Colin Davidson is one of the country's favourite writers in probably the most popular branch of the sport - carp fishing. I joined him on the bank to find out about his early experiences, his carp fishing philosophy and his future ambitions. For those of you who have limited time for your fishing read on - Colin's theories on carping will really help you focus your efforts.
The makings of a carp angler.
Surprisingly for such a successful angler, there is no tradition of angling in the Davidson family, the first links being formed when his older brother of two years, Chris, decided he wanted to go fishing. He went to the local library at the age of six, borrowed a book and started to teach himself to fish. He convinced Colin to get involved and so the two of them started fishing together. Growing up on the Wirral, Merseyside, they didn't have many waters to target, but their parents were always very supportive, and used to drive them all over the place so they had some 'proper' venues to fish. Every June 16th they would be taken to a different water to open the season, and family holidays were soon being organised around the brothers' love of fishing. It was on one of these holidays that Colin forged a love affair with carp angling that has changed the rest of his life.
When he was 14 they visited Llyn y Gors fishery in Anglesey, North Wales, and first met the owner Roger Thompson. He taught the lads to tie hair rigs so that they could use boilies to target the venue's carp. Colin is very grateful to Roger for his help and says he went beyond the call of duty of a fishery owner, really making sure the lads caught fish. They returned to the fishery a couple of times with family but soon Colin and Chris, along with a couple of friends were returning yearly to stay in the fishery's self-catering cottages... I think Roger may have a few memories about the lad's antics and the mostly liquid contents of the fridge!
Colin went on to do his A-levels at college, continuing to fish for carp all the hours of the week. At this time he was fishing Hawkstone Park boating lake and caught what he was convinced was his first twenty. It turned out to be 19lb 6oz and was his personal best for over a year, catching it again 12 months later at only an ounce heavier!
Colin decided to go on to university, but couldn't make up his mind which one to attend. One freezing cold February morning he visited the York campus and his indecision disappeared. Colin noticed that the campus was centred around a lake and went to investigate. Not only was there somebody fishing, but he was catching carp. Thinking that this was too good to be true he signed up for Ecology at York without another thought. Coincidentally it was well known carper Jim Foster who had been fishing the lake, and he turned out to be a good friend of Colin's over the years. At York carping really took over Col's life, fishing the lake from before first light right through until the evening when he would go out for a few drinkies. If he wasn't fishing then he was baiting up or making up rigs, he certainly wasn't in lectures. Ironically, one of the best spots was right outside the Biology labs where he should have been in lectures. Despite taking reams of fish upto a lake record of 18 lb 12 oz the fishing was probably the main reason behind his leaving university after two years..... I think there's a lesson there somewhere!
The makings of a journalist.
Colin first got involved in journalism whilst at school, writing pieces for the local Winsford Specialist Anglers newsletter. He went on to compile the whole thing himself. His break into national writing came after meeting famous carp angler Julian Cundiff, who encouraged him to send some work to David Hall's Catchmorecarp magazine. Sure enough the work was published and Colin's life in the public eye had begun. In fact Colin says he owes a lot to Julian for encouraging him into writing, had he not perhaps I wouldn't be writing this article about him now.
After leaving York, Colin worked for the MoD but carp fishing was his life. He would fish all night, go straight to work, and quite often catch up on his sleep at work. Naughty boy!
Whilst still working at the MoD in 1997, an advert appeared in the Angler's Mail for the position of Newsdesk Reporter and so Colin applied. They asked him to go to London for a three-day trial, and he asked work for the time off. As he had already suspected he was on shaky ground at work, he wasn't surprised when the time off was refused. But he took the time off sick anyway, and headed down to London for the three days. It went really well, and driving back to Deeside late at night, he suspected the job was in the bag. The next morning when called in by his boss, he suspected trouble, but was told that he could have those three days off! He turned round, walked out and went fishing. Days later he was told that he had got the Mail job and so packed in the MoD job a happy man.
