Oz Holness chats to Tom Stokes about all the sweat, determination and hard work in his pursuit for the ultimate carp: The Burghfield Common
Liam Duncan Interview // Part One - Text Only
Q. BEING A LEICESTER LAD WE HAVE NOT BEEN BLESSED WITH LOTS OF BIG CARP, BUT WHERE WAS THE FIRST PLACE THAT YOU JOINED?
A. It was Sandpit on the Sand and Gravel ticket in north Leicester. There were a few nice commons, topped by Blind Eye that was around 35lb. Myself and a friend did a couple of seasons on there. We struggled like mad on the first season, even though I caught blind Eye on my fourth night. I was actually off work with a broken hand and the pictures I had with that one I’m in a cast.
It wasn’t until the second year that we got to grips with the place really. It was only a few acres with 30-40 fish and it taught me a lot about spot fishing in weed. We would bump in to a speak to Lee Petty quite a bit at the time and we did look up to him I suppose. He was a Leicester lad that had travelled and caught loads of big fish from up and down the country.
Q. BEING A WEEKEND ANGLER, I SUPPOSE YOU HAD TO PICK A SENSIBLE OPTION FOR WHERE TO FISH NEXT?
A. Yeah we looked long and hard at it and ended up getting a ticket for the St Ives complex. I also got a ticket for a local brick pit with some special carp in it too, so I could use that for my work nights and local fishing if you like. Kev Wilson had caught the Fat Lady, which put it on the map for us Leicester lads, but by the time we got down there it had gone.
I ended up fishing on all the pits flitting around really and not settling. In the end I spent the summer mainly fishing on the brick pit and caught some of the old ones that I wanted from there. It was a park lake and came with its limitations, but all that goes by when you just focus on why it is that you are there. The carp were special and to catch some of them was a real buzz.
Q. I SUPPOSE GOING SOMEWHERE LIKE ST IVES WAS A BIT OVERWHELMING DUE TO THE SIZE OF SOME OF THOSE LAKES?
Particularly Fjords and Meadows, which was a really big pit. I caught a few fish from around the complex that first year and it was a real buzz doing so. Once I had done a bit on each, I decided that the following season would be spent fishing the shallow pit for Colin.
It hadn’t done 50lb at the time and I knew that it was going to get really busy as soon as it did. The complex was quiet because everyone had thought that it was all about the Fat Lady. There were times in the summer when I would get down on a Friday after work and have the place to myself.
I had done my first year and caught a few and it wasn’t until the following spring that it happened. I always found that when it got busy in the spring and there wasn’t much weed out in the pond, the fish loved it in the out of bounds.
It can be quite ‘peggy’ in the spring and I was lucky to get one of the swims that fish one of the swims that fished towards that out of bounds area. I waded across to an island and got up the tree and I could see a lot of fish in there. They were bubbling and sheeting up, so I gave them a kilo of Krill on the fish, another kilo a bit closer to the spot I could fish, then another half a kilo on the actual spot.
Saturday morning they were trashing the second pile of bait and it wasn’t until the Sunday morning when they were on top of the rod.
They were absolutely smashing it, with sheets of fizz all over it. They dwindled out as the morning went on and I thought my chance had gone. Then, out of nowhere I was away! I had a feeling it was her and when she went in the net it was no mistaking which one it was. She looked awesome and was my first really big fish at 48lb 8oz. It was a huge buzz to catch her and a lot of work had gone in to it that’s for sure.
Q. I SUPPOSE AFTER CATCHING THAT ONE, THE ROUND BROWN WAS NEXT ON THE LIST?
A. The lake actually backs on to the meadows and you cant help but poke your nose through the bushes from time to time. My mates had been on there and caught it and I had a game plan of how I was going to do it.
Thankfully I had caught Colin early, so I could enjoy the spring on there. There were a handful of originals and then a lot of stocked fish too. If I had to guess the stock I would say there was around 75-100 carp in 110 plus acres. It is four lakes all connected, with loads of finger bays and places that the carp could be in.
There is a lot of legwork but really enjoyable fishing. I tried to get down on a Wednesday night to bait up and if the conditions were biblical I may do the odd night. It meant packing up at silly o’clock for work and it did kill me, but if it looked cock on I would occasionally do it. I caught a few fish that year but it wasn’t until the autumn when everything started to come together. I was fishing a spit that was flooded and hardly anyone was fishing the lake at the time. I was having to wade my gear up a 100 yard spit to a small bit of dry land at the end. It was a popular swim that fished in to the meadows, but because of the water level it was left alone.
I kept baiting the spot and I had quite a lot of fish off the spot. It was October the 11th when I eventually got the bite that I was looking for. It was a proper autumnal morning and it was such a buzz to see her in my net. She weighed over 43lb and what a lovely old fish she is.
Q. OTHER THAN ST IVES, THE CAMBRIDGE SCENE HAS GONE QUIET, WHICH OFTEN MEANS THERE ARE SOME BIG FISH AROUND, DID YOU HEAR OF ANYTHING WHILE YOU WERE FISHING ST IVES?
A. There are loads of lakes out this way for sure. I wanted to stay on St Ives and a friend had been fishing on Longreach. I had spoke to him a lot about it, but I didn’t want to go on there while he was fishing on there.
