LOCKDOWN LOW-DOWN – PAUL MALLINSON
1) If your life depended on somebody catching a carp for you, who would you pick and why?
There have been several occasions when I have fished alongside anglers who, without appearing to do much different to others around them, just seem to have a knack for catching carp. He won’t thank me for saying it, but a lad called Craig Sharp from up north was one. The first time I met him, he had six carp in an afternoon from a tricky days-only venue while his mate and myself, who were set up nearby in adjacent pegs, caught nothing (and I had picked my swim before he settled into his!)
On another occasion, we were both fishing Fen Drayton in Cambridgeshire. I was daunted by the size of the lake, the low stock and everything else. It was a huge step up in difficulty compared to where I had fished previously. That trip was Craig’s first night on the lake and, true to form, the following morning he had one – it was that easy! He just turned up and caught one like it was any other lake.
If we are talking about who you would pick out of anyone, though, it would have to be one of the match-angling lads, someone like Mark Bartlett. With the top lads, their ability to turn up on a wide variety of venues, not be able to choose where they fish and then consistently qualify for finals shows they have an incredible combined work ethic and ability to catch carp when faced with any set of circumstances. It’s not my bag, as I would never choose to fish a match, to be honest, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the skill involved.
2) If you could change one thing about carp fishing, what would it be?
That’s a tricky one. It would be easy to say something along the lines of less anglers or banning this or that, but I try to live by the philosophy of each to their own and let other people get on with their business while I concentrate on my own. I haven’t always been that laid back, though; I used to be pretty opinionated and vocal, getting myself into many debates, shall we say!
There’s lots of negativity out there, especially on social media, but you can literally switch social media off, unfollow the pages or people that have a negative impact on you and just keep the good bits, and there is definitely a good side to social media as well; Instagram certainly seems to have a lot less negativity associated with it.
So, if I could change one thing, I would have some new legislation introduced whereby all non-privately owned waterways, whether they be National Trust, RSPB, nature reserves, big reservoirs owned by water boards, park lakes, rivers running through farmland and so on, have to have permissible fishing on them by law. Open up all these venues to the public, use license fees to fund access arrangements with the land owners adjacent to them and stock them with whatever is deemed suitable. How great would that be? So much more water so we could all spread out a bit more!
3) What’s your biggest regret in carp fishing?
Funnily enough, I recently posted on my Instagram about a carp that used to live in Hemsworth Water Park in West Yorkshire. It was an amazing fish, a nice scaly broken linear. The lake was and still is a mad place; a nice family park, but busy as hell and in a pretty deprived area, a big former coal-mining town. You wouldn’t have given the lake a second look, even as an avid angler, as it was full of swimmers, who were allowed, and encouraged even, off a man-made beach. Plus, there were pedalos and even a big pub right on the banks! There were pretty much no features and barely a strand of weed, not an environment in which you would think a carp would flourish. Yet this old linear in there grew to an amazing size, mid-thirties at the time I was in and around the area, which is a huge carp for up north, especially back in the mid-noughties. I fished there a little bit and caught one carp, a low twenty. On one occasion I think I came close, but I never really put any effort into it, thinking it would always be there, but it’s long gone now, sadly. I’d have loved to have had that one in my album.
4) What’s your idea of an angling paradise and what’s the closest you’ve come to fishing one?
A big lake, at least 30 acres, with a stock of around one or two fish per acre, enough to keep you interested but not so little to make it an absolute ball-breaker. It would have to be gravel pit, as they always seem to be the most interesting lakes, and the water would be crystal clear. I would want it to have a bit of everything: long-range fishing, stalking, sheltered bays, big windswept sections, snags, deep water and shallow areas. It would have a variety of carp from cricket-bat commons to long, lean linears, deep-bodied Italian-strain mirrors and everything in between, with the obligatory ‘Big Common’. It would have one single, amazing-looking mirror as the cherry on top, a clear and obvious fish to target as it were, one that really lit my fire. There would be a syndicate of like-minded anglers, all working lads with families on limited time, and we would all get on, celebrating each other’s successes, with no bitching or animosity! Oh, and it would have a stretch of chalk stream on the ticket with big roach, dace, chub, perch and pike, somewhere to go in the winter.
Barring the bit about the adjacent chalk stream, the lake I’ve described pretty much exists, and I have fished it, unfortunately only on guest sessions up to now, though. Fingers crossed I get my chance to have a proper go one day!
5) If you could bottle one emotion you’ve felt whilst carp fishing and keep it with you forever, what would that be?
Easy! It would be the feeling when I realised I had caught the Big Common from the ‘Pub Pit’. I can’t even tell you what that feeling was, as it was a complete mix of emotions. I landed her in the dark, just before daybreak, in the moonlight, and as she went over the net cord I saw the length of the back of the fish and thought it looked a good one. I grabbed the head torch and started to investigate what was in my net and as the realisation set in, it all just felt like a daydream; I genuinely thought I might wake up and it would all be gone.
