The Top Pond contains just tench and crucians and both spawn freely so that after a couple of years - we crop the pond every other year - there are plenty of small fish of both species. You can catch crucians in a range of sizes, from just a couple of inches up to 2lbs. In fact you can catch them even smaller than 2" if you run a landing net through the water lilies to find the fry. I try to ensure that all year classes of crucians are represented. Every other year I crop out most of the over-abundant 4" - 8" ones, returning just enough to maintain the balance I like to see in a pond of this kind.
The tench are the secondary species, in there to provide a bit of variety in the fishing, and I crop them as heavily as I can, aiming to leave in just a sprinkling of the best fish - they go up to over 3lbs now, nice fish in a half-acre pond like this. Small tench command a good price so they're an important part of the economy of the pond. However many tench I remove, I know that many will have been missed in the netting operation - they hug the bottom more than crucians and bury themselves in the silt to avoid the lead line.
In 2010 the fishing was as good as ever, with NH doing particularly well with both species, on a mix of baits but largely on his favourite bread-flake. It's possible to catch 30 - 40 fish in a day, of mixed sizes. Fish seem to come in spasms: first tench, say, and then crucians - it's not usual to catch a crucian, then a tench, then another crucian - it's usually several tench followed by several crucians, presumably as the shoals come and go in the swim. Bubbling is intense, whichever species is being caught.
The Bottom Pond is my mixed species one, with just a few biggish carp, roach to about 1½lbs, perch to a similar size and growing fast, one chub, tench to nearly 4lbs and the crucians, averaging 1¼lbs. Here, the crucians don't reproduce successfully - small ones are quite rare and those that survive the perch and competition as fry from the roach and other fish tend to be hump-backed and rather tatty until they grow too big for the predators to eat. I'll explain this in the fishery management section.
Sport in this pond can be quite dour sometimes, especially when conditions are bright and the water clear. Then, late evening fishing can be productive. There is no night fishing on these ponds but fishing into dusk doesn't seem particularly productive - the bites fade away towards the end of an evening session. It could be, of course, that the crucians come seriously on the feed later in the night, but that remains just a guess.
Given a dull day, though, and normal water colour, the mornings seem the best time to fish and although most people use pellet, in fact the fish are not very fussy about baits and can be caught on all the traditional ones. Light float-fishing is adequate. Poles are not allowed, for the simple reason that they would look out of place on such a small water - they'd probably be too efficient as well for the welfare of what is, after all, not a big population of fish.
Few of the members target the carp, apart from IB, and he has caught most of them at one time or another, up to over 20lbs. Just occasionally they are hooked by accident, usually a brief encounter! Numbers of carp are kept strictly under control. Fortunately, like the crucians, small ones are very rare.
Hybridization between the carp and crucians is not a problem, as can be guessed from the low survival rate of fry; only once or twice we have found a crucian x carp during one of the nettings, which take place every other year.
At one time there were plenty of signal crayfish in these ponds but they seem to be a problem of the past. Occasionally a nasty black rattly thing is caught but the nettings and earlier trappings seem to have reduced numbers drastically. I imagine that they may become even rarer in the Bottom Pond as the perch hopefully continue to grow.
We had some welcome guests at the Saxon ponds at the beginning of September, following the success of the Angling Trust's 'Catch a Crucian Month' competition in June. The worthy winners were treated to a surprise day's fishing on the Saxon Ponds.
A work party today, to mend the ten yards or so ruined by the cattle incursion. They'd trampled the mud and displaced the plank walkway that Dave had built over the spring water channels; the whole area was a mess and quite dangerous; it would have been easy to slip into the lake on the mud. Jim had brought his two sons, Ben and Charlie; Gavin and Garry made up the party. The channels were re-dug, much deeper this time, and the timber replaced, with rather doubtful bridges over the channels. I've discouraged members from using this bank access but in a fortnight all should have dried out and be safe to walk on.
Bad news, the cattle got in through the little gate to the bottom pond and demolished the path by the water. You can't walk down the bank on the right hand side of the pond - far too dangerous.
Better news is that once you're through the gate you can fish up as far as the "Armchair Swim" to your left and the swims on the Semley bank aren't affected at all. It's just spoilt the pond's beauty for the time being. We shall have to re-build Dave's walkway!
The huge downpours didn't help matters. It'll all look better when it dries out and the grass re-grows but it's a morass at the moment.
Top pond unaffected though the path is very wet and water levels are up at the moment - should soon subside though.
Back for few hours on the ponds. I had a quick scout round, pausing to take a photograph of the little used entrance to the lower pond - inviting or what?
The pond was in a fickle mood and I could tempt only a single crucian and a solitary tench. However the lack of fish was more than made up by the birdlife. A kingfisher stayed still long enough on the far side of the pond for me to capture him on my little compact camera.
I moved up to the top pond where a hay baler was working in the adjacent field. Mistle thrushes attracted by insects and seeds were having a feast and a pair of buzzards and a red kite were wheeling and soaring on the look-out for small furry prey. What a great way to end the day.
A few days later I received an email from Garry:
I fished Thursday and Friday (about 6pm until darkish), and today (9:30am - 5pm). Slow on all occasions.
Thursday - top pond, just one fish, a crucian 1lb 10oz;
Friday - lower pond, two tench 3lb and 3lb 12oz (both weighed);
Today - top pond, again just one fish, my best crucian from there, 1lb 12oz.
Peter, Mark and I meet by the barn at 9.00 and elected to fish in a line on the bottom pond. I struggled to catch a few crucians but had a nice tench of 3 -12. Mark did rather better with both tench and crucians but Pete was man of the match with a nice tench quite a few crucians and an immaculate roach of 1 - 07. This fish had strange colouration with a golden sheen to its back and an almost iridescent glow to its flanks.
