Carp-Talk catches up with Solar Tackle founder Martin ‘Lucky’ Locke
Carp-Talk: In the nicest possible terms, Lockey, you have been around for a long time, but what’s your earliest angling memory?
Martin Locke: That would be way back to when I was four and a bit. It all started in a small fishing village on the Scottish borders called Eyemouth. My nanna bought me a 4ft 6in. green fibre glass rod with a white handle and a little reel to go with it – they were my proudest possessions. I started fishing in the harbour for podleys (coley), flatties and eels. On occasions my grandpa and I would walk up and fish for the wild brownies (trout) on the beautiful little River Eye. From very early on, I remember seeing the podleys down the side of the harbour wall constantly battering on to the hookbait, which was mostly a small piece of sprat, ‘nibbling’ it away to nothing and all of us catching nothing! (By ‘us’ I mean me and a load of holidaymakers with crab lines and only the odd one with a rod!). After seeing this, I had an idea, I started putting the bait up by the eye, leaving the hook point completely bare. I kept it to myself and caught ’em one a chuck after that. Funny how things turn out! I used to stay in Eyemouth for the duration of the summer holidays every year, so for that six-week period I was besotted and fished for something at every waking moment; so much so, that you could say I was a full-time angler at the age of four!
CT: When and how did you end up focusing on carp only, and what sort of venues were you fishing at the time?
ML: Brooklands at Dartford in Kent was where I started coarse fishing – I would’ve been about eight by then. I’d heard there was a river running through Dartford park, so persuaded my mum to take me over there, so off we went on the train, minnow net (my rod was still at Eyemouth), picnic basket and all the trimmings! The River Darent ran under a long, low, dark, scary and very echoey bridge, of which my curiosity got the better of me – I had to see what was at the other side. I cautiously made my way through the bridge and there it was, Utopia! Brooklands Lakes had arrived into my world! I’d never seen anything quite like it, and I was so excited. I ran back, told my mum that we were going there next time and that was that. During the week, I made a rod from a bamboo cane with bent safety pins for eyes and a reel made from… I can’t remember! The following Sunday, we were on there, and an hour later, we were off there, after being informed by a dog walker that the season didn’t start until “next week”! For the next few years, as well as fishing in the sea and river at Eyemouth, I now had Brooklands to satisfy my craving to go fishing, catching roach, skimmers, perch, anything and everything that swam by. It was a normal ‘apprenticeship’ for youngsters in those days. The natural progression was then to try to catch the wily tench, (which wasn’t easy!) and I slowly progressed to carp after I’d plucked up the courage to ask if I could have a look at the big carp the blokes in green boiler suits had just caught. To my surprise they were only too pleased to let me touch it, let alone look at it. Well, that was it, I wanted a piece of that pie! I wanted to be a carp angler! I could just see it now: me camped up on ‘stake point’ with two matching rods, brolly with canvas sides, staying out all night, bed, sleeping bag, cooker, one of those big landing nets, buzzers, the boiler suit – the lot! That would be when I was 14.
If only it was as simple as that these days
CT: Does one particular carp capture from your early career stand out from the rest?
ML: Yeah, the first one, which I didn’t catch until I was 15, so it was a long time coming and because of that, it’s never far from my memory; 14¼lb and a very happy Lockey.
CT: When and why did you set up Solar Tackle? How did it all come about?
ML: I was well and truly hooked well before I’d had that first carp. During the old close season, there was nothing else to do but play with your tackle. I’d always been a bit of a constructive kid, from making a ‘villa’ from balsa wood for my hamster to digging and making a fish pond (that’s still there now). With so much time on our hands, we used to constantly tinker with our gear to see who’s ended up the best! From permanently ‘borrowing’ GPO speakers from phone boxes for our extension boxes to modifying our Heron alarm heads, and cutting, forming and trimming plastic things into ‘dollies’ (bobbins) and tapping the powdery stuff off welding rods to convert them into ‘wind sticks’ for the cylindrical bobbins! To cut a long one short, this continued for years and years, until one time I went up to meet the boys at the Fisheries pub before a guest session and from there I had my car broken into and all my gear stolen. I worked in an engineering company at the time, so I made myself some stainless banksticks, monkeys and buzzer bars that week. The boys all wanted them the week after that, and from there on it just grew and grew – very quickly!
CT: The image in the Solar logo is you with Sally from Savay. Are we right in thinking you were the last angler to catch that famous fish, and what do you remember of the capture?
