Toilet Reading: ‘Crafty Carper’

In a regular series, Land of Dope and Tories is reviewing publications from the weird and wonderful world of specialist magazines. This week: Crafty Carper

Tagline: ‘Get Crafty, get catching!’

Price: £4.10

Who is this magazine for? Saggy, bulbous and the colour of a month-old potato, the carp is a hard fish to love. Fu Manchu fangs and a chronic overbite blight their vacant faces. Their bodies cut through placid waters with the sleekness of a Volvo estate.

And yet, many love them dearly. Enough people, apparently, for more than one magazine to be dedicated to carp fishing. More than five, in fact. There’s Big Carp. Advanced CarpTotal Carp. Carpworld. CarpTALK, where you can talk carp.

The question then, is not what kind of person the Crafty Carper is aiming for, but what kind of carp fisherman. The clue is in the pricing. Undercutting much the competition by as much as ten pence,  this magazine is for carp fishermen who sail close to the wind, who ride on the edges of life. They play the margins, roll with the punches. The grafters and the crafters. Loki’s anglers.

What did you get for your £4.10? I’ve been fishing three times. I have never caught any fish. Indeed, my fishing career to date has consisted of dangling bait hopelessly into the water before reeling in clean hooks. I’m essentially a technology-enhanced fish waiter. So I was keen to find out what all that unnecessary equipment could do in the right hands.

Crafty Carper is glossy – a practical choice for people marooned for hours on rainy river banks. Clocking in at 130 pages, it is a substantial read. Lots of features, a handful of competitions and fiendishly small font; this is a magazine that does not hide the fact it is  for people with lots of time to kill.

Unfortunately, Crafty Carper falls in to the trap that often snares magazines with a zany title – it finds the title joke a little bit too funny. The contents page offers Crafty Tricks with Plastic, Crafty Columnists and Crafty Competitions.

Crafty Fox

Nothing is that crafty. Not even this fox.

This kind of laziness can only be explained by the slightly po-faced treatment of many other rich seams of childish humour in the world of carp. Apart from the anagrammatical obviousnesses, carp fishing is a world of floaters, chod, and getting one’s rod out. Sadly, the sub-editors are too absorbed with trying to crowbar the word ‘crafty’ in wherever possible to put away these multiple open goals.

That’s a pity. But on the other hand, had the innuendo-count been more tightly policed, it’s hard to imagine this would have made it on to the first page.

Carp fishing

French carp you see, they’ve only got one thing on their minds.

Features: Carp is the most widely eaten fish in the world. However, recipes were thin on the ground in Crafty Carper, possibly because carp tastes of mud. That kind of obstacle is hard to overcome with even a particularly accomplished cheese sauce.

Most of the features, unsurprisingly, focus on mano a fisho combat, with a emphasis on big ‘uns. I would be lying if I said any of these stories stood out, with each one following the same basic narrative arc. ‘I drove to the lake. I waited for a bit. I nearly caught a fish. I caught a fish. I’d do it all again.’

From these stories, I learned three things. First, ‘big’ in the carp world means about 40lb or more. That translates into about six babies. Second, there is only one acceptable way to hold a caught carp, which is as if it was six babies.

Fish carrying

Cradled like a first-born.

And third, no matter how dull fishing stories are, they’re Hunter S. Thompson compared to bait stories.

Adverts: Fishing was one of humanity’s most ancient and simple crafts. Not any more.

Modern fishing is dominated by middle-aged men seeking escape from their wives, families and office hours (almost no women appear in the pages of Crafty Carper). Fish marketing is therefore almost entirely devoted to creating products that make these men think that they are in fact members of the SAS.

There are two basic tactics at work. The first is the judicious use of numbers, squared off typefaces and clipped promises that make fishing line replacements sound like high-grade munitions.

The more sneaky tactic is to offer products that a real man – like the ones in shaving foam adverts – wouldn’t be seen dead not having. If you don’t possess these things, he’ll emerge from his silver Mercedes to laugh in your face at both your comic ill-preparedness and microscopic penis / fish. But nobody needs a ‘siren bite alarm’ or a ‘carp shack bivvy’, whatever Mr Gillette says. Humans have had bite alarms forever. We used to call them senses.

Life in the SAS can get lonely. This is disturbingly indicated by the adverts at the back.

French carp

I did say those French carp only had one thing on their minds.

Letters page: Crafty Carper has no letters page. Mere words, those imperfect building blocks of communications and understanding, simply cannot not express the elemental pride of holding a big ugly fish.

carp fishing

Paternal pride doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Rating: 6/10

Crafty Carper is a good catch, if repetitive tedium enlivened by occasional excitement is your bag. And in this case, I suppose it is.

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