Mitch Hammonds takes us through his step by step guide on how to avoid nuisance species and catching carp
Oz Interview Part 1 - Text Only
Q. Your profile has been out there in recent years, but with a lifetimes worth of carp fishing and stand out captures, many people not know much about you, so who is Oz Holness and where did he start his fishing?
A. So, just like many anglers that would be reading this my grandfather introduced me to angling. He took me to the local river and very quickly I became fascinated by the underwater world. You had a big mill set on the side of a gin clear river. You could watch the Perch under the stages and it was just magical to me.
It was that feeling of mystery, for something that wasn’t tangible triggered that hunter instinct in me. This was heightened even more in later years when I began to fish the lakes. With a mirror like surface, it was even harder to grasp what was out there and to me it was just dreamlike.
My early fishing days were spent in my hometown of Canterbury and we were blessed really, with an abundance of gravel pits. Brett’s had excavated the gravel in the Stour Valley since the early 50’s and there was this whole network of pits as a result. Further on and spreading the wings a little bit, you had all the coastal pits too.
This left a massive wide variety of pits to choose from. One lake could be a tiny hidden farm pond, to a massive wild gravel pit. As time went on and I met a group of people that I found a connection with, we started exploring these different forms of angling.
But the early days I would say I was an all-rounder, fishing for anything and just loved being outside. This stemmed from being young and free, having a large woodland at the back of my house and I would take the dogs and just go exploring for hours. It gave me a huge love for being outside and to me, fishing gave me that purpose to do this. It felt like I unlocked that hunter instinct from an early age, which is something that is in everyone, but some people it is much nearer the surface than others, who often end up ignoring it and never getting involved in anything like it for the rest of their lives.
Q. When did the passion for carp angling begin?
A. I met a few guys that were slightly older than me and they were already on that path. I remember those days with an enormous sense of romanticism because everything was new. Nothing was easily available, so you had to scrimp and scrape for tackle, angling under old Argos brolleys with bin bags to keep the sleeping bags waterproof. We had terrible kit but we made it work and loved every second of it.
What it did was it made us concentrate on watercraft. It became apparent very quickly that you could waste a lot of time catching nothing, or get bites instantly should you get on the fish. Those early days set me up in a good way to the approach that I take these days, which is a very mobile one.
At the same time, it encouraged me to explore and not become side tracked by what other people were doing. Although I read as much as I could, that thirst for knowledge was always used for my own purpose and taken in the way I wanted to if that makes sense. Going down my own path lead me to where I am now I suppose.
Carp fishing was such a fringe of the angling society, that is what made it so appealing to me. I was fortunate to have access to some really great waters that had been highly regarded in the 60’s and 70’s.
Q. Back then Kent had some of the most famous waters in the country, that must have attracted some of the best anglers in the country?
A. At the time, it did yeah. It was quite a weird feeling to have anglers travelling across the country to come and fish on our doorstep, but there were some very big around back then. That was an amazing thing to see different styles and techniques from other lakes. You had Darenth, School pool, Medway valley, Larkfield and so on.
As a young man that had a group of older friends, I could bounce ideas with them and get a lift with them to these lakes. I didn’t drive and by going with them, I got to meet some great people and experience the big fish scene at a fairly young age.
It would have been the 80’s when I cut my teeth on the School Pool and I was fortunate to be surrounded by some very talented anglers. They were progressively moving the scene forward, whether it be tackle or bait, these guys were doing this and to see it in front of me was a nice feeling.
Q. I suppose many that are reading this would have heard of one lake in particular, The Brook. When did you first hear about this new monster that was growing in your home county?
A. From fishing School Pool, a good friend of mine Paul Forward sort of discovered the Brook. He made a few exploratory visits after working in the area and I remember having a phone call to him one night. He told me that the club had gained access to fish a lake in Ashford and he was ever so excited about it. It was a rare opportunity, as carp fishing was developing at a rapid rate in the 90’s and lots had been discovered and fished heavily.
This was brand new and the story behind it was a lake had suffered an oxygen crash. The water authority had managed to rescue some of the fish and they ended up in this lake. Paul had walked round and seen a couple of fish milling around in the edge. The lake was very baron, looked brand new almost. The water was crystal clear and there was an abundance of weed.
The fish were virtually unpressured in their new environment and they behaved like natural carp would. Paul saw a mid-thirty mirror and a few other nice ones. He went down on the opening day of the season with a friend and amazingly, his friend caught what we soon knew as Two-Tone at 34lb 12oz. It was an incredible capture and it brought the brook to the attention of quite a few people. Back then, which was around 1992 34lb was a very big carp and word soon spread.
Paul and a few of his mates fished it, but it soon became apparent that the lake was a lot harder than what people first thought. It was an environment that the carp flourished in and it made them very tricky to catch, especially being low stock and so rich in natural food.
They would put on these huge displays some mornings, which would make you think that there were 300 carp not 20 odd, yet the bobbins would remain motionless.
Despite all of this, Paul was ever so encouraging and I had spent a lot of time fishing the School Pool and I had caught the big mirror, but I didn’t catch the big common before it died. Paul convinced me to have a go on the Brook and I started late summer but my god it was tough. I felt like I tried everything, but I couldn’t get a bite. I even waded rigs out, dropped it on a small spot and covered all the end tackle in weed, but nothing seemed to work.
As a young angler, it really grated on me that I was spending a lot of time with very little reward. With so much going on elsewhere, I wanted to go off and fish with my friends again. The Brook was a lonely place with not many people fishing it and it wasn’t something that I was used to.
