Articles may be sent to Peter Rolfe.
I must admit that, both, my brother and I appreciate those anglers that hunt king carp, but we do not possess a vehicle big enough to transport all the equipment they deign to haul to the bankside. Anyway, that is an aside, we had jointly decided to spend a week in Norfolk float fishing for tench and crucians at a couple of venues, with our digs being in the nice small market town of Wymondham (pronounced 'Wind-am'). This put us within easy reach of Rocklands Mere - a venue we had read much about on the internet.
Getting there. The village of Rockland St. Peter lies a handful of miles north, on the Watton road, off the main A11 (about 25 minutes south-west of Norwich). As you enter the village from the A11 you will see a Builders' merchant on your right and then the village cross where you turn right into Chapel Street. Here, please slow down, as you need to wind through a very pleasant road full of newer homes and older cottages. At a sharp turn in Chapel Street there is the entrance to the fishery. It is signed. The entrance is a long (300 yards) and straight single-track that leads past a small graveyard and farmhouse before reaching the fishery lodge and car park. The fishery opens at 8am (closes at dusk) with space for half a dozen cars or so.
The wooden lodge has a tackle shop (when open) and caters for the trout lake which lies adjacent. If there is no-one in the lodge you can leave your payment in an honesty box by its door. The Mere (coarse lake) is accessed through a small padlocked gate at the end of the car park furthest from the lodge. Please make sure you get the 3-digit code for this padlock, before your visit, as this gate must be kept locked at all times. Once through the gate you cross a wooden walkway and through yet another gate before you reach the Mere (no-more than 20 yards from car park to waters' edge).
I would estimate the Mere to be around half an acre in size. At its widest point it is about 20 yards across and it necks to almost half that in one place. It is about 120 yards long. As you enter from the car park you first reach the largest, deepest at 6-feet, open expanse of water at this venue. The further away from the car park you go the more densely (lily) padded the water becomes and much of this part of the Mere is about 4-feet deep.
It only takes a few minutes to circumnavigate the Mere and check out the numerous swims that are accessible. The bankside is relatively flat and grassed but there is no footpath. Around the waters' edge there are many mature trees and bushes which can restrict casting, so choose wisely before you begin. We fished twice, on a weekday each time, and there was never more than 4 fishing the Mere at any time, so there is plenty of choice in where you can fish.
My brother and I float fished with light tackle on both days - luncheon meat, corn, and prawn. What was clear was there was a lot of fish activity in the swim but these were, mostly, this seasons' fry and we needed to feed hard to get them to stop their interest in our baits. Anyway, we did manage to land some immaculate looking fish, including perch, roach, tench, and crucians. I thought the roach looked marvellous and my best was 1lb 9oz.
We only managed two crucians, with one of 1.5lbs and my personal best was 2lb - a dark coloured beauty. The fishing, here, is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. For sure, when you land a decent fish it may well be your PB, as in my case, but you will have to work hard for such rewards.
The Mere itself is a beautiful, natural, and tranquil place. Definitely worth the visit.
Geoff Colmer: June 29th 2019.
My entire plan was to take the newly restored 'Milbro Tourist' (an old solid glass spinning rod) to this surfeit of carp-to-2lb and bend it properly. For appearances I took the JW Avon with the only 'pin currently loaded with 6lb line, then grabbed a pack of cockles and four slices of bread from the freezer. I plucked a size 11 'Sasame Wormer' from my hat-band as it looked nice, randomly picked one of the four just finished 4" quills, then tied on a 5lb specimen braid hook-link as I found that first. I nabbed a few crucians on the 'foot' of the smallest cockles in the pack. Which was a nice surprise.
I started with a no.4 tell-tale 1" from the hook and a switch to fingernail-sized pieces of bread upped the activity somewhat, but crucian-like the bites were hard to convert. I got engrossed in detecting bites - the tiny quill was re-equipped with two no. 6 shot, one ¼" from the hook the other 6" from that, which provided enough information to study the form. If the float didn't cock at all, strike after five seconds. If it half-cocked and stayed there (a matter of ½") strike. If it cocked fully, then popped back up that ½"...strike. If it moved sideways any distance of more than 4" at any state of submergence...strike. Informative. I put the camera on top of the bag and struck, snapped, returned and re-baited.
The late afternoon blurred and whirled by, with small crucians whirring about in frantic circles and the larger pulling the rod tip over in their dogged and satifying way. With dusk approaching the carp moved down the pond, telegraphing with ever nearing cloops and leaps, so the crus faded away. One or two of those carps made solid 'thocks', so I nabbed three of around 6lb with the last slice-and-a-half of bread, casting across the pond by coiling line on the unhooking mat (see, I knew they were good for something. Lively work on the Harlow 'pin, 6lb line and the JW Avon.
I wrote '40+" crucians in the sign-in book...it was only when home with the 'digital keep-net' emptied I realised it was rather more. To go with 'constellations' of crucians, there were a score of 'nuisance' carp to about 2lb, a clutch of hybrids and a small stunted tench. All very serendipitous, another day I've have stuck on my lucky 7" porcupine quill, a size 10 'S3' and caught a dozen. And been happy with that.
Still haven't blooded that 'Milbro Tourist'.
JAA: October 7th 2016.
After a good mornings fishing on the upper lake, I packed up everything and bundled it into the van. But before I left, I thought I'd just enjoy going for a walk around the bottom lake seeing as it was my first time here and I still hadn't properly seen the lower one so I was intrigued. More importantly these two lakes were just stunning and it would be a crime to leave without seeing everything in all its summer glory. There were mature trees, thick undergrowth, lily pads and lots of submerged weed which was extra thick due to the recent heat wave.
The warm sun had enticed the playful rudd to the surface and they were creating bow waves as big as a carp could. The birds were singing and I was just happy to be exploring my way round the lake. I noticed some of the swims had had a weed rake dragged through them at one time or another and some more recent raking had coloured up one or two spots in particular.
When I arrived at the very last swim I couldn't see the water because of a bend in the path. I nearly carried on by, but I thought I'd just have a quick look. I walked round the bend and saw a few fish basking on the surface. My first thought was small carp but after I put my Polaroid's back on I realised that they were no carp and instantly recognised the more rotund shape of a crucian.
I then noticed three more - no, four. The longer I stared into the water the more I could make out more and more crucians. I shielded my eyes from the sun and crouched into the shade from the nettles to help conceal myself. I then realised that seemingly all the crucian population in the lake were crammed into the swim, sunbathing on the surface in the clearing between the weed on the left and lilies on the right. There were a few more just beyond the pre-raked area. Obviously I thought I had to have a cast but thought they would scatter if I hooked one. I tossed in some bread to see if they would take on the surface, but they weren't really interested, except for one of them which very gently sucked the bread towards its lips, then away, then towards its lips again, doing this a few times before finally taking it in and moving off slightly. Even when the flake was between its lips, most of it was outside of its mouth. Some of the others seemed to be gulping at the air - or was it tiny food particles on the surface? Others were presumably nibbling on snails and other bugs on the underside of the pads. But the vast majority were just motionless on the surface warming their cold blood in the sun. Some of the time they were shoulder to shoulder, lined up in rows and sometimes it seemed they were more random, some were slowly sinking down or rising back up but most were just stationary not doing anything.
I thought about the way in which the bread was taken in and also that I would only get one chance of striking before they all scattered so I decided to wait for a positive bite to be sure of contacting one of the specimens. So I quickly dashed back to the van, set up the rod and quill, pushed the tell tail shot away from the hook, baited up and cast into the crucian pot. An easy underarm swing and I gently plopped my float in. The crucians were so crammed into the cleared area, that there was hardly room for my float! It didn't take
long for the float to nudge about but I ignored the small bobs and patiently waited for the float to go properly under. When it did I upped the rod and a powerful fish charged around the swim trying to get into the weeds - which were in every direction! The charging turned into circles and the circles turned into a good crucian on the surface. Into the net and on the bank, I guessed it at around 1½lbs and gently returned my first and probably last from the swim.
