This time last year, as I write this in January, I remember being critical of the constant doom and gloom coming from various media outlets about a possible ‘pandemic’ that was about to hit our shores.

Strangely for me, I had my fishing head on and actually had 3 bites during the course of that month, on a notoriously difficult lake, so you can understand the reason for my winter keenness!

Mother nature dealt a cruel blow with the river bursting its banks and going straight into the lake, colouring it up in the process and pretty much putting an end to some action that was to be had.

It wasn’t until well into March that I was to receive my next bite in the form of Mr Angry and then not long after that, we were all about to experience something that we never thought would happen in our lifetime, with the lockdown.

After the sterling efforts from the Angling Trust, I decided to not bother with the park lake and instead spend some quality fishing time at my other syndicate with my son. We spent most of that time carrying out some much-needed maintenance with a few burn ups that every kid enjoys! Throw in a couple of carp for good measure, he seemed almost as happy as he would be on his Xbox!!

Eventually, though, my thoughts were that I needed to be back at the park lake. This was to be my 3rd season on White Swan and I was determined to fish it my way, as I wasn’t really happy with how the past seasons have gone. Don’t get me wrong, I have always had my feet firmly on the ground as despite there being in excess of 200 carp swimming around the 26 acre lake, you’ll be hard pushed to actually see more than 70 of them grace the bank. I’ve fished a lot of circuit waters over the years and this is without doubt the hardest of them all. Over the past two years I was of the opinion that if the fish were showing over me and I wasn’t getting a bite, then I was getting ‘done’. I also knew that if I wasn’t creating chances after applying my watercraft, then they weren’t feeding on what I was giving them. Simple, I know, but not necessarily easy to work out when you are there doing it, it was more about reflecting on those experiences.

We’ve all done it, where we listen to others and we find out what the going method is and we try to deploy it, but the truth is, others might be better applying that method than we are, so that was my reason I wanted to apply some changes.

My rigs were the first thing I changed, together with my lead arrangement with the latter being inline and the former moving away from pop-ups to bottom bait rigs. I also went against the norm and used long hook-links as the shorter versions had been used extensively. Finally, I moved away from the ‘bits and pieces’ approach and just fished bait, but applied using a catapult or a throwing stick at night as the gulls would just get the better of you if attempted in the day.

With the new restrictions in place, we were back after the lake closed for its annual spawning break and, as you can imagine, we were all desperate to get fishing again, although it still didn’t feel right, but we were lucky to not be stuck indoors for any longer.

My first piece of action was a few weeks into June. It was one of those glorious June days, where the sky was a solid blue and the lake was slowly moving in a multitude of directions from the gentle breeze. The carp were also evidently showing and feeding in the first bay out of the car park. With no one around, I was pinching myself as to why that was the case?! Simon, the head bailiff said I’d be mad not to go into a swim called ‘Jays’! The swim had only just been vacated so I didn’t fancy dropping into it, so, with prior knowledge of a swim called the boards a few up, I moved into there.

Applying the aforementioned plan, two rods were put out against a solid weed bed, one on a very hard, well established clay spot and the other, a slightly softer silt area.

The fish remained in the area and, unlike usual with White Swan, no one moved next to me or opposite! The following day arrived with the customary overcast summer conditions. The odd bubble was popping to the surface, keeping my mind wandering together with the odd head and shoulder from a number of different carp, simply lovely!

Late that morning, the silt rod’s tip pulled down and the music to every carp anglers dream was to pierce the airwaves as the ATTS alarm screamed. My mate Ian literally walked into the swim as I was connected to a dark common rolling on the surface of the crystal clear water. At 27lb, I was delighted to get one with my new, but non-revolutionary ideas put into practice.

I had a couple more trips that month but the fish were on the move again, as is so often the case with there, so it was more a case of learning and watching rather than catching.

My drought continued well into August, although I wasn’t fishing as hard with other important things with the family to attend, so it wasn’t anything to start questioning with what I was doing, angling wise.

I found myself moving swims a lot. I suppose I was kind of chasing them, but at the same time introducing my bait with the help of a couple of mates that were also on the same stuff.

I really wanted to get the bait accepted by the fish, as do so many other anglers on there and that generally involves a bit of pain in trying to establish areas and it usually doesn’t pay its dividends until September.

I was mucking about in a swim called the beach, after seeing a couple of fish show over the subsequent trips. This swim is notoriously difficult to get a bite out of and in the past it has required a lot of preparation work in order to achieve that.

