their services online and many reputable companies that can lead you to the best fishing spots.

But do bear in mind that for all the majesty of its inland waters, Thailand’s rivers and lakes are seriously threatened by poor fishing practises, overfishing and pollution. Subsistence fishing is a necessity for many Thai families but large scale netting has greatly reduced fish populations in some areas. Fishing tourism provides a valuable income for local people and when fished responsibly, aquatic ecosystems may even benefit from the increased economic value your custom brings to the waters.

Keen to fit a fishing trip into a busy family holiday? You’re in luck. With over 300 fisheries within easy reach of the capital city, Bangkok, you’ll be spoilt for choice. But the quality of the experience does vary, with some fisheries being little more than fish farms that let you cast a line for a fee. Word of mouth is invaluable, and online you’ll find forums full of feedback on other people’s Thai carp fishing experiences. The message here is simple? Do your homework before you go.

What can I catch?

Now for the good bit! Thailand might be a longhaul flight away, but your first giant fish will more than make up for the 12 hours or more you spent sitting on a plane.

Thailand offers a multitude of species well worth catching, here are just a few of the biggest…

Giant Siamese carp

Giant barb Want to catch big carp? Head to Thailand!

Image source: Lerdsuwa via Wikimedia
The largest on record is 661 lbs.

The national fish of Thailand, the giant siamese carp is listed as critically endangered in the wild, but fishing parks are well stocked with captive fish. Don’t expect giant Siamese carp to give themselves up easily – you’ll need every bit of cunning to trap one of these monsters. And monstrous it really is – the biggest species of carp on the planet, the biggest ever recorded specimen was netted in the wild at a reported 300 kg or 661 lbs. While you probably won’t catch one of those proportions, 30 – 50 kgs is doable and some fishing parks contain fish closer to the 100 kg mark, but they are fiendishly difficult to catch.

Giant Mekong Catfish

Giant Mekong Catfish Want to catch big carp? Head to Thailand!

Image source: Ginkgo100 via Wikimedia
A local fisherman netted a 646 lb Giant Mekong Catfish.

Critically endangered, it’s illegal to fish for giant mekong catfish in the wild without special permits. Giant Mekong catfish is perhaps the biggest freshwater fish in the world – in 2005, one was netted by local fishermen at 646 lbs and sold – as a requirement of the village fishing association’s permit – to the Thai department of fisheries. The eggs were harvested but the fish died before it could be returned to the water, and was given back to the villagers to eat. Thanks to the government sponsored breeding program, many lakes in Thailand stock giant Mekong catfish, although sadly, the fish doesn’t breed in ponds. In captivity, a catch of 100lb would still be an experience to treasure for a lifetime.

Arapaima

Arapaima Want to catch big carp? Head to Thailand!

Image source: Cliff via Wikimedia
The largest ever caught is 339 lbs.

Native to the Amazon basin, Arapaima is revered as one of the biggest and most ferocious freshwater fish on the planet. The record for the biggest ever caught goes to a specimen landed in South America and stands at a colossal 339 lbs. Successfully introduced to the lakes and fishing parks of Thailand, they are notoriously fussy eaters. If you’re lucky enough to hook one, you’ll be in for one heck of a fight from what is one of the most wiley, aggressive fish out there. Good luck – you’ll need it!

Snake head

Snake head Want to catch big carp? Head to Thailand!

Image source: মৌচুমী via Wikimedia
Snake heads can grow up to 30 kg!

Razor sharp teeth, speed and aggression make this freshwater predator a pretty special catch for anglers visiting Thailand. Giant snake head grow up to about 30kg and because the fish favours underwater snags and sunken tree branches as the perfect place from which to ambush its prey, you’ll have to practise patience as well as accurate casting if you’re to get into one.

7 Surprising carp facts

How well do you know your carp?

Here are some fun carp facts to help you become a font of carp wisdom.

1. Carp originate from the Black, Aral and Caspian Seas

Carp origin map 7 Surprising carp facts

Image source: Maps World
The carp is now endangered in their native waters.

The common carp has its origins in the Black, Aral and Caspian Sea basins. From there the species spread east into Siberia and China, and west into the Danube. The Romans were the first Europeans to farm carp, a practice that probably developed earlier and separately in China and Japan. The later spread of the fish throughout Europe, Asia and America is purely a product of human activity.