After Pete and Mark left I moved onto the top pond and fished to the right of the stand of yellow iris. I tried Pete's pinkies but nothing doing so went onto flake and had a sailaway bite resulting in a crucian of 1 - 01. A short tome later I had another good bite and connected with what I thought was a tench as the fish went off in a straight line sending up clouds of bubbles. In fact it was a crucian of 1 - 08. Finally I had one of about 6 ounces. Then all was quiet and I packed up at 4.00pm. I chucked the remainder of my sweetcorn in the swim, some of which floated, and blow me two fat crucians came up simultaneously and took some off the top.
The rumble of distant thunder accompanied by a heavy but brief shower does nothing to dampen my spirit; there is still within me the excitement of the new season and approaching the ponds down the final curve of the stony track is worth the three month wait. I park by the barn noting that the others are here before me. I cast an eye across the pond and spy the mushroom dome of a brolly half hidden behind a bank of yellow iris. It's Garry, recently retired from academia and in the throws of moving house. He's been up since dawn and has tempted a fine tench to open his account. Beyond him I note how quickly April's bank of daffodils has given way to foxglove and parsley.
I found Cole on the lower pond catching a good many crucians, by fishing, as I expected, in the "armchair" swim. I opted to fish with in chatting distance and after half an hour started to catch a few better fish on both bread and corn. Around 1.00pm the bites petered out and all remained quiet until we packed up at 4.00pm. I had five tench between 2-04 and 3-04 and lost a larger one. I also had eight crucians, the two best being both 1-06, two at about a pound and the rest 4 to 8 ounces.
And it rained...
Today's plan for the 'Donhead Dabblers' (including today, but not limited to: 'JAA', 'Dave', Garry' and 'Pete'.) was to fish for crus of less than 6" in length and redistribute, then to cut the bankside paths out, a simple and satisfying job, levelling a yard-wide swathe through the spring greenery. It's not so much a path as a 'rough guide on where to walk if you want to avoid sliding into the pond'.
My plan was to fish from 8am or so, try for the six-inchers and see who turned up and when. The 'umbrella pitch' was all 'toil and trouble', so little further incentive or walking were required. Although the first fish was a tench, there were seven crucians in the bucket before another body arrived. I was all set for some slashing, but was firmly instructed to keep catching. "Oh, all right then" I thought to myself...as luck would have it, the tench were spawning for the most part, so absent and the crucians were very busy indeed. From 8am to 1pm a serendipitously constant stream of bites kept me amused and by the time I'd had enough, was forty odd crucians to the good, with the largest at 1lb 14oz and half a dozen more well over 1lb.
Dave, inspired, picked up his rod, fished alongside for the last two hours or so, and neither people on the bank nor path-clearing put the fish off in the slightest. Dave further padded out the six-incher crucian tally, bracketing them with several tench, some larger crus and a couple of greedy but reasonably sized perch (which took bread and corn). A fine effort considering Garry and myself did our best to trash his swim by cutting down some substantial willows on the other side of the rhododendron.
All-in-all 27 six-inchers were bucketed and of course none of the fish count as it's still the close season. Just as well I didn't enjoy it at all then.
The Lower Pond from the 'Umbrella Pitch'...(1)
The first tench...(2)
The second tench...(4)
Tench#3, the destroyer of swims...(7)
The four best of JAA's pictures, including a rather fine 1lb 14oz crucian. That's probably the most crucians I've taken in a session and suspect it will remain that way for some time.
Dave took this rather fine picture of the Upper Pond on the last fishing day.
JAA's been fishing on the Ponds:
I followed Dave's example and fished very close in with a tiny quill and scraps of bread - from about 3pm (when I turned up) I had steady sport, with the largest crucian being 3oz at best, but they're all cracking little fish and good fun. Not one of the crus took the float under, just cocked with a single no. 6 shot!
I had one perch mid-afternoon and a bit before dusk single tench around 2½lb I'd say, both of those took the float under!
Good sport, with small crus 'topping' on-and-off all day, no sign of larger ones, I was probably fishing a bit too far out from the edge. It's clear the crus have grown the 'gape defence' hump, suggesting the perch are doing rather well, something for the winter months perhaps.
Dave's been fishing on the Ponds:
I haven't fished Donhead for two weeks (spending time on the Avon) but neither, it seems, has anyone else judging by the bankside growth. I didn't start until about 11.00am but just as I've found on several previous visits, the fish came on at about 2.00pm. I missed a couple and caught eight from a few ounces to a best of 1 - 14 although that one looked at least two pounds. All on flake and only a foot from the bank. Water is quite brown at the moment but still has transparency. Virtually no bubbling and only the occasional swirl from surface feeding roach.
I left the feeding fish on the lower pond and had an hour on the top pond but couldn't get a bite.
Dave's been fishing on the Ponds:
I fished Donhead this morning, blanked on top pond so moved to the north bank of the lower pond and had a couple of palm sized crucians, two of a pound each and another of 1 -13. Also had two tench, one being the golden one weighing 1 - 10.
Feeding spell was from 11 - 1.00 then they stopped or moved on. Better fish all fell to corn, bread flake taking small 'uns.
I walked round around the big field, up through the orchard to the other church and back down again to the ponds, where I found Steve from the North fishing the Bottom Pond with no luck. I know how difficult the fishing can be in the afternoon here and made a few suggestions - close in, small hook and bait and so on. Steve said he'd let me know if I'd helped at all, though we both doubted it. He was fishing in Cole's Armchair Swim, as most people do, and I just wondered if a bit of exploration might be worth the effort. I'd tried the opposite bank a week or two ago and had some small crus and tench - but there were some big fish in the swim, rolling in that exciting crucian and tench way. I just wasn't good enough to catch them but had I stayed longer...!
Steve told me that Chris had caught in the Bottom Pond but blanked in the top one a few days ago. Could be that early and late fishing's the answer when things are a bit dour, as they often are in August - late in Chris's case, early for Duncan when he can be prised away from the Victorian lakes. I walked up to the Top Pond and found what I've been looking for - hosts of crucian fry basking and frolicking in the sun on the Semley side. Once I was alerted to the fact that they were there I found more among the lilies on the other side too, not easy to see in water coloured by yesterday's prolonged heavy rain despite the bright sunshine but grand news.
