Andy Black interview by Neville Fickling

AB Interview Main_01

First Published in Pike and Predators

Andy Black is one of those thinking predator anglers who actually writes about his fishing. A regular in this magazine and Anglers Mail his down to earth common-sense attitude is a refreshing change to the “crash bang wallop merchants” that appear to be creeping into our sport. (how many daft ways can you hold a pike and better still hold the rod in your mouth!). He fishes for pike, zander and perch and frequently teams up with Paul Garner.

Andy I’ve been told not to ask you what you do for a living. As always I do the opposite of what I’m told, so what do you do for a living? (I have a vision, if you say civil servant of you working for MI5 or MI6 but my imagination tends to get carried away!).

I think you will find they are called SIS now but I digress; Work wise, I have been fortunate to do a lot of different and diverse jobs, ranging from Fisheries Ranger to Professional Fighter! Currently you will be please to know I’m a civil servant.

Rather than starting at the beginning as I usually do I’m going to ask you how you got into writing about predator fishing. When was your first article published?

In truth I don’t really remember, while I was at college and university I did quite a bit of writing for some of the early magazines, I did a few for the Catfish Conservation Groups “whiskers” magazine and people liked them, which was encouraging. I then went on to write a little bit for Anglers Mail, just a few catch reports and sending them some photographs purely because one of my friends who I went to university with worked there and would ring me up for comments and such. Then the guys there liked what I was writing and probably more importantly the quality of my photographs and asked me to do become a regular contributor, and I have been involved with columns such as “pikers diary”, “pike scene” “lure attacks” and such like, I also help with some of the reviews and the questions and answers section. Sometimes I even send something to you!
Writers write in different ways, some can write anything at anytime, but I tent to write especially my technical articles when I have something in my head to write about if that makes sense? I can’t just sit down and look at a blank screen and write. I know some do, but if I do this the end product is predictably rubbish and I wouldn’t submit it anyway.

In this day and age where predator fishing is very competitive, why would anyone want to write anything. Do you not feel that you are giving your edges away or is it possible to keep one step ahead all the time?

There are two questions there – Why would I write about predator fishing? Well predator fishing is something I like doing and I like to think that I am quite good at it so that gives me some subject matter. The old cliché that everyone says is “to give something back” and I really do believe that. As you will know for a lot of “tier one” anglers fishing is their life, and a lot sacrifices are made to catch or try to catch big fish so I do like to give something back. For a lot of my Anglers Mail articles I write at an introductory level for new anglers and I feel it is important that new anglers get the right advice especially when it comes to fish handling and unhooking, the more advice you can give anyone on this the better it is for the whole pike / predator scene.
I like to think of myself as more of a technical writer then a story type writer, and for the copies I do for P&P I do like to go into more depths about various techniques or issues and this is a good format to do so as I understand the demographic of the readership is generally more experienced anglers so I hope my articles appeal to that audience.
I also have a webpage where I generally have a mixture of both types of articles, plus the occasional blog on my latest fishing or latest review. Unfortunately or fortunately whichever way you look at it, the written word is becoming more digital so I try and keep this as up to date as possible.
Do I feel like I am giving away any of my edges? I don’t write about any of my edges, well not until I have done with them and something better has come along like it always does. I would say there is a lot of truth in the saying you don’t know what you don’t know.

Not my biggest but one of my favourite pike_01

Now I will go to the beginning. Where do you come from, where do you live and how old are you? I understand that you’ve been married just over a year. I know that because you had to cancel a talk for me due to forgetting it clashed with your first anniversary. I wouldn’t worry too much Andy I still can’t remember my anniversary and that was 36 years ago!

It wasn’t that I forgot my wedding anniversary, it was that I forgot the date of the talk, and I thought I quite like being married so I had better cancel the talk!
Originally I come from Rutland which had its advantages with good local fishing at the time, moved to the midland area, and I’m currently living down south. I am one of those anglers that is not afraid to travel, so I fish all over the shop so you’re as likely to find me up in Scotland or down at Chew.

NF How did you get into fishing and particularly predator fishing?