It had been, all told, about five years in the making catching that fish. At times I thought it might never happen, as the lake is the most challenging I’ve fished, with a stock of around 12-15 carp and other obstacles to overcome as well, such as only being able to fish half the bank space and things like that. A single fish has never meant so much to me, before or since, and I don’t think it ever will again. The backstory behind the carp and everything that went with it just meant so much.
6) Have you ever experienced an epiphany-like moment when something just clicked and your results escalated as a consequence?
Not really. For me, it’s always been little things that have built up along the way, little bits of a jigsaw slowly building into place making the overall carp-fishing picture a bit clearer. It’s a jigsaw that none of us will ever finish, though. No one will ever know everything and that’s part of the joy of it for me. There is always a new challenge and something different to learn.
7) What is the most significant, thought-provoking thing you’ve ever seen whilst watching carp and how did it affect your angling?
This kind of carries on from what I said before; it’s all about the little things and piecing them together. There is one important lesson that springs to mind, however. On the Pub Pit, there was a silty little bay or corner which was lined with overhanging trees. The carp loved to spend the afternoons there as it was south-facing and a real sun trap. The bottom was deep silt from years and years of accumulated leaf litter, except for one little hard, polished, clean gravel spot. It was relatively easy to get the carp grubbing about and feeding in the silt, so I fished for them in the soft stuff. I noticed they kind of shuffled through it with their noses and mouths in constant contact with the bottom. I watched one, a really lovely mirror called Little Scaly, move slowly towards my maize hookbait, but as it did so, it pushed a little bow wave of leaves, twigs and other detritus along, which enveloped the maize. In turn, this then meant that, even though it was trying to, it couldn’t suck up my hookbait.
Over the course of a few trips I tried to hook a carp out that bay. They always hung around and snuffled about in the silt. I tried all sorts of different rigs, and eventually did hook one, but then lost it, which was a real blow.
What that taught me was, although carp wouldn’t ordinarily look to feed on a clean hard bottom, as it’s not where natural food is, they are so much easier to hook there. If you can get them to pick up a bait on a nice clean, hard bottom, you know your rig is presented well, and as such it will work efficiently. You might get fewer chances and you might hook fewer carp, but you will land a lot more of what you hook. A nice clean bottom, a hard drop on the cast, is important because it tips the odds in your favour, but not necessarily because it’s where the carp are likely to feed.
I’ve no doubt that the reason I lost the one I eventually did hook was because I never hooked it properly, which in turn was because I was fishing in the silt. Presenting your hookbait well, which allows your chosen rig to work well, is absolutely key. Do that and you will hardly lose any fish.
8) Is there a product on the market that you initially dismissed as a gimmick, only to change your mind over time? If so, what was it and why did you change your mind?
I’d probably have to say bait boats. As I’ve mentioned, I used to be pretty opinionated and I would never have used a bait boat – wouldn’t have dreamt of it! As I got older and mellowed, though, I could see how one would be of benefit in my fishing, especially when one of the companies brought out a reasonably priced one with a depth finder on it, so I made the investment and it’s been a real boost to my angling.
If I had 100 nights a year at my disposal, then I probably wouldn’t use one, equally if I was fishing a lake heavily enough stocked, as the fish tend to cope better with casting and general angling pressure on those sort of lakes. I’ve got to be realistic. I fish between 25 and 30 nights a year on a good year, usually on low-stock venues. I need to be clinical when I am at the lake and not waste any chances. With the boat, if I turn up and fish are showing in a certain area and I don’t know the lake very well, or I’m not sure exactly where a spot is, or how much the weed has grown up, I can use the boat to find a bar, or plateau or whatever feature the fish are showing over, and quietly drop a rig in amongst them. The sonar will show me if it’s weedy as well, helping me make a rig choice. I don’t use the boat all the time, far from it, but if I need to, I won’t hesitate. After all, if they’re good enough to use to catch the Parrot from Wasing, or the Burghfield Common, then they’re good enough for me as well.
9) What’s the most inspirational piece of carp-fishing literature you’ve ever read and why?
For me, it has to be In Pursuit of the Largest by Terry Hearn. The style of writing, the type of fishing, the fish, it was just so inspiring. I wasn’t a carp angler when I read it, but I was after. That book was literally my inspiration. The challenge of bounty hunting, in pursuit of one single carp, lit something in me that has never gone out.
10) If you were to describe your perfect carp, what would it look like?
The best thing about carp is how different and individual the fish can be. That said, I’m a sucker for a long scaly male carp, a really dark one. The best-looking carp I’ve ever seen has to be the Client from Fen Drayton, an incredible creature and as close to perfection as I’ve ever seen.