Starting at the Mail in April 1997 he relished his new job on the Newsdesk and took charge of the Junior Mail section, where he gave me my first writing job! Next he took the reins of Andy Little's carp column, and Colin Davidson's Carp World is still going strong today. At the Mail Colin's skills developed across the board. Writing and photographic skills improved, contacts were made and inspiration found. Not only did his professional skills improve, but he met his fiancÅ½e Sarah through the job. She had known Colin at school and her mother noticed him on the front cover of the magazine and took a copy home. Sarah really wanted to get in touch and wrote to him at the Mail, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since starting at the Angler's Mail his rise to be one of the nation's best known carp writers has come from a combination of hard work, developing both his journalism and angling skills. The two disciplines have grown alongside each other and I suppose it's fair to say that when he started at AM he had some experience of both, but was in no way an expert. Now, only five years later, he has caught hundreds of beautiful big carp, is a hugely popular writer and figure in the carp scene, and has taken charge of bait development at a big bait firm. What a five years. The development as a writer, I think wasn't due to any special philosophy but instead hard work and natural talent. However for Colin, the capture of big carp has definitely been a combination of all three...
Colin's big carp philosophy.
Growing up on Merseyside Colin didn't have many big fish to target, and caught what specimens he did have on visits to other parts of the country. But that's not to say it was worthless fishing, invaluable lessons in carp behaviour were learnt. But his carp skills really improved when he moved to the South East, and started work at the Angler's Mail. Moving in with relatives in Southend, Essex, he got in touch with the area's Carp Society Regional Organiser, the infamous Derek Ritchie, to ask where to fish. Del invited him to join his famous Manor syndicate, Colin hardly realising what a favour this was. During his first season on the water Colin really felt like he had be
en thrown in at the deep end, realising that southern carp were, excuse the pun, a very different kettle of fish. He had no idea where to start, and despite spending vast amounts of time on the water, caught very little, even earning himself the nick-name of 'pest-controller.' However next spring he started changing a few things from what he had learnt the previous season, and started to catch fish. As early as February he had a 29 lb 8 oz common, and went on to land various bigger fish including the famous 'Amphibian' at 43 lb 3 oz. This was a great year for Colin, catching not only at the Manor, but taking some other lovely fish, including a lake record 35 lb 2 oz mirror from Great Linford. This wasn't just due to a run of good luck, but because Colin was starting to really understand his quarry, and how best to target them, something which he has been working on ever since:
A huge percentage of carp anglers will fish one swim for the duration of their stay on a water, but Colin doesn't have this sort of time available to him. His aim when fishing is to find a fish in front of him, and to see what is going on. At any time on a water there should be a fish feeding somewhere and so he moves around until he finds one. He learns more from watching fish feed, seeing how they pick up different baits, react to beds of feed etc., and so tries to restrict himself to only this kind of fishing. Obviously it may take a lot of time and effort to find a visible fish, most probably in the margins, but once found, half of the battle is won.
This calls for a highly mobile approach, and when I met Colin on the banks I thought he was more of a John Wilson figure, than a typical carper. With all his rig bits stored in his waistcoat and bait in a bucket he was free to up-sticks and roam the banks looking for target fish and to bait suitable spots. He often catches fish within minutes of arriving in swims adjacent to anglers who have been there for a couple of days. And this is the whole of his philosophy; finding fish, watching them feed, getting a rig in place and seeing what happens. And if it goes wrong, because the fish are visible, you often know what to change to bring a response.
Colin says this kind of fishing is the most adrenaline filled, electric you can experience, watching fish approach your bait and suck it in rather than just hearing your buzzer from the warmth of your sleeping bag. Recently he found a fish feeding so close in to the margins of a gravel pit, that when he eventually lowered his rig in place the lead core leader was lying on the bank. When the carp lowered it's head to suck in his bait, Colin's head was inches from that of the carp, and for a moment they were eyeball to eyeball, before the fish bolted from the swim. When he eventually got the fish in the net he already knew which one it was, a 36 lb 8 oz common. That's what I call stalking.
