It has been seven years since I took over management of these six 25m x 40m ponds and it is time I told you my current plans for them.
My original idea was simply to raise as many crucians as I could because seven years ago there seemed to be a national shortage of this species. I planned to crop them every couple of years, selling them countrywide and producing some decent small-pond fishing at the same time.
Then, I thought I'd try to prove in the wild what scientist had found in the laboratory, that crucians change shape in an attempt to avoid pike by building a high back. I introduced five small jacks to the bottom pond in the chain, from elsewhere on the site, and for a comparison moved crucians from the next-door pond by rod and line.
This seemed to prove that there was no doubt about the crucian ability to change shape, as the photos on this website show. Unfortunately, the jacks were more mature than they appeared. When I came to remove the five stockees, I found there were many more small pike than I expected, and that they had spread to three of the other ponds, despite careful screening of the feeder pipes. Since then we have been enjoying some fun lure fishing, culminating in the capture of Houdini, described below.
So crucian production has been less than I hoped. This didn't matter so much, because that the EA fish farm at Calverton has been producing many thousands of true crucians for distribution into suitable waters nationwide, as interest in the fish has grown.
Pike removed now, I am trying something different, because there is always something to learn: I am looking for the best companion fish for crucians. I know that tench go well with crucians, but both these fish can over-populate a small pond and need to be controlled by netting or trapping to get the best growth rates. It is a good combination, though. I am wondering if barbel or chub would keep crucian and /or tench numbers down and so let them grow bigger. These species wouldn't normally be found with crucians, of course, but this combination would be possible in a commercial fishery. Perch and pike both introduce population problems of their own; chub and barbel should not.
So ponds 1 and 2 contain barbel and chub alongside the crucians. Pond 3 I have stocked with Calverton crucians, to introduce a different genetic strain. With them are rudd because I want to find out if they affect crucian reproduction like roach. Pond 4 contains just crucians, and I hope this will be a good spawning pond. Ponds 5 and 6 are my fishing ponds, with a mix of all the species that are on site. These two ponds are bigger and deeper than the others are and should be fun to fish this summer.
We have used Siltex to try to deepen the ponds, which are full of organic silt and getting shallower. Dredging is impossible because of the lack of space. I plan another application of chalk shortly. The far side of every pond except number 1 has a dense overhang of willow, to give shelter to birds. Those banks are undisturbed except for some maintenance work in the winter, so the deer, the foxes and the other creatures can enjoy a sort of wilderness beside the brook that runs along that side of the site.
I do not suppose that the fish will ever be very big at the Wetland. However, there is plenty of wildlife and the experimenting is fun. I have even bought a microscope to monitor the invertebrates, to see how the chalking affects the number and variety of bugs and things.
A trip put off for diverse reasons, 'rain' comes to mind. An old fashioned fishing for fun and bites kind of thing and Pete suggested I try Pond '1' for a while and he headed off for Pond '3'. My bait failed to entice a roving shoal of tench, crucians and small chub to get their heads down. After a while, Pete came by and there was obligingly, a scuffle of silt and a tench fell victim to some white-sliced. It was a lively and 14oz kind of fish and the entertainment put paid to any potential hemp-frenzy. Still, a fish is a fish. A short time later a chub, one of the score that had been edging nearer and nearer the bait, nabbed another piece of flake and did what chub do, which is bolt hard and then kind of give up a bit. Stunning fish mind.
This final hurrah saw the fish cowering in the far corner of the gin-clear pond. Hm. I went to the 'swim' on Pond '2'. I say 'swim', it's a less narrow spot in the narrow path. I flung some bait, to add to some of Pete's previous, then settled down to hardly catch anything; one small tench plus a sly fishless bite.
By this time, Pete had several small tench and many rudd to his credit, the rudd were to be moved to Pond '4'. Pete pottered off for a bit and in passing suggested fishing further out and I took the opportunity to keep his maggot stock rotated by using a few. This turned on a figurative tap and I spent the next couple of hours catching three varieties of tench, broadly speaking 2oz, 4oz and 8oz, 'on the drop' as often as not. A few rudd joined in and one crucian. I pricked rather too many fish plus the swim was doing cruciany things , so became suspicious of the hook. Despite a few careful touches with a stone, matters didn't completely improve and like a lazy angler, I didn't put on a fresh one. This didn't stop me landing well over a score of small tench which was fine fun.
