When it comes to carping there are few anglers who can match the achievements of Steve Briggs.
Carping since the 70’s, Steve has used a lifetime of fishing to hone his skills, winning the World Carp Cup not once but an astonishing twice and being named Continental Carp angler of the year on two occasions. Steve’s books are considered carp classics and his UK captures are a testament to hard work and tenacity.
So now over to Steve for his interview
What was your introduction to fishing and how did you become obsessed with carp?
I first went fishing with my Father when I was around 6 or 7 years old, first fishing for minnows and working up to roach and perch before pike became a favourite species when I was young. I was born and brought up in the Darenth Valley in Kent and in the 1960’s and 70’s, apart from places like Redmire it was the center of carp fishing in Britain – or the world for that matter! So much was going on with the protein bait revolution and carp rod design and many of the countries leading anglers were fishing the same waters as me, Brooklands, Sutton-at-Hone and Horton Kirby so it was almost impossible not to be influenced by that. My Father was never really interested in carp but gradually it started to take a hold on me. At the time there were a whole group of kids around the same age as me who were becoming just as obsessed with carp as I was and we all used to be at the lakes (mainly Brooklands) most weekends, many of those people are still carp fishing today and I see some of them regularly. It actually took me two years to catch my first carp, which was an eternity back then but I guess I was fishing up against some of the best anglers around at the time so it was never going to be easy, but early one morning in March 1974 I hooked yet another carp but this time I landed it – a lovely mirror of 16lb 4oz. I can remember the whole event like it was yesterday and the one thing that still churns my stomach today is that none of my pictures came out!! They were great days fishing with great people and looking back I was very fortunate to start out at that time on those waters.
You have fished widely in the UK, what have been your favourite waters and why?
Well, I never have a favourite type of water in particular but it’s more about the ‘feel’ of that water when I fish it and the people fishing there too. As I’ve already mentioned Brooklands was a very special water to me, but just a few miles up the Valley was the Darenth Tip Lake and that was the first real big fish water that I had tackled with a fairly low stock but with a few fish over 30lb (the only water in the Darenth Valley that could boast that). At first I felt out of my depth but when I started catching things got better and better and during the winter of 1984 I caught four different carp over 30lb, the first time it had been done, so I’ve got very fond memories of that lake. There have been other waters that meant a lot to me, Harefield, Longfield (Fox Pool), Johnson’s Railway. They were all very different waters but all very good in their own way – they were all very difficult and in fact I never even caught a fish from Longfield but I loved my times on there.
But my favourite of all UK waters has to be The Mere. I first walked around it in 1990 but never actually fished it until 2005. I really wanted to catch a UK 50 and the Black Mirror was rightly regarded by most as the best fish in the country. I went in totally blind to the fishing and it took me a long time to get to grips with the place, it was on my 63rd night when I finally caught my first Mere carp at 20lb 8oz. The Mere was just unlike any other water I’d fished, it was very quiet most times, very overgrown and extremely difficult. Without a doubt it was the hardest thing physically and mentally that I’ve ever done in my life – but also the most rewarding. Finally after 143 nights over five years and a few carp later I did indeed catch the Black Mirror at 50lb 12oz. I’ve never felt that way about a single carp before and the feeling was hard to describe. Unbelievably that take from the Black Mirror was to be the last as around 8 weeks later there was a massive fish-kill that wiped out virtually everything in the lake. It was very sad but I was just grateful that I decided to fish The Mere when I did.
To win the carp world championships not once but twice is an amazing achievement, what did it feel like to win and what do you think set you apart on those tournaments?
Competition fishing certainly isn’t my favourite type of carp fishing, I much prefer to be somewhere quiet on my own or with my partner Joan but there is an attraction to the competitions – and especially the big events. There’s no doubt that Tim Paisley and me just formed a very good team, we’d both fished competitions with other people with varying degrees of success, but fishing with Tim was definitely different. It’s not that we think as one as we have differing views on how to fish in any given situation, but that is a big plus as it helps to find out which tactics and methods are best on the day. For instance in both of our wins I fished closer range over more bait while Tim fished mainly at greater range and those tactics seemed to complement each other and keep the action coming.
The win at Fishabil in 2000 was amazing and what I remember most are the huge crowds that came to watch, it was amazing and I remember waking up to a run at about 2am one night only to get a round of applause from a family standing behind watching!? But of the two it is the USA win that probably means the most personally. It was my first time on the St. Lawrence River and I’d always wanted to fish there, and of course being in the USA everything was done on such a grand scale. But the fishing was a complete contrast to that as we were pegged in a nature reserve where there was no real access and we were left virtually alone for the most part. It was only when we were in a clear lead that more and more people started to arrive.
The amazing thing in both of those wins was that we actually doubled the weight of the second placed teams, so we won both competitions with ease really, although it didn’t feel like it at the time. Certainly we got a good draw both times but you need a decent swim to be in with a shout. Tim said that each time about one quarter of the swims were potential winners, it just depended who got those swims and how they fished them. I think we fished to the best of our ability both times!