Normally fish scatter and don't come back after such a disturbance but very slowly they started materialising again and were still, as before, on the surface just basking in the sun. I cast again and once more, waited for a positive indication. More bubbles peppered the surface. The quill rocked and dipped a bit but considering the amount of fish that were crammed into the swim, I was surprised as to how little it moved about. I was expecting line bite after line bite, but I suppose most of the crucians were actually motionless. It was really hard resisting to strike until the float fully disappeared. And then it did! This time the solid thump told me this one was a big-un. As before the fish charged around the swim and tried weeding me (nearly succeeding) but I kept a tight line and somehow managed to get it to the net when suddenly it bolted on seeing it and powered off again. I coaxed it in again and this time I slipped the net under my best ever crucian. 2lbs 8oz it went and I had smashed my personal best by a pound! I couldn't believe it and after another crucian only about 15 minutes later, I started to wonder as to exactly how many I would catch seeing that for some reason they kept coming back into the swim after a brief scattering. To be honest I'd have been happy to have caught just a couple or three but I couldn't resist casting again.
Afternoon turned to evening and it was wonderful just knowing that the float would disappear at any moment. I even caught a couple when the float rose up and hovered for a second (which is always strange but satisfying). I didn't want the dream to end but after 15 crucians to 2lb 8oz, 8 of them over 2lbs, the evening wearing on and my stomach getting hungrier, I packed up (for good this time). You could have said I was elated but that would have been understating it! And of course the icing on the cake was to catch them on my new cane rod in probably the world's most beautiful lake. I thought it would be a lifetime before anything like this would happen again. As I headed off to the van, two tussling buzzards swooped right over my head just missing me. I went home grinning from ear to ear.
Duncan Hitchings - July 2013
This trip was postponed from Monday as I woke at 5.40 to the sound of pouring rain! I went to work instead and swapped my day off.
Tuesday dawned nicely with sunshine, my gear had been ready to go Monday morning so it was just a case of making a small flask of tea and away.
Being a public transport angler when I've fished either Earl's Path or Baldwin's Ponds in the forest near Loughton, I've normally walked from Loughton Station. The walk to Baldwin's from there is long mostly up hill and quite brutal so this time I intended to go by bus which would drop me much farther up from Loughton with a much quicker walk. In the event road works caused a traffic jam which turned a 25 min journey into a 45 min one and to add insult to injury the bus terminated at Loughton Station so I had I long walk anyway!
After my forced yomp (I'm very glad I carry as little gear as possible these days) I found myself on the path into the forest going past the dam on Baldwin's Pond, there were signs of fish all over on this nice little water and the surface had several large shoals of small Rudd cruising about; boosted by this I set off up the path. About 200 yards later I veered off into the forest to my right, trying to judge if I was in the right place from the Google map I'd printed out. I set off through the trees in what I thought was the pond's general direction; after a while I could see a bigger patch of blue sky ahead which I thought signalled a gap in the trees.
I came out of the trees to find Blackweir in front of me, smaller than I'd imagined from photo's I'd seen on Flickr, but very pretty, with a few open swims among the marginal plants (Flag Iris? - long green flat leaves anyway). I plumped for a small gap in these which looked promising. The water was quite a green colour, but in a healthy not stagnant looking way and there were signs of fishy activity all over, topping, bubbling and even mud clouds coming up.
I set up my Sealey Float caster with my Shakespeare 2210II and a 3in insert reed waggler and my Sealey Black Arrow with a 300a and a little quarter oz bomb. I've no working alarm at the moment so the Black Arrow was set so I could see the rod tip and line on the water.
I put a worm on the ledger rig and soft pellet on the float and sat back to wait. In a flash the float had dipped and was up again, so I rested my hand on the rod handle, the float went again and I struck into a delightful little Crucian, butter yellow with crimson fins. It weighed all of an oz but was so pretty. This set the pattern for the day; the float was hardly still. I must only had hit about 1 bite in 4 they were so fast or finicky. A succession of plump little Crucians came to hand and I ended the day with 42 of them.
I had a couple of fish on the ledger rod but this was taking my attention from my float. I was having a few problems with my 2210II, line kept spilling from the spool, going behind it and tangling round the spindle. I'd had about 25 odd fish when I decided to bite the bullet and pack away the floatcaster. To be honest I love the rod but for this kind of fish it was a little heavy to hold. I switched the float to my Black Arrow and Mitchell and carried on fishing.
I packed up at 3.45, my total by then being 56 fish, 42 lovely little crucians to about 4oz and 14 small Common Carp with the biggest about 7oz. I lost a few larger (a bit larger nothing huge) fish which ploughed up the bottom before throwing the hook. Probably slightly bigger Carp. I saw a couple of dog walkers and a couple of ramblers but the most part was undisturbed, the pond was all in all very peaceful. No other species of fish apart from Crucians and Commons were caught.
I saw loads of damsel flies and three species of Dragon Fly, Red, Blue and Black and white.
Compared to my other trips this year this was a red letter day, lots of action and small fish, but with the anticipation that something slightly bigger could come along. I will return to this lovely little Pond when I can, but have my sights set on Baldwin's next.
A contented chappie walked to the bus stop on the way home. I just wish I had a week off!
I hope things are well with you and that you are looking forward to the opening of those ponds which observe the traditional closed season.
My own crucian fishing has already started (I couldn't wait) and last Friday saw me venture forth to Marsh Farm in Godalming in search of my first 2lber. Here are a few words about the day...
As I was due to fish last Friday but spent the whole day in bed with a sickness bug, I opted to move my work leave to this Friday, originally planning to fish for tench at The Moat, then halfway through the week changing my mind in favour of Oaks Melt for perch, at the last minute changing things completely in favour of my first ever visit to Marsh Farm in search of the wonderful crucians they have on offer and the search for my first ever 2lb fish. I love crucians.
I did a little homework a couple of days leading up to the trip, read a few online articles, picked the brains of a few who have fished there and I was given the impression that if you hit it right, a red letter day could well be on the cards. The venue is said to be the home of the next crucian carp record, and with an accolade like that come anglers, lots of them, but as I was fishing a work day I hoped the crowds wouldn't be too heavy. Also, rumour was that the shy little fish had begun feeding strongest through the night when there were less anglers present. It was shaping up to be a challenge, but a day off work fishing beats a day doing anything else.
I arrived at 7:30am, just when the shop opens, and what a shop it was. An extensive tackle shop selling everything you could imagine, every type of bait and also refreshments and snacks. The toilet block on-site was as clean as the one in my house, the lakes looked amazing and a big thumbs up must go to the owners. Inside the shop I showed the guy my net to make sure they are dry, then paid for my day ticket. I chose to purchase the two-rod ticket, the reasoning behind this was in case I wanted to put the 500 out with a ground-bait feeder out towards the island later in the day in case things were slow.
The lake I was to fish was the aptly named 'Harris Lake', which had islands running through the centre to give it a 'canal' feel. After walking around twice looking for an area of deepish margin close in I decided to spend the day in peg 46. I had no island in front of me to fish to but reeds to the left and a depth of around 4feet just beyond the shelf. I set up my Wizard, teamed it with my new Aerial loaded with 4lbs line and attached a small pole float as nothing in my traditional float tube was sensitive enough. This particular float sat pretty with just 5 number 10 shot, an edge I was sure in the quest for my timid quarry. A hook-link of 2lb 12oz and a size 14 hook finished the set up.
I mixed up two kilos of ground-bait but apart from a little hemp left it pretty much unloaded due to not wanting to fill the fish up, rather to keep them grazing with just a few free offerings thrown in every so often. Hook-baits were sweetcorn, luncheon meat and some little hooker pellets. I started off my introducing three tangerine sized balls of ground-bait into the area I had plumbed, the drop where the depth dropped from 3 to just over 4feet. I began fishing somewhere around 9am and was greeted from time to time by various anglers who all had something nice to say about the tackle I was using, which was lovely.