1pm was a long as either of us, both preferring to freeze to death than roast to the same, could stand. We pottered off, a pity for me what I mistook for hay-fever amongst the long lush grass, was, dammit, a nasty three day cold. Pah.
This stock relocation exercise was far too much fun...the plan was to move small tench, now showing at pre 'Operation P' levels, from pond '3' to pond '2'. The promised bucket wasn't there, so I put a few of the early fish into the landing net and dropped them into '2' as I went along. Pete arrived with a bucket once I was eight or so to the good, although for some reason Pete didn't contact any tench at all. About a score got moved over and one solid fish of over a pound went back. Midday, the tench bites tailed off, the usual slump but rudd kept appearing to brighten things up, plus the kingfisher obligingly perched opposite, probably at the limit of the camera zoom but still.
Pete went on and I spent an hour or two trying to extract a pike from '6' and '7' but this for the most part involved watching an unmoving float with a sprat under it, while no part involved catching a pike. Top day.
This was the day of the big-fish in. Naturally it rained. I arrived a little after 8am, as I fancied a quiet couple of hours on pond '6' to see if there was anything in it…well, there is, but little has been caught for a while. I carried on in this vein for a couple of hours, pausing only to drink coffee and take pictures of a particularly bold sedge warbler. A couple of rudd came by, I nabbed those, then Jim dropped in, then after Pete showed me the swirling mud in the hole-in-the-weed in '5' I decamped. I immediately removed a tench and then a swarm of rudd…a few of the latter were taken to meet the pike in pond '7'. The first hole in the weed there yielded nothing and I hacked up the bank to the second hole near the fallen balsam poplar branch. Jim came by and we muttered dark things about modern angling, until a pike-like shape drifted deliberately across the hole in the weed. This totally failed to take the bait for a period which was several times longer than the period for which I can hold my breath.
We sopping six coalesced on the bank of '3' where the Kelly Kettle was and there was a flurry of cakes, hot drinks, pork pies, mustard (I like a man who plans ahead) and biscuits, some of which were chocolate. Jim appeared to be trying to beat the chub in '2' to death with piece of wet string. Duncan and Harry were nicely wet and had a few small tench from '4' and...some rudd. We awarded Harry the prize for the most fish, a small bundle of floats which he immediately started swapping with his dad's. I gave a few others away as a reward for coming and taking a stand-up bath...the sensible people headed for somewhere drier. I decided to wait under some handy trees near pond '5' and give the rain until 2pm to shove off. Dave came by and we chatted about fish and things, then, being a man of high intelligence he took the sensible option.
The rain stopped on the point of my deadline, that was close, so I sat back down on my wet chair in my wet clothes. I caught a few rudd to warm up (figuratively speaking) and then fished corn for 40 minutes, at which point another tench showed up...after another fifteen minutes watching the motionless blue peril, I stood up to warm myself and saw the colour in this corner, ubiquitous earlier, had gone, with corn and white maggots visible in the silt. Ah. Home then. Squelch squelch squelch...
Dave, before the Heavens opened, also took a few snaps, so here, by his good graces, they are:
Fed lightly again and increased the flow into '1', where I spotted a barbel as well as plenty of chub. After the mixed corn feeding, perhaps sweetcorn would be a good bait, but I'll leave a bucket of soaked mixed corn for anyone to use. I counted about 10 chub in '2', amazing when I remember that we netted not chub from that pond back in the winter. The same was true of the rudd in '5' and '3', though now they too are there in abundance. The most successful weed clearance has been in '5', where the hornwort has not encroached onto the cleared area - the two swims there look very attractive. The same is true of '6', though there silkweed obscures the bed of the pond and might cover a bait.
'3' and '4' remain coloured, though strands of hornwort are beginning to appear, particularly in '4'. Some bubbling in both of these ponds. '4' is puzzling, because we netted only brood tench and one good crucian to go with the two nice chub (and the four jacks, of course, now no longer with us) and I'm not convinced that those few fish are enough to colour the water. Perhaps there are more there than we know of. I think there are plenty of crucians as well as rudd in '3'.
