If you’re one of the combined 1m-plus followers Ricky Rayment has on social media you’ll be well aware of his love of carp fishing.
The 26-year-old might not be on the radar of the average angler, but he’s a hugely popular former star of ITV’s The Only Way is Essex (Towie). He also appeared alongside Ali Hamidi and Dean Macey in arguably the Big Fish Off’s most explosive episode, the finale of series two in Thailand.
We joined Ricky at his favourite local haunt, Crowsheath Fishery near Billericay, for a chat about his love of carping, playing opera to fish, boilie-flavoured vapes and angling’s image problem.
When did you start fishing?
“I started carp fishing when I was 14 or 15. I used to go every week with my pals until I was about 17, then everyone started doing other things, so I drifted away from it because no one else was doing it and there were other things to do.
“I go to Florida four times a year because my parents lived there, so from 18 until about two years ago all I did was sea fish. Then Ali Hamidi got in touch about the Big Fish Off and I said ‘yeah, let’s do it, I can fish, blah, blah blah’, forgetting how different sea fishing is to carp fishing!
“Then after that I didn’t stop. I just needed to be reminded of it, I suppose. I had slipped into that comfort of sea fishing where you chuck out, you eat your catch and you go home, whereas there’s more to it when you’re carp fishing, which I like.”
How did you get back into carping?
“About this time last year it was getting sunny and I said to my pals ‘let’s go fishing’ and one of them said ‘try Crowsheath, it’s really nice down there’. I had a great time, I caught my two pbs on the first day – a 22lb and a 25lb something. Me and [venue boss] Nick hit it off and now I come down here all the time.”
What aspect of carping do you most enjoy?
“I like the tactical side of it. I watched the Korda Underwater videos and, wow… I was watching it while I was in a bivvy in France and I was thinking ‘my rigs aren’t right, I’m going to have to do it again, and even if I do it again it’s still not going to be right!’. It properly wound me up!”
Do you have any fishing ambitions?
“I spoke to Ali today about doing an internet series. Because I fish all the time, I might as well do something with it and film it, because there’s a big market for it. So he’s going to speak to Danny [Fairbrass, the Korda boss] and their marketing team and see what we can do.
“It would be good to go to different places. There are loads of places I haven’t been, like Spain and all the European places.”
You fished in France last month. How was it?
“It was my first fishing trip to France. I had such a good time, and the fish are just so much bigger. I had six thirties up to 34lb 8oz and my smallest one was 29lb I think. I remember when I had that 29-pounder coming in I was like ‘put it back, I don’t do anything less than thirties now!’ [laughs].
“I had a wicked time. I was actually supposed to come back on the Thursday but we extended to the Saturday, that’s how much I enjoyed it. And I’ve now got a diary full of French trips coming up.”
Does fishing have an image problem?
“Yeah it has, it’s major. Korda are doing the right thing by bringing Tom Dove in. He’s young, he’s got good charisma about him. He appeals to younger guys, and maybe even girls if they like to fish. I think that helps the image. I was saying to Ali that if I was to do something it would bring a different image to fishing because I suppose everybody just associates fishing with old men and sweetcorn! You have to open people’s eyes to it.
“Obviously it can be a little bit boring when you’re sitting and waiting, but there are other things to fishing. You enjoy the company and the socialising. And if you’re not catching you can go to a smaller lake and go for the smaller fish for a bit of fun.”
Do your mates who aren’t into fishing take the mick?
“Nah. I’ll get them saying ‘are you going out fishing again? How many days have you been there? Aren’t you bored?’ But I don’t get bored of it, because I know any second that rod could scream off and it could be something massive or a fish that someone’s been looking for, so I don’t care. I blanked for eight days here once and I don’t care.”
What sort of reaction do you get from Towie fans?
“The girls seem to get quite involved in it. I think people like Korda have helped to raise awareness of fishing with their shows. Social media is a funny thing – there are so many different people from all walks of life on there, so people who watch Towie might still fish, so I still have a lot of followers who like fish and fishing, so every time I put something up it gets a good reaction.”
“I’ll get the odd bloody vegan who goes ‘you’re killing the world’, but I’m like ‘chill out, man, they all go back’. I always say it’s catch and release because some people don’t realise and they ask if I’m going to eat it.”
What do you get out of carp fishing?
“I like the scream of the bite alarm the most, because you’re not aware and then suddenly there’s a screamer and you just and jump out of bed! My sleeping bag’s ****ed, I’ve got no zip on it anymore!
Did you get any good advice on the Big Fish Off?
“Ali’s not a very good teacher – he knows that! That’s why his teams (on the Big Fish Off) always lose! [laughs]”
“I’ve been fishing hard now for about 18 months, and people forget how much you can learn in a short space of time. People who saw me on Big Fish Off and haven’t seen me since wouldn’t realise – I’ve improved a hell of a lot and I do all my own stuff and tie all my own rigs.”
What was it like to film the Big Fish Off?
“It was brilliant, surreal to be honest. It was a different aspect to the other TV stuff I’ve done, but I go into everything with an open mind. It was wicked, laid back, there wasn’t too much pressure. You could get involved as much as you wanted to. It was probably one of my favourite-ever experiences.
“I knew Ali before Big Fish Off, I’d met him around Brentwood and we’d always been friendly. He knew I fished so that’s why he asked me and I was like ‘yep, let’s go’. We were in Thailand for 12 days in all, I stayed an extra week!”
Did landing monster fish in Thailand spoil your domestic fishing?
“There’s still the same buzz. You’ve got to remember, until that fish comes in the net you don’t know how big it is, so you’ve got the same buzz every time. Obviously if you go to Thailand you’re going to catch massive fish, and if you come to Essex you’re not.
“Me and Nick are planning to do a little tour of the UK, fishing and doing little vlogs. If we can get some filming out of it, then happy days – there’s nothing better than getting paid to fish!”
What do you do other than fishing at the moment?
“I’ve got a vaping company and I can do all that from the bank because everything’s online.
“I’d stopped smoking and then I came fishing and I started again, then I quit about three or four months ago and haven’t touched one since.
“I went to the Carpin’ On show in Colchester and a lot of fishermen were vaping, a hell of a lot. There’s a crossover with fishermen and vaping, with all the kit and the flavours. We’ve spoken about releasing some juices that are boilie flavoured.”
Do you miss being on Towie?
“In a sense I had been doing it for five years and it was good to get away from it and have a break. But if I watch it or someone sends me a picture of an old episode I think ‘aw, I really miss that’, so it would be nice to maybe go back one day and have a little reunion.”
Are you still friends with the other cast members?
“Nah, it’s funny with Towie because you’re all brought together and you don’t all necessarily know each other. You would probably say some are friends and some are colleagues.”
Do any of them fish?
“I don’t think so, I don’t think any of them. They did a fake scene down here though.”
You’ve brought a speaker along today, but you’re playing music (quietly) that most people wouldn’t associate with you…
“I love to listen to opera when I’m fishing – Paul Potts, Bocelli, Nessun Dorma. When we were in France I had a double take when Paul Potts was playing. The fish can feel the vibrations!”