SUBmag #001 ARCHIVES - ROY ALOFS 'THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH'

The title for this piece is an old proverb, cliché maybe, seemingly obvious yes, but it couldn’t be more fitting for Roy. Roy has faced some serious difficulties in his life, like many of us have, but he found the way through. Testament to his openness, he has shared some of that with me, and I can now share it with you, for which I’m incredibly grateful. I’ve been speaking to Roy on a personal level for years now, exchanging photos, voice notes and videos here and there, sharing in his journey the modern way – the buzz of captures, remotely, and connecting with what has always felt like a kindred spirit.

I’ve also been sharing shots of his for years now, on the Sub Insta, and they always become filled with lovely comments, sometimes about the carp, which are almost always incredible, but the comments are often simply remarks about the man himself – a character of the carp scene, who clearly commands a lot of love, and respect. I dearly wanted to talk to Roy, so that I could find out a little more about a guy who has stayed out of the limelight for the majority of his angling life. I had always hoped to record this in person, sitting behind some rods in the flatlands, with a strong Dutch coffee in one hand, and a Stroopwafel in the other, but instead, we found an evening over Zoom, the modern way – still with some strong coffee, though.

“I can’t see you, mate!” was the opening line – perhaps a now familiar way to start a Zoom call.

“Er, hang on. How’s that?”

“No mate – still nothing.”

“Ah, shit! How about now?”

“Yes, mate! I have you – good evening!” said Roy, as the UK and Holland glitched into visual linkage.

“We’re connected, finally! Hey, mate! I always hoped that we’d do this sitting behind rods, on some beautiful little Dutch canal or lake, but still, this is good. This is definitely better than nothing!”

“Typical 2021,” Roy replied.

As a warm up, we started the conversation with a rambling chat about print, and why we bother with it. I gushed, as I always do, about still believing in it, as a record, a documentation, an inspiration, and a thoughtful way to document a pursuit and its characters. We talked about surfing for a while, and how it shares many of the same traits as carp fishing; weather dependency, the search, weeks of waiting, the travel, solitude, free minds and spirits, the localism ….

Roy told me about some of his trips to Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, not to surf himself, just to experience the culture and place; sketchy bus journeys crammed with welcoming people; watching the stick fishermen on the south coast fill hessian bags with small silver shoal fish from the shallows. Then before I even got close to a question, we somehow ended up talking about Du Der for the next half an hour; the mud, the sheer struggle of the place, the growth of the newer ones, the number of huge fish in there, and the scene that surrounds the lake. It is clear that Du Der still holds a dear place in Roy’s heart, despite the moonscapes, mud and utter contrast to the intimacy of his Dutch homeland waters.

After a while, conversation shifted to the act of fishing alone, a tangent from a story that Roy was relating about meeting an English angler on a home canal, and how there was a clear and immediate connection – like-minded souls banding together – but then Roy explained the importance of the solitude that angling brings to him.

“Do you think like-minded souls in a pursuit always gravitate together?” I asked, expecting him to follow up with some more anecdotes about social fishing.

“Definitely,” he said, “Although I love to fish alone, actually. Maybe just once a year I will fish with someone else. I love to share the moment with like-minded people, guys who are on a level, the same wavelength – that is a really strong feeling I get – but I have very little time to fish now, often just a few hours a week, and it is my time, my world. My drive isn’t really for target fish. I love to catch big carp, and see big carp, but I love to fish for those few hours in my own world, and I can’t do that with someone else. I have only one angler that I can fish with, but I think maybe I’m not an easy person. If there is something in my head, I want to be able to follow it. I don’t want to have to decide based on someone else, maybe that is a little egocentric you might say, but it is just how I am.”

“I don’t think it’s egocentric. You know exactly what you need to do to catch carp in a given situation.” I agreed. “It is very different if you are with someone else – it is always a compromise then.”

I talked about experiencing some of the big-water buzz for the first time, and how great it was to be able to share that with someone. I mentioned I had met a lot of Dutch guys on the road fishing together, as pairs and asked how Roy felt about that.

“Couple fishing?” Roy chuckled. “That reminds me of Du Der, fishing with Bjorn once. Taking turns. I hate that! I hate it, I want to be in control of my rig, my hookbait, the spot. Taking turns is not for me. It is real friendship, though. That trip, Bjorn landed all the big ones – it was just the way it fell. He had all the 20 kilo ones – 22, 25, 27 kilo … mine were 15 kilo, 18 kilo ….

“On the last morning, Bjorn was out there playing this fish that turned out to be a really special one, a long upper-50 common, a really dark, beautiful fish. The sun was just coming up, the flocks of cranes were overhead … it was such a special moment. He turned to me when it went in the net, and just said, ‘Sorry mate, I’m sorry,’ and he meant it. He genuinely wasn’t happy. He would rather I’d caught it – true friendship – but there was no jealousy, for me, it was a truly special moment.”

