Joe Atkinson Interview
Paul Monkman talks to the rising Essex star.
Despite being just 25 years of age, Essex-based Joe Atkinson has achieved so much in his angling career, from winning the British Carp Angling Championships to catching UK fifties. We caught up with him to find out where it all began, how it all happened, and where he goes from here.
Paul Monkman: How long have you been a carp angler, and where did it all start for you?
Joe Atkinson: I started carp fishing seriously from the age of 16; I had done a little bit prior to this, but with no regularity. I went straight in at the deep end and joined a local lake known as Aquatels, which was open to the general public as a day-ticket, but a membership could also be purchased. It was by no means easy, but luckily for me I hit it off with the venue straight away and had a couple of very successful seasons on there. I believe this aided me in my carp fishing a great deal, having to learn and adapt fast if I wanted any regular success over there.
PM: When and where did you catch your first twenty? Do you remember it well?
JA: My first twenty was from Aquatels. It’s a special capture that stays with all anglers, I’m sure, as does any milestone you manage to achieve. That moment you draw the fish over the net cord, then set your eyes upon the prize is what it’s all about, especially when you know it’s a new personal best!
PM: You got into the trade quite young, working for Angling Direct. How long did you work for them, and did it help open any doors for you in the angling world?
JA: I did my school work experience at Angling Direct at the age of 14, and after my time there I was offered a part-time job. Having the chance to earn money whilst working around what I lived and breathed was a dream for me. Part time at weekends led to full-time employment once I left school. At the age of 18 I had a year away from the shop, but soon enough I was drawn back into the trade. The next five years were spent between two of my local Angling Direct stores. I had a great time whilst there, but I have set off on other ventures.
Working in the trade definitely helps you as an angler, and in more ways than you’d think. Your overall knowledge will develop over time through being around other anglers. Whether this be on products, bait, or venues to fish and their form, it’s endless. You never stop learning in life no matter what you do. Each day you’re speaking to an array of anglers, people both in and out of the trade. Without doubt this definitely helps you on your angling journey, obviously all dependent on what route you want to go down. You and your angling become far more noticed, as you’re interacting with like-minded people each day. If you’re being consistent and standing out from the crowd then you’ll get people’s attention for the right reasons. Of course being in the trade opens up doors for you, but if you’re going about your angling in the right way then you’ll get what’s deserved.
PM: You became the youngest-ever winner of the British Carp Angling Championship at the age of 18 in 2009. What do you remember about that?
JA: I remember everything about it! Having only carp fished seriously for a couple of years it was something I’d never normally dream of entering, as I’d be fishing against anglers right up to the highest level, many with more years carp fishing under their belt than my age. My cousin and uncle had had some great success in the BCAC, however, winning it two years running, so when the chance arose to do it with my cousin’s friend Matt, I thought I’d give it a go. I was very confident in my angling ability and the stiff competition around me didn’t deter me from giving it a good go. When asked by my mates how I thought I’d get on, the answer was simple: I said I was going to win, and I genuinely believed I was going to. You can’t go into something like that without the belief in yourself and your ability. Confidence plays a massive part in fishing.
We managed to come first in our qualifier, which set us on the way to the semis. A very challenging semi-final took place with only a handful of carp seeing the bank, but luckily we managed second place, which meant we’d cemented our place in the final. The final was without doubt the most nerve-wracking 48 hours of my life. After the first night, we were sitting in first place with a comfortable lead – I couldn’t believe it might actually be possible. That day the action slowed up and other pairs around the lake caught up our lead, with a couple of pairs passing us. The fish just weren’t out in front of our swim, and the chance of lifting the title was slipping through our hands. That evening and through the night it all turned back in our favour, though, and by the morning we had a healthy lead once more. As with the previous day the action stopped and other pairs began to take our lead away from us. All I kept praying for was the klaxon to go! After a morning spent pacing around the swim, counting down the seconds, we heard the noise we’d desperately been hoping for, and after a quick radio check, they announced we’d done it. I honestly think if there’d been another hour on the clock the title wouldn’t have been ours, but I was glad it was! That moment I experienced then just can’t be put into words – I was totally overwhelmed. British Carp Angling Champion at the first attempt at the age of just 18 – what a moment!
PM: Can you remember how you spent your prize money?
JA: Unfortunately for me, I was young and naïve. Looking back at it now, I’d prefer that the money was sitting in the bank. Nevertheless, the achievement was so great that the money was just a massive bonus. I enjoyed myself with it, so it’s not so bad. I managed a holiday out of it, treated myself to a load of new clothes and some fishing gear, and the rest just dwindled down over time.
PM: Is match fishing something that still interests you?
JA: I’m naturally a very competitive person, so to be honest I’m surprised I haven’t entered more of them. In the past I haven’t been particularly fond of the venue choices through the different stages. However they’ve since changed and, with a wider choice of venues and competitions to choose from now, it’s something I’ll definitely be giving another go in the near future.
PM: I believe you had the opportunity to fish Kevin Nash’s famous Church Pool as a result of your involvement with Angling Direct. How did that turn out?
JA: A few of the lads from the store, myself included, got a chance to fish the Church, and of course we took up the offer. Unfortunately for me, I only managed to get one night in, but I wasn’t complaining after the result I had. I’d managed to sneak one out and I’d fluked the lake’s largest resident at the time at a spawned-out weight of 46lb 6oz. As you can imagine, I was pleased to say the least.
PM: What did you think of the Lake, and Kevin’s recent plans to open the complex to the public?
JA: The two lakes are stunning little venues – you’ve got to take your hat off to Kevin for what he’s done with them. The fishing comes at a steep price, but so do all the finer things in life. Both lakes contain some truly awesome carp and a potential personal best would be on the cards for many visiting anglers. You might only get the chance once, so it’s something worth looking into.