ML: As you can probably understand, Sally is at the very top of my list of memorable captures. I’d moved to the Hump swim, a sheer bank of slippery clay type mud down to the water some 5-6 feet below, going straight into 10-12ft of water. Add to that a night of monsoonal rain and it became very dangerous. By 6am the sun was shining when I had a big drop-back. I thought it was probably Mrs Tench and slowly started to wind in to connect, but the more I turned the reel handle the faster I started to turn it. I started to think that no tench could have moved the lead that far. After 50, 60 or 70 yards of winding, the line that had started out long and right eventually pulled round to the left, along the deep tree lined snaggy margin. By then my heart was racing, as it did with every Savay carp. The moment that I’ll never forget was that first glimpse of her on the surface – OMG! From that moment, I was shaking like a shivering puppy. There she was – and there I was, at the top of that treacherous slippery slope! Quite how I didn’t slip straight into the depths of the Colne Bank, I’ll never know! Somehow, I’d got her, or rather she had got me and there lay Sally, the pride of the Valley, sitting upright and unperturbed in my landing net! I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of emotion I’d never before experienced. I’d never even dared to dream of catching her and yet there she lay. I was choked up and felt so privileged to catch this monumental and historic carp that it’s impossible to put into words. The weight of 39lb was completely irrelevant and, yes, that was the last time she ever graced the banks of that great lake. Sally will be forever in carp fishing folklore and being as she is the ‘O’ in Solar, Sally has the respect of being the most reproduced picture in carp fishing history!
CT: In 1994 you caught one of the biggest carp in the country from a Hertfordshire club water on a day session in December. What can you tell us about that capture, as some of our younger readers may not be aware of it?
ML: Compared with these days, there were very few waters that held fish of over 30lb and there were so few fish over 40lb that you could count yourself lucky if you actually knew someone who’d caught one! As a lot of you will know, I’ve always been someone who challenges himself to fish for quality over quantity. The ultimate challenge, as far as I see it, is to catch them during the winter months when they are at they’re prime, in the best condition, at the best weights and when very few fish are being caught and only the most die hard of anglers are on the banks, To do the job then makes the captures all the more memorable. I’d had great success the previous winter on the water, taking my first and second English forties four days apart, as well as several thirties during the January/February period. The following year, filled with the confidence of the previous results, I’d hoped for another winter with more of the same! The Herts Club Lake, as it’s known, is a stunning water of over 40 acres in the heart of the famous Colne Valley, but it had one drawback, that being that it was day fishing only: 6am-9pm in the winter. Living as far away as I did and only having a small van it meant having to sleep in lay-bys and public car parks through countless winter nights (and countless blank days!) – I felt like some sort of Johnny No Mates carpy vagrant! It was very draining to say the least, and the hardest part was winding in at precisely 9pm, reloading the barrow in the frost/dark/rain, pushing it all back to the van, driving out and settling down in the lay-by for another night, before getting up and doing it all over again. You should try it some time! Coupled with the fact that often I wouldn’t see another soul on the lake, save for old Jack the bailiff, and it made for less-than-jolly fishing! That said, such was my desire to catch these immaculate fish that I pushed myself to the absolute limit of determination levels. Spurred on that Chopped Dorsal, the biggest fish in the lake, just might be over the unimaginable 50lb, everything else in life came second. It was as simple as that. Oh, and in those days, it was two rods only, so you had to make the best of them. It was early December, conditions were perfect, mild south-westerly, cloudy – the sort of day that you dream about. From the second I cast out the first rod and felt it hit the bottom, I knew I’d have it; in fact, I remember calling Paul Forward as soon as the rod was on the rests, telling him not to bother coming up tomorrow, “cos I’m gonna catch it today!” Sure enough, just after 6pm, off it went, the take accelerating by the second in the time it took to get to the rod and pick it up. Over went the tip and I immediately said to my mate, “This’ll be him then.” I said it knowing – not hoping – and 20 minutes later, the job was done. We didn’t use a torch when netting fish for fear of them seeing the light before the net, but once in there, the torch showed the unmistakable notch of the chop on the top of the dorsal fin… It was another Sally moment; quiet relief, excitement, amazement – all the emotions that go through you when your ambition is achieved. Chop Dorsal had been my PB at 29lb some 11 years previously, from the same swim! This time it weighed in at an incredible 50¼lb, the biggest carp in the UK and only fifty at the time. Phew, and no more sleeping by the side of the van in lay-bys ever again. Well, not for a while…
CT: How did you end up with the nickname Lucky Lockey?
