Many thanks to Matt for asking me to write this new series. Having never written for Total Carp before I’ll start by introducing myself. I’ve been carp fishing since 1980 and I’m very fortunate to have made a living from the sport since I first worked in a tackle shop in the late 1980s. I’ve had a few jobs within the trade, most notably as a sponsored angler for over 30 years. I now work full-time for Avid Carp and DNA Baits, fishing all over the place and making films mostly for YouTube.

To date, I’ve caught carp from over 400 different waters, ranging from small duck ponds in the UK to ocean sized reservoirs overseas. I’ve turned my hand to all sorts of carp fishing, including matches (winning a few, losing a few), busy day-ticket waters, wild waters, blanking lots and catching plenty of carp of all sizes. Not that it matters, as I don’t measure success by size; my current personal best carp is Eric’s Common from Rainbow Lake in France weighing 86lb 8oz, here in the UK it’s the mighty Butthead at 64lb from Girton’s 70-acre main lake, but my most favourite of all carp is a 43lb 6oz from Yorkshire’s Nostell Priory.

This series is mostly going to be about catching big carp as that’s what I tend to spend most of my time doing these days. It’s going to be a mix of tactics and diary content, with the focus being on the more challenging lakes rather than the commercials, the aim being to illustrate all of the technical things I talk about with actual examples. Whilst rigs for big carp are an important part of the equation, I can assure you that your brains aren’t going to be fried by a load of rig science every issue. I’m very straightforward when it comes to that side of my fishing, as you’ll see during the course of the series. For now though, let’s get stuck into the big-carp mindset and look at how it has influenced my fishing so far this year.

The big-carp mindset
Targeting big carp requires a special kind of mindset. It’s completely different to just going fishing, or trying to catch as many carp as you can in a session. You need tunnel vision, where nothing else will distract you from the goal. Of course we all blank from time to time, it’s part of the game. Even guys who only fish commercials that are stuffed full of fish. But for the big-fish angler, it is a regular occurrence. Blanking becomes the norm, especially during the winter months, where single bleeps or the sighting of a carp is a ‘result’ on tricky waters.

If you asked my wife what I’m like during the winter period, she’d tell you I’m a grumpy so-and-so. This isn’t just because I’m middle-aged, it’s because I rarely catch much at this time of the year. Work takes me to some easier venues where I’ve a better chance of catching, but if I’m honest, I don’t have much interest in these venues. I prefer to be on the waters where my target fish are, and any time away from a target water is a distraction.

The tunnel vision needed for chasing big carp is something that doesn’t come overnight. Very few are born with it, most of us develop it as we progress through our carp fishing career. The older, more experienced anglers are the ones you see with it the most. Rarely is it in younger anglers as they don’t have the patience to sit and wait, blanking away the hours. In fact the only angler I know who had it from an early age is the great Terry Hearn, and we all know what he went on to achieve.

This year I’ve been targeting a 30-acre gravel pit in Lincoln, which is home to some very special carp. It doesn’t have the best track record in the colder months. But, and it’s a big BUT, a couple of the main target fish in there have been caught between December and the end of March at least once in the last 10 years, which makes them worth pursuing.

With the lake not having the best cold water form, it makes the fishing challenging. It’s you against the fish, because a lot of the members drop out once the weather begins to cool. A lot of the time, it’s you facing the elements, and long periods sat in the bivvy can really beat you up, especially when not much is happening on the rods. This is where the big-carp mindset takes over, and why it is so important to cover it at the start of this series.

It would be so easy to pack the rods away and wait for the weather to warm up. That is what the majority of anglers do, but catching big carp consistently isn’t something everyone does. Sure, we all get lucky from time to time. That’s carp fishing. But you can’t rely on luck to get results in this game on a regular basis. You need the right frame of mind from the beginning; capable of packing up without anything to show for your efforts, then return with exactly the same amount of enthusiasm the following session, week after week.

The Lincoln syndicate
The year started very slow on my syndicate for myself. In fact, it was the same for the brave few who kept up their efforts. In the whole of January I think there were three carp caught, which might sound good compared to some tricky lakes, but in comparison to the rod hours put in, it wasn’t. I fished it every week during the month, for the allocated 72 hours per week we are allowed. I didn’t catch a thing until a break in the weather saw me land a 32lb mirror to get my 2024 tally up and running. The only other fish caught were to the same guy, only a couple of days before me, suggesting there was a small window of opportunity, which is something you often see during the colder months.

