ArticlesMy Way - Simon Hartop
I love angling for most species, but carp fishing allows me to spend more time in the wild. It’s the 'cat and mouse' nature of the chase, especially on the pits I choose to fish. Carp never cease to amaze me at how they can keep even the best anglers on their toes. Every adventure is different but all eventual captures come with the same emotions; elation, achievement and relief.
It's very difficult to explain what makes me 'go' angling but I hate it when people say to me "oh it's good to have a hobby. " For many I'm sure it is and that's absolutely fine of course but to me, my friends and family; it is a way of life.
I get extremely irritable if I don't go for a few weeks and Joss normally notices it first and gives me the nod. To be fair though, I think that it has more to do with not being outside. I just have to be outdoors. The fishing is a very close second.
I was very lucky to have a grandfather who fished for trout and salmon and a father who was heavily involved with match fishing with Billy Lane and the early carp fishing scene. He then went onto fishing for all species so I have followed in his footsteps naturally. I did an interview for Rhythm once (a drummer magazine) and they asked me "When did you decide to take up the drums?" The truth is the drums chose me and like my fishing, I simply had no choice. It's in my blood.
I guess going with my dad had a huge influence on what I fished for and I watched him like a hawk in my early years. That was mostly because he wouldn't let me have a rod! I match fished for Coventry school boys too and I loved the competition element but like my father, it was inevitable that larger fish were going to interest me sooner or later. I met some great anglers on the Packington Somers fishery in the eighties and I met my best friend Matthew Beddows there. He also loved targeting other species and coincidentally like me he rode a Raleigh Lizard everywhere to get to the best river swims. They weighed a tonne those bloody things and we used to call them the Green Demons. Matthew is a terrific angler, one of the very best and he taught me an awful lot on those small streams. They were halcyon days alright but moving to London opened new gateways and I had to learn a new approach on the Thames especially although my existing knowledge served me well on the Colne being very similar to the Warwickshire rivers I'd cut my teeth on. Most of my personal bests have all been caught from the Thames and I ended up having two records in one season; a 38.2 common and a perch of 4.12 on the last day of the season. Both records have since been broken but the carp is still the biggest fully tidal fish to my knowledge i.e below Richmond lock gate.
My carp fishing involves the most simple approach in the wildest environment I can find. They don't have to be whackers and if I lived back in the midlands they certainly wouldn't be but I am fortunate to live in the Colne Valley where there are still some big old carp to fish for in places that have been overlooked. I've never been a rig man but I believe in using an effective one combined with the skills and watercraft that I have learned since I was a lad. I have absolutely no I interest in circuit waters, I tried it once out of nostalgia and got severely burned. Whilst they have a place in carp fishing it won't be and never has been my thing. Although it is increasingly difficult to find wild carp fishing it is by no means impossible. Most people in modern society are lazy because technology has altered the way we do things and how we live. To this end, if you are prepared to go the extra mile, you can go and find a little oasis because most anglers will be fishing the nearest well known syndicate.
A carp has to fit a certain criteria to make me want to fish for it. Firstly it generally has to have been around for a while. If its older than me, even better. I just love the fact that you are angling for a creature that has survived in the wild through year upon year of British weather and is an obvious master of its environment. It will thrive on natural food so it will normally require a decent approach and a lot of effort. It doesn't necessarily have to be scaley and it doesn't necessarily have to be massive. All of these fish have my utmost respect. They have survived against all the odds on their own and not competing for food in an overstocked venue where the poor old carp clamber to eat everything that's thrown at them. To me they are the worthiest of adversaries and are often difficult to catch; that's the challenge and that's the carp I like to fish for.
Recently I spent a good few days chasing a lovely old Colnebrook carp that was a shade over twenty pounds. He was the biggest in the group and I nicked him once and missed a take over the space of a week before I snared him on flake over a gravel run. A lovely fish, a giant for his surroundings and I felt as happy as I would have done if I'd have caught one twice that size from a lake. It really is all relative in fishing.
