It's been a busy period for Fox-sponsored James Anderson, who reflects on the highs and lows of his angling life...

It has been the beginning of the carp match season for me and I fished a UK Carp Championships qualifier at Willow Park with my fishing partner Dave Hellard. I’ve known Dave for many years as we first met while studying fishery management at Sparsholt College back in 2002. We’ve had some highs and lows fishing in matches together over the last few years but whatever happens we always have plenty of laughs along the way!

Above: Willow Park is a fantastic, well run fishery.

This was the fourth year we have fished a qualifier at Willow Park and it’s a great match venue with anglers qualifying from all over the lake. The draw has always been kind to us there which always helps! We managed to win the first two qualifiers we fished at the venue until last year when we came out early in the draw again and managed to completely balls up our choice of peg and never stood chance from the one we decided upon.

So, this year we were keen to put things right as it had really been bugging me for the last 12 months! We felt we had got a bit complacent last year and not wanting to make the same mistake again this year we decided to get to the venue a few days before the match was due to commence. We hoped that by the start of the match we would have a good idea of where the fish were and how they were behaving. We pitched up to practice in area we could see the whole lake from and proceeded to have one carp between us in 48 hours! I blanked and Dave had one, but there’s no point catching them all before the match. That’s what I told Dave anyway! What we had gained though was a good idea of what was happening around the lake just by keeping an eye on fish activity and other anglers.

Above: Had we chosen the right peg?

When the draw came on Friday morning we were feeling pretty confident as the feeling of butterflies in my stomach came on we were hoping for a good draw. It was obvious to everyone there was a lot of carp in a certain bay, but the question was, would they stay? We didn’t’ think they would but it was still our first choice of peg. In true Willow Park fashion for us, we came out third and managed to get our first choice swim where the carp were stacked up. It was clear some anglers agreed that the fish wouldn’t stay there and gambled on them turning up in other areas of the lake. Our thinking was, we knew where they were, we knew they would probably move, however, we didn’t know 100% where they would move to. We were confident we could catch enough from that peg to get us through. We didn’t have to win, we just had to finish in the top four.

The hooter sounded to begin the match and we had planned to be as stealthy as we could hoping to keep the fish in front of us for as long as possible. A couple of spots received a good scattering of Tails Up Pro Seed boilies, a bait we had done really well on in previous years and one we had a lot of confidence in. Light leads were flicked out and we sat well back and waited with anticipation as the fish continued to show in front of us.

Above: Pro Seed – Confidence in a quality bait is vital.

It’s always a nervy time and the atmosphere was electric as we anticipated our first bite. It took a little longer than we thought but eventually my right hand rod bent round as an angry Willow Park carp had snatched my Pro Seed pop up. Our hearts were pounding as the fish stripped line from the spool of my reel but after a few minutes there was relief as our biggest fish of the match was safely in the net! The awesome looking 23lb mirror was very welcome and helped to settle the nerves.

Above: Off to a good start and in high spirits!

That fish signalled the start of the action and we managed to notch 5 more carp over the next few hours as we pulled into a comfortable lead. The action had slowed up as we entered the first night and it was obvious there wasn’t as many fish in the area. They hadn’t taken kindly to all the commotion.  After a quiet few hours one of the rods belted off with another mid double common which gave us 7 fish in total and we were feeling pretty happy with ourselves.

Above: A very welcome bite for our 7th fish and I was feeling a little tired.

The rest of the night was very quiet for us as we got a few hours kip and set the alarm for first light. The sun came up and everything seemed very peaceful as I gazed over our rods, out to the bay in front of us from the comfort of my sleeping bag. The carp that were so obvious the day before had clearly gone as we had predicted but whilst a few fish had been caught around the lake we were still well in the lead.

Dave and I decided to switch tactics slightly and moved the rods around as we looked to scratch a few more fish out which should see us safely into the top four. Fish were beginning to get caught in a few other areas of the lake through the day so we really needed another fish! The bite came that afternoon but after a very violent take the carp got caught up in a fallen branch in the margin and the hook pulled. We got the rod back out to the same spot and within an hour it was away again only to result in another hook pull. Not what we needed!

We spent what remained of the day watching other pairs catching us and slowly but surely, we were overtaken by two others as we were knocked down into third position. We had kept the disturbance to a minimum hoping that some carp would move back in front of us and we had seen the odd one around throughout the day. The rods were flicked out for the night with the knowledge that a couple more fish should seal the top four finish we needed.

Above: I’m not one for complex rigs and like to keep things simple.

Everything was calm as we got our heads down knowing we had done all we could and hoping the carp would be kind to us. I was woken at about 3am as my right-hand rod which had been re-positioned right in the back of the bay had a carp pulling on the end of it. Dave woke as I was playing it and arrived beside me with the net, the tension was apparent while the carp plodded around under the rod tip. We knew this could be the fish that would seal the deal for us! After doing its best to tangle with our other rods it was in the net and we gave each other a big pat on the back! It had been 24 hours since our last fish so we both felt very relieved! We had just secured the very welcome carp in the retainer ready for weighing when my other rod which was positioned a bit further along the margin was picked up and the swim was flooded with blue light from my Micron alarm. Nothing for all that time then two in 10 minutes!

Above: Two very welcome carp that sealed it for us.

That one came in without too much fuss and we soon had two good doubles sat waiting for the marshals to arrive. The pair of us sat knowing that we should have done enough to get through to the semi-final!  

Those were our final two carp of the match as we managed to finish third with 9 fish for 143lb. As it turned out the first 6 carp we caught in the opening hours of the match would have seen us through. Confirming we had made the right swim choice after good draw, which is always so important. On we role to Oxlease!

See you next time.