Jon Mac: Big Carp and a Lifelong Obsession

Friday 23rd June 2017, 10:06AM Feature

Why do you target big carp?

Targeting big fish for myself, I mean yeah of course, the sight of a big fish in your landing net and holding it up for the pictures is obviously something to behold, but it’s not just the size of a big carp that attracts me to big fish, there’s something sort of majestic and impressive about a fish that has grown to that size, it almost beggar’s belief that fish are that big. I know in today’s modern era there are so many big fish about and everyone’s a ‘big-fish angler’ and all the rest of it but years ago it was a bit more taboo, where as today it’s much more mainstream. To see a big fish back then in the magazine’s was something special to admire and it was inspirational reading the stories of legends like Pete Springate and Richie Macdonald. It’s not just the size of them, they’re elusive creatures, or at least they were when I started getting into that type of thing. Outwitting something that is the biggest in the lake gives me a thrill, it’s not just catching a big carp, it’s difficult to describe really. It was a natural progression, however, there was always a side of me that was fascinated with the uncatchable. The Myth. The mythical creature within the lake. I’ve said this many times previously, but even when I was a little kid my granddad used to have a garden pond and we used to clear it, drain it down and remove the lilies’ from their baskets and such like and there was always two tench in the pond, much bigger than the goldfish. You never would see them until it was drained, but they were always there. We’d fill it back up, return the lillies and goldfish and for a few days, despite the water being clear, the tench would vanish the second they were back in the pond. That was in my mind, a fascination and an addiction to look into the water and try and see these two tench.

Jon's first forray into big-carp, Larkfield's Brute in Kent at 30lb.

Later on in life I got into fishing in a bigger way and carp fishing came quite quickly for me, skipping the whole match fishing and pleasure angling bit really and a friend of mine who was also into fishing, a good angler who I’d not seen for a couple of years, a great all round specimen angler in fact, really got my mind thinking about elusive, big fish. I was catching single figure carp and really enjoying my fishing but there was this lake that he used to fish for perch and pike in Kent and I went to see him once and asked about resident carp. He simply said there are, but only a very small amount of carp anglers, much older, serious, dedicated anglers who you wouldn’t approach and ask about their fishing targeted them. The door would be shut in your face if you did ask back then, but that got me thinking where they were, at 90 feet there was a lot of water, and it held a few thirties. An inspiring, emotional thing that grabbed me that day saw me targeting the carp there. I never walked up to anglers and asked blazing questions but just got in with it, worked at my fishing and worked at what I was doing, learning from my mistakes as I went and not looking desperate and clinging onto others for advice and help. I was quite prepared to make my own mistakes and learn, and it saw me fish there for three years, the first 12 months without a bite, which for a novice was hard, and it’s not something I’d recommend to anyone new to the sport. I just had it in me naturally and the style of big fish angling just suited me from a very early age, the desire and wanting it so bad.

What was your first target fish?

I spent three years on that first water, but I just wanted to catch carp there. After that lake I went to a club water in Kent with a good head of twenties. From time to time I’d been visiting these lakes catching carp to eight or nine pound. I naturally progressed and used the clubs book to find double figure carp when I finished on the 90-acre lake I first targeted, and before long, with carp to 18lb to my name, I made the move to the lake with lots of twenties. A friend showed me lots of pictures and I spent three years catching from there, I remember my first twenty pounder well, but it wasn’t until Larkfield that I had a true target fish. I’d seen all of the pictures of the famous leather that used to reside in the Railway and I was always into the challenge, I like it when it’s up against me and these fish seemed beyond my grasp, another thing that fuelled my desire, something that I thrive off, achieving the unachieveable. Raising the bar. If someone lays down a gauntlet in front of me I will pick it up, and certain waters, lakes and carp were sometimes, I felt, beyond me. Before I ventured to the Railway I fished Larkfield and there were numerous thirties in there, another step up in my angling, never had I fished a water with fish of that size before.

Jon Mac with The Royal Forty – an iconic park lake target in Jon's album.

