ISSUE 1 ARCHIVES
Touted by many as one of their favourite writers, we would have to agree, and Scott's blend of astute observation, wit and tactical wizardry have always melded into great and memorable pieces of writing. Years of proving himself on the southern big fish circuit has also generated a healthy collection of big fish in his album and all incredibly hard earned as a working lad restricted to a night or two a week at best, and usually the weekends. Scott's piece from our long sold out Issue 1 and the first of our blog pieces releasing material from the book, reflects on a few years getting to grips with that notoriously frustrating and fickle pit, White Swan. Enjoy
My first sample of actually fishing the Park Lake left a foul taste in my mouth – a fine example of what would transpire to be standard practice for pretty much every session I would ever fish there in the future. It was September 2004 and Al Cooper had invited me along as his guest couldn’t make it. I couldn’t really turn down a free night on White Swan, a notoriously weedy and tricky syndicate water within the confines of Dinton Pastures Country Park.
After loading the car and high-tailing it through the back roads to the venue, I shoved my hastily gathered mountain of kit up the yellow brick gravel road that surrounds the boomerang-shaped pit. To prevent the local canine fraternity scuppering his plans for the weekend, Coops was barricaded in with barrows and unhooking mats at the base of ‘Jay’s Board’, just into the mouth of the Car Park Bay on the Motorway Bank. Squeezing round the doggy barrier and into the swim, I was delighted to hear that a large carp had exited the pond only three swims up, in ‘Paul Kidd’s’ or ‘Caveman’s’. Years later, I would hear it described as ‘Brain-Damage-Corner’ by Terry and I was about to find out why for myself.
As instructed, I launched a marker float out ‘about 60 yards straight out’ into the weedy abyss. Unbelievably, the first chuck signalled a good clean drop through the layers, landing with a firm clay-like thud on the deck. Not hanging around, I inched the float across the patch and released it immediately before the subsurface weed had time to grasp the braid. I ran down to Al’s to see what he thought. After declaring, “Mate, that’s THE ONE!” I smirked my way back to the plot to cast the hookbaits out, thinking it would be a walk in the park. Three hours of trying later and I began to hyperventilate with the stress of it all. Having wiped the marker out on three occasions, this was dispensed into the neighbouring bushes while I continued to thrash with the rig.
Some casts would merely ‘splat’ onto the surface, while others would take me up to 20 minutes to retrieve, among a literal ton of pondweed. Cooper was loving this; taking pictures on his mobile while my ever-increasing weed mountain towered somewhere around my ears and the mozzies hammered my blood supplies. I began to feel woozy with stress. Despite my finest, determined efforts, the sun had begun to descend before I finally got a drop into what now appeared to be a hole the size of a toilet roll tube in about 12 feet of water. My hundred finest efforts had clearly not been fine enough! Al had very kindly popped my marker up on a second spot, close-in, in front of the gap to my left, so I proceeded to cast straight over that as well… making the whole debacle even more hilarious. It was all becoming too much to handle.
'Despite my finest, determined efforts, the sun had begun to descend before I finally got a drop into what now appeared to be a hole the size of a toilet roll tube in about 12 feet of water. My hundred finest efforts had clearly not been fine enough!'
Having scattered a couple of kilos around the area, with the stick, I sat back to regret leaving the house in the first place. All was not lost, though, as fish began to roll not long after the surface foam had dispersed. This was to be my first lesson on presentation at Dinton, the fish feeding with abandon on the free bait while the hookbait was ignored.
By the time dawn arrived, it was looking like something might still happen when the short left rod snapped from the clip and wrenched round. Nevertheless, while no line had been taken, the fish was intently buried in the dense weed forest. I began to drag the lot toward the bank, like a caveman. Coops slipped on the chesties while I tried to keep the mass moving and just as the net was near, there was a subtle swirl at the back of the clump and that was it. Soon after, the first of many blanks was confirmed as the fish came adrift. Packing up shortly afterwards, I left with my tackle just about intact but my pride severely wounded. One day, my syndicate ticket would arrive and I would have to endure similar punishment most weekends.
Fast-forwarding a few years and as a last-minute indulgence after my 2007 Car Park Lake result, I treated myself to a few winter guest sessions at White Swan. Partner in crime for the weekend, Steve Fudge, had beaten me down by minutes, while I scratched my head, way down by the yellow gate where my new (old!) car had decided to immobilise itself as I unlocked the gate with my newly acquired key. ‘Hmmm, please don’t let this be the sign of things to come.’ After much swearing and name-calling, the old girl fired back up, completing its maiden journey to the anglers’ compound. We’d both booked the last two days of the week off work, arriving on the Thursday for a three-night session. Steve was fairly confident of the area we should begin in, due to the previous weekend’s spectacles, and somewhere between the Social and the Beach area was the zone, all of which were viable options for a cold water whacker, both historically and immediately!