The first time the float went under, after about half an hour, resulted in a hook pull soon after making contact, and the next bite resulted in what was obviously a rather strong tench charging through the reed and breaking me. Not the best start, but once I was tackled up and fishing again the bites, although slow, produced three tench of around the 1.5lb mark and my first crucian of 1lb 6oz.
Bites were still very slow coming but by lunchtime I'd had three crucians, the other two going just over a pound, and two more tench. I baited the swim a little, ate my lunch and thought about what I could change in order to get more bites, or at least see the ones I was getting but couldn't hit. Whilst thinking back to my match fishing days and asking myself what I would have done differently back then, I spotted the tench were splashing around in the margins opposite me, a good sign as if they are spawning they'd probably leave me alone. Don't get me wrong, I love tench, but with such light tackle and those reeds next to me....well you understand I'm sure.
So, lunch was consumed and a new game plan was hatched. One more number 11 shot was added just a few inches from the hook, I remembered this was what we did when confronted with finicky fish, I'm not sure of the mechanics surrounding this extra drop shot, I just knew it made a difference most times. The second trick was to use pieces of sweetcorn, I mean cut a single grain into quarters and use a small piece, in the past it could be the difference between the fish taking confidently enough for you to see and hit the bites, or not.
With my belly full and a new confidence I began fishing, this time with just 1mm of the float tip showing. It didn't take long for the first bite to come, a gentle dip on that tiny float tip, the result of which was a creaking Wizard and another crucian jag jagging as they do before sliding gracefully towards the net. Fish number four was 1lb 8oz, they were getting bigger.
The changes I made to my fishing were ever so effective, I wasn't waiting very long at all for a bite, and even though I was still missing a few, the fish were coming thick and fast. A couple more small tench showed too but then came the fish I came for, the target I had set myself, a crucian carp of over 2lbs......1oz over actually. This was shaping up to be one of those days I would never forget.
I caught to 13 crucians, averaging 1.5lbs and a handful of tench and then suddenly everything went quiet, as if the shoal had moved on. The float stopped bobbing, the bubbles stopped rising and for the next hour I wondered where they'd gone. I thought about setting up that other rod and throwing a feeder out into the middle, but the purist in me decided against it opting to persevere with the float in the margins. The float did eventually slide away again, but there was no way of stopping what was attached to the hook which ended with me and yet another hook-link parting company deep within the reeds.
Another hook and a switch to luncheon meat saw one more crucian come to the net, a bonny fish I thought might make 2lb again but which weighed 1lb 12oz, still a fabulous fish, fish I could never tire of catching, whatever their size. It was close to 5pm when I decided to start packing my things away and think about heading home, I would have loved to have stayed until the 8pm closing time, but I had things to tend to back home so really had to get going. 14 crucians and some tench, I'll class that as a red letter day for sure, and I can't wait to return and have another crack at them.
John, a good friend of mine who hails from a small village to the west of Reading, eagerly accepted my invitation to fish the small crucian pond. Emails were exchanged on baits and tackle both for our day on the ponds and the following day which was to be spent roaching on the Stour.
The day arrived and after a quick natter over a mug of coffee we left my cottage full of anticipation. As is often the case when friends meet up, the fishing is not always great but nonetheless we caught a fair number of crucian carp and a couple of tench too. Sometime in the late afternoon I suggested we move to the lower of the two ponds where the capture of larger crucians was a distinct possibility.
As we stowed our tackle, I heard a yell and a stream of curses from John's pitch. He'd flicked into the pond a few bits of spilled bait and in doing so one of his rings flew from his finger, landed on the water with a plop and sunk from view. John tried to make light of the matter saying it was only a cheapish ring that his wife bought him in Barbados. Being as it had a diamond set into it I doubt it was that cheap. We both lay prostrate and ran our hands through the silt but to no avail. I felt a kind of vicarious responsibility about John's misfortune - after all he was my guest - but he would have none of it. However, we fished the lower pond but it was hard work. I had a nice roach but that was about it.
Little was said about the ring on our day on the river but as we parted company having caught a few roach I said to John that I'd have a jolly good crack at retrieving it.
Proper roach fishing
The next day I returned to the pond with chesties, a garden sieve, clear plastic tumblers, a camera (just in case) and a small telescopic magnet. John said the ring was made mainly of steel. I found that hard to believe but set to with the magnet combing every square inch within the small area as proscribed previously by John. I gave up on that exercise after twenty minutes and then commenced to drag the tumbler through the ooze. I completed the fifth drag and upended the smelly, rotting, organic contents into the sieve. Bingo! There it was. I touched it with the magnet. No attraction - not steel, not ferrous in any shape or form. I took a photo. I phoned John - no Vodafone reception.
I drove home and immediately sent John a photo. Judging by his response I think he was rather pleased. It reached him in a Jiffy bag, first class post the very next day. A good result. As a postscript, I figured the ring must be made of nickel silver but whatever it's true worth one cannot put a price on sentimental mementos.
The no Longer Missing Ring
I was fortunate to fish Peter's ponds on what seemed like the first day of Summer this year. From the driest Spring imaginable to the wettest and coldest Summer on record, a nice sunny day fishing a quiet stillwater seemed too much to ask for.
A long early morning drive through England looking her finest at last, put me in the mood and as I neared the ponds I was full of anticipation and the sort of hand-shaking boyishness that I'd normally only feel on June 16th these days.
The two ponds, upper and lower, are set in the bowl of surrounding hills and are so enclosed by trees and shrubs they are completely hidden from view. There's enough room to park a couple of cars right between them so you can fish light, safe in the knowledge that anything else you need is nearby if you find you must have it. The banks are wildly natural, but a careful and considerate hand has kept pools open amongst the lillies of the upper pond and a gardeners eye will spot the odd signs of long-distant pruning to keep a semblance of a path open. But there are some spots that to fish you'd need to be quite determined...the pools really are kept in a manner that puts the fish and the natural setting, the wildness of it all, first and the needs of finicky anglers second.
Fishing a bank on the lower pond where the sun would first warm the water didn't work at all, and after a chance lucky encounter with Peter an early lunch was called for. I reluctantly left the huge patrolling dragonfly to his duty feeling I'd been to impatient and I'd seen signs of fish that surely would feed sooner or later.
Mr. Collins' finest Surrey sausages, (to an apparent 130 year old recipe) were thrown into a wok to keep them snug together over a low flame while the kettle waited its turn patiently and shortly after I made my way along a muddy narrow track and on the upper pond and espied fishing Nirvana.
A couple of swims in the shade bracketed by lilies showing those occasional knocks and shakes that tell you fish are both present and feeding.
I'd been fishing with a pretty little cane rod of quirky design and a cranky old reel made by Youngs the same year I was born because I just felt they suited such a natural place and I carried on with them and a float I made years ago to take thin plastic tips of various colours from a pole float. The tackle was all very pleasing to me, the rod a probably unique one with a reverse taper from the butt ferrule down through the handle giving it strange soft action and surprising casting ability, and restored beyond perfection by the best man in the country, but miraculously practically a gift to me from its last generous owner. The reel I'd re-built from the ground up, polishing every component until it shone. It's certainly wearing its age better than its owner.
A cranky old reel
I gently bounced a plummet and confirmed that the bottom was silty between the lillypads so set by hook just a touch higher.
The next few hours were just about as good as fishing can get. This upper pond is not stocked with large fish particularly but I'm not too bothered with that so much as a soul -restoring and pleasing day with a few good fish and some nice old tackle that you feel personally connected to, to enjoy. I caught a few of the crucians I'd hoped to and a couple of tench that I'd been warned about…they really are the most determined scrappers I've ever encountered.
The journey home was spent with a quiet smile of satisfaction on my face, so thank-you Peter for creating such an idyll and thank-you too for the opportunity to fish it. Yours is the sort of place that will come to me in my dreams in the future.
