'I'm not saying I am exactly like a certain stove-pipe-hat-wearing-wooden-legged sea captain, but I have developed a few fishy obsessions over the years and it's only coincidence that some of those obsessions have been about large white fish'
For three hours I had moved slowly up and down the same thirty feet of heavily wooded bank and in those three hours I had barely made five casts. It was a little more than three hours ago that I gave up trying to fish through the crazy crew. You see, when I had arrived in the spinney and first viewed the water from the top of the path I had seen it was black with carp warming in the afternoon sun, and I was more than a little excited to get going. The first hour was a blur of insatiable feeding on the carps behalf and they never got bored sucking in the morsels of bread I was flicking onto the surface. It was just a pity that I was getting bored. It had only taken about twenty small fish for me to start thinking this is just too easy, as all carp caution was null and void today after a day baking their brains in the sun.
It was about this time that as I stood beside a very sparse tree a huge pure white head slowly rose from under all the other fish and sucked in a single cube of crust, before sinking back below with a loud slurp. That was it for me, all other fish were forgotten; I had to have this white whale.
It would seem the frenzied sound of the other carp feeding was responsible for drawing the attentions of just about every fish in the lake, but caution kept some of the bigger ones holding back and underneath all of the others, only rising occasionally to engulf a the odd freebie here and there, and always out of range or in a awkward place. This one great white ghost though was betrayed by its colour, and I could see it under all the other fish circling around. Its mass was unmissable Not quite a twenty but it had to be close; this fish had graduated from the ranks and was now up there with the biggest of the pool.
The sun had been shining all day, and now it blazed down on me. I had to keep my hoodie on as the cream t-shirt I was wearing had made my presence obvious once already, and I needed to be close as possible to track this ghost as it was swimming so tight to the bank. So I stood sweltering, steaming up my Polaroids in my camo hoodie trying as best as possible to keep still and blend in with the back ground so as not to disturb my quarry.
Eyes and hands now operated totally independently My hands cast a constant stream of small bread chunks out onto the water by just flicking my wrist. My eyes though kept tabs on the faint white zeppelin which moved round with intent. It had no set routine to its movements, but after the first hour I had noticed it would feed on two totally different spots. At the tree where I stood there was an undercut it would glide into, then from this undercut its head would appear slowly. If a bit of bread was in the vicinity it would be sucked in for sure. But the problem was that the smaller fish in the melee would grab anything on the top no matter how far they had to travel to get it. This had resulted in me pulling out of many chances just to stop one of these interlopers spooking the ghost.
The other spot was further down the bank in front of a small reed bed. Three feet from the bank was a small clear patch about two feet round in the leaf litter, which I suspect was where someone had been disposing of leftover bait at the end of a sessions. I watched the white fish and a few other larger fish stop over and investigate this patch every so often. In watching this I realised that if I wasn't feeding the mob on the other side of the tree then all the noise they were making did not attract and keep the bigger fish going round in the area. Once the slurping stopped the fish underneath, including the ghost, drifted away with the mob.
Knowing this I began feeding larger amounts of bread onto the surface for a shorter period of time and then slipping down the bank to see if the bigger cautious fish were on the spot. In the next hour they only stopped on the spot twice and then only briefly. Eventually I dropped a free-lined bait onto the edge of the spot where I could see the bread against the dark bottom, then moved as quickly as I dared back round the tree and tossed a liberal amount of preprepared bread onto the surface. I could hear the slurps quickening as I went back and crouched close to the bank and picked up the rod. Then I watched as a small carp boldly swam up and picked up my bait. Hoping to try and dissuade it, I gently tugged the bait back which sent the culprit into a sudden panic, flying out of the swim along with several other fish including the ghost.
After that disaster I began the process of stirring up the mob all over again. I hadn't been at it that long before out of nowhere the ghost went back into the undercut at my feet. This was it! it was in there all I had to do was drop a bit of bread onto the water. All fingers and thumbs, a bit of bread finally got hooked up and gently I lowered it onto the surface only inches from the bank. Then a pair of lips appeared and the bread silently disappeared and I struck. My vintage speedia wailed the finest sound known to man as it bolted out into the lake. Worryingly though it came under control a bit too quickly, and all too soon a small common surfaced. I would never take out my frustrations on a fish but I was mad hell with this one. I managed to steer it away and landed it in a quiet corner unhooking it quickly in the net and dipping it free unable to even enjoy the sight of it.
I walked back slowly thinking I could not face the build up again if another small carp was going to force my hand and spook the ghost off. Kneeling on the floor behind the with my rod under my arm I baited my hook again and as I did I saw the ghost move slowly past me down the bank in the direction of the spot. In a momentary reaction I swung the bait towards the patch spot. How I knew the combined length of my rod plus the same amount of line would reach the spot was anyone's guess. I suppose it just seemed about right.
As I stood slowly behind the tree I could see my bait sinking slowly and the ghosts demeanour change. It had seen it for sure and it was going for it. Its weird that you can sometimes tell when a fish is about to eat your bait, and this one was. It moved steadily towards the now stationery bread with a second fish in tow. Then it slowed and the second fish was now level. Both heads dipped, both mouths sucked, and I hoped that the ghost had won. The bait was gone and I had to strike. I flicked the rod up and at that moment the water made that sound it only makes when something big displaces a large amount of water. The rod buckled over and the pin screamed and it made for deep water. My breaking of the spool with my left hand turned the fish and it kited right. That's when I saw the white shape under the surface seemingly attached to my line. Back and forth the line went and every now and again a yellowish tail or white mouth broke the surface before it again surged away. Eventually it slowed and began circling close to the bank. The net was dipped already and then it surfaced and the sight knocked me back!
Turns out the ghost had lost out to its companion but the sight that met me was never going to disappoint. Once on the surface it slipped straight into the net good as gold, and looking down into the net I was transfixed. It was close to ten inches wide across the shoulders and did not have a single scale on its entire body. She was the most beautiful leather carp I have ever seen first hand. She had that big carp look that indicates it could turn into a mighty fish, and from the looks of it had never been caught before. Even though she was still a little way off a mid double she was by far one of the most amazing looking carp I have caught in my entire life.
And it was more than enough to make me forget that white whale!