I had caught a couple of big mirrors and fancied a crack at a big common. Years ago I got to hear about a lake in Lincolnshire. It was a bit of a park lake with a lovely old common of over 40lb in it. Randomly, I had actually enquired about a ticket and was due to meet him the morning after I caught the Brown. It was great timing really, so I shot up on the Sunday with the Mrs and took her out for some food to celebrate and got my ticket for the new lake.
Q. HOW DID YOU APPROACH THE NEW LAKE?
I had just come off the back of a couple of really good seasons using the Krill and I knew it would work wherever i took it. That first season I had 16-bites, with it being very low stock it was pretty successful. Most of the action was over lots of particles in the summer and I could never really get the fish going mad for the fishmeals, which is something that I had not seen too much.
The Manilla was released that year and I ordered some early on, with the plan to use it in the spring. If the fish were not on the fishmeals, they would certainly like that stuff as it smelt and tasted bang on. I caught from the off just boilie fishing, which was wicked because I couldn’t get bites doing that sort of fishing.
I had a week off in March and I think I had 5-bites in my week session that I booked off. I fished boilie only all spring and I ended up catching the big one in May at 42lb 8oz. It was a really old history fish for the area and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I wanted my first big common to be a special one and it was, a truly immense and treasured carp for sure.
Q. YOU ARE A RELATIVELY YOUNG ANGLER BUT HAVE BUILT UP AN ALBUM OF SPECIAL OLD CARP, REGARDLESS OF SIZE, IS THIS IMPORTANT TO YOU?
A. This is something that I am passionate about and one day we may have to fish for whatever we can do, but while these special old carp are swimming around I want to look back at my album and angling, knowing that I did everything I could to catch them. This is what drives me, fishing for amazing looking carp. I would quite happily fish a lake for a mid thirty if it is a lovely looking fish. I feel that you appreciate them more when they have something about them and it isn’t just about digits on a page, a list of how many 30’s and 40’s you have had.
Q. I SUPPOSE QUITE A FEW OF THE LAKES THAT YOU HAVE FISHED ARE RELATIVELY WELL KNOWN, HAVE YOU KEPT ON FISHING THESE SORTS OF LAKES?
A. I suppose the meadows spoilt me in that between myself and a few friends we were the only ones really fishing it. That meant that we had that freedom and no stress at all. A lot of the busy lakes its hard to get anything going, but on the quiet waters you can rock up at any time and know what to do. I can have my rods in the clips ready, so that I can cast out in the dark should I arrive late. I don’t have to worry about someone being in the swim or jumping in off the back of my hard work.
That sort of fishing is what I love most and is what I have looked for in recent years. I don’t have to hear all the negative swipes that can happen when you are fishing with lots of other anglers. I can enjoy my fishing for what it is and that’s what it’s all about for me.
Q. DO YOU DO MUCH BAIT PREP WORK?
A. Whatever I am using I soak it all in liquids. I glaze my boilies with the matching liquids and in the summer months I use a lot of particles. When you cook particles and let them cool, they suck in all the liquids. I add a full litre bottle of either the Cloudy Manilla or Krill, depending on the bait that I am using, and all that liquid absorbs in to the particles. I want my bait to let off as much attraction as possible and I feel it has helped me catch more carp.
Q. DO YOU FISH EVERY WEEKEND?
A. Pretty much, unless she has me pencilled in for something. She really understands having grown up with me and being together since school. Even tying rigs in class, she knows the score and we see each other all week and is willing to lose me at the weekends. She knows it’s my passion and she would never stand in my way of doing what I love so much.
Q. YOU HAVE KEPT YOURSELF AWAY FROM DOING ANY MEDIA WORK IN THE PAST, IS THERE A REASON FOR THIS?
A. I just think there are loads of people that do that and I don’t think people need to see what I do. Some people love doing it and are good and giving information, so there is no need for someone like me to do it. If I held some of my rigs up people might spit their tea out.
Q. I GUESS YOU ARE VERY PARTICULAR IN THE WAY THAT YOU FISH, MAKING SURE THAT EVERYTHING IS BANG ON?
A. It has to be 100% for everything. I have to know that my bait works, my hook is sharp and I am presenting on something that I know the fish want to feed on. When you are fishing lakes that are tough, you have to make sure it is all done to the best of your ability.
Q. I NOTICE THAT YOU HAVE BRAIDED MAINLINE ON, IS THIS SOMETHING YOU USE A LOT?
A. I do in the summer months, due to the amount of weed that is in the lakes that I fish. It protects my line and helps with weeded fish for sure. It is a bit of insurance really; if I hook something I know that there is a very slim chance I will get cut off.
You can also get a much better feel for the bottom too. The drop is everything to me and with the braided mainline I can feel if I have landed bang on or not, which is key on some of the lakes that I fish.
Q. YOU HAVE A CLOSE GROUP OF FRIENDS THAT ALL FISH, I SUPPOSE THAT IS QUITE NICE?
A. Yeah it is great, we are all friends outside of fishing and we can all share the buzz of catching big carp. It is great having people to speak to while you are spending all that time on the bank chasing your dreams.