NEW SERIES: Legendary Catches and the British Record Fish Committee

Have you ever dreamt of catching a British record fish? With a warming climate and more access than ever to quality specimen fishing, any angler might just be lucky enough to catch a record these days. Our new monthly blog series focuses on the catches that made history, along with big fish tips and current records that might just be broken. To kick things off,  Angling Trust Blogger Dominic Garnett spoke to British Record Fish Committee (BRFC) secretary Nick Simmonds to find out more about the organisation and the process of how to claim a record fish.

British Record Fish Committee Nick Simmonds
BRFC Secretary Nick Simmonds, a keen specimen angler himself, has some great practical advice for the would-be record breaker!

Catching a record-breaking fish is a feat most anglers have dreamt of at some stage. But where on earth might you start to make a little piece of angling history? In this new series, we’ll be looking at some of fishing’s most famous catches, along with expert tips and the best specimen fisheries to try and catch that fish of a lifetime.

Along the way, we’ll also be looking behind the scenes at the British Record Fish Committee (BRFC), an independent body set up to adjudicate all record fish claims, for further insight and special information. To get the ball rolling, who better to speak to than Nick Simmonds, BRFC Secretary, and a man who has seen countless catch reports and record applications?

So, Nick, let’s say I have my eyes set on catching an incredible fish. What tips would you give a would-be record hunter in terms of tackle and approach? Would you need anything special in terms of equipment?

I’m not going to recommend any particular brands or models – we all have our own favourite bits of kit, and a record fish could, in theory, be caught on a garden cane, with the most basic line and hook.

In terms of tips, well, As Richard Walker said many years ago: “First find your fish”. You can’t catch what isn’t there, so do your research and choose a water in which you believe the fish of your dreams might be swimming. If you are targeting a record you probably know what you’re about, so just select your tackle according to the species you’re after and the circumstances in which you will be fishing.

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Balanced tackle is a must for any fishing, but even more so with the very largest fish!

Balance is the critical thing. You would be unwise to use a 3lb hooklink with a 1.75lb test curve rod. To illustrate balance, before I moved to Herefordshire I mostly fished the Hampshire Avon, where all my barbel (to 14:02) and an accidental carp of 21:06 were caught on high quality 1.25 test curve rods with terrific progressive action and 6lb Maxima (other brands are available, of course,  but I have always been amazed at what that stuff will cope with).

What about weighing scales and cameras? I’m guessing you would want these to be top-notch? 

Scales will be tested if a claim goes ahead. Any inaccuracy will be discovered, so do invest in a quality set. In terms of digital vs old fashioned scales, both have their advocates. Good photos are important, too. Pictures taken by other people are generally more reliable than self-takes. Modern smartphones have great cameras, so you don’t need to lug around lots of camera equipment.

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To verify any catch, you will need quality scales, pictures, and at least one witness.

What records, if any, do you think are most likely to be broken? I’m guessing some fish must be a lot less likely than others, partly due to angling pressure?

Personally, I was expecting a barbel from the Thames to break the record last year. As it turned out it was a surprise fish from Sussex, but only by one ounce, so I still think the barbel record is vulnerable.

I have personally seen chub I believe could be big enough to beat the record and friends have reported likewise from other rivers. Although these monsters seem to be masters at evading capture, it must surely be only a matter of time before one slips up at the time of year when it’s at top weight.

The many and varied sea species and smaller fish usually throw up a surprise or two each year and the increasing interest in LRF could bring a few new mini-species records onto the books.

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They might be less coveted than the giants, but if you’re intent on getting your name on the record list, the mini species are perhaps the most likely source.

Will records keep increasing, or do you think we’ve hit a limit? How much do you think things like climate change and high protein bait are changing the game?

I’m not enough of a scientist to have studied whatever data might be available, but I think there must be a connection between, for example, the quantities of bait intended for carp in particular waters and the exceptionally large roach they have been producing in recent seasons. Some of the huge barbel we see pictures of today appear to me to be unusually (if not even unnaturally) fat, which may well be a result of the sheer quantity of angler’s bait they see day-in and day-out on some waters.

I think the effects of climate change might well see some interesting new sea fish records in the coming years, too, as warmer water species extend their range.

Many believe that climate change and high protein baits are helping fish such as barbel and carp grow bigger than ever.

What do you look for first and foremost with a new record claim? What jumps out first?

The first step in any claim is to confirm the identification of the species. With luck, this can be achieved from good quality photographs – and a barbel or a perch (for example) can hardly be anything else. But some of the sea fish can only be identified for certain by examination of physical characteristics which may even involve dissection or x-ray examination of the fish. In the case of roach, rudd and crucians it may be necessary to undertake a DNA analysis – so I very much hope the captor of the next potential record for these species removes a single scale for this purpose.