The Canadian pondweed dominates '1', and even the one swim that I cleared and that I am feeding seems to be getting smaller. A fly or tiny floating lure might take the chub, above the weed. Floating bread perhaps? There are plenty of fish in this pond as we know from the netting, but who can catch one or two, I wonder.
'2' is very shallow and the most promising swim looks to be by the willow on the Shaftesbury bank. The one on the track side looks far from promising. The chub spend a lot of time patrolling a circular route here.
'7' continues to weed up with hornwort as usual, though there is one big "hole" that I shall keep open for whoever wants to try for the jacks.
Early and late on Sunday would seem to be the best times, but the forecast is for cloud and some showers, which might make it slightly less hard. Bright sunshine would make it very difficult in the clear water ponds. Anyone who hopes to catch on Sunday will have to know his business - so there's a challenge.
The trail camera shows the heron in constant attendance between '2' and '3', though I've yet to get a shot of him catching anything. Deer and foxes appear quite regularly.
Preparing for the fish-in next Sunday. So far one swim in pond '1', two in each of '2', '3', '4', '5', '6', raked and fed lightly with soaked mixed corn. Plumes of silt in '5'. So the tench (and crucians?) have found the food there. '3' and '4' still coloured, with little weed as yet. Rudd and crucians active in '3'; '4' more enigmatic. '1' and '5' weedy: Canadian pondweed and hornwort respectively but with plenty of fish activity. Latter weed in '6' but not too thickly on the path side. Found a baby tench in the tubular screen between '6' and '7'.
No sign of jacks this summer, except in '7', where there are at least two mature fish because I spotted one at about 8". Hornwort in '7', beginning to spread. I'll make sure there are two holes in the weed for a dead bait. There are probably a jack or two left in '6', though I have seen no sign recently. The one in '4' seems to have disappeared. A heron victim perhaps? There are two good chub in '4', with a sprinkling of brood tench.
I shall feed lightly all week and then leave alone for a couple of days beforehand. The fish here are not used to baits. Apart from lure fishing, the ponds are virgin waters.
Catch-up after computer glitch. Clearing swims for social/fish-in 23rd July, found dead crucian in '6', apparently unmarked, so there are still some in there. Also spotted a fine fat tench in same swim on a couple of occasions. I've put some mixed corn to soak, ready to do some light feeding. In '3', in the very hot weather, there were indications of a shoal of crucians (?) disturbing the silt. Some sporadic bubbling in '4'. Both these ponds coloured. Chub very active in '1' and '2' and I think I spotted a barbel or two in '1'.
Dead water vole in '3', so we have some of them too.
Police have closed the case on the shot swan after circulating pictures of "blue hoody" with no response.
As above, with the addition of a few rudd in '2', which are a surprise. Also a 8" jack in '7', so two parents! Interesting that in '3' the rudd shoal and move around to surface together: two groups today. Whereas in '5' they are spread everywhere in smaller groups of up to say half a dozen fish. Of course, there is little or no weed in '3', which may be relevant. Tench lolling under the willow in '5' and feeding at the inflow.
Swan seems ok, though I haven't yet seen her feed.
No sign of her on 21st. Also found a dead duckling, slightly ripe so perhaps dating from the day of the shooting. Padlock on gate. There may well be a leak in '5' again: water going in but none going out. Spotted a nice tench in '6' and a rudd low down.
Thinking of funding a day's work with a machine this coming winter, dredging.
The end of the heatwave (30°C) in sight after a week of very hot weather.
An hour on a hot, hot late afternoon. It's always difficult to spot fish with the sun against me, but there were plenty of fish about. Chub very active in '1'; what looked like spawning activity in '2' and '3', with silt disturbed in the latter again as well. In '2', fish are favouring a willow branch drooped into the water along the bank with '1': I disturbed fish there, twice. One fish moved in '4'. Rudd everywhere in '5' and tench and at least one bigger rudd at the inflow. Perhaps '5' is leaking again: water flowing in but not out. Duckweed covers '6'.
The swan was on the beach on '5' and slid into the water as I gently approached.