There's plenty of soft weed in the "refreshed by dredging" pond - starwort, milfoil and curly leafed pondweed, and there's obviously been the good spawning I'd hoped for. This time next year, with luck, the pond should be full of 5" crucians - and tench too I shouldn't be surprised. Then we'll move them, some to grow on for us but most to provide other people with some genuine crucians for their fisheries.
Meantime the brood crucians and tench should be packing on the weight, well worth the catching if they can be found.
Dave Redwood had a couple of nice fish out of the Top Pond, which has hardly been fished. Location is the key! Soft weed is growing fast after the dredging - mostly starwort and milfoil - and the new water lilies have been in flower.
Dave took this delightful short video of swallows fly-catching on the Upper Pond.
At 5am I stayed where I was in the marital b. a good place to be sure, lay, listened to the dawn chorus until I was sure sleep was gone. It was a drive of wraiths, more than once visibility vanished into cloud without warning. A spectre or two remained on the top pond as I crossed the dam.
Umbrella swim then (I just like it), some hemp ladling, then hard boiled eggs, ciabatta, zingy orange marmalade in buttered rolls - the last interrupted by the first two of a plundering of tench. Heh.
Corn to start, then a switch to shrimp brought crus. interspersed, then both golden tench in successive casts, the morning streamed by punctuated by tiny lifts and slips, then Pete arrived, 'on his rounds', about elevenses. We talk of this and that, P. went onto The Victorian Estate Lakes and after a quiet interval, enlivened by a foot long grass snake slipping onto shore and the bees over my head in the azalea, a continuous light drone with lower pitched bumblers fading in and out. I opted for lunch at, it transpired, noon. Breakfast was around 6:30am tho'.
Sport tailed off after bread, olives tomato and Parma ham, during though, two outrageous lift bites on corn landed the smallest tinca so far and another 1lb of crucian. Ginger beer...feet up eyes closed...D. came by making me start, I'd drifted into a sleepy reverie playing a word game on the small technology, I had one bite after D. went on, a gentle lift yielding a single roach.
...the big decision now is the cows, various, JAA for the braving of. Since I arrived the farmer flushed the herd into the gated meadow that I have to cross to leave. But when? And how avoid (a) fright [mine] and (b) letting any bullocks out at either end. Hm...
Absolutely, definitely, really, really the last work party this year...honest.
The top pond is now full and looking really good. We need some rain to clear the scum that always covers the surface at this time of year but yesterday I watched half a dozen big crucians sunning themselves by the dam wall. On 16th May we netted the lower pond and re-distributed tench and crucian as well as selling plenty of 3" - 5" crucians to a local angling club. 40 big crucians and 15 good tench went into the top pond and have plenty of room to grow and spawn this summer. Rather more big fish, including some fine roach and good perch, remain in the lower pond.
With far fewer mouths to feed there this year, growth rates should be good. Mind you, the fish won't be easy to catch with all that natural food to keep them fed. The lilies we re-planted after the dredging in the top pond are already beginning to show on the surface.
This summer-time I didn't fish The Ponds as much as planned, although paid them more attention later in the season. There's been much more groundwork this year than for several, preparation for a lot of repairs and stock re-distribution. The opening day was as good as ever, three months off allowing spring's colours time to emerge, striking grand contrast to the bare branches of March's last sighting.
I've a new respect for crucians, they learn faster than other species. A few good catches early season are normal, most tactics work, but catches fall off fast, feels even geometric, the crus learning to avoid swims, times and baits more quickly than the roach, perch or tench. For my money the crus are the smarter of the four.
I made the 16th by the skin of my teeth, long anticipated, but the three-week wake of a 'bit of a cold' left me a 4am shadow of myself, but nevertheless, arrived slightly ahead of the sun and fished 'the usual spot' - not as early as some, good fishing, tench, roach and perch, but not the bonanza first day of previous years, Duncan did better but he's a man who likes to sleep rough and rise very early (I assume he likes it). Visiting again later in the month I managed two fine crucians, several tench and roach, again the early birds doing rather better - these being my only crucians from The Ponds this year.
The tactic which works best (at least this year it did) is evening pre-baiting followed by 'au crack sparrow' casting, but I'm NOT a morning person and prefer to catch fewer at a more civilised hour. I didn't go again until October and enjoyed a perfect autumn's afternoon fishing, no gold but perch and roach in abundance, rather too many small ones, a netting beckoning even then.
On a fine December day I spent an hour or so on the Nadder for four wild brownies. I hadn't at first planned to fish The Lower Pond, but it looked inviting, so I waded through half-a-pint of left over maggots and made a good net of small perch and roach, one fine perch that could have eaten any of the rest and two of the better roach. No crus of course, but one always hopes. Then just one more time in February, the Nadder yielding up small roach and more fine wild trout, but the Lower Pond was lifeless then, as it ought to have been.
Not a big season for me on The Ponds this year, from reports the Lower Pond didn't fish as well as it might have done given the stocks, except to the dawn risers. I'm planning to rectify that this season, hopefully The Ponds will meet me halfway. Rather more fish in the Nadder than one might think though.
We're now re-filling the pond. New boards are being put back into the sluice slots - very gradually rather than all at once. We don't want to cut off the water supply to the bottom pond for longer than necessary. Getting out the bottom old boards was difficult. They were of oak and jammed in hard. It's just as well we went to the trouble, though, because they had eroded over the years and were thin and bowed. In the near future they would have given way and we would have lost all our water and fish. We use larch rather than oak now and will replace them every few years when we crop.
This last weekend we treated the mud shallows with garden lime and planted up the soft bank where the machines had moved in and out of the pond, using Flag Irises and Sedges to help bind the soil. The original overgrown water lily beds have been dredged out and we spent some time replanting individual roots to make swims attractive to both fish and fishermen. There was plenty of wood to burn up and we enjoyed potatoes cooked in the ashes, accompanied by cheese and chocolate biscuits washed down with coffee, tea (from Duncan's 'Kelly kettle') and beer. It tasted very good after all our hard work.