Steve was torn between the Social and the Beach, but I quite fancied the tucked away Woods swims, between the two. With three rods to think about, it seemed like a good idea to fish two on one spot, and tuck the third round the corner somewhere. The thick weedbed at 50 yards had a smooth channel of clay and silt running up to it that really did scream ‘big fish area’ and with line lay to die for, things were looking up. Two rods were cast either side of the float, while the left was placed on to a hard patch at around 20 yards out to the left. Dinton syndrome quickly kicked back in and my chest waders gave up the ghost there and then, the cold November water rushing in as I raced to spod out the last few baits.
'Dinton syndrome quickly kicked back in and my chest waders gave up the ghost there and then, the cold November water rushing in as I raced to spod out the last few baits'
We changed clothes, dried off and settled down for the afternoon. The odd sign in the general area left us feeling confident for the night ahead and at 2am I found myself dragging in a weed-encased carp after being woken to a guitar-string-line on the middle rod. By walking backwards, I managed to grab the phone, ring Fudge and slip my shoes on in one fluid movement. With my amphibious acquaintance now by my side, the parting of the weed ball revealed some large mirror carp scales belonging to the the ‘Big Fully Scaled’ which had graciously opened my account at 32lbs.
Everything looked a little hazy when I awoke in a panic late in the afternoon, the celebrations from the night before having more than taken their toll. While sitting with Fudge and Bucks two swims up, a series of bleeps had me slipping my way back down the clay ski slope to find the left-hand rod bent round. That one turned out to be a 24lb mirror, landed among a fierce display of fireworks on the horizon. Just as I lifted the mirror for the first snap, a single bleep came from the remaining long rods. I just knew, there and then, put the fish back in the sling and said to Bucks, “Sort that out please, mate. I think I’ve got another one.”
Cascades of red and purple sparkles burst in the sky as I latched into the third fish of the session, which thrashed along the surface out in the middle of the lake beneath the illuminations. I gratefully accepted the hat-trick as a 30lb 14oz common was secured in the mesh, and here was my second park lake lesson; if you got it right, multiple captures are achievable and red-letter days could be had.
'Cascades of red and purple sparkles burst in the sky as I latched into the third fish of the session, which thrashed along the surface out in the middle of the lake beneath the illuminations'
Regrettably, the roll did not continue. All I could manage to snag was the continuous supply of tumbleweed rafts that wiped me out at every opportunity. As much fun as that was, the dogs, the public, weed and the treacherous muddy slopes got the better of me and I retreated around Christmas time. It wasn’t until the winter of ‘09 that my full syndicate ticket came up, after a 12-year wait on the outsiders list, but with the onset of the recession and a recent house move to Yateley, I couldn’t actually afford the ticket. Fortunately, and in light of the economic climate, tickets could be deferred for that year only, my bacon was saved and 2010 would be my first proper season.
White Swan Syndicate: June 2010 - March 2011
My opening season in June didn’t turn out to plan. Our hookbaits festered in the bottom slime and reeked of dog shit where the lake still hadn’t recovered since the cataclysmic flooding of 2007, when the River Loddon had burst its banks and raised the lake level by a number of feet. So much, in fact, that the water level was around waist depth over the gravel paths, and the prized stock escaped into every lake, river, pond, ditch, field, and bramble bush in the vicinity. Tales of groups of fish swimming up the paths, and fish being rescued from fields, had rocked the syndicate. Nobody was exactly sure what was left or what was where, but one thing was for sure; the natural disaster had a huge impact on the nature of the lake.
In hindsight, I should have used a pop-up rig, or fished in the margins, and I could have avoided tainting the baits, but for whatever reason it wasn’t until the back end of July that I started to feel like a take was imminent. Fat Al was in the Caveman corner so I’d dropped my kit in Jay’s Boards and sat with Al looking up the pond and drinking his tea. Before long, the stifling heat had my head throbbing, a telltale sign of an imminent Dinton headache, so I thought it wise to find a shadier spot until the pounding had subsided. Adjacent to the Social swim was a shady, wooded spot with a large underwater snag. I’d gazed under there a few times over the years to no avail, but this time there were decent-looking mirrors gliding intently around the outskirts on the snag.
