SUBmag #001 ARCHIVES - TOM WHITE 'DRIVING FORCE'

Making parts for the Large Hadron collider, ultra high-spec Formula 1 engineering for Mercedes, top-flight boilie production and running your own company, alongside angling within an incredibly limited time frame on some of the countries toughest pits, aren’t usually things that fit very neatly together, but for Tom White, that is his norm, and the reality of life for the last decade and a half. Add a girlfriend and an 8-year old-boy in the mix for good measure, as if he wasn’t busy enough already.

Toms life and angling have always stayed very low key, despite the growth of his successful bait company, but over the years, we have seen glimpses and snippets of big-shouldered, thickset mirrors and immaculate commons we didn’t recognise, from lakes we didn’t know. In such a heavily documented carp fishing world, it is refreshing and exciting to see that those kind of carp still exist in the UK, and that they remain under the radar and away from commercial pressures.

It is clear that Tom is an incredibly driven guy, on all fronts, so we managed to find a few hours in his busy schedule between work and collecting his lad from school, to find out where he gets that motivation and energy from, and what his driving force really is. Whilst Toms way of fishing is very different to the vast majority, his way of thinking about it all makes for a fascinating story that can be an inspiration for anyone.

Give us a little bit of background, mate. How old are you now, and where are you based?

‘Im 40 now, quickly approaching 41. Im based in Cambridgshire – the Fens, actually. Im right out in the sticks, in a little market town, surrounded by villages, everything is about 20 years behind the rest of the world over here.’

No bad thing, these days.

No mate, its really nice. I commute to Northampton five days a week to work at Mercedes, which is about an hour and a half each way. Im up at 5am, and Im not back before 5.30-6pm most days, and I been doing that for 10 years now. I live here with my girlfriend and our son, who is eight.

Thats a hell of a commute!

Yeah, it is, but we have a little family network here, and it suits us well. About five years ago, I started using the commute time constructively, to build up the bait company, which is now known as Pure Bait Concepts. I used those few hours each day to run all the parts of the business I could over the phone, instead of wasting it just driving.

Tell us a bit about your engineering background. You dont become an F1 engineer overnight, or by accident! Im guessing that has absorbed a lot of your time over the years, as well.

I did my A-levels, but like a lot of 18-year-olds, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Uni wasn’t an option, we couldn’t afford it. I hadn’t latched into anything and then, one day, a mate asked if I wanted to go to a college open day with him where they were running engineering courses; Welding or Machining were the options, and I went with the machines. I loved it, signed up for a mechanical engineering apprenticeship, and ended up working for a local company on everything from medical parts for MRI scanners, to submarines and nuclear power. It was a proper old-school company, everyone there was a lifer. (laughing) I ended up working on the inertia tubes for the Large Hadron Collider. No one else wanted the job because they knew theyd make people redundant once that contract was done, but being young and keen, it was an opportunity to work on a good project.

When the contract finished, I was still living at home. I had money in the bank, took the redundancy and started fishing Woolpack, loving life. After a few weeks, I got an interview and ended up working in robotics and micro-machining with another local company, and spent six years there in the end, had my own little R&D unit, programming machines, making hi-tech spinal implants for an American company and did really well there. At the time, hardly anyone in the UK was making these really complex, specialised parts. That ran its course in terms of career progression and, long story short, I began to work for Mercedes AMG in the Formula 1 department. I’ve been there just over 10 years now.

That certainly doesn’t sound like a job you leave at the door, and something that demands a real sense of professionalism and commitment. How does that square up with the fishing?

It often doesn’t. You cant leave if you havent got jobs done, simple as that. Our budget is in the 100s of millions to make the engines. My component is the cylinder heads, one of the largest and probably the most complex parts, so if that isn’t right, or ready, it is down to me. I’ve been there ‘til 2am before now, finishing jobs. Your part cant be holding up the chain, stopping it going to testing, or the track, and it always, absolutely, has to be 100% right.

Zero flexibility and zero tolerances then. Work comes first and that is the bottom line?

It is mate, yeah, completely. That is the hardest part. Work has been everything to me, whatever I did outside of that was a bonus, but as I’ve got older, and the older my lad has got, the harder that has become to square off.

