ISSUE 1 ARCHIVES - PASTURES NEW Pt3
In the concluding part of Simon's fascinating account of the history of Dinton, he talks through any fishery managers worst nightmare, the 'worth' of big carp, how the media affects our perception of big fish, and the future.
Same again, kettle on, kick back and enjoy...
Sub: Speaking of floods, the lakes were affected quite badly from the horrendous 2007 floods for a while after, what do you think was the cause, and can you describe some of the scenes from that period?
Si: White Swan had peaked for the quality of the fishing that year. It had, on paper at least, been our best-ever year for 30s, 40s and 50s. We were debating whether we had eighteen 40s in there at the time; three had just done 50, so it was really in its prime. The usually gin-clear water was coloured for the rest of that summer, which affected the weed massively, and we were faced with 24 acres of weed floating up dead to the surface to start with, so we were worried about de-oxygenation. We hired a company to come and remove it all and we took out over 1000 cubic metres of weed, which is a huge, huge amount of weed.
'Fortunately, we had a great bunch of syndicate members who all turned up and ran around with nets on the footpaths and fields trying to scoop up and save the fish'
At the time, we believed that we’d lost in the order of 80 fish from White Swan which just literally escaped. Fortunately, we had a great bunch of syndicate members who all turned up and ran around with nets on the footpaths and fields trying to scoop up and save the fish. We didn’t have fencing up then - one of those things, you live and learn - but the river flooded into White Swan, which in turn flooded into some of our other lakes, so some of them went with the flow and ended up in the nature reserve lakes, and others that made the fields were trapped by livestock fencing and suchlike. Out of those 80, I think we got 60 to 65 back straight away. There’s only been one 40 not get caught since the floods and remains on the missing list, which isn’t bad considering.
Sub: How did it affect the lake long term?
Si: Since then, we’ve lost seven or eight of the big 40lb fish, which I think was directly down to the flooding. Bruno was 52lbs at the time, but from that day on I think it was only caught once more, at 46lbs, vanished for another 18 months and then was found dead at 38lbs. Sid did the same; that one was up at 55lbs and we found it dead after two and half year sat about 41lbs; Sandy was another that went from 42lbs to 28lbs when it died, and we lost Astra as well, that went from 44lbs to 34lb. It took them about two years of basically starving themselves to death and hardly getting caught, losing weight and condition, before they finally died.
Sub: Tragic, any idea why they did that?
Si: No, I spoke to everyone I could; the EA, laboratories, fishery owners, fish farmers, but something happened in that flood that they didn’t like. There was sewerage flowing in, all sorts came through in those floods, you could smell it, but it could have been anything really. Some of them, though, it just didn’t affect in the slightest, it was all a bit of a gutter on that front after things peaking the way they had.
Sub: How long did it take to get back to some sense of normality?
Si: It actually fished fairly well the following year, because of the lack of weed, but the colour had dropped back out. It had gone clear and as we lost those few of the bigger fish it became a bit of a struggle for a while. It has gone steadily uphill since then, to the point where I think we’ll just about equal our best year for 30s. We’re still down on the bigger fish, but the 30s are coming back through now, and we have in the region of 60 to 70 different 30-pounders in White Swan again. I hope that we’ll have four or five new 40s coming through in the next few years and it will be back to its former glory. The 50s, well, I think you need a little bit of luck on that front. You can work towards a 50-pounder, but there’s no guarantees.
'The 50s, well, I think you need a little bit of luck on that front. You can work towards a 50-pounder, but there’s no guarantees'
Sub: Proper home-grown 50s are still rare beasts in the UK anywhere, though, aren’t they?
Si: They are. If you look back to the 80s, and a book like Carp Fever, and Kevin Maddocks being regarded as a bit of a god because I think he was catching something like three 30s a season, that’s just a good weekend now - and that’s only 30 years ago. You can open up some of the magazines now and they are full to the brim with 40s, but you still prick your ears at a 50. I think that we’ll get more 50-pounders as we get better fish being grown on, better strains and people understanding the management of lakes more. As I’ve proved here at Dinton, if you put the right fish into the right environment, they will get big.
Luke Vallory with the phenomenal 'Jon's Linear' at just under 48lb, spring 2021
'if you put the right fish into the right environment, they will get big'
Sub: What sort of longevity and life span do you expect from the Dinton fish
Si: I’ve always had a bit of a thing with this, people always quote the Leneys as being so good because they’ll last until they’re 70, but they don’t all last that long, and those ones will generally be the stunted males. We still have 30% of the stock of White Swan being originals from the ’81 stocking. They’ve lasted 35 years, so far, so in another 20-25 years there will probably be half a dozen White Swan originals left. That doesn’t mean that you should buy Dinton fish because they’ll last until they’re 50, because those older ones will probably end up being the smaller male fish. I think it is the pressure that dictates the life span more than anything these days. A fish that grows like mad and gets caught ten times a year isn’t going to make it to 50 years of age, that’s for sure, but one that only comes out once or twice a year and grows a bit slower could well do that.
