Angling: Holy waters of Redmire

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It's Not often that giving someone a stone brings tears to their eyes. But when I passed this particular stone to my friend Paul, I feared he would burst into tears. "Thank you. Thank you so very much. I will treasure this," he said. Of course, it wasn't just any stone. It was a stone picked up from the banks of the most famous angling water of modern times, and ritually dipped in the holy waters.

At first sight, Redmire Pool is a bit of a let-down. It is not particularly scenic. On a cold November morning, there is nothing apparent to distinguish it from a thousand other weedy ponds.Yet this is the stuff of legend. For more than 30 years, this tiny Herefordshire lake produced huge carp totally out of proportion to the water's modest size. Richard Walker, probably the most famous British angler since Izaak Walton, made his reputation here.The British carp record was held by a Redmire fish for more than 40 years; the first 20lb carp caught by a woman came from the lake too. If it had not been for illegal transfers of fish, Redmire would still be the best water in the land.

But why should this unremarkable lake produce such whoppers? Well, nobody really knows. The lake is certainly very old. It was made when a dam was built across the valley, which could have been in the 17th century, though the first clear record is in a 1780 map.

About 1930, Lt-Col E Barnardiston bought the Bernithan Court estate and stocked the lake with trout. But they failed to thrive in the dense weed and algae and slowly died out. In an effort to clear the weed the Surrey Trout Farm's Gloucester branch put in 50 leather and mirror carp up to eight inches long. They cost pounds 2 17s 0d.

At the time, carp were a bit of a rarity in England, so the fish were a strain of Galician carp imported from Holland. For many years the carp cleared the water intake and the rich weed growth and lived undisturbed. In fact, the first record of a fish caught from Redmire is a six-pounder by John Munro, a local man, in 1950. But a year earlier, another local had fished there and seen monster carp. He told Bob Richards, the manager of a tobacconist shop, who secured permission to fish there. In 1951 Richards caught a 31lb 4oz carp on a piece of bread paste. It was more than 6lb larger than the previous record, and confounded a top ichthyologist, who had stated a few weeks earlier that it was unlikely wild carp would exceed 25lb.

But this was not the largest fish in Redmire by any means. The next year, Richard Walker, a Hertfordshire engineer, caught a real whacker - a 44- pounder. He rang London Zoo to offer them the fish. "Do you want a 40lb carp?" he asked. "We've got a 14lb carp," the person at the other end said. "Not a 14lb carp - a 40lb carp!" Walker said.

Walker christened the 37-inch fish Ravioli after the cold tins of pasta that he and his companions ate at Redmire. But a London newspaper renamed it Clarissa. The name stuck, and Clarissa lived in London Zoo's aquarium for another 20 years.

It was a momentous fish. First, it proved that carp of that size actually existed and that they could be caught. Many angling writers had claimed that large carp were just too cunning. While they would take a bait if you were very lucky, their great strength would snap any line. Walker proved them wrong. Today carp fishing is probably the most popular branch of the sport in Britain.

But that was just the start of the story. And though it is not generally known, Walker caught an even bigger fish from the water, a 58-pounder. Nobody has caught a carp that large since. Next week I will tell you more.

Keith Elliott has been highly commended in the Angling Writer of the Year awards.