A “childhood dream” is how Tom Stokes described catching the Burghfield Common after almost 500 nights on the gruelling venue.
In his first public account of netting the coveted Berkshire fish at 53lb 8oz, the 29-year-old told Carpfeed he couldn’t quite believe it had happened.
“It’s a childhood dream to catch it,” he said. “I was a kid just getting into carping when Nigel Sharp caught it, and that rocked the carp-fishing world.
“The first time I walked round that place was about eight years ago with some mates in the height of summer. It absolutely beat us up. I remember getting back to the car in bits thinking ‘people actually fish this place?!’”
A new area...
The 90-acre pit is a maze of bays and channels, and fishing is only allowed in certain areas.
Tom is just the 12th known angler to catch the giant common and the capture came from Speedboat Point; a swim which has never produced the fish before.
“It’s historically the most popular swim on Burghfield,” said Tom, “it’s a good bite swim, but the number of rod hours it must have seen in the last 20 years without producing the common is crazy.”
Over 450 nights...
Recalling his time on the venue, the delivery driver, who uses all his annual leave to fish the venue three nights a week in summer, said: “I’ve had a ticket for five seasons and it’s four years and three months since I first fished it.
“There was some time away in which I fished other waters so it’s probably three and a half years of fishing it.
“I haven’t counted how many nights I’ve done but it’s over 450 – probably between 450 to 500 nights.”
Asked whether he had a specific plan to target just the common, Tom said: “Unless you find that fish in the edge you are not going to be able to single it out. It does sort of become a numbers game.
“I’d caught most of the other A-Team and the other fish that seem to go with it and these captures made me believe I could catch it.
“I’d seen the common in that region, so I knew that fish was crossing me. I’d had most of the other good ones, including its known friends so I hoped it would eventually come along.”
That special moment...
At 5.45am on Friday morning, it did come along.
Just 30 minutes after he had repositioned that rod following a tench, Tom’s 116th carp from Burghfield was the one they all want.
“When I caught the common it didn’t fight like the absolute beast I expected.
“I was fishing towards snags at 110yds and fishing locked up, so it came up on the surface on the bite. It kited really fast to the right, and the common is a known kiter, but it was kiting towards me so it came from 110yds to 40yds.
“It rolled on the surface and I saw common scales and I knew it was a big fish, but because it wasn’t beating me up I didn’t think it was her.
“There’s a low 40 in there called the Saddleback Common and I thought it must be that.
“It went to the left, rolled again, and I saw this big hump, but I still wasn’t convinced. It then weeded me up 15yds out so I got in the waders and up it popped with weed over its eyes.
“I could just see a massive set of lips but by that point it was in the net and all over. I’m quite pleased it was, because it didn’t give me time to be nervous.”
Is it really her?
Tom said the fish “went mental in the net” after it realised what was happening, but once he had secured it and called two mates he began to question what had happened.
“I started to doubt myself. I told my mates Chris and Byron that I think I’ve caught it, but it was a weird experience, I think I needed someone to confirm it for me!”
The Stourbridge angler added: “It’s how I dreamt I’d catch it, but I didn’t expect it.
“You can put so much time and effort into that place, but the reality is you might not ever catch it, and those doubts do set in.
“There’s one fish I’ve had eight times, and you do begin to wonder if you need to change what you’re doing to catch the common. But I’m glad I stuck at it – it proves I could catch it by doing what I was doing.”
An emotional farewell...
Tom is undecided about where he will head next, and admitted it’ll be tough to leave a venue that has dominated his routine for years.
“I love that lake. It’s an incredible place and in a way it’s a bit sad to be leaving because that’s probably the best fishing I’ll ever have in this country.”
He added with a smile: “I could go fishing this weekend, but I think I’ll have a few weeks off!”
RIG AND BAIT
- Stiff D rig
- Loosefeed: Oxford Carp Baits MC Nut boilies and particles
- Hookbait: Fake tiger nut
- Hook: Thinking Anglers Straight Eye hook
- Lead setup: Helicopter
POSTSCRIPT: HAD HE LOST IT BEFORE?
The Burghfield Common is known to fight like a demon, so had Tom previously been done by the monster?
“There’s one potential loss in my third season when I lost a really big fish in Alsatian Bay," he said.
“I’d had a good run of fish and had seen the common. It was a full moon in June and I think it was two years to the day that Dave Lane had had it and I lost a really big fish.
“I never saw it, but the water it moved…I’ve never seen another fish in there do that.”
Whichever fish it was, it certainly doesn't matter now!