The Lower Lake is about 2 acres in size and contains only tench and about 150 big crucians, with a sprinkling of nuisance small perch. It's managed in favour of the crucians and the last netting, in early 2010, revealed plenty of fish apparently over 3lbs - there's a photo of a 3¼ pounder in the book. Strangely, few of these really big crucians have figured in catches this summer. There have been plenty of fish up to about 2¾lbs, mostly in very fine condition, but only a handful of "threes".
So far, no-one's come up with a good explanation for this. Have those biggest fish died? - they are (were?) some of the original stocking from the upper lake and over 20 years old. Or do the bigger fish shoal together and are they lurking away from the usual swims, perhaps more towards the centre of the lake, in the deepest water? Perhaps they spend the summer in the extensive lily beds. Or were we over-optimistic in our assessment of the size of the fish we netted? - only one was weighed. Last year, at this time of year, they were caught up to 3lbs 10oz and we were hoping for a "four".
Something else. We observe an almost-traditional close season here and for a week or two after the opening on June 16th 2010 catches of crucians were very good indeed, with CY, HM and PW doing particularly well, catching plenty during daylight hours. Then daylight sport suddenly declined and it wasn't until PW fished throughout the night that it became clear that the fish had switched to nocturnal mode.
Was that in reaction to perhaps 30% of the crucians having been caught in those early days of the season? There had been a decline in day-time catches in 2009, but we'd put that down to the daphnia bloom and the sudden clarity of the water. This last season, though, water colour has stayed good, so that can't be the explanation for the change to night-time feeding.
We do get occasional visits from otters and cormorants. Have the fish begun to feed at night because they feel safer from predation then? But aren't otters nocturnal?
The Upper Lake has much more of a mixture of species; roach, golden rudd, tench, carp, perch, chub and crucians - and possibly just one pike, if he's survived. No one really targets the crucians in this lake - in fact, it would be pretty difficult to do so because of all the other fish. How do you select crucians? I suppose you could experiment with different baits but it seems unlikely that any bait that crucians like would be ignored by the roach...or the rudd...or the tench. Swim selection seems equally hard. There seem to be crucians in most swims we try, but not in great numbers, and they turn up during a day's fishing in an unpredictable way, mixed up with the other kinds of fish. They're good fish, averaging about 2lbs.
It would seem unlikely that crucian fry would survive in a well-populated mixed fishery like this: any small crucians there are there were introduced from the lower pond during earlier nettings and many have been cropped out since to build up funds for the proposed dredging. This top pond receives its water supply from a small river and at times of heavy rainfall a lot of silt comes in too. A dredging of what we call "the river arm", where the silt gathers, will cost at least £4000 to £5000 and this money has to come from fishing income and sale of fish.
This small lake is one gigantic crucian swim, with features everywhere.
The Lower Lake has fished well for crucians despite the indifferent weather. The fish are in excellent condition and averaging 2lbs in weight with a biggest of 2lbs 10oz. For some great pics have a look at Hugh Miles' always excellent blog.
Against the better judgement of my stomach, I sallied, gingerly, forth - motivation coming from a holiday day booked and a membership paid for. Hm.
Brach was denuded somewhat since my last visit, but a wind had gathered enough of a run-up to push ripples into the east corner and a dark shape or two piqued my interest. I'd only the MKIV 'G' s/u, but the skippy quill brought out a small dark carp after ten minutes, then a stream of bold gold rudd beaching themselves on a big-hooked mussel...
...but the wind died in diminishing stages, fish drifted off, so I wandered about Eelstage looking for somewhere I liked. The closest match was in the south-east corner where, over-tackled for crus, I endured small-rudd-nuisance for one bite after two long wheezy hours, the strike tying the whole end tackle around the rod. Teasing out one of the loops with thinning patience, I recalled suddenly, prompted by a sharp 'crack', the otter fence...I bit off the line and scooted. Halfway up the field was a hare, which lolloped a few yards and hunkered. Slowing the driving machine I took a snap through the window, the day's highlight.
The top lake is now full and looks very inviting. It has been stocked with crucians, roach, tench and just a few big carp. With virtually a "new pond" to live in, the fish should grow really fast this year.
The make-over of the lakes has begun in earnest. Stage one has been the draining and dredging of the upper lake. Two machines worked for over a week, piling the silt behind banks of drier soil on the west side of the lake. This is the second dredging since the lakes were restored in 1991. The whole of what we call the River Arm acts as a great silt trap and as long as this is cleared every ten years or so the rest of the lake largely remains unaffected.
Ideally, of course, the lake would be off-line, with the river running round it rather than into it but the nature of the site makes this impracticable. If the existing spillway were to be used, the lake would be smaller; and building another spillway would be far too expensive. So, regular dredging it has to be.
The last time this was done the fish grew rapidly in the following year - one great carp added 7lbs to its previous year's weight, for example. So we are looking forward to the re-filling and re-stocking - all the fish are at the moment in the lower lake. It is intended to leave the upper lake dry while necessary maintenance is done, like cutting back the willows overhanging the island and the main lake.