There was a large weed bed positioned in front of it, very encouraging, roughly about 30-40 yards out that made this swim far more favourable than its usually productive neighbouring swim, called the woods. The only explanation I could think of as to why the woods swim wasn’t producing was the lack of weed present in front of there as otherwise, I would have probably given the beach a steer.

I did a fair bit of weed clearing for the left hand rod. I was happy with the spot, a firm silt area, but the line lay leading up to it, not so. I was getting quite paranoid about it actually, so I decided to try out the new Mirage Platinum Fluorocarbon to somewhat ease that paranoia, which helped, as in my opinion, it is the best carp fishing mainline Gardner Tackle has produced to date. It’s versatility, sinking properties and strength were streets ahead of the nearest offering, but I still needed to do my prep work to get the best out of it and that was painful to say the least aided with the Gardner weed rake! But, they say time put in, equals reward!?

After a couple of short trips in the beach, I was on the move again, as the fish were showing in pretty much the furthest areas from where I was fishing. With my patience dwindling, I again found myself jumping from swim to swim in an attempt to be on the fish, feeling more and more detached from actually getting amongst the carp.

It was on one very sunny afternoon that I saw a group of fish in front of the beach again, in fact I was desperately looking for anything to move onto as I was so bored with what I was doing at the other end and had another night to fish at my disposal. This really was a gift, they were at multiple levels, some on the surface and some feeding on the bottom.

Another angler was fishing a swim to the right of this and out of respect, I didn’t cast a lead in the lake until the activity had settled down. He was going later that day, so that eased my conscience despite the area being the beach’s water.

The spots were easy to find and two rods with good line lay were positioned. I’d baited those spots on numerous occasions, so I was feeling confident and as the beautiful day moved into night, I pulted a good few hundred baits around the zones and then proceeded to throw the ball for Barney my lab, up and down the path behind, to wear us both out for the night!

There were still fish slopping out in front of me and the lake was quieter than usual, so I was really hoping that I would be in with a chance, overnight.

However, nothing. Where were the fish, I thought as I made the first cuppa of the day? There wasn’t a breeze on the lake. Both Barney and I took advantage of the lack of people and the tranquillity of the early dawn by standing at the edge of the swim, eyes peeled! If something was to show, we would have seen it and it wasn’t long as a very large, dark looking chunk showed a good 150 yards over the other side of the lake, which wasn’t ideal, but it was still in the middle area of the lake, which I took as a positive.

Thankfully, what seemed against the odds, the swim came alive at just after 8am. Sheets of bubbles were evident in multiple areas indicating a few fish and before long this was complemented with the signs of carp just breaking the surface with their heads.

I rang my mate Phil and said ‘it’s got to happen, they are all over me, mate!’ He was at the other end of the lake on the start of a campaign that required a healthy dose of commitment! I was now getting nervous about the whole situation, as I only had a few hours left before I needed to pack up and to leave the swim without a bite would have left me in a state of bewilderment. An opportunity like that doesn’t happen often, so you have to make it work. Eventually, the right-hand rod just ripped off and without so much as a thought, I bypassed my waders and jumped into the shallows to connect with the fish that sought sanctuary of the weed beds before finally being greeted by my net. My dog looked at me as if I’d lost the plot when I started punching the water as a show of immense satisfaction!

Phil came around to help with the photos, recognising the fish as a ‘proper’ one in the form of the 2nd Big Fully and he did a masterful job with the camera. With its heavily plated scales glimmering in the faint sun, it truly was one of the country’s stunners!

I couldn’t wait to return, and a couple of mates had said to get back into the beach as they were still showing in there, and it was free, so it was rude not to!

Sure enough, the activity was almost as frequent as when I had last had the 2nd Fully and I hadn’t ruined the chance of any action from a successful couple of casts with the weed rake and positioning of the baits.

My mate Paul was over the other side and he doesn’t miss a thing. He knew I was in with a chance and the excitement was running away from me, although, I had a niggling doubt that the fish were ‘doing’ me. I wasn’t overly happy with the hooking from the rig when I caught that last fish and the next morning, with not so much as a line twitch, one of my rigs had the hook firmly embedded into an extremely hard hook bait. That was enough, I knew that they were on the bait, but changes needed to be made. With a family holiday due the following week, it was time for some reflection.

My good pal Gary was keeping me informed with what was going on and he was doing a grand job of locating the fish and not letting on to the other anglers.

I had a couple of nights ahead of me early September and with Gary in the Oaks, he suggested I go into a swim known as number 8 as the fish were showing very close in. I found a couple of really nice clear spots in the weed, pretty much where he said they were showing. During that session, we saw a few but they were more in front of the swim to the left of me. For the first time, the area I was seeing them could be fished from the left side of the swim, because a tree had come down in the summer, giving you far greater access.