Before the 16th June we shall re-stock with brood crucians and tench from the bottom pond, at the same time selling surplus small fish to a local angling club. I shall do some supplementary feeding with organic wheat to keep the fish in good condition in both ponds.
Our crucians grow to 2lbs now and the roach are approaching that weight. Tench should grow on to over 4lbs after the sorting and stock reduction. We have a promising number of good perch growing on very healthily. So the fishing should be good in the coming summer. Because fish usually spawn very well in a newly dredged pond we're hoping for an explosion in the numbers of baby crucians and tench in the top pond, which after a couple of years will be sold to fund the maintenance that small ponds like these need.
I'll keep you posted!
The ponds are fed by a brook that at flood time brings in a lot of sand and mud. The silt trap upstream of the ponds is dredged every year but it isn't big enough to protect the ponds completely. The top pond particularly has been growing shallower since we dredged it 13 years ago. Last summer it was difficult to find much more than 18" of water anywhere in it.
So we've had the machines in, as you can see. First we netted out all the fish and put them in the bottom pond and then drained out every drop of water. As the last of it drained away through the sluice we rescued about 20 nice tench to 2lbs that we'd missed in the netting. These were hand netted from the dam or picked out of the stream below. We were lucky that there weren't any really small tench because we would have lost a lot of them - the soft silt, between 2' and 3' deep made it impossible to get into the pond to rescue fish.
The weather has been ideal for the dredging, warm and dry. The silt has been deposited in two "bunds", one in the field next to the pond and the other at the top of the pond next to the silt trap, which of course has also been dredged. We used two big diggers and two dumpers and they worked for two and a half days.
Over ¾ of the half-acre pond has been dredged and should now give us up to 4' of water. The mud that has been left should contain lots of invertebrates for the fish to eat when they are put back in a few weeks' time. Also, we didn't want to let heavy machinery get too close to the dam. There are power lines over these "shallows" so not much bank space has been lost to the fishermen.
Without exception I always look forward to my trips to the ponds; it's not that I have to make elaborate plans, I am, after all, only twenty minutes away and with a loaf of bread, tin of corn, shoulder bag and ready set up rod I'm fit to go. (No maggots - I ceased using those at least twenty years' ago and fish almost exclusively with bread for most species). And then the first glimpse of the upper pond as one passes down the track - it couldn't be improved. The ponds have been kind to me so far this season, especially the lower pond. The roach are exquisite, not a mark on them, plump silver and metallic blue with bright vermilion fins. Not all though. I've had a few which are flatter in the belly and tending towards a brassy colour. They are also quite slimy, in a breamy kind of way.
My first sorties - I usually go once a week - saw me catching nothing but roach but what roach they are. Best so far had been 1 - 07 but I've heard of larger ones having been taken. We are surely not too far away from the first two pounder. I do hope it falls to my rod as I have, in fifty years fishing, yet to catch a roach of that size.. Sometimes I've had fish after fish often with many over a pound but where did those early season crucians go? My friends say I should go on the maggot (and get out of bed earlier) but no, I resist the temptation and if the crucians do not like the flake I usually try corn. But it has been bread that has taken my best two this season, one of 1 -14 and a few weeks' later one of exactly two pounds. Both beautifully conditioned fish and boy do they scrap. Speaking of which I have caught the odd tench to about three pounds and they too go like the proverbial clappers.
Although the lower pond is my favourite I do have the odd half day on the upper pond but despite the profusion of small crucians I do not normally mange to capture that many. Those I do are perfectly minted little fellows, the best I've had going a fraction less than a pound. Another welcome visitor to my net, and one that took me by surprise has been a golden tench, not since the Halcyon days of Whitley Park have I had one of these.
In conclusion I will briefly mention that I have fished the infant Nadder that skirts the field behind the cow byre. It's tricky abut if you can poke your rod through the gaps there's a few fish to be caught. I've had sardine sized roach and a proper little wild brownie. Real schoolboy stuff and well worth a try.
Let me be frank right at the outset. This isn't a tale of crucians, they were notable for their absence this time, but I didn't have too bad a day and as usual, the Ponds were a lovely place to be in High Summer.
High Summer means getting up ridiculously early and I deliberately chose a nearby pub that has a back door I could sneak out of at first light for my B&B.
A short, quiet drive through old villages draped in mist and I was silently letting myself in to the The Ponds at 4.45a.m. Tackling up in the half-light chatting quietly to DH, I was going to join him on the Lower Pond when we spotted a lot of tench bubbles fizzing all over the place near the dam wall and I knew I had to cast to them. Why go searching for fish when so many of them were happily advertising their presence?
A cane rod not fished with since being restored and a newly modified Speedia centrepin made my first few casts a little poor, but on the third I was spot-on amongst the bubbles and followed with a few small offerings to keep them interested. It wasn't long before the float twitched as fish brushed against my line or swirled the bait off the bottom with the wash from their tales and I knew it wouldn't be long...
The float dipped slightly, came up again and then was gone before I could react. I lifted the rod up as quick as I could and the tip dived for the water and the reel spun in my hand as a fish ploughed across the water to my right. With the rod kicking in my hand and the tip taking bigger and bigger plunges down to the water I had to let the fish run-on with the reel burning across my thumb, but eventually it slowed down only to turn and come flying back to the left with me desperately trying to recover line and keep in contact with it. A couple of bats of the reel and I could feel the fish once more just as it turned yet again and ploughed back through the baited area with me now grabbing the spool in both hands to slow it.
I think the fish and I tired about the same time. He'd probably had a better nights sleep.. It was twelve minutes past five and I looked down at a tench of about 3 pounds sitting patiently in the net as I slipped the hook out and put him back without taking him from the net.
