In part one of this three-part interview, Oz talks to Si about where his passion for carp angling started before covering Si’s days on Conningbrook, chasing the illustrious ‘Two Tone’.

In part one of this three-part interview, Oz talks to Si about where his passion for carp angling started before covering Si’s days on Conningbrook, chasing the illustrious ‘Two Tone’.

The morning began with a few frantic phone calls and a bit of last-minute luck to be honest…

An interview with Si was never going to feel the same if we were sat around a kitchen table or in the back garden! We wanted to be bankside, where we both feel most at home. So where better, of course, than back on our home turf, in the Kentish Stour valley! A call to Frankie at Stour Valley Fisheries (pre Covid) was swiftly answered and he kindly gave us the permission for a nights fishing on the complex, simply perfect! A quick call to Si set the ball rolling. He would provide the evening ‘Fajita fest’ along with strawberry trifle (a classic Bater menu) and I would provide the breakfast.

And so, we headed off down the country lanes of deepest, darkest Kent with that same keen passion that has burned bright for so many years!

A lap of the lake gave us no clue as to the location of the carp, although we were in no rush. We had the whole evening ahead of us to chat about the interesting path in life Si has chosen, and some of the captures he’d had along the way. Just a short while later, I spotted a good fish rise amongst the dead reeds in a quiet corner of the lake. Si didn’t need asking twice and soon had a couple of rigs spread across the area and we settled in to watch the sun set on a classic late winter day.

As dusk fell, one of Si’s homemade pop-ups was picked up and his receiver signaled a slow take. Soon enough, a clean upper double mirror slid over the cord of the net and we scurried about in the half light, rattling off a couple of shots before slipping him back. A great start to the evening alright as it was the first carp either of us had seen on the bank for a good few months! However, the best was yet to come...

After gorging ourselves on spicy chicken fajitas and a cold beer, the middle rod signaled the second bite of the evening. A slow plodding battle ensued, and we soon stood staring into the net, illuminated by torchlight, at the wide old back and scaly flanks of a good 30lber! What shocked us next though, was on picking up the unhooking mat it was pretty much frozen solid! A harsh frost had formed, and we were about to experience the coldest night of the year with temperatures falling to -5C. All was well in our world though, and after slipping this chunky old mirror back home we settled down for our evening of conversation in the cold night air and amidst the subtle aroma of carp slime. It was the perfect atmosphere!

'I suppose really, as a youngster I grew up in what was one of the best areas for carp fishing in the country. You know! Soon after I started fishing, I walked down a little track on Vauxhall Lakes, near Canterbury, and bumped into a couple of guys carp fishing and was intrigued by it all. Soon enough, I spent time at Fordwich and during the close season them old carp came close enough to almost touch! Seeing them swimming about really sparked off the enthusiasm. Being here in the valley, we had so much well stocked water at the time, we could fish almost anywhere within 20 minutes bus ride, and that really set me up right at the beginning. Out there, looking and exploring all the options.'

'Oh yeah, I definitely have the hunter in me… Even before the fishing really started, I lived out in a country pub and I spent my summer holidays just trapping birds, just to hold them and let them go of course. I have always had that instinct, it just manifested into carp fishing, which has been my passion ever since!

The thing about the valley is, it’s mainly chalk stream fed, so you get these crystal-clear gravel pits, and you couldn’t help but see these big, dark shadows gliding by. I Just wanted to hold one, just like I did the birds before. Seeing them big old purple backed carp after a summer in the weed really triggered it for me, without a doubt. Once you started meeting people and found out about these carp, the more you knew the more you wanted it!

The first one that really grabbed me was a big old mirror from Griffin's, just along the river from here. A lovely little clear pit and the mirror was a 30lb’er, so it was a big fish back then. In later years things took a big turn with many of the waters holding some huge carp around here.'

'Yeah definitely! The early days were spent mainly alone or with close mates, but as the Mid-Kent era took off, I bumped into the likes of Paul Forward, Rod Killick, Ian Brown and then the likes of yourself, Little John, etc. We really had the very best of scenes going on, and we had some excellent times, with so many laughs!'

