Why do you target big carp?
Targeting big fish kind of just happened with my progression in angling really, you just move along from when you start and you want to keep increasing the size of your captures. Whenever you catch a personal best of a species you want to up it each time, your first double, then onto your first twenty and thirty and so on with carp. Soon you’ll be targeting forty pound monsters if you’re successful in your pursuits and I’ve slowly upped the size of carp I target over the years to get the next buzz.
Is targeting big carp still as prominent for you today?
I would say so yes because in some of my big-fish angling, like the Burghfield common for example, some can say it holds you back. I went on to fish for five years before being one of its captors and it can appear that you’re missing valuable time fishing for other targets while friends are catching a lot of big fish. It always feels like you’re getting left behind sitting it out for the one big fish but certain fish just keep you going back and you won’t give up until you catch them. That buzz is exactly the same for me today, I don’t give up until I’ve caught the fish I want. Sometimes that might mean you have to take a break from the water and go back, change is as good as rest but I will always return. This year I’ve found that the night before I head to the lake I struggle to sleep and it just shows how special hunting these big target fish is to me. It’s annoying at the time because you know you need a few hours sleep for the next day but it is what it is, pure excitement, it shows I still have a buzz for it and it’s not a chore.
Have you always targeted large carp or do you look for other species too?
I’ve fished for other species before I was ever a carp angler and back then I would target tench back in the days when a 7lb tench was a big fish, a 10lb tench was a dream fish. Again I progressed into carp fishing from my days as a tench angler and I’ve fished for big perch before too, 3lb+ stripeys and also big pike at times. I never really did very well with the large pike though, in fact my biggest pike still to this day wasn’t caught by design, I actually caught it while I was carp fishing but such is life. I’d definitely say I’ve targeted other species yes and I think I will continue to as well, a big roach would be nice. The build up, the preparation and everything about it excites me, even when you’re at home tying rigs up, the buzz to get back and driving to a lake and you can’t get there quick enough, screaming at the car in front and wondering if you’ll get back on one of your baited spots or whether the place will be stitched up. You know the timing and weather are right for it to kick off – it’s just what the angler in me lives for I think. You can’t waste a minute, I just love that buzz, it’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.
What was your first target fish?
I’d say my first major target was a thirty pounder out the Match Lake at Yateley, a fish known as Drop Scale. It wasn’t regularly caught and put in maybe one appearance a year, so it became a bit of an obsession to me. I had to catch a thirty from the Match lake before I moved on, and with only two in the lake I liken it to catching a forty or fifty out of one of today’s lakes. I spent my first season fishing it hard, just after the close season came to an end I was on there a lot from July right through til October when I went on to catch Drop Scale. I did carry on fishing it until it shut up shop around December time with a few little winter sessions after that. I really enjoyed that chase and it seemed impossible at the time but it came good in the end.
What do you look for in a carp that you target?
Mainly the looks of them, I like a good looking fish. I’m not so interested in it having to be a big fish, preferably with a bit of history to it as well. I’m not trying to set any records or catch the most big-fish or anything I just sort of cherry pick my own photo album really. If you were to ask me what the best looking capture is that resides in my photo album, I’d probably have to say something like Bazil from Yateley North lake.
Bazil from Yateley North lake, pictured here with Nigel at 46lb 10oz and probably one of the most iconic fish that ever swam.
How do you keep motivated when pursuing one fish?
Again, similarly to what I said earlier really, just to enjoy everything about the chase, the preparation, the endless hours watching the water and even the late, cold nights where it seems pointless. I tend to fish quite local as I’m lucky to live in a good big-fish area in the Thames Valley so I frequently walk the lakes I’m fishing – I almost beat myself up if I miss a day. I always try and make use of any spare time, whether it’s preparing gear, getting things ready, organising bait and just keep going really, don’t doubt myself would be a good bit of advice. Confidence is a major thing when angling in this way, confident in your bait, your rigs. If you speak to any big fish angler they use very few different rigs, tending to stick to the same ones they have faith in. It’s something you can almost exclude in the chase because you know which rig of the few you’ll be using for each situation – one less thing to worry about. You want to find where the fish wants to live and be at certain times of year more than chopping and changing your rigs.
A 39lb common caught on the NS Rig (No Sh*t Rig), a two piece component rig that Nigel developed for lowering in by hand.
Going back to the taking a break part I mentioned earlier, I did so on Richmond Park in the late nineties, it became quite big news and a few of the lads from Yateley began to fish for it. Terry, Richie Curtis and Richie McDonald had all gone over there and caught it, all of them fairly quickly for the time they spent there but you don’t get to hear about the preparation and time they spent beforehand either. Because that fish had become big news when I was on there I ended up being caught in a bit of a gold rush for that fish, it was a bit of a struggle for me so I gave it a couple of summers and as change happens in life, with it not being local to me and working full time I couldn’t compete with the lads on there at the time. When you realise that after struggling through for a couple of seasons, even though I caught a few of them in the second summer, I sort of took a back seat then. My mate Lewis caught the one we were both fishing for and what with all the algae blooms and pressure the fish began to look a bit rough so I took a break to fish The Causeway and Burghfield but it always nagged in my head to get back, which I did.
