Angling journalist, Dan Wildbore, sits down with his good friend and renowned big fish angler, Marcus Howarth, to tap into his way of thinking when it comes to targeting the largest residents of the lake
Skipping the float-fishing-for-anything-that-swims, which I know you did, where did the passion for big carp come in to your fishing?
“Erm, it would have to be the days when I fished a local club lake. I had done the rounds, fished for all manner of species including carp from small ponds, but this was the first proper carp lake I fished if you like. There were two thirty-pounders in there and I was yet to catch anything that sort of size. The lake was around 17-acres and full of bream. It meant that I had to fish ‘big carp’ tactics to avoid the things really. Big 20mm hookbaits, aggressive stiff links and so on. I suppose this really opened my eyes to that sort of fishing, with less action but when you got it, the heart was pounding like never before. It’s like the first time you use a boilie, you instantly think that as soon as the line moves it has to be a big ‘un.”
So true mate, did you catch what you were after?
“Sadly one of the big fish died, but I did catch the biggest one, a fish known as The Dangler at 36lb 6oz. This was just huge; from the fight to staring at her width in the net the buzz was just insane. I had never felt adrenaline like it and I wanted to feel it again and again. In Ringwood, especially at the time, it seems like there was this lake, which was fairly easy. The next step up was like rock hard venues, so for me at the time it was hard to move on, even though I perhaps wanted to. The other lakes such as the Roach Pit and Rockford for example, were above the level of angling I was at. I wanted to fish the club lake more, mainly to fine-tune my angling to prepare me for the challenges ahead.”
You must have been young at the time, how did you afford to fish with so many boilies?
“I didn’t! I only had a weekend job in the tackle shop and literally used 15 baits around each rod. I would have to ration the baits, but by using the best bait available I always stood a chance. I still fish like that today, never ‘filling it in’ so to speak, just using the amount I think is suitable. Bait is so important to me, it has to be right and I can’t be dealing with someone else having it off on something that is better than mine. I have to use the best bait possible for my confidence. When you are fishing for carp, especially big ones, which can be quite selective. It took me 12-years since those early days on the club lake to finally be happy with a bait. The Krill is just perfect and wherever I go, I know the fish love it.”
So where was next after the club lake?
“I had a dabble around a few places, but it was just a few more runs waters. I got itchy feet one day and just decided to go walking round a large boating pit, not far from the club water. It was a whole new challenge and unlike the lakes I had fished, was low-stocked, very low-key and quite mythical. It was around 90-acres, with not many fish at all. A lot of it you couldn’t actually fish, so the challenge was way too much to take on. For some reason though, I was pulled in by it. I had heard little tales and whispers from other anglers about the place, but many did not speak about the place. This was where I really did think about fishing for big carp. They were in there and it brought that feeling that anglers may have felt when carp first came about, how on earth do I catch one?”
Was it just big carp that interested you or was there a characteristic, look, shape or colour that could grab you?
“Oh yeah, totally, I have always wanted to fish for carp that have something about them. The idea of going somewhere rammed full of big carp that all look the same doesn’t appeal to me at all. It’s each to their own and I don’t begrudge anyone that does do that. For me, the way the carp looks, the habitat it’s in, the history and age of it mean so much. I might look at a carp and the first thing I spot is its perfect mouth, folded tail, scale arrangement or even its pecks. There has to be something about it that makes me want to go there and dedicate my time, money and effort too. The Boating Lake had it all. There were big and special carp in there and even a 10lb common would be a result. The mystery and pull it had was hard to describe, but I just had to fish it.”
How did you get on?
“The whole of the close season was spent walking it with my mate. We had decided to bait it together and exchange as much information as we possibly could. I remember one day while I was at work, my mate called me up and described a moment that will be etched in my mind forever; even though I wasn’t there I could picture it. He was sat watching one of the big, old mirrors in there chewing on our bait. Yes, it was that close and they are not behaving as they usually would, but to know that fish was eating our bait was such a buzz. Come June the 16th, I was still a little intimidated by the place. I carried on fishing the other pits and it wasn’t until the beginning of August when I actually gave it a go. We had still kept in tabs with the place, but just didn’t fish.