Your book “Cassien…. and beyond” has beome a classic in any carp anglers library, can you talk us through your cassien experience, how did it start and personal favourite moments?
Cassien is without a doubt my all-time favourite water and indeed favourite place in the world! This year actually marks 30 years since I first stepped on to those lovely sandy banks. It’s hard to sum up 30 years of trips to Cassien here but suffice to say I still get butterflies in my stomach every time I drive down those familiar roads.
Lots has changed of course and as ever it was the early days that were the best. I first went in September 1986 after seeing the exploits of Rod Hutchinson and Kevin Ellis amongst others. I’d never been abroad before and had only just started driving but had this irresistible urge to see what the place was all about. I had planned it to be my only trip but it’s fair to say I was totally blown away by the beauty, space and freedom that Cassien offered. Of course the fish too, I caught two PB”s on that first trip including my first 40 at 43lb 8oz. I had to go back and the next trip I caught a bigger one at 61lb 8oz! At the time I thought most French lakes must be like that and I expected to keep catching those big fish – but the reality is that I’ve never found another water anywhere near as good and it took be 25 years to catch a bigger carp from Cassien!
When the night fishing was opened in 1994 it made winter trips a viable proposition and Joan and I fished every Christmas except one down at Cassien while we could and it became my most anticipated trip every year. Both of our birthdays fall in Decemeber so to have both birthdays and Christmas day on the banks of Cassien just made it special. Okay it could be cold and wet but the memories I have are the warm sunny days with hardly any angling pressure on the lake. Most of me best captures came in the winter too. Strangely enough in December 2012 I finally beat my Cassien best twice in a week with a 63lb 8oz common and a 64lb 8oz mirror. Just after that the night fishing was stopped putting and end to the winter sessions so it was almost like the lake was giving me something back. We did go back last summer just to fish the day sessions and it was lovely. I managed to catch a few nice ones fishing on my own terms but if I could have any of my life back again it would be some of those early Cassien trips.
Can you tell us about the capture of your UK PB?
I wouldn’t say my UK PB is one that rates particularly in terms of merit but it was one that I was extremely pleased to catch. A friend of mine Tom Duncan-Dunlop had organized social weekend at Elphicks North Lake for about ten people and invited me along. We had a draw for swims and I picked a swim where I’d seen other people do well from before, although on the face of it the swim didn’t look any different to any others.
It was October and quite cold and frosty when we arrived. I fished two rods over bait (as everyone else did) but I put one rod out on a zig rig. I’ve hardly ever used zig rigs and don’t particularly like that style of fishing but within two minutes I’d hooked a very powerful, big fish on the zig, which after 20 minutes I lost. It was enough to make me put two on the zigs and before long I’d caught a couple of decent fish. Eventually all three rods ended up with zig rigs being fished at about half depth in 7ft of water, hook baits were either black or green bits of foam.
Nothing else was really being caught but there was plenty going on with the zig rigs, I lost a few fish and landed a few but eventually I hooked in to another very powerful fish. A few of my mates gathered around and I just took my time as we all began to have a feeling which fish it could be! After about 30 minutes a huge wide back came to the surface and we all knew for sure. There were some very tense moments before the net was finally lifted around the large bulk of the fish. It weighed 59lb 2oz and was a lovely sight in the autumn sunlight. There wasn’t much fishing done that night – but plenty of celebrating.
Having fished in many countries for carp can you tell us about your travels?
My travels have taken me to many parts of the world now and in that way I’ve got a lot to be grateful to carp fishing for. At this time I’ve caught carp from 19 different countries with 50lb carp coming from 9 of those. Most of my fishing abroad has been done in France but I’ve been to Africa, USA, Morocco as well as many countries around Europe. I don’t have favourite countries as such but I’ve fished some fantastic waters. Klaserie Dam in South Africa had only just been opened up as a fishing area and was set right in the African bush. The wildlife was incredible and we saw at close hand baboons, monkeys, porcupines, pythons, monitor lizards, as well as having a leopard and her cub around our bivvy in the night and every night we could hear lions roaring in the distance.
Lake Raduta in Romania was a great water for the short time that it was on the world scene. It was really like going back in time in those early days – I remember trying to give some of the poor villagers some money at the end of my first trip and they literally had no idea what it was! They lived off the land and by bartering. The fishing was exciting because there were several commons over 30kg which at the time was totally unique as well as holding the world record too.
I enjoy new adventures and travelling to new waters. This year I plan to go to Italy and Slovenia as well as going back to some more familiar places in France, Poland and Hungary. It’s a big world out there and what I’ve found is that a carp is a carp wherever it lives in the world and carp fishing is a common language, I’ve been lucky to meet so many good people over the years and create lasting friendships.
I have to ask about catching Jo Jo and your journey to catch that fish?
I first fished Badgers Holt in 2004 when it had just opened and Jo Jo was just around low 30’s at the time. It was always one of the better fish in the lake and not one of the hardest to catch but when you only have one week every year the chances of catching that fish aren’t always that great. Couple that with the fact that most of our trips were in August when Jo Jo didn’t tend to get caught and I soon racked up quite a few trips without seeing Jo Jo. It was always the fish I wanted to catch but I would either be too late or conditions weren’t right and I began to think it would just never happen.
