Luke Vallory - Autumn on Dinton Pastures
Look reflects on his autumn campaign, tackling the notoriously challenging White Swan on the Dinton Pastures Complex. With many anglers pulling off for the winter, Luke persevered and despite past form, he managed to slip the net under a few special ones.
I obtained the ticket in 2017 and usually, I would always pull off around November as the lake really tends to switch off, in fact the fishing gets really tough from October time, usually only producing a handful of bites in that month and through the rest of winter! However, this year, I really had the bit between my teeth and had planned all year to carry on when the going gets really tough, probably due to losing out on the Spring fishing when the first initial lockdown put an abrupt end to that!
The summer going into the early autumn had been really busy over there, at one point I thought the keenness of other anglers was never going to dwindle. I had a good steady year on White Swan, landing 17 out of 18 bites from March up to the 21st October. November came around and finally the lake started to become much quieter. Because I had been there for most of that year, I knew where the thickest weed-beds were, and they were the zones I wanted to focus on. The weed holds warmth and cover for when water temperatures start cooling and dying weed-beds still hold an abundance of naturals all the way through the winter.
I had two swims in mind which were only a couple of swims apart from each other. One of the swims I had already done well in through the year after finding a small firm silt spot back in late spring; hooking up the odd juicy bloodworm as I slid the sea lead across it enhanced my confidence in the spot. Throughout the summer months, thick weed flourished in this zone. The spot needed regular tlc throughout the summer period as the weed kept closing up the small spot, making it difficult to get a clear line lay. I was conscious of this and always kept on top of it, although not always fishing it, I’d always try to keep it prime for the late autumn period when I knew I would get left alone with reduced volumes of anglers.
The other swim also held a lot of weed and had hardly been fished throughout the year, a real bonus on busy lakes. I kept an eye on this area as autumn approached, and during the hours of darkness, I’d watch this zone. On a couple of occasions, the odd carp would give the game away with a subtle roll, amongst the dying weed. After witnessing this, I began leading around the weed to hopefully find a couple of clearings. I found some hard clay spots but to be honest, I had no interest with the clay, I was looking for the silt as this is where the bloodworm will live. Eventually, I found a couple of nice silt spots to present my rigs on, one on the end of the weed and one in-between two thick beds.
I started baiting the spots with pouches of 12mm Freshwater Shrimp after each trip. I had gained a lot of confidence in this bait since I began using it in September, with instant results. These Dinton carp can be very fussy with bait, so having gained plenty of faith I was confident to carry on applying it throughout the cooler months. Naturals have been done to death over there and these carp have seen it all through the years, casters and maggots just don’t seem to have the same effect as they do on other lakes. This is why I decided to stick to a boilie approach.
Like I say, my last bite came on the 21st October. After doing a few trips in November, I was still seeing the odd show, but I could definitely sense things starting to slow down. The birdlife was active on my spots, clearly the bait wasn’t getting eaten or at least not all of it. I was putting bait out after a session in both swims, hoping that the carp would tune in to these spots whilst I was away from the lake. I decided not to let this bother me and deep down, I knew a winter on Dinton was never going to be an easy challenge. To put things in perspective, White Swan is an immensely challenging pit throughout the year and has a very poor reputation of fish coming out during the late autumn/winter. With this in mind, I decided to keep plugging away with the spots, I was happy with them and although the night shows were dwindling, I knew they wouldn’t be far from those weed-beds. I applied a positive mindset, focussing on the job at hand, knowing with a strategic game plan and never give up attitude, that a bite was on the cards. It wasn’t going to be easy, but it was possible. A positive attitude is such a necessary requirement in big carp angling, you can go days, weeks or even months without a bite, but keeping a positive focus is everything.
Due to the lack of action, I cut the baiting down, adding just tiny portions of hemp and boilie to my spots, hoping this would intense a response.
Late November soon came around, and by now, I’d got into a routine, arriving after work and flicking the rods out with 2-4 spombs of bait over the top. With the spots only being small and sometimes casting in the dark, I decided to keep things simple opting for combi-multi rigs; 5-inch 20lb IQ2 hooklinks with a small loop section of 18lb supernatural joined together via an albright knot. Size 4 Kamakura Wide Gapes with shrink tube used to flip the hook. For hook-baits, I used 12mm pop ups whittle down until the hook point just kissed the lakebed. There is a lot of leaf litter and dead weed at this time of year, so rather than fishing a high pop up over it I felt this presentation would be a little more inconspicuous, with a low-lying bait, where I’d expect the carp to be grubbing. I attached the rig to a helicopter setup as this would help present the rig better than a lead clip. 1ft of test leadcore, a no trace bead and a Heli Safe was used to ensure the lead would fall off. This setup was tangle free, with no need for a PVA nugget, which can hinder the accuracy of a cast, especially if its dark and windy.
On this particular late November session, nothing happened on the first night and I left the rods in place for the next day. The odd coot was diving down on my spots, at least I knew I wasn’t getting cleaned out. I redid the rods just before it got dark but didn’t put anymore bait out. I sat there that evening watching the lake, there was south westerly breeze blowing down nicely, thinks looked very good as darkness fell. Around 20:30, I saw a subtle show directly over my right-hand rod, which fuelled some excitement! I carried on watching and not long after the first one, another one showed beyond and more right of the spot. No more shows were forthcoming, but I was buzzing to see some activity which clarified they were still in the zone! After a couple of Baileys coffees to warm me up, I soon retired into my sleeping bag around 23:30. Unbelievably, I had only been asleep an hour before that right-hand rod signalled a few bleeps on the receiver. ‘No way’ I loudly whispered, as I hurdled myself out of bed to a ripping take, confirming a carp was on!