Because you feel time is so precious now?

Yes, and I’ve given a lot, for ten years now at the highest level. I fish some hard pits that dont get fished. They aren’t designed for fishing; massive, deep, snag-infested pits, big walks – horrible places to fish in some ways, but they contain the ultimate prizes. If I really want to do something, I dont give a fuck what it takes to achieve it, how much effort. I dont think about the consequences or what it will take. If I go somewhere in May and see a mid-40 linear thats most likely never been caught, I’ll do whatever it takes to fish for it and catch it.

'I fish some hard pits that don’t get fished. They aren’t designed for fishing; massive, deep, snag-infested pits, big walks – horrible places to fish in some ways, but they contain the ultimate prizes'

From the sound of it, the seriousness of your job and your circumstances dont match up well for the sort of fishing you want to do. What made you want to add running your own bait company on top of all that? That doesn’t sound like something that is going to free up any more time for you, or make life any easier.

I was working with another small bait company for a while. Eventually, I transitioned into doing my own thing and set up Pure Bait Developments as a way to develop and supply exactly the sort of bait I wanted to use, and believed in. My granddad, Bob, was a big angler, renowned in the local area, and we were rolling bait together when I was about 8 years old. He was mustard and taught me a lot, so I’ve always had a strong interest in bait. I never wanted to get a deal with a bigger company and use the same as everyone else. I knew how good my own bait could be, so using anyone else’s bait never appealed to me.

From the point of view of quality, and bait design, and having complete control over that?

Thats exactly right. I’ve always wanted to use something different – it is an edge. When I started sourcing all my own ingredients, researching and making contacts, it really opened my eyes to the quality and wealth of stuff out there. It blew my mind.

What are your key philosophies, and ethos about bait, then?

Id used loads of different baits over the years – Mainline, Geoffs gear … it caught me carp, but I always wanted to tweak it in some way – it was never perfect. Not that I think a ‘perfect’ bait exists, it is ever-evolving, but you can get close in certain scenarios. When I started Pure, I knew I wanted two key baits, for different times of year; a highly soluble, highly digestible milk and birdfood-based sweet bait, with a bit of nut – thats where the Amino Ester came from – and a quality, high protein, savoury bait as well, which became the Amino Marine. One key factor has always been the high levels of natural extracts and components. Synthetics can be amazing, they do work really well at low levels in conjunction with certain things, but the high levels of pure naturals we use are what the baits are all about.

As a quick example, I fished this huge abandoned brick pit a few years ago. Its full of naturals and everywhere you look the lakebed is littered with tiny mussels, even down in the deep water and there’s only about 28 fish in it. I got to know a couple of the guys who fished down there and they were adamant that I wouldnt catch them on boilies. In the end, I caught them all in a three-week window, including a brace of mid-40 commons. I baited heavily on a little gravel mound in a 20-acre bay, using a boilies with massively high levels of GLM, and chopped tigers, so it was all super-crunchy, and close to what they were eating naturally. Once they started eating it, they just switched on to it, and it was just a case of cherry picking them out, stalking. A lot of guys don’t realise just what an edge using a really good bait is – it is huge! The ethos is ‘quality’ over everything else, and creating genuine edges through bait.

Bait development is obviously something that excites and really interests you intellectually as well. There seems to be a real drive for you to produce something a bit different to a lot of the other stuff out there.

Oh, massively – that was exactly what I wanted to do. If you brand something well, spend on advertising, you can sell it to 90% of people. A lot of guys out there dont care what it’s made from, as long as it catches them a few carp, or dont understand what bait can do for them. Initially, this started out as bait just for me and my close friends, and that’s how it stayed in terms of quality and approach. If I wanted to make a load of money I could do that in other ways, but it has never been about that. In my opinion, the company will always be about making top-quality bait for guys who appreciate that. It sells itself to the lads that want that sort of bait. I’ve always looked on Pure as a long-term investment of time and energy, working on something for the future that I love and really believe in. Every single product we sell is something that I or my friends want to use. Im not bringing out stuff for the sake of it, or because of market trends.

