I really don’t want to be sat here this afternoon – a Bank Holiday afternoon – writing an article that shouldn’t be necessary. I’ve been doing a bit of net-browsing this morning and I’ve come across a four year-old thread on NorthWestCarp (‘Home of the Northern Monkeys’) questioning the authenticity of the many big carp caught in 1989 and 1990 by the late – and yes, angling great – Martin Gay.

My feelings now, as I write, are of frustration and something akin to outrage (is there a word to describe something slightly less intense?) The thread begins:

“Does anyoone (sic) remember Martin Gay catching a 48lb common years ago?
He cut the background out so the venue wouldn’t be revealed but he was slated for it and many accused him of catching it abroad.

Does anyone know if the venue ever came to light? Or that he caught another fish in there that he thought was over the British record at the time?”

This was a perfectly valid question, one that I hoped would spawn further comment from anglers fascinated by Martin’s historic captures and those necessarily frustrated and baffled by the lack of detail. Now it’s always interesting and – in better circumstances – amusing to read comments from all and sundry when you know the truth. It is, however, downright hurtful when you read a downright defamatory comment written by an authoritative voice about an even greater authoritative voice – that of Martin Gay himself.

Here is the comment:

“Sorry to disappoint, but all the common carp Martin Gay wrote of in Coarse Angler and Angling Times came from Canada. I was slightly involved in this debacle at the time. Clearly when close friends of Martin confided in me that he’d been full of these captures when he returned from holiday in Canada the biggest fish (48lb and others) were removed from all the UK big carp lists at the time, which is why they are still not recorded. Things really got out of hand when Angling Times got onto the story and ran the headline ‘The day I broke Richard Walker’s Record’. By then Martin Gay had unfortunately ‘lost the plot’ which was so sad.

In his time he was an influential angler and writer of great note not only in pike circles but big tench, etc. But like George Michael who is a song writer and singer of world renowned, when all is done he will always be remembered for that ‘Toilet‘ incident – sadly Martin Gay in years to come may only be remember for the infamous picture of a 48lb common carp with the background cut out”

I won’t identify the author; we’ve met on a few occasions and rubbed along ok – albeit briefly.

I was a friend of Martin’s for 35 years. He was a frequent angling buddy and regular visitor to my home. I knew him well. One evening in 1989 Martin visited me for what purported to be a normal, friendly chat about this and that, but with him he carried a folder which he was plainly itching to open. I didn’t enquire as to its content immediately; instead I made some tea in order to create an opening for his revelation – whatever it might have been.

He didn’t disappoint.

Handing me the first of many photographs he asked “What weight would you put on that?” and I guessed 27-28lb “It’s actually 34” said Martin who went on to produce another shot of a big mirror. “And this one?” I ventured a weight of 30lb but was 2lb light – it was “a 32”. Martin went on to astound me – no less – with pictures of beautiful fish of between 18 and, I believe, 34.5lb before producing his trump card. “How about this one?” He handed me the picture to study but I really couldn’t take it in at first – it was too big.

The common carp he held was not being held to the camera, indeed it was effectively resting on his knees. It was enormous! Naturally, I asked all those questions I might be expected to ask but, of course, Martin would not disclose the whereabouts of their capture. Now it is not only un-gentlemanly to press a fellow angler for an answer but downright unedifying so I sought answers which wouldn’t embarrass or commit him too much. Again, my questions were those any decent angler might expect to be asked.

I learned that the water was “visible from the road”, that it was not club water and that it was “closer to you than me”. Well! John o’ Groats was ‘closer to me’ than Martin so his answer really didn’t tell me much – until he explained how he was able to fish it in the morning for a few hours and return in the afternoon. I looked at the photo again and only then asked him the weight. Martin told me that he’d reported it at 48lb but that its true weight was probably closer to 52lb. He’d weighed the fish on brand new scales which had ‘easily’ bottomed-out at 50lb and rather than ‘upset’ the carp world’s loony fringe with a report of a fish weighing precisely that or more he’d settle for 48lb. He wasn’t wrong, was he?

Within days the best angler of his generation was being slated for lying; for attributing Canadian fish to an English water. But I knew differently. I had looked my friend in the eyes – my friend of 35 years and with impeccable credentials – and asked if he would ever lie to me – a logically stupid question, I know, but meaningful at that moment. Martin gave me his earnest assurance that he would never tell a lie pertaining to fishing – and I still believe him, not least because he made subsequent visitations to my home with further photographs of big mirrors he’d caught since our previous get together. He even showed me a shot of a big mirror lying alongside the 10ft split cane carp rod made especially to commemorate his historic captures by Alan Bramley of Partridge’s: “Do you think I’d entrust a rod like that to the hold of a 747?” Martin asked, rhetorically.

The facts are these:

Martin Gay was an extraordinarily gifted angler who made no secret of his dislike for modern carp fishers and, as such, he was fair game for all those given the opportunity to discredit him: they knew he wouldn’t divulge the details of his ‘48’ so they felt safe in their denunciations. And anyway, he couldn’t have caught those fish because he used two grains of free-lined sweetcorn and wasn’t bolt-rigging a hair-rigged 22mm Tremendo Baits pop-up yak milk boilie on a size 3 aligned bent hook!

I don’t know if the author of that very unfortunate passage (above) had an axe to grind with Martin Gay but boy…was that a distasteful thing to write or what? And another thing: Martin never ‘lost’ any sort of ‘plot’; he was, in fact, extraordinarily level headed; a real sober-sided conservative type with a highly responsible job within a university. It really is a great, great shame that he’s no longer around (Martin’s obituary, as published on FM may be found HERE – Ed) to explain to the most recent tranches of carp anglers the true meaning and delight of fishing.