Editorial assistant Paul Monkman speaks to Carp-Talk’s first ever Most Wanted Cup winner about his distinguished carp angling career and catching two of the country’s most coveted carp in 2016.
Paul Monkman: When did you first become a carp angler?
Alex West: I guess you could say that was around the age of 12, which was when I caught my first carp. It was a warm day in the summer of 1994, and I was fishing the Diana Pond in Bushy Park, just to the left of the big wall. Back in those days a mass game of football would normally take place between all of the lads on there, so I was well away from my rod when some of the lads started shouting I had a take. I sprinted the 150 yards or so to be beaten to the rod by Andy Mackie, who now owns Surbiton Angling. (This was pretty standard practice back then; the closest person to the rod would hit it then hand the rod to its owner!) Andy handed my rod back to me after setting the hook and talked me through the whole fight. After a nervous battle with everyone on the lake watching, the net was slipped under a gutty common known as the Piglet. The fish went 12¾lb, but who’s counting? The fire was lit!
PM: How did you get into the sport in the first place?
AW: Carp fishing for me was a natural progression from pleasure and match fishing. Like most before me I found the thrill of the chase, the screaming run and subsequent battle with a fish far more powerful than what I was used to – addictive.
I was fortunate enough to be exposed to many different hobbies as a child, usually flitting between one then the another, becoming bored quite quickly. I can’t remember if it was my mother’s idea or mine, but I ended up the proud owner of one of those everything-you-need outfits from Argos. My mum thought it would be the usual fad: a couple of months interest then on to the next thing. I remember blanking those first trips out on the River Mole, trying to work out the equipment in front of me, but this just made me more determined. I can’t remember how I came to fish the Diana Pond, but at the age of nine I remember removing the float and basically freelining maggots to catch my first two fish, a roach and a perch. This taught me a very valuable lesson early on: refining the tactics to the conditions you’re faced with will always get you more bites. In this instance it seemed the float was causing enough restistance that the fish were ejecting the bait.
PM: Living in and around the London area, you must have had some excellent waters to cut your teeth on?
AW: Indeed, Bushy Park was where I learnt my craft, and many a great angler before me started out on there; Terry, Micky Gray and Phil Tompson to name a few. It was a steep learning curve.
Most of us started out on the Leg of Mutton Pond, a small lake, lined either side with lily pads, which was full of hundreds of wild commons up to the 6-8lb mark. Once you had got a handle on that lake you’d generally move to the Diana.
The Diana contained around 100 carp, five over 20lb, with the biggest being the Scattered closely followed by a fish called Mick. This fish was to go over 40lb in years to come.
Once I’d worked the Diana out and had quite a few of the residents I moved again to the Heron. By far the trickiest lake, with a large out of bounds boating area. On my first season on the Heron I had 12 fish over 20lb, the biggest being 31lb 6oz and a lake record. I was well on my way!
After Bushy Park I moved on to Silvermere, where in a short space of time I banked the three biggest fish in the lake, Clanger, Polo and White Scale.
PM: Do you remember when you caught your first twenty and your first thirty?
AW: Do I ever! Like it was yesterday! My first twenty was from Sommerley Lake in Hampshire on Grange CSL boilies that I had made myself. This was caught during a day session on a very busy Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t get in either of the two swims I had fished previously and had to settle on a swim at the end of the wind. I flicked out a four-bait stringer and scattered 20 baits around the area. I received a take and after a short battle landed a real character of a fish, 22lb 11oz, my first twenty! To say I was grinning from ear to ear would be an understatement.
My first thirty came in the shape of the fish called Mick, mentioned above. The biggest difference with this capture was that I was targeting this fish. My friend and I had narrowed down where we thought Mick frequented the most, not an easy task when the lake is round, with very few features (just a statue in the middle); pretty much a two-acre goldfish bowl! To cut a long story short, my instincts and bait application were correct. At the end of October I had a steady take around 1.30pm. After leaning into the fish I soon realized it was a good ’un. Mick had a habit of fighting hard, more so if you tried to bully him, so I took it steady. After a 25-minute battle I slipped the net under my prize, my first target fish by design.
