We never quite know how are lives are going to pan out, do we? Thirty years ago I thought I might captain England’s football team and win the world cup (I was a 5yr. old!) Twenty years ago I bought my first guitar and dreamt about playing to packed arenas with young strumpets screaming my name and throwing their underwear and lustful suggestions at me in equally copious amounts.
Ten years ago I imagined myself leading a bloody civil uprising against the bourgeois regime, trying to abolish the rating system and implement their scurrilous new poll-tax plans. (I think I was trying to impress an oppressive girl…or was it oppress an impressive girl, I can’t remember)

The common denominator with all of these pursuits is, over the years, I have failed at them all miserably. This was not down to any wavering self-confidence that I may not have had the ability to complete the said tasks, but mainly, because I didn’t actually get off my arse and try. All things in life that are worthwhile require a lot of effort and your hopes and aspirations with your fishing are no different.

There is little point sitting by the fire in your living room on a cold winters morning reading an article in some glossy magazine on how to catch cold water carp and wishing it could be you - you have to be there doing it yourself ; strange but true.
You see there is a pot of gold at the end of all of our rainbows if we take the time and effort to strive for it but it requires more than an "I wish…" to make it happen.
With my youthful dalliances aside, I have achieved many angling goals I have worked for, from catching a one-pound eel (urgh!) from a local irrigation dyke when I was about eight years old to my more modern-day aims.

Long term aims are important; such as the amount of fish in a season I might expect to catch, a particular carp from a certain venue, or even just trying to connive my way into fishing a water that has previously been out-of-bounds, save marrying the landowners pig-ugly daughter.

Short-term aims, like out-catching one's mate on the day or just refusing to settle for a blank session are not as essential but are still important as they do keep you sharp and focussed. It is paramount for success to keep your sights realistic; always falling short of your objectives or failing to achieve what you set out for will lead to disappointment and inevitably an acceptance of defeat -not good! You must choose something that will test you and push you to your limits to give a feeling of accomplishment when you are victorious.

When I first started specimen hunting, pike were my chosen quarry, mainly because they were just difficult to catch and not downright, plain bloody impossible like the carp seemed to be. Like any other ‘keenie’ I joined the local branch of the Pike Anglers Club, begged, borrowed and stole all the books I could by Fred Buller, Dr. Barrie Rickards, Bill Chillingsworth, Fred Wagstaffe and the likes and read all I could, gleaning all the information available and dreaming of the time I could get to fish Hornsea mere, Loch Lomond or one of the big Irish waters to implement all I had learnt.

At the time, a ten-pound fish would have been a dream come true, let alone one of the huge number of leviathans that seemed to be regularly pulling in cows grazing by the bank side or swallowing young boys whole as they paddled in the margins at every opportunity in mythical farm pools. I must admit though, most of these tales did come from my mother, probably in some vain attempt to keep me from going too close to the water's edge I suspect.

It was in one of these books that I read a pike was known as a ‘jack’ or ‘joey’ (depending on which side of South Mimms service station you lived) until they reached maturity at around five-pounds when they could be termed a fully-fledged pike. I was aghast. Here was I, a pike angler with a personal best of 4lbs10oz to find, according to the experts, I had not even caught a genuine pike yet. This was ‘throw down the gauntlet’ time; I was a pike angler and now I had to show my true mettle. It would not be an easy task but it was a challenge I would not shirk. I would move heaven and earth if necessary but I would not be defeated – I would break that five-pound barrier!

This is where I learned the importance of having targets to aim for. As much as I was enjoying my fishing and dreaming of those monsters of the deep, until I had a solid objective in front of me to work for, I had not stretched myself. I hadn’t dug deep to find out what my capabilities were. As a consequence of my new found resolve, I started trying harder and questioning more until eventually, I smashed my P.B with an enormous brute of a fish, all green and teeth, weighing in at very nearly six-pounds.

Now, the effort I put in for that fish made it extra special, more so than if I had ‘just’ caught it without really trying, for in the words of a certain horse chestnut maestro, "I came and I conkered!"

Knowing how this burning ambition had brought me success that I may not have otherwise enjoyed I was quick to set myself a new test, a ‘double’ maybe… surely not, but then I thought, "Well why not!" and so it has gone on.