Here is a view of the angling Nirvana that will quicken the pulse of any angler dead or alive:
And another, of one of the tench that thought it was a six-pounder:
The Victorian lakes were in dour mood for my first visit on the sixteenth!
The bottom lake was peppered with spawning crucians, located mainly in the soft weed through the middle. Feeding was far from their minds. After watching their activities for a while and catching some rudd, I decided to leave them in peace and try a swim on the top lake, recommended by CY. Nothing but small rudd there as well. Perhaps the flooding river had chilled the water? So much for my theory that the coloured water would induce feeding fish.
So were the Saxon ponds two days later! Perhaps it's a combination of reproduction matters and the unseasonable weather.
All the biggest crucians are now in the lower pond, so I set up there. Nothing for two hours, except a few roach topping. Looked like good ones. Given the current feeding program, I introduced some pellets even though I have never needed anything other than bread before.
Leaving the swim to settle, i visited the top pond, in the hope of some action there. Nothing at all. Not even a bubbler or a lily knocker.
Back to the bottom pond with my tail between my legs. At last some action. Last two hours saw six superbly conditioned tench in the net, averaging three pounds and very feisty indeed. these were interspersed with six lovely looking crucians, between 6oz - 1lb., but no bigger ones. All on pellets. Not even a bite on bread all day. A potential blank, turned into a decent outcome in the end.
I returned to the Victorian lakes five days after the abortive first visit, in the hope that the crucians of the bottom lake would be hungry after their preoccupations.
The whole fishery to myself in the first week of the season. Wonderful! The adverse weather is putting the anglers off as well as the fish? Anyway, it turned out to be one of those special days that I will never forget.
Over five hours, fifteen big beautiful crucians graced my net. The first hour was quiet, then three crucians, all around the two pound mark were made very welcome after my previous failures. I settled back very happy, not suspecting what was to follow. Over the next four hours the fish gradually got bigger and bigger, with the biggest four all arriving during steady rain. 2-14, 2-14, 2-15 and finally, last cast, a 3-2 at 2pm in pouring rain.
Was I dreaming ? Pinched myself several times to check. Crucians breaking all the "rules"!
Anyway I decided to leave them in peace, having probably used up all my luck for the rest of the year. It may have been the disparaging look the 3-2 gave me, as I returned her.
Here's an account from a Swedish specimen hunter, who also contributed to "Crock of Gold - Seeking the CrucianCarp"
I carved out a few new swims this spring on a rather inaccessible "big crucian" water. My intention was three fold, avoid going afloat, avoid other people, and enable me to creep up on some big fish uninterrupted. Fishing for crucians from a boat is a total drag as far as I'm concerned, all the messing about with anchors and the unavoidable clonking, it's just not my bag, but getting to the fish on this vast lake is a little problematic. Unlike the majority of UK lakes and ponds with their well beaten tracks and tidy swims, here in Sweden I have to do it myself, from scratch, you see by mid June all the rather limited and available, natural gap's or conceivable fishing spots from land are filled with a variety of boats, usually occupied by well inebriated summer zander anglers who have a habit of turning up a bit pissed just as the swim goes on the boil or else returning worse for wear at dawn. I understand them, but they just look at me puzzled, an Englishman, fishing in the weed, without a boat. To understand just how peculiar I may seem to them, imagine a half-cut Swede banging on about leviathan zander, in a rowing boat beating the water to froth with a lure on your local crucian pond. Anyway if there isn't a boat parked in the way, you can count on it being a popular bathing spot, akin to an African watering hole, where protective mothers gather in large numbers to watch over their noisy offspring. They wallow about like inked up, tanned up cottage cheese in Lycra, settling conflicts at long range with a torrent of guttural outbursts. Or failing that there'll be hoard of youngsters; they roll up on BMX's with their petrol station fishing gear and Nintendo thumbs, hardly your idyllic pond life, but the crucians are just too big, too delightful to ignore.
So on this particular lake I make my own access, usually through the vast reed beds which led to a lily clad marginal shelf and home to some very big crucians. The groundwork is done in the spring when there's not too much growth, with the help of a few long branches, pallets and the odd discarded shed door. After a fair bit of work a tunnel and reasonably comfortable platform can be created. Mind you it does need a whole lot of pruning throughout the summer, after a week or so it can resemble the Burmese Jungle. So I've usually got a pair of secateurs with me when I pop down to wean/feed the fish as it were. To avoid the huge shoals of bream I put a few discreet piles of 4mm trout pellets as close to green stuff as possible. But it's not just avoiding the bream, come the evening or at dawn if the wind is still, the air is thick with biting insects, worst of all are the black fly that can induce panic, they crawl silently into every orifice. No longer a problem though, I recently bought a ThermaCell device, and to be honest I've not been pestered since, it's worth its weight if you fish in insect infested places. It smoulders away creating a insect free zone.
With the swim primed, I usually fish this particular lake at dawn; helps avoid noise pollution, especially during semester time (all of July). I don't find drunken karaoke renditions conducive to crucian fishing; it carries over the water from the bar at the lock so clearly it's as if I were there myself. Nor do I appreciate the wake wash of some orange twit in a speed boat, shame old ThermaCell don't do device for loud orange people. Anyway so in the tranquillity of post dawn, I scatter a few trout pellets in before I do anything else. By the time I've settled in whilst my back's been turned a mass of tiny bubbles appear, and the rather telling single bubble, big crucians are rooting about, I know it's not the tench, they've spawned and moved out to graze on the silt beds, the bream, none the wiser just yet, for a while at least I have what I see as an almost exclusive chance to catch a big one, a window of opportunity before the rudd finally grass me up. More often than not I'm given additional proof, a tease or mock depending on the outcome, a crucian will shoulder in slow motion right in front of me, the shock and the water magnify it, fuelling my imagination and confirming their presence beyond any doubt whilst the rudd circle in wait for more handouts to rain down. The lake is so very different in the morning, it's like another world compared to its rowdy evening persona.
My tackle is one rod and reel, my dependable Harrison Avon, with 3500B, or else a Yanky Stradic with a front clutch that's quite frankly sent the old martyr reel into retirement, though I still find myself looking at them on Ebay with affection, but there really is no place in my fishing for the spinning cilice. A 1oz lead is fixed on by a micro lead clip from Guru Tackle. To which is attached a 4in Merlin hook length. A size 12, Kamasan B983 is tied with a knotless knot; on a rather shortish hair I hang a 10mm halibut pellet. If a crucian as much as breaths on the bait it's hooked, well more or less. Another nice touch, again from the Guru stable is a pellet of Expo groundbait, made with the Guru Pellet cone. It doesn't only fill my head with fond memories; the smell of Epxo gives me a boost in confidence too; leaving my hookbait in an irresistible heap.
The cone saves money on that horrid pva stuff as well, there's no constant refilling the stocking after every 5m. I use a fluorocarbon mainline which sinks well, it makes sure there's no dithering or line bites, it's quite frankly out of the way, unlike a float fishing approach. The qualities of the fluorocarbon relay the slightest activity to a light bobbin. I favour the Gardner Bug, or Nano bobbins. The later is fantastic for this as it doesn't pull on my line to heavily; weighing only a few grams it's a little gem for margin fishing. No more eye strain, squinting or dithering, just planning, watercraft and a common sense approach.
Once my bait is in the water it's just a matter of time before something hangs its self. The lead sends up a plume of silt and mass of bubbles as it buries itself out of sight, the Expo explodes and collapses around my hook bait. One rod is enough; this kind of edgy well planned style of fishing at the right time of day doesn't warrant anything else, all the juju on the one rod. One rod poking out between the reeds, bushwhacking crucians. Usually by nine the bream have moved in, signalled by the ballet of the bobbin, it rises and falls a few inches, shaking back and forth, almost vibrating. It's then time to go home.
For another angle on this lovely 3lbs 5oz crucian, see the gallery.
PR has invited me to his secret lakes in deepest Wessex. Will he blindfold me for the journey? I'm impatient to sample this rare opportunity.
