Norfolk angler is worthy winner of big money prize in Angler’s Mail competition

Neill Stephen sharing a great pike with John Bailey.

Neill Stephen sharing a great pike with John Bailey. - Credit: Archant

I suppose the big news in last week's angling press was the announcement of the winner of the Korum Cup, a competition run in the Angler's Mail.

Neill Stephen with a good Norfolk chub.

Neill Stephen with a good Norfolk chub. - Credit: Archant

This prestigious award also comes with a prize of £3,000, so it's not surprising that very many specimen hunters report their big catches to that paper. I'm happy to write that my very dear friend, Neill Stephen, now proudly holds the cup and has just banked the cheque. Whilst Neill works in London, he also has a base just outside Holt, so is very much a Norfolk lad. Add to that the fact that many of his big fish are actually caught from Norfolk waters, I think that it is only fair that we look at his astonishing piscatorial career.

Throughout 2014, Neill caught some truly amazing fish, but what I like about his list is the variety that it shows. For example, he caught an enormous 4lb rudd float fishing. He landed several 3lb grayling on fly tackle. He banked a 40lb pike fishing at over 60 yards range. Goodness knows how many 11lb tench he weighed, along with a 50lb carp. Neill caught more monsters in a single 12-month period than most of us see in a lifetime. And he remains a seriously nice man into the bargain!

Neill's path to big fish success is not rocket science. There's a well laid-out formula that has been tried and tested for decades. Neill is doing today what John Wilson and I did yesterday.

First and foremost, you've got to be fishing the right waters. This sounds nonsensically obvious, but Neill has to be completely convinced that any venue has to hold the fish that he wants before he wets a line there.


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Secondly, he will only fish those chosen waters at their optimum times. For example, if he wants the very biggest tench, then he knows May is going to give him his best window of opportunity. He might still catch them in the summer, but they will be at a lower weight.

Thirdly, equally obviously, Neill is completely confident in his baits, rigs and strategies. He's a superbly-competent angler in nearly all disciplines and can take this depth of knowledge to a wide array of waters that hold the fish that he's after. As they say these days, all the boxes are ticked.

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There is still quite a bit to add. Big fish do not come cheap. For example, that rudd came from Buckland, a water in Kent where a season ticket costs £500. It's a good job, therefore, that Neill has a position as a top corporate lawyer in the City. Or is it? A job like that demands responsibility and hours in the office rather than the riverbank. It's a tightrope that Neill walks. Throw into the mix a delightful wife and two fabulous sons under the age of four and you can see that Neill is a million miles away from the guy who spends his life in a bivvy.

How Neill combines all these factors in his tangled life is interesting to observe. He's evidently very driven. By his own admission, Neill obsesses about big fish and will very rarely be found on any water that doesn't hold the sort of specimens that he is after. 'Fun fishing' isn't really a term that he's conversant with. As Bill Shankly once nearly said, 'Fishing isn't a matter of life and death, it's much more important than that'.

If all this makes Neill out to sound like a big fish automaton, I'd be doing him a colossal disservice. In actual fact, it's the spirituality of Neill's fishing that so endears me to him. I believe it's the awe of big fish that really motivates him. I believe it's the incredible size of the fish that he catches that makes the adrenaline course through his veins. Neill really, truly wants to know how big fish can grow in this country today. He is the sort of fisherman naturalist in this respect that I have always revered.

And there is no doubt, too, that Neill appreciates the serenity of the waterside. I know how deeply he loves misty dawns, blazing sunsets and bright, starry nights. I remember fishing with him in India some years back when I found him in the very early morning, watching the first rays of the sun mount the hillside and draw mist from the majestically rolling river. He was so moved that he was completely incapable of speech.

So I raise my hipflask to this man. He's a great fish catcher, but also a great guy, too, and it's important for youngsters to realize that you can be decent and successful both. That's really why he deserves every single penny of that £3,000 and every single monster that has come his way.

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