Meadow vetchling (yellow) and tufted vetch (blue).
Today, yesterday's horrible experience had been put towards the back of the mind, less raw. The water smell was delicious, intoxicating on a hot but morning overcast day. There was just a hint of breeze. Chub and a couple of barbel were enjoying the heat. Pond '1' was 6" deeper, thanks to my dam-improvement. Pond '2' was well coloured, with just slight fish movement here and there. In '3' a band of silt in suspension furled and expanded in the slightly coloured water, as a shoal of crucians grazed. Only just one or two bubbles, though, to go with all the obvious feeding activity. The rudd shoal cruised. In '4', nothing., though the water slightly coloured. In '5', plenty of rudd activity all over the pond; here the rudd were less concentrated in a shoal. More in groups of half a dozen fish. One biggish fish splashed out from the reeds. I hope not a jack. No tench to be seen but one good cloud of bubbles from a feeding fish. In '6', some fish movement, particularly from a small shoal of basking fish that I could not see because of the extensive duckweed. In '7', a couple of small fish moved near the surface and I disturbed a bigger fish in the reed margin.
A bad day. Found the swan shot twice in the head with an air-gun and apparently dead. As I walked away, uncertain what to do, she lifted her head and later had made it onto the ponds. The barbarians had also apparently stolen the field camera but I recovered it from the pond the next day, together with a good video image of one of the two perpetrators. The relevant agencies, including the police, have been informed.
Scythed around the back of '2' to clear the possible swim for anyone who cares to try, and along the main path by '6'. Hogweed, water dropwort, false parsley, and angelica (?) One tench and several rudd close to the intervening bank of '5' (and '6'). Small fish topping on the Shaftesbury bank of '6', though light wrong to see what. Pike flushed out from bank in '7'. Rudd in '3', as usual, chub in '1'. I improved the dam to raise the water level in '1': repositioned the board and sealed with sticky silt. Screen had come off the downstream end of the pipe between '6' and '7', forced off by debris and duckweed that had come down from '6'. Not much life in it but then the weed was beginning to small so had been there some time. I have put the flowerpot in place at the top of the pipe to raise the level in '5' and '6' by an inch.
The trail camera shows that the heron spends a lot of time on the cleared bank between '2' and '3', as do other waterfowl, to preen and rest in the sun. I presume he must catch something, though no evidence yet. Goes to show that short foliage gives a useful environment for birds.
Scythed around '3', trimmed back willows. Chub active in '1' and '2', rudd in '3' and '5'. It is quite a big shoal in '5' but not one did we net! Small fish topping under a bush on the Salisbury side of '6' but light wrong to identify them. Sign of a couple of small fish in '7', and one bigger swirl, possibly the jack. Some colour in '2' and a patch of silty water in '5' where the tench were rootling in the bottom mud. Hornwort well advanced in '5', some signs of it in '6', not much elsewhere yet. I do not think the ponds are any deeper post-chalk.
More teasels by '4'; comfrey and cuckoo flowers, woundwort, reedmace and willow herb.
I plan to add crucians to '4' and '5'. Still no sign of the jack in '4'. No sightings in '5' since the netting.
Scything the far side of '1' and along the track for '1' and '2'. There has been seeding from teasels, must be 20 plants this year. Shall I try to list the plant species, I wonder. What kind of vetch is it, for example? Soft rush, hard rush? Sedges? Buttercups, forget-me-nots, bluebells and primroses. A host of stuff I do not know. Perhaps I should try to add a species a visit to my list.
Rudd in '2', plenty of chub in '1', now easier to spot because of access to Shaftesbury bank, tench in '5' - Daphnia-cruising, I think - and a nice rudd of 8oz or more. There was a jack in '6' and another in '7'. The latter struck and later was disturbed from the reeds as I walked by. For the first time, I saw another species in '7' - two roach, I think. There is still no sign of the jack in '4'.
Counted 16 chub in '1'.
Stinging nettle, dead nettle, docks.