Larkfield was a step beyond me like most things in my carp fishing and many well-known Kent carp anglers have fished the history water before me and again I remember going on there and catching numerous fish. Scaley was in there, I’d seen the pictures in carp talk and heard the whispers from those who’d caught it and I really wanted to catch it. Despite it being a regular to the bank it took me a long time to catch it, probably around three years again. The particular session that I caught Scaley I banked three thirties, a fish called the Brute at 30lb 6oz, Scaley at 31lb or 33lb, I can’t actually remember exactly but it was such a phenomenal fish and was down in weight at the time. It was irrelevant as I’d caught my first target, it was never about the weight but the challenge of catching that one fish. I also caught Small Tail at 36lb 4oz that session, an absolutely massive carp in my view at the time. And that was that I guess, I’d have to say Scaley was my first proper target fish. There was another side to fishing that I hadn’t quite yet felt within myself, and that was an addiction towards a fish that you woyuld eat, sleep, breathe that fish every single night that you weren’t at the lake. Where was it, what was it doing? That came from one close season looking on the Railway Lake where the leather lived, next door to Larky. My friend Ronan caught it from a spot at the start of the season and the lake was often pre-baited through the closed season. It was a deep, clear water with edge spots that you could watch thirty pounders come in and feed on every single day. One such occasion I saw the leather and it blew my mind. I’d seen the 36lber from Larky and I just knew this fish was over 40lb, it had to be.

Later that year I started to have a little dabble on there and eventually switched completely to the railway, spending three years again on there and caught quite a few fish, but finally had the Leather, and in my opinion, at the time it was the best leather in the country. There were various anglers around the country that regarded Heather from Car Park as the best leather in the country, and some of these fish have a scale or two but for arguments sake we’ll just call them leathers. These two carp were the best two leather’s in the country and I’d caught the Railway Leather at 39lb 6oz, but at the time I kind of had aspirations to go on and fish some of these waters, the Railway Lake was steeped in history having been home to some great anglers in the past, but there was one thing on my mind about these big fish, the British record at the time was Mary, another league beyond anything I’d ever felt or experienced, I sort of knew that I was ready. Dave Lane’s book An Obsession with Carp, the whole second part of that book was on Wraysbury and it was an inspirational book that changed my carp fishing for the rest of my life. The way he writes, I flet, was just how I approached my fishing, his mentality, I could relate to everything he wrote, how he went about his business, his fishing and it was so inspirational that I knew I had to go there even though I had plans to catch Heather, they were put on the back-burner, because, well, Wraysbury, what else mattered.

I felt possibly knowing that Car Park was the ultimate difficult lake that I may even head to north lake first in the hunt for Bazil to build myself up in readiness for Car Park but I was always heading to Wraysbury first.

So what was it that made you target those particular fish?

Back then I had to prioritise which fish meant the most to me. I thought to myself, which carp, if I could choose the ultimate carp in the land, would I like to catch – and it was Mary. That is the reason Heather and Bazil got put to the side and the record that Terry held at the time I think. I had to choose and Mary just got me, it was something I thought I could never eclipse, the ultimate challenge. 120 acres, boat work, 25 to 30 resident fish. I was ill-prepared when I started on the 1st of November but I was just so keen to get on there and fish, I’ve always loved my cold water fishing and winter has never phased me. I was quite prepared to just jump on in winter and crack on with no prior knowledge after reading Dave’s book.

Mallin's from Wraysbury – prayers answered.

There were two very well-prepared, top anglers on Wraysbury and I knew I had to up my game, get a boat, life jacket, battery’s and learn to load the boat quickly and safely. Plotting up and being mobile was key. I learnt a lot about the topography of the lake and it was such a kind lake to me. I was gifted with every carp that I wanted to catch. The first fish I saw on the bank was Mary. I saw a fish jump out from the Rocky Barge one afternoon just before dark and the wind was pushing in. In the distance the next morning I saw one wallop out, no mistake, it was Mary. The biggest thing you’ve ever seen. I had to go home that day, packed up and left, sorry I’m getting massively side-tracked from the question here, but I told a guy and he went in there and I arrived again on the Monday, by Tuesday morning he had it.

I went round and it was obviously my dream fish there in his arms. There was no feeling what so ever of envy, jealousy, bitterness, nothing. Just pure admiration for the creature on the bank and I was delighted I was there to see it. So, so delighted. I eventually caught quite a few fish in there and the following year Mary passed away in August. Talking of natural progression, we’d meet anglers in the Perseverance. Anglers from The Mere would drink in there and it was a taboo, they’d never speak about their fish, and we’d never ask about their fish. It’s different now, people want to know too much, ask too many questions and get it there and then. No one’s prepared to sit and wait these days for information. I never once asked about the lake, or the fish, and eventually it all came good.

The biggest carp in the UK at the time, Two Tone from Conningbrook.

