Carp life for Sticky and Thinking Anglers backed Belgian angler Phil Haldermans is a little different to most.. huge inland seas, massive mirrors and public waters is the arena that Phil thrives in. Big drives to distant reservoirs, nights spent afloat listening for shows, and even diving to find the best spots… Here we dig a little deeper into what makes Phil tick, and how he goes about targeting carp from such vast, and demanding waters. We caught up with Phil on home turf on the banks of a big industrial scale canal near his hometown. Flanked by factories, rusting iron docking bays and house boats it is as far from the quintessential English carp lake as you can get, but for Phil, most of his angling is a world apart from the norm.
First of all, can you introduce yourself to us please
My name is Phil Haldermans, I’m 34 and I’m from a small town in the North East of Belgium, quite close to the border and Holland. In fact Holland is just 1 kilometre from me.
Would you say it was a good area to have grown up in as a carp angler?
I would yes, I’ve lived here all my life. It is a great area for angling, we have the rivers, we have a lot of lakes. It was a great area to grow up in, but a lot of those waters are privately owned now, by carp anglers, and have small syndicates that are closed to anglers like myself. It is impossible to get tickets on many of these and to be honest it is one of the reasons I rarely fish in Belgium now. On Google maps it looks like I live in a great area, but actually, many of the waters cannot be fished for many reasons.
How did you get into angling initially?
I started fishing with my father when I was about 5 or 6 years old, using a Pole. I started in the youth Match scene, and did some competition angling. I was actually twice champion of the Limberg area. Then I started feeder fishing, and some trout fishing, but pretty soon I was hooked on carp fishing. It was around the mid 90’s and I suppose I was around 10 or 11. When you fish the competitions you need to weigh in the biggest catch, but of course you want to catch the biggest fish too. Every time you caught a carp it was a good fish, and a bigger weight, so initially it was that drive from looking to catch the bigger fish that got me excited by carp fishing I think, and I started to focus my attentions towards targeting carp from there.
What excites and motivates you for your fishing these days?
It has changed I think, maybe even every few years it changes. These days I don’t fish in Belgium much at all, and have been fishing in France much more. I take my holidays these days and block them so I can do bigger trips. France, Germany, Austria, and Poland also. I like challenge of not only searching for big carp, but also searching for new areas. I have a lot of experience now in France and know a lot of waters that contain really big fish, but I can’t just go back to the same place time and time again just to catch the biggest, I always want to find new destinations and new challenges. I definitely feel the call of the wild, and the call of nature these days. I’m always looking and hoping to find somewhere just that little bit more special, or that bit wilder, or with bigger fish.. it is the variety that excites me, both of the carp themselves, and the waters.
'I’m always looking and hoping to find somewhere just that little bit more special, or that bit wilder'
Variety unless it comes to vegetables?
Yes, no vegetables in my diet (laughing!) only meat!
So you wouldn’t class yourself as a target angler then?
No, I’m not a target angler in so much as that I want to catch certain fish, but I do target big fish, and I travel miles and search incredibly hard to look for big fish to angle for, but strangely the weight doesn’t matter to me. For example if a carp is 22 or 25 kilos (48 or 55lb) I honestly don’t care that much, it is more the fight and the experience of catching it that is important to me. To me, a 24 kilo carp is just a ‘20K +’ one to me, a 28K one is just a ‘25K +’ carp. I don’t care too much about the ounces and the details. They are just big carp to me.
'I travel miles and search incredibly hard to look for big fish to angle for, but strangely the weight doesn’t matter to me. For example if a carp is 22 or 25 kilos (48 or 55lb) I honestly don’t care that much'
What kind of venues excite you?
Again, this has changed for me over the years. I fished the canals in Belgium a lot for years, and caught a lot of big fish from them. I suppose it seemed like it had got harder and harder in some ways, with more and more anglers appearing each year. And the fishing itself, not the carp, they are incredible, but the canals themselves, for me they are concrete. They are not the nicest environment to fish in week in week out. It’s a concrete jungle, it is harsh, you have the road between you and your rods often you know? I have fished a lot in France recently, and I really like the bigger lakes. By bigger I’m talking about the 500 hectare plus places, really 1000 hectares (2500 acres) is what I would class as big. There’s a lot of information on the internet these days, and more anglers have started to fish the public venues and that is why I have moved towards fishing the bigger and bigger places, for the space and to avoid the crowds you find on the smaller and medium sized venues. For me, it is just an achievement to catch a carp from those big lakes, when you are out in a boat on your own playing a carp in a 2000 acre lake, even if its only a smaller one, taking that in is incredible. That huge expanse of water surrounding you is amazing, especially if it is rough, I just love it, I love that sense of space. I get a huge amount of satisfaction from catching carp, any carp, from those kind of waters.
A lot of English guys might feel completely overwhelmed by that size of venue, where do you start on somewhere that is thousands of acres?