At BW, on a muggy, still morning, there was plenty to see. In '1', chub were near the surface, though the light was a bit wrong to see them. In '2', eventually I spotted chub in the shallows by the willow; they seemed a bit smaller than I expected but water is deceptive. Incredibly spooky, despite my redskin approach. Fish activity aplenty within the tree area and I have a plan to improve access into the canopy. In '3' the rudd were active in two or three shoals - see 18th. In '4', just a male tench looking for a mate. In '5', rudd by the reeds at the top end; tench spawning ditto. Other tench questing. In '6', I disturbed fish at nearly every break in the reeds. I assumed jacks, until I spotted a fine fat female tench just after the splash. By then the light had declined; under brighter conditions, I think I should have seen even more. Buzzard and heron overhead. Martins and swallows.
More trail camera video, a badger and a couple of young deer.
Some more trail camera video, a roe doe and a heron.
A nice trail camera video of a fox going about his business without a care.
More trail camera snaps...
More trail camera snaps before night.
Who says herons don't fish at night!
The weather stayed fine for the chalking, with just a feather of breeze to help or hinder the spreading, which took place from the bank, rather to my surprise. A lot of attention was paid to the margins, where most of the leaves and flotsam end up, so it made sense. I ordered 50 bags, and they applied 14 to '5' and 12 each to '2', '3' and '4', more generous than my previous efforts of 10 per pond for the same four. Nina and Darren from AES Europe came down to do the job. The pallets were dropped off at Wren Classics on the previous day, thanks to Mr Farthing, because the artic couldn't have managed the turns or the lanes to get to the site.
The night pics. weren't very good, so I need to tinker with the controls, but I could make out three mallard on one pic and a rat on another - with no shot of a sprat being picked up. More scum than ever on '2' and '3', with rudd moving in the latter, though impossible to see numbers. '4', however, was much clearer of flotsam and in the water. The other ponds have a greenish tinge and reduced clarity, including '6', which is usually very clear. Flotsam in '1' mixed up with green algae. Doesn't seem to be a tie-in with the chalk, because '1' and '6' were not treated and '4' was!
Changed the trail camera 'SD' card, keen to see what the camera had found. Put down 10 sprats as bait. Checked and improved the screens on '3' and '4'. The tubular one on '5' is working well, not blocking as I feared it might.
Rudd near surface in '3'. Numbers seem reduced, though I couldn't see the fish because of scum and cloudy water. The balsam poplars are coming into leaf and the scent was a delight.
Trail camera in place. No bait, because the 11 sprats I left there had disappeared overnight 24 hours before the camera was in position. I had carefully left four or five on the soft silt of the caisson, but no tracks. Bird with a long neck?
Today 15.5°C by the car thermometer. Plenty of bottom sludge on surface except on '6', where the water is greening nicely. No chalk went into this pond, of course. But none in '1' either and the surface is covered there. I ladled more silt into the caissons and onto the bank between them. Soon it will all naturalise and the job will be done.
Spotted the pond '4' jack, but none anywhere else. The rudd were near the surface in pond '3' but the water is too brown to see them, just the splash. We netted none when we did the survey - hiding under the willows, presumably; perhaps the same applies to the crucians.
First brimstone, richly yellow. During the dredging, I found a very big swan mussel in '3', put into '2' to go with the smaller one we found in the tree roots, with the hope they might get together; what I think was a Dytiscus beetle larva and a water hoglouse or two - disappointing, though there were no doubt midge larvae there that I didn't see. This part of the pond, for years under the willow, must be very stagnant. I hope that the chalking to come will increase the invertebrate population noticeably. Blackthorn in flower: cool wind but super sunshine.
The pond '2' outflow seemed to be working ok, with the pipes holding back most of the surface stuff and so slowing down blockage.
A good spring day, even after a man cold! I was a bit worried that the outflow from '2' would block too easily with surface debris so I fitted three drainage pipes across the exit to hold them back. Will it work? I also adjusted the screen between '3' and '4', loosely fitted one between '4' and '5', and have one left for the exit of '6' or '7'. The principle of the new screens is to hold the vertical face in place with a willow cross-piece and the horizontal held tight to the bed with treading and heavy rocks. To clean, lift the rocks and the horizontal face and replace when the blockage is removed. Good in theory!
