The Long Linear and the Strange Case of the Disappearing Socks | Matt Eaton
I’d been fishing White Swan on the Dinton Pastures complex, close to Reading, for three full seasons, and to be perfectly frank, it had been a tough nut to crack. I’d done well the previous season though, managing 15 fish all told. I felt I was starting to get to grips with it, and over the period I’d concentrated on the venue, I had been lucky enough to bank a few of the sought-after big girls.
The Long Linear (or Bernie’s Linear) was one of those I hadn’t crossed swords with, although it was one I’d been close to on a number of occasions. Twice it had been caught over the weekend from swims I’d occupied until the Friday, and I’d seen it show over my spots at other times. It wasn’t a hard one to identify when it breached the surface. Its long, lean form, linear flanks and chestnut colouration made it unmistakable.
The carp which inhabit the long sock-shaped 24-acre lake number well in excess of 200. With such a large stock in a relatively small amount of water, you would think that captures were commonplace, but in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Six fish a season was a reasonable result, and there were very few anglers who reached double figures.
Some of the fish get caught a couple of times a season, many are annual bankside visitors, and the remainder only come out once every few years. Indeed, a large proportion of the stock go 5 years or more between captures. Thankfully, the Long Linear was one of those which would grace the bank two or three times a year, so was a viable target.
Why it was trickier than it should have been is not clear. There does seem to be something about the strain of fish which makes them difficult to catch, as they have had similar characteristics when stocked into other venues. I know that Simon, who runs the lakes and rears this strain of carp, leaves them to feed naturally in his stock ponds, as opposed to pellet-feeding them.
The shape of the venue didn’t make things any easier. It’s so long that it was easily possible to be half a mile from the carp, and the shape makes it nigh on impossible to keep an eye on most of the water.
The one other major factor against anglers is the weed. The place is an underwater jungle of Canadian pondweed, potamogeton and milfoil, and vast reedbeds. Even in January, the swans can feed on the weed in 12ft of water! Although it was hard to get a bite on Dinton, it’s exactly the sort of fishing that I enjoy. I like all captures to be hard-earned because it gives me a bigger sense of achievement when it does come right. Dinton doesn’t do sympathy bites, and that’s just the way I like it.
I’d had an enforced change of bait because the original Grange was no longer available, and after speaking at length to Kev at Mainline, I decided on the Cell. I couldn’t ignore the huge number of captures made with it, reported in Carp-Talk week in, week out, and it seemed the obvious choice. The Dinton carp were the choosiest I’d ever come across, but they did show a propensity towards nutty-type boilies. Amazingly, even though it was the most popular bait around, it hadn’t been used on Dinton before, and being the first one on it was likely to provide a big advantage.
The second session of the season began with me in the same swim I’d been in the previous week, and any trepidation I may have had about changing bait was allayed. The usual gathering of anglers was in the car park for the draw, and having walked the lake, most had observed a lot of fish in the Shallows at the far end. Knowing that this area was going to get busy, I decided to try to get a swim at the opposite end, partly because there was every chance the carp would be pushed there by the pressure, and partly for my sanity.
As it happened, my name was called out second in the draw, and I opted to fish the Shallows in Twin Trees, my favourite on the venue. It covers a fair bit of water and there’s minimal chance of experiencing a boundary dispute with anyone, and it benefits from a huge reedbed to the right, so there’s a great margin to fish and open water up to around 50 yards.
Ollie was with me for company, and he was a couple of swims down. I’d fished with him, his brother and his father many moons ago, but hadn’t seen him for several years, so it was good to catch up. Little of 16th June’s magic was lost despite a lack of action, but clearly there were a few carp around. The next day, a large percentage of the fish, as I expected, drifted away. The pressure proved to be too invasive, although a few stayed around.
Despite being known as the Shallows, it’s still 8-10ft deep in the area, and even early in the year, the weed was on the surface. I was fishing over the top of a thin strip of it, and had to keep constant pressure on to land the season’s first Dinton carp – a lovely dark, scaly creature which went 27lb.