Just before setting off home, after a non-productive couple of nights, I had a good plumb about towards the zone that I kept seeing them show whilst drinking shed loads of tea with Gary and Sam that morning. I found a gem of a clay spot about 45 yards out, which was surrounded by Canadian pondweed, apart from a nice channel leading up to it that with some further work with the weed rake, I could get my line really down on the bottom. I knew that the line lay from the swim next door wouldn’t offer me anywhere near the advantage from 8 due to the really deep margin and I doubted anyone would go in there as it wasn’t popular, but in all fairness, the spot was directly in front of that swim, so I needed to be mindful of that possibility.

With no one angling around me on that late Sunday morning, I put in the remainder of my bait, consisting of chops and whole boilies via the Spomb and then just hoped I could get in there the following week.

The next week came around and with literally nothing else bar work going on in my world, I couldn’t think of much else than getting back into 8.

I knew the swim had been fished but not from where I was intending and thankfully, it was free when I arrived. At that time of year on Dinton, it helps if you’ve got a campaign you are working on, as they respond to prepared areas, however, keeping a popular swim like 8 unoccupied was never going to be easy, especially if it kicked off. I’m not traditionally one to have preconceived ideas, but I needed to stick to a plan.

I’d tweaked the rigs, keeping the long hook link, exchanging the material from tungsten ultra-sink to 25lb Mirage, coupled with size 6 spinner style Mugga’s. I still kept with the heavy inline bolt-bombs using a big loop in the hook link to ensure some movement, but I wasn’t too concerned because of the hard areas I was fishing.

With both rods positioned and ample bait applied with the pult alone in the dark, I popped down 2 swims to my right for a cuppa with Phil. I literally sat down and my remote signalled 2 beeps which had me flying up the path! The rod tip was pulled down and the bobbin was tight to the alarm as without taking any line from the spool! My initial thoughts were that the fish had already got into the weedbed behind, but I had no issues in guiding it towards Phil with the waiting net. A nice 27lb common was really the tonic I needed. The hook was exactly where I’d wanted it, in fact I needed forceps to take it out!

Nothing further happened that trip, although I was able to apply more bait to the areas, hoping that I could get in there again the following week, but as it happened, I couldn’t get down because of work commitments, so I returned nearly two weeks later. We were now into the prime back end of September and with the rain just starting to come down, I was most grateful to get the dog under the bivvy quick before he really started to pong in the confines of no8 again!

The spot felt that I’d caught the fish from my last trip felt good and with not too much effort with the weed rake, I was once again happy with the line lay.

I was persisting with the right-hand spot, but I wasn’t overall happy with this one, but moving it closer to the other rod would have been cutting my nose off to spite my face.

Keeping things the same, with rigs and tactics, everything felt good and once that rain stopped the fish showed where they were and I couldn’t have been in a better position! Almost exactly the same time as the last bite, my left-hand rod signalled a couple of beeps. Taking my time, I put the waders on and held the line with the rod still on the alarm only for it to slightly tension and then slacken off. Without hesitation I lifted into what was clearly a carp that again, was not in any weed and after a fairly disparaging tussle, it was seamlessly scooped into the net. I practised my much needed honing skills at self-takes, before returning the small common at just over 21lb. The hook hold was again perfect and, although it wasn’t cold, the bites were as if we were in the depths of winter, very strange.

Lining up the cast in the dark to the silhouetted treeline horizon and hitting the clip perfectly, the lead came down with a satisfying thud and the line was sunk beautifully.

I retired confidently for the night, although the fish could still be heard rolling on the surface with nothing else competing with the noise, making it very hard to sleep.

Like a true keen carp angler, I was up bright and early with a tea in hand and the dog sleeping on my bed as soon as I got off it, the lazy git!

Beep, beep from the left alarm and the line pulling up tight yet again, no line coming off the spool, but I was on it and before long I had a far better fish in the net that gave a much better account of itself!

Joe, an angler a few swims down from me was on his way to work early that morning, so before he carried on up the path, I gave him a quick lesson in how to use my digital SLR in ‘P’ mode before he suggested he used his own camera, which was something that the likes of Kardashian’s are used to looking at! At that point I decided he didn’t need any more of my photography training skills and I shut up and left him to do a superb job!!

The fish was another typical Dinton stunner that had put on over 5lb in a year at 35.07. They were munching all right!