After an intense few minutes keeping it away from the weed, I soon had control and managed to slip the net under it. Shining my torch down into the net, I was greeted by this incredible scaly mirror which I had no recognition of. I carefully placed the carp on the mat and peeled back the mesh excited to get a closer look. Not one lifted scale, not one blemish on its mouth, deep pinks around its belly and a black marble eye on one side to add some character! Fortunately, the night self-takes came out well, and for the record it weighed 28lb 12oz, but the size was irrelevant, it was a very special carp. l later found out this was only its third capture in 12 years or so, which made the capture feel extra special! To be honest this carp alone was worth the effort, but things didn’t end there.
The next morning, around 7:30am, the left rod pulled up and I was shocked to be playing another carp! This one went in the net without too much fuss. By now, it was getting light and I was already packing down to head off to work. It was another mirror around 20lb and full of scales, but a younger looking fish. I took a couple of quick shots on the mat and sent her back home. It wasn’t worth setting up the camera for self takes and risk getting seen by other anglers. For me, it was more important to keep things low key, so I could get back in the zones for my next trip, which couldn’t come soon enough!
I was back down the lake a few days later, arriving late in the dark. Rods were out by 11pm and by midnight, I already had a take. However, this time not a carp, it was a tench. I took it as a good sign, but nothing else occurred through the night. The days were generally quiet with not much going on, usually the case in the late autumn with the carp becoming more active at night. I made sure to get the rods out perfectly for the second night and just a couple of spombs over each rod. I heard nothing that evening and crashed out around midnight, only to be awoken two hours later to an aggressive take, this one was definitely no tench! Things were really starting to come together, and I was now hoisting up an immaculate 27lb long, lean linear. Once everything was sorted it was back to bed and this time the other rod woke me back up at 4am – A drop back had me thinking another tench was the culprit, but upon picking up the rod and winding in the slack, I could tell it was in fact another carp! After a funny old fight, it turned out to be one of the old original commons weighing 26lb. This carp had huge pecs and a tired old face, definitely a real oldie. The pIan was coming together perfectly, all those miles, all that effort was paying off! Nothing else happened for the remainder of the trip, but I drove home with damp sleeves and a wet mat, absolutely buzzing.
Those last two bites came on the 30th of November, the weather got much colder in December with freezing foggy conditions during one trip. I hadn’t seen anything either, the lake was really starting to feel lifeless. There was still so much weed drifting about on the surface, which made it difficult to get a good line lay at times. I persevered with the spots, keeping a little bit of bait trickling in after each session. The weather improved in mid-December, the bitter northerly finally swung back around to a south westerly bringing some milder temperatures and this is when I planned my next trip. Once again, nothing happened that first night and no signs of carp, although the weather felt a whole lot better for it. I had to go to work the next morning which was 50 miles away, so half the journey it would take me to get home. I was eager to get back down for the following evening, so after work, I was straight back to the lake. On my return, the rods went straight back out to the spots, but I didn’t top up with bait, as I was confident there would still be bait out there after nothing happening the first night. The conditions still looked really good, mild and drizzly with a steady south westerly trickling down my end. I had slept well through most of the night until one of the rods ripped off at 5am! I stumbled out of my bag and lifted into the rod. Then all of a sudden, I started to feel sick to the point I thought I was going to pass out! The fish was angry too and I had to loosen the clutch to let it run whilst I tried to pull myself together. I have never experienced that feeling before but eventually, I came back round to my senses. I tightened up the clutch and lunged back into the rod, but it was completely locked up in weed. I kept the pressure on for several minutes, but it wasn’t budging. I put the rod on the rest and slackened off hoping the carp would move out of the weed without the pressure. After about 40 minutes, I was starting to get impatient, but I did have a plan b. I had an inflatable dinghy in the van in case I got one wedged up in the weed, something I always carry on weedy waters. I was so annoyed as this wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t let the fish run, but I felt so ill and holding pressure on the rod was making it worse. Never mind, good job I had a dinghy with me. It was still dark, but I didn’t want to wait until light otherwise I would be caught out in the act and wanted to keep the spot quiet.
Life jacket on, and I was now heading out there, just praying this fish was still on. I was above a huge weed-bed where the fish snagged me up, after applying steady pressure on the rod I started to feel it kick, once the fish freed itself from the weed the dinghy soon got pushed with the wind and I was getting further away from the fish. Against the wind and rain, I had to row back towards the fish with one oar whilst holding the rod in the other hand, I thought I was fighting a losing battle, but was determined not to give up after getting this far. I started to get closer, slowly but surely the fish hit the surface in front of me and I made sure not to miss it with the net - Yes!!! An incredibly surreal moment playing a Dinton carp in the dark from a dinghy, whilst getting battered by wind and rain during mid-December! I was elated to land it, all the effort of returning after work, then walking to the van to get the dingy, blowing it up and then battling the weed and wind, it was such a buzz!
I left the fish in the net for an hour until it got light. It was a lovely mirror, displaying its winter colours and weighed 36lb 6oz. A lovely way to end the year and just a week before Christmas too!
My winter campaign ended there with new lockdown regulations in place once again. Although day fishing is permitted, a 200-mile round trip is just too far for me, so I’ve been enjoying time at home in the warm, but those Dinton carp are never far from my mind.