'Every single product we sell is something that I or my friends want to use. I’m not bringing out stuff for the sake of it, or because of market trends'

It isn’t just done from a business perspective, from the sound of it.

Not at all. I have my career, but the bait development is a big part of me, and getting that across – how the guys and I fish with feel about bait, and telling that story.

Is there a community feel then to what you do? You must have a big circle surrounding it now. It must be a buzz when shots drop through of a big un someone has been chasing thats been caught on your bait!

Yeah, thats always a real buzz. Theres a hell of a lot that goes on outside Instagram, as well. A lot of guys that use the bait dont have iG and are catching some ridiculous carp.

Some of the best stuff out there isn’t seeing the light of day, is it?

No mate, definitely not.

Theres a real grassroots level to your involvement as well then, isn’t there?

Oh, for sure – I’ve got a couple of lads who do help out a bit now, but I still pretty much run everything – social, admin, emails … and speak to all the guys regularly.

We realised it was time for Tom to head off and pick his lad up from school, so caught up later that evening, and taped a couple more hours before they headed off to the climbing wall for the evening. No rest here!

Is the climbing a new thing?

Yeah, my lad just decided he fancied a go a while back, and he loves it. Its a great thing for him to do – strength-wise, in terms of problem solving, and getting him off the iPad or Playstation. It was freezing tonight, though, when he came out of school, so we’ll probably go later on.

DK would be proud! Haha

Yeah, Dan needs to get back on it. He did say recently he was gearing up and training for his next big carp fishing project, though.

DK loves a project! So bringing it back … you’ve got a full-on job, family, a bait company … how do you manage to fit your own angling into that?

I just make the time. I’ve only ever been a weekender, or fished single nights a week. I never force myself to do anything I dont like, or Im not enjoying. Life is too short for that. If I find something I enjoy and Im getting a positive outcome I just run with it, and see where it goes by focusing effort into it.

Whatever you do, you seem to do 100%, no half measures with anything.

I’ve found out later in life that you can do multiple things; you dont have to just do one and let that rule your life. You can spend eight hours doing one thing, two hours doing something else, and for another two something completely different. I can switch focus quite well – if you just focus on one thing in life, the rest always suffers.

'I can switch focus quite well – if you just focus on one thing in life, the rest always suffers'

Balance is key?

Exactly. Knowing when to focus is the key, I think.

You sound like you can box things off quite well in your head.

I think thats why I can be efficient, definitely. My job is to focus 100% on one component at work, with zero errors, and just make absolutely sure it is right. I fish in the same way. Its all about that flow state, focus on one thing at a time.

How do you keep your head in the right place, day to day, being so committed to your fishing?

I dont, always. Thats the hardest part of it. Im usually the first in work each day, so I’ll be at my desk, looking out of the window, watching the clouds rolling in over the valley, knowing the pressure is dropping, the wind has changed, and thinking, ‘Fuck! I need to be out there’, but as soon as the phone rings, or an email drops through, or colleagues come in, thats it, the bubble bursts and Im on it, I have to be. Often I’ll be working on programming and be working with headphones on, completely zoned in for days or even weeks, just getting it done.

As soon as I power off for the day, or I step outside and get in my van, my head will immediately flick back to tuning into that weather, and thinking about how it will be affecting the water Im fishing; what corner I need to be at to watch from, and so on. I almost always stop off for a look, even if I only have five minutes, just to keep in touch. I’ve always found it makes a massive difference. Just to see the little things, like where the birds are, where theyre diving, if anyone is down, where they are fishing, where the wind is pushing, how warm it feels… its constant. I do live and breathe it. Even though I have a lot of other stuff going on, Im still calibrating myself all the time to what is going on, in an effort to stay tuned in.

'I do live and breathe it. Even though I have a lot of other stuff going on, I’m still calibrating myself all the time to what is going on, in an effort to stay tuned in'

Do you feel that the total disconnect between work and fishing keeps you keen?