Anyway, Mary died and I’d caught all of the fish I wanted from Wraysbury, The Pug, Mary’s Mate, Cluster at a massive 48lb and it was just Mallins remaining – it was quite elusive. It hadn’t been out for 16 months and towards the end of the season, March 14th, I’d pulled away from Wraysbury and began on Sutton, but this particular time I’d set my alarm to get to the Sutton draw at 3.50am and for whatever reason overslept. It was March 11th and I was driving to the motorway, late, and I thought, I wander if I go to Wraysbury can I catch Mallins. I circled a roundabout above the motorway about six times, Sutton left, Wraysbury right. I thought whether I had it in me, and next thing I knew I hit the right turn. Have I got it in me? I’m the one that rises to the challenge, if you put a gauntlet in front of me I’m picking it up. I’m going right. Totally up for it, fortunately my boat was still there, it was my last chance to catch Mallins as I arrived at the break of dawn. I phoned a mate after seeing his van and headed to Rocky Barge for a brew. Boating over where I knew there were fish two months ago, I felt they’d been there the entire two months between my last visit – I think there was a natural spring in the water there, a current, or bit of warmth or something that held the fish. As I looked over there was a huge set of rings, much too big to be any of the birds. I stopped the boat, sat and bang, this brown carp stuck its head out in exactly the same spot. I knew the shape of that fish, the shape of its face, and I knew the colour. That fish was Mallins. I rang my mate and told him I wouldn’t be coming for a cup of tea. I rigged up a rod, knew exactly where to lower the rig, handful of hemp and a few chopped baits and back to land I went.

I know I’m going right into one here, sorry, but at half three I went out in the boat and saw a mirror which I didn’t think was Mallins so I left it there and put my other two rods out well away from the area. I sat down at nightfall and that year previously or a couple of years prior, my friend Ben that got me into the mystery of big fish chasing had passed away. I used to say a prayer to him and ask him for a certain fish, and it happened. I asked him if I could catch Mary’s Mate next, it happened, the same for Cluster. So I did it again, looking up to the sky, Ben, if you’re here, still, now, I won’t ever ask you again, but please, in the morning, let me catch Mallins. 7.20am, absolute screamer, jumped in the boat, epic battle, netted the fish, oh my god. It was Mallins. I had this realisation out in the lake that it was over. The spot that I landed that fish from was the exact same spot that I ended up in after another epic battle with my first Wraysbury carp, it was a weird thing, a magnificent end to my time on there, the whole full circle, and that was that, Mallins at 42lb 6oz ended my campaign on Wraysbury.

The target from The Essex Manor.

Through the long campaigns for target fish, what keeps you motivated?

There’s always something to keep you motivated. After Wraysbury the next challenge was to catch the other leather, Heather from Car Park. I knew people that had caught the Railway Leather and tried to land Heather, and I knew people that had caught Heather and headed to the railway for that leather, but nobody had done both. That itself is all the motivation I needed, the first person to catch what was believed to be the best two leathers in the country, the challenge once more was the motivation as it always was. Nobody had ever caught both and as it panned out nobody but me did catch both. Bazil had died in North lake so I had to do it. There’s only one person that could judge the best fish between Heather The Leather and The Railway Leather, and that was the person who caught both. I caught Heather too, and yes it’s a historic fish, but for me personally, my favourite of the two was the Railway Leather.

Moving forwards, even to this day, things that motivated me, again there was my friend that I met in the Perseverance that had caught the Black Mirror. He was fishing with me when I caught Heather and he said to me that he knew I had to go to the Mere now and go for the Black Mirror. This was the Mere, this was another challenge, you had to hide, you weren’t meant to be there, you had to move at night. Forget the modern stories of the Mere, before the fish in recent years passed away people were so blazon with their approach there, no care for the way that it used to be done. All of that was out the window but when I fished it it was still the golden era and we were all invited. We as anglers would never dare step foot on that lake uninvited out of respect for those that were fishing there. Outside my own comfort zone, pushing the boundaries, fishing for targets isn’t just about big fish, I like the next step, pushing myself to different aspects of fishing different lakes.

My time on the busier waters like the Essex Manor were a different kind of challenge when I went to those, not the challenge and difficulty of catching the fish, but learning how to fish a busy, pressured water was a big challenge to me when I went on there. It was always about breaking my own boundaries. I braced up The Annie at 59lb with the Northern at 47lb one morning, an incredible moment in my angling. The Mother was all about fishing for a carp that I’d seen being held by Ed Betteridge, and I used to keep that picture and look at it all the time, wanting it so badly. That capture was always about the looks of the fish alone; I’d heard the stories of good friend Jamie Clossick fishing there and the gin clear, deep water of the clay pit was something totally different. I knew how difficult that fish was to catch and if I look back on all of my fishing three years is a good gauge to catch a fish. I expected maybe four or five years to catch that fish, and for some strange reason on my first session after a number of days I saw a fish show before I left. I very nearly went home but chose to stay in case I learnt something and caught a 10lb common the next day, probably the one I saw jump.