'I think it is the pressure that dictates the life span more than anything these days. A fish that grows like mad and gets caught ten times a year isn’t going to make it to 50 years of age, that’s for sure'
Sub: It all boils down to what we demand, as anglers, from our fishing doesn’t it? Out of the fish that you have in White and Black Swan, which do you feel are the real success stories?
Si: I think the likes of Triple Row, because it is such a good-looking carp, and has also managed to attain a big weight. It was stocked in ’96 at 6lbs and has done 46lbs this season, but there’s lots of other really pretty ones in the 30s with similar stories. It isn’t just about the big ones, they’re often just the ones that become better known. The big common in Black, that was more than likely one of the first stocking in ’91, that did its first capture in ’07 at 39lbs, since then it has done three more subsequent captures and then Paul Forward’s capture at 50lbs 12oz. That one is set to get really big, I think, though - it’s all muscle and shoulder. Compared to Sid, which was like a 50lb belly, the common is 50lbs of frame,but they actually both grew like that in the exact same environment.
Sub: Both lakes have the reputation of being hard going. I imagine this is partly due to the natural food stocks in the waters, as well as the stocking density. Has it been a conscious decision to keep the stock relatively low?
Si: Yes, it has, but I would almost say that I manage the syndicate numbers on captures of fish; ideally, I’d like each fish to do one capture. You could have a bigger syndicate and more get caught, but I don’t actually want that. I always want a percentage to avoid capture each year. The best way to get big fish, in some ways, is not to catch them. If you look at it like this; most of these fish will feed when the water temperature is anything above six degrees, so you should have at least nine months a year when they’re feeding. If every time they get caught they were to sulk for about three weeks, or longer, three captures equates to a couple of months when they aren’t feeding, and that is a big percentage of the potential feeding time over the course of a year. If you look at it like that, it becomes obvious why they grow big in these environments we’re providing them with.
'I always want a percentage to avoid capture each year. The best way to get big fish, in some ways, is not to catch them'
I’m sure someone could counter that argument by saying if you feed them three hundredweight of boilies and pellet each year you can get them bigger, to 50lbs maybe, quicker and more easily, but that is a very intense, artificial means of getting large fish. I suppose from a different perspective you could always say that if you can churn them through, who cares if they die quickly and only last 15 years? There’ll always be more coming through.
Luke Vallory with 'Whiskers' at just under 40lb, spring 2021
'I’m sure someone could counter that argument by saying if you feed them three hundredweight of boilies and pellet each year you can get them bigger, to 50lbs maybe, quicker and more easily, but that is a very intense, artificial means of getting large fish'
Sub: Do these ethics of yours, that run counter to those attitudes, come from your own personal views about how a fishery should be run? Or is there a deeper connection to the conservation and environmental concerns of the park and ecology?
Si: A bit of both; it is the kind of fishing I am interested in, but it also links to the conservation concerns of the park and providing quality environments for whatever lives here, be that the wintering bitterns, or the dragonflies, or the carp… they are one and the same.
Sub: Although the lakes have been written about quite frequently over the last ten years, there’s never been any need to publicise the Dinton carp, and you’ve always had huge waiting lists. How do you feel about the publicity issues? Have you ever felt that publicity has had any negative affect on the venues?
Si: At one point, there were over 400 people on the list. If just a few dropped off each year, that would have equated to ten or 20 years, so we just closed the list because it was getting silly. Again, when you think about fishing fees, and keeping a balance, how do you do that? The syndicate fees have gone up from £60, to £550 now. If it had stayed at £60 we would still have seen the same growth, and numbers of big fish, but you wouldn’t have had a single person drop their tickets if it had stayed that cheap, so it would be dead man’s shoes with no turnover. As a council-run lake, that just is no good, and it would be no good for the lake either, so it is a case of finding a balance. I think we get maybe 15-20 people drop off, so there’s enough movement to make it accessible.
As for Black Swan, with regard to the publicity, it is set number on the syndicate, so the publicity might give me a few more names on the waiting list, but it won’t actually affect the fishing. White Swan is a bit more of a concern, because there is always the possibility that 200 people might turn up and want the day-only ticket, and suddenly then numbers would be out of my control. Even in the heyday of the mid-2000s, though, that obviously would never happen. No one travelling any distance is just going to fish the days for very long; it is too much effort. The odd person might have a dabble, but anyone who perseveres are usually the ones that end up joining the syndicate anyway. My concern with the publicity has always been to do with how it might affect the fishery, and whether it could increase the numbers of anglers and the pressure on the fish.