There's always a danger when the mature crucians and carp will cross-breed when they are put back into the refreshed lake - breeding rates are often high in such a situation. The hybrids would be removed at subsequent nettings, of course, but we might be short of young true crucians. So the plan is to stock first with 4" - 6" fish. There should be enough water in the otherwise dry lake to make that OK.
Another reason for doing this is that crucian recruitment is usually poor in a lake with a big population of roach - and there are some beauties to come back in from the lower lake. This seems not to because of predation by the bigger roach but because of the annually huge numbers of roach fry that presumably gobble up food supplies as well as the crucian larvae. As a result, crucians in a mixed fishery are seldom numerous - hence the precautionary early stocking with young ones.
When the lake is full again, probably in the autumn, all the fish will be moved from the bottom lake while that is given much the same treatment and restored to full fertility. It seems drastic but drying out a lake has been standard practice in fish farming since the sixteenth century and the results in fish growth, condition and breeding are almost always phenomenal.
Then, some time late in 2015 probably, the fish will be re-sorted and the anglers will have their two lakes back again instead of the one (or the other) they will have been restricted to for over two years.
The crucians should thrive and I'll keep you posted.
Just to show you what's being caught from the Victorian estate lakes this season...
A wonderful catch by D. in his own words...
I simply can't believe what just happened! I have just had another catch of a lifetime!! (The other being the 7lb tench from Blenheim).
I carried on fishing thinking that I'd pack up soon and caught a couple more roach in the same swim. Then it all went quiet so I grabbed some bread and the carp rod and went up to the top of the lake. I saw two carp on the surface looking really catchable so I just lowered the crust down and only a couple of minutes later the carp went under the bait three times and then turned and took it in without hesitation. A mirror about 11 or 12 lbs. I then packed up feeling a happy fisherman.
With everything in the van I decided to go for a walk around the Lower Lake just to have a nose and in the last swim I looked in, I could not believe my eyes. There must have been all the crucian population in that entire swim just sunbathing. And then I noticed one or two bubbling so dashed back to the van, tackled back up and cast into the crucian pot. I thought that if I was lucky enough to get one then they would all scatter and I thought just one would be great. I caught one at about 1½ pounds, and they sort of scattered but only a few moments later re-grouped in the swim (between the weed on one side and lilies the other). Next cast produced an amazing cru of 2lb 8oz, easily my best ever, and I went on to catch thirteen more! Each time they scattered and then they re-grouped and gradually came closer back into the swim. I fed a tiny amount only to get their heads down onto the bottom, just a few hook baits each cast but I think something else was drawing them in like a magnet.
So fifteen cru's in total from the Lower Lake. Three were 2lb 8oz and maybe five were 2lb or just over. Only one was under a pound. Incidentally most bites were bold (ish) and I didn't strike at small dips and lifts. I did get a few on quite positive lift bites, which was nice.
When I left, a couple of tussling buzzards swooped just above my head. I drove home grinning from ear to ear.
I popped in to see how the lucky few were doing, on a cool and breezy morning. No mist on peaceful water today, just a gusty lop. Chris and Kevin were on the top lake, blanking but taking refuge from the "crowded" bottom lake, where Mark and Kevin had over-nighted after the big crucians. Two anglers on a 2-acre lake is our idea of over-crowding in this neck of the woods. They'd listened to England beating Sweden and had seen our resident barn owl, while waiting for midnight to arrive. Since then, they'd had three nice crucians to just under 3lbs - and Mark landed another as I stood chatting, a pretty fish of about 1½lbs. Earlier he'd lost a big fish in the water lilies, perhaps a tench that had been missed in the netting - or a giant crucian, of which there should be a few by now.
John had lost three and was muttering under his breath at the growing stands of Potamogeton natans which the crucians had made a sudden successful dash for.
The soft weed was full of spawning crucians, the splashes coming every minute or two from different parts of the shallow end of the lake. I can't believe that this was the first spawning of the year but they were certainly very active. Perhaps the few fish that were being caught were the ones that had spawned in May. Or perhaps everything this year is late because of the cold weather.
When I left, Kevin and Chris had moved down to the bottom lake, hoping that the increasing warmth would bring the crucians on to the feed.
This is an extract from the fishery newsletter, reporting on the 2011/2012 season:
"Several crucians were caught from the top lake to over two pounds. They are a bit of an unknown quantity there, a number of good specimens turned up during the last netting, with the reduced stocking level they could have put on quite a bit of weight. Several times when I was fishing there at dusk, decent sized fish were priming quite noisily, I think they were probably crucians. I hope to have a go for them in the coming season.
"During the spring of 2011 the lower lake was netted, the tench were removed with the pick of the specimens being moved to the top lake. Carrying on with Peter's (Rolfe) original plan of keeping the crucian fishing as the main priority on this lake, taking out the competing tench seemed to be the next step to take. I'm not sure if it was coincidence, but shortly after removing the tench, weed growth started to appear."
"Numerous roach and rudd have appeared in the lower lake, presumably from the upper one via the ditch and pipe. At times they made it impossible to fish for crucians with maggots. A good number of them are of marketable size so we plan to net them out during the winter."