I returned for 72 hours went home for 24 hours and deciding to fish the lake in a different way, baiting heavily before I left. I did the first night after the break and caught Scaly at 40lb+ and was told that the Mother usually follows Scaly in the same session, the next day, bang, caught the Mother.

The next challenge was the then current record, Two Tone from Conningbrook, the biggest fish in the country. Mary was taken away from me and just two months into starting at Conningbrook Two Tone was banked. I felt I should fish elsewhere and starting a new water for a week I wondered what the hell I was doing and returned to Conningbrook straight away. Three or four sessions in and I caught Two Tone at 64lb 5oz and I had this feeling that I was going back to my homeland, back to Kent, my manor. I had my name on that fish.

Scaley from Elstow, it was only a matter of time before The Mother.

What are your thought processes when building up a picture of a target fishes behaviour?

All of these big fish that I’ve ever targeted I have asked previous captors about moon phase, whether it’s a boilie fish, whether it eats nuts, does it get caught in deep water or a certain depth, the list goes on. Somebody told me Two Tone likes gravel at nine foot, which sounds bizarre, but I found a spot I’d never seen anyone fish that was nine foot, and gravelly. The exact spot I caught it from. I was also told it likes a new moon, and in the tackle shop two weeks before the capture someone told me I’d have Two Tone that evening on the full moon, I of course said no it’ll be two weeks on the new moon, the exact day I went on to catch it.

Learning what habits fish have definitely helps you catch your targets quicker because you can narrow the variables down. The Black Mirror liked a new moon and a south-easterly, often caught in September and I caught that fish from the swim I knew I would catch it from, on the new moon, but in August – I took a liberty and caught it early.

The big common from Vinnetrow at 42lb 12oz.

One particular fish that strikes in mind is the Half Lin from Vinnetrow. That fish liked a full moon. I enjoyed fishing the lake and made a lot of friends in the area, and I knew Owen Pue who was the guy that everyone looked up to down there, a bailiff and well known angler over the years. I had it in mind to catch the Half Lin and wasn’t too hurried about it as there were some stunning forties in there too. I’d walk around the lake having not caught the night before and you’d literally see a milky cloud where they stirred the bottom up. I did a couple of nights, caught a fish and didn’t go back for a month or two, went back, caught a couple more, went off again, came back a few weeks later and eventually in July I planned to be down there for the full moon. I had six or seven bites in this session and I could see them lumping out clearly, which fish they were too. Scaly and the Half Lin would always swim round together, rarely leaving each others side. I caught Scaly previously and knew I was probably close then, but the Half Lin will often twig it and not hang around. I was feeding the swim constantly, ten baits every hour constantly to avoid the seagulls. Three days later and I’d caught plenty of fish including Scaly again, but the bite eventually came, the fight was in full swing and I knew what fish it was. It came all the way in through the weed into the margins and as it disappeared off to the right I tried to mind the other lines, and I shouldn’t have because the fish ditched the hook. I was worrying about stuff that hadn’t yet happened and lost the fish. I knew what had happened. That was the end of it, no more bites. I packed up and went home. I returned on the August full moon and caught the big original common at 42lb 12oz, and no sooner had I photographed it was I racing round to the opposite bank where a fish showed, much to everyone’s amazement as I’d literally just caught.

In my heart of hearts I knew what fish it was, I didn’t say that to them at the time but just got on with it, despite them thinking I was mad as I played it down. The next day, over a kilo of boilie and under the full moon I had it, a month after what I’m sure was me losing it. They definitely have habits and it often revolves around bait, topography and weather or moon phases, I’ve witnessed it time and time again in my angling.

Have you got any future aims or targets in your angling?

There are fish out there that I’d like to catch but `I can’t get on the waters. I know the British record has just been beaten by a 70 pounder, whether or not that will take the record I don’t know, I think there’s a claim going in for it but I don’t want to talk about it. The Parrot is a fish at Wasing that I’d like to go for, and I did have my name on the list for quite a few years, but when the list got changed over we had to fill in a form and send it off, but I never did, so now my name’s not on the list even though I keep getting emails from them which is such a wind up.

Future things that I want to do, well, I’m currently fishing a no publicity water with some really nice carp in it, it’s another challenge, all long-range stuff which I’ve not done much of. Lots of long, accurate markering and spodding, which is a new challenge for me, something completely different to what Ive ever done before, which sounds mad, but I’ve never had to do this type of fishing at my maximum range of 140 yards or so. I always want to be ten yards further, so that’s probably my next aim, aspiration and gauntlet, to get ten yards further and catch a carp at 150 yards.


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