A lot of the fishing was like that on there. Having located fish, it was often a case of deciding whether it was safe to angle for them. I often passed up the chance to get on carp, purely because I thought it was unethical to have a go and the chance of a successful outcome was slim. Casting over the top of surface weed was the norm, and with experience, little tricks are learned to put them on the bank, without harming them in such savage conditions.
One of these was to use the smallest lead that I could in order to reach the spot. This meant that for the most part, hooked carp would rise to the surface, where they were easier to keep out of the weed. I needed to be reasonably heavy-handed, giving line only when absolutely necessary. The surface battles could be a bit hairy, but it certainly helped put a greater percentage in the net.
A second bite ensued a few hours later, and although the responsible party was a mere mid-double stock fish, albeit a rather handsome one, it certainly boosted my confidence in their liking for the new bait.
I was down for a 3-night trip the following week, and once again, there was fish activity evident in the Shallows. With clear areas already identified, and more importantly, clear areas on which carp were happy to feed, it seemed like a no-brainer to go back in Twin Trees. Fast-forward 48 hours and the decision was clearly the wrong one. Sightings were getting fewer and fewer, and by late morning, my observations – or rather lack of them – indicated that I needed to move.
That was going to be easier said than done though, as the lake had got a good deal busier since I’d arrived, but I wound in and went for a look. I just can’t sit it out if I think I should be elsewhere. I’d not gone that far, just to where the lake narrowed down into the main body of water, when I bumped into Ollie. He was plotted up at the other end of the lake and was in a similar situation – looking for a move. He’d seen nothing in the middle either, so maybe they hadn’t done the off and were still up this end, merely keeping their heads down.
We stood in the unimaginatively named 77, and looked out over the whole of the Shallows. We were afforded a wide vista from this swim, and as we chatted I spotted a head pop up from the depths on the extreme right-hand side. I said nothing, hoping that Ollie had missed it and I was in luck. A few minutes later, another big fish silently broke surface, and then another. I kept my council, just in case he had missed these too, although I suspected he was doing the same and hoping that I’d not seen them.
I thought about verbally claiming the swim, but the problem was that Ollie had a bucket with him, which was in the swim, and I, such was my hurry to move, had brought no such marker. Had he observed what I had, he could have legitimately said he’d already got his bucket in there and that it was his. On the flip side, if he hadn’t I would have made him aware of the number of fish present, and soon the deserted area would become busy.
My next move was a bit sly, but was all I could think of at the time, and it worked like a dream. I angled my body so I was facing slightly towards the left (although my eyes were swivelled right), forcing Ollie to face extreme left to avoid talking to the back of my head. Over the next 10 minutes I saw at least another eight shows, all over on the right, and I managed to prevent Ollie from spotting any of them. I suppose it was a bit underhand, but it was necessary in the circumstances.
As soon as he’d gone, I ran back to Twin Trees, packed up, and got my kit in 77 very swiftly indeed. The area in which the carp were evident was close in but well to the right, almost into the next swim, which was empty. I suppose it was less than 20 yards from the bank, although it took a cast of more than double that to reach it. There was a lot of Canadian pondweed too, and it took some time to get a lead down through the greenery.
There was a temptation, caused by the fear of spooking the incumbent carp, to give up on the spot and try to get a better presentation nearby, but the display was extremely localised. In my experience, it must be on the money in this type of scenario, and no matter how difficult it appears, there is always, well almost always, a spot on which to get a lead down.
The fish were visibly telling me precisely where I had to cast, and perseverance was, as I saw it, the only option. I’d started using Chods a lot, ideal for this situation, and after much casting, I managed to get the softest of drops. The touchdown of the lead was barely discernible, but good enough with my choice of presentation. My hookbait may well have been in the weed a few feet from the lakebed, but it was where the carp were, and I’d choose that over a perfectly presented on-the-deck offering, where they aren’t, each and every time.
The other rod was placed with much less difficulty, basically out of the way of the spot with which I was most confident. I’d seen one smaller carp show slightly left and it was clearer there. Although two rods on the money might be the way in some circumstances, I thought at that extreme angle, and with the weed festooning the lakebed, it could be a recipe for disaster.