"Opening day also started well, HM and CY and their guests caught a good number of crucians, Chris landed twelve to 2:12, Hugh also had a best fish of 2:12. Chris's guest actually landed two of 2:15.5. Several members had successful attempts on the lower lake through the summer. SR had an unusual catch, he landed one of 2:09 and caught the same fish about fifteen minutes later. One member cryptically pointed out that it must have had the memory of a goldfish! During the autumn, PW managed one of his few trips of the season and caught a crucian of 3:04. Peter said that it was quiet for several hours but the crucians started to feed well after midnight."
"My first crucian trip of the winter was on Bonfire Night, there were a couple of very loud firework displays that lit up the lake but it didn't put the crucians off. This was the start of my most enjoyable and productive spell of crucian fishing so far. As usual, I fished for a few hours during evenings after work. Most evenings there would be a lot of activity in the swim, sometimes the bites were impossible to hit and on other occasions every strikeable bite would be a fish landed. The average size of the crucians was a bit higher than earlier in the season, most of the fish caught were 2:12 or larger my best crucian was 3:08 with two at 3:05 and two of 3:02. I had a hectic last evening of the season, losing two, catching four and missing lots of bites. Last fish of the season was one of the 3:05s, caught at 23:30pm. Bryan didn't manage to fish as much but caught a good number of crucians to 2:15 including one of 2:11 on Boxing Day. JW and MW were successful with the lower lake crucians, both landing fish to 2:14. There has been more crucian activity during daylight hours last season than there has for the previous few years."
On the way to feed the fish at the Wetland, I popped in to see how CY, HM and friends were doing on the Lower Lake. I ended up staying longer than I'd planned, watching CY fishing a weedy swim at the shallow end. The group had caught about a dozen crucians up to over 2lbs so there is no sign yet of the fish becoming exclusively night-feeders, despite what I feared.
Crucians were spawning in the soft weed - a mixture of curly-leafed pondweed and, I think, milfoil - so with any luck there should be plenty of young crucians to continue the line. The abundance of soft weed this year may be the result of the removal of the big tench - something I've seen happen elsewhere.
Fished the upper lake with MW, master fisherman, who had 2 nice crucians of about 2lbs each in a mixed bag of roach, tench and crus. I managed one roach and two lost tench. We both fished with a light antenna float with pellet on a size 16 barbless - quite delicate but nothing super-sophisticated.
At first the sun was scorching down and I feared the worst, but then the clouds took over, with little spasms of rain. I can't believe that the cooler conditions had any immediate effect on the water, though obviously light levels were lower, but it made us feel more hopeful and we all know that confidence helps.
The lower lake is fishing well for crucians and on one of my walks round I spotted HM crouched in his favourite swim, pole fishing incredibly finely and delicately just off an overhanging willow with a water lily bed to his left and in front of him. As I watched, he struck at a bite far too subtle for me to see and landed a very nice crucian after a brisk scrap. The pole was able to "push" the fish out of the lilies, which would probably have been more difficult with a standard 13' rod.
There were six fishing today - a crowd, by our standards. The names were after the big crucians on the lower lake. PW had started at the crack of midnight and had 5 up to just under 2lbs during the night. When I arrived, at about 11.30am, he was just landing a 2lbs 3oz beauty.
He said that the average size had been bigger since daylight. CY had managed to bag his favourite swim, had caught several nice fish up to just over 2lbs but had been eclipsed by his guest K on the opposite bank, who had a 2lbs 15½oz personal best (honest man!) and another at 2lbs 13oz. HM was just setting up his pole and baiting his swim with extraordinary accuracy from a little cup at its tip - laying the table, so to speak.
The beauty of our crucians on 16th June is that they feed for most of the day, because they seem to have forgotten what hooks and lines and baits are. It'll no doubt be very different after a week or two, when they'll probably be very shy and will have gone over to feeding mostly in the small hours. Today, in all, 43 crucians were caught, out of about 150 in the lake, with 3 of them close to 3lbs.
Beside the Upper Lake I found MW and JW licking their wounds after a carpless night. They'd had a couple of good tench, though, the biggest 5lbs plus.
The Bottom Lake was netted and the tench removed to give the crucians more space. The best tench were put into the Top Lake. About 140 crucians were returned, with plenty nudging 3lbs, good, solid fish. Also, small numbers of 6" - 8" crucians were put back. Two year classes are missing. Perch fry were removed and some better ones returned, though there was nothing seen over 8oz. Annoyingly, small roach and rudd were found in the catch. These probably came down from the Top Lake when the Bottom Lake was re-filled after the last netting.
It will be very interesting to see how quickly the crucians will grow with the greatly reduced competition from the tench. I wonder how successfully the crucians will spawn this year now that the perch population has been temporarily reduced. We saw some perch spawn in the margins, though, and some of this will have survived. It will hatch before the crucians breed, possibly affecting their success.
Upper lake netted. We returned about 45 crucians up to about 2lbs, along with the roach, tench and carp. We found and removed 4 small probable crucian x goldfish hybrids, along with a couple of ghost carp. Sometimes unwanted ornamental fish are dumped into this lake, because it's easy to get at from the road.