In the US, the Asian carp is a menace, devastating native fish populations, in Japan, the Koi carp is revered as an ornamental fish. Here in the UK, we love our carp and always put them back, travel to Eastern Europe and you’ll find them on the menu. Carp are plentiful everywhere, except their native waters, where they are now endangered.

2. They arrived in Britain in the 15th century

Treatsye of fysshynge wyth an angle 474x395 7 Surprising carp facts

Image source: Budden Brooks
“He is an evil fish to take.”

It wasn’t the Romans who brought carp to Britain. In fact, the fish hasn’t been here nearly as long as some might think. The first reference to the fish appears in the, “Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle.” There carp is described as:

“He is an evil fish to take. For he is so strongly armoured in the mouth that no light tackle may hold him.”

There is some debate as to when the manuscript of the Treatyse was first written – the text is late 1400s, but the introduction is almost certainly a copy of a 12th century manuscript – but the fact that Chaucer makes no mention of the fish in his 14th century works makes it likely that carp came onto the menu sometime in the 15th century.

3. Carp are part of the minnow family

Minnow family 7 Surprising carp facts

Image source: Fish Tanks
Who’d have thought the mighty carp was related to a minnow!

Carp can grow to monstrous proportions, but the fish we love to catch is actually, a minnow. The biggest carp ever caught (Guinness book of records) was a 94 lb common carp hooked by Martin Locke at Lac de Curton, France on 11th January 2010. He nicknamed the fish, Lockey’s Lump.

The reason why carp grow so big may be an evolutionary one. Carp don’t have a true stomach, instead, their intestine digests food as it travels its length. As a result, carp are constantly foraging for food. Eating a lot promotes growth, and growing quickly helps young fish avoid becoming prey. The result: a quick growing fish that eats a lot – potentially 30 –  40% of its body weight a day.

4. Carp caviar is popular in Europe and the US

Carp caviar 7 Surprising carp facts

Image source: Danube Caviar
Europe and the US can’t get enough carp caviar.

Carp was originally introduced to America in the 19th century as a cheap food source.  Overfishing of native species from rivers and lakes, as well as the appetites of European settlers encouraged the US department of fisheries to begin a concerted campaign to breed carp in 1877.

To begin with, carp were prized for the table, but over time, as they escaped into North American river systems, the fish became an invasive menace, out eating its native rivals and destroying fragile ecosystems. Carp are now hated, but nevertheless, like in Europe the US market for carp caviar is booming – proof that if you can’t beat it – you may as well eat it!

5. It’s tricky to know their gender (unless it’s mating season)

Carp gender 7 Surprising carp facts

Image source: Trekhrechie
“Hey Carl!”, “It’s Carly!”

Sexing your catch isn’t easy, especially outside of the mating season, but there are some clues about whether your prize specimen is a boy or a girl. First off, males tend (though not always) to be a little slimmer than females, and their genital opening is concave and less noticeable than that of the female, which is larger and may even protrude slightly.

During mating season, it’s a whole lot easier to tell male from female. Females’ abdomens swell with eggs and their genital enlarges to resemble a small fleshy tube. Males, meanwhile develop “tubercles”, small bony lumps around the head and gills, and they lose their mucus coating, becoming rough to the touch.

6. Carp are considered a good omen

Kwan yin carp 7 Surprising carp facts

Image source: Yunnan Adventure
A statue of Kwan-yin overlooking a natural water fish lake.

Some love nothing better than to set off for the pond, carp fishing rods in hand, others wouldn’t dream of catching their favorite koi. But whether you’re a European who loves to catch carp, or an Asian who rears them to look at, what we share is our love of carp and an ancient belief in the good fortune they bring.

The Christian tradition of eating fish on a Friday originates in the pagan mythology of the Norse and Germanic peoples of Europe. The day’s name comes from Freyja or perhaps Frigg, both goddesses, and possibly originally the same deity. Freyja was the goddess of fertility – and her symbol is the fish.

Travel east to China and you’ll find carp associated with the “Great Mother”, Kwan-yin. Associated with, among other things, rebirth and fertility, Kwan-yin is often depicted in the form of a fish.

7. Koi carp can fetch over a million dollars

Expensive koi fish 7 Surprising carp facts

Image source: Pets4Homes
Koi carp can fetch insane prices.