On arrival we walk up the side of a stream which gradually opens up to a tree-lined mature lake with an overgrown island. Lily beds abound and there is an abundant air of fishy mystery. What a marvelous place! There is a second lake below, again looking and feeling the same. Some challenge then. Where do I start? PR saves the day with sound advice, so I set up on the dam of the first lake, giving easy access to the bottom lake for some lucky-dipping later.
By the time I've tackled up, plumbed and baited up three spots (nobody else there!) it is already past eleven. Lots of bubbling in my dam swim, but most appear to be from roach, rather than tench or crucians. Struggling to induce a proper bite, I finally hook a hard fighting fish, which turns out to be a decent roach, pretending to be a crucian. A few more decent roach follow at intervals. Then it's time for refreshment and discover how PR is faring - much the same as me.
Time to try one of the baited swims on the bottom lake. I disturb a brood of young tufted duck on the way. My float settles, touching a lily pad. A grass snake swims across the lake in a continuous S-pattern, mesmerising me in the process. Suddenly I realise the float has disappeared. I lift the rod, but too late. Then I recall that PR said there are only big crucians in that lake now. Oh dear, an opportunity missed then, but the sight of the snake was worth it.
Back to the dam and a few more decent roach, then the prospect of a big crucian draws me back to the bottom lake. I try the other baited swim on the opposite bank, only to miss another bite. The next cast ends up in the overhanging willow with PR witnessing my incompetence. A long walk back to re-tackle. Try again.
This time the bite meets heavy resistance and a fish takes line into the middle, going solid in a weed bed. Must be a tench - but I remember PR s advice about all the tench being removed. Panic sets in, but the fish starts to move again and a magnificent gold flank rolls in front of me before diving again in that typical crucian fashion. After a brief fight the net enfolds the beauty and PR arrives to take some pics to celebrate. Just in time, as the rain returns with a vengeance.
Strangely, PR took a similar sized crucian from the top lake around the same time, followed by a big tench. I concede the day and retire very happy and satisfied with my day in Paradise.
After a prolific and enjoyable first day, three weeks had passed and I could no longer resist the voice within, demanding a return fixture. My lazy self decided that avoiding an early start would help to ensure that crucians would dominate the catch. Oh the arrogance that follows success! After half a century of angling I still have not entirely accepted its beguiling unpredictability.
By the time that I was finally ready and actually fishing it was mid-morning and nobody else there. Paradise! Two decent crucians graced my net within ten minutes. The plan was working. Or so I thought. Just like the first day, there was hardly any bubbling. A quiet spell followed. Then a big female tench trashed my swim, before succumbing to the net. Another slow spell was broken by two more tench and then nothing again for a while. Another couple of sizeable crucians responded to a change in presentation, then nothing again. They were making me work before rewarding me. Time for refreshment and a rethink. Perhaps PR was right that my first day catch included some recaptures of the reduced population and they were now much more cautious.
A switch to a bait at mid-depth produced several decent crucians and even a tench. What a surprise! But then nothing again - they must be tipping off their friends! While I was going through numerous unsuccessful tackle and bait changes there was a sudden influx of fellow anglers. CY and three friends arrived to occupy the remaining swims on the lily bank. This coincided with me remembering some redworms from my comport heap. They worked a treat. The crucians and the tench both decided that they liked them, for a while anyway.
As a last resort I retreated to the "half-swim" between the alder and the willow, where a rod can just be squeezed through the narrow gap. Two successive big tench spoilt any chance of a crucian there, but the crucians still won the day by just one fish.
Time to go and leave the delights of the late afternoon and evening to CY & co. I hope they had a good time.
The weather forecast was not good, but there appeared to be a window around the middle of the day. Just the period when the crucians fed best last season. Any excuse to avoid an early start. The days are long gone when I arose before dawn to cycle two miles to Orpington lakes for three hours fishing before commuting to central London.
On arrival the weather was similar to the final day last season. Cool and breezy with heavy drizzle. Again my optimism faded. I settled in a sheltered spot between the lilies. Unlike last June, when there were plenty of signs of activity, the surface was only disturbed by the wind. In the circumstances only a very small amount of bait was introduced, before tackling up.
The tiny black tip of a 2BB float settled down to a no. 6 one inch from a size 12 barbless hook. Now the lilies are up it would be stupid to use a light line, so the hook was tied to 4lb line. Just as well, as the first hour produced six tench, which all fought like tigers, particularly three females around 2lbs 8oz - 3lb. The bites made my delicate set-up pointless.
I then introduced another small amount of bait and rested the swim while wandering down to the bottom pond to see how our local resident, David, was faring. He caught two lovely small crucians while we talked, an unusual catch there last year. David was already beating me on the crucian front. A benefit from the winter netting of the top pond, when some were moved to the bottom pond. I then baited up a secluded swim on the bottom pond and returned to my original swim. Still no bubbling ! Despite that, the crucians were feeding but very cautiously. The next hour or so saw twelve beautiful crucians grace my net, all between 12oz and a "weigher" of 1lb 14oz. The float never went under during that whole spell. Several times I found myself instinctively playing a fish but could not recall the bite. Colin arrived during that spell. An even later riser than me! I recommended the other end of the lily beds. then Peter arrived to see how we were all doing. Colin was already catching by then.
I rested the swim again and tried my baited swim on the bottom pond. In less than an hour it gave me three lovely roach, including a magnificent looking fish of about 1¼lb and four crucians, two were small and the better ones were both about 1lb 8oz. All the fish were in excellent condition. David caught a big tench right in the margins while I was there.
I returned to the top pond, where Colin was still catching. Both species were still feeding. On catching my thirtieth crucian I packed up, well satisfied. Colin appeared to be enjoying similar success so I left him to it. A very enjoyable day in good company. The sixteenth is still magical in a few rare circumstances!
A float swaying to and fro in a cauldron of bubbles kept the angler on his toes, mind alert, hand hovering over the rod. Since daybreak the carefully prepared swim had been residence to a shoal of crucian carp, resplendent in their golden regalia, but still none had sought to bequeath their beauty and make this fisherman's day. He had followed the text books to a T, ensuring the depth was set perfectly, shotting pattern correct and hook size unobtrusive; so you can understand the look of puzzlement that was spread across his face resulting in a series of furrows over his brow. As if to tease him, a minute bob of the float forced an uncontrolled reaction sending his tackle shooting out of the lake and into the overhanging tree. As he tugged at it forlornly, the crucian was now cursed for its fiendish behaviour, shattering any idyllic notions and replaced by a game played and lost to the Houdini of fish.
So while I too enjoy such a pitting of wits sometimes, I think that when the stock level is low and the prize is great it's best to chuck the traditionalist approach in the bin and seek the assistance of cold clinical tactics. What I preach may damn me to piscatorial hell and send a shudder down Mr Yates' spine but if you want to catch you will study these words below carefully.
When the opportunity arose to fish Eversley sand pit near Yateley I grabbed it with both hands as this water had provided the stock crucians for the more famous Summer pit, also situated in the same area. Their pedigree was beyond dispute combined with record breaking proportions so understandably I wondered what had been left behind after the netting. My first evening on the venue confirmed that they did still exist there by rolling in front of me although it quickly became apparent that the process had reduced the stock to a bare minimum rendering standard methods useless. Imagine float fishing for hours on end and then having to react to a single sharp bob on the tip which was further compounded by the fact that the whole process had been conducted under the veil of darkness. I knew pretty quickly, as the starlight lost its slim form to my jaded eyes and spread across the vista, that this wasn't the way forward. Time to go back to the drawing board and re-asses as in my experience many a victory is won far away from the water's edge.
Surely if they carried the same family name as their mirror and common cousins then a similar range of tactics would prove equally effective? How many carp anglers float fish for a 48 hour session? None, I guessed, so why did I insist on such an approach? Cue the dreaded hair and bolt rig. Ruthlessly efficient and importantly it also did away with the need to strike, simply the fish hooked itself and the rod was lifted from a screaming bite alarm - it sounded like a good plan to me. Obviously though size 4 hooks, boilies and 5oz leads wouldn't work so I set my mind to re-scaling everything in a bid to match the tactic to the intended quarry.