'I suppose it has been a conscious effort to a degree, just staying out of things a bit. Certainly, in the later years I have often fished waters that are that little bit forgotten or left alone for various reasons. You know, either low stocking levels or a less than salubrious area of town, so places a lot of others don’t always want to fish. So, to have an ongoing and fairly instant thing, which is what I understand of platforms such as social media, has always felt a bit contradictory to my efforts. I like to go to these places and not see anyone for a few trips you know. I try and just go about my business in a quiet way; it’s a labor of love as such for me. No-one’s earning footballer wages as an angler, so it’s not really a life-changing thing to be part of.

I did work in the industry for a while, but I found when your work was fishing all day on the telephone then my life was my fishing and it can end up a bit of an overload, just way too much. The sort of fishing I enjoy is never going to work out too well within the industry, as I can go maybe 6 months for one bite for instance! In this day and age, what with Instagram and what not, people generally expect so much more from you. In the early days and the initial mags, the first time you generally heard about a significant capture was in one of the publications. Now, within 10 minutes of a capture the shots are often buzzing their way around the cyber world! To support that sort of media hunger is not really something I could do in my type of fishing, it would probably bore most people.'

'It was just one of those waters where you had to be on top of your game just to get near them! It had 20-25 carp in 20 odd acres, you know, if you didn’t get on them and go for it when they moved or got ahead of them, someone else would have been on it! It was ruthless, but for improving your angling it was just the best thing as you looked at yourself as a failure much of the time being up against some of these guys. It just made me want to up my game all the time. It was at that point that I really wanted a lifestyle change, so I changed everything to gear up towards my fishing life. I had a career at the time, as well as a partner, but to be honest once I started on the Brook, it just felt like home. I met older guys that were 10 miles further down the road in their own journey but were just as fanatical and it fascinated me. I pretty much gave my job up and went on to just do bits and pieces here and there just to go fishing as much as I could.'

'Yeah (laughing) I just didn’t ever want to live in the whole internet of society! The world is sort of geared up to make you be in debt if you like and I always saw that as a big burden. I tried it all, had a really good job. I was working running sites within the construction industry up in London with people on real big money, but when you sat and listened to them, none of them were really all that happy. They just had bigger and bigger debt. They all had big lifestyles and all the trappings, but that scene never made me feel at all comfortable. I was earning well, and I realised you always have to earn to live but wanting more will always get in the way of what you love. Work always gets in the way, you know! A load of work comes in, in the mild spells during winter, and then when it’s frozen you get nothing! It was a real conscious decision to do what I did, and I’m bloody glad I did it!'

'Yeah, I have swans pecking on the hull in the mornings and I’m around water, which I love. It’s a different one I know, but I can sit on the front deck and hear a coot scream - it’s just like a home from home. If I’ve not been fishing a lake I’m hanging around a lake. You know that buzz when you want to be there every spare moment you have, living it and taking it all in. Especially places like Conningbrook, it was like history was going to be made at any second and you wanted to be there, see it, be part of it!'

'Yeah, it was a place to learn for sure. It was all part of it no matter who you were. To put it into context, we worked out one time that it didn’t do a Friday evening bite for three and a half years! It was mainly day bites back in those times, so come evening we would sit back and relax a bit and it was brilliant as we had a lovely old time! You had guys like Dave Woods sitting there, he caught his first 30lber I think in 1967. You know he could tell a story too could Dave, having fished around the best of them all his life. Pete Reagan, another one of the characters who could really tell a story, it was just brilliant. Then you had all the boys that became a proper part of Brook history, like Gary Rochester on the BBQ. They were all part of it!'

'I remember taking a shot of Dave Woods with Tom’s Pet from the Brook, he took on that classic old 60’s pose, almost like a Hendrix pose, with his loud shirt and straw boater (laughing) lovely, lovely people! We had such a laugh! One of the most pivotal people down there though wasn’t even an angler, it was the old Maltese fella named Joe, who lived in the big barn conversion by the point, that we named Joe’s for obvious reasons! He was unreal and loved a party. For instance, when the World Cup was on, he would see us scratching about with a radio to listen and a while later he would turn up with a 50m extension lead a portable tele and that would then turn into a 2 day BBQ! Truly amazing and unique times I think.'