"The sun was just coming up, the flocks of cranes were overhead … it was such a special moment. He turned to me when it went in the net, and just said, ‘Sorry mate, I’m sorry,’ and he meant it. He genuinely wasn’t happy. He would rather I’d caught it – true friendship – but there was no jealousy, for me, it was a truly special moment.”

That said a lot to me about Roy, and actually about the spirit of some of the other guys I’d met on the road.

We wandered back to the idea of fishing alone. “Silence is special to me. I don’t want to always be talking, having to make conversation.”

“It is easy to be silent with really close mates,” I said. “When you’re such good mates, you know you don’t have to make conversation for the sake of it.”

“Exactly. That is a feeling, again. Special times often don’t need any conversation. I love fishing the big lakes with other guys. Maybe you come together for a coffee and a chat once a day, but you still go back to your own rods, that is how I like it.”

That seems aligned to our own English way of doing things – social, but still solo.

An hour on the tape down already, I actually got round to asking Roy the first question I had in my head, having seen some of the amazing creatures that he had caught this year, I asked how it had gone for him.

“Autumn has been great. Just a couple of hours fishing a week …”

“Hours? Not even a night?” I quickly interjected.

“No, just a few hours a week. I have a full-time job. Monday is my day off and my weekends are for my family, but I do have the luxury that Susan’s parents drop the kids at school on a Monday, so I can fish from 4 or 5am in the morning for the day. I had a lot of plans, but really they weren’t realistic. One was a big, no-fishing lake, but I quickly realised it wasn’t enough to spend such short amounts of time there. I prebait a lot, and usually only fish prebaited areas and this lake was more than an hour’s drive, so that one wasn’t realistic.”

"I have a full-time job. Monday is my day off and my weekends are for my family, but I do have the luxury that Susan’s parents drop the kids at school on a Monday, so I can fish from 4 or 5am in the morning for the day"

I asked how important the idea of being realistic was for Roy, and how vital the locality of a lake was to him.

“I like to catch carp. I’m not the guy doing 10 nights for one bite, so I search for lakes with a good stock, and where it might be realistic to catch with only a few hours to fish. I try to prebait once the kids are in bed in the evenings. It’s keeping the happy family life, firstly. I think most importantly, I don’t complain. My kids and my girlfriend are the most important things in my life. We are the lucky ones. I have all the space from Susan to do the things I want to do, so it is great.”

I asked what the Dutch version of prebaiting looks like, it seemingly being so important to the way Roy fishes.

“When it is possible, I bait every day. I don’t think about quantity so much, more that I want bait on the spot every day. Less bait, but more regularly. It is a search, though, and will always be changing. For example, in autumn and winter, I’m usually fishing two spots a day, one for each feeding period, even if it is just for a few hours. I’m always searching for that period when I can catch a carp. I love winter – I fish all the way through. Whether it is setting myself a target to catch a big carp, or just to catch a carp. I get the same drive from a 10kg fully as I do from a 28kg mirror – there is no difference between that for me.”

I found that fascinating. Roy is 41 years old now, and has fished since he was old enough to hold a rod at five or six years old, and he is still so driven, but hasn’t funnelled it down to just chasing the biggest. I found that heartening. I asked what his criteria was for the carp he targets.

“It is interesting. I have plans, of course, to fish for this one, or that one, but actually, it is more important to me these days how I catch them, and in what environment. It is about a sense of feeling. It is about the moment. I have to have a feeling about the place – and the time. I have fished some tiny streams near me, that I wasn’t even sure held carp. I need to feel that I am in my own world. There might be other anglers, but if there are too many, I will just give them their space. The most important thing is always the balance with my family life. I can only fish when things are stable at home. I need to be there for my children, for my girlfriend, and when that is balanced, then I can have my time for fishing. It is about a state of mind. Carp fishing is intense. I’m not there just to be there. You hear some people say that catching is not important, but for me, that is not the case. I’m there to catch. Just being there isn’t enough.”

That really surprised me, but I loved hearing it. Carp fishing can be full of woolly points of view at times, and I loved Roy’s honesty. I know that Roy is a highly-driven, highly motivated guy, but I also saw him as a bit of a romantic soul, so I wondered how those two things squared up. Romance and being soulful don’t often go hand in hand with being driven and single-minded.

“Sometimes, it is hard work to find that balance, and to stay there. Sometimes, it might only be possible to find that harmony for a few days, or weeks, but you carry on. The last few years, I have had less time, and so it has become more intense. When I have that one night on a prebaited spot, and I have caught a few, when I come home I have to be Dad again, and so you have to mask the tiredness. It is all a balance.”