First I started by selecting a Drennan 1¼lb specialist rod combined with a small Okuma bait-feeder reel loaded with six pound mainline, which I felt was a suitable compromise especially given as the lake I intended to fish also held a large head of tench. Next to come was the weight which would provide the bolt effect and while a standard bomb would provide this I liked the idea of a 50gm Kamasan black cap feeder which would also deliver a cargo of maggots at the same time. So with this sitting on the mainline I now needed to make it semi- fixed, which was easily solved in the form of two float stops and a bead preventing the feeder tracking back up the line away from the swivel which would connect the hook-length. The material for the final section also needed careful consideration as I only intended to use it over a length of 3 to 4 inches, maximising the self-hooking properties. Monofilament can be extremely fragile over such short areas as line gains much of its strength through its ability to stretch; remove this by two fixed points close together (a hook and a swivel) and unexpected breakages will occur. This conclusion then led me to the use of braid which doesn't suffer from such a flaw but unfortunately it does tend to be more obtrusive. The best compromise I felt, once again came from the Drennan stable namely microbraid - which had a thin diameter along with a brown complexion, which would merge into the bottom well.
Hook choice also needed some thought as a scaling back in size would result in a loss of strength. The Super Specialist range provided the answer here and given the hook-bait to be used a size 12 was called upon. By whipping it in place via a knotless knot I could also create a hair which would support a tiny piece of Dynamite maize and yellow foam, but why had I chosen this combination? The bait needed to be small enough to be palatable to the crucians but hard enough to ensure it remained intact over a whole night's fishing - therefore my selection seemed obvious from the outset. The yellow foam would also allow for a critical balancing of the rig so if it was only breathed upon it would waft upwards into my quarry's mouth. Job done then? Not quite, as I knew I would have to be as fiendish as the crucian if she was to slip up and end up in my landing net.
A snap link was used on the swivel which could then connect the loop made at one end of the hook-length and also facilitate the use of a Dynamite stick. This PVA tube, full of groundbait, hemp and marine pellets, once immersed in water would dissolve leaving the hookbait sitting on a pile of free offerings like a cherry on a cake, helping to overcome the crucian's natural caution. Tested in the water butt at home it looked pretty good to me although I now realized that I would need a clean substrate to ensure it worked to maximum effect. Given Eversley's enclosed margins, years of fallen leaves and twigs would certainly prove a hindrance here so there was only one answer: I needed to clean the bottom and my tool of choice for this job would be a rake. The plan was now almost complete with final consideration being given to the amount of free feed introduced. This I concluded would be minimal given the stock level and the fact that I had no wish to attract the hordes of hungry tench. They could also be avoided by keeping the rig placement high up the marginal shelf. So with a bivvy and bite alarms packed I headed back to the lake full of theories and confidence.
The result? A British record crucian - and for that magic moment I was willing to sell my angling soul! Sorry, Yates - may you forgive me!
This account was first published in "Crock of Gold - Seeking the Crucian Carp" and shows how a dedicated specimen hunter achieves his results. Martin's latest book, "A Fish for All Seasons", is published by Mpress(Media)Ltd.
The Ponds had been very kind to me during my first Summer of sampling their delights, the beautiful crucians in particular providing both prolific and quality sport in magnificent surroundings. I had imagined the Ponds lying in suspended animation during the Winter months, especially during that frozen December, while I struggled on my favourite Winter rivers. Then a voice within me demanded that I renew their acquaintance while there was still time, because June seemed too far away.
I persuaded my(lazy)self that a late start was OK, because the pools had been virtually unfished since last September and the fish should be very obliging. Ever the optimist, I intended to challenge the previous unpredictability of the Bottom Pond, where a crucian had been far less certain and therefore all the more pleasurable when a golden jewel suddenly capitulated on the surface, right in front of me. There were also the lovely roach, perch and tench to keep me happy if the crucians refused to play.
However, as I parked the car, my confidence declined. There was a strong wind and it was drizzling steadily. What if the Bottom Pond went sulky on me, particularly in these conditions (the air struck cold as I disembarked from the car)? So, I decided to sparingly bait up a swim on the Top Pond first, just in case, before proceeding down to the Bottom Pond with my tackle.
The first signs of Spring greening up were all around and groups of wood anemones were waving their greeting in the breeze. The optimism was returning and I was pleased that I had made the journey. By the time that I was fully set up and ready to fish it was nearly mid-day. What happened to those dawn starts!
I put some bait in, being careful not to overdo it with lower temperatures. By now nearly an hour had passed since I had done the same in the Top Pond. Time had passed quickly while watching the carp in the Bottom Pond concentrated in the very shallow end, including the 20lbs+ Queen of the pond. So I decided to go back to the Top Pond for my first fish and leave my swim in the Bottom Pond to "mature". It's liberating when you have the whole fishery to yourself.
I sneaked along to the Top Pond to the pre-baited swim, where I thought there was a gap in the long dead lilies. Within two minutes of lowering my bait into the water the little float lifted and slowly sank, prompting a gentle lift of the rod. The jagging, circling fight could have been a tench, but the better crucians had fooled me before, although their battle is shorter. They are far too civilised to waste too much energy. So it proved to be the case as a golden flank suddenly graced my vision. A beautiful crucian of about 1lb 4oz lay in the net. I gratefully apologised and slipped her back gently.
The time passed quickly while the process was repeated another six times, resulting in five more perfect crucians between 1lb and 1½lbs and a single feisty tench of about 2lbs, which battled hard on the frail 2lbs b.s. line (not to be recommended when the lilies are up). I suddenly realised that my original objective was in danger of slipping away. Fishing for crucians always has a mesmerising effect on me. So, with my initial appetite partly sated, I reluctantly returned to my other baited swim on the Bottom Pond.
The carp were still down at the shallow end as I walked past, but I would much rather catch the other residents. Within an hour a succession of roach up to 12oz and a 3lb tench that thought she was a carp, followed. Then, suddenly, a lovely little crucian of about 4oz. What a lovely surprise - the first small crucian I have ever caught there! Last Summer in the Bottom Pond they were all between 1lb and 1½lbs. Then followed a series of missed bites. After a slight adjustment to the business end, I re-cast and had a cup of tea. A newly arrived willow warbler distracted me and I slowly became aware of the reel clutch and a seriously bending rod. Another tench? No. Suddenly a big crucian surfaced and went down again in typical fashion. The pleasure is so enhanced when they grace you so unexpectedly, while catching other species. I cannot recall a crucian hooking itself in that fashion before. All other species but not crucians! She seemed a bit special, so I weighed her quickly in the mesh, before slipping her back with sincere thanks for her obliging forbearance. At a perfectly conditioned 1lb 12oz she was the best crucian I have taken from the Bottom Pond, and at the "wrong end" of the season too!
The next couple of hours saw a succession of tench and roach grace my net, but no more crucians. But I was very happy, even though my other target, the perch, failed to show at all. I suspect they may have had other things on their mind, as the first species to spawn. However, the Bottom Pond had one more pleasant surprise to reward my efforts. With my very last cast, I hooked what turned out to be another tench. But what a tench! A tench unlike any other that I have encountered there. A tench to equal the 20lbs+ Queen of the pond. A tench weighing FIVE AND A HALF POUNDS! It was a dark, rotund fish, most unlike its brethren in the Bottom Pond, which are of a streamlined shape and a golden colouration. I never suspected that such a fish existed there.
The Ponds may hold other surprises, which have evaded nettings. Tench and eels are notoriously adept at evading nets and even complete de-watering. My only regret after this Spring visit, is that I did not fish there before, during all those mild Winter days after the New Year, when I struggled on the rivers. Still, there may always be next Winter, but meanwhile, roll on June. I will live on the memories of my special end-of-season adventure during the wait.