Some five or six years later I did return and eventually catch The Royal Forty after spending some peaceful time on The Causeway which I needed for my then ‘weekend-only’ fishing, so it became more me catching the Richmond fish in my own time really. A lot of planning and change of tack accounted for the fish but I also enjoyed my time on the lakes between. I’ve fished Pingewood in Reading for a couple of seasons but never managed to catch The Brute so that’s a fish I will eventually go back for. Looking back now I can see I went about it the wrong way and although I caught well, I don’t honestly think I was fishing the way I needed to be to bank that special one. I started catching the same fish again in the second season fishing chod rigs over food baits so the method worked but in hindsight since backing off from there I’ve realised that it wasn’t the way to catch that fish so it is something I will definitely go back for in the future.
Nigel holding The Royal Forty aloft for the camera, a fish he returned for after several years away from the lake.
The between time at the Causeway was incredibly quiet and I really needed that at the time. Driving over every evening after work to bait up and fishing the weekends I had the lake almost to myself which was great. Because I got that campaign done and dusted in one summer I moved straight onto Burghfield at the time. With the hype of the Sonning Fish and Jim Shelley banking a 48lb linear from Fen Drayton the Burghfield fish wasn’t looked at too closely because it was a low forty then. I got stuck straight into that and caught well straight away, I never imagined I’d get myself wrapped into a five-year thing but I loved every minute of it – I still miss fishing there to this day.
What are your though processes when building up a picture of a target fishes behaviour?
I like to try and find out as much about the fish as possible, like where it gets caught at certain times of year. Obviously the key thing is to try and see it in the water, that’s a massive thing and you can learn a lot form that. Lakes like the Road Lake are small waters with big fish in them so you can watch them each day and build up their pattern and time where they’re going to be around the lake. It becomes important to pick your times when to bait up depending on their location and such like. Some fish do have their patterns and behaviours, you’ve probably heard of the Pingewood shuffle before, how certain fish in there used to show, almost shuffling along the surface nearly 10 yards at a time and I’m certain The Brute was one of them. They don’t do it so much these days but it was a heck of a sight.
Road lakes Dink at 41lb+ caught in mid-July after going flat out for it all season, 48-hours on 48-hours off, testament to Nigel's dedication.
Other things occur like certain fish like to feed on shallower spots, the Burghfield common being one of them, it does seem to like a shallower area to feed on. You have to take notice of things like that and ensure that you work them out, you’ve got yourself inside the fishes’ head really which is hard because it’s man against fish, a wild creature.
Nigel Sharp with the infamous Burghfield Common, a fish he chased for many years, even riding a bicycle between the two locations he often located the resident – punctures were a very real problem during those times.
Do you have any rules or mantra’s that you stick by for each time you target a carp?
Normally I would say start early in the year. I like to try and get out before the crowds come out. You’ll notice the light levels change in early spring and I like to be out there fishing by then, but I’ll also start walking a lake around Christmas time and get ahead of the game for when spring does arrive. Quite often you can get to look around, have a lead around and map the lake, do your homework before the banks get busier. You rarely see anyone this time of year and you can just get on with your research. January and February are great months for me, a lot of anglers don’t come out until they hear of a fish or two coming out. That’s probably a golden rule for me, and I also try not to take any of the advice on board. I won’t pay much attention to, “you’ve got to get on zigs” and such like as I will go in with what I know. While everyone’s on the favoured method you can go in and start catching by playing to your strengths.
Charlie's Mate at 41lb 6oz – my first 40lb+ common caught on March 1st after fishing flat out for her all winter.
What future targets and aims do you have?
I need to tidy up a few loose ends really, The Brute at Pingewood being one of them and hopefully that’ll survive until the time’s right again. It’s having a bad time of it of late, lost a bit of weight and allegedly picked up some damage. A couple of oxygen crashes have occurred too but then some fish just keep on going don’t they no matter what, carp are hardy creatures at the end of the day. I think I just want to keep enjoying it, a few years ago I thought the big carp scene was coming to a bit of an end for me but recently it seems that there are more and more waters cropping up and it’s almost a job to think of which one I’d like to start on next. You never know though, it’s a fine line between moving on and sitting there for another couple of years on the same water really. I’ve got a couple of others in mind, a local lake that I’ve been fishing this year has another big fish in there that I’d like to catch so there’s plenty to go at for a few years at least.
Nigel with Heather from Car Park lake at over 45lb...