“When the time did eventually come, the first trip was pretty unreal. I actually caught one on my first session, a 38lb 6oz common, which was a buzz like I had never felt before. It was only the fifth ever capture of that carp and I couldn’t believe my luck. It totally blew me away and I was now fixated on that lake and wanted to fish it every spare moment I had. We weren’t driving at the time, so it would be a case of getting dropped off and stashing our kit somewhere and going for a walk. It was mad really but that night before the capture, we both saw a couple of shooting stars. We didn’t say anything at the time, but we both wished for the other to catch one on our first trip.”
Blimey, that must have been unreal; did you carry on fishing it religiously?
“No, but not because I didn’t love the place. I have fished it now on and off for over eight years. It is one of those lakes that I never wanted to be ‘done’ on, if you know what I mean. The place will always be special to me and if I caught them all, I wouldn’t be able to go back. I have since kept the fishing down to a minimum, just dropping on in the spring and autumn when the time is right. One or two captures a year is a good season, so it was never going to be easy to catch them all.”
Did you catch many of the ones that you wanted out of there?
“Yeah. well my first two fish was obviously the common and the biggest mirror in the lake too. I was very lucky, but like I have mentioned before, it wasn’t just about size. I would be just has happy to catch a 20lb mirror, it was the lake that meant so much to me. There was one particular common that I wanted to catch, which was the biggest in there. I did end up running into that one, but we will touch on that in a bit!”
Where else were you fishing other than the Boating Lake?
“I had a go on a lake local to me with a big mirror in it. It was only small, which was a real change from what I was used to. The lake was mega tricky and the fishing was a bastard to put lightly. It took me a little while to get used to it and get a feel for it. Eventually I did catch her, off the top in the end, and it was the first lake where I fished for a particular carp.
“I also did a bit over on The Roach Pit and caught a few old ones too. I had a fish known as Snubby at 42lb plus, which was a new PB for me and another old one known as Bob’s Fish. Since then I have just flitted around and never really got stuck in to anywhere in particular. I loved my fishing and went wherever I felt like at the time. I could never settle and I am a little bit like that now too. I love a new adventure and I love that part of fishing.”
You ended up in Yateley didn’t you, how did that come about?
“I had wanted to be on The Car Park Lake for over five years before my ticket eventually come up. There were still six of the mirrors left when I got the ticket. After my first night, the following day we found Heather. For me, she was the one and was the ultimate carp. She was just incredible and to find her was so hard to take; a real slice of carp fishing history had gone.
“I kept on plodding away and then Pearly passed too. I did lose a carp in August and pulled off after that.
“That September, something happened that changed my life completely. I won’t go in to it, but my brother passed away. I didn’t fish and it was the last thing on my mind if I am honest. I went on a bit of a mad one and didn’t go back until January. I fished until the season ended and actually caught two, a common and a stocky mirror too. I couldn’t let it go until I had caught an original. I had banged on about the lake to my brother for years and he was never bothered really, but listened anyway. It was like I was there when I spoke to him about it and always vowed I would catch an original.
“Since his passing, I wanted it even more, almost to do it for him so that all those hours of burning his ear about these big old leathery mirrors was never a waste. I fished the spring and summer on a water park lake and didn’t go back on The Car Park until October. I ended up catching three fish including The Big Orange, an original that I had longed for.”
How did that feel when you caught that one?
“When you are growing up, especially when I was a nipper, it was all about Terry Hearn and the Yateley carp. I don’t think there ever has or will be carp like those Car Park ones. So many influential characters had written about them and all I ever wanted was to hold one in my arms. When it did, I was just blown away by it all. She was 43lb and looked in surprisingly good condition, given the nature of her being a ‘self-harmer’, as many used to refer her as. Once I had caught her, I did a couple more trips but I had done what I wanted. I didn’t want to stay on there and lose the good memories that I had.”
Where do you go after a lake like that?
“I went back to The Roach Pit. The lake had gone mad and it had done three fish over 50lb. They are unreal carp too, with every carp being unique. I struggled if I’m honest for whatever reason. I did catch, but not as many as I would have liked.
“The lake was quite busy now and a few anglers, good ones too, had access to a lot of time. Taking nothing away from them, they caught them through good angling and dedication, but for me I just couldn’t get in to it. I had Orange Spot at over 40lb and a few other lovely ones, but those real big carp avoided me. I remember losing four fish on the bounce and my head was all over the place. It really beat me up and if something could go wrong, it did.”