But this problem-solving style of fishing doesn't always work straight away. One of his works in progress is a very pressured water where on his first visit he found a nice fish in the margins. From well out of sight he flicked a single dead maggot into the water. The carp couldn't have missed it, but appeared to not be too scared, so he waited a few minutes, and flicked out another. As it dropped past the carp it pricked up it's fins and bolted from the swim. Now most of us would have been put off by this, but for Colin this only made him more determined to watch the fish and find out in which situations they will feed. Since then he hasn't caught any of the venues fish but has had fish to over 40lbs roll over his baits. A bit more tweaking and he'll be there soon enough.
I've known Colin for a good while now, and every time I speak to him on the phone or see him, my enthusiasm for carp fishing goes through the roof. I'm an all-rounder, fishing for chub one weekend, perch the next, and maybe carp after that, but one chat with Colin and I'm reaching for my boilies! And boilies are one area that Colin himself has been thinking about a lot recently. He's now in charge of bait development at bait company Crafty Catcher, and he's determined to make it the best in the country. He's got big ideas for the firm, and has a new freezer bait, the awesome 'Red October' coming out soon. He's been tweaking the ingredients for over a year, and watching fish eating them in the wild. He has been amazed by the results, especially compared to how the fish react to other top brands. They've caught some huge fish already, and I've had a couple of carp on them too! He also developed the excellent 'Neons' fluoro pop-ups. I know he's a friend of mine, but these baits really are very good.
Now call me useless, but it's been 4 months since I actually fished with Col, and in all my to-ings and fro-ings I've managed to lose the photos! Typical. We were fishing Old Bury Hill in Surrey, which despite holding some lumps, is more of a doubles water, with the chance of a twenty or two. The main aim was to catch up, have some fun, food and then maybe a fish or two. We both agreed that it was a bit of a rare occasion for different reasons. I normally only fish for carp on my own, hardly ever seeing another person, let alone another angler, and Colin is usually ducking and diving his way round high pressure big fish waters. We both found it a breath of fresh air to be sat behind buzzers, chatting and drinking tea!
I think Col had 10 carp, including a lovely Common of just over 20 lb and I had 8 upto 14 lb. Despite not being a big fish water, and not really a stalking type venue suitable for Colin's style of fishing, I learned a lot chatting to him and watching him fish. And since then talking to him on the phone has taught me even more, and I suppose the main thing to learn is this:
The game of carp fishing is to find the fish. Colin will move swims over and over again until he finds the fish, it doesn't matter if he is tired, had a bad day at work or whatever, he hardly gets any time to go fishing, and when he does go he wants it to count. In fact I spoke to him earlier today and he was fishing a doubles water with a friend. His friend was straight into fish, obviously picking a good swim, but Col was struggling. After moving swims a total of 5 times, he eventually found a group of fish, and had 2 on the bank in two minutes. If he had stayed put, he would have blanked. Once you have found the fish you are after, half the battle is won. Ringing the changes bait and rig wise will soon have one on the bank.
On the horizon...
I have mentioned how Colin fills me with enthusiasm for carp fishing every time I see him, and that's probably because some of his enthusiasm rubs off on me. Colin is a really busy bloke, talking fishing all day at Crafty Catcher, writing his hugely popular Carp World in the Angler's Mail, and even writing for the RMC site too. Add to this all the trade shows, talks etc., and you'd think he'd be pretty sick of it! But not at all, whenever possible he helps out with charity stuff, like the RMC fish-ins, and I haven't even mentioned his own fishing goals. So what should we expect from Colin over the next few years? Well I would think apart from some damn good bait and some really thought-provoking articles, we should probably expect one or two huge fish. Once he's got his 24 hr juggling act perfected, maybe he'll be able to squeeze in a bit more time t
o put a really special fish on the bank......
Sorry to everyone who expected to read this in the Autumn. I just kept on putting it off, and here we are in February! Sorry also for the lack of photos, I was still using my SLR back then, and have lost the pics! Also excuse the rambling nature of the article, but I hope it might give you the impetus to up sticks and move next time you've had a quiet night. As promised, interviews with Chris Tarrant, Martin Bowler and now also John Baker, will be coming up soon.
Fred - 2003