Japanese Koi carp are among the most expensive fish on the planet. A symbol of prosperity and status, it’s impossible to say exactly how much the most expensive fish are sold for since negotiations usually happen in private.

It’s thought that at the peak of the Koi “boom” in 1980s Japan, the most highly prized specimens could fetch as much as $1,000,000 – or around $2,800,000 in today’s money. The buyers were rich corporations who displayed their “catch” in ornamental tanks in office atria.

Brilliantly brainy fish

It’s often said that the oldest and biggest fish in the lake make the greatest adversaries.

That’s because they’re shrewd, wiley and having found themselves on the wrong end of rods and fishing reels many times before, know how to avoid capture. But now there’s concrete evidence that fish are far more intelligent the ‘goldfish’ brains we’re led to believe they are.

In fact, it turns out fish are equally as clever as many mammals and in some cases outdo their land dwelling cousins. Just because fish are the oldest of the planet’s vertebrates, doesn’t mean they stopped evolving, just that they’ve been evolving for longer.

Intelligent as chimps

Chimp Brilliantly brainy fish

Image source: Creative Creativity
Chimps and trouts both utilise teamwork.

Some fish are so brainy, they compare favourably to chimps, and among the cleverest of the lot are coral trout, and their close relative, the roving coral grouper. Just like chimps, both fish use teamwork to hunt for prey. But while chimps hunt in troups for meat to supplement their diets, trout and grouper team up with moray eels in the hunt for food, each benefitting from the particular abilities of the other.

Using head shakes and handstands, the fish signal to eels the location of prey. The fish the moray eel fails to catch are sitting ducks for attack by the fast swimming trout, the fish the trout miss flee for crevices in the coral and rocks, that the moray eel can wriggle into. Both gain, but the fish are the brains of the operation, repeatedly choosing to do business with only the most successful hunters among the eels.

3 second memory = myth

Goldfish Brilliantly brainy fish

Image source: Practical Fish Keeping
Capable of remembering for months.

Far from possessing the feeble three second memory attributed to the humble goldfish, new research shows that fish are perfectly capable of retaining information, not just for seconds, but for up to five months.

When scientists trained fish to associate certain sounds played through an underwater loudspeaker, with a particular action, like feeding, they were encouraged to discover that the fish would gather expecting food whenever they heard the noise. But they were amazed to observe that even months later, the fish remembered the sound, so that when it was played again, they gathered expecting fee grub.

What’s the time Mr. Fish?

Time Brilliantly brainy fish

Image source: Word Stream
Need the time? Ask your goldfish.

Think fish are stupid? Think again, because it’s not just their intelligence and memory that make them cleverer than previously thought. Now, scientists from Plymouth University have proved your goldfish is so bright, it can even tell the time!

Fish were placed in a special bowl into which food was released only when the goldfish pressed a lever. The fish soon got used to food on request, but when the rules were changed so that food was only released once a day at a particular time, the fish quickly adapted.  At dinner time, they clustered around the feeding point, ready to press the lever.

If that isn’t amazing enough, if the researchers chose not to release the food at the appointed time, after an hour, the fish gave up pressing the lever, proving they’re capable of understanding that time was up.

Now you’re talking

Talking Brilliantly brainy fish

Image source: LA Reef Soceity
Some fish love a good old natter.

What sort of sound does a fish make? For a long time, scientists thought fish were dumb creatures who couldn’t communicate with each other. But now, research shows that fish live in complex societies, enjoy the company of other fish and use pops, clicks, grunts, and displays to communicate a wide range of thoughts and emotions.

Researchers in New Zealand used microphones and motion detectors to listen in on tanks of fish. They were stunned to discover that some fish kept up a continual chatter. It’s thought the sounds fish make by twanging their swim bladders are used to alert other fish to danger, point to food sources, attract a mate, and are even a way of orientating themselves around reefs. Of the fish studied, gurnard were the most chatty with cod being the strong silent types, only getting vocal around breeding time!

Walk the walk

Walking fish Brilliantly brainy fish

Image source: HK Silicon
No, your eyes do not deceive you, that is a walking fish.

Fish can do more than “talk the talk”, it appears they can “walk the walk” too! It’s called “developmental plasticity” and fish have it. Researchers know that 400 million years ago, in the Devonian period, fish adapted to survive on land, eventually becoming land dwelling creatures; our earliest ancestors. But scientists wanted to see what would happen if they took a modern polypterus, an African fish that has lungs, and forced it to remain largely on terra firma. The results were stunning.

