Back in 2016 I embarked on a campaign for the biggest carp in my locality – a very big carp indeed. Some had caught it quickly, however, I knew one or two extremely tidy anglers that had been fishing for this beast for several years so I was prepared for the long haul. Although I was confident that I possessed the skills to bank her, with the lake holding a relatively low stock of carp, I envisaged a prolonged period of observation, learning and jigsaw puzzling before me. How wrong I was!

After three years sitting on the sidelines whilst several of my mates caught her, I’d finally got my Vinnetrow ticket and with it the opportunity to fish for one of the biggest, home-grown carp in the land; the Half Lin. Although limited, my knowledge of the lake suggested it was just my sort of place, being weedy in the extreme and sparsely stocked with 28 residents, a good few of which I found desirable. My first trip in late spring re-enforced my preconceptions. The anglers, the nature of the venue, the fish it held and the atmosphere meant I really liked it there and was looking forward to the campaign.

It was also hugely revealing in terms of how the carp behaved and what the other syndicate members were doing. The standard of angler was impressive and I was keen to find an edge. Although I saw plenty of afternoon shows at range in open water they were pretty random in respect of which part of the lake they were in. Quite a few were double shows, the same fish breaching the surface twice in quick succession, which gave me the impression that they were cleaning off and it was pretty clear to me that they weren’t necessarily showing where they fed. They were feeding though; just not where they were jumping as there was bubbling going on close in, both in my swim and the corner next door. I managed to hook one by casting in amongst the jacuzzi but alas it fell off not long after I’d picked up the rod. Obviously it was encouraging to have a bite on my first attempt and, thankfully, it didn’t felt particularly special but I wasn’t best pleased to have fluffed my first chance.

The other anglers all seemed to be fishing long and although it works well on there, particularly in the spring before the weed gets up, I couldn’t help feeling that the area from the margins up to 30 yards out wasn’t being exploited. Most of the feeding activity I saw was close in and nearly all the pressure was in the middle. It just seemed so obvious that the edges and close range areas were where I needed to be fishing.

This suited me perfectly as distance fishing isn’t where my strengths lie and I’m much happier fishing closer in. I was annoyed at failing to capitalise on hooking one but to know that my bait, Cell was to their liking and rig wise I was ok was a confidence booster. I’d had the bite over a fair bit of bait too, which I was happy with considering most of the competition were employing singles.

With two nights fishing ahead of me the following week I’d deliberately arrived at lunchtime in the hope of finding fish during the afternoon, when they appeared at their most active. After quite some time looking I decided to spend the first night in the area I’d seen them feeding in just a few days before. I’d been told that the unpopular Weedy Corner had hardly been occupied during the past two years meaning that the fish wouldn’t have been pressured there, the wind was trickling in and I was already feeling confident that my approach, being different to the norm, was the way to go. I checked with Jerry Hammond who was next door that I was wasn’t in his way and enjoyed a social catch-up evening with him having not seen him for a few years.

Conditions looked good for the corner however, by lunchtime the following day, I was up for a move. The area seemed devoid of fish life and I’d seen two or three shows in a couple of swims on the opposite bank so I reeled in to go in search of inspiration and a fresh location. Prior to going walkabout I had a good look from a climbing tree that afforded a bird’s eye view of my area, confirming that there was nothing going on. I spent the next two hours climbing and looking until eventually I found a couple of fish cruising, not far out, in the area I’d spotted the shows, opposite.

I made my way back to get packed up but, before moving, had one last look from the tree, just in case something had turned up. Things had changed somewhat. It was windier now and the water looked decidedly murky. Was it the wave action that had stirred up a bit of colour or was fish activity responsible? Although I couldn’t see any definite signs it just felt alive. It’s difficult to explain but I could sense fish were about and my adrenaline started pumping. Although there was nothing tangible the feeling kept me in the branches, my feet aching from an awkward stance, for a good twenty minutes before I thought I glipsed a dark shape. I remained there a while longer to be sure. Then two distinctive dark patches moved slowly across the near side of the clear spot I’d been fishing. Visibility wasn’t great and they were deep down but one was substantially bigger than the other.