I can remember this sort of time, it was when we first met and thinking back, this was leading up to ‘that’ year?
“Ha, yes mate, it certainly was. It seemed that my fortunes had changed that year! I knew that The Roach had a good winter form, so I opted to fish the winter on there. I was baiting it with maggots and boilie crumb. Funnily enough it was one of the early batches of what is now the Manilla. I kept it going and Gaz had been fishing it too, with both of us keeping things fairly low key. He had caught The Linear, which was such a buzz. It was then my turn a few weeks later, catching one of the big ‘uns too.
“It was a cold January night and I had The Horse at just over 46lb. It was a proper old carp and totally unique. A huge mouth and quite odd shape, she was certainly one of the ones that I had longed for out of there.
“It was then March time and I had done a little bit up at Oxford with you the autumn before. I fell in love with Christchurch from the get-go and caught some lovely fish to over 40lb in the autumn. I had planned a trip back up there and when I met you, it was hot, clammy and the fish just wanted to sunbathe. It was dead, totally lifeless and the chances of a bite looked slim. That was when you suggested we had a look round Linear. I am not going to lie: I was totally dismissive of the idea. But the thought of a McDonalds and a cold drink was too much of a temptation.
“When we did get to St Johns, the fish were where you thought they would be. There was a corner in the shallows and I’m sure that nearly every fish in the lake was there. I wasn’t used to seeing so many carp in front of me; it was just unreal. I flicked a couple of Zigs out for the afternoon and caught some nice little stockies. Then, as the evening came in, I brought them in and replaced them for Chod Rigs. There was a load of low-level weed and it was just the perfect presentation. I flicked a couple of rods in close and dotted some Krills around them. Literally, it must have been no less than two hours later and I netted this almighty great big mirror carp. I had never fished there before, but knew exactly which one it was. I shouted you round and there she was: The Big Plated looking big too. We jumped around like mad men, buzzing our tits off and in awe at such a special carp. She weighed 45lb 8oz, truly huge and I was just in shock to tell you the truth.”
It was just an amazing evening and I will always remember that. One thing I do notice about you is that no matter where you go, you love your boilie fishing?
“I do like fishing with nuts and particles, but I much prefer the boilie fishing, particularly when you are using a bait that you have so much confidence in, your fishing just becomes easier if that makes sense. Carp just love them and the rigs I like to use suit the boilie approach. I soak all my freebies and hookbaits in fishy liquids too, things like Krill Liquid and L-Zero 30 are just classics and just scream big carp. I have always been into my fishmeals and although birdfoods work, when I am targeting big carp I love a rich fishmeal bait.”
Where did you go after catching The Plated?
“I went back to The Boating Lake after that. I had done the odd session here and there, but it was around the end of April before I went back on there. I went on the conditions and landed a lovely 28lb common. The following week it was May, which is such a great month to be out. I was checking the weather non-stop and it was due to turn for a big northerly. I knew where they were going to be, right on the end of the wind.
“I got down to the lake and went down to the swim, only to find someone in there. I had a chat with him and he was packing up and I kept my excitement to myself and dumbed down where I wanted to be. He hadn’t seen anything, but I knew they would be there. As soon as I moved in, I saw eight or nine shows. I got the rods sorted, Spombing 5kg of Krill out to the spot around 70yds out and the following morning I had a 32lb common, which was a huge result. I stayed another night and woke the following morning and the fish were still there, but nothing happened.
“I thought they had done the off, when I saw one show around 20yds out. I shimmied up a tree and as I watch, I could see more and more arriving – it just looked prime.
“I brought one of the rods in, attached a fresh hookbait and waded a rod out to the marginal shelf. It was a tiny little spot and I dotted eight krill boilies around it. I got back up the tree and for over two hours and none of them seemed interested. I sat there wondering what was wrong; I was convinced that something was up and they could see something wasn’t right. I was pondering my next move when the big common came in. I paused and I knew it was her. She was feeding along the weed and came across my trap. I watched as she engulfed every single freebie, one by one at her own pace. After each mouthful she would swim around and circle the bottom, almost like a giant shark hunting its prey. It was just my hookbait left and she went down, time paused and I couldn’t breathe. I watched her suck it in, tilt up and then shook her head violently. She was hooked and for the whole fight I knew which one it was.