In under a year, the fish learned to use its fins to ‘walk’ effectively, bringing its fins closer to the midline of  its body, raising its head higher and even learning not to slip and slide in the mud. And crucially for scientists studying evolutionary biology, their shoulder joints and spine adapted to the task of carrying the fish’s body on land, demonstrating the likely process through which the switch from sea to land was made.

Hell Nino: Red tides, jelly fish swarms & sea lion famine

Drought in Northern Australia, wet and wild conditions in California, climatic disruption in South America, extreme cold in Northern Europe.

Just some of the consequences of the upwelling of exceptionally warm water in the equatorial Pacific, a phenomena known as “El Nino, ” or the “Christ Child”. The last such event was five years ago and now it looks like there might be another this autumn and winter, the result: misery for many millions of people across the world.

But how does the flood of warm water affect the marine environment and the people whose sea fishing tackle is their livelihood? Read on to find out.

Jelly fish swarms

Jellyfish swarm Hell Nino: Red tides, jelly fish swarms & sea lion famine

Image source: The Dancing Rest
Velella Velella everywhere!

This summer saw a biblical plague hit the Pacific coast of North America. From Southern California to British Columbia, a mega-swarm of billions of bright blue jellyfish filled the sea and littered the beaches with their rotting carcasses. The Velella Velella, or “by the wind sailor”, is a small creature with a stiff sail-like protuberance that stands clear of the water, enabling the jellyfish to go wherever the wind takes it.

Ocean warming caused by a possible El Nino event, is thought to have caused a spike in jellyfish numbers. Normally, the North Westerly prevailing wind off the coast of North America keeps the jellyfish far out to sea, but this year, strong Southwesterlies have made the Velella Velella run aground. Fortunately, though alarming to look at, the swarm is harmless to humans.

Sea lion famine

Sea Lion Hell Nino: Red tides, jelly fish swarms & sea lion famine

Image source: Wikimedia
Hungry pups are overwhelming rescue centres.

Thousands of dead and dying sea lions washed up on the shores of Southern California this summer. The problem is so bad that this spring, well over 1000 pups overwhelmed rescue centres in the area, and victims had to be taken to sanctuaries further north.

The the sea lions are victims of starvation – and El Nino may be to blame. The dissipation of shoals of anchovies and sardines caused by the sudden warming of the water off the coast of California, spells famine for sea lions and other marine mammals.

Red tides

Red Tide Hell Nino: Red tides, jelly fish swarms & sea lion famine

Image source: Wikimedia
Unusual looking, highly toxic to marine life.

A sudden bloom of harmful algae is a natural phenomenon. Coastal upwellings of cold, nutrient rich water fuel a rapid growth of algal cells that can turn the water to a reddish brown sludge. Such blooms can be highly toxic, poisoning marine life, killing corals and devastating fishing communities. In 2001, researchers discovered a 400 km stretch of reef off Indonesia, where all the coral was dead. The cause – El Nino.

In 1997, a severe drought in Indonesia, caused by El Nino, sparked uncontrollable wildfires throughout the region. It’s thought ash from the fires drifted East, falling in the sea off the Mentawai Islands. The iron rich particles fed an algal bloom that reached truly epic proportions. The decomposing plant matter leached all the oxygen from the water, killing everything in it for hundreds of kilometers.

Fishery collapse

Dying fisheries Hell Nino: Red tides, jelly fish swarms & sea lion famine

Image source: Monterey Bay Aquarium
Shoals of anchovies and sardines will disappear.

Where the deep ocean collides with Peru’s sharp continental shelf, an upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water provides food for spectacular shoals of anchovies and sardines. In turn, local fishermen depend on the resource for their income. The Peruvian anchovy fishery is worth billions of dollars each year, and the ground fish meal produced by factories along the coast supplies one third of the world’s demand for the product.

But when El Nino strikes, the cold water is replaced by warm currents, and the shoals of fish upon which so many families depend, disappear, literally overnight. Leave aside the ethics of turning edible, nutritious food into pellets to feed farmed salmon, this is a disaster for sea fishing families.

Coral bleaching disaster

Coral Bleaching Hell Nino: Red tides, jelly fish swarms & sea lion famine

Image source: Wikipedia
Normal coral behind bleached coral.