PM: In 2001, at the age of 21, you caught the Royal Forty at 44lb 7oz from Richmond Park Pen Pond, setting a new lake record. Was that the capture that turned you into a big-fish angler, or did you already have the bug for the biggies long before?
AW: Possibly, although during my time on Silvermere I was targeting the two biggest fish in the lake. This I considered to be a huge success Although size does play a part, the history, heritage and looks of the fish are the key things I look for when targeting a single fish. I think the thing that the Royal capture taught me was that I was more than capable of catching a big target fish from a pressured venue. A lot of effort is required to be successful, always going that extra mile, and this gave me a huge drive to be successful on this type of venue. Unfortunately that capture turned a little bitter, and I was accused of claiming a foul-hooked fish. I decided right away that I would go back and catch it again to put those claims to rest.
PM: In 2006, you appeared on the front cover of Carp-Talk issue 621 with the same fish at 48½lb. Was that your first magazine cover shot?
AW: It was indeed my first cover shot. It’s nice to see yourself on the front cover – I guess it symbolizes recognition and success in your chosen craft. This second capture was very special to me. The Royal was in peak condition and at its top weight when I had it. There was a lot of very good anglers pitting their wits against it at the time and the lake was very pressurized at times.
The first week of that season it was very hot: 30ºC and really not ideal for the park. This brought out all manner of people, it was like a circus. Not only were you competing against the fish and other anglers, you had kids throwing stuff in, dog walkers with no respect, and every other idiot making the job even harder. Peace and tranquility it was not.
In the second week it was a new moon, and the temperature was dropping along with the pressure. I was shattered from work and training, but I sorted my kit out and set off knowing I had to be down there. I parked outside the gate and set off on the mile-long hike, dodging the deer and local constabulary on the way. By the time I arrived at the lake I was sweating my nuts off! The temperature really had dropped and, without seeing anything, I set up where I thought the carp would be on the back of the wind. I positioned the rods, and not long afterwards heavy rain set in, so I crawled into the bag.
The next thing I knew I received a ripping take, which turned out to be a low double stockie. Shortly after that the other rod gave an indication, resulting in a huge eel on the mag aligner rig in open water… needed that. I sorted the rods and quickly had another stockie on a tiger/maggot presentation – it was going off big time. I was due to pack up and leave the lake at 6pm to meet the other half, but as selfish as we carp anglers are when so close to our quarry, I made the call and stayed on! That evening my mate Ben had popped down on his beat up old scooter with a few beers for a social. I placed the rod on the spot, hitting it first time. I tweaked the lead back a few inches, feeling a glassy bottom, and we both looked at one another with the same thought: that’s a bite! Sure enough, a short while later that rod was away and after a short plodding fight with plenty of head shaking the big ’un was mine again! It’s a lake record which stands to this day. I got a quick picture of the hook nailed in the bottom lip before sacking it up, making the calls and awaiting the cameras! I had settled the score, proving to myself that my first forty was legit.
PM: When did you first start to get noticed by companies who wanted to sponsor you?
AW: That would have been during my first season on Yateley Car Park Lake. You have to remember that back then social media and digital cameras did not exist. Although news of big fish captures did travel quickly through the grapevine it was nothing like the instant information of today. Imagine the amount of likes you would receive if you caught Heather nowadays.
Anyway back to the question, I wasn’t approached by a company, but with a few good fish under my belt and a Carp-Talk front cover I decided to ring Mainline myself and ask for something a bit different! Mainline agreed, although I was far from a sponsored angler; I still had to pay for bait, but at a discounted price. After a few ACF articles and some more Carp-Talk exposure, I managed to get some sponsorship with ESP. Again, though, contrary to myth, I don’t just get piles and piles of tackle sent to me for free.