The key factors for me is effort, a good bait and an understanding woman. Of course there is the years of experience too but it's always the same scenario, the more you put in the more you get out. Alongside that, it is maintaining a positive attitude. That is a big one, we all get overly worried and tend to over analyse what we are doing if success seems to be far away. The lake I'm fishing at the moment is full of lovely fish but there is a hierarchy of Goliath's. I have put my absolute all into it these past two seasons and still the three matriarchs evade me. 90% of the time I am alone which is lovely but makes you hop with frustration sometimes. However, you always have to believe in what you are doing which can be difficult. My best advice in those situations is to think how hard it would be to catch the bugger if you had your rods out in your back garden or secondly-have a break and get hammered with some good mates! In other words let your hair down and chill out for a bit. Seriously though, if you work hard, the rewards will eventually follow.
We all have weaknesses, we wouldn't be human otherwise but for me it's probably the mental battles I have with myself about swim selection. If there is a downside about fishing alone, it's the difficulty of building a picture about the routines of the carp I am fishing for. With only one pair of eyes on a water, it can slow the process down a fair bit. It's a small price to pay though really and one I'd never make a compromise for. On quiet waters you just have to put the time in. When I'm river fishing I can get itchy feet and swim hop a bit and I used to call Matt and I 'The Grass Is Always Greener Brothers' which is best explained in the forthcoming Sub Surface journal. I'd fish a great looking swim but then think, perhaps the next one is 'The one' and I'd be off again. Thankfully that doesn't happen as much these days and looking back it was the competitive nature of us both when we were younger, always trying to usurp each other.
As I said earlier, I'm a true believer in relativity in all angling and I can still be bowled over by a 4oz Gudgeon, a 1lb Dace or a 3lb Crucian.
My favourite style of angling is always the way I'm fishing at any given time, whether it's tip fishing for roach, barbel or chub or sitting behind a couple of well laid traps. It's always difficult to break the spell from carp fishing to river fishing but when that tip wrenches over, I'm in the zone again.
However, if I had to choose one method, it would be freelined bread. I drive Matt crazy as he always outfishes me with smaller surface baits but I just love doing it. Bread is also the most versatile bait there is. It works for any species and is incredibly diverse; floating, sinking, mashed, flake, crust... Brilliant and underused , as was the case on a park pool where I took the biggest fish on my first stalking session. I went on to catch a load of carp from there as they'd forgotten it was dangerous.
My angling inspirations are a bit rooted in the past really particularly as far as my dad and Matt Beddows are concerned. The Carp Strikes Back also had a huge effect on me and since joining the BCSG I have become very good friends with a lot of good anglers like Dave Gawthorn , Dave Ball, Robin Dix,Kevan Cook and Peter Springate. Pete was always someone that I respected immensely as a pioneering angler and we're very close now. We all inspire each other to get out there no matter what the time of year. In the last five years Gaz Fareham has also become a great friend and inspiration, especially now Sub Surface has enjoyed a healthy reaction but we talk about music and art too like all of my other mates. You can read about why my friends inspire me in more detail in SS2. No plug intended but its all in there. Secondly, where I'm fishing and what I'm fishing for is always an inspiration and that's why I always find it hard to get on with normal life at times. Marking school work or sitting under a canopy of wild Alder and Willow with a fish of a lifetime nearby?! No contest.
I have to say I'm not a huge fan of the word 'Edge' because it seems to be associated with everything that rattles me with carp fishing these days but I understand your point. I would say that I have advantages with the best being time. As a teacher I do get fantastic holidays but I still have to be careful. I am now in charge of a big Art and Design department where I have to manage 10 staff so I now have to also manage myself!
Secondly I live in the Colne Valley which speaks for itself. We always say "you can only catch what's swimming in front of you." Luckily for me, that's quite a choice whether I'm on a river or a wild old pit.
Thirdly I have an amazing wife who doesn't understand the passion I have for living with insects and wild animals for days on end, let alone trying to catch one. She does however understand me and therefore always let's me pursue my obsessions. I'm a true believer in balance though and going on weekend breaks throughout the year goes a long way to showing my love and appreciation for her.
The future is something that I have always steered well clear of, always living for the day and trying not to dwell on getting older. It drives Joss nuts! Like most women, she loves to plan things but I'm useless at it. If I had to answer the question though it would be to enjoy more of the same. I'm happy with my life, my fishing and with my friends. I guess fatherhood is where I see my next adventure coming but in a fishing sense I hope to see an immediate decline in angling forums and more carp anglers fishing for other species-they're missing out!