I was going to put the new trail camera in position but didn't have time. The problem is to make it unobtrusive. I have a small tripod that might be ok. I can screen it with brush. Perhaps a willow stake? The ageing sprats were left between '2' and '3' on the soft silt of one of the caissons to get some prints. Badger poo aplenty by the entrance.
A chub splashed in '1'. Swans, cob and pen, on '3'. Plenty of Daphnia in '3'. The brownness of the water gradually clears the further down the chain one goes. Some scummy green algae in '1' and '2'. Detritus on surface of all the ponds and the usual spring "breaking of the bottom" sludge.
Pronged out twigs, leaves, etc from lower end of '2' onto the new bank. There's plenty of rubbish to remove and dump. I also experimented a bit with a fine screen between '3' and '4' - work in progress!
At last we have finished the willow and the caissons, apart from a few small details. As the water drains and evaporates, the silt level drops and this needs to be topped up over the next week or two. I'll also spread silt over the well-muddied area where we were working. The plan now is to plant sedge rather than flag iris to help consolidate the new banks: it is on site, after all. I'd like to cut back the two remaining tallish stumps to the same level as the other trunks but I can do that at my leisure.
I've left one of the two big willows, to give shelter and sanctuary for birds and fish. The willow roots had disappointingly little life in them, apart from a few snail eggs and one swan mussel. Perhaps the planned chalking will build up the invertebrate population. Water samples from the opposite bank show plenty of plankton and mayfly nymphs. So far, though, no snails or caddis. The contrast with Pond 1 is considerable.
The outflows have been improved. There are now several logs in each, arranged across the bank and along each channel, making for an easy bridge.
More of the big willow down and stacked. One more good session should do it plus another for odds and ends, so I'll arrange for the chalking to be 5th April. By then the tree should be done and the bed raked; hopefully the bank will be well mended by then too. The silt bag looked good and I think I'll plant up with flag iris to help bind and dry. Coots active; frogs and plankton in '3' at least. Ponds gradually browning, with reed detritus floating.
We started on the repair of the '2'/'3' bank, using a willow framework, a big sheet of polythene and plenty of silt ladled in with the old tool. Don't know if it is going to work but we'll do the upstream side next week when I've got hold of some robust polythene. Plenty of Daphnia and three frogs in '3'. '1' and '2' brown with diatoms. More of the big willow succumbed to Garry and Cole, the axe man.
We're now tackling the big willow on '2', first session last Saturday. The bank between '2' and '3' is very eroded, so Jim is coming to give his expert opinion today. Discussed the erosion with Jim and he came up with the idea of faggots within a barrier of branches. Add silt with the scoop. We'll try this weekend. Also, should I spend a lot of money on a second liming, getting the pros to spread the stuff?
Netted Pond 1, a relatively simple operation compared with the nightmare scenarios of the other four ponds. With five of us, we could make nice corners, keep close to the banks and feel we'd caught most of the fish, which totalled thus:
87 crucians, 17 chub, 5 tench, 1 barbel, 1 roach, 1 dace, 1 bullhead, 3 loach.
All the fish were in sparkling condition, with the chub in particular growing fast, averaging about 1lb now with the biggy over 2lbs. Barbel disappointing in numbers and growth rate, though the one we had looked good. Otherwise the numbers were as they should be. The crucian numbers were boosted by the EA Calverton ones. There were huge numbers of snails in the net.
We replaced the plastic sheet and fitted the new screen over the downstream side of the pipe between '6' and '5'. So all very satisfactory.
On 17th we did the last of the willow trimming and built a big fire to provide an oven for lunch today, the day of the netting to see what is in the ponds. The spuds were done to a turn in the ashes and we managed to eat all ten. They went down well with tea from the Kelly Kettle, coffee from various flasks and cider from the can, finished off with chocolate Madelines and triple chocolate chunks.
We deserved a good lunch after netting '5' and '4' and setting the net ready to go in '3'. There were more jacks than expected but also some nice tench to about 2lbs in pond '5', to go with a few young crucians and tench. No sign of the plentiful rudd I saw in the summer. Perhaps they were hiding under the overhanging willows and are more mobile than the tench at winter temperatures. We should know by May.