Some years later, after I had got my head around the psychological barrier that carp were some wily aquatic equivalent of a chess grandmaster and realised that they too are merely dumb pond life, I started having designs on them with the old ‘target system’ still paying dividends. First a fish, then any double, then a double figured common (as the first had been a mirror) etc, etc. and as every dream was achieved, a new one was always there to replace it.

It made me smile to read Rod Hutchinson say, after catching his third fifty-pound carp he suddenly realized more than anything else he wanted to catch a fifty-pounder from somewhere other than Lac-du-St. Cassien! That is the joy of angling; it knows no bounds.
You shouldn't be influenced by other peoples' ambitions though, because only you know what you really want to achieve and only you know if you are capable of making it a reality. I’m sure the guy who caught the first fifteen-pound bream was on cloud nine for weeks but I know of other anglers that would not have even weighed it! Amazing as this may sound, it would have been deemed an interference in their quest for their chosen goal of a record-breaking carp, barbel, gudgeon or whatever they were striving for. Not that I would condone such an attitude; I believe all fish should be judged on their own merits - even bream! - but there are some very single-minded souls out there. You set your own targets.

In a recent conversation with the editor, I told him of a little carp lake we fished together a decade earlier. Although the carp hadn’t grown much, I had heard whispers of a couple of good pike captures and decided to try my luck. Within a few short trips Andrew and I had banked three nineteen-pounds fish. I suggested to Geoff, tongue-in-cheek, that with his weighing scales we were sure to crack a ‘twenty’ out! He spoke with equal enthusiasm about his recent river sorties and that a three-pounds grayling was next on his agenda. This is from a man who has used three-pounds fish as live baits before now; it all goes to show how our perceptions change according to what we are after at the time. You would think having caught 100lbs fish abroad his zest for catching ‘small’ native fish would have diminished; not so. It’s horses for courses, if Geoff went to Spain and fished the river Ebro where the skies are the limit and caught a ‘twenty’ he would have felt a bit cheated - but if he fished a local water and caught a similarly sized fish he would be elated. It’s not the weight in pounds and ounces or even kilos; it’s the "effort over possibilities" equation.

One goal I had was to catch a winter carp over twenty pounds. The problem with these ‘target’ fish is, they take effort to make them feel worthwhile. In November one year, I decided to make a winter ‘twenty’ the objective for the coming months ahead; I caught a twenty-one pounds common the following day. Now some might say ‘job done’, the fact I was still wearing a tee shirt in the mildest November on record left me feeling cheated. Yes, I had achieved my aim but it hadn’t taken enough effort for it to feel worthwhile. That fish turned out to be my best carp of the cold months; I was pleased but felt it wasn’t a true ambition achieved.

The following winter I was chasing, and landed, a four pound perch; another ambition accomplished, but this one had taken real effort, a proper slog, revising rigs, overcoming problems, not to mention the odd touch of hypothermia. When those scales swung around to 4ozs. past the ‘magic’ four pound barrier it was heaven meets utopia meets nirvana; without doubt my best fish to date.

Several years on and with no hidden agenda, Andrew and I thought we would try an old stomping ground of mine.
We turned up to find the lake almost totally frozen over; no choice about the swim – we’d take the one that wasn’t ‘on the rocks’. I cast to what I remembered to be a summer lily pad in the hope something maybe lying up in the decaying roots. The weather worsened as we drank tea and soup by the bucket load to keep warm against the harsh elements. Time was running out as the margins began to freeze, threatening to turn the lakes only available swim into a Christmas card photo opportunity. My right hand ‘swinger’ rose silently; the optonic frozen solid. A swift strike met a steadfast resistance and a slow dogged fight resulted in the most gorgeous of cold, golden coloured mirror carp of 22lbs. 8ozs. I held my prize aloft with the knowledge that although I had caught a ‘winter twenty’ before, this one actually counted; regardless of the date. There were brass monkeys with tears in their eyes that morning; that made it special!

The moral of all this is YOU choose your dream, YOU make it happen, don’t be swayed by other peoples preconceptions, don’t fall into any ‘numbers’ game, chase your own rainbows – there is a pot of gold.