“Yes, 100% carp and it looks like they’re feeding. I’m staying put.” I thought as I rued my decision to reel in. I didn’t know whether to risk messing it all up by getting a rig in place or wait and watch. I elected to watch them for a while whilst I decided what to do rather than rush things and cock up the opportunity. A small, heavily scaled mirror rolled and a couple more fish were observed deep down. The corner had been absolutely transformed from lifeless to looking odds on for a bite in the time it took me to do a single circuit.

From my perch, high in the branches, I gained a good bit of knowledge and, as the wind abated, I was able to make out the shape of the clear area around twenty yards out. Surrounded by weed it was like, I suppose, a teardrop shaped doughnut with a weedy spot right in the middle, running across the swim. At the point there was a gap in the weed which the carp were using to enter the feeding area.

I was sure they would move out as the sun dropped towards the horizon and left myself half an hour of daylight to get the rods sorted properly. Armed with the information of the topography I thought that I’d get better presentation and less obtrusive line lay by dropping the lead down at the far side of the widest point of the teardrop. This would also ensure I avoided the weed in the centre, which had the potential to scupper my chances by lifting my line off the bottom. Divided between the clear spot and the surrounding weed I fed a kilo of boilies. I’m not one for utilising tight baiting patterns as I’m convinced carp are easier to fool if I can get them grubbing around a wide area.

With similar conditions forecast for the following day I was both hopeful of and expecting their return and went to bed both confident and excited. Little occurred during darkness and I saw nothing to suggest the presence of carp during the morning until my mate Graham called me around 10 am. “They were all over me yesterday.” I said. “They’re all over you now.” was his reply. Over tea I ascertained that he’d spotted four fish from the spotting tree around the corner and that they’d been feeding on my bait. With the sun in my eyes and a rippled surface I’d been unable to see anything. I hadn’t been expecting to until lunchtime.

There was another good spotting tree in the swim, but it wasn’t the easiest of climbs. It was only made possible by a tiny stump from a long ago snapped off branch, albeit with a tricky descent, as it was necessary to swap feet on this miniature peg. Nevertheless I shot up to ascertain the situation for myself.

There they were, not on the baited area but close by. A group of four, two of which were striped in clay, one on its own and a pair, one significantly bigger than the other. All of them were very active moving from my spot to under my rod tips and along the margin into the corner before heading out of view into open water and completing the circuit then dropping on to the baited area to feed.

I phoned Sarah, my other half, to negotiate an extension to my session as it was looking really promising. She’d already granted me an additional night the previous week but she understands the rarity of these situations and a few more hours were granted. I tried to sit it out but lasted about as long as it took to consume a brew before ascending the tree to get another look. All the time I was aloft I was terrified of getting a bite but, as soon as I got down, I was itching to climb the trunk to see what was happening.

One little area close to the corner seemed to hold their interest. They didn’t stop for long but a couple of times I saw puffs of silt emerge as if they’d stopped for a mouthful of something. At the risk of disturbing them I reeled one rod in after checking the coast was clear. I fancied there was a chance, albeit slim, of a pick up from the corner if I could get a rig there in one attempt.

The side cast was tricky and, as luck would have it, my chod rig, adorned with a Milky Toffee pop-up, landed about three feet from where I intended; as good as I could hope for and probably not repeatable. I’d got away with it and the group of four were feeding now, trashing the pear-shaped clear patch. I could see them working the spot and, with a bite imminent I was getting rather excited. The take came, a carp was on and quickly under control. Then it was off. Seldom does this happen to me. My crude chods and hinge rigs aren’t the most subtle but rarely let me down once I’ve got one on. The big, strong hooks and thick mono I employ almost always keep them secure. Nevertheless I’d just messed up a second opportunity in as many weeks.