This season after my capture of Taffs I left Mainline by mutual consent; not due to anything specific, I just felt I was stuck in a rut using the same bait and doing the same things. I decided to approach a couple of companies and, after careful consideration, chose Sticky. For whatever reason this seems to have given me a renewed confidence and focus, which has been key to this season – and, yes, I still pay for my bait!
PM: This autumn it will be 10 years since you caught the legendary Heather the Leather at 52lb-plus from Yateley Car Park Lake. That must have been a special capture for you?
AW: We all have our special captures, and then we all have that one capture, one that we know will be hard if not impossible to beat. If I’m honest there are very few carp in the UK that could match catching Heather and most of those have unfortunately passed; Mary, the Black Mirror and Single Scale being three. Heather was a Yateley original, the most sought after prize in one of the hardest lakes holding some of the most special carp to have lived in this country. It was an honour and privilege to have her grace my net, and to have her over 50lb was just the icing on the cake! All of the observation, the meticulous attention to detail and dogged effort throughout that season and the seasons before culminated in that capture. When I recount all of the events leading up to the capture, you could say that my name was on that fish. I even saw her on the bank twice in two days whilst fishing a social on the Pads in 2001, long before I had my ticket. She really was an incredible creature, the largest true leather in the country, classic Yateley proportions, wily as they come, angry in battle, yet when you saw her in the water, as graceful as can be.
PM: How long had you been on the Car Park Lake before you caught Heather, and what other fish did you catch from the Lake?
AW: I fished the CP from the beginning of 2005 until October 2007, Tuesday 23rd or 25th if I remember correctly. During my first season I caught three fish in forty nights: Dustbin at 42lb, Arthur at 44½lb and a 27lb common, all from different swims. During my second season I only managed around 12 nights, as I’d gone back to Richmond Park with unfinished business. I did, however, manage to bank the Big Common at 31¾lb. On my third and final season I had Arfur again at 42lb 14oz and of course Heather at 52lb.
The Car Park was and no doubt still is an epic lake. It is as if it was designed for fishing. Gin clear waters, walls of Canadian pondweed from top to bottom with so much natural food there is no need for a fish to sniff an angler’s bait, bars so high the seagulls standing on them wouldn’t get their knees wet, and climbing trees at every strategic point, enabling amazing tree top viewing!
That third season it seemed that most anglers continued using the big boilie, soft braid approach to their fishing. Fishing over a combination of boilies and/or particles on the main spots in the lake. This was combined with heavy inline drop-off leads. I caught Heather doing the opposite. I fished a shortish coated braid rig with a 14mm bottom bait straight from the bag. This was used in combination with a running lead setup and slack lines, with baits positioned under my rod tips. My reasoning was that I believed the fish were getting away with it nine times out of 10 with the ‘going’ method, as they were presented the same problem time and time again. I wanted to give them something they weren’t so used to dealing with.
PM: There must have been some other top anglers on the Lake at the time. How was it fishing alongside them?
AW: There certainly were, Lee Petty, Ben Hamilton, Darren Miles, Steve Fudge, John Claridge, Nick Harrison and Gary Lewis to name a few! To be honest it was slightly daunting at first. From my very first trip on there I treated every angler with respect. After doing a bit of research and speaking to some of the anglers I decided to keep to my own thing in regards to rigs and opted not to use a baitboat. Choosing to cast and use my trusty catty!
I was meticulous in how I presented my rigs, taking extra care to make minimum disturbance. I was particulary careful where I positioned my free offerings, ensuring none fell short. Almost every aspect to my approach was considered in relation to every opportunity that presented itself. There were no sympathy captures on the CP. If it wasn’t perfect, it didn’t happen. Even with everything spot on and fish in the area, often it still wouldn’t happen.
