Before I ramble on about the months prior to our current national lockdown, I really hope that like me, your families and loved ones are safe. The fishing will always be there, despite us all climbing the walls to be on the bank whilst this pandemic has its grip on our nation, and we are restricted from being on the banks of our favourite venues. At the moment I do not like to think too hard about the fishing we’re missing, as there is nothing that we can do about it, and I will only end up mentally torturing myself. Instead, I am just trying to focus on potential positives that we may encounter when we are back out.
I was having a long conversation with a friend last week, where we were reminiscing about the old close season. For those that can remember it, this applied to all fisheries, not just the rivers. These were the days when we used to look forward to things, like, for example, John Wilson’s ‘Go Fishing’ on a Thursday night. A magical programme with the odd disastrous fishing mishap thrown in for good measure and, of course, surpassing that, we ultimately had the glorious June 16th to look forward too, which came with the sleepless nights and the endless prep work leading up to that date! Nowadays, and without sounding old (I’m not that old, honest!), we don’t wait for anything anymore. It’s either downloadable or, as far as our fishing goes, we can pretty much go all year, bar a spawning break that some fisheries implement or when the lakes have a lid on them.
Looking at it positively, we are actually giving the fish a proper break for once. In turn, we might have a decent autumn’s fishing, on the proviso we are back out by then. I don’t know about you, but ever since spring fishing was introduced, my autumn campaigns, and summer campaigns, never seem as good as they used to be, certainly with regards big hits and fish feeding heavily on the bait anyway. We also used to always enjoy a good run up leading to the end of the traditional close season, something that never happens now, with the fish apparently waking up a lot later. Yes, I appreciate the weights and conditions might not be as good, as they will have probably spawned, but hey, I am sure we will quite happily take that right now! Now, I am not saying I want a return to the original close season, far from it, but it seems like it is just going to be like that this year.
I did a piece not so long ago, about my campaign over at Dinton Pastures White Swan lake which took me up to January. I was enjoying my fishing at the time, and even found myself doing un-manly things like investing in a little gas bivvy heaters (what an epiphany!!). I am sure that it was just a phase I was going through!
I had an interesting social at the back end of December, with my friend Gary. We could not decide where to go, so I suggested we may as well go ‘fluff’ chucking (zigging) over Dinton, seeing as the temperatures were forgiving enough and those Dinton fish liked a bug in the layers. So, with the Mega Bug bobbins dug out of the shed and the spools changed from braid back over to the GT-HD, a night of good food and the odd beverage was planned.
Honestly, I had no intention of fishing Dinton on a full winter campaign, this was just a random social, an excuse to get away from the mayhem that is Christmas! A couple of hardworking and persevering friends had really given the lake a good go the previous winter and no, it wasn’t for me after listening to their stories!
Gary and I arrived for our overnight social at a Dinton car park that looked very sorry for itself, with just one car in it. Gary had seen a couple of fish a few days previous in the middle section whilst walking the dog, which is quite rare for that time of year, so we naturally headed in that direction with pre-conceived ideas. It was dry, overcast and the temperatures were hovering in the early teens, so typically mild for a late December day.
Without too much etiquette, 3 rods were fanned out from swim 18. In front of this swim is some of the deepest water in the middle section, so I deployed 8-foot-long zigs in an effort to try and work the upper third of the water. The zigs consisted of Gardner 10lb zig link together with size 8 Mugga hooks straight out of the packet, as they are easily sharp enough, and a combination of red and black pieces of Zig Rig Foam on a very short hair. I did not work too hard on positioning as such, preferring to just feel the lead down to ensure the zig link to was presented properly. Gary had opted for a swim a few pegs down. With the festivities of the past few days with our families catching up on us, we retired to our comfortable and inviting bed chairs for the night, with me in a newly acquired Compact Carp Duvet, which is mega warm, and I suffer the cold in my old age!
We awoke in the morning without so much as a bleep from either my alarms or Gary’s during the night, I wasn’t surprised in the slightest. However, whilst thinking about the pack up, Gary text me. His text read “did you see that?!” and looking out towards him I could just make out some dissipating rings out in his vicinity. Sure enough, he was right on some fish, as a few of them were poking their heads out and then following that up with a plume of bubbles. You could have been excused for thinking it was the summer, as we must have seen 8 shows that morning. Unsurprisingly, Jon who had been dedicating himself to White Swan, had his first Carp of the winter campaign; a cracking fully scaled beauty and typical of the Dinton strain. He had caught it all the way down the other end to where we had seen the fish show, so it told us they were well spread out and of course, very active!
