Like most FishingMagic browsers angling forms a huge part of my life and has done for a significant period of time; since I was five years old in fact when I had my first fishing experience whilst on holiday in Ibiza.
I remember looking into a harbour and being mesmerised by the thousands of small fish which seemed to fill it. Instantly I lost interest in building sandcastles or paddling in the sea; I wanted to get closer to the fish I could see.
As a youth my dad had learned how to make a minnow trap by punching a hole in the bottom of an old wine bottle and baiting it with bread. We tried this but the fish didn’t seem too interested at swimming inside. Still, my dad sensed my enthusiasm and went straight out to buy me a telescopic fishing rod. To me this was the best thing he could have ever done for me, though I’m sure the subsequent spillages of maggots in his car boot were enough to convince him otherwise!
Surprisingly, we managed to catch a few mullet and sea bream from the harbour but what fascinated me most was the sheer number of fish we could see; I wanted to catch them all! That was it, the seeds of a life-long angling addiction were sown and I’ve never looked back…
I grew up just South of Chesterfield, Derbyshire and fished local day ticket ponds as often as I could, mainly after school and during the holidays. Despite my dad’s handiness with the wine bottle nobody in my family fished so my own enthusiasm was key to me teaching myself to fish. I managed to do this through a mixture of trial and error, reading fishing books & angling weeklies and asking far too many questions to some very patient, experienced anglers I met on the bank.
Of course I caught very little to start with but soon I was putting together small bags of gudgeon, roach and perch with relative ease and every now and again a crucian carp, tench or chub would make an appearance. It was landing these occasional, harder fighting, harder to catch fish that I feel first awakened my interest in specimen angling.
For a good few years, however, my focus remained on catching more and more small fish and I soon learned the benefits that pole fishing for them could bring. I entered the odd match and eventually managed to win our local junior open, which I think I’d blanked in for the previous three years!
Soon after this I pretty much ditched the pole because I’d already become seduced by those mysterious large, uncatchable fish, which I would often see cruising around near the surface. I’m talking, of course, about carp.
As with many modern anglers my first forays into specimen fishing proper were directed at carp and after hearing so much myth and rumour about them over the years (and being young, believing most of them) when I finally managed to catch a small one on float-fished luncheon meat I really felt like I’d achieved something.
The next carp I landed was a 9lb 2oz mirror on freelined bread crust on a match rod with 12lb line straight through to a size 10 barbless hook. Back then this was a massive fish for me! It was a total game-changer and my focus immediately switched towards targeting carp and I spent countless summer evenings floater fishing and stalking them. Then along with my best mate Matt I got into night fishing for carp too.
Whilst carping became my main focus I never completely gave up on targeting other species. I always loved fishing the lift method for tench and crucians or fishing shallow for summer rudd. Then in January 2000 a chance encounter with a near 19lb pike – on my first serious session targeting them – blew my mind and again changed my outlook on fishing completely.
I realised there was far more to specimen hunting than just carp and although I’d far from mastered this single species I was inspired to begin specialising far more. Along with two mates I dreamed up a week-long fishing tour of Norfolk targeting different species each day. It was an ambitious undertaking for three eighteen-year-olds from the Midlands but off we set towards Norwich in a huge van full of nothing but tackle, sleeping bags and us (I’ll have to write about that week in detail, one day!).
The trip taught us a lot – probably more about what not to do in hindsight – and soon I had banked my first zander and barbel; both species I had previously only dreamed I would catch. Since then I have broadened my specimen hunting horizons to cover the majority of UK species.
I try to keep things fairly simple and don’t really follow the latest rig trends (though I can rarely resist trying out a new fishing gadget). Instead I put emphasis on fish location and remaining flexible in my approach so that I can make the most of each situation I’m faced with.
An example of which, from a few years ago, was when I successfully stalked carp on what was supposed to be a lure session for pike! I saw some good fish which were not of my target species but I managed to cobble together a rig that would catch them. This approach has led to me carrying more than my fair share of weighty gear around over the years but I know it’s caught me bonus fish that I would otherwise have missed out on.
By far my favourite places to fish are rivers. I enjoy the variety, mystery and constant challenges they offer. I’m lucky to live within 30 miles of three excellent Midlands rivers – the Trent, Derwent and Dove and I’m currently a member of several clubs which give me good access to target the barbel, chub, grayling, perch, pike and zander which reside there.
When not fishing a river, I’m happiest chasing predators on the drains and canals of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, or on a lily-filled, tree-fringed lake catching tench and carp. Besides coarse fishing I also do the odd bit of sea and fly fishing, both home and abroad and I’ve been lucky enough for my angling life to take me to some more distant shores in search of specimens.
Amongst my most treasured captures are a 15lb fly-caught salmon from the river Tweed and a 40lb Himalayan mahseer caught on a self-arranged trip in rural India.
My largest fish to date is a 130lb white sturgeon from Canada’s Fraser River but I hope I can eclipse this with a monster wels on my first trip to the River Ebro next month. I also was lucky enough to spend 9 months in Australia a decade ago. Of course I took some tackle with me and fished as I toured; ending up with golden perch (“yellow bellies”), Aussie bass and carp from the creeks plus flatheads, rays, sharks, bream and trevally from the ocean.
Predators and barbel have seen my most focused efforts since I returned from Australia but I’ve neglected carp for a few seasons so in the future I’ll be putting a bit more time into catching them – a twenty on a floater would be superb!
Whilst chasing the carp, I’m hoping I can scale down slightly to also catch a big tench or two. Tench have been one of my favourite species since I caught my first one, but I’ve yet to land one above 5lb. I’d also love to add 2lb+ roach and grayling to my list. In the rivers nearby there’s a fair chance that I can find a grayling of that size but 2lb river roach are somewhat rare in the Midlands, so I think my search for them will have to be limited to stillwaters.
I still have plenty of targets left in predator fishing too; a 4lb perch will remain a challenge I’ll always have half an eye on, as will a 20lb+ pike on a lure, along with a 20lb+ pike and a double-figure zander from a non-navigable, “natural” stretch of river. Also, I’ve so far been unable to complete the hat-trick of a double-figure barbel from the Trent, Dove and Derwent in the same season.
I’m looking forward to becoming a regular and worthwhile contributor to the huge FishingMagic community. Since 2005 I’ve been writing for various websites and publications, including my own website and blog, so some of you may be familiar (or fed up!) with me already.
I feel that I have plenty to offer and hopefully by bringing my 25 seasons of angling experience to the table I’ll be able to teach at least something to anyone willing to listen whilst at the same time learning plenty back from FM members, myself.