“When I netted her, I was blown away. What a carp, the one I wanted and at 46lb 15oz, it was the biggest she had ever gone. I got a few mates down to give me a hand and share the joy. It was a special afternoon and holding a carp that meant so much to me was just a pleasure.”
Blimey, three 45lb plus carp and only five months in to the year, where do you go from there?!
“I couldn’t really; I was almost burnt out I suppose. I had fished so hard and was so content with what I had done. I left carp fishing on the back burner for a few months and headed on to the rivers. I loved it, catching plenty of barbel and chub.
“It was one hot and clammy August day and I felt like going carp fishing, my gear was in a mess, it had been collecting dust for a couple of months and I arrived at Roach totally unprepared. I had no floater kit at all, which was a massive schoolboy. Nearly all the fish I found were on the top and I had to have a think. Most of the stock was in a weedy corner, really close in to the bank. I grabbed one of my normal fishing rods, bit off the leadcore and tied on a hook. I nicked a bit of bread off my mate and ran down to the swim.
“It was just like I used to do when I was young, only this time they were much bigger. I could see the odd white lip gently moving back and forth in small gaps in the weed. I had to try and pick which one and flick the bread over the top and draw it over the mouth. I made the flukiest but most perfect cast, with the bread landing just behind this carp. The bow in the line allowed me to slowly draw it back over the fish in the right direction. Then, as I gingerly teased it back, it landed plumb in front of the carp. She edged forward, sat there for what felt like an eternity, before extending her lips and taking in the lot. I struck and all hell broke loose. She went mental and with so much weed it was a nightmare. Eventually I had to hand line it in and netted around 100lb of weed and over 30lb of carp.
“I could see from the scaling which one it was, perhaps the best looking fish in the lake, a mirror known as Jamie’s. It was a special carp, being only its eighth ever capture and such a beautiful carp. I didn’t really do much carp fishing after that, retreating to the rivers really and enjoyed my time on there.”
What is the difference between fishing for carp of all sizes to really big carp?
“I suppose as far as fishing goes, the same rules apply to all sorts of carp fishing. The first thing you have to do is find them and put yourself in with a chance of having rigs in position when they do decide to feed. Then it all comes down to bait, rigs etc. I like big, strong hooks, line, leadcore and hooklink. If I hook one, I don’t want to lose it, that’s for sure. Big fish have immense power, so having the right gear to deal with them is key. Then comes bait and this is so important. I’ve mentioned it before, but for me you have to use the best bait you can. If I had the choice of using a cheap, poor quality boilie or a tiger, I would choose a nut every day of the week. If, however, it was a good boilie, I really don’t think you can beat it.”
I want to mention how anal you are when getting your rods out: can you just explain how much emphasis you put on getting them out bang-on?
“Ha, totally mate! Yeah, it does take me a while. I can’t settle until I feel that everything is absolutely perfect. Even if it takes me 100 casts, I need to make sure its right. Yes, you can spook them, but they will come back. On The Car Park it took me 30 casts one time to get it right, then had the bite 4hrs later. The Big Orange was on a recast after a tench. The spot was fizzing and got the tench, but spent some time getting it back out and within an hour I had her.
“I use the helicopter system to allow me to fish a rig that won’t tangle after casting it time and time again to get it right. It is perfect, I can adjust the bead to whatever the bottom is that I am fishing. Everything I use from rigs to bait I have a huge confidence in them, which is the biggest aspect to carp fishing.”
And finally, Marcus, you have appeared on the front of the last issue of the Subsurface Journal and have been heavily involved from the start, how has that been?
“I’ve loved it to be honest and I think Gaz has done a wonderful job on it too. It felt odd being on the cover of it, but felt honoured too. He never actually told me that I was going to be on the cover and I’m privileged to be part of it. I remember him coming to me and talking about it before he even brought it out. It just shows another side of angling, one that we all love and the beauty of it all. Stunning pictures and scenic with incredible content from some top anglers. I have always been in to photography and with fishing meaning so much to me, I want those shots that I can relate back to and bring me to that moment.”