The lads on the CP at the time were a great bunch of likeminded anglers. I remain in contact with quite a few to this day. I wouldn’t change my time on there for the world.
PM: It wasn’t just the Car Park Lake where you excelled, as you also had an extremely successful campaign on Yateley Match Lake. What fish did you catch from there, and how did the challenge differ from the Car Park?
AW: I had a short campaign on the Match Lake in the autumn of 2014 and spring of 2015 due to my nemesis from Sutton at Hone, the Big Fully, being caught. It wouldn’t see the bank again for some time, so I decided to concentrate some effort elsewhere. I did roughly two to three nights a week for about eight weeks. In that time I managed 18 carp including six thirties up to 38¾lb (the Bluepool Stocky), 34½lb (Holiday Fish), 33lb 10oz (Bum Snag Mirror) and two of the Redmire commons around the 32lb mark. Who knows? I still dip my toe there occasionally and would love to have the Big Redmire Common and the Copse Lake Scaley!
The lake itself presented different challenges to the CP. With a far greater stock in the Match, you fancy your chances more. It’s a bigger Lake than the CP, but it is more broken up. The Lake is siltier than the CP, and I found that if I could get a group of fish competing for food, then multiple catches were possible, with bites far easier to come by. On the CP this just wasn’t the case, you were generally fishing for one bite at a time.
Unlike the CP, which had a 48- hour rule, the competition for good swims was fierce, with a lot of full-timers on there tying up the best swims for long periods. By fine tuning my baiting methods and rigs I overcame this obstacle by being mobile and adaptable, finding success in less fancied swims. This enabled me to always find a swim that I was confident of a bite in, not far from the main groups of fish.
PM: What is it about the Yateley complex you like so much?
AW: If you pick up and read pretty much any published carp fishing autobiography there is nearly always a Yateley chapter, normally one for each lake. Yateley has to have had the most published words written about it by far, probably 10 times more than any other set of lakes. What other complex has a double edition History of written about it? It’s hallowed ground, with some of the finest carp in the land; Heather, Basil, Single, Arfur, Big O, Little O, Dustbin and Chunky to name a few.
Yateley offered a quiet yet electric atmosphere that intoxicated and gripped the serious angler to keep going. This all adds to that special air of anticipation during their journey and pursuit, and the friendly, good-humoured fellow anglers often made the long and arduous journey more bearable. For my generation in our carp fishing infancy, we’d hear murmurs, an overheard (earwigged) story in the fishing shop about certain lakes, Wraysbury, Horton, Savay, the ’Mere, Fox Pool, Road Lake and Yateley, about the monsters they hold, and how they were magical, sacred places for the chosen few! They were lakes you knew about, but shouldn’t really – at least that’s what it felt like at 14 years old. This added to the mystique and is what created our dreams and aspirations. Could we cut it, hold our own, out-fish the best, or even get a bite? I may have done well catching carp from other hard venues, but when that CP ticket was in my hand I became a noddy again, a newbie, allowed to do the shop run, but catch? Well…
PM: More recently you joined the rare group of people who’ve landed two Yateley fifties, with the capture of a 50½lb mirror from a well-known club water. What was all the more impressive was that you landed this fish on a zig. What do you remember about that capture?
AW: Yes, another mega capture for me, and one where events and observations seemed to fall into place as well. I turned up at the lake for my usual two nights, stopping off in peg 2 where my pal Chewy French was set up. He told me he had seen fish in front of him as well as a few at the other end. After a few teas I barrowed up to the other end, scaling one of the best climbing trees on the lake. Being April the water was quite clear and the weed had yet to take hold. I scanned the water for carp and noticed one of the ghosties moving around one of the few weedbeds that broke the surface. As my eyes adjusted four or five other dark shapes came into view, and some really good ones at that.