"The last few years, I have had less time, and so it has become more intense. When I have that one night on a prebaited spot, and I have caught a few, when I come home I have to be Dad again, and so you have to mask the tiredness. It is all a balance.”

We went back to the issue of approaches, and the importance of catching them in a ‘certain way’. I found that fascinating. The mags and videos continually push the idea that you should be flexible and be able to catch them any way, and at all costs, but for Roy, despite his intensity and drive, he wants to catch them in a way that feels good to him – it is a rarely aired viewpoint.

“At certain times of the year, I could stalk them, or I could use zigs, or whatever, but for me, that is just not how I like to catch carp.”

I guess it all goes back to a sense of feeling. For Roy, it seems that it is all personal; he is only doing this for himself, and when the feeling is right, that is all that matters.

As well as campaigns close to home and short sessions, I know Roy has done some serious travelling at times, and so I wanted to understand more about his motivations for that, and how and where it had fitted into his life.

“I fished Madine a lot years ago, and I learned where and when I could find groups of carp. So, if it was a big SW, and cloudy, I knew where I could catch them. Many times, I drove to France for just 20 hours fishing. A six-hour drive there, and six hours back, but only when I knew for sure it was right for it. I did that for two years. Even in my French angling, though, I would search for areas where I could catch them how I wanted. I don’t enjoy the huge ranges and ‘base camp’-style angling. I’m a restless angler. I like the calmness, but I can only be calm when I am happy and everything is right. Then I can be Zen.”

"Many times, I drove to France for just 20 hours fishing. A six-hour drive there, and six hours back, but only when I knew for sure it was right for it"

I’d always seen Roy as a target angler, probably naïvely because any of the big-uns I had seen him with in recent years would undoubtedly be ‘targets’ back home; big, dark, thick-set 50lb mirrors, or long scaly creatures, proper ‘mantlepiece’ carp.

“I don’t really target fish – I’d say I target a way of fishing instead. There are lots of big target fish in Holland, but are they realistic for me to chase? Maybe not. I have a huge amount of respect for the guys with the mindset needed to catch them, no matter what. Some people might argue it is the easy way, to sit it out for that long, but I don’t think that way of thinking is right. You need to be so mentally strong to sit and wait for those types of target, but it is just not for me that style; 24 hours for me on somewhere like that, maybe even just 12 – if you know me, you’ll know I’d be gone. Instead, I target a way of fishing that suits my life, and my restless nature.”

Having met a lot of Dutch guys on the road, I asked how Roy felt about his local scene, and the carp he had close to home – the Dutch are a notoriously proud, but understated nation.

“I live in the east, and yes, I am very proud of the anglers in my country, and in my region. We have a study group in Holland now, and we are a country that does things 200% – if we do it, we do it properly. The Twente Kanaal was stocked in the ‘80s, but after that it had no stocking, so within a short space of time, everyone has pulled together through the study group, and paid money, to stock the canal. Almost every year now there is a stocking on the canal.”

Personally I can’t imagine anything similar happening in the UK. Anglers from all over the country, paying into the stocking of a public canal? It just wouldn’t happen, not willingly anyway, but over 95% of waters in Holland are public, so it seems to be a viable prospect and testament to a different way of thinking that is less precious, and private about things.

Roy talks about how proud he is of the work that anglers all across Holland are doing, how many good fish there are swimming around, and how strong the scene is – relaxed atmospheres on lakes, and generally, good guys all getting on. He went on to talk about sharing in general, and sharing on social media, having dabbled with writing in some Dutch magazines for a short while.

“It is difficult. I like sharing, and wrote because I wanted to share my passion, not to get sponsorships or anything like that, but sometimes you become a target, and I always found that very hard. I didn’t want to disturb the quiet fishing of anyone on the waters I fished, and so I stopped.”

I asked if was happy with the new balance he had apparently found with that, and the lower key sponsorships he had.

“Yes, very much so. I love to share my passion, I really do. I’m driven by the experience of other anglers as well – that inspires me a lot. I feel it through other people’s photos; I feel that vibe, and I’m thankful for that, for people sharing their experiences, and I want to give that back. It is not an ego thing, at all.”

Roy’s photos somehow manage to tell their own story, even without any words or explanations. They’re absolutely brim full of atmosphere, and as authentic as you could possibly imagine – no hero shots, no ‘look at me’, no Lightroom or flashy cameras even … just self-takes of beautiful carp, from beautiful places, and a deep sense of respect for it all.

“I always keep in mind I want to share my passion, but I don’t want to disturb anyone else’s fishing, either. Sometimes it is difficult to find that balance though, still.”

“I always keep in mind I want to share my passion, but I don’t want to disturb anyone else’s fishing, either. Sometimes it is difficult to find that balance though, still.”