With a hundred or so baits round each trap, I felt supremely confident. Large heads were still poking into the atmosphere, despite my thrashing, and it looked promising. My final night passed without incident, although with most of the feeding being done during daylight, I was anticipating any action to be on my last day. I was quite excited when I awoke, full of anticipation, but by mid-morning there was little to suggest that this was the place to be.
They hadn’t started showing until close to lunchtime the previous day, and I was sure they were still resident. Confirmation came around 10.00 a.m., when the right-hand bobbin rose the 6ins to the rod blank and the tip bent down towards the water, against the tight clutch which I’d employed to prevent anything building up a head of steam and ploughing through weedbeds.
I was on it swiftly enough, but all was solid as I lifted the rod. Thirty seconds of constant heavy pressure got it moving, but it didn’t last. It locked up briefly a couple more times, but I could feel the carp nodding all the way in, until it got to within 10 yards of the net, and met the marginal shelf and the thicker weed thriving in the shallower water.
All of a sudden it jammed solid, and I couldn’t feel any sensation through the rod. I kept it bent as far as I dared, for as long as I could physically sustain it, but although this often works to extract weeded carp, it didn’t improve matters. I put the rod back on the rest with a tight line while considering my options. I didn’t even know if the fish was still attached, and after half an hour with not even the slightest nod of the tip, I wasn’t convinced it was.
My next ploy was to slacken off, and after a short while, there was a little movement. The line lifted and tightened, and the carp could again be felt, and it seemed like I was back in direct contact with it. My relief was short-lived though, as after gaining a few turns of the reel handle, it jammed up again. Slack line would see it move, but although the fish was free of the weed, I could only bring it back to the same spot again and again.
Donning the chesties allowed me to get closer to the obstacle, but it was just beyond the marginal shelf and way too deep. I’m not quite sure if it was the see-saw action of my line cutting through the weed fronds or sheer brute force that did it in the end. I decided to give it one last go before summoning help in the form of the boat, and really bent into it while in the water close to the fish. I was happy to give it some welly because the rods I were using were very forgiving in action, albeit 3½lb test.
I’d not been with Greys that long, and was using their least expensive rods, which, by nature of the cheaper carbon, possess more through-action than their premium long-range siblings. While I’ve no doubt that top-of-the-range rods will cast further, I think that a blank with a slower recovery and softer butt is preferable for extracting fish from weed, and they are certainly kinder to their mouths in these tug-o-war situations.
Giving it the beans broke the deadlock, and after some weed-free toing and froing, the beast was in the net. It was clearly a big, long fish, but I took a moment to recover because it had taken a bit out of me. I heard someone behind me, and my mate, Dave, had witnessed the final moments of the proceedings. We peered into the net and it was immediately obvious that Bernie’s was mine. He’s a sly one is Dave, and he suggested I straighten my rods up a bit because the extreme angle they were at would give away the spot. I was in no state to be thinking of such things, and was, understandably, a bit nonplussed by what I’d caught.
It’s normally the capture that is recalled most vividly – the moment when the fish is engulfed in the mesh – but on this occasion, I’d have to say that the photo session was one of my favourite carp-fishing memories. A crowd was summoned, with some very good friends amongst them, and the fish behaved impeccably. She looked good as well, with her chestnut flanks glimmering in the sunlight, and her sheer majesty was enough to make your jaw drop. I’d felt a bit guilty about what I’d done to secure the swim, but funnily enough, with 43lb of linear in my arms, that was all forgotten.
There is a strange twist to the tale. Neil, the photographer, had removed his socks and put them safely on my sleeping bag, in order to get in the water to take the returners. After all the fuss had died down, he went to put them back on, but they weren’t where he’d left them. Suspecting foul play, he made me look through all my kit, empty holdalls, and even turn my sleeping bag inside out. The socks were nowhere to be found. An organised search of the surrounding undergrowth was conducted, but to no avail. Most peculiarly, they had seemingly vanished into the ether, and to this very day, have never come to light. They are probably in my kit somewhere, but I’ve not come across them. No wonder my garage smells!