I can thoroughly recommend the experience to those who know where crucians thrive in secret places. In my long experience of all our species, they have always offered the most rewarding and fond memories.
I've just come back from a morning's fishing on the Top Pond, one of two that I manage for crucian carp. The ponds sit in a quiet little valley and are about ½-acre each, not very deep, no more than 4' or so. They're fed by a clear brook that runs through rough grassland for the main part, so they don't suffer (touch wood!) from the excess of phosphates and nitrates that plague so many stream-fed ponds and lakes. There are a dozen fishermen on season tickets, with a rota in force so that no more than six blokes can be there on any one day. In practice, this means that most days there is no-one else there when you arrive for a few hours after the crucians or the nice tench and roach. Today has been typical.
Parking is by the barn, fifty yards or so from the ponds. A stile gives you access to the top pond and the path by the water is narrow, with dogwoods to the left and the reedy and sedgy bank to the right. I settle into one of the water lily swims, one I'd opened out with the scythe yesterday. It's been some years since I did the initial hard work of cutting out four good swims amongst the white water lily pads but they do need a trim every six weeks or so.
There's about 3' of water in my usual swim, some 6" deeper than last year after the Siltex treatments. I use pretty standard tackle - light 13' match rod, centre pin and a sixteen hook to 3½lbs bs hi-tech trace. That sounds pretty crude to some of you, but the fish are fairly naive and the tench in particular are manic in their push for the lily beds. So I don't dare fish lighter.
I'm planning to move some of today's smaller crucians down to the bottom pond. There, the perch and roach make short work of crucian fry and numbers need to be topped up every other year to replace the fish taken by herons, an occasional cormorant or a passing otter. In effect, the top pond is my crucian and tench nursery. Both fish spawn very successfully here and they co-exist happily, even if they do feed on much the same sorts of organisms. The tench probably probe more deeply in the bottom silt than the crucians, though.
For feed, I use brown crumb and mix in some of the tiniest pellets I can buy. Mixed and moistened, this makes an attractive cloud, with not too much to feed the fish. I've found that bigger pellets tend to preoccupy the crucians in particular; the result is plenty of bubbles and very fiddly bites. The water's beginning to clear of algae now and I watch the crumb particles float down through the slightly brown water.
It doesn't take long for the lily stems to begin twitching as the crucians and tench move into the swim, attracted by the groundbait. When they are there in numbers the water comes to life, shifting on the surface as the fish move excitedly below; an occasional swirl and tiny groups of bubbles make me lean forward in anticipation. The float moves slightly sideways, suddenly higher in the water, and then sinks determinedly beneath the surface.
Of course the fish aren't huge, in such a tiny pond, but by regular cropping of the smaller fish I've managed to get the tench up to a very respectable 3½lbs and the crucians to something very close to 2lbs, and I catch several good fish before the 6" - 8" crucian carp that I'm after move into the swim. A big tench takes some keeping out of the lilies, as you can imagine, and the bigger crucians are game fish, especially in such shallow water. They stir up the silt and make great vortices in the water as they struggle to escape. I handle the fish as little as possible, leaving them in the net and taking out the barbless hook with forceps. If I'm curious as to the weight of a particularly fine specimen, I weigh it in the net - after all, I'm not concerned with total accuracy.
Maggots might have been a better bait today instead of just 4mm hooker pellets, because I miss a number of bites from what I assume are small crucians. I end up with a dozen or so to take down to the bottom pond, though - fine fat fish that should grow on fast down there. Well satisfied with the sport and the result, I'm packed and away by one o'clock, back for Sunday lunch.
By the standards of most of the fish described in this magazine, my catch has been pretty insignificant. The point I want to make, though, is that this small pond, properly managed, produces a crop of hundreds and hundreds of small crucians every other year. Yet the crucian carp is said to be under threat of extinction in the UK. How come - when it is such an easy fish to breed? In Norfolk, for example, I've been told that it is next to impossible to catch any crucian carp where once there were plenty.
The reasons for the decline of the crucian aren't hard to discover. Their small-pond habitat is disappearing; they are easy prey for predators; and they are sexually promiscuous, hybridizing with carp and goldfish. Which raises the question - why aren't we doing something about it, when it's relatively easy to achieve, as the crucian population of my small pond demonstrates?
The trouble is, angling doesn't speak or act with a single voice, as the RSPB does. On their website, for example, there's an account of how, at Hope Farm, a commercial farm run in conjunction with the RSPB, the numbers of threatened species of birds, - skylarks, linnets, yellowhammers and others - have increased by 177%. One hopes that one day the Angling Trust will be able to try to co-ordinate crucian conservation in a similar way but by then it may well be too late. And it's certainly no good to wait for "them" to conserve crucians for us. Coarse fishing is just a small part of the EA's job description, for example, and there just isn't enough public money around to allocate to a minority interest like crucian carp conservation.
There are, of course, one or two fisheries in the country where crucian carp are given priority, such as Marsh Farm and Summer Pit. There are also small conservation projects in Lambeth, for example, and Epping Forest, quite independent of angling interests. But I'm sure that what is needed is a commitment on the part of many more of us fishermen to improve the quality of crucian fishing in our own particular patch. With enough people getting involved in such local projects, then the future of this much under-rated fish should be more secure.
I want to outline a way in which this can be done, so that more and more of us can enjoy the sort of fishing that I have managed to create here on several lakes.
In a typical mixed fishery, be it gravel pit, estate lake, canal or pond, crucian carp will be quite rare fish. This is because crucians are particularly vulnerable to a number of pressures that affect their numbers. I go into this in much greater detail in my book, Crock of Gold, but here I can't do much more than list them. First, crucians are particularly susceptible to predation. Not only are they just the right size for cormorants to target; observation and experiment have shown that pike and perch have a particular liking for them and will eat them in preference to other prey. Secondly, they spawn after roach and perch, so that fry survival in a mixed species water is often minimal. Thirdly, they readily cross-breed with goldfish and rather less frequently with common carp: the resulting hybrids are vigorous and greedy - and sometimes fertile, which raises the spectre of back-crossing and alphabet soup.
Fortunately there is a fourth biological principle that is actually on the crucian carp's side - they are prolific breeders given the right conditions. I have exploited this in my crucian management here by providing nursery ponds, each of which can produce thousands of fish every two years. You can do the same. Most angling clubs have land, perhaps adjacent to existing fisheries, where such ponds can be quite cheaply dug. A crucian nursery need not be any more than 4' deep and 20 metres in diameter or square, just like a small field pond - a good machine can dig this in two days. If you just do not have the facilities to dig your own pond, why not search out a field pond or two, the remoter the better - they still can be found.
I deal with the stocking and management of a nursery pond in the book - it's a fascinating and rewarding exercise as well as being a practical solution to the common problem of inadequate numbers of good crucians in your main lake, pond or canal.
Once you have established your nursery pond - and if it is big enough it can provide some good fishing as well as producing stock - you should quickly have enough small crucians to stock your main water regularly. Don't be tempted to put other species in your nursery pond, which is where people sometimes go wrong. You might get away with tench, but never roach, rudd, bream or any predator, because by doing that you're just replicating the situation in your main water and the crucians will decline. It goes almost without saying that you must ensure that your brood fish are genuine crucian carp - the book will help you identify them. Don't just take the word of your supplier - they can make mistakes. Ask to see a sample before committing yourself to the purchase.
A small pond is much easier to protect from predators with twine or netting but this is seldom necessary and best avoided if possible, because of danger to other wild birds. Cormorants, for example, are unlikely to be attracted to such a small area and you'd be very unlucky to find an otter targeting a host of mostly young fish for more than the occasional bite. Don't worry too much about herons and kingfishers, which make very little difference to the overall numbers of a fertile and self-maintaining population.
A common experience with crucian carp stocking is that the fish disappear into your lake and are never seen again, because they've been gobbled up and any survivors can't do much more than maintain their small numbers. Committees are understandably reluctant to buy more fish to go the same way. But if you have your own source of young crucians, preferably big enough to avoid the attentions of perch and small pike and numerous enough for there to be a surplus of surviving fish then the cost argument goes out of the window.