The Dutch saying, ‘high trees catch the wind’ springs to mind.

Balance seems to be a recurring theme. I had the sense that Roy was acutely aware of retaining it, and whilst equilibrium had now been found and maintained, it was something that had swayed massively in the past, and maybe had to be continually worked for still. I asked if that was the case.

“There have been times, many times, when I have been completely obsessive, and that is always in me. I still have to work to control it. There are so many days when conditions are perfect, when you have a few fish, or are close, and know there are more, or that really I need to stay. It is always hard work to find that state of mind, that zen, to say, ‘Okay, well that’s it until next week’, or to be sitting at home, listening to the big south-westerly … but I am okay with that. I am an angler for life, though. I’m 41 now, but I know if I make it to 80, I will still be fishing then, so yes, that obsession is still in me, but calmer now. Having a girlfriend, and family is a wonderful thing to come home to, but I fish every week of the year – if there is ice, I will search for spots where there are none.”

Roy’s obsessional nature has run deeper than his carp angling. I’d gingerly avoided the topic so far, but the discussion about balance led into his home life and he willingly offered me his experiences of being a recovering addict, without any sense of regret or shame and all the more powerful for that. Again, just another example of his capacity to share experiences, that might help or benefit someone else.

“For me, talking about this is no problem. It is no secret. Being a recovering cocaine addict I have worked, and fought for the things I have now. For a time, I’d lost all these things, and we have worked as a family to get back here. I wasn’t an addict for a long time, but a short, intense period that was isolating, and depressing.”

“I’m right in saying that your work is now linked to that as well?”

“It is, yes. I’m years clean now, but I know that I will always be a recovering addict. I don’t believe the saying, ‘once an addict always an addict’, but I do know the dangers of obsessional behaviour. So, for me, hard work is always important to make sure I don’t fall into those traps. The stories from other recovering addicts were my freedom, and allowed me to choose a different life. There are other recovering addicts in the carp scene, too.”

I asked if Roy thought there was a link between the obsessional mindset required for really successful big-fish angling, and addictive personalities.

“Definitely, I do, yes, but I don’t see myself as a successful angler in that way, just an angler who enjoys a lot.”

“Who is the most successful angler, though?” I asked Roy. “Is it the one who catches the most, and the biggest, or the guy who enjoys his season the most?”

“I can’t answer for anyone else,” said Roy, ever the diplomat, “but I can say that I’m successful because I enjoy my fishing so much. Year after year, after year, I still have that drive and motivation, and that is success for me, even if it is not related to what I catch. I’m proud to be an angler, and proud to share my passion, and I have the same passion now for my work.

"I can say that I’m successful because I enjoy my fishing so much. Year after year, after year, I still have that drive and motivation, and that is success for me, even if it is not related to what I catch. I’m proud to be an angler, and proud to share my passion, and I have the same passion now for my work"

“After my recovery, I started to work full-time in counselling, and I now work with recovering addicts, and also some clients with autism. I have the same drive in my work as I do for my fishing. I am just another human, and we all have flaws. I am happy that it is no secret, and I am proud to share my experiences. Sometimes, I can share that hope, too. When I did my rehab, it was helpful knowing that my counsellor was also a recovering addict – we could share that experience. I can do that now for others. It is very similar in some ways to sharing experiences within fishing. I am always happy if I can do that, as well.”

A not insignificant level of drug and alcohol addiction has run through carp angling for many years, and that is well known to insiders, but is something we rarely, if ever hear about. It is a complete testament to Roy’s strength of spirit, and his openness and willingness to share, that he talked so frankly to me about it. I know for certain that his only motivation for that was to offer some hope to anyone struggling themselves, to make them aware that there is another way the story can end. The only way out, being ‘through’. His work as a counsellor feels like a natural progression, a perfect fit and it was a true privilege to hear him talk about it.

I wanted to ask one last question, an obvious one perhaps, but it is one that often digs out a nice answer. ‘What does carp fishing mean to you?’ isn’t as simple to answer as it might seem.

“It means silence. I don’t have words for it. For me, having the silence is very important. It is why I fish alone most of the time. I need that rest. I need to be surrounded by nature, and I need the carp. It is just carp – I don’t fish for other species. I need carp in my life. I don’t know what I would do without them.”

We managed to run into another half an hour of conversation, eventually ending up talking about Roy’s aims for next year – the target, to catch from the big pits, with one rod, and on a short time-frame; carp from thousands of acres of water, caught in the most minimal way possible. I love that, and from the point of view of this piece, I would hope that could be inspiring for anyone out there – catching big carp, from big waters, with very little time and a full-time job and family commitments. All that is required is enough determination, some passion, and the heart to keep at it.           


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