I was annoyed as well as disappointed. The swim would be well and truly spooked and it was time to go. Just on the slightest off chance that one or two were still about I put on a fresh rig and despondently recast. I may as well have a rig in the water for twenty minutes or so whilst I packed up. Bar the net, rods and bank sticks everything was on the barrow. One last look from the tree and I was going, deflated and defeated. Incredibly there were two big carp, heads down on the spot. I couldn’t believe they hadn’t all scarpered. I can only imagine that I’d hooked one of the others whilst these two weren’t about and were unaware that one of their brethren had sprung the trap.

I watched as they rose in the water, drifted into the margin and meandered slowly towards the corner. They neared the repositioned rod and stopped right over the rig. One second my bright white pop-up was visible – the next it had disappeared beneath a fat carp. “I’d better get down sharpish.” I thought but, before I could react, I saw the big one flank as it hooked itself and then a huge plume of silt appeared. Whilst scampering downwards I could hear the alarm and see the tip bent right over as the fish pulled against the tight, unyielding clutch. I panicked when it came to swapping feet on the tiny bump and sort of half fell, half jumped to the ground and onto my arse in the bushes!

Although things seemed in slow motion and I couldn’t get there quick enough, in reality it was only a few seconds before I had the rod in my hand. The fish hadn’t moved far but that was about to change. I’d been warned that they fought hard here however I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. It powered out into open water at speed and no amount of clamping down had any effect on its pace nor the distance travelled. I’d hooked the fish less than ten yards out yet the marker at 45 yards, still on my line from the prior session, sailed through the rings and out beyond. Bearing in mind the losses it was the last thing I wanted.

There was a massive bow wave when I eventually turned my opponent and I got it back halfway. It then proceeded to kite towards the left hand margin where an overhanging willow had the potential to enable its escape. My confidence in the hook hold had increased somewhat as I dropped the tip below the surface and refused to give any line. This did the trick and it steamed off before boiling on the surface around fifty yards out. Another mate, Dave, who’d just set up next door had seen the commotion and came to see if I required assistance. I’m afraid I may have barked at him to reel the other rod in to get the hazard of another line out of the way.

It was clearly a good fish as we got a glimpse just before it went on another powerful run. My legs were exhibiting some of the properties of jelly as it came closer and circled in front of us. Dave kept changing his mind as to which fish it was until he finally settled on “I know what one it is but I’m not saying”. It was pretty obvious what he meant so I was relieved when the fish became embedded in light marginal weed which I hoped would slow it down a bit. I was pleased to have someone that knows what they are doing manning the net as he resisted a very tempting scooping opportunity when the fish passed slowly by, deep but within netting range.

Then she was on the surface, beaten and my netsman appeared to extend his Go-Gadget arms to reach far beyond what seemed possible. Although the carp looked big we checked the scale pattern to be sure she was the Half Lin. It was surely her and the air was punched in triumph. I was visibly shaking and stunned by the turn of events. Shocked and ecstatic in equal measure I found it difficult to comprehend what had just happened.

I was grateful to have like minded anglers around me. I was a mess and in no state to organise things but mats appeared from everywhere, goalkeepers, water men plus three photographers turned up and took all the shots I wasn’t concentrating on asking for. Sharing the moment makes it all the more special and the handshakes and genuine pleasure exhibited by those chasing the same dream was truly humbling.

Out of the water the Half Lin looked immense. A true giant of a carp the like of which I hadn’t seen before. I needn’t have worried about the hook pulling as the hold was damn near perfect and her mouth was testament to the good handling that she had received upon previous captures. She was as much a beast to lift as she was to gaze at. Mind you, at 56lb 14oz she would be. I think only one or two shots were reeled off before I had to bring my knees into play to support her weight.

Was the capture down to good angling or luck? There’s no doubt that observation and decision making played their part but I’m under no illusion that they were in combination with a huge slice of good fortune. It could have been so different. Had I not taken a final look I’d have moved – had I not re-cast a rod down the edge the bite would not have occurred – had I not pushed the domestic boundaries and stayed late I’d have been on the way home. However, I had – I had – I had and just five nights in, my quest was over before it had really begun.