The coral triangle is often described as an “underwater Amazon”. It’s an area of incredible biodiversity spanning nearly six million square kilometers under the seas of Southeast Asia. El Nino is bad news for coral because warmer than average sea temperatures interfere with the coral’s ability to photosynthesize. As the thermometer rises, the coral fades to white and dies, a process called coral bleaching.

Already under pressure from global warming, the 1997/98 El Nino caused widespread coral bleaching in the region. And as environmental pressures stack up, it gets harder and harder for the delicate fauna and flora of the reefs to bounce back. Since the 1980s, experts say up to half the coral in the coral triangle has been lost and if there is an El Nino this year, some scientists predict a die off from which the reefs may never recover.

Britain’s strangest catches

Salmon, trout, cod, mackerel – tasty, yes – exotic, no.

But just because the UK isn’t normally known for its strange catches doesn’t mean nothing unusual ever turns up on our shores, or in our rivers and lakes. But what are some of the oddest fish ever caught in the UK?

We thought we’d find out.

Electric Ray

Electric Ray Britain’s strangest catches

Image source: Wikimedia
Zing! Imagine catching one of these off the coast of Cornwall.

Capable of delivering an electric pulse of 220 volts, an encounter with an electric ray could literally knock you off your feet. But while the fish does exist in deep water off the coast of the UK, it’s very rare for one to be caught by a shore angler. In fact, the electric ray is normally a resident of the Med and the waters off Africa, and South America.

But imagine his surprise when in 1980, a Mr Wills caught a 52lb 11oz whopper off Porthallow on the Cornish coast. A truly stunning catch, we hope he realised what it was before he touched it!

Puffer Fish

Puffer fish Britain’s strangest catches

Image source: Wikimedia
You wouldn’t want to accidentally step on one of these!

Japanese sushi chefs train for at least two years to prepare and serve fugu, or puffer fish. That’s because the skin and internal organs of this native of tropical and subtropical waters contain tetrodotoxin, a nerve agent for which there is no known antidote. Puffer fish can grow up to two feet in length and when threatened or attacked, pump their stomachs full of air or water to make themselves impossible to swallow.

It must have come as quite a shock to one Mr S. Atkinson, when in 1985, while fishing from Chesil Beach in Dorset, he hooked a 6lb 9oz specimen. We assume he didn’t untangle it from his fishing equipment and take it home for tea!

Pilot Fish

Pilot fish Britain’s strangest catches

Image source: Wikipedia
The pilot fish keeps risky company.

It’s covered in black and white stripes, and normally feeds on the parasites that live on the skin and gill slits of sharks. We’re talking about the pilot fish – the one creature that can swim into the mouths of sharks, pick the rotting flesh from between its razor sharp teeth and live to tell the tale. But the pilot is normally found cruising with its lethal ally in the warm seas of the equator – not in chilly UK waters.

So it must have come as a bit of a surprise to say the least, when in 1997, Mr J. Richards caught a 10 oz pilot fish in the Towy Estuary in Carmarthenshire. How it managed to get so lost is a mystery.

Carp or Goldfish?

Carp goldfish Britain’s strangest catches

Image source: Platform 13
A very strange hybrid fish.

Is it a goldfish, a carp, a roach or a bream? Perhaps it’s all of the above. When Angling Times tackle editor, Mark Sawyer caught this strange specimen at Magpie Lake, Cambridge in 2012, he really didn’t know what to make of it.

His first thought was that he’d hooked a brown goldfish, but when he looked more closely, he realised he’d caught something altogether stranger. The hybrid fish looked to be the product of at least three species, if not more. It had, Mr Sawyer said, the head of a roach, the body of a bog standard goldfish, a fantail’s tail and the anal fin of a Bream.

Mystery Fish

Mystery fish Britain’s strangest catches

Image source: UTAOT
A walking fish?!

“Caught” on film, “walking”, the seabed beneath a North Sea oil rig, if it’s genuine footage, this strange specimen has us truly baffled. It looks like some sort of Handfish – but that’s a species native to the coasts of Australia and Tasmania. Using adapted pectoral fins to travel the ocean floor, this slow moving fish, pictured above, does look very similar to the one featured in the video.

What do you think it is? We’d love to hear your thoughts!