My Dad used to be a fanatical fisherman as well and when I was old enough after lots of nagging he took me, I think it was to the Trent or the Ouse or somewhere, I can’t remember where but I do remember being so excited I dug up all of the neatly planted flower beds in the garden to get some worms the day before and got a right telling off for it! I caught a fat gudgeon on my first cast and it went from there. We used to fish for all sorts but in the winter it was mainly spinning with mepps spinners all along the Drains and River Wellend we caught loads of fish, but I don’t remember any really big ones, maybe 15- 18s were caught but I think that would have possibly been because of the lures available at the time rather then there not being any in there.
I used to fish a lot in my teens for carp and catfish then there was a bit of a hiatus when I went to college and university and did things that college and university people do! For full disclosure, I did my BSc (Hons) in Fisheries Science! While doing this I didn’t really do much fishing, other than sea fishing as I was down in Plymouth at the time, but later I returned and got addicted to lure fishing for the predatory species.

My first Fly caught 20_01

NF Do you fish for anything other than pike zander and perch?

I used to, but now it is really only those three, and occasionally Eels and Catfish. I do like sea fishing and that tends to fill some time in the summer months in between my busy life in the Civil Service at this time of year!

NF I know this is probably a daft question but rank pike zander and perch in the order that they interest you? Why in that order?

It is a daft question, and I’m going to give you a daft answer; it depends on what I am fishing for at the time. What does that mean? Well for the last couple of seasons I have had my “Pike Head” on and I have been totally focused on them and I love catching pike and I don’t think there will ever be a time that I get board of catching 30’s. Previously I have had my “Zed Head” on and I was totally fanatical when I wanted to try and get 18lbers from two different waters. I’ve had my “Perch head” on as well, I’ve still not had a 5lber though maybe next year.
Though throughout the season I usually will target each species at some point, usually its Zander and perch early on then pike throughout the colder months. Due to the amount of fresh photographs I need for some of my article I often have to fish for particular fish to meet that criteria, which does sound like a hard life doesn’t it? But imagine the conditions are spot on for a bit of spate river piking but deadlines mean you have to go and catch some perch it can affect you and your own fishing if you let it.

NF There is the impression that you fish mainly trout waters. I presume that is incorrect?

No I would say that is quite a fair comment, I would say I spend 70 – 80 % of my time on the trout waters for pike, simply because that is where you have a realistic chance of catching big pike. They really are the future of pike fishing in particular simply because they are difficult to exploit – what does that mean? Well we live in a time where fish removal from lakes and rivers is rife, and it is simply harder to remove pike from big deep waters ergo there are going to be more pike in there to catch in the first place.
I do fish a lot of other waters, especially the tidal and spate rivers, but vary rarely will I publicise these catches for the above reasons so the perception of a trout water angler is probably understandable.

Big fish, big waters, my favourite fishng_01

A number of pike anglers have no interest at all in trout water pike fishing which is fair enough. When they start decrying trout water pike how do you respond?

I have never had anyone decry any of my trout water pike captures to my face so I haven’t come across that situation. Anglers who think trout water pike are easy fall into three categories 1. Those that have never fished them – 2. Those that are exceptionally good anglers – 3. The retarded.
Trout waters are hard simply because you have a pike living in an environment of excessive good food sources, namely trout, and they don’t need to feed that often on these food sources to meet their biological requirements. How does this affect the budding pike angler? It means you are often fishing for fish that are full up and don’t want to feed. Add to this the often vast expanses of these fisheries it makes them tough places to fish, especially for the bait angler no matter what you read in the angling papers.

I think we are all glad to be able to fish trout waters, but do you feel that fishing these waters has become a middle class sport?

A middle class sport! I’ve not noticed most of “regulars” who turn up on opening days driving BMWs and Mercs.
Trout waters are perceived to be expensive fisheries, but are they really when you compare them to other fisheries? Some day-ticket carp waters are running at a comparable prices. Personally I prefer to go on a water with lots of big pike and blank then go to a local lake and catch jacks all day long. Like anything its personal and it’s what floats your boat to excuse the pun.
Would there be a price that would put me off? Of course there would be, the individual angler would need to weigh up what that particular fishing is worth to them. To some it’s going to be more than for others would pay.

