Laney & 'The Eye'
The story behind the iconic shot...
As far as I know, The Eye has no actual stocking record and was a complete anomaly inasmuch as it didn’t match any other fish in the lake in terms of size, strain or even general appearance. Its earliest recorded capture was by Pete Springate on Saturday 8th September 1990 at 35lb 12oz. I believe the fish was named as such for two reasons. Firstly, the lake is situated next to the small island on the River Thames that the hamlet of Sonning Eye was named after and secondly, the fish also had a large, bulbous eye on one side of its head - a fitting moniker indeed then. The rest of the stock was quite varied, with a lot of smaller, ex-river fish and a few larger specimens present.
Sonning was a 240-acre gravel pit set in beautiful Berkshire countryside just a few miles northeast of Reading. Formed from a typical drag-lined gravel extraction, the water had long, straight gravel bars and numerous islands to break up the huge expanses of water. It also had newer ‘annexes’ of water that had been recently added, and an active gravel working plant at either end. Most of Sonning was out of bounds to anglers, with just two sections available to fish on the Reading Angling ticket. More recently it’s been re-worked to incorporate an Olympic-sized rowing course and joined with the lake next-door, and as a result, has totally changed in shape and size.
The anglers can effectively be split into two eras or categories: those that fished the lake before capture of a 50lb carp that was to become known as The Eye by bailiff, Andy Dodd, made the headlines; and those who, like me, came after. The former included Pete Springate, Kenny Hodder and a small number of others that fished from both the Reading Angling banks and the larger wildernesses of ‘the far side’ - technically out of bounds, but fair game for a few pioneers that fished
Once the news of a new fifty reached the papers, there was, understandably, a large influx of new anglers. Most remained no longer than the first few weeks of the season, seemingly daunted or intimidated by the sheer size of the venue and the limited bank space. My good friend Keith Jenkins and I however, were among a small number that stayed.
The ‘far side'
Logistically, fishing Sonning was a nightmare. The Reading bank was cut off at both ends by gravel workings and the far side wasn’t accessible by simply walking around the pit; it could be reached only by driving out of the village and parking near a garden centre. From there it was a matter of creeping across the gravel company’s land when employees were either not watching, or had returned home for the night. It was, however, a favourite haunt of the carp and, for the few that fished over there, one of the best areas of the lake.
At the time, I was using Mainline’s Assassin-8 boilies and I don’t think I’ve used so much bait, either before or since. There was a fair head of twenty-pound carp in the lake, but also a huge number of double-figure bream and these would eat anything you threw at them.
The first year I managed to establish an in-bounds feeding area by applying hundreds of kilos of bait and wading through a ridiculous number of bream. That first year, the big fish did get caught from both my own baited spot, and Keith’s, but unfortunately not by either of us!
During my second year I decided to create a swim of my own on the, shall we say, ‘limited-access far side’. I did this to increase my chances of cashing in on my planned pre-baiting program myself, by eventually capturing The Eye, a fish that by then, we’d established was a real bait-eater.
There was a small hump in front of the swim, one that sat in the channel between the bank and an island which created a natural funnel. I’d been baiting it heavily for around a month and was already starting to reap rewards by way of a few of the lake’s smaller residents.
It was a Thursday night at the back end of July when I arrived for a longer-than-usual session. I started off by covering the hump with ten kilos of boilies and around fifteen of pellets. This might be considered a lot I know, but it was a great method at Sonning and one which usually worked well for me. After a curry and a few glasses of wine with Keith, I retired to my bedchair, draped in a homemade mosquito net that in actual fact, was just an old onion sack and some sticks.
In the wee small hours I had the take and played what sounded like a large carp, as it rolled repeatedly on the surface out in the pitch dark. Eventually, I steered him into the net, but it wasn’t until I put my hand into the mesh and almost poked him in his big fat eye, that I realised what I’d caught: the most Jurassic-looking carp in the country, the Sonning Eye, and still my biggest ever mirror carp at fifty-five pounds.