Google Maps is probably the biggest tool I use. If you look carefully and closely you can often see the shallower areas, you can sometimes see the weedier areas, you can see shelves and drop offs. You can work out quickly which is the North East side that gets the SW winds, and the West bank where the sun will come up and hit first. You can see where the mountains and other terrain is, access points etc. All that information is incredibly useful as a starting point on the big lakes. Taking a lot of time to look properly is another thing I do a lot of. Once you have set up, you are already then very limited in where you can fish, and in what you can see. Rather than looking just for one spot, I try to make sure the whole area is good to fish. I check carefully for obstacles, big snags.. I try to take my time, and really explore an area before committing to it. I’d rather spend the first 24 hours of my trip just looking for the fish, maybe just put the brolly up, bait some areas and just look and wait until I’ve found some carp.
'That huge expanse of water surrounding you is amazing, especially if it is rough, I just love it, I love that sense of space'
So the looking and searching is really important to you?
A big part of my enjoyment of fishing the big lakes is the adventure of finding them, because that can be a massive challenge in itself. I don’t really like asking people for information, personally, if there’s somewhere I want to go and look at I’ll drive there myself. If you fish off the back off information from other anglers, it will always be stereotyped as it is off the back of someone else, I like to see places for myself, so I think nothing of driving for a weekend just to look. All I take is a rod, my boat, echo sounder, a massive amount of batteries and an engine, and just look, and look.
You’re not a fan of drones for finding fish on the big lakes?
There’s a big advantage to be had using drones, I can’t lie about that, but for me personally, buying one would take away a lot of the pleasure of finding the fish the old way, looking, being up early, watching for shows, instead of just putting up the drone and flying it out there. It is a very productive and quick way of looking for the fish, no doubt, but its not for me, I don’t feel comfortable with it.
And how about the use of them in films and video edits?
It’s a difficult one, I don’t think anyone has bad intentions when they use them, but they can make the location of venues very obvious and I think people sometimes forget how fragile waters can be and how quickly things can change, even on the big lakes. I’m all for the education and documentation of carp fishing through the big media platforms, but I think it is important people remember that venues are always somebody’s ‘home’ lake, and if they are respectful of that, then there is no problem. If you think about the lake close to your home, or your heart, you wouldn’t want that ruined. When lakes become big news and suddenly there are more, and more, and more people turning up, I’ve seen first hand how quickly things can change. I’ve seen whole regions in France change because of it. Rules being brought into place, tighter controls from the Garde De Peche, smaller night fishing zones. I fished the Alps when it was quiet years ago, now it’s a very different place. First the night fishing gets controlled, then it’s the areas, then restrictions on the boats and use of bivvies. The screw gets tightened the busier places get, that’s the sensitivity and delicate balance of public open access lakes. That is why these days I focus on the harder lakes and the bigger lakes, it means I might catch a few less 20 kilo fish each season, but the experience is better for me. I have just invested in a (proper) big boat to fish from, so I can really take that type of fishing further and experience the freedom it offers.
'The screw gets tightened the busier places get, that’s the sensitivity and delicate balance of public open access lakes'
Looking at the tactic side of things for fishing those big lakes, do you need hundreds of kilos of boilie? How do you go about baiting on those kind of places?
Not at all. The first step is simply to find the fish, once you’ve found them, you can prebait of course, but on the big lakes you can’t physically put in enough to hold them, you just won’t hold a shoal of big carp on a 2000 hectare lake, and you never know how long they’ll be in an area either. 50 kilos is nothing on somewhere of that size. Often putting large amounts of bait in can be a waste of time and money if you’re not careful. Sometimes I might use a lot of bait, but I might bait ten different areas on a big lake, a kilo here, another kilo over there, another over there… keeping an eye on them and looking which get visited or the carp show up on. Adapting to the conditions, and starting with just a small amount is how I usually approach things. If it looks like the carp are going to stay in an area, then you can build it up. You can always put more in.
How much time do you invest in your fishing?
I condense my trips more into the good periods of the year, and try to get out as often as I can during those spells, I have a family at home and I love and really respect them for the support and time they give me to fish, my girlfriend will even encourage me to go at times when I know the weather is really right for it, and she can see I’m ‘twitchy’ (laughing) so I focus on the productive months of the year and spend more time with family in the summer when it’s not so good. Then in the autumn I will pick up the fishing again.
What are your thoughts on bait?
This is also something that has changed over the years, I’ve fished for a few different bait companies over the years, and there are a lot of good baits out there, but for me, the Krill is something really special. Two years in a row now using it I have caught a lot of big fish, and not only big fish, but I’m catching really good fish, special ones. All my team mates and friends that use the Krill are also doing incredibly well on it too. I often use it in combination with Manilla, so there’s the sweet and nutty bait and the fishmeal too. 90% of the time I use them together. Often 24mm Krill and 16mm Manilla. It’s no different using boilie and tigers, or boilie and maize say, I think the carp respond to the different food sources and I think it benefits your baiting situations.
