Colne Mere – Putting the Record Straight – Alan Tomkins

Colne Mere

Colne Mere – Putting the Record Straight

It’s unbelievably almost 28 years since I first cast a line into Colne Mere, in an attempt to catch some of the few carp there. I’d gone there after a total fish kill in another difficult gravel pit I was fishing (25fish in 90 acres).  By choice, since writing regularly for various fishing publications through the 70s/80s/90s, and also writing a couple of books, I have for some time now kept a low profile. Mostly I guess because after  I wrote the second book, I had really said all I wanted to say. Until now.  It’s one thing to have verbal rumours spread about you. Another to have things said on forums. But when they are put into something as permanent as a book, then published as fact without proper research, then I feel I have to say something.

I have recently been sent copies of a few pages from Mike Wilmot’s latest book. These pages concern a water that I probably fished over a longer period of years (though for nothing like as many hours) than anybody, Colne Mere aka Blackwater. Why did I stay on there for so long? It was because I absolutely loved the place, it was all that  I felt proper carp fishing should be. I wasn’t hanging on to catch the black mirror and had I caught it in the early days I wouldn’t, like many latter day glory seekers, have left the water. Had the situation there continued as it was when I fished it I might well still be there, but let me say, my fishing was based around having a full-time job, a young family and a big mortgage. I would manage to fish there for about 25 nights a season, which is small beer to most famous anglers these days. I’ve always thought Mike W a good fellow and I know he is only repeating in his book what he has been told, so this is  in no way at all a dig at him. In our limited dealings we’ve always got on well.  But before I go on, Mike your memory seems to be failing you slightly as I never bought bait ingredients from you as you say in your book. You gave some baits to a friend of mine (Billy O) and he suggested I contact you as I was looking for alternative barbel baits at the time. We had a discussion on the phone and you sent me a few kilos of bait to try.

So what’s the point of this piece? The point is to put the record straight. I don’t have a copy of Mike’s book, only a copy of a few pages, so I’m not sure of the chronological order of the things I have read, but will comment on them in the order I think they might appear. I have to say I am surprised and a little disappointed that someone as articulate and intelligent as Mike would go into print without getting his facts right first, or even asking  me about the things that happened at Colne Mere.

At the start of the “quest for the king” chapter Mike states the year was 1993, that he knew little of CM, and in conversations with, among others,  Terry Hearn, learned that it was an SSSI and patrolled by the EA, as well as by the   “guardian of the Mere” who professed to be a bailiff. In 1993 I was a bailiff – this was for a company called Greenways who owned the site briefly, with the ultimate intention of filling it in with all kinds of nasty waste for their profit. He further goes on to say that this (1993) was before the black mirror was caught. The black mirror was caught in 1992 and of course I knew it existed Mike, though it wouldn’t have bothered me in the slightest had it not. To be quite honest I’m not that interested in knowing exactly what’s in a water I’m fishing until it appears on the end of my line.

In 1993 the site was not an SSSI – this hadn’t happened yet.  All this was detailed in my Carp World series on Colne Mere (Blackwater), and also in my book. I can only assume Mike has never read any of this though maybe a little surprised if he never read the Carp World series, especially as he goes on to repeat information I had written there. I have heard it said that I got the Colne Mere site made an SSSI to stop people fishing there. That is very far from the truth indeed. Yes I was instrumental in getting the site made an SSSI, but this was to save the water from backfilling, so that one day it might become an excellent fishery. I made the then English Nature aware of the very special nature of the site, which likely would otherwise have been backfilled. What this resulted in was that there was to be absolutely no close season fishing there, a far more serious offence than fishing there from  June 16th, but several anglers stupidly ignored that.  I can see why – fishing is always easier around May time and from what I hear now, proved to be so.

I’d like to say a little about that time by way of putting the record straight. Mike says in his book that I “made things difficult” for other anglers. I don’t see how. From memory I didn’t encounter any of these “other anglers” til 1996, and I only fished there the first 2 nights of that season. I did walk round a few times after that but to be honest, not that much.  As I explain below I was mostly asking people not to fish there in the close season, and if you read on you’ll see why.  Some of this I’ve already said in my articles, some has been put onto angling forums.  I fished the mere with permission during the summers of 1991/92/93/94. For some of this time I, and others, were given permits and asked to act as bailiffs.