ML: That came from one of carp fishing’s true legends and greatest ever characters, Albert Romp. It all started when I had a fish weeded up in the North Bay on Savay, so much so that after much time keeping different pressures on in the hope of it wallowing about and tearing the weed to free itself, I decided to put the rod down and from the next swim, cast over the line with the spare rod, wind it in, cut it and retie it to that rod, in the hope that it would come free when I put the pressure on from another angle. It worked, so after much planning, skill and patience and over two hours since the take and in a different swim, Albert netted it, never moved an inch, he just turned his head slowly and said “Well, that was lucky Lockey!” – and that was it! Again, the weight was not important, but to save you asking it was 36lb, the biggest fish that came from Savay that year.
CT: Can you tell the readers about the car accident which almost claimed your life at the Horse & Barge pub when you were fishing at Savay?
ML: That was a few weeks after the above story! I’d come out of the pub and I couldn’t have been 10 yards from the door when a car came speeding over the humpback bridge, lost control, and knocked me flying through the air like a rag doll. I landed in the middle of the car park, 30 yards away from where I took off! Next thing I know I came to with Mr Dougal above me and a lot of very concerned faces. The conversation went like this: “What’s happened?” I asked. “You’ve been hit by a car,” said Dougal. “Get off me! I’m on the fish in the North Bay, loads jumping.” “You’re not going anywhere.” “Is it bad?” “Yep, it’s bad.” “Oh well, I’d better stay here then.” In the meantime, the boys thought I had been killed (honestly) and proceeded to kick seven bells out of the driver, who’d tried to leg it! Ambulance went to him first, as he’d stopped breathing from the hiding he’d been given. I ended up with three weeks in hospital and six months on crutches with a leg broken “like a box of cornflakes”, a gashed head and lacerated arm. I never felt a thing! So that was that – another pleasant evening had by all!
CT: What do you remember about the tragic Savay boat accident which you survived, but sadly claimed the lives of fellow carpers Keith Selleck and Clive Rigby?
ML: It was a most tragic of days for everyone who was there and a wake-up call for all anglers, who love being around water, to never forget it’s dangers. It was May bank holiday, a pleasant sunny day, and we were doing a work party as usual during the close season. We were always treated to lunch on Peter’s (Broxup) island. Sue, his lovely wife, did the sandwiches and sausage rolls, before we headed back to work. We had a punt to move gravel and supplies from the car park to wherever they were needed, so we used the same boat to ferry us to and from the island. As I remember, there were 15-20 of us there. Keith was the ‘driver’ and took us back at five or six at a time. Clive, Don Hipkin and myself were the last to leave, so only four in the boat. It’s 50-60 yards across at that point, and about halfway across, water started pouring in from the corners of the punt. Before we knew it, we were sinking and fast, the floor literally fell away from under us and we were up to our necks and treading water. Clive couldn’t swim. I tried to help him, but never having learned life saving, nor being a strong swimmer, I was losing strength. Try as I did, I wasn’t able to get him to safety. Keith swam off first, but lost all his energy just 10-15 yards from the bank. Don made it and I doggy paddled to the bank. By then our shouts had all the other lads running to try and help, but to no avail. I’ve never cried a tear about the events of that tragic day, because I feel that both Keith and Clive know that we did our very best to try save them. But it just goes to show how valuable and precious life is around the waters that we all take for granted. RIP Keith and Clive. Please let this be a reminder to everyone reading.
CT: You famously caught Benson on maggots when you could have reported it on one of your baits. What do you remember about that capture, and do you believe more anglers should be as honest about their captures?