February started the same as January did. The weather was awful, continually overcast and grey with cold temperatures and rain. Most of the other lakes in the region were flooded and closed, but fortunately this one wasn’t. Then during the third week of the month, a fish was caught and another window was open. The previous year there had only been one winter feeding period, but this was the second already. The forecast looked favourable for the next few days so I headed over for a try.

Every other member had seen the same thing I had and the lake was busy, especially for midweek. Fortunately I was able to get into a decent swim known as Doubles where the wind was hacking in. It was awful in the teeth of the wind. Another storm was forecast for the upcoming days with wind gusts over 50mph. Doubles looked ideal for the conditions as it was facing the wind. On this lake, any swim that is side-on to 50mph will have a massive undertow, making it hard to hold bottom. I’ve never fished a lake in the UK quite like it.

On the fish
As I set the rods up, the splash from the chop was lifting two to three feet into the air, such was the force of the wind. The chill was just above zero and as a few other lads turned up and walked past my bivvy, they all commented how awful it was on the wind. No wonder I was the only one at this end of the lake. I’d walked the dog around upon arrival and it was a completely different season at the back of it, almost tropical.

Knowing the fish love a strong westerly on this lake, I opted to brave it out. All I needed was a sign. The first 24 hours passed uneventfully. Then the next morning at 11am I saw a carp come clean out of the water not far out. It was at maybe 12 wraps, so I reeled in one of my longer rods and dropped it exactly where I’d seen the fish. Intermittently I scattered a handful of DNA’s SLK boilies close by, just to get some smell into the area. It was still winter and I rarely use much bait at this time of the year. The bottom was nice and hard as I felt the ‘donk’ from the lead, and I was brimming with confidence. I just knew I was going to get one.

The first bite came only a couple of hours later when I netted a lovely scaly 20-pounder. For February, the conditions were too good to be true. I just knew there was a great chance of another. That’s how it always happens in the winter when a window is open.

I didn’t have to wait long before I was holding a 29lb common, taken on the same rod. Then at 4pm just before dark I had a bitty take, which felt like I was connected to a bag of cement when I struck into it. The fish held its position for several minutes, with me not gaining an inch. Experience told me it was a good fish. It stayed deep, and slowly made its way towards me.

I always have my GoPro to hand and I later found out from the footage hhat it put up a battle for 23 minutes. Only just before I netted it did I see what I was attached to. It looked huge, certainly one of the A-team members. As it slid over the net, I was relieved the fight was over as my forearm was starting to ache. It was a proper sub, deep with huge shoulders, looking very close to 50lb.

Once I had it on the mat I identified it as a carp called Big Cob, which had been 50-plus in one of the Fox International videos. My hands were like ice blocks, my lips were blue from the cold wind, but I was over the moon! I’d questioned my own sanity setting up in the teeth of a cold February wind. The result was certainly worth it. There in front of me was one of the biggest carp in the lake, and one of the best February-caught English carp of my career.

The big mirror turned out to be my last fish of that particular session. As with all big-carp captures, of course there were lots of pieces that had fallen into place leading to that moment. To me, however, there was one that stood out the most. It was the big-carp mindset. Without it I wouldn’t have been on the bank at such a tricky lake in February. I’d have been somewhere else, or I’d have made excuses as to why I couldn’t be there.

The point I’m trying to make is that big-carp fishing isn’t for everyone. It requires a particular frame of mind because successful big-carp anglers channel all of their efforts into a target fish, focusing their attentions on nothing else. They never worry about what other people are catching, or who’s top rod on a lake. They simply apply their efforts into chasing that one special carp. The blanking and hardships are soon forgotten once the end result has been achieved.

In the next issue I’ll look at a few finer details, such as pattern spotting and how to pinpoint the best times/approach for your target carp.

PB: 64lb/86lb 8oz
Occupation: Angling consultant
Sponsors: Avid Carp, DNA Baits
Instagram: @carpmancrow