During this time there was little or no interest from other carp anglers. Certainly there was very little interest in joining the battle to save the lake from backfilling, something I was quite involved with. By 1995 the water had again changed hands. I contacted the new owners about getting permission to fish there, but they said that no fishing was to be allowed. I told them that there was much interest in the water and that it was going to get fished anyway and wouldn’t they rather have controlled fishing, by means of a syndicate, than uncontrolled fishing.  They weren’t averse to this suggestion, but definitely didn’t want anyone fishing there in the close season as this was an edict of English Nature. I suggested that I bailiff it for them with a view to setting up a small syndicate on the water at a later date, and though they never actually agreed to the second part, they didn’t say no either.  However  they were happy for me to bailiff it, even encouraged this. No, they didn’t give me an official warrant card, and I admit I came up with one myself, quite a good one in fact. In the end I found out that without consulting me, they had contacted Blenheim angling and asked them if their bailiffs would patrol it.  Despite what some people believe, I never reported anyone for fishing there, in fact, I hardly ever saw anyone fishing there. If they got caught by an EA patrol or spotted by Blenheim bailiffs then it was absolutely nothing to do with me.  And if this was in the close season, then more fool them.  As  Mike rightly says, there were quite a few birdwatchers around the site, one, a school teacher, up to pulling a few strokes himself. He once tried to get fishing banned on another nearby pit by tipping out a load of rubbish there and blaming anglers. Investigations found that among the rubbish there were a few envelopes with his name and address on!  But as far as the wildlife goes, I have to say one very  well-known angler in particular, fishing in the close season,  didn’t help anyone when he destroyed the nest of a garganey, a duck that rarely nested in that area, to make himself a swim.

So I admit that I did fish there during the summer of 1995, when I wasn’t really supposed to. I also admit that the few anglers I saw I talked to about the possibilities of forming a syndicate. This was when I first met Terry Hearn (or that might have been in 1996), though I didn’t know who he was and had never heard of him. I did mention  him to someone who did know him and his response was “you don’t want him on the lake.. he’ll be living there with his mates”.   This syndicate idea was 100% genuine on my part, and had it come about I would have contacted the people who had shown an interest (not so sure about TH though.. haha!), but in the end I found out the owners had no intention of this happening, and used me as a cheap additional form of looking after the water for them. When I found this out I lost interest completely and never went back. I believe it was after this time that some anglers got pulled over there, but I don’t know who, when, or who by as I had nothing to do with it.

I spent years trying to negotiate things properly , meetings with English Nature, North Surrey Water, the Council, the euphemistically named landfill company Greenways,  Ameys when they had it, always trying to get a lease & form a small syndicate to fish the lake. So far as I know (and I stand to be corrected) no-one else has ever seriously tried this. They just went over there in the close season probably because it’s easier then.

We (Jason and i) got permission for a few years, on a sort of trial basis, and one of the conditions was always that we bailiffed the water. If we didn’t, permission would be withdrawn. We had 4 tickets initially. Phil Thompson was offered one, but I don’t quite know what happened there as Jason was dealing with it. You might be surprised to know that we didn’t know anyone else who wanted the other one. You see, no-one outside of Jason, secret Kevin and I knew about the black mirror then. Kevin had since moved on as he felt he didn’t have the amount of time that the water demanded to be fished properly.  Neither did I.. but…

Each year things changed, as the water kept changing hands. Negotiations were time-consuming, troublesome & frustrating. But I thought it was worth doing. I even continued with this after I stopped fishing there, simply because I wanted to see the lake in good hands. It deserved it I felt. I’d have hated it to have fallen into the hands of people who would want to stuff it full of carp. I had TH in mind to run a syndicate.. I told him that once but he probably didn’t believe me though it was true. I don’t know him well, but well enough to know he cares. I’d moved onto another  water by then and felt that the mere was a place I could never go back and fish.