I simply had to return ASAP, especially as so few anglers were fishing it and the fish were active. I’d made plans to return the following week, only this time I was able to plot-up in the area where we’d seen the fish, in a swim called ‘Jacks Boards’. There were two other anglers on the lake at that point, Jon and Scott, who were sort of at 10’o’clock and 2’o’clock respectively over the other side, so they weren’t far off the area as such, but there was still a lot of water between us all.
With a couple of night’s ahead of me, which is something I wouldn’t normally do at that time of year as it seems like an eternity with the amount of darkness you have to face, my enthusiasm was buoyed by the fish I’d seen the previous week. When I arrived just before dark, again the car park was a pleasing site, with only 3 cars in it. There was a stiff westerly coming across the face of the swim and conditions looked good, so I eagerly kept watch from the front of my bivvy, with the heater blasting away to make me think I was actually in my front room!
In all fairness I never saw anything, so I retired to my bed with the thoughts of adapting changes to my zigs in the morning, should nothing happen. I was convinced the fish were there, as conditions had remained consistent since my last few visits. I was up at first light, which was about 8AM, so you’d hope so! With a cup of tea in hand I was already thinking that I needed to change something, when a great fish threw itself out the water, almost on top of the middle rod, and a subsequent plume of bubbles following from left to right just as they had a few weeks previously.
The rods remained static, and without so much as a bleep for the next few hours, nor any more fish showing, I decided to reel in and go up the shop after which I changed the depths and zigs for the next night. Tactics wise I decided to put a yellow zig on the same rod that the fish showed over and shorten the depth slightly.
Jon, opposite, had moved and I think Scott had gone home, so I had pretty much the entire middle of the lake to myself which is always a nice scenario. Fast forwarding to the following morning, at a similar time to when the fish showed the previous day, that middle rod indicated a fast drop back – a typical zig bite. I flew to the boards, and picked the rod up, vigorously winding the line in until I eventually made contact with something before it all went suddenly slack! The lead was off and the zig rig was all twisted. I had been done up like a kipper.
I did a couple more trips that January, concentrating on the same swim and the one next door, but I wasn’t learning anything. The fish were no longer showing, and my thoughts were that I should be looking up the car park end, as that is where the first bites were from early last year. The only problem with that end was, once a couple of fish came out, the angling pressure that it attracted would inevitably push them out.
We had some really cold nights during the middle of January and on one particular night, when I had forgotten my overwrap, it dropped to Minus 7 during the night. Being just under the brolly was testing, I can tell you, even with the new improved heater number 2, that I purchased after the first one destroyed my Coleman generator!
Come the end of January, I was still none the wiser as to where the fish were, but I had decided that if I didn’t see anything in the evening on my cycle around, which would have been in the darkness, I would go into Leroy’s, a swim right up in the car park bay.
The weather was fairly mild, well comparatively milder than the Arctic temperatures of the past few weeks. I got to the lake on Thursday evening and had a little look around the place on the bike, stopping in a few swims, but saw nothing. Two bivvies were in the middle swims, so that was good as I didn’t fancy there anyway. After cycling around most of the lake I arrived at Leroy’s, and the lake felt warmer here, certainly more inviting as the wind was pushing in the opposite direction. No one had fished the swim for ages, as I had necessarily removed a broken branch that was preventing you getting in there the week prior. As I looked out almost praying for a fish to show, and whilst I watched the water a bow wave took shape as something under the surface came straight at me, before turning the opposite direction. It was weird, nothing came up, but it was the only movement I had seen for the best part of a month. It was very weedy in that bay back in the summer, but with 3 rods all landing nicely, that weed was no longer a problem and I was reassured as I don’t like heavy weed with zig fishing because I’m invariably fishing with lighter mono.
It was a very dark evening, with little light pollution. I stupidly managed to put myself into a ‘food coma’ after heating up a pie that was meant for at least two people! Unfortunately, I didn’t have the best of nights sleep after my gluttony, and although I had wanted to stay up anyway, I didn’t see anything, but it did feel good for a bite.
I’ve no idea what time I finally retired, only that I just felt very fat! In what seemed like a few hours later, I was rudely awoken by a violent bite. Coming to, I hadn’t expected to be trying to hold onto my right-hand rod after it had come off the buzzer whilst it was still pitch black! The ATT sounder box screaming, before going quiet would half explain why the rod was trying to hop out of the back rest. In hindsight I had the clutch up a little tight, which I normally do and the fish, that had no intentions of behaving like a carp in a semi-dormant state, was determined to give me a proper fight.