'The Brook was a bit of a love affair for four years. The first year, when I made that sort of life change we spoke about, I got a bit of a grip on what the lake was all about. Basically, I was having to pack down around 5AM and drive up to London and that was my fishing, a couple of overnighters at most. As my lifestyle change kicked in, I started doing some work for Martin at Solar Tackle and I suddenly got some bait ideas in my head, which I had to try and implement. I had split recently with my partner so that had a huge effect on me mentally. I really felt I was just pottering about for quite some time. During that following two years, I was developing a boilie out of a really good base-mix; like a meat/fishmeal protein that’s real good quality. I started using that on a few places and was almost catching to order on waters such as Cotton Farm. For instance, I had that lovely common and some of those superb mirrors. It gave me a confidence that I had done the groundwork, I felt like it would give me the key to Conningbrook! I tell you, the pivotal moment was after that first year with just one common to show for my effort. I turned up the second year with this bait and the peaking confidence levels from Cotton Farm and other places. I started trickling the bait into areas and on my birthday trip I had three of the rare 30lb’ers, one each morning. These were the Tescos Common, the Tubular Common and then the Fully Scaled Mirror! That was it for my, my turning point had come, and I could not wait for the following spring. I went back to implement my plan and caught most of what I wanted, including Two Tone of course.'

'Definitely Oz, but something changed that last year on the Brook. I knew something was imminent. Basically, the small lake behind the Brook had been stocked from spawn grown by Terry Glebioska and we used to feed our left-over baits to them at the end of each trip. They liked it because they never got a sore lip; as we never fished for them of course, they just ate it and were keen! Well, the diggers came in and cut the two lakes into one and so you had an influx of bait eating fish mixing with the old stock. Combine that with my faith in my boilies and it was game on for me. It was like a fruit machine coming up trumps! I went against the grain and decided on my plan. During those previous three years there had been a really successful and awesome West Country angler who had absolutely obliterated the place fishing bits and particle, catching almost everything over and again. So, as with most lakes, people got on the case and were spodding out bits of particle and seed. I just felt there was a gap in the market for these carp to get a real quality bit of meat and veg if you like, so I really went for it!

I was just watching the lake and putting things together. Years ago, Paul Forward told me “look at the bigger picture”. You need to look down from that cloud at the whole pond, especially on limited time. I mean we all have limited time in relation to what we would like to do but keep your eyes on everything! Ask questions and look for answers all the time and adapt the methods.'

'Yeah, for instance on the bait side I make my own boilies and have done for years as I like to be fishing in a unique way I suppose. When you’re fishing these high stakes places, with just a dozen carp in and there is 20 bites to be had in a year, if I’m getting them eating my own bait that’s maybe 8 bites I’m going to get. But if there’s four of you using it, that’s maybe means 2 bites each. It’s just like getting a view of what’s going on. If everyone is spodding particle, I will go in with my boilies or singles even! It catches the fish out, it can be that subtle.'

'I like competing with nature, we all have to have that in us I suppose because we are trying to catch something out! But I don’t like competing against others, I’d rather compete against the weather or natural things. There wasn’t much more of a competitive arena than the Brook at the time of course, it was all about one that bite most of us were after!'

'Well, it was a right result! It was a bit of a rollercoaster, but I ended up catching that old Two Tone at a British record weight of 65lb 14oz! One of the happiest days, feeling complete elation and totally lost in the moment, as you know yourself.

It was never a record fish when I started fishing there as such, but that came along, and it was just an amazing feeling! I remember, after putting him back I wandered back up to the old Island Swim, where I had spent so much time. I just lay back looking up at the sky with mixed feelings, because I’d had been such an on and off affair with the Brook over 4 years, so it was as much a feeling of release as well. That feeling like when you’ve been on a water a bit longer than you anticipated. I can imagine it’s like these youngsters now when they complete a stage on a video game, and it opens up a whole new set of levels to explore!'


Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day

Oz Holness gives his insight into the type of carp angling that 'puts fire in the belly' - sharing his mindset and processes that make life outside easy.