I caught a couple of smaller ones over the next half hour but it soon became clear the tench had moved off after that disturbance. Quite why the tench in the top pond scrap so hard I don't know, but they do and they are a very different fish indeed from those poor, frequently caught individuals who live in more commercial waters. They warrant a trip just to fish for them alone really and whilst one does go to The Ponds for crucians, it's impossible to be disappointed by such fishing.
As the light increased I moved to the Lower Pond to join DH and we fished a couple of spots on the South side, generously leaving the more productive side to JAA and GP who were to join us later..or so we honestly thought.
Finding any fish proved hard work and the only spell of note during the rest of the morning was an hour where I managed to occasionally hold some perfect roach of just under a pound in my swim. I'm no great roach angler but I did get a bit of a rhythm going for a while and actually managed a half dozen of the quick-biting flighty things before they moved off. Each one, lit up by the mid-morning Sunlight, was a picture of vibrant health and hard to put back so perfect were they to look at.
DH had a steady day to my right, finding a crucian at last, but poor JAA and GP didn't get a bite. So much for the better swim, sorry...we meant well. At 11.30 a.m. the whole Ponds went quiet and I feared we'd not see another fish before darkness.
We called lunchtime early and DH assembled his fiendish folding barbeque and loaded it up with fine charcoal followed by some seriously high quality sauages as I thawed out the slow-fried onions in my cool box and got bread rolls and sauce bottles out. We know how to live!
Just as the food was ready we were joined by Peter and DR whose sense of timing was astounding. Almost too hot to eat now, the temperature was hovering around 31°C and we just quietly nattered in the shade, ate scaldingly hot sausages and watched The Ponds shimmering in the heat. During the whole day I saw two walkers hand in hand and a half dozen light aircraft high above us in the bright blue sky. A perfect Summer's day fishing at The Ponds again. Contentment personified.
Thank-you DH for the invitation and thank-you Peter for once again providing me with the highlight of the year's fishing. Please can I catch a crucian next time?
PS from JAA: GP and myself fished from near dawn until dusk with only one bite between us on what was probably the hottest day of the year - luckily GP, my guest, had the bite and a fine roach! Good thing there were sausages. The Ponds, especially the Lower Pond, are fishing well this year, but remain early morning waters and as ever, do not respond well to many footfalls on the banks - the latter as it should be of course.
As we hoped, the better summer has brought better fishing and sport has been good, as the following emails prove.
First visit to the Lower Saxon Pond yesterday quickly redressed all the relative frustrations of last season. Managed fishery pb's for both crucian and roach! Unexpected, but very welcome.
When I arrived at 7:30am the crucians were spawning all over the bottom pond, under any overhanging bushes. The roach were in close attendance feeding on the eggs. Some of the fish of both species were surprisingly big. In the event, I resigned my self to some tench fishing, thinking the crucians and roach would be a waste of time. How wrong !
The crucians spawned all morning, finally stopping about 1pm. Despite the distraction, I still caught four crucians, best 2lb 4oz and 2lb 1oz, three roach, all over 1lb, best 1lb 12oz and six tench, ranging from 2lb 8oz to 4lb, real quality fishing ! The two biggest crus and all the roach did not seem to have spawned yet. They were in exceptional condition. Unlike the big and long old roach of my first two years, they were shorter and much deeper, with a bronze sheen. More like the Lakes fish. Beautiful!! Made up for a total roach blank last season.
I double checked the weights of the biggest roach and crus, deducting the wet mesh, because they were both 4 ounces better than my previous pb's at the Saxon Ponds. Just for the record. If the roach have spawned, they have made a miraculous recovery. They are only just spawning in some stillwaters down here, a record I think.
I am sure none of this is news to you, but could not resist reporting such a significant turnaround from last season. The opposite seems to be the case at the lower Victorian Estate Lake, which is now completely weeded up and gin clear, making for very challenging conditions. My first visit on the 17th produced just one cru of 2lb 8oz at 2:30pm, plus a carp. That crus had not spawned yet, so the only hope is that the raked gaps will colour up when the fish begin feeding after spawning. Otherwise it is going to be a challenging season. Early and late plus nights are not for me anymore, especially when a two hour round trip is involved.
DR and DH had some good sessions, but JAA has done even better, as he describes:
The Lower Pond fished its head off today - I rather reluctantly went home as the tench had started it seemed.
I had 9 roach to 1lb 4oz, 10 crus to 1lb 8oz, 3 tench at 2lb 12oz, 3lb 6oz, 3lb 10oz, 1 perch. Lost 4 fish to hook pulls and missed a dozen bites. Looking at the fins on the roach and crus they've both spawned and there's already small shoals of fry on the pond.
Saw one carp mooching about that I'd put around 17lb.
You can see a gallery of JAA's fish on his website.
Oh yes. And we now have a barn owl, wonderful.
After what seems like the last 12 months of winter, let's hope that 2013/14 turns out to be a hot and bumper season. When we netted the top pond (and The Wetlands) we found that growth rates have been dismal and that there were very few young fish, all thanks to the ultra-poor summer. Sport was pretty patchy but as you can read below, some decent fish were caught. And, of course, the ponds are still a marvellous place to visit to get away from it all.
We put back all the best crucians and some nice tench after netting the top pond. I think we missed quite a lot of the latter because the results didn't reflect the numbers of tench caught on rod and line during the season. The water was very cold when we did the job and it's quite easy to drag the net over the top of fish hunkering down in the mud. It will be interesting to see what comes out early season. I don't want it to become a tench pond rather than a crucian pond!
My plan for the top pond is that the crucians will breed well this year but if we missed a lot of tench that becomes less likely. I rely on this pond to provide numerous young crucians to boost the species - so let's hope this summer is warmer and the tench aren't too much of a problem. The fishing for the crucians in this pond will be more difficult because we sold most of the 4" - 8" fish to make room for the (hopefully!) new year's hatch, but there are enough bigger ones there to give you some sport if you're good enough!