The best angle was to fish from the opposite bank about two thirds of the way across. This was mainly due to the weed being less thick from the bank to the fish, enabling better line lay and indication, and also giving me a better chance of landing a big fish on the 12lb Double Strength I was using for my zigs. In the golden spring sunshine the fly hatches were in full force, mornings and evenings being the more abundant times. There was one small snag to my approach, as there was another angler fishing the swim next door to where I wanted to drop in. I took my kit around and had a chat with him. He informed me that he was fishing on the bottom and further to the right of the area I was intending to fish – happy days!
As I was setting up it started spitting with rain, so up went the brolly before the rods, which was very unusual for me. I was putting together a zig presentation on one of the rods, all the time scanning the hot weedbed zone and considering where to cast my first rod. As it was still weedy on the bottom I had already sussed that a decent drop was the one with zigs. I noticed a group of seagulls swoop down and hit the surface 10 yards to the left of the weedbed, shortly followed by a carp’s mouth taking something off the surface. That will do me, I thought! I cast to the spot and, after feeling a firm drop, I saw the foam rise to the surface – pukka! I sank the line and placed the rod on the floor. The ground in my peg was extremely hard, which caused me to take a few minutes getting the banksticks sorted. I finally pushing the last few inches of my rear bankstick in when I noticed the rod on the floor twitch. I focused on the point where the rod entered the water and saw the whole rod rising up! The penny dropped: I was having a take! I picked up the rod, line cutting through the water, and leaned into a solid resistance. The unseen fish had already found sanctuary in a weedbed, and I could see big sheets of bubbles rise up to the surface as I leant into it some more, taking a few steps backwards. I was praying the size 8 would hold fast as I kept on the pressure. Very, very slowly I kept it coming, my rod at full bend. The fish together with a big ball of weed was coming in a straight line when about halfway I felt the fish kick and break free from the attached weed. Back in direct contact with the fish it became a much more typical big fish fight, with big flashes of brown, yellow and pale cream flashing around in front of me. I could see it was a really good fish as the guy next door leant a hand netting her, at least 40lb-plus. It wasn’t until we got her on the mat that we could see the true magnificence of the beast they call Taffs. My mate Scotty came down to do the pics, and with only my fourth fish from the lake I’d had the biggest resident – target achieved. In true Yateley style I shouted the fish’s name at the top of my voice, elated at such a result within four minutes of fishing.
PM: Away from Yateley you’ve notched up some other notable fish, in particular on the Sutton-at-Hone complex. Last year you managed to tempt the venue’s biggest resident, the Peach. As one of the remaining A-Team fish you had yet to catch, that must have been a memorable capture?
AW: It was a memorable few days back in September last year when I had some of my most successful fishing. After finishing work at 10pm on Saturday, me and my pal Gary (aka Eurokaz) set off for one of our SAS-style four-hour sessions on the River Thames. I caught my first 30lb Thames carp in the shape of a 30lb common, and straight after the pictures were done I set off for Sutton-at-Hone. On arrival I found fish straight away, putting some bait in a few spots around them to keep them interested,
I put two rods in the area and within two hours had another 30lb-plus common on the bank. At 32¾lb it was my first Sutton fish for two years of flitting on and off the water. I had renewed confidence in my new bait from Sticky and I had still a good few hours before dark, so was surprised I didn’t see any more action, despite fish in evidence over the spots. Just before we had to pull off the water, I put another kilo and a half out over the areas, my plan being to come back and fish first thing in the morning after spending the night sleeping in the car.
