Employees rue the ones that get away to fish

Keith Elliott reports on an eager start to the coarse fishing season
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Employers puzzling over a sharp rise in absenteeism can lay the blame squarely on... a fish. Not just any fish. The culprit is a huge 54lb carp, the largest freshwater fish caught in England.

Its capture last week spurred tens of thousands to take an unscheduled day off yesterday, the first day the coarse fishing season, in the hope of similar success. Many fishermen were on the bankside before dusk on Thursday to reserve their spots for the season's midnight start.

Last year's National Angling Survey estimated there were 2.3 million coarse anglers in England and Wales. Almost half of those aged under 30 named carp as their favourite fish. A 30lb carp is worth far more than a salmon of the same weight, with more than pounds 2,000 paid for individual fish. When caught, UK carp are always returned to the water, a far cry from the US, where locals fish for them with bows and arrows, or Poland, where they are traditionally eaten instead of turkey at Christmas.

The 54lb record-breaker caught by Leicester print worker Roddy Porter's 54lb record-breaker may have inspired tens of thousands, but it has also muddied angling's tranquil waters. Earlier this year, the National Rivers Authority cleared the way for fishing right through the year on stillwaters and many canals. This ended almost a century of an official close season, whose aim ostensibly was to protect fish during breeding (in fact, fish breed when conditions are right and often this is as late as August).

Although 16 June is now only the official opening date on rivers and a few canals, most fishermen have still observed the old close season.They have done this for domestic and other reasons. One said: "If it wasn't for the close season, my house would fall down." But some, like Mr Porter, have continued fishing. An occasional carp angler, last week he caught a fish that more serious carpers would sell their wives for. Ironically, it was full of spawn, which artificially boosted its weight by an estimated 10lb. This week's Angling Times carries a picture of the fish, looking as if it has swallowed a football.

The issue has sharply divided anglers, and previous record holder Chris Yates of Wiltshire, voiced the views of traditionalists by saying: "I think most anglers would only recognise a fish as a record if it is caught within the bounds of the old season. Although I appreciate Roddy's achievement, I can't accept it as a record."

Mr Porter retorted: "The fish was in a natural state. All fish spawn at some time and I'm claiming it as a record. A lot of the fish in the record books were carrying spawn. But no one ever complained because they were caught after June 16."

At 54lb, the carp tops Mr Yates's record by 2lb 8oz. It is so well known to regulars at Mid-Northants Fishery, Ringstead, that it carries the nickname "Scaley" and has been caught several times, though its highest previous weight was 41lb 8oz. This practice of naming large fish is not new. "Mary", who lives in a large gravel pit at Wraysbury,Berks, has been caught six times at weights between 49lb and 50lb 8oz.

Another record-breaking catch came during a competition in Denmark this week. Tom Pickering of Barnsley won pounds 50,000 for catching 322lb 11oz of bream in five hours. The prize was for anyone breaking the world match record.

Mr Pickering, beating the old record by 6oz, also shared pounds 6,000 with his team-mate Denis White for winning the competition.

The moral line, page 17