Middle Class Trout Water fishing

NF You fish waters that could produce a record pike, zander or perch. Would you attempt to claim a record if you were so fortunate?

I try to only fish waters that have a realistic possibility of if not a record fish, but a big fish, which for pike is 30+ I see no point in doing anything other than that, I mean how many twenties does anyone want to catch? That’s me being facetious buy the way. But there does come a time in some “named” anglers careers when there is a tipping point, some carry on fishing for big fish even if they are having a hard streak and man-up, others however change and start fishing for jacks often stating things like size doesn’t matter – err yes it does. Or worse, it’s just about having your string pulled – err no it isn’t, but I suppose if that keeps you happy.
Anyway I digress again, as for claiming a record I think I probably would as long as it didn’t harm the fish or the fishery in doing so. For example should a record zander come from deep water at Grafham (not that it ever will in my opinion) the rigmarole of having to take it to the bank and get witnesses etc. would quite simply mean the death of that fish. If by my actions I caused that death I would be quite upset so I simply wouldn’t do it. (I once had a 14lber die on me and I didn’t fish for about a month!)
It is possible that the pike record could go from a couple of waters I fish, would taking that fish to the bank kill it? Probably not, but it probably wouldn’t do it much good either. In fact I would go as far to say that in the past there were several examples where pike were never recaptured from trout waters, examples being Llandegfedd, Blithfield, Ladybower, and anglers simply put up with it. Looking back I think this was simply because anglers not knowing any better would keep them in sacks and take them to the bank and keep them out the water for too long! So it was bad handling rather than capture that killed them.
For a water like Chew the additional publicity should a record come out wouldn’t be too much of a problem as fishing is limited anyway. It may have an impact on the angler though as I would suspect the ebay prices would go through the roof!
If the pike record came from an unknown water I’d be happy just to know the weight and put it back rather then risk publishing the water and have the after effects descend on the fishery. Would I publicise that fish? Yes – about 10 years afterwards!

NF If the trout water scene collapsed tomorrow what would you do?

I would imagine I would have what my colleges call a “code green” (a Mr Angry moment). As I love fishing them, big pike, big waters, big boats.
In all seriousness I don’t know what I would do, probably just fish abroad more on the big waters.

A Big Chew Fish_01

You’ve fly fished for pike on Chew and done rather well. Is it hard work? Do you have any tips for those of us who are going to give it a go?

I am going to disagree on this as I don’t think I have been overly successful on Chew on the fly, yes I’ve had a few twenties and fluked a 30, but considering the amount of big fish in there I have done far better on other waters on the fly. I have never found fly fishing hard work, but I suppose that is because I have done quite a lot of it and it is a akin to stand up lure fishing which I can do to the cows come home if I think it is the method to use. Regarding tips, the most common thing I see is “ego” casting people trying to cast as far as possible before stripping their fly back before it snags the bottom. You don’t need to cast that far and it is far better to cast short and work the fly slowly, especially in weedy waters.
The major thing I would emphasise with pike fly fishing is the need to take all the usual axillary landing and unhooking gear with you. For some reason certain pike fly anglers think is appropriate to go out without unhooking mats and even nets in some cases as they “unhook” all their fish in the water – rubbish at some point you are going to get a badly hooked fish and it is quite common especially if the fish are taking hard for the fly to hook in the gill rakers. You are not going to convince me that someone that has gone out without a net or a mat will be carrying bolt croppers to cut the hooks? It is really bad angling to go out unequipped and I still can’t understand with such an expensive resource that can be lost because of just one angler the fisheries involved still allow this practice to go ahead. In a day and age when we have all the kit and we know how to look after pike it is inexcusable – From a fisheries management point of view I would ensure that each boat had its own unhooking mat or better still a sladle, and a good net and set of unhooking tools – they could even charge for hire of them, or a deposit to make sure they come back and bring in extra revenue for the fishery – it seems a win – win in my book.

