I first met Bill Brazier through my good friend Ross Macklin. Ross and Bill are fish biologists and these guys have really gone into in immense detail of the lives of Irish Carp. Using what he has learned from his studies to add to his fishing, an expert on the Lough He has a great understanding of whats going on beneath the water and why. A really nice bloke too, Aidan and myself had a great laugh with Bill back in September on the Lough. So over to Bill now and we will ask him the questions……
Me: Hi Bill, can you tell us about the early fishing memories?
BB: I remember the first day I ever cast a line, soon after my 6th birthday. The Creamery Shore, Doon Lake, Co. Clare, a lake I could see every day from my mountain-top home. My Dad bought me a little fishing kit consisting of a 5ft blue rod (which I still have!), a reel which struggled with winding, some ridiculously thick line, a Toby-style spinner and an unsightly clip-on bubble float – you know the sort! I didn’t catch any fish that first day (hardly surprising!) but I did land three swan mussels on my spinner, which excited me hugely and was enough to start a lifelong passion for angling!
Me: What was in like growing up in county Clare, and how was the fishing?
BB: Growing up in the East Clare Lake land’s really was a dream on the fishing front. Dozens and dozens of lakes and rivers of all shapes and sizes, many hardly, if ever, fished. I was spoilt for choice. In fact, though I fished every spare moment with my Dad, there are still lakes in that area that I have not fished even to this day! So many waters, so little time… Even though my Dad and I were pretty amateurish in those early years we still caught plenty of fish. Rudd (lots!) and perch first, then progressing onto larger fish like pike, bream and tench… There were very few roach in the local systems back then (early to mid 90s) and I honestly believe the fishing was better in many (but not all) waters…
Me: When did carp come into your fishing?
BB: Not only was I lucky enough to be literally surrounded by lakes full of tench, bream, rudd, pike etc., there were also a couple of lakes which were said to contain mythical carp. You must remember that back in those days, carp fishing was nowhere near as popular as it is now, either in Ireland or the UK. Information and tackle was not as freely available as it is nowadays (we actually made a lot of our own tackle and all of our bait). Anglers who had caught or even seen a carp were very few and far between in this country, though they were out there of course. In fact, most people, my Dad and I included, honestly believed there were only a handful of waters where you could actually fish for and catch carp! A total misnomer.
One of these Clare lakes, to our and local knowledge, had never been seriously targeted for carp. One day in 1997, whilst Dad focused on trying to tempt our first carp from this lake, I ended up losing patience pretty quickly (I was only 8!) and, as usual, began fishing for the many stunted rudd. Suddenly towards evening, after about a hundred little golden rudd, my float fished maggots were grabbed by something much larger. It turned out to be a little common carp of 1lb 8oz and to me it was absolutely huge! Not only that but it was indeed a mythical carp. They did exist! Although I had read about them in books previously, upon catching one I became instantly obsessed with this mysterious fish and wanted to learn even more about them and catch more! To this day they remain my favourite fish, largely as the mystery element still surrounds much of Irish carp angling. Long may it continue…
Me: What is your favourite fishing memory?
BB: I have too many to single out, if I’m honest. I spent pretty much all of my youth fishing with my Dad, Robin. He took me as often as he could, often for weeks on end, to the Clare lakes, up country to places like Roscommon and Westmeath, down South to Cork, West to Tipperary, Offaly – all over the country. I was so lucky. We lived a very simple life back then, very poor in financial terms but so rich in many others. Those years were truly magical and were the happiest times of both of our lives, without a doubt.
Specific captures would be a toss-up between my largest tench when I was 10 (7lb 13oz), my first carp (as mentioned above), my first 20lb+ carp (21lb 10oz, Cork Lough, 2001) or my first carp from the notoriously difficult Paddy Mac Namara’s Lake, Co Clare (also 2001). My first bass or thick-lipped mullet would also run these close though…
Me: Yourself and Ross have studied carp in Ireland in great detail, when did carp arrive in Ireland?
BB: That is a good question, Paddy! The earliest written reference I can find is January 1626, when carp were imported by Richard Boyle, the Great Earl of Cork, from the Netherlands. However, I am certain carp were here before this time but went unrecorded. Carp were fairly widespread in England by the mid-1500s and I think it’s fair to assume that, due to social and trade links between the countries, carp were also probably introduced to Ireland in the 15th or 16th centuries. Any of these very early populations are long since gone.
If anyone is interested in more detail and has enough free time on their hands they can have a look at my paper ‘A History of common carp Cyprinus carpio in Ireland: A review’, available at http://oar.marine.ie/handle/10793/811
Me: What are the different strains of carp in Ireland right now?
BB: Through researching the history of carp in Ireland in meticulous detail over a six or seven year period (for my own interest incidentally) and also studying the genetics of carp in Ireland for my Ph.D, I can safely say that there are five major strains of carp currently swimming around in Irish waters. That’s not to say there aren’t more, hidden away in an old forgotten lake somewhere or introduced illegally, just that there are five main ones.
We currently have the Decoy (originated in Decoy Lake, Tipperary), Cork Lough (originating from Cork Lough, Cork City), Gaulmoylestown (originating from Gaulmoylestown Pond, Westmeath) strains as well as two more recently introduced ones – one from France and one from England. It’s all a bit confusing (even to me!) as the carp in Gaulmoylestown and Cork Lough share the same ancestors but through time and isolation from each other they have diverged genetically to become two distinct strains.
The so-called ‘Irish strains’, the Decoy, Cork Lough and Gaulmoylestown fish, are essentially feral. They have been pretty much left alone for a long time and there sole purpose is to survive and reproduce, not to grow big. The English and French strains are domesticated, farmed fish which have been selectively bred to grow as big as possible as fast as possible. Comparing the growth rates or potential of the different strains is almost like comparing different species!
Me: If money was no object where in the world would you like to fish for carp?
BB: Hmmm… Anywhere really off the beaten track, with a bit of adventure, mystery, the unknown. I quite like the idea of a Canadian river or their Great Lakes, or an Eastern European exploration… There is apparently a lake in the Himalayas (Nepal) where carp of world record sizes live which sounds intriguing! Having said that size is not the main driving force behind my fishing…
Me: When not fishing how do you spend your time?
BB: I am a huge football and Man United fan, which isn’t much fun at the moment after such a dominant spell – all good things come to an end at some point I guess! Other than that it’s either doing scientific research on fish and water of some sort or spending time with my beautiful daughter Leah (20 months at the time of writing).
Me: What Irish fish would you most like to catch?
BB: A giant tench would be amazing, one to topple my dear old friend Nick Parry’s record, but I have to admit that an Irish-strain 30lb+ carp is my dream fish, if only to prove to the doubters that they do exist!
Me: What are your hopes for 2014?
BB: The same as always; to explore new under-fished or even unfished waters, fish more in general and to continue enjoy it! Also, to indulge in my new found passion of sea angling a bit more…