Feeling quite rough by this point, I limped back to Jay’s and contemplated a move in the searing heat. On the verge of sunstroke, I didn’t think I’d be able to make it anyway, when a decent mirror rolled 10 yards out off the end of the board, followed by another off the right-hand margin. Bedchair out, shelter up and a lie down in the relative shade was the order of the day.
Margin maestro, Little Jon, appeared not long after. Quizzing him if he’d been baiting those snags, (if he had I’d have left him to it) the sly old fox feigned ignorance and left to ‘see for himself’. It wasn’t long before Jon was back with reports of at least six decent fish under the snags and to make sure that was okay to go in there. Still feeling written off by the heat I declined and said I’d have a look the following day. Having recovered and rehydrated, the rods were sorted, and I sat transfixed by the snaggy gap on the opposite bank, fully expecting to see LJ appear, latched into a whacker at any moment.
Dawn broke uninterrupted, but the snag sightings were on my mind and the spot had lain vacant since Jon’s departure the previous evening. Sure enough, the fish were there, 12 of them to be exact, including some of the most prized specimens in the form of Triple Row, the Dustbin and Apple Slice, along with at least three other scaly beasts in the low-30s.
Three single night sessions later with no bite, and I was left scratching my head. At one stage the Triple Row fed with abandon right over the broken boilie and oily pellets for a full hour, its fat arse waddled, transfixing me as it scoffed the lot all around my hookbait, which was placed just 15 feet off the rod tip underneath the overhanging branches.
'At one stage the Triple Row fed with abandon right over the broken boilie and oily pellets for a full hour, its fat arse waddled, transfixing me as it scoffed the lot all around my hookbait'
Jon had lost what he had thought was the lake’s Big Common on the Tuesday, before I arrived for a ‘one-rod work night’ on the Wednesday. Having failed with a halved 14 miller on my first night, and after two days of scheming, a fake pellet on a braided link with an inch and a half long 3lb braid hair had been meticulously placed on my second night, after semi-spooking the fish with the ‘plips’ of a few single pellets. The line lay perfectly from the tip, along the sandy shelf to the feeding spot, yet the deep bellies of gorging pigs and the flanking of their large bodies made my heart pound out of my chest with every beep.
By 8am the following morning, my eyes looked more akin to a panda’s than a human’s. I couldn’t believe they’d got away with it again, what the hell were these fish doing to me? After loading the spot back up with pellet on departure, I squeezed back in on the Saturday, but to no avail. I hooked a roach on a worm right as the carp fed over the hookbait, spooking the lot and driving me to total and utter despair.
Peeking out though the dense shrubbery, I noticed a peculiar-looking, fluffy area out on the flat calm surface. Having lost interest in the paranoid edge feeders, I stretched my legs and walked into the Social swim next door, to be greeted by a biblical amount of sheeting all over the central bowl area of the lake. Gary Alloway was angling opposite in ‘Fatty Paul’s’, and not knowing his number, or where his baits were cast, I moved my kit into the vacant plot and mooched round to see what the deal was. If I remember rightly, Gary had bagged a 32-pounder, recast and the fish had continued to sheet all over the central area. Gary was off early afternoon, so rather than risk ruining his chances by leading around, I set about preparing the necessary bits and pieces for an afternoon open-water attack. Three seasons before I remember Fudge calling the zone ‘Helmand Province’ due to the ridiculous amount of solid pondweed out there. At the time, it was said you would be very lucky to see your lead again if you cast it out there!
The weed still hadn’t recovered post-flooding, and would you believe it, hardly a strand could be found out there. The thick, claggy detritus snatched at the lead (which had landed at the right sort of length) so I clipped up the distance to try to minimise the bombardment. It was a bit of long chuck for the Park lake, but no one else was present and the Sundays were generally a quiet night to angle, so I took the risk and fanned the casts out to the right until a firmer drop was had. The left-hand rod was easy enough, about 60 or so yards out in front of the swim, while the right was 15 yards further out to the right, in a triangular bit of no-man’s-land. It was an area that couldn’t really be got at from Fatty’s, due to the angle and bushes, and generally people wouldn’t tend to cast there from the Slope either. From the Social it was the perfect viewing point and casting across from that bank offered a better angle to dangle from.