ML: Benson was another of those captures that is right up there with the most memorable. I’d started fishing at Bluebell the previous August. After seeing this amazing fish in the press, I called the late Kev Green, one of the nicest guys you could ever meet, for directions to the Lakes. I didn’t know anything else about the complex, nothing about the stock, the size of the water, the set up, only that it was a turn-up-and-pay day-ticket venue. That’s all I needed to know, apart from which of the four stunning lakes Benson resided in! Nothing else mattered – why would it? Determination had kicked back in, to the point that I had a picture of the great fish permanently on the dashboard of the van and that I knew that one day, however long it took, I would one day be driving south on the M11 with the capture of Benson under my belt! Tony and Lynn, the owners, along with Broady, Dunc and the other regulars made the coming months fishing some of the most enjoyable that I’d had since the Savay days. Once again, winter was upon us and it was on an otherwise uneventful cold, foggy and ‘dank’ weekend that I twigged it. I could just about make out the gulls attacking the coots, trying to take boilies from their beaks, a sure sign that the carp weren’t feeding on them. Having seen what could be done with the right bait in years gone by, I just wondered what might happen with the until then overlooked maggot. I had a plan, that if it worked and I could keep it quiet enough, would lead to the downfall of the biggest and best looking common in the country. Operation Benson was hatched: maggots, and loads of ’em! I was so convinced that this would be the one that I made it so undercover; I found myself touring the tackle shops that didn’t know or recognize me, buying a gallon or two from each, just in case it was mentioned in passing and the word got out. I had spent many an evening devising the perfect way of presenting them and how to keep them secret without anyone finding out what I was up to! It worked a treat. I had success from the first time out and from that session, I knew that I would trip him up with maggots! I had a great winter, catching on almost every trip, with every take coming at night, so my secret was still safe. It wasn’t until springtime was fast approaching and I felt that I was losing my edge that I landed Benson at 54lb something during an early April trip with some of my closest and longest friends. Sharing the moment with Alfons, George, Lionel Hawkins, Kevin Ellis, Broady and everyone else made it all the more special. Back down the M11 I went, recounting the whole story from August ’til April. As Terry Hearn says, the longer they take, the bigger the buzz. It’s very true and I can’t put it better myself, so I won’t!
CT: Over the past 10 years or so you’ve had a love affair with Rainbow Lake in France. What is it about that venue that appeals to you so much?
ML: Where do you want me to start? It’s over 12 years since I was introduced to Rainbow by a Dutch friend. At that time it was nowhere near as well known as these days. My first trip was in December 2005 and there were only five of us on the Lake! Now it’s full up all year round, but the magic has only ever increased for me in all those years. By “full up” I don’t mean that everyone is sitting shoulder to shoulder, as some people might imagine. For those who might not know, there are 13 swims, mostly two man, on 110 acres of island-infested prehistoric wilderness, with all the facilities of civilisation at the clubhouse! Rainbow is owned by the understated and genial host Pascal and his family. As Savay, Redmire, Conningbrook and Yateley (to name but a few) did in the UK with regards to the quality of anglers these demanding waters attracted, Rainbow is the same sort of magnet, as it attracts some of the best anglers from all over Europe. This obviously starts as it is home to some of the biggest and most sought after carp in the world, and with it’s unique fishing methods, styles and presentation challenges set by the layout of the Lake, it’s very different to anywhere that I or anyone else had previously fished. I’m sure you’re getting the idea as to why so many just fell in love with the place.
CT: Are we right in thinking that when you landed a world record carp from Rainbow in the winter it was your only take of the trip?
ML: Correct, and it was one of those trips when you didn’t want or need anything else to ‘dilute’ the capture. (I did put the rods back out, though, just to go through the motions, if you know what I mean!). What was it like seeing such a huge carp come up in the water and into your net? It was another of those incredible moments that give you such an adrenalin but calm rush that no words can properly describe it . Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think it would happen, but it did! When she came up on the surface, it sucked the breathe from my lungs! With the ice on the landing net, I remember saying it was “like trying to net a Hippo on a tennis racquet”, and it’s the only carp I ever had to net by dropping the rod and grabbing the net with both hands. I’ll never know how she ever went in there, but in she went, all 94lb of her. Pascal hastily arranged a tremendous party with some great friends who were on the lake at the time, all of whom wished me well and were part of what was an historic trip. My phone was quite busy for the next few days as well!
CT: Do you still have any target fish to catch from Rainbow, or do you just like fishing there?
ML: I’ve nearly always fished waters with more than one real big ’un, or target fish if you like. Because of the number of incredible carp in Rainbow, there are always fish that I’d like to catch. I’m also not big on names and, with their growth rates, I couldn’t tell you if I’ve caught them before. I normally ask Aljin Danau and he tells me! So there’s that reason and, yeah, I just love fishing there. When I get home from a trip and ask myself these two questions, did I enjoy it? and did I learn anything? as long as the answer is yes to both then I’ll continue to go back, simple as that!
CT: Are there any other foreign venues that interest you?
ML: Yes, of course, now that the setup at Solar is evolving into a far more structured and organized business, along with the fact that my girls are growing up. They have had the best possible upbringing on Rainbow, and although taking the kids may not be a ‘traditional’ way of carping to the ‘purists’ (whoever they may be), it suited me perfectly, as I did more time rather than less time when they came along and it gave me more than the normal amount of quality time with them. However, that said, there are more and more great waters with huge fish in them, and with each of them comes a new challenge, so in the coming years, I’ll be getting out there in hot pursuit.
CT: Can you describe your thinking behind the kebab rig you use on Rainbow, and how did you come up with it?