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With some species, like rudd (above), hybridisation is always a risk. If you think you may have a record, it would be sensible to take a single scale for analysis!

So apart from identification, I am always keen to see a photograph with reference points which give a good idea of the proportions of the fish. A tape measure helps a lot. Photos where the fish is being held up to the camera at arm’s length are particularly irritating as it can be difficult to gauge the true proportions of the fish and one of the first questions the committee members ask themselves is simply “Does it look right?”

What are some of the most impressive and crazy claims you’ve experienced? You must get some genuine surprises- and fairly tall tales?!

Too many to recall! Every year we get lots of surprises. Generally, even those that fall short are in good faith. Pretty much every year we get two or three people contact us and try to claim a new record herring. In every case so far it’s been a shad- they look so similar! On another occasion, we had a record wild goldfish we had to turn down, purely because it was clearly diseased and very bloated.

Another very common enquiry is the crucian record, which might just have been broken this very summer. Most years I get two or three, however, that turn out to be hybrids. It’s not always possible to pinpoint exactly which hybrid they are. In close calls, a scale sample can be vital, as I’ve mentioned.

We do also get some claims where the fish just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, sadly. Usually, the captors come forward in perfectly good faith, but their scales aren’t accurate or the pictures fall short. This is why it’s so important to be accurate and document things carefully- and this is especially the case with smaller fish, where every gram counts!

British Record Fish: A list of freshwater species

Could you catch a record fish? Every year, rod and line caught records fall and claims are both accepted and rejected by the BRFC. Some of the following, such as the British record carp, have been smashed multiple times in recent years. Others have stood for many decades, such as Georgina Ballantine’s salmon, caught way back in 1922!

Keep an eye on “Lines on the Water” for some of the greatest record fish stories of all, along with tips and top venues to try for your own fish of a lifetime.

Below is the list of British Record Freshwater Fish As at 27th November 2019. If you want to check that things haven’t changed since this blog was written take a look at the BRFC Pages on the Angling Trust website HERE

Coarse Fish Records as at November 2019 List updated 27th November 2019
© British Record (Rod Caught) Fish Committee 2019

BARBEL (Barbus barbus)
21lbs 2oz   2019 Colin Smithson, Sussex River.

BITTERLING (Rhodeus sericeus)
12drms   1998 Dennis Flack, Barway Lake, Cambridgeshire

BLEAK (Alburnus alburnus)
4oz 9drms  1998 Dennis Flack, River Lark, Cambridgeshire

BREAM (Common Bronze) (Abramis brama)
22lbs 11oz  2012 Scot Crook, Ferry Lagoon, Cambridgeshire.

BREAM (Silver) (Blicca bjoerkna)
3lbs 4oz 2012 Gareth Evans, Mill Farm Fishery, Pullborough, Sussex

BULLHEAD (Miller’s Thumb) (Cottus gobio)
1oz  1983 R Johnson, Green River, Nr Guildford, Surrey

CARP (Mirror) (Cyprinus carpio)
68lbs 1oz  2016 Dean Fletcher, Cranwell’s Lake, Wasing Estate, Berks.

CARP (Crucian) (Carassius carassius)
4lbs 10oz  2015 Michael James Surrey Stillwater
4lbs 10oz  2015 Stephen Frapwell Johnson’s Lake, Marsh Farm, Surrey

CARP (Grass) (Ctenopharyngodon idella)
44lbs 8oz  2006 Phillip Kingsbury, Horton Church Lake.
LIST CLOSED 31st OCTOBER 2007 – No Further claims will be considered

CATFISH (Bullhead, black) (Ameiurus melas)
1lb 3oz  2001 K Clements Lake Meadows, Billericay, Essex

CATFISH (Wels) (Silurus glanis)
62lb  1997 R Garner, Withy Pool, Henlow, Bedfordshire
LIST CLOSED 23rd OCTOBER 2000 – No Further claims will be considered

CHUB (Leuciscus cephalus)
9lb 5oz  2007 Andy Maker, Southern Stillwater.

DACE (Leuciscus leuciscus)
1lb 5oz  2002 Simon Ashton, River Wear, Sunderland, Tyne & Wear.

EEL (Anguilla anguilla)
11lbs 2oz  1978 Master S Terry, Kingfisher Lake, Nr Ringwood, Hampshire.

GOLDFISH (Brown) (Carassius auratus)
5lbs 11oz  1994 D Lewis, Six Acre Still Water Pond, Surrey.

GUDGEON (Gobio gobio)
5oz 1990 D H Hull, River Nadder, Sutton Mandeville, Wiltshire.