Sub: As a fishery manager, how do you feel about big carp being publicised in general? Do you think the self-preservation and tight-lipped attitudes from many quarters is needed to keep certain big fish waters quiet?
Si: It is such a difficult one. Take Wellington, for example, in many ways it is the best water in the UK at the moment, but at the same time when you see those fish week in, week out, and every month in the magazines, I think it devalues them. In their own right, they are great captures, but when you’re faced with them all the time they no longer carry the same weight. That was always a worry to me.
Sub: Do you like the fact that the lakes have retained much of their mystery, especially Black Swan? Even though I have friends with tickets, and am friends with many people who are well connected in the big carp scene, I don’t really know what’s in there, but I actually kinda like that?
Si: That is exactly what I want for that lake. We keep a really good track of the fish in White Swan and produce the books with all the fish in, which is great for tracking progress, but if you’re not careful the downside is that it becomes like a Chinese menu of big carp. In hindsight, I don’t like that element. From a management point of view, though, it is amazing to keep tabs on their growth, but I want some magic and mystery so I hope Black will never be like that. I have pictures which I keep here, but I won’t ever actively publicise the Black Swan fish. I think we should be trying to encourage the magic and mystery side of carp fishing.
Sub: Again, from your point of view of a fishery manager, how do you feel about the continued commercial growth rate of carp angling? How do you foresee that affecting things in the future?
Si: Well, there will always be waters where there’s big fish hoyed into a couple of acres, and people take it in turns to pull them out and have their photo taken with them, there will always be a need for that, and they’ll probably always do a blinding trade and make a fortune. At the same time, I hope that there’ll always be people that want a bit of mystery and magic, and want to angle for cleaner fish in better surroundings. There will also be plenty of other waters that provide this; pretty fish, maybe slightly smaller fish, fish with a bit more character, and fish that are less likely to throw themselves at you. We will always move in different directions, and I suppose fishery owners accordingly will decide which of the niches they want to fill.
Sub: I think what you’ve achieved here, and the huge waiting lists you’ve always had, shows that with careful management something very special can be achieved. It is a template for a fishery that is very desirable and sought after.
Si: We have full syndicates, and hundreds on the waiting lists, and I think that clearly shows that there are plenty of people out there who appreciate that aspect of fishing.
Sub: How would you like to see Dinton progress and develop in the future?
Si: Just along the same lines, more of the same from my perspective. Black Swan is the interesting one for me because of the potential it has. I know what I’ve put in there, and I know how well they are doing, and then there is still the mystery element to it as well. If I can control the pressure on there, then things will progress nicely, and even the friendlier fish in there only get caught twice a year at most; you’re looking at the others only doing a capture once every few years.
Even after having a syndicate on there for five or six years, every year we’re having half a dozen new, good fish – 30-pounders appearing that we’ve never even seen before. That is a very exciting prospect from an angling point of view. Nowadays, it’s more likely that you’re hoping the known 39-pounder will be 40lbs 2oz when it is in your net, and I think many anglers would be disappointed if it were not. Whereas, catching an unknown 39-pounder, evaluated on its own merits, you’d be chuffed to bits with.
When I put Sid in White Swan I didn’t tell a soul, because I know what the scene is like. I caught it at 49 and for someone to catch a totally unknown 49-pounder would have been be a great thing, like it was for me, whereas if I’d said that I’d just put a 49 in there, everyone would have been expecting it to be 50, and then there would be that inevitable disappointment when it had dropped weight. In actual fact, that was exactly what did happen, and Sid’s first capture was 47lbs. Fish being devalued because of their weight is one of the biggest tragedies of modern carp fishing.
Sub: How would you describe the atmosphere on the lakes here?
Si: Oh, it is fantastic, it really is. The lakes seem to attract guys that have been there and done it, and it often trips up the guys that just want to catch a big fish at all costs, because let’s face it there are plenty of waters out there where it would be much easier to go and catch a 40. Top rod if you’re lucky on White Swan might touch 20 carp for a solid season’s effort; most of the syndicate will be between say five and a dozen, which isn’t easy, and the fish need to be special to make those few captures count for something.
Sub: Thanks, Simon. That has been fascinating.
'I hope that there’ll always be people that want a bit of mystery and magic, and want to angle for cleaner fish in better surroundings. There will also be plenty of other waters that provide this; pretty fish, maybe slightly smaller fish, fish with a bit more character, and fish that are less likely to throw themselves at you. We will always move in different directions, and I suppose fishery owners accordingly will decide which of the niches they want to fill'