Do you have any hookbait preferences?
Again, this has changed for me over the years and with the venues I fish now. For years on the smaller lakes I would have to adapt more, because of the angler pressure. So sometimes you would be doing things differently because of that, whereas on the big lakes, I try to use bigger hookbaits, not because I’m fishing for bigger carp, but because if I’m fishing 2, 3 or 400 metres out bite indication can be difficult and you might not get any from a tench or a bream say, so the bigger hookbaits help with that. I’ll fish as small a hookbait as I think I can, given the conditions, but I’m not afraid to go really big if needs be.
How do you go about bait application on the big waters?
It is all to do with finding the fish, in France you can use four rods, so I like to fish four different spots often to start with, and then adapt to the conditions and the situation. If I’m getting more action from the right, then I might swing another rod around, and maybe bait a wider area say, to build it up. I like to try and ‘feel’ the situation, and respond to it. I don’t turn up, stick in a massive spread and sit on it and wait. I like to be mobile, and search them out, and find the carp. I don’t like sleeping too much when I’m fishing either, I want to know what is happening as much of the time as possible. In the middle of the night I might take my boat and row a few hundred metres out and just sit and float out there when it is quiet to listen. When you are out on the water in the boat you hear so much more and so much better then when you are on the bank, that is really nice and I love spending time doing that. It is things like that that keep my drive going on the big lakes, working really hard to find them – it is the search, and that fire inside that keeps me going. It is just hunting I guess, typical man stuff! (laughing)
'It is things like that that keep my drive going on the big lakes, working really hard to find them – it is the search, and that fire inside that keeps me going'
In the UK there’s not so much focus on the depth people catch fish from, but on the European waters it is a much more widely talked about factor?
Massively. Depth is really important, especially on the big lakes. In the spring you would be amazed just how shallow you can catch really big fish from, last week in France I had five fish over 20 kilo, and a 25 kilo fish and all the bites were from 2 metres of water (6ft). That isn’t that shallow I suppose, but on a 2000 hectare water it is shallow, I’ve caught fish in just 1 metre of water (3ft). It is really important to me that I get a good feeling about the spot. Rather than just getting rods in the water, I have to have a really good feeling about the spot, and how the rods went in. For me, it is always the same, carp love weedy areas, and when everyone is looking for the big clean spots, I like to try and find the tiny small spots in the weed, or the harder to get to spots. I don’t like gravel much to be honest, it isn’t really natural for carp to find much food on gravel, there’s no bloodworm or much other natural food on the gravel. I like the natural spots, and the ‘fresher’ spots too. I’ll look for spots with an echo sounder, or the Aquascope, that helps you see which are the good areas to fish.
I know you do some diving too, can you tell us a little bit about that?
I dive with a snorkel, but also with proper kit. Rule number one is that you never dive alone, so I don’t use the big kit so much, but I train for it, and I can hold my breath for up to a minute and a half which is long enough, you can do a lot in that. I love to dive. I feel like I learn more in an hour of diving than I would from a year of fishing on a lake from the bank. When you dive, and you can look at a spot with your ‘nose in the sand’ so to speak, you know straight away if it is a good spot. You can tell straight away if it is an older spot, or if it has been visited recently, or if it is just a natural clear area. Just last week in France, the spots I thought looked the best from the boat actually weren’t the best ones when I dived them, it was actually the rougher edged ones, and the ones that still had a little weed on them that were the fresh ones. It is a very good indication that the fish are in the area if you can find freshly turned over spots, and this is the kind of thing I am looking for.
Have you got a favourite capture?
I think maybe a lot of people might say their personal best is their most memorable capture, but for me, that was just one fish I caught on a session. For me, the most memorable times are the sessions where I really struggled, but I kept going, and eventually did find them. Those are the memories that drive me on, and keep me going. The memories come from the effort, and the struggle and the time invested in a lake, and finally catching one, it is that feeling that is much more important to me than just having a picture of a big fish on my wall at home. It is those things that stick in my mind, the chase, the hoping, all the efforts… it is the dreaming that keeps me going.
'The memories come from the effort, and the struggle and the time invested in a lake, and finally catching one, it is that feeling that is much more important to me than just having a picture of a big fish on my wall at home'
If angling disappeared tomorrow, what would we find you doing?
Oh man, I really don’t know. Something with nature, but it would have to be something that offered a real challenge. I’d certainly have a lot more money in the bank if it disappeared (laughing!) I grew up with it, I just couldn’t imagine it not being there.
What does angling mean to you?
This might sound strange, because I deeply love carp fishing, but at the end of the day, it is just a carp, people think of them as these holy beasts, but they are just carp.. it is chasing the fish that is somehow more important to me? I think if your mindset is only on carp, and nothing else, it wouldn’t be living for me personally, there has to be a balance, my family will always be the biggest part of my life, and I wouldn’t enjoy my carp fishing if my family life wasn’t good.