Having settled in without too much casting, I left the single hookbaits out to fish for themselves. The right-hand rod pulled up tight at 4pm, but as I stood up with the rod, the line whipped out of the lake and straight into the bushes to the right, alerting me to a determined bow-wave surging up the centre of the pit 80-odd yards in the distance, over the top of the bush. Taking no chances, I clamped down and jumped in fully-clothed to gain a better angle, causing the fish to swing in, on a huge kite toward the snag-laden Woods bank.
Eventually, and more by luck than judgement, the tiring carp rose miraculously from the deep margin underneath the tip, none the worse for its ordeal. As I let out that sigh of relief that only the first carp of the season can provide, a random middle-aged couple appeared by my set-up clutching their chests, having sprinted round after seeing me ‘getting dragged up the lake by that fish’ An absolutely bionic common huffed and puffed in the folds of mesh.
Not relishing the thought of their shaky photographic skills, Bernie promptly arrived with Bazil the carp dog and sorted out the shots for me. After catching an old character fish in the form of Quasimodo the following weekend, the weather changed, the fish moved, and so did I, infused with a newfound confidence.
'Not relishing the thought of their shaky photographic skills, Bernie promptly arrived with Bazil the carp dog and sorted out the shots for me'
As you’ve probably guessed, things very rarely went to plan on Dinton, so rather than bore you all with stories of my weedy frustrations, let me tell you a tale of the few occasions when it all went right.
Late in July, there were around 60 carp in blatant evidence, cruising around in the Car Park Bay. None of them seemed to be of any size though, nor did they appear in the mood for feeding. Byron had turned up for a look on the Sunday, and I had increasingly itchy feet. On reaching the Long Boards at the top end, a light south-westerly ruffled the surface as bigger carp shuffled out into the centre of the bay. Little Dave and South African Steve were soon to be vacating pegs Five and Seven, and Tel had moved into the Twin Trees on the top bank, so I parked the barrow in Six, and waited until late afternoon.
With the rods and baits in place relatively effortlessly, what was about to be an insane session ensued. I was checking my hook two hours later, as a decent fish had dropped off round to the right after a heavy kite, but upon inspection, all seemed spot-on with the rig. I’d punched seven small spods back out to the left-hand mark and I’d only just rolled my chest waders down to my knees when I heard the unmistakeable snap of a line clip behind me. I’d upgraded my rods the year before and I was soon questioning my size six Stiff Rigger choice with the beefier set-up, having just bundled a 15lb common into the net including a completely straight hook!
Stepping up to a size five was the next step, and although it wasn’t as delicate a presentation, it was a necessary evil. At 2am I stood getting saturated in the heaviest downpour I’ve ever experienced getting a take in. Twenty minutes later, a weedbed the size of a car, minus the offending carp, was gingerly hand-lined into the edge. Another loss at 4am really hurt, something needed to be changed.
I managed to save a modicum of pride, extracting a 10lb fully and a 19lb scaly mirror by the time I left at 10am the next morning. As luck would have it I’d managed to lay my hands on some early Atomic Chodda hooks for the very next session, which were thicker in the wire and had very little flex. I’d been toying around with hook sharpening, but with the advent of the Jag stones, I became a little obsessed with it all. The score line read like a droll Sunday afternoon radio broadcast in my head; ‘White Swan 3 - Scotty 3’.
Bucks was installed in peg Five next door the following weekend, but okay’d me going back into Six after I’d relayed the tale. The usual farce of casting the rods out as well as possible for the next morning took place, eventually landing sweet on the gravel patches out in the centre of the bay. Only the very best casts would be left, the real ‘crackers’ as the lead landed on the tiny, gravel sweet spots. These were the chucks that seemed to do the damage, so I’d always take as many casts as it necessary to get them perfectly positioned and the lines as straight as could be. The room for error was nil.
'Receiving an absolutely perfect first cast before the crosswinds had gotten too bad resulted in the Blind Eye Common at 35lbs only minutes later'
I was due to go on a cruise to Norway on the Monday, but managed one of the better fish, the Hamster at 36lbs the next morning. Receiving an absolutely perfect first cast before the crosswinds had gotten too bad resulted in the Blind Eye Common at 35lbs only minutes later. The fish kept their heads down the following morning, but I was packing up for the week’s holiday when the right-hand rod signalled the third take of the session, making a nice hat-trick of 30s when the Second Fully Scaled came rolling into the net.
'Only the very best casts would be left, the real ‘crackers’ as the lead landed on the tiny, gravel sweet spots. These were the chucks that seemed to do the damage, so I’d always take as many casts as it necessary to get them perfectly positioned and the lines as straight as could be. The room for error was nil'
Part 2 Continues tomorrow...