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The Great Catches
Jack Hilton’s Forty
By Chris Ball

It perhaps fitting, after the recent sad death of the great Jack Hilton, that the Great catches series looks at Jack’s finest moment. As an angler, he was right at the top of the carp ladder from 1967 until 1974. At the time, there was not one carp angler who didn’t know of his captures, or who had not read Jack’s extensive writings on carp, including one of the best carp books ever, the classic ‘Quest for Carp’.
Jack Hilton’s quest for the very largest carp in the country inevitavly drew him to Redmire Pool in the late summer of 1967. On that very first trip he landed a monster 35lb mirror. The following year, Jack took over the control of the Pool’s fishing-and the famous Redmire syndicate started. Through 1968/69, the fishing at Redmire was difficult in the extreme, with the ten man syndicate accounting for just six carp over 20lb in weight. However, Jack had landed half of these, lost a few others, including one absolute whacker-a potential record breaker-and seen fish that were even bigger!
I’m told by his close friends that Jack lived, ate and slept Redmire Pool. He named his house, as well as his business, after Redmire and anyone who knew of his exploits thought his going to break Walkers record.
By 1971, Jack had become the first man to three 30lb carp in this country. His third 30lb-a 31lb6oz mirror, landed in July 1971, had, as far as I am aware, never been caught before, or since, that July day. A very special fish indeed.
Right at the start of the next season, Jack upped his personal best with a glorious 36lb10oz linear mirror (the same fish as the 35lb from 1967). This carp made him the first man to catch four 30lb+ fish. But was Jack happy? far from it. He had, by now, seen a clutch of monster carp and was as determined as ever to one on the bank.
On his next visit, in July, he latched into a fish straight away-a 23lb8oz mirror then, as the session wore on, Jack’s chance for a monster gradually started to fall into place. Jack takes up the story:
That particular day, I can remember very well because, on very rare occasions at Redmire, when there was a lot of weed and a lot of scum, fish would stand on their heads with their tails out of the water, just motionless, I haven’t seen it anywhere else other than Redmire and it had happened during, I think, our first season there and this was four years later. It was quite a while after and I haven’t seen it happen since then.
I was there on my own, very hot, lots of scum; you can’t see what’s underneath. There’d be a little triangle appear, it might only be two inches wide, but it would be a fishes tail and it would very slowly emerge and you could watch it for perhaps ten minutes and it would still stay the same. Then you’d look around and then you’d look back and it would be perhaps four inches then, perhaps after half an hour, it ten inches across, then you’d get this enormous great tail sticking out of the water, then it would slowly go away-no fast movements of any description, just slow motion.
Some times I’d seen a moorhen or a coot waddle across the scum and peck at the tail. Anyway, this particular afternoon there were a few tails sticking out and I looked across-I think I was fishing the Willow Pitch, which I didn’t often fish and I could see right over to the corner of the dam on the opposite bank, the other end of the dam which was really packed full of scum-I could see this tail. I’d looked at it several times and, at one time, it was enormous and I really thought it was a nice carp, much bigger than anything else that seemed to be about at the same time, so I knew it was a big fish, or though I didn’t quite realize how big it was.
I went round to have a look but couldn’t see the fish, only this tail. It wasn’t a stiff tail, it just hung limply. Anyway, I kept thinking in the afternoon I got to catch a fish but how was I going to do it? I couldn’t catch one of those things because they just weren’t feeding. Then I thought that as it got towards evening, especially perhaps after dark, if these fish were going to move and feed, the best thing to do would be to have a bait as close to the biggest one. So I planned this out very carefully and I kept going and looking at this carp which was only, well definitely no more than fifteen feet from the bank. I could probably have reached it with a rod held at arms length. I did notice that there was a tiny hole and I baited the hook and crept in to prepare the swim without disturbing the fish during the later afternoon and it took me a long while to do it; it probably took me two hours to prepare. All I wanted was two rod rests in and no interference-well, there were overhanging trees so I realised that I couldn’t strike because the trees were so low and overhanging and I planned that if I did get a take how would I land the fish? It couldn’t be on the right because if it did, it would be round a tree and I would be snagged up. So I’d got it all planned, although I’d got great difficulty getting my landing net in any sort of position so that I could get it, to reach it if I needed it. Then I went off and waited, I waited until it was the nearest you could get to dark, then I went back.
I couldn’t see the tail and I remembered the depth of the water was about a foot. I just lowered the bait, put the rod in the rests and sat down. It was only about half an hour after dark, just sitting there, and the silver paper-I was just using a little bit of silver paper-just inched forward. I made absolutely sure it was moving, because with all the scum that was lying on the water, just the movement of the fish would move the indicator, but was definitely moving, very, very slowly. I think I the pick on-no, I didn’t. I just held the line and put my hand over the face of the spool. I lifted the rod; I didn’t have to strike or pull back, and the fish was on. The fish took a little bit of line and I didn’t even think that was a twenty. I thought it was a double and was quite disappointed. It took hardly any line, just about a yard. I’d been used to playing fish on a tight line, no line given at all, so I was able to use the rod to its best advantage, just use it as a spring-its difficult to describe. The fish were starting to pull a bit harder and harder, and I was letting it take just a little bit of line at the very last minute, just letting the clutch give a couple of clicks. It didn’t take more than about two yards of the line altogether and I began to realize that it was bigger than I thought. I remember thinking that it was probably a twenty after all, so I’d better be careful. Then it really started thrashing about and, by then, must have been weeded up because weed was being thrown all about the place!
Anyway, I did eventually manage to reach for the net. I had to pull it very carefully through the undergrowth and push it out. It was difficult to net the fish in these circumstances, but I did get it over the net. I pulled the handle towards me, dropped my rod, put two hands to the net, went to lift and thought-‘never, it can’t be that big’. I thought the net was caught up in a load of branches, I gave it a heave and thought-‘this is a thirty!’
I managed to get back, get the sack out and put it in, then decided to tie it up at the other end of the dam. With it slung over my back, I thought that it could just be a record, it felt that heavy.
There was nobody there to see the fish so I went and got the scales and weighed it but I didn’t recognize it as the ‘38’. It was the fish that was known as the ‘38’ and I didn’t recognize it at all, in fact, I thought it was a different fish, it looked a different colour and everything. Anyway, I put it back in the sack and thought, ‘well, what am I going to do now?’ then I remembered John Macleod was living up at the Hall so I went up. His car was there but he was out, so I left a note on his windscreen and went back to the lake.
Anyway, the next morning, John came down and we got the fish out. As soon as he saw it, he said, “That’s the 38”. I said, “Its not!” He said, “Yes it is, I know it is.” Of course, he was right, it was the 38. funnily enough, that’s the one and only fish I never let anyone weigh. He said, “Lets weigh it then.” I said, “No.” the truth was, I was dead scared that it would have lost four ounces in the sack over night. So we didn’t weigh it. The weight was 40lb3oz.
So ends Jack Hilton’s story. It is typical of the way he caught carp-observation, stealth, intuition, correct tackle, skilful playing of a fish and success!
Jack gave hope to thousands of carp men in the early 1970’s who, at the time, were still struggling to catch their first double. His influence on carp fishing was considerable. When he gave up the sport in late 1974, the hole left by his departure took some time to heal.
Simply put, he was one of the greats of the sport who caught many big carp from a variety of waters-and was such a gentleman as well.

By Chris Ball


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