I was on thin ice at that time, trying to convince everyone that anglers were responsible enough to be allowed to fish there. Then you had people turning up & fishing in the close season, knocking down reeds and trees, and destroying rare duck’s nests.. they ruined it. No wonder I tried to stop them, but only by asking them to leave it alone in the close season. How that was “making it difficult for them” I don’t know. But whatever, would you not have done the same if you saw what you thought was only a fleeting chance of getting legal fishing there being jeopardised by the behaviour of some anglers; the minority it’s true, but then, it only takes a few. I think I had a right to be a little cross at their attitudes.

Since I last visited CM (and this was all long before the final fatal fish kill)  I have been accused of damaging cars: been reported to the owners for fishing the lake for 3 weeks continuously a year after I last went there. Accused of stealing angler’s tackle from the lake long after I was last there. Accused of stealing someone’s boat. Apparently this was a proper hard rowing boat. How I would have managed that I don’t know. Accused of spreading untrue rumours that the fish were dying, supposedly to stop people fishing there. This was when some fish WERE dying (again some years before the final kill),  but I was only told that by someone else, and only ever mentioned it to one friend in passing, a friend who never fished there and had no interest in doing so.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I would never do these things. It is interesting to note that none of these accusations have ever been put in writing. I wonder why?  Basically I had two stances on CM.  First, I had time for anyone who tackled the water in season, especially if they also had a full time job & a young family,  and had to fit their fishing around them. I know what that’s like. Second, I believe fishing in the close season where, for a very good reason it is forbidden is disrespectful to a very special water, & its wildlife.

And, to once again repeat myself (as I have in everything I’ve said here –  because it doesn’t seem to have gone in with some people..) the only reason I tried to stop people fishing there was because I was led to believe (by persons who turned out to be prevaricating & dishonest) that I had a real chance of getting a lease on the water if I could prove that firstly anglers behaved responsibly, and secondly if I demonstrated that things over there could be controlled. This is what I was trying to do. Both proved to be impossible. It’s a bit like training a gun-dog – it takes many many months to train one, but only a few seconds to ruin it..

Mike then goes on to talk about the origins of the fish, especially the big mirrors. I had said in my articles, and in the book that  2 of the big mirrors (not the black mirror)  had come from Bedfont.  I knew this as fact because the person who moved them was a very good friend of mine and we fished together often.  Mike then says that the historians of the mere thought the black mirror also came from Bedfont.  I knew it didn’t, had already said so in print, and once had to correct Chris Ball who was also of the opinion it was a Bedfont fish. So I’m actually wondering who these Colne Mere historians are – they’ve never spoken to me…  After talking to several relevant anglers my best guess at its origin at the time was that it came from a lake in the Colnbrook area that no longer exists, though I concede, as Mike suggests  after speaking to Kevin,  it may have come from Wraysbury via Kenny Hodder. I’m suspecting Peter Springate also had a finger in that pie though I’ve never been able to draw him on the subject. The other fish apparently came from all sorts of places, even the river.

Kevin told me years ago the story of the big common and the flipper. At that time he was fishing the mere with his friend George (1980s) and after seeing that fish, and measuring it, he went straight round to George’s house, still dripping in his wetsuit,  and when a surprised George answered the door, Kevin could hardly speak to tell him about the great fish, trembling with excitement as he was. Careful Kevin mate.. you’re being dragged out of the shadows..

I don’t intend to enter into any correspondence over this – all I have written here is the truth, it’s what actually happened between 1991 and early 1996 and if you think otherwise then you are misinformed.   I have no knowledge of what happened after that as I wasn’t there, nor did I have anything to do with the lake. I’ve no idea who was fishing there, when or what was caught. I don’t really know why I still care, but Colne Mere was a special time in my fishing life, a period that really marked the end of my serious carp fishing,  a period when I was really prepared to put in the effort and make sacrifices to try to catch some very special fish. If Colne Mere got into your heart and soul, as it did mine, and you weren’t  there just as a trophy hunter, then you might have had problems about where to go next. But I found somewhere, not quite the same, and nowadays I’m one of those old blokes who fishes near the car-park, but  I hope the foregoing has helped to put the record straight for anyone who does care.

Alan Tomkins


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