I was 39 years old when I became obsessed with catching a fish – a giant mirror carp by the name of Two-Tone. I often saw the fish in the crystal-clear waters of a lake near Ashford in Kent, but catching it was something else. The more I tried, the more obsessed I became, until nothing else mattered. I gave up six years of my life to fishing for Two-Tone, an average of 50 hours a week in spring, summer and autumn. Meanwhile, it was growing into Britain’s biggest ever freshwater fish.
I first became aware of Two-Tone in 1996, through a friend. Every fisherman wants to catch the biggest fish there is, and this one already weighed more than 50 pounds. I knew then that I wanted to catch this fish more than any other in the world.
Conningbrook is a former gravel pit near Ashford. I know blokes who have fished there for 10 years and never had a single bite. Why do they do it? For the same reasons as other people become obsessed with climbing mountains or knocking little balls down holes, I suppose.
The obsession does involve a lot of sacrifice. Trying to catch Two-Tone cost me a lot of time and money, but did I care? No. I have seen carp fishing break up marriages, when guys get so obsessed that the wife and kids can’t tolerate it any more. My first marriage did end during this time, but for me fishing was an escape from what was already happening. The camaraderie is strong, because the carp were so difficult to catch. There were very few of them, and they were wily.
I had been fishing seriously since I was 13, when I realised it was the one thing I felt good at. I work in a tackle shop in Dartford, Kent, where I live. As soon as we closed on a Wednesday I would drive 47 miles down the motorway to the lake, pitch my shelter and stay there until Friday morning in the hope of catching Two-Tone. I’d go back at the weekend too. There were many miserable times, including one when my shelter blew away in a storm and I had to sleep outside.
It was just before first light in August 2002 when Two-Tone took the bait at last. It was the end of the season and I’d given up for another year, more or less. I was woken by a few beeps on my bite alarm at about 4.30am. It was eerie out there, the thickest fog I’ve ever seen, dark and damp and completely silent.
You can’t tell how big a fish is when it’s on the line and you can’t play it too hard or you lose it. Eventually I got it into my landing net, but it didn’t register until I got my head-torch and had a good look. That was it. My six-year obsession was over.
I floated up on to cloud nine and shed a few tears of delight. It was like a weight being lifted off my shoulders. I put the fish in a keep-sack in the water, and called a couple of close friends to come down and take photographs and weigh it properly.
Eventually, it was confirmed as a British record catch – Two-Tone weighed 61lbs 7oz. That morning I received messages and phone calls from fishing people all over the world, including Australia and South Africa.
Once the euphoria had worn off, I felt a bit down. I had achieved my ambition, to catch the biggest fish swimming, and to be honest I lost my way for a while. I still fish, and occasionally represent England in competitions, but I’ve never got back into it in the same obsessive way.
Then, last year, Two-Tone was found dead. It was a sad day. I know there were people who still wanted to catch this tremendous fish, and if I hadn’t done it I would have been one of them.
I’ve got married again, to someone who likes fishing, so there is a happy ending. I think it’s because of that relationship that my fishing isn’t as obsessive now as it was.
‘Just For The Record: The Quest For Two-Tone’ by Lee Jackson is available from www.anglingpublications.co.uk
More than 1.3m rod licences were issued in the UK in 2009-10, according to the Environment Agency. One the earliest written angling guides is John Dennys’ The Secrets of Angling; written in verse, it was published in 1613. Izaak Walton (1593-1683) published The Compleat Angler in 1653; in his “Epistle to the Reader”, he wrote that “As no man is born an artist, so no man is born an angler.”