PM: As well as your Church Pool fish, you’ve had some other fantastic carp from Essex, not least the Tiger Fish and Coconut Common from Bayeswater in the same session. What do you remember about that catch?
JA: The session I’ll struggle to ever repeat, and a morning that I could only have dreamt of happening! The first take of the session ended up in a memorable boat battle. After unveiling my prize from the weed, I was blown away when I realised that the Tiger Fish was in the net. Not having seen the bank in a year, everyone had been talking about her possibly breaking the 50lb barrier for the first time, and when the needle went straight round to 51lb 6oz, I couldn’t believe it. The carp I’d joined for was in my arms, also being a new personal best and a Bayeswater lake record. I was on cloud nine!
I was sitting back trying to take in the moment when suddenly my other rod was away. It didn’t take long for me to realise what I was attached to; it was the Coconut Common. After an extremely nerve-wracking fight she was in the net and I was absolutely stunned. I’d had two takes resulting in the lake’s largest mirror and common. The Coconut Common went 44lb 10oz, which was another personal best for me! To bank either one of these fish would have been a dream come true for me, but to land both in the same session and both being personal bests... well it just doesn’t get much better than that in my opinion!
PM: You also recently caught a 40lb 9oz mirror known as NG off the top from Par Back Lake. Where does that rank amongst your best catches?
JA: It ranks right up there to be honest. Par Back Lake is an awesome little water that I could never get bored of fishing. The Lake contains some stunning carp and I’ve been lucky to get amongst a fair few of them. NG, however, is not only the Lake’s largest resident, but the one I dearly wanted, and the events that led up to finally banking her made it even more memorable. I was watching her for hours, in awe as she swam around the Lake picking off the odd mixer, and eventually the right opportunity arose and she was mine. Being a surface personal best, target fish and a new lake record just made it even more special for me. Another capture I will never forget!
PM: You are very adept at surface fishing. Is it something you do a lot of?
JA: Surface fishing for me personally is without doubt the best way of catching carp. Being able to watch your quarry up close and personal, being able to single out your target fish, seeing with your own eyes that moment when your hookbait is taken, and using a couple of spare hours and turning it into a successful fishing trip, it’s an absolutely devastating way to fish. It just amazes me how underused this style of fishing is. Trust me, you’re missing out big time if you’re not out there surface fishing.
PM: You’ve also caught numerous fish from the likes of Fryerning, Star Lane and Priory Park. Where do you think Essex rates amongst the best carp counties in the UK?
JA: Essex is up there with the best of them without doubt. It has downsides, though. The population of carp anglers within and surrounding Essex is an incredibly high number, making venues extremely busy and very pressured. As mentioned, however, the fish are there to be caught, so if you’re willing to put up with the crowds, the rewards are there to be had.
PM: You obviously work full time, so how often do you get to fish?
JA: Currently I’m working six days a week, so fishing time is hard to come by. With current daylight hours, I’m managing to do a few evenings surface fishing during the week, which helps me to get my weekly fix. As work slows down, I’ll be sure to make the most of a good opportunity, though. Having only fished a handful of nights so far this season, I’m keen to make up for lost time!
PM: Have you ever fished abroad? If so, where, and how did you get on?
JA: Venturing abroad for my angling is something I haven’t done a great deal of. My first venture to foreign grounds was to Lac de Bley in 2013, where I ended up with 25 fish to 49¾lb. A great social and very productive trip, but not something that had me craving for more of the same. During late 2014 I had the opportunity to go to Lac de St Cassien, and of course I took up the offer. In five days fishing I managed to land 12 carp, the biggest being 44lb 14oz. Now, this is a water I could happily fish the rest of my life on – a truly awesome lake in all aspects. The unknown and the scale of the challenge in front of you is what fishing’s all about for me.
PM: Do you have any future plans to fish abroad?
JA: I haven’t got any plans as yet, but I’ll definitely be travelling abroad again in the search of carp. The chance to hoist up something possibly twice the size of your personal best would definitely be a rather nice experience one day. The journey you go on, being out of your comfort zone and everything else that fishing abroad entails is something I’m keen on experiencing once more.
PM: Where are you fishing at the moment, and are you targeting a particular fish?
JA: At the moment I’ve only got a couple of local club lake tickets, but I’ve been lucky enough to have already landed a few of the fish I was after. I’m just enjoying my fishing, chopping and changing venues. I definitely want a water to sink my teeth into, but I’m just waiting for the right one to pop up. I’ve made the mistake of fishing somewhere for certain carp before, but not enjoying my time spent at the venue. Sometimes it’s not worth ruining your time on the bank just for that one moment; you lose sight of why you first started and don’t enjoy the journey that got you to that place in time. Fishing’s a passion that I enjoy and I want to keep it that way.
PM: What would you say are the three factors behind your success as an angler?
JA: Firstly, the effort I put into my fishing is a massive factor. Effort equals reward; a phrase that’s so commonly used, but for good reason.
Secondly, watercraft; being observant to what’s going on around me and adapting to it appropriately. For example, whether this be seeing fish showing and moving on to them, or knowing when to fish on the deck or up in the water.
Thirdly, being passionate for the hobby that I love so dearly. When you live and breathe something, it becomes far easier and more natural; it becomes a way of life.
PM: Finally, what is your ultimate angling goal?
JA: My ultimate angling goal is to never lose the buzz I get every time I get out on the bank. If in years to come I can keep the same hunger and passion that I have towards fishing now then I’ll be more than content. What happens along the way in terms of personal achievements will all be bonuses!