The bottom pond stock remains the same as last season, with numerous good roach, crucians and tench and a few cracking carp. Last year I felt the pond was over-stocked and fed the fish on pellets throughout the closed season and until the end of June. I think on reflection that this was a mistake and that the low water temperatures meant that the fish were not eating as keenly as is usual at that time of year. Even in July and onwards, when I'd stopped feeding, sport didn't improve very much and blank days were commoner than they should have been. It may be, of course, that the fish were feeding earlier or later than usual.
Still, N. had some good fishing, as you can see from his account below. JAA had an interesting 16th, with a beautifully conditioned low-double carp on the split shot he was using instead of a plummet - there's a pic on his website: Quite an angling feat this, because he was geared up for crucians! (JAA says - An Octofloat, 4lb line and a size 14...). This was the only carp caught during the season. They can often be seen but remain a challenge! Duncan eventually did quite well with the bottom pond crucians by fishing early mornings - those who came later didn't do quite as well. The roach were elusive, though there's now a new generation of good fish coming through and you can often see them rolling during the last hour of daylight. Tench have come out to about 3½lbs from both ponds.
There have been no signs of otter or cormorant predation but please be vigilant and report any sightings to me.
We've cut back the rhododendrons and dogwood so that you should find walking round the ponds much easier. JAA and The Woodsman made two big bonfires of the cuttings and we enjoyed old-fashioned spuds baked in foil in the ashes. D. and R. helped with the netting. Thanks to all of them for their willing efforts.
The top end of the top pond, including the silt trap, has been dredged and that part looks rather muddy at the moment. Hopefully, by the beginning of the season it will have greened up and not look too unsightly, though again we need good weather to help things dry out and for plants to grow. By the time you get this newsletter, the big and dangerous willow at the top of the bottom pond should have been pollarded and the over-hanging dead oak branch cut back. Notices have been displayed by the top pond warning about the danger posed by the over-hanging power cables - but of course you wouldn't be fishing near them anyway!
Realistic targets for the two ponds are as follows. Please let me know if you do any better! You'll notice that these weights are the same as for last year, thanks to our dismal weather.
Finally, here are accounts of their season written by two of the four anglers who fished most at the Saxon Ponds last year. Only four anglers! Where else could you find such solitude and such marvellous surroundings!
Thanks for the phone call Peter. Looking at my diary, I was surprised to find that I only visited four times last season, mainly due to the awful weather! Results as follows-
June 18 - only 6 crus to 1lb and 6 tench to 3.10 in adverse conditions.
June 26 - 22 crus to 1.13 and 3 tench to 3lb.
July 26 - 26 crus to 1.13 (same fish ??)
Sept 6 - 25 crus to 1.6.
Good results on any fishery, especially considering the awful Summer and season end. All the fish were in superb condition, as usual. Tench numbers well down on previously, in line with your reduction policy. Cru numbers only slightly down, but average size significantly lower. Failed to locate those big fish moved down to the lower pond in any numbers. No roach or perch at all after regular catches previously, although there were sizeable roach topping on every visit. Useless angler!!
The only difference on previous years was that I concentrated on the bottom pond and "lucky-dipped" the top pond last year. Maybe next season I will reverse that policy again, depending on the size of the best crus retained in the top pond after the last netting. Either way it will be a special and unique experience again. Cru options down here are diminishing every year due to predation, mainly by PACKS of super efficient Cormorants, switching from the constantly flooded rivers. The poor old dormant crus are the first to go down their gullets! They wiped out the large stock in CACs Holtwood ponds in the Winter. The previous Winter they wiped out most of the crus in RDAAs Parley lakes. Very depressing.
The only hope appears to be the Angling Trust / Roach club campaign bears some fruit. Not holding my breath on that one. Nothing on that front for some considerable time now.
All the best and look forward to seeing you in the Summer.
Oh dear, what a disaster the past season has been and not just at the Saxon Ponds. Despite my singular lack of success the secluded valley is a place of quiet contemplation although, if truth be told, I mainly contemplated the underside of a large brolly most of the time and on more than one occasion I questioned the wisdom of driving down the slippery, sodden farm track.
As always I tackled the opening weeks with boyish enthusiasm expecting a steady catch plump crucians from the upper pond and indeed I caught many of the smaller fish but the larger ones eluded me. That is to say the larger crucians - the tench however did play ball and I hooked a number of them - reasonably sized ones too but each and every one stuffed me up in the lily pads. I did spend a few mornings on the north bank fishing towards the outer fringes of the water lilies but again my best laid plans came to nought.
And so my attention instead was focused on the lower pond where the fish are larger and I would rather have a blank day not catching big fish than to have a day failing to catch small fish. My first morning found me hunkered down sheltered from the rain in the far left corner. Nothing doing of course but PR stopped by for a chat, my concentration lapsed and my Trudex let out a long rasp. Peter sagely observed that I might have a bite. And so I netted a fine crucian of over a pound, but not another bite was forthcoming.
I went back to the lower pond many times and many times I was driven to distraction by the gardener mowing acres of lawns in the adjacent manor house - every morning so it would seem although to be fair the house was up for sale (£3 million) so one has to make one's house look it's best. I also had a mind to have an occasional pop at the carp; when I took my MK4 the fish were not to be seen yet when I failed to take the heavy gear there were carp all over the place.
So, not the best of seasons but there again neither was it good for me on the Stour, nor the Frome, and likewise the Nadder. As I write it's trouting time so last week I went and blanked at Sutton Bingham.
The season started well enough, myself and The Woodsman bagged the place of the 16th (well, no one else was there). I got there first and popped myself on the South bank by an overhanging tree. I threw in some hemp and with my old Octofloat and pin loaded with 4lb line, plumbed the depth with a BB shot on the (14) hook. The float settled and then obligingly bobbled off to one size and I pulled it back in, rather than strike assuming some kind of line bite. Thing went rather sold and wallowy and I think both me and the fish realised at once what was going on and the carp whipped off to the right under the sunken tree, which swayed alarmingly. I watched the fish arrow into the lower part of the pond, my line angled under a branch and assumed a fouler and all was lost.