I pulled up at the gate at 4.30am to find three others had beat me to the lake. After a quick discussion about where they wanted to fish, I was pleased to find out no one wanted to fish where I had baited! Full of confidence I dropped straight back into the swim I had vacated only six hours earlier. I tackled up rigs and baits, walked the line down the bank to the desired distance then clipped up. I wanted to wait until first light before casting so I could hit the spots with minimum disturbance, and as with the previous day I hit my spots with two casts. At around 7am, only an hour after casting, I awoke to a fast take. Straight away I had to steer the fish away from danger. The fight only lasted two minutes and to be honest it felt like a bream. I knew it wasn’t a bream, though, as I had seen the fish hit the surface and knew it was another good common. After slipping the net under her I sat back on my bed chair buzzing with adrenaline. I knew the fish was over 30lb. I looked at my phone and noticed a missed call from my river companion. I phoned him back explaining what else I’d had: three 30lb-plus commons from two venues within 24 hours. He was as amazed as me at this result. On closer inspection when weighing, I realized that this fish was not just a thirty; it was indeed the Peach Common, a known forty and the biggest fish in the lake. It was another of my targets banked and went 41lb, looking absolutely stunning as it always does.
The icing on the cake for this trip was, after being convinced by Gary to do another night sleeping in the car and fishing the next day, I had a 29lb mirror too, an original Sutton fish. I packed up a very happy if not very tired angler.
PM: What other successes did you have at Sutton?
AW: I have had a Sutton ticket on and off since 2003, obviously fishing other waters in between. On my first few seasons on Sutton I managed 10 or so day trips, going all the way there when I could muster the courage. Back then it was quite cliquey and a very local orientated water. Up until 2010 I had only really done one whole season’s fishing on there, catching six or seven fish up to a 34lb common known as the Horse.
I did a lot of experimenting during this time, as the fish were extremely riggy on there and more often than not you would get done. To add to the difficulty Sutton is a day-only venue, which means you are either casting out or reeling in in the middle of bite time. As I live over an hour away from the venue, driving home at 10.30pm to return for 4.30am was not an option, so I had to sleep as best I could in my car parked in one of the side streets away from the lake (you were not allowed to stay in the car park). This really wasn’t the one! Requiring a massive amount of effort on my part.
My first full season on there was only the second season CEMEX allowed night fishing, although this was only from 1st November until 14th March, with a 48 hour rule to boot. I managed 16 carp in that season, six of them being A-Team fish over 30lb. These included the Little Fully at 34lb 10oz, Jacksons at 36½lb and the Brown Fish at 36lb 3oz. This fish had not been put on the bank for three years and, although not the biggest resident, was one of the most sought after fish in the lake. In my second full season I managed 11 fish, of which four were over 30lb including the Big Common at 36¾lb and Cluster at 35¼lb. The next couple of seasons I really struggled, not only on Sutton but also other venues I was fishing, it just wasn’t happening for me. I did somehow catch the Baby Blind at over 30lb, which was the highlight of those lean seasons.
PM: Where else have you fished in the South of England, and what other 40-pounders have you caught during your career?
AW: I have fished quite a few other venues in the South in search of forties. Most of these venues are relatively unknown, some requiring guesting and fishing under the cover of darkness. It was the quality of the fish that gravitated me towards these lakes ,and to be honest they were a welcome break from the circuit waters I was used too.
During the 2008/9 season I had a CEMEX Gold Card. I managed a Yateley CP stockie after returning in search of one of the few originals I hadn’t caught. During the spring of that season whilst the CP was closed I decided to take advantage of the Gold Card and fish a couple of the other waters available to me. I settled on Frimley Pit 3 and Sandhurst Lake. At this time I hadn’t yet caught a 40lb common, although I had come close, catching Charlie whilst being interviewed for a magazine feature. Unfortunately Charlie was spawned out and low in weight, registering 38lb 14oz.
During early March I was concentrating on Sandhurst Lake, and I had banked a few carp up to this point. However, one particular session springs to mind. I returned to Sandhurst in the last week of May, the last week of my Gold Card. Settling on the end of a SW wind in the Pipes swim I managed to get three fish under my belt in the first 24 hours, corn and maggots doing the damage. I remember seeing a carp roll at around 60 yards, a bit to the left of where I was actually fishing. I reeled in a rod and and put a bait on its head. As dusk approached the activity seemed to die down, so I went about recasting for the night. As I was positioning my right-hand rod, the far left rod sprang into action. After a spirited battle I slipped the net under what turned out to be the biggest carp in the Lake, Nige’s at 40¼lb.