I was buzzing and I had another night, with conditions looking spot on once more with a gentle south westerly creating a welcoming ripple from my left to right. The fish were no longer showing to my left, but more in front of me and to my right. I found a really nice silt area that was behind a weedbed that yet again, if the rod was fished from the left side of the swim, I could run the line around the weed and keep everything down.

Utilising the same set up, I was suddenly more confident with that rod than I was the left and my suspicions were confirmed early the next morning when I had a proper bite with the noise of alarm disturbing the silence! A good scrap resulted in Mr Angry again, but this time caught on the deck and Phil was on hand to do some proper pictures in the daylight.

Quite literally the most amazing session, one that I doubt that I’ll ever repeat again!

I left the lake with another healthy dose of bait on the spots and tried my best to cover up the fact that I’d been fishing the left side of the swim in an effort to make anyone following me in to fish it from the customary right hand side.

As with all busy lakes, you take your chances as to whether the swim will be available when you return. The stamp of angler on Dinton is higher than I’ve seen anywhere, and nothing gets past most of them, but with that comes a few that let you get on with it and leave you alone, something that I like to afford to my fellow anglers and the following week, I was yet again lucky and privileged to be in the swim again. I knew of a couple of other anglers that went in there during that week, but they weren’t doing what I was doing and did their own thing.

The zone was fairly busy, with Timbers going opposite me and a few chaps to my right and left. I popped over to see my mate Phil who was still persevering with his little cut out swim. His efforts were rewarded the week before when he landed a cracking fish called Single Scale. We were nagging about it when his left hand just ripped off and then turned at unbelievable speed and powered up the margin to his right. I ran up the bank to try and push the fish away from the snags with scaring tactics, but it was in total control of Phil, the poor bloke, he looked like a passenger in a rally car for most of it and just when I thought he’d got the better of it, the hook flew out. He just laughed at the experience, whereas I would have cried!

Back to the swim after that excitement, both my spots were easy to get on, and the line lay was easy to pin down to the bottom with the weed rake.

Timbers was next to have a dose of hard luck when he lost what looked like a good fish early the next day, he’s a top bloke that you want to have a result on there, but he’s another very successful angler there, so I knew he’d get his redemption at some point.

With two fish lost in a relatively local area, the suggestion was they were quite content in staying put as normally, the angler pressure would have seen them move on.

I thought the opportunity had passed, but the rods were still out at midday and the right hand rod went into meltdown once more! Lady luck was with me and I was mega pleased to be holding up a mid-twenty for the cameras once more and this fish was determined to find every weedbed it could!

The fish had made a bit of a mess of the swim whilst getting in and out of the weed beds and subsequently moved one giant bed in front of the spot, so two hours later tediously pulling as much of it out with the rake, I again had a rod positioned, together with a further 100 baits.

Evening came and as the stars shone brightly in the sky and steam from my breath registered a cold evening. It reminded me that the winter months were only just around the corner, but the water temperature was still warm, and it certainly didn’t deter the fish from feeding as just before shut eye time, the same right hand rod broke the silence with a screeching noise from the alarm! I made another complete pig’s ear of trying to get the waders on, with salopettes and a thick coat, so the fish was able to get into some dense weed, but I won eventually and had a big heavily plated mirror in the folds of the net. However, it was a recapture, disappointingly, in the form of the 2nd Big Fully, slightly up on my last capture at over 38lb.

That next morning, Timbers had a result in the form of the Tench fish, an absolute belter and karma indeed! He was well made up and rightly so!

The following week, it was quieter, which is typical for October and I had some filming to do with Gardner’s Al, to talk about the many attributes the Mirage Platinum had to offer. After being bored senseless by him and Timbers discussing fishing for tiddlers down the local stream for 4 hours (only joking, Al!), we proceeded to do what seemed like fifty takes, only they were getting worse and it never helps being on a public lake with people asking, ‘are you filming?’ midway through takes!

The rods had been left out from the night before. I hadn’t seen much and thought the chance had gone at around lunchtime, when the right hand rod delivered the hallowed one tone! Alan was behind me, trying to capture me all looking professional and in control, but the reality was, I was yet again making it difficult to get the fish in the net, but with his help we succeeded and couldn’t believe to have a Dinton chunk in the net!

With a few mates around me, the fish was hoisted up for numerous cameras. Initially, we didn’t know what one it was, but Simon later confirmed it to be one of his special babies coming through nicely at 42.09.

That was it, it shut up for me and most others, but looking back, I’m so pleased I stuck to my guns and did things that have worked for me, rather than follow the trend.

When we are allowed out again, things will undoubtedly be different and applying what I’ve learned the last few years is what I hope will give me that chance again.

Hope to see you on the bank, soon.