I made my way to the left to get enough of an angle to free the line form the tree and by widening the angle and dipping the rod into the water up to the first ferrule it plucked (alarmingly) free, leaving me attached to a still moving carp, some 30 odd yards off. I can't claim so much skill - assuming the inevitable 'sudden slackness' I played the fish fairly firmly, the Octofloat was bent into quite the quarter circle most of the time and I gained a few yards at a time until the fish was wallowing on the right side of the tree - it almost fitted in the net. I was surprised to find the hook firmly in the top lip and it went 15lb on the scales, from memory, I set little stock on the weight these days. I spent the rest of the day catching tench and crus are regular intervals but mid-afternoon it dried up completely - The Woodsman nabbed a couple of roach for under a tree by the dam and then decamped to the upper pond for some fun with the smaller crus. and tench - where I left him at about 5ish, happily nipping them out.
I had two further trips to the Lower Pond, one of which, in August, was quite atypically, a long warm blank. I had a lone tench during a couple of hours in July, missed two bites and got drenched. I also took a guest in July and we both blanked on the Lower Pond for 3 hours so decamped to the top for more joyful fishing. You can read about that here. Other commitments curtailed my sessions somewhat, but I'll be there on the 16th again this year!
Today we netted the Top Pond and re-stocked the Bottom Pond with the best fish. I'd planned to return about 100lbs of fish less than we had removed from the Bottom Pond on 18th February, to allow for growth. Each pond supports 300-400lbs of fish and I use this rough figure as my management guide-line. I thought that if I cut down the number of big carp from eight to four and reduced the number of tench, I'd be getting somewhere close to my target. Unfortunately it didn't quite work out like that, as you'll see.
For once, because I didn't think we'd have very many surplus fish and wanted to save money, we did the job without the help of our usual professional, Andy Parker. That was mistake number one. Pulling the net round the lake had never seemed very complicated when Andy did it but we had serious difficulties with the mud. So much so that one of our volunteers, who shall be nameless, twice got almost immovably stuck. His plaintive cries for help were ignored because we had more important things to do but eventually he got himself out leaving his waders behind him. These were dug out later!
Surprisingly the first sweep of the net was brilliantly successful - even tiny tench and mussels came in, along with the big carp, some fine tench and roach and thousands of crucians, mostly second year fish of 4"-6" but with a very good number of specimens to over 2lbs. The huge number of fish made things complicated, though.
I'd taken out three boards (perhaps two would have been wiser) from the sluice to reduce the netting area so the fish were in quite shallow water at the final pull-in. Our first job was to get the roach and perch into the bottom pond as soon as we could because they would have been the first to suffer in the silty, over-crowded conditions. Meanwhile the carp were moved into a floating holding net. Then we concentrated on the crucians and 120 lovely fish to 2lbs or so were carried down to their new home in buckets. Meanwhile, crowds of young crucians and smallest tench were lifted back into the pond we were netting.
This left some really splendid tench, many over 3lbs, in the net and I weakened and allowed ten of the best back into the pond and another sixteen down to the bottom pond. Then I panicked a bit at the sight of our carp wallowing in the shallows and decided to put all 8 back down into the Bottom Pond rather than keep 4 in the very shallow water in the Top Pond for later collection.
So, to cut a long story short, we ended up with putting some 350lbs of fish into the Bottom Pond instead of the 250lbs I'd intended. Learn from my mistakes, friends! This means that I shall need to feed the fish throughout the summer in order to keep them in good condition. Regular feeding can double the capacity of a pond so it shouldn't be a problem apart from giving myself more work. We'll have to buy pellets, too, of course.
Now, both ponds are full and ready to go for June 16th. The Bottom Pond should produce some fantastic fishing, particularly for the crucians. The Top Pond has mainly small crucians to about 1lb with some nice tench and a couple of grass carp and a chub for variety. I may well feed this pond before the planned cropping in the early winter so that we get maximum yield to provide funds for a possible dredging - Colin's experience with the mud has highlighted a need and the pond was last done 10 years ago.
The Great Lower Pond Draining took place today. Follow the link to see the pond in its birthday suit. Apart for stock management, the sluice needs repairs, both pointing and replacement boards, and the lake silt needs to dry and be treated.
We netted out, in just one sweep, 2 grass carp, 8 mirror carp to about 15lbs; 12 tench (2 gold) 2lbs - 3lbs plus 29lbs of smaller tench; 55 small perch; 1 chub of 2lbs+; 66 roach to over 1lb; 110 crucians to 1½lbs; plus a couple of thousand or so of small roach and perch.
The fish we wanted to keep were temporarily put into the Top Pond while the work was done on the Bottom Pond sluice and the bed dried out as much as was possible. The long dry spell helped a lot.
The dam wall was cleaned, re-pointed and given a waterproof coat. During the last week in March the pond was allowed to refill, with brand new boards in the sluice.
DH fished the Top Pond and I ghillied for him - these days I'm almost as happy to watch other people catch my fish as do it myself. We almost cancelled because of half an hour of torrential rain but in the end we were very glad we'd taken the risk, because it turned into one of those marvellously still, warm evenings when you just know that you're going to catch fish. We had a couple of nice crucians, biggest about 1lb 3oz, and few smaller, plus a beautifully conditioned female tench of about 2½lbs. In not much more than 2½ feet of water they put up a very good scrap. The bites were, as usual, challenging!
I've got a bit behind with this section of the diary, largely because not a lot has happened. Occasionally an angler in search of the peace and quiet of the place turns up - or so I assume from the occasional patch of trodden down grass - but I seldom see anyone.
The wetter weather has kept the ponds well topped up - during the hot, dry spring I was a bit worried about the flow in the feeder brook. The fishing has been well described under the angling section.