Massively – and the choices I’ve made with my angling. When my son was born, I made the choice to stop fishing syndicates and busier waters completely. I didn’t want to compromise being a good father by wasting time, making up numbers on busy lakes and probably falling out of love with it as a consequence. Rather than worry about a list of targets to chalk up, I just wanted to go and enjoy my fishing on empty waters that no one else was interested in – and it was the best decision I ever made. It was important that I went out and found fishing for myself, as well. I didn’t hound anyone for info; I started looking on maps for places, and thats how I’ve spent the last eight years. Massive fucking pits with maybe only a dozen carp in, that no one bothers with.

Waters like that, especially with only one night a week, would frighten the life out of a lot of people. Do you feel like it is more on your own terms, because you can do you own thing?

On those places, especially, 95% of the job is done upfront. It’s all in your head; I know what I need to do. On these wilder pits, you just have to find them, and then feed them in the zones where they feel comfortable. I love that part of it. I’ve walked pits for months before fishing them, sometimes I’ve never fished them. I’ll go out on the full moon, when theyre smashing the hatches, or fry. You might not see anything for the vast majority of the time, but if you look hard enough at the right times, you’ll find out what’s in there, whether there is five, or 50. Sometimes, just finding them is as much of a buzz as anything, even if theyre only 20-pounders.

It definitely takes a certain mindset to angle like that?

A lot of people really need to know exactly what is in somewhere before they fish it, but for me, the journey to finding out what is in somewhere is so appealing.

No one ever gets to see most of the carp you catch either, do they? You keep so much to yourself. Do you feel that liberates you to fish in a different way, and go wherever you want, because you dont have to worry about publicising anything, or fulfil sponsorship obligations?

Completely – it gives me a real sense of freedom. My fishing is an escape from work, and the potential entrapment of running a bait company. Its a tough one. I need that escape. Its not about doing anything to impress anyone, its just how I love to fish. Its about my experience, and often not sharing that makes it all the more special and because Im not sharing anything, I can easily disengage and just crack on and enjoy it, for myself.

'My fishing is an escape from work, and the potential entrapment of running a bait company. It’s a tough one. I need that escape. It’s not about doing anything to impress anyone, it’s just how I love to fish'

In a world where everything is shared to death, that is refreshing.

It is golden, and it wont be around forever. I know I wont be able to fish like I do now, and fish the same waters, when Im 60 – you just cant do that shit when you get old. A few years ago, one place was about a mile and a half walk, through clay. It was hell when it rained, genuine hell. I wont be doing that in another 20 years!

Yeah, that kind of angling is full on, minimal kit, minimal comfort, minimal supplies.

It is, especially on a Friday night after a full week at work, and then packing up at 8am the following morning.

I imagine its a nice contrast to the precision and intensity of your work, though.

Yeah, I love being exposed to the elements, on an island maybe, where no one can reach me. My missus doesn’t even know where I am. Its an odd one, but Im sure other people out there feel the same. My boss at work has never been fishing, but he gets that aspect of it – the rawness of nature, and the challenge. Theres a certain type of guy that works at my place; my boss has won the Icarus Cup – you have to build your own human-powered aeroplane. He even made his own autoclave to cure the carbon! Other guys have climbed Everest; others do Ironmans … were all wired a bit like that, I think.

High achieving human beings who want to challenge themselves. Sitting in watching Netflix isnt going to cut it from the sound of it! (laughing) Challenge seems to underpin everything, from work, to the bait company, to your fishing.

Exactly that – it resonates in the fact that I really enjoy winter fishing as well. The pit Im fishing only did seven bites last year…

Last year – not last weekend?

Last year – the year before it did two. If you’ve hardly got any chance anyway, you might as well still be there in the winter. (laughing)

Haha, I love that. On a practical level, how would you be approaching somewhere new?

I start on Google Earth, orientate myself, and then just get down there and start looking and walking. I’ll get down before work. I have to be in Northampton for 7am, but I’ll get up a bit earlier and stop in and watch on the way in, or call in on the way back. I might go for a daytime walk at the weekend. The carp always tell you everything you need to know. If I look at a big pit on Google Earth, especially where you can see some of the depths and structure, I generally know where I will catch them. I know they’ll funnel into that bay on a southerly, or where they’ll likely back off a big wind, or where they will be in the winter because of where the sun rises … you just know, roughly, what you’ve got to do. When you get down there, it’s just a case of waiting for shows, and piecing it all together. These days, it is a case of breaking it all down, looking at what is achievable, the time I have, and what I think is required, and working out how to do it.