There wasn’t anyone to bounce ideas off and it was you against the fish, which at the time I wasn’t quite ready for. Although you can have that train of thought where you won’t give up, you also have to listen to that monkey on the shoulder. I went off and did other things, homed skills elsewhere and developed certain techniques.
I kept in touch with people fishing the lake and you couldn’t help but notice how the fish were thriving in the lake. It wasn’t long before it was 40lb, then 45lb, 50lb and so on. There was no stopping this fish and as time went on, I remember a guy I met on other waters who had caught it at over 55lb. It was enormous and it blew me away, I couldn’t believe it. It felt that it was the promise land but with that, it was now incredibly busy.
The dynamics of the Brook had changed and it was now well and truly on the circuit. I knew that if I wanted a piece of it I would have to muck in. I knew that I had to do something slightly different if I was going to be the lucky one to catch it.
Two-Tone would only do between 1-3 captures a year and with so many good anglers fishing it, catching that one was always going to be tough from such a tricky water. She would get caught in the spring, possibly in the summer and quite often in the Autumn too. The height of summer was always incredibly difficult and a lot of people left it alone at this time.
Q. When you made the decision to go back, there must have been some incredible memories with so many good anglers and characters on one lake?
A. There were so many memorable moments but one that stands out in my mind is actually a sighting of her. I had been doing a campaign on the back of the Island and I had been seeing and catching a few. I was baiting an area called Perfume Bay and I had been keeping an eye on it.
This particular morning, I was sat under my brolley and you could see a storm brewing on the horizon, but it was red hot, sticky and humid. A mate of mine had set up on the front of the island and he crept up while I ate my breakfast and he told me that a few fish had gathered in the cut through and the biggun was there. It was nice of him to tell me as he could of kept it to himself, so we made our way round to observe these fish.
It had shown the general ethos of the lake. Everyone was there to catch that carp but there was a real camaraderie and sense of unity, which was very hard to quantify. On a lot of lakes, it is every man for himself, but the Brook was different.
We are both big fellas and we were trying to creep up to these fish, on an island made up of scrub land and a few bushes. Us two lumbering old rhinos made our way to the point where we could see the fish and what happened next just blew me away.
We both peaked over the marsh grass and there was a gathering of Conningbrook carp and they were all there. The Long Common, The friendly Mirror, Two-Tone, the lot. Two-Tone was holding the court, king of the castle and fully on display just a few yards in front of us. We just looked on in awe of this leviathan, the sheer bulk of it was just incredible.
The thing that always amazed me was just how graceful she was in the water. All her movements were so delicate despite her huge size. She glided around the area with such a sense of authority even though some of the other fish were still big carp, some 40lb in fact, but they looked like little fish in the shadow of this creature.
One thing that I remember about that day was the Friendly Mirror, which was next in command if you like, was keeping well out the way. It was almost like it had such a sense of respect for her that it held back.
I saw the same thing occur in the Pump Bay and Two-Tone was sat there sunning herself in a large weedbed. I watched The Friendly come in and it was almost like it put the brakes on when it clocked her, turned around and waddled off. It seemed very territorial and it was something that I always kept on the back of my mind. She was almost a loner until the big gatherings when she would accept them.
Going back to that time we were watching them in the gap, the storm made it to us and I was holding on to the brolley for dear life, when one of the rods ripped off. I had in my head it could be it, but it wasn’t, it was one of the little commons. We chuckled about the whole thing because those little moments of intense anticipation make the reason for you even being there, magic.
Q. You went on to catch Two-Tone at a British record weight. Obviously with that I imagine you were exposed to the press and various media outlets, which is something that you hadn’t done before. How did that feel?
A. With the euphoria of the capture, I only spoke to a few close friends in the immediate aftermath. I shared the story and the moment with them and then I realised that the capture was on a Saturday, so I had a couple of days of grace to absorb the feeling. I almost looked on with the sense of abject dread to the razzmatazz that I knew would surround a capture of such importance.
I was reluctant to make too much of it because my fishing had always been so incredibly personal to me. I shared my experiences and captures with close friends but that was it, so I knew it was all going to be new to me should I wish to give a story to someone else.
It was almost scary to be honest as you had a responsibility on your shoulders to share a capture that you knew that people would want to know about in the best possible way. I wanted to put a record claim in as I wanted it to be recognised as something that had happened.
I saw it as the pinnacle of what I could achieve in carp angling at that time. I didn’t set out to catch a British record carp, I set out to catch Two-Tone. Depending on the time of year, it could have been 58lb, 62lb, whatever, that didn’t matter to me, but because it was a British record I wanted to have that as something I could look back on, on a personal level of such an achievement.
As it happened, it was all a bit fraught and messy. I was contacted by various factions of the media and I spoke to The Times, who were the weekly angling press. They took the story and paid me some money for the story and photos. They were very professional about the whole thing and it surprised me. Then unfortunately other factions contacted me and made it all a bit of a mess, which fed a bit of negativity to the whole thing, which is when I realised why I had kept away from that side of things. I felt on my own, which felt strange to me.
I was lucky that I had so many good people around me and I am a big believer in turning every negative to a positive, move forward and carry on enjoying my fishing. With anything in life, if you go about everything in a positive manner good things come out of it.
I ended up doing a couple of interviews for Carpology and everything went really well. To be honest, after all that I retreated back in to my world again and didn’t do anything for a few years.
I had the winter to think about where to fish next and what happened next was planned. I was to put everything into the next adventure and I couldn’t wait to get started.