Taking care not to lean into it too hard with my new GTD’s, I was surprised how much line it kept taking, before finally succumbing to the net! I could tell it was another cracker as soon as I peeked into the folds; it was no monster, but nevertheless was an awesome looking Dinton fish. I called Micky over from the lake next door, who kindly obliged immediately, and we stealthily took some pictures before returning the fish back to its home. The fish went 25lb 8oz and did not have a leach on it, which suggested to me it hadn’t slowed down all winter, and I would bet that was true of a a lot of them.
Not one for being much of a secret squirrel (in fact I hate it, as I’ve got too much of a big gob) I decided that I had to try make the most of this opportunity for a couple of weeks before telling anyone. A mate of mine, a good angler names Ben, happened to witness the fish as he had been doing a few laps before his two-night stint. I told him to get in Leroy’s after me, as I knew he would be mad not to and that he would not tell anyone that I caught one from there. I was due to leave a few hours later, so he put a bucket behind me and carried on walking around.
It was a glorious morning and I really did not want to leave but had to work, so it wasn’t a choice despite buzzing with my last gasp January carp from Dinton! You could have been forgiven for thinking it was March that morning, as the sun felt so much stronger. I was just finishing packing up when the middle rod alarm signalled another stuttering take with the indicator dropping, then lifting. Without hesitation I struck the rod into the air, with the tight GTHD cutting through the surface before going limp, another one got away, damn zigs! Amazingly, a fish boshed about a rod length behind the spot just as it happened. I knew Ben was in with a shout, with him being a good angler and the fact fish were there without angler pressure, and the next day he’d text me to say he’d had a 36lb’er, a fish I’d had the previous year. I was well happy for him, as I am for all my fishing pals when they catch.
I did a couple more trips, but it was getting busier and then, we had that rain. So much rain! The River Loddon burst its bank, but luckily it was not quite as bad as a few winters ago, before my time, when a number of famous fish went for a long swim to pastures new. After the river had flooded into White Swan and the colour was awful, which went a nasty green/brown throughout the lake. This changed the fishing drastically, as you would expect, and the lake shut down. In fact, we all pretty much gave up on the place for a good 3-4 weeks.
By the time the clarity started to come back, so did the bites. A few had started to trickle out, only the small ones initially, at least until a new member hit gold when he banked The Grey at a staggering 49lb, followed by two others in one session!
During a few short sessions I had seen a few fish, and they were back around the middle areas again. I had planned to do a 2-night session before the lockdown, and fished round in the Diving Boards swim on the first of the two. However, it was a quiet night there, and I was convinced I’d heard a fish to my right so I wanted to move more into the central area come the next day, albeit staying on the periphery of the deeper water. So, I moved into a swim called the Slope which gives the angler a great view of the lake, looking down to the car park area. 3 red and black zigs of varying depths were positioned some 50 yards out into clearer areas, as I was picking up some low-lying weed in the previous swim. The better viewpoint made me feel much better, especially when I saw a fish nut out not too far from me.
I was staying up extremely late, about 1am to be precise, keeping an eye on their movements. That evening, I had seen a few not far from me, so I was really rubbing my hands together, quietly confident that I was in with a shout. Having just dished up another culinary delight onto my plate, it was flung in the air when the sounder next to my ear let out that hallowed tone. The middle rod’s spool was revolving at a satisfying speed, but I was able to stop the fish from getting any more steam up or further ideas as to where it wanted to go and with not too much of a fight I was able to net the fish. Thankfully, I had the long handled Dual-Reach net to get over the marginal reeds, as I’d made a total pig’s ear of trying to get my waders on, almost ending up on the deck!!
Peering into the net, I could see it was another nice looking scaley banger! I called my mate Charlie over to help me out with the pictures (he had just arrived after his short journey from Bolton!). As we got her on the net Charlie recognised him much quicker than I did – Mr Angry! A proper original there, laying on my unhooking mat! We weighed him in at 32lb 7oz, but truthfully the weight was irrelevant, it was one of the old ones, and that was all that mattered!
Less than a couple of days later, the severity of the coronavirus was to hit us all, with the lakes and rivers all being closed down to angling. Just think, when we do get to go back, it will be the best experience we will probably ever have in our fishing lives, even better than June 16th!
Stay safe all…