It is beginning to look as if the big roach fishing in the Bottom Pond is on the decline, which will probably leave more room for the crucians to grow. There are plenty of small roach to fill the space left by the natural decline of the big'uns, which must be all of 15 years old now and way past their prime. I find this natural swing of populations fascinating and intervene only to tweak numbers of tiddlers if they become too abundant. In a commercial water I would be concerned to stock with bigger fish to ensure sport but here there is no such pressure and I am happy to let things take their course.
A superb golden tench I caught in the Bottom Pond is a good example of what I mean. It had grown on from about ¾lb at the last netting, in March of 2009, to its current weight of well over 2lbs in just that short period of time, quite unbeknown to me. It came as a great surprise and a great pleasure. If I'd just stocked it at that weight, the experience wouldn't have been half so satisfying. It always seems so artificial to me, to keep stocking with fish that keep getting caught - as if that is what angling is just about, hauling in poor simple fish. Well, it obviously is to most people - but not to eccentrics like me and the people who fish my ponds.
The martins are back in numbers and the church clock still passes the summer hours.
The ponds were busy today, with three anglers, NH and CF on the top pond and DH fishing the margins on the lower pond. For reports of how two of them got on, see NH's "Opening Day at The Ponds" and this link for CF.
I didn't expect to see as many crucians caught as this - more than I thought we left in at the last netting! Perhaps some were re-captures - or else we missed some at the cropping. Crucians are usually pretty easy to net, though, so I can't believe we did miss many.
Keith Arthur and film crew came down to make a short feature for Sky's "Tight Lines". Unfortunately we chose a day after a near-frost the night before and a cold wind, so the crucians weren't very interested. Keith had a couple in the top pond, though, and a tench or two, enough to make a decent little film, with some nice scenic shots. The fish in the bottom pond had still recovering from spawning and weren't yet in their usual excellent condition. They're normally not disturbed before the "glorious sixteenth" of course. They spawn a bit later than the crucians and tench do in the warmer, shallower top pond, I think.
Crucians spawning today in the Top Pond. The signs are easily missed. The trick is to stand still and listen. An occasional splash in the margins is the clue. Once you're tuned in to the sound you can quietly walk the bank to the area where the activity is and observe the fish quite closely.
All the pruning around the ponds has now been done and very neat it all looks. Not too neat, mind you. I aim to keep on top of things without destroying the natural appearance of this very special place.
Today I took out a couple of boards to lower the level of the Top Pond ready for a small dredging operation on Monday or Tuesday. The silt trap needs to be dug out, a yearly job that mustn't be neglected - it's amazing how much sandy silt is brought down by the tiny feeder stream after heavy rain. For the second year running, I want the very top of the pond dug out too. The small machine can only reach out so far into the pond but we've carved out a deep passage behind the reed-bed that has developed at the shallow end. This makes for a second area for silt to gather for regular removal.
As I walked around the pond, in the fading light I saw hosts of toad tadpoles close to the sedges most of the way round the pond. Last year there were tens of thousands of them and it looks as if there's going to be a repeat. More worryingly, I found two freshwater mussels on the bank, the smaller one half eaten, the larger one teeth-marked. That's usually the sign of an otter. I hope he sticks to the mussels - I always feel the fish are rather vulnerable when the water level is down.
I'm now regularly feeding the Bottom Pond with pellets. The aim is to reduce numbers of fish in one pond and feed the other in preparation for cropping in its turn. The problem in the Bottom Pond is that the greedy carp, though there aren't many of them, get onto the food first. I have to choose my feeding stations to accommodate this, so that the roach, the crucians and the tench get their fair share, but it's not always a successful strategy!
NH fished and had good sport in both ponds. As far as I know this is only the second time the ponds have seen a fisherman since the autumn - apart, that is, from kingfishers, herons and otters. The ice in December seemed to send the cormorants elsewhere. No doubt the rivers have suffered. There was a rumour that the dreaded birds had all gone to sea to prey on a huge shoal of smelt in the bay. If so, good riddance!
Although at the moment the water flow remains healthy, continued dry weather may cause us problems later, but if any fish is equipped to survive low water and oxygen levels it is the crucian.
Found a dead carp on the bank of the stream about 100 yards below the Bottom Pond, a female of about 8lbs, full of eggs. Why would an otter carry it so far away from the pond? You'd think it much less hassle to eat it on the spot. This is the second one we've lost this winter. Iíve seen no evidence that any other fish have been targeted, though. No scales on the bank, for example.
Iíve begun to pollard the willows. I always leave it until late in the season because Iím afraid that too much clearance might invite in passing cormorants.
Usually every two years each of "The Ponds" is netted and this year it was the time of the Top Pond. The idea is to reduce the numbers of small crucians and tench, to make room for the bigger fish to grow on to provide decent fishing. If this isn't done, the pond, which is only half an acre, would quickly be full of small and stunted fish.
There are only crucians and tench. Both species spawn well here. The problem is that the tench are difficult to net - many are missed because they head down into the silt at the approach of the lead line. The crucians, on the other hand, are easy. The result of this is that over time tench could come to dominate the water, which is not the plan! We may have to remove some by rod and line fishing when the warmer weather comes.
The weather was dry and bright. The crew was experienced and keen - and all went according to plan, as the photos show The crucians we put back averaged well over 1lb; only tench over about 2lbs were returned. Plenty of fry of both species are left in to provide the bigger fish of the future and they'll grow fast with the reduced competition.
40 crucians of 4" - 8" were moved down to the Bottom Pond. Here the crucian fry are heavily predated and out-competed by perch and roach, and every year a few of the bigger fish are lost, to herons, cormorants, otters, spawning stress and old age, so a regular topping up of stock is necessary. Otherwise the crucian population would steadily decline, as frequently happens in multi-species waters.
There are a few signal crayfish in both ponds but so far they seem to be kept under control by the fish - anyway, they haven't been a problem for some years now and I hope their eggs and larvae provide the fish with protein.
We did two sweeps of the net and the whole operation was over in just 2 hours.