ICON | The Royal Forty

The early 1990s saw an explosion of big and somewhat unknown carp being publicised in the media for the very first time. One of those was The Royal Forty, a fish that grabbed the attention of anglers around the country for over 20 years.

In August 2015 we came to learn that the iconic mirror carp had died. A worthy burial followed out of respect for one of the best to have lived and it was a reminder to many of us that nothing lasts forever.

Joe Kavanagh caught the great fish back in June 1994 at 41lb 8oz; in fact he was to catch it twice in quick succession that summer. His good friend John Gard was insistent that the lake held carp, as Joe wasn’t so sure, but on one red hot day he was to find it absolutely did as he saw an enormous mirror carp at the dam wall end of the lake, with another. Armed with bread, corn and luncheon meat the rest as they say is history.

Joe’s capture demonstrated the unique beauty of this park lake male mirror carp, which displayed such an incredible blend of colour on its flanks sporadically littered with golden sovereigns. A large tail and a sail-like dorsal fin that it regularly put to use often gave away its presence. It was a perfectly proportioned carp, a muscular fish that measured an incredible 39 inches in length when caught in later years.

There are two fishing lakes found in the middle of Richmond Park, both of which are situated in a shallow valley next to each other and are separated by a causeway. The small lake, otherwise referred to as Lower Penn Pond, measures six acres in size and was formed by gravel extraction.

Upper Penn Pond has a lengthier history within the park as it was originally dug to be used as a trench to drain a boggy expanse of land in the early 17th century. In more recent times the larger of the two lakes now measures 16 acres in size after also being dug for its gravel.

It is believed by a number of people that the stocking for Upper Penn Pond may have taken place in the year of 1965, although the mystery still remains. Richmond Park has plenty of challenges in store for the angler who wishes to pursue any fish that swims in the two Penn Ponds.

As is the norm with many park lakes around the country, especially the Royal Parks lakes, the rules state that fishing is days only, which certainly added to the difficulty of targeting the Royal Forty. With increased daytime temperatures and longer daylight hours comes an increase in the number of visitors to Richmond Park, and many of these people like to spend their time by the water’s edge. Families, dog walkers, bathers, boaters and horse riders will frequent the park in the summertime, many of whom are not aware of angling etiquette and have proved to test the patience of the angler over the years.

The same applies to the wildlife. The lakes are relatively shallow with an approximate average depth of around four feet, and the feeding of bread each day invites a phenomenal number of coots, mallards, tufted ducks, geese and swans. These birds also have a taste for anglers’ bait too.

In 1997 Steve Mogford decided to pit his wits against the low stock of carp that lived in Upper Penn Pond, with the largest fish in the lake on his mind. Having seen a photo of it in the past with a distinctive background behind the captor, Steve had a good idea where it lived so he decided to take a look around Richmond Park. His suspicions were confirmed and he began his quest in the height of summer when the park was at its busiest.

The big mirror could be found regularly due to the shallow nature of the lake and it would often sit with its tail and occasionally its dorsal too sticking out the water. This was to work in Steve’s favour when he located it doing the very same thing on Monday, August 11th 1997. After 22 afternoon sessions of fishing the lake, and plenty of frustration, a bait placed close to the fish in the evening soon saw him cradling a new personal best of 42lb 4oz.

Angling at Richmond Park follows the traditional fishing close season (March 15th to June 15th) and has done for several decades now. It is these three months of no fishing that not only give the fish a rest from angling pressure but give the anglers time to excitedly plan for the season ahead.

Throughout the years the Royal Forty had graced various anglers’ landing nets on the most magical day in the fishing calendar, the glorious June 16th. Some of the fortunate were Sam Healy in 2007, Jon MacAllister in 2008, Kelvin Mackenzie in 2010, Ben Allen in 2013 and Dan Whythe in 2014. Had it not been caught on the first day of the season then a summer appearance was likely, dependent on the number of anglers still fishing the lake at the park’s busiest time. The Royal Forty also made more than its fair share of end of season appearances too.