The following morning I packed up and made my way to Yateley Angling Centre for some more maggots. I borrowed a riddle and freshened them up using Krill Groundbait. I headed toward the M3, Frimley bound. After a quick walk around, speaking to a few anglers on the way, as well as keeping my eyes peeled, one area which was really kicking off was called the Fallen Tree. This swim had done a thirty and couple of twenties shortly before my arrival. The angler was leaving the next day, so I asked if he minded me jumping in after him. This was to be the final night of my gold card. He was okay with this, and agreed could get in there at 11 o’clock the next morning.
For the time being, as the sun was warming the upper layers, I looked for a decent area for that night, preferably somewhere shallow but with open water access as well. The Daisy Bay was free and perfectly fitted the bill, especially after viewing untold 30lb-plus commons and one that stood head and shoulders above the rest, armour plated scales glistening in the sun. She dwarfed the other fish surrounding her – it just had to be her, Charlies Mate.
Not long after casting out I caught an 18lb common from the margins, and although I had another rod on the entrance to the bay fishing a lovely gravel spot, another didn’t materialize despite plenty of liners throughout the night. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were feeding in the open water in front of the fallen tree, and leaving the bay during these hours.
That morning I packed up and headed for the Fallen Tree. After setting up and considering my options I just knew spodding with the maggots and bits was the way forward. I put hemp, corn and maggots together with a natural style groundbait. Although spodding is far from my strong point, loading the swim went remarkably well. I quietly found two nice clean spots and set about placing my rigs and baiting accordingly, taking care to create as little disturbance as possible. Things went as well as I could have hoped, leaving me feeling quietly confident.
Around 12am I received stuttery takes on both rods almost simultaniousley; two bream, not what I needed in the dark. Sorting my right-hand rod first, on the fourth attempt I hit the clip and felt a perfect drop. I knew I was on the money. Whilst rebaiting my other rod I received a steady take. On her initial run she gained at least 40 yards, repeating it as soon as I’d gained the line back. I became quite concerned about the size 10 hook hold, as this was clearly a very powerful fish. Every time I got her to within 10 yards of the bank she would take 10 yards back. After a short stalemate the runs became less powerful and I started to make some headway. The more she surfaced the bigger she seemed. I eventually netted a huge framed fish in the light of the full moon. Lifting the fish from the water it was clearly a big ’un; Charlie’s Mate lay before me. Hoisting her on to the scales she settled at 45lb 10oz, my first 40lb-plus common and a great end to my Gold Card.
PM: You’ve also had some success fishing on the rivers in recent times. What’s your biggest river carp to date and what is it about fishing moving water that you find so appealing?
AW: As mentioned last September year I caught my first river thirty. I have been very successful over the years, landing well in excess of 100 fish, but up until this point a thirty had eluded me. It was the biggest of three fish I banked last year after a long prebaiting campaign.
For me the Thames is an unknown. Although there are resident fish in certain areas that get caught quite regulary, there is always the chance that the next bite could be something really special. I know of some really big fish that have been banked and are well above the weight of the unofficial Thames record. However, the anglers that have banked these fish chose not to publicize them. I have lost a couple of really hard fighting fish that I believe were really big, well in excess of my river PB.
PM: The captures of the Yateley club lake fifty and the Peach from Sutton-at-Hone were enough to win you the inaugural Carp-Talk Most Wanted Cup in 2016, a trophy you were awarded at the recent Carpin’ On Show in March. To catch two of the ‘Most Wanted’ carp in the country in a single year must have made 2016 one of your best years ever?
