Fishing Lines: Mary and her secret admirer

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The Independent Online
DAVID CARTWRIGHT thought his worst nightmare was having the quiet beauty of his dream fishing spot discovered by hundreds of rival carp fishermen. This week he found out there is something far worse.

Angling for big carp, the fastest- growing branch of the sport, inspires manic secrecy. Huge fish are regularly caught, but their capture is never reported for fear that other carpers will discover the location. When successes are reported to the national angling press, the water is tersely detailed as 'a private lake in the south of England'. An inexperienced carp fisherman is generally described as someone who gives away the county where he caught the fish. Indeed, it is not unknown for the obsessively secret to carry false number plates, or to drop off their tackle, then drive their car to a completely different water and park it to throw rivals off the scene.

OK, you've got the picture. Now imagine a carper who knows where the largest fish in the country live. Think what other enthusiasts would give for such information] Small wonder that Dave Cartwright (not his real name, for reasons that will soon become clear) has kept his successes very quiet. With a couple of pals, he discovered a Berkshire gravel pit holding very big carp. Carp fever infected him.

For the past 10 years, he has spent most of his life living in a small tent on the waterside, waiting for the screech of an electronic bite indicator that will tell him, awake or asleep, that a fish has taken the bait. The only times he leaves the bankside are to restock his larder or to collect his dole money.

Fishing there is not easy. For one whole season, he didn't catch a thing. But he knew the water held giant carp and last season he caught six, the largest at 50lb 8oz. This is just 1lb under the British record that has stood since 1981. All Cartwright's efforts are concentrated towards the big fish, nicknamed Mary. (Big carp are always female.) She was caught three times last season, each time a little larger. Experts are convinced that next time she gobbles up a bait, she will topple the record.

When the fishing season restarted on Wednesday, Cartwright was sitting happily beside his lake, hoping to renew his acquaintance with Mary. But his tranquil existence was soon to be shattered.

A story that I wrote for Thursday's Independent to coincide with the start of the fishing season, mentioning Cartwright's single-minded record bid, captured the imagination of the national press. They all wanted to talk to him, innocently assuming that he would be delighted to have his picture on television or in the pages of the press. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While the smokescreen about his moniker will have sidetracked a few hacks, the more determined will soon have discovered his real name. I don't know whether Cartwright has scuttled off home (if he can remember where that is) to avoid the constant stream of journalists demanding interviews. He may still be on the bankside disguised as a tree, or he may have committed suicide by throwing himself into the murky depths of the water that was to be the scene of his triumph, on hearing a crashing through the undergrowth and the dreaded words: 'Dave? Hi, we're from Sunday Sport . . .'

Marcus Berkmann's column appears in the Wimbledon supplement