With your experience of lure fishing are there any advances you can see coming in the future? For example do you think the innovative lures from example Savage will make a difference?

Being sponsored by other lure manufactures it would be inappropriate of me to comment on that.
However for me, lure fishing is the way to catch fish, it is such an effective method that I am surprised that so few anglers do it. I find it ever more surprising that those who do lure fish tend to fixate on catching jacks and micro species! I am flabbergasted that there is even the term “wasp fishing”.
I think the reason most pike anglers don’t lure fish is simply because when they got into fishing the only lures you could get were crappy spinners and 3 inch spoons, and these generally only catch small fish – now you can get all manner of large lure which are great from pike, yes there is an effort in casting them and getting your presentation correct. But they will often out fish every other method in the right conditions.
What I will say is that lures come in many shapes and sizes, and new “innovative lures” come and go, some look almost identical to others, but there are a few really special lures out there that will out fish nearly all others of the same genera. So once you have found a few like this you stock up on them in case they are “changed” or not produced anymore. I’ve got lures from ten years ago that still out fish most “new Innovative lures”. There is some truth in the saying that a good lure angler takes boxes of lures afloat, a great lure angler takes two. Going back to special lures, there is also a strange phenomenon that I have noticed in that some lure anglers are very successful with particular lure types and others find them less then rubbish. Personally I think this is down individual to fishing styles such as retrieve rates, sink times etc, rather then discrepancies in lure manufacture. There is a lot more to the minutiae of lure fishing then people think and it can take a life time to learn.

You carry your sonar around with you like the crown jewels. How has it helped you?

That’s because it’s worth nearly the same amount as the crown jewels!
I think use of advanced imaging devices has complemented my style of fishing, i.e. lure fishing and covering a lot of water quickly. In certain circumstances you can target individual fish with them, this is especially true with zander and to a lesser extent with other species. I won’t go into too much detail as I have gone over it before, but you have to weigh up to pros and cons of these units. There is an impression, and I’m probably as guilty as anyone for perpetrating it, that you buy one and start reeling in fish. No – you take the plunge buy one, for a not inconsiderable price, then you have to spend time using it to get used to it which can take a long time for some. I have loads of questions each week on finders through my website, most are along the lines of which one to buy; – Well get the best you can afford, middle of the road ones are a waste of money because they won’t do anything that a low end unit can’t but can’t do what you expect and want a top end unit to does. The next most common problem is in what I call interpretation problems, or “I have the same unit as you but I can’t see …” or “my settings are wrong because I can’t see..” nearly always this is interpretation problems in that it is not the unit, it is the angler not knowing what they are looking for or at on the screen. It’s a very complex subject and most anglers give up and end up paying a couple of grand for basically a depth sounder.
In summery I think a good top of the range imager / sounder is highly beneficial for a lure angler, for the bait angler less so, and if you know the water or area a lot less so.

Finders  or Imagers are invaluable to my style of fishing_01

If real time viewing underwater cameras become commonplace as they are bound to, will you consider using one?

If I thought that it would help me catch more fish then yes. Effectively we already use similar technology anyway with the top end sonar units, you can see fish (or the real time computerised image of the fish) coming to inspect a lure and see what reaction you get. It is a great technique especially for pelagic fish.

Finally where do you see your fishing going? Any hopes or aims for the future?

A few years ago I think there was a very real possibility of a record zander coming from a particular area on the Severn system. Alas that has changed with the amount of fish removals in that area. But I still feel the tidal system could do something special as it is harder to exploit due to the nature of the river. But it’s tough going down there, so I still spend some time down there.
For Pike, through the traditional pike season, I always aim for a twenty of the week. Which I know is unrealistic, but I sometimes manage it, it’s just the thirty of the month that I have struggled on! I would like to get a 35lber this year and maybe a Welsh 30 which I think is doable.

Thanks for your time Andy and I hope to see you on the water in the future, but preferably not catching a monster 100 yards from me. I’m only human!

Yes sorry about that, I’ll try and be closer next time so you can see it better.

This big thirty was caught on a lure while all around the great and the good and Neville were blanking on deadbaits_01