AW: In terms of catching the biggest resident fish from two difficult venues, plus my first river thirty and numerous other back-up fish, yes, I had a good season. The success I had last year came from a lot of hard work with the limited time I actually have on the bank, and it is nice to have been recognized with this award. Like other anglers I spend a lot of time and effort in the preparation of targeting certain venues. This hopefully leads to success, but we still need a little slice of luck from time to time. I also think that by going through a process of elimination and trial and error with my approach, especially at Sutton, I was able to catch a few more including the lake’s largest. It just goes to show how important it is to learn from your blanks and utilize the information gained in a positive way, fine tuning things as you go.
PM: How did it feel to be recognised for your captures with the Most Wanted Cup?
AW: It’s a great feeling to be recognised and for others to have an appreciation for one’s success with anything, let alone with something that is personally important and close to your heart. One of the main things for me is the acknowledgement of how much effort and the difficulty of the journey that a big fish angler goes through on these pressured, low-stocked venues. In my opinion the best thing about this award in particular is that it’s not about glory hunting on high stock big fish venues (not that there’s anything wrong with this type of venue). It’s not about using these fish as a platform for stardom and selling out on social media, such is the recent trend, and it’s not about getting loads of freebies for likes from a sponsor. This award represents a return to the old-school train of thought, the reason we chose to pursue these creatures. A celebration and homage to those very special ones, the old history fish that are now so thin on the ground. The ones we all dreamt about growing up, the ones that have seen it all before I even started.
To me this awards signifies the reason we love the sport, and is a celebration of the the fish that have inspired many a generation. Big, English and original.
PM: Fishing some of the country’s most popular circuit waters must have helped shape you as an angler. What would you say are the three key factors behind your success?
AW: Without doubt observation, both of the water and at what other anglers are up to, is key in my success. This is not to say I copy others. I actively try to be different, considering all aspects of my approach; for instance, lead systems, hooklinks, hooks and bait application. Subtle changes often have the greatest impact on my success rate; a change as small as going from a size 6 to a 7 in the same hook pattern has produced many more bites for me. I prefer to scale down, applying a match fishing mentality and trying to get away with as fine a setup as possible without compromising fish hooked to landed ratio. Attention to detail in everything I do plays a big part. If I am not 100% happy with something I change it. Hook sharpness is a classic example and mine are meticulously checked throughout the session. Also less obvious things like a slightly twisted figure of eight loop will not do.
PM: Have you ever fished abroad and, if so, where? If not, is it something that interests you in the future?
AW: I have never fished for carp abroad. However, places such as Holland, Austria and Belgium do interest me. The pioneering drive-and-survive style is what interests me, and there are big rewards if you put the effort in and do your homework. Package holidays on lakes with everything supplied is not really my sort of thing. A friend and I did start looking into doing a drive and survive this year, but we decided we need to do a lot more research. This is something we will definitely be aiming for in the future.
PM: What are your plans for 2017? Are there any specific fish you have set your sights on?
AW: There are still a few targets on the venues I have been fishing over the last couple of seasons. I’d dearly like to catch Whiskers from the southern club water. It’s a sly old devil only gracing the bank once or twice a year – certainly not one that gives itself up easily.
The other of course and the ongoing saga that has long been an omission of mine is the Big Fully from Sutton. This fish has been doing two or three captures a year. For some it is a very tricky carp, but others seem to walk on to the lake and have it straight away. It’s a carp I have observed a few times, displaying a very acute sense of awareness of its surroundings. About five years ago I watched it mouth my floater and within a second it pushed it gently away from its lips. It then proceeded to circle in front of me, as if mocking me, before sticking two fins up at me and slowly bow-waving out of the area. Because Sutton is so coloured it is very difficult to target a particular fish unless you walk the lake every day, which I can’t feasibly do as it’s too far away. It’s more of a numbers game, fishing for bites in the certain areas it favours, so that’s how I continue to fish for it. It did come from an area I predicted it would last year, so you never know, it could be my time soon. Fingers crossed…
PM: Thanks for talking to us, Alex.