MINNOW (Phoxinus phoxinus)
13.5drms  1998 J Sawyer, Whitworth Lake, Spennymoor

ORFE (Golden) (Leuciscus idus (L))
8lbs 5oz 2000 Michael Wilkinson, Lymm Vale, Cheshire
8lbs 5oz  2018 Lawrence King Newdigate Farms, Surrey

PERCH (Perca fluviatilis)
6lb 3oz  2011 Neil Stephen, Stream Valley Lakes, Crowborough, Sussex.
6lb 3oz  2011 Ken Brown, Willstone Fishery, Tring, Hertfordshire.

PIKE (Esox lucius)
46lb 13oz  1992 R Lewis, Llandegfedd, Wales.

PUMPKINSEED (Lepomis gibbosus)
14oz 2003 Bryan Rushmer, Tanyards Fishery, Sussex.

ROACH (Rutilus rutilus)
4lb 4oz  2006 Keith Berry, Stillwater, Northern Ireland.

RUDD (Scardinius erythrophthalmus)
4lb 10oz  2001 Simon Parry, Freshwater Lake, Co Armagh, N.Ireland.
4lb 10oz  2001 Simon Parry, Clay Lake, Co Armagh, N.Ireland

RUFFE (Gymnocephalus cernuus)
5oz 4drms  1980 R J Jenkins, West View Farm, Cumbria

SCHELLY (Skelly) (Coregonus lavaretus)
2lb 1oz  1986 S M Barrie, Haweswater Reservoir, Cumbria

STICKLEBACK (3-spined) (Gasterosteus aculaeatus)
8 grams 2019 Mat Faulkner, Lower Beauvale Ponds, Nottinghamshire.

STONE LOACH (Barbatula barbatula)
0.13g 2005 Geoffrey Green, Windmill Fishery, Bristol, Avon.

TENCH (Tinca tinca)
15lbs 3oz  2001 D Ward: Private Fishery, Staines, Surrey

WALLEYE (Pikeperch) (Stizostedion vitreum)
11lb 12oz 1934 F Adams, The Delph, Welney, NorfolkLIST CLOSED 31st OCTOBER 2007 – No Further claims will be considered

ZANDER (Pikeperch) (Sander lucioperca)
21lbs 5oz  2007 James Benfield, Upper Load Lock, R Severn, Tewksbury, Glos.

Game Fish Records as at June 2019
© British Record (Rod Caught) Fish Committee 2019

CHARR (Artic) (Salvelinus alpinus)
Natural: 9lb 8oz 1995 W Fairbairn Loch Arkaig, Inverness Scotland
Cultivated Vacant – List Closed to further claims April 2015

GRAYLING (Thymallus thymallus)
Natural: 4lb 8oz  2019 Simon Ellis Wessex River
Cultivated Vacant – List closed to further claims April 2015

SALMON (Atlantic) (Salmo salar)
Natural 64lb 1922 Miss G W Ballatine, River Tay, Scotland

SALMON (Pacific Pink, Humped Back) (Orcorhynchus gorbuscha)
Natural 3lb 8oz  2007 Louis Hunter, River Tweed, Scotland

TROUT, AMERICAN BROOK (Brook Char) (Salvelinus fontinalis)
Natural Vacant
Cultivated 8lb 3oz  1998 Ernest Holland, Fontburn Reservoir Cultivated
game fish lists closed to further claims April 2015

TROUT (Brown) (Salmo trutta)
Natural 31lb 12oz  2002 Brian Rutland, Lock Awe, Argyll, Scotland
Cultivated 28lb 1oz  1995 D Taylor, Dever Springs Trout Fishery Hants
Cultivated game fish lists closed to further claims April 2015

TROUT (Rainbow) (Oncorhynchus mykiss) The previous cultivated record of 36lbs 14oz 8 drms caught in 1995 at Dever Springs Trout Fishery, and claimed by C White has been suspended due to statements made by Mr White as to the authenticity of the record claim. Therefore pending the outcome of any legal action that may be taken, the record has been suspended. Until resolved the
Committee will acknowledge fish above the previous record of 30lbs 12ozs, that being a fish caught by Mr T Flower at Tavistock Trout Fishery in July 1994 and consider all claims that are above the  36lbs 14ozs 8 drms fish purported to have been caught by Mr White, these will be processed in the normal way. The Committee therefore acknowledge the following claim- which has yet to be  ratified:-
Cultivated 33lbs 4oz  2003 J Lawson, Watercress Trout Fishery, Devon
Cultivated game fish lists closed to further claims April 2015
Resident 24lb 1oz  1998 J Hammond, Hanningfield Reservoir, Essex
Wild Vacant

TROUT (Sea) (Salmo trutta)
Natural 28lb 5oz 1992 J Farrent, Calshot Spit, River Test
Cultivated Vacant – Cultivated game fish lists closed to further claims April 2015

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