If Im fishing somewhere that does get a bit of pressure, I’ll only fish mid-week overnighters to get round it, or if theres one I really want to catch, but dont want to deal with the crowds you get in spring and autumn, I’ll just go down there in November or December when everyone has left, find where they want to be in winter and work out a plan to catch them. It is more than achievable – theyre catchable on most places in the winter.

How important are the carp themselves to you? You catch plenty of big’uns, but is it more about the place, the atmosphere, the journey, and the challenge these days?

Im constantly looking for that next challenge. Just sitting here now, I could think of 10 places to go that would have potentially huge, uncaught fish. Thats the holy grail, if you like, but other times I just want to catch a fish, almost for the sake of it, because I want to immerse myself in a particular place and get that buzz of catching a fish from there, whether thats an upper-40 fully scaled, or a 20lb common. That imagine catching one from there’ feeling is a strong pull, for me. It might be some huge, wild place, or a brick pit still getting dug surrounded by mud and machinery, or people’s houses. If I’ve never heard of one being caught from there, thats a big pull. I just enjoy doing my own thing these days. That lone adventure of discovery really is exciting to me.

'That ‘imagine catching one from there’ feeling is a strong pull, for me. It might be some huge, wild place, or a brick pit still getting dug surrounded by mud and machinery'

The experience itself is key to you, catching them in your own way, on your own terms?

Yeah, massively – that is as important as anything. Turning up somewhere wild after weeks of baiting, waiting for that southerly, dropping in with a Scope and a hinge, and getting a bite in a water where you’ve no idea what is even in there is a massive buzz. Sometimes, that one bite might even be enough – not that I’ve ‘completed it’, because obviously I havent, but its enough to satisfy me. Sometimes, if I’m working through the stock and have caught half, once I know I can catch them, I get bored – unless theres something in there that really drives me. As soon as something stops being positive, I’ll happily walk away – life is too short.

Are you conscious of how sensitive some of these types of waters can be? How important is that to you, and keeping a lower profile?

It is really important. Everyone makes mistakes, and I’ve put a few things out there over the years that I probably shouldn’t have, but I am really conscious of it these days. I struggle with the idea of how an experience can so easily be changed. I’ve seen it first hand, and I feel like I should leave somewhere exactly as I found it. Running the bait company, Im always torn between that, but I do my best with it. Usually the kind of places I fish stay quiet, anyway, because no one wants to chance their arm to find out of theres anything in there, but thats the bit I really enjoy.

'I am really conscious of it these days. I struggle with the idea of how an experience can so easily be changed. I’ve seen it first hand, and I feel like I should leave somewhere exactly as I found it'

Where do you get your influences and inspiration from?

I dont talk to that many people about my own fishing, very few really, but I could talk to guys like my good friends DG, Dan Kilgour and Tom Betts Causebrook for hours – just getting on a deep level about stuff, learning from guys like that and sharing experiences is all part of it.

Tom is classic, you never hear from him unless hes fishing … last message was back in August … and when he was on it last winter, I was speaking to him most days – classic example of all or nothing.

Ive only spoke to him once since then, and that was because he tried to sell me a BMW. (laughing) Tom is a breath of fresh air though, I love him.

The energy and motivation you get from talking to boys like that is everything I think …

Yeah, you need to be around people that feed that fire, not take anything away from you. I only surround myself with people like that. I definitely take a lot from those sort of guys, not consciously, but Ill get off the phone from DG, Tom, or Dan and be charged up, knowing theyre out there working hard doing it, as well.

'Yeah, you need to be around people that feed that fire, not take anything away from you. I only surround myself with people like that'

Theres always a smile on their faces, too – thats a big thing. Do you ever struggle for motivation?

Never – it is always a conscious decision to go down a road, or start a project. If I had endless time I might struggle, but I’ve spent years doing one night a week, so Im super-keen still, keener than ever.

Nice one Tom, really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us.

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https://www.purebaitconcepts.com/

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