Very importantly you must ensure that the EA know what you're up to. They may be able to give you valuable advice, though you may find that you know more about crucian carp than they do! They are the experts, though, on fish movement and there are formalities - not very onerous -to go through if you plan to raise and move fish.
I fear that unless we do something to reverse the decline of the crucian carp country-wide it will become little more that a memory and a curiosity, to be fished for in just a very small number of specialist waters. This would be a great pity. Fishing for crucians is a unique experience, a very different pleasure from the "haul-'em-out-and-weigh-the-biggest" philosophy of so much of today's angling. Its shape and colour, its subtle bites, the places that it inhabits - all these make it a valuable asset. Don't let it disappear.
Let's do something about it. Apathy isn't an option if we want to save the crucian carp.
(This was an article published in "Carp and Coarse Angler" last year. I hope it provokes some thoughts!)
Before moving to Dorset last June, all of my local fishing had been in Hampshire and Surrey so a number of the fisheries described in Peter Rolfe's book, Crock of Gold, are known to me.
In my mid-teens my brother and I would fish a tiny pond that was full of small crucians, pretty fish despite their size, and from that time I was always delighted to chance upon larger fish. I was a member of Godalming Angling Society for many years and caught a number of crucians between one and two pounds from Broadwater lake. All of these were "chance" fish taken whilst targeting tench.
In the late sixties, the GAS Fishery Management Group (of which I was a member) received a request from the estate manager at Witley Park to remove encroaching reeds. This we did and in return the group (which numbered about a dozen) were invited to fish the lake on 21 Sept 1969. According to my diary we had a terrific day with all of us taking at least 50 pounds of crucians all like peas in a pod being 14 ounces to a little over the pound. I had 58 crucians and 10 rudd weighing 70 pounds. You have no doubt heard or read of Chris Yates' experiences on this lake and of the underwater glass dome where one could watch the fish browsing on the algae growing on the thick glass panes. Following this the club was allowed to fish a few competitions in one of which (5 July 1970) I took 60 fish weighing 70 pounds. Thereafter a couple of other clubs got in on the act and the weights went down dramatically. My one great regret was that I took no photographs of the place.
Around this time a friend of mine, Ray Oliver and his father Percy fished Forest Lake near Pirbright in Surrey. The lake was leased from the Army by Vokes Engineering and both Ray and Percy worked there. At that time the fishery was noted for its large crucian carp and one day Percy took one of over five pounds. The fish was retained until Ray's friend, a photographer, arrived to take a series of photographs. I am unsure if the fish was submitted as a record for I can find no information and it's been many years since I last had contact with Ray.
Sometime in the early eighties I joined Chobham AS to fish their small lakes at Gracious Pond. They also leased a tiny pond which looked as though it had been scooped out of the hillside, on which it was located, with a giant spoon. It is insignificant to look at and so far as I'm aware I was the only angler (other than some local youngsters) to fish it. It contained hoards of small rudd which I took for livebait. One day I spotted what I took to be a pair of small common carp. I fished for them with freelined bread flake and caught both of them. They both weighed exactly four pounds, they were almost black and they were both crucian carp. I went back time and again but never once did I see them. Yet again I had no camera.
I moved house to Pirbright village in 1981 and of course knew of Rays's crucian lake. However, it was for employees only with no guest tickets. Some years later the lease expired and the fishing became the preserve of the Army fishing club. This club is open almost exclusively to serving army personnel and very few civilians. I applied for membership and waited 14 years before getting in. During those years the lake was stocked with rudd and carp. By the time I was able to fish it the crucian carp fishing was poor. Fish were there but it was pure chance to catch one with tench, rudd, roach , bream and the carp being first on the bait. The average worked out at one crucian per angler per year but they were invariably fish over 2½ pounds. The lake is very pretty and is about seven acres, acidic and peaty. Half the lake bed is coarse gravel with a depth of four feet sloping up to the far bank which is 18 inches deep over many feet of liquid mud. The tench attain three pounds the bream four and the carp to mid twenties. There are very few carp fishers as the rules allow only casters, maggots, bread and worms. Single rod only, no bite alarms, no bolt rigs, no boilies and no bivvies. Of an evening I usually had the lake to myself. Quite often I would take four or more common carp averaging about eight pounds. In the peaty water they were exquisite and because they were not specifically targeted they were always immaculate in every respect.
One typical September evening I was sneaking about and enticing carp to come up under the overhanging rhododendrons by throwing in pieces of flake. A fish slurped and I flicked a piece of freelined flake his way. The wind-driven but light current took my slowly sinking bait under the shrubs, a slurp, a tightening of line and the carp was hooked and duly landed.
Much to my surprise it was a crucian carp and weighed 3lbs 15oz. I checked for any obvious physical signs of carp/crucian hybridisation and could see none. Need I say that yet again I had not taken my camera!
Some ten years ago I managed to get permission for my firm's small fishing club to fish one match a year at the lake. We had a match (really a social gathering with five quid for the winner) and my friend and fellow scientist had a crucian of 4lb 8oz. which was duly witnessed by the assembled crowd and weighed on Ruben Heaton match scales. It was a UK record but Nick was happy to return this fine fish without any awards or fanfare in the angling media (it was a stark choice between that or the club not fishing there again). This time I had a camera but it was a film camera not digital.
As I mentioned earlier I lived in Pirbright, a typical quiet country village in leafy Surrey. It has a red phone box, village post office and a village green with pond. Six years ago the pond was dredged to remove a century of silt. The pond increased its depth to two feet. A couple of years later I was walking around the pond and saw a youngster catch a crucian carp of about ten ounces. I later learned that the pond was stocked by the EA after the dredging. The Parish allows only youngsters to fish there - an enlightened approach these days. This rule is "policed" by the rather stern post mistress who also sits on the Parish Council and she is also a relative of my wife. The devil in me said I must fish the pond and the devil won. I snuck there one evening and crouched behind a bush and fished with corn. I had about a dozen beautiful crucians in an hour and then packed up fearing for my life. I only did it the once m'Lud.
One of the most delightful places I fished is in the grounds of Windlesham Arboretum near Bagshot. The Windlesham club leases five of the eight or so ornamental ponds. Most are very shallow but it is quiet and picturesque. I used to fish for tench and carp and out of the blue I did have a "crucian" on one occasion. Alas, on close inspection, I found some tiny whiskers. It weighed 3lbs 14oz.
And lastly to Marsh Farm, and as Peter Wheat rightly observes in Crock of Gold, it is a pleasant place, maturing well and kept to a high standard. I am a bread man. Sometimes I use meat and sometimes corn and worms but mainly bread. I also do not use the finesse that perhaps I ought when crucian fishing. That's because I often catch them by accident rather than design so typically I will be using three pound line direct to a size 10 hook. Mind you, being a tad on the coarse side has its advantages being as I landed a 28 lb carp last season when fishing for tench on 6lb line. Anyhow, the Marsh farm crucians gave me the run around for a time - I got bites on flake but missed a lot. Frequently I do the opposite of what the pundits say. Thus, on such a day two seasons ago I went up to an eight hook with a correspondingly large piece of flake and took a good crucian with a sail-away bite.
It's not so long ago that if I, or perhaps most anglers, had dithery and frustratingly tantalising bites to be followed by a hooked fish that fought like a crucian and which, when landed, looked like a crucian carp then ipso facto - it was a crucian carp. Then came Marsh farm and the declaration that it alone had the only true blue blood line of Carassius carassius. Well we know that this is nonsense as there is compelling evidence that other fisheries also have this plump little fella with unsullied DNA. However, when looking back on my past captures it is evident that they were tainted with just a hint of cyprinid seed and you, the reader, may like to do a few scale counts on my photographs.
But hey! What the heck, I'm getting on in life and the eyes ain't what they used to be and if it looks like a crucian and it brings me joy - well I'm a happy man.