ML: The kebab is just my take on Albert Romp’s old greedy pig rig. That started by his thinking when PVA string came out in the eighties. It (PVA) was such a revelation that everyone used it on every cast. Albert noted that each time a rod was wound in for a recast, there was a line of (normally) three or four safe baits laying on the bottom; dozens and dozens of little lines of them all over the place, so the fish became confident on them and the greedy pig was born. Believe me, it was the rig! Now, being the logical sort of bloke that I am it just seemed the most obvious thing ever to do again. We’re nearly all baiting up differently from how we used to in the ‘boilie days’ with a mixture of different bits and pieces in our bucket, so surely it’s logical (and different) to use a piece of each on the hair as the hookbait, greedy pig style. As well as it looking much the same as the free offerings on the lakebed, even more importantly it makes a bigger (but still very easy) mouthful for the fish to suck up. The bigger you can make the mouthful to suck in, the harder it will be to blow out – the law of carp physics if you like! Just how awkward you can make it for the carp to blow out is 100% the difference between success and failure. The more attractive you can make your baited area, the more times it will be visited and the more chances you’ll have of getting your hookbait picked up, so the harder you can make it to eject, the more you catch. That’s the key to successful and consistent carp fishing. It’s as simple as that.
CT: Would you recommend the kebab rig for use on UK waters?
ML: Of course. Lots of lads I know swear by it in the UK, but don’t want to shout about it, cos it’s proving a massive edge, so why wouldn’t you use it? It’s not just designed with big fish in mind. It was devised for the reasons above and the hook holds are absolutely excellent. Try it and let me know how you get on!
CT: Do you do much UK angling these days?
ML: Recent years have been a bit time consuming at Solar and to fish the sort of waters that interest me most, you need to fish them regularly and keep in touch with what’s going on. I’d rather not ‘dabble’, so I’d put them on the back burner and my UK fishing has been limited to what I’d call fun fishing on easier waters for smaller fish. Now that we’re moving forward here and I’ve had a lot of the responsibility taken from my shoulders, there are a couple of waters that I’m itching to get going on.
CT: Is there one particular UK fish you’d like to catch above all else?
ML: Yeah, the next one! But seriously, all the waters I choose to fish have sought-after fish in them, so it’s a case of keeping at it, keeping the faith, putting the time and effort in, and enjoying the journey.
CT: What is your current role at Solar Tackle, and do you have any plans to retire from working in the carping industry one day?
ML: I’m now senior manager at Solar. Prior to January this year, I had the responsibility for everyone and everything that happened here. It grew too big for just a simple angler to run and left me very little time for what got Solar this far, the products, let alone for what we all love and why I set Solar up in the first place: to be able to go fishing as much as possible! Now, I can play to my strengths, that being new product development, which is never ending with more than ever in the pipeline, to promotions and generally overseeing things on the shop floor. Retire? What, after all of the above? What a stupid question! I couldn’t think of anything I’d want to do less! If you ever see me as a slippers-and-pipe bloke you have my full permission to shoot me!
CT: How much do you think the tackle and bait industry has changed since you set up Solar?
ML: Solar is 30 this year, and it seems like only yesterday since I started. We (Solar) were one of the first of the specialist carp brands, and at that time we could supply all the specialist carp shops and go fishing every other week! Things have changed somewhat with the interest that’s been created. Carp fishing has now become a very big industry, one which I am as passionate about as ever. The anglers have changed with it, too, not just in numbers, but in their thinking. They’re being guided by the trade and the many different genres (hate that word!) of the sport, from match fishing to coach trips and fly-aways. I think it’s just a case of keeping in touch with the times. There will always be the ‘good old days’, but make sure that when you look back these days will be thought of with just the same fondness..
CT: What would you say to anyone thinking of setting up a tackle and/or bait company in the modern climate?
ML: Have a go, by all means. You can only start at the beginning and work from there. Like anything these days, it’s not easy, but if you’re passionate about your products, you’re halfway there.
CT: What do the next five years have in store for Martin Locke?
ML: As you may by now realize, my passion and hunger for all things carp fishing has never been stronger than it is now. From the fishing, the fish, the waters and the characters that you meet to the personal challenges you set yourself, carp fishing is a lifestyle that’s my way of life. So, it’s onward and upward. I hope to be sending you a few more stories and catch reports to fill your pages, rather than taking trips down memory lane! Thanks for asking me to do this piece; it’s been my pleasure and reminded me of a few things that have happened along the way. Thanks for reading, and best of luck to everyone.