Then in 2014 I decided that it would have to be make or break time as there were too many other venues I still needed to visit and there just aren’t enough weeks in the year to do everything. Things didn’t look good with only three carp being caught during the previous two weeks, but I always remember Bob Davis telling me that when it was like that it needed more bait to get them interested. So I baited each rod with several kilos of boilies, pellets and hemp, which might seem strange when things are quiet but it worked and the fish started responding. In the first couple of days I caught a string of fish including two or three 50’s but then on the Tuesday I hooked in to something that felt a lot slower and heavier. I actually gave the rod to Joan for a while so that I could get the cameras sorted, but it was starting to look like this one could be a bit special. There were no dramas or anything just a slow, heavy haul to the net but sure enough there was no doubt which fish it was! Finally I’d got Jo Jo and at PB weight at the time of 72lb 4oz. It was a lovely moment and a perfect way to end my fishing on Badgers Holt. It had taken ten years to catch Jo Jo but the best things are worth waiting for!
When it comes to a ball breaking water, what advice would you give an angler?
I’ve fished a few of those and the best advice is just to stick at it and believe in what you are doing. You have to be ready for those waters and I wasn’t always ready in the past. My biggest problem was starting to change things when it wasn’t happening and that can be the worst thing to do.
Nowadays I’m very settled and confident in my approach and if things aren’t happening I don’t blame my rigs or baits I simply put it down to not being on the fish or that they are just not having it. Being more positive like that makes the waiting so much easier. The Mere is a prime example, there were lots and lots of times when there was simply nothing happening and I wasn’t doing anything wrong as such, it just wasn’t the right time. But every now and then there were small windows of opportunity and it was important to recognize them and make the most of them. Some times all you can do is just wait but always be alert to what is going on around you. More time helps but that is not everything, anyone can fish for long periods but not everyone can fish well for long periods.
Over a lifetime of carping, has there been any low points?
There haven’t been many but one time immediately springs to mind! It was the winter of 2010 and we were down at Cassien for the normal December/Christmas trip. For the first time I’d had some bait rolled by a certain company with the aim of having air-dried bait that would last for the duration of the trip (four weeks). But as soon as I smelt the bait it didn’t smell right at all – not horrible but just nothing like the bait I normally used.
To cut a long story shorter, two and half weeks later I’d not had a bleep on those baits and others around me were catching. I’d moved swims three times but all to no avail. We were just about to move swims again from a freezing cold swim that was white with frost all day. We had a solid fibre glass boat for loading all of our gear in to tow behind our main boat. As I was loading the boat I heard a ‘crack’ but thought it was just the ice in the bottom. However, when we got to our new swim about a mile away I was horrified to see the boat full up with water and the ‘crack’ I’d heard was actually the boat splitting in the cold! All of our clothes, belongings, tackle – everything except us and our beds and passports were completely drenched!
As we attempted to salvage everything a boat approached us with four firemen on board they explained that they were doing some night training and apologised for the disturbance in advance. Not thinking much of it I got the rods out not knowing that the night training involved boats going three abreast at speed around the margins! The first patrol wiped out one rod and I hoped that was it, but by morning all my rods had been wiped out, some had been completely stripped of line. To be honest I’d never felt so low, the gear was wrecked, all of our gear, clothing etc was strung up in the trees in an attempt to dry it and I’d gone nearly three weeks without a bite! If ever there was a time for cutting my losses and packing up – that was it.
But I’m just too stubborn for that! I set all of the rods up again and as my bait was obviously rubbish I cadged a 5kg bag of my mates baits from him. Would you believe that night in the thick frost my alarm bleeped twice and I went out in the mist and landed one of the most beautiful mirrors I’ve ever seen at 48lb. I cant explain how much that fish lifted my spirits – first night with the new bait!
In the seven days that I had left I went on to catch a further six fish with some good ones amongst them. It was a brilliant end to what had been a total disaster. It’s a trip I can look back on with real satisfaction as it all came good in the end and when the chips were down I didn’t give in!
What targets if any would you like to aim for the future?
I don’t have any real big targets as such but I do have lots on on-going smaller targets. I still want to catch 50lb carp from more countries if possible and I will continue to search for those and I will continue to look for new venues in new countries as I get a buzz out of that. I’d like to catch more carp and bigger carp from anywhere really. I still want to catch some really big carp as I feel I’ve not succeeded in that area – by that I mean carp over 80lb or 90lb.
But although it might sounded a bit corny I really want to just keep enjoying my fishing. People often remark about my enthusiasm for fishing and it’s always there and I would be happy if I could only fish for small fish or indeed other species. I think my enthusiasm comes from fishing different places for different fish and not getting too bogged down – so if I can continue that I will be a happy man!
Well Steve thanks for talking to us and hope you have a great 2016
You too Paddy talk soon