Pond 4 produced a pike or three, some nice tench again, one well-grown crucian and a couple of super chub, 2lbs each, which were old friends. I have watched them grow over the years. They were in superb condition. Chub do really well in these well-oxygenated ponds, though river purists might not like the idea.
Pond 3 was a bit of a flop, with little sign of the crucians and rudd that we should have found. The three small jacks we caught couldn't have eaten everything. The willows on the far bank make netting a bit hit-or-miss. They stretch about 5m into the pond and although we tried to frighten the fish out into the open, we failed miserably.
Pond 2 produced good numbers of crucians and a couple of barbel, less than ½lb, a disappointing rate of growth, though they looked in fine fettle. A couple of stone loach made one or two of us think that the barbel had spawned! Again, this is a horribly difficult pond to net because of the willows on one bank. The fact that we caught no chub and only a couple of the twelve barbel that should be in there does not worry me. Two years ago, we netted with a very similar result, but the twenty chub in the pond have been very active over the past two summers, so they were there all the time, though we couldn't net them. They are just too clever for us. So far, there have been no jacks in this pond; hence, the better numbers of crucians.
We ran out of steam after netting pond '2', so pond '1' has to wait. I hope to find crucians, tench, barbel and chub in there. It is the easiest pond to net but has less cover for the fish so predation might have been a problem. We shall see. I'll keep you posted.
Stocking plans, based on what we found, are to add more crucians, male tench and some decent-sized rudd.
Candy's fishing tackle shop is impressive, a barn of a place with ranks of set-up rods and poles, stands of reels, mountains of bait, smaller items displayed on every wall. Two counters stretch from the doorway into the distance and there is even a separate hall for chairs, bivvies and clothing. It is all a bit confusing for an old chap who is beginning to fall behind the times, and it was with some difficulty that I found the predator section. I looked with bewilderment at the huge range of rigs and lures on display. I knew that I must find a new strategy if Houdini was to fall at last - but what?
I turned away from the spinning gear - the darned fish had seen too many plugs and spoons, soft baits and jigs. He had learned that such things were dangerous. Only a couple of days earlier he had followed what I thought was a particularly enticing plug to my very feet and had stayed there for half a minute, looking up at me with a knowing grin, challenging me to do better.
"Too much to choose from, isn't there?" A short, efficient-looking guy smiled at me. He must have recognised my confusion. As is the way with anglers in tackle shops, we were soon talking fish and experiences. I learned that he had come twenty miles or so just to see what was on offer in the Candy emporium, the fame of which had spread through Dorset and neighbouring counties. I told him about Houdini, how I must remove him from my crucian pond, how he had been hooked and lost three times, how many expert anglers had fished for him and failed - and how wary he had become. I explained the smallness of the pond, no more than forty metres by twenty-five; and how shallow and clear the water was.
"I'd use something like this," my stranger-guru said and guided me to the huge cabinet against the wall to our left. Like a fishmonger's slab, it was full of the frozen dead: herrings, mackerel, smelts, lamprey pieces. "Or go for a sprat from Tesco's," he whispered. "A lot cheaper and just as good. Mount it on a big single hook. I've lost too many pike and perch on trebles. Never use 'em now. Try one of these."
He took a packet from the wall display. The six hooks in it were enormous, compared with the trebles on the lures I had been using and which Houdini had ejected with ease. Well, I was looking for something different. "Push it into the sprat's jaw and up through the skull," he instructed. "There'll be plenty of hook exposed to take hold of the pike."
So, a few hours later, I was beside pond '5' at the Wetland, properly equipped, I hoped, to deal with the monster that I had seen so many times and that I and so many others had failed to catch. I was using a 6' spinning rod, a fixed spool reel with 30lbs breaking strain braid, a small plastic, red-topped pike float, and a stalwart wire trace culminating in the huge hook, which I pushed into the sprat as my new friend had advised. The sprat smelt not quite as fresh as it might have been. I hoped Houdini would not mind.
In accordance with my theory that pike are more active towards dusk, I had left the expedition until late afternoon; because of the heavy cloud It was darker at four o'clock than it should have been. There was no wind to ripple the grey water. The two swans that had taken up residence on the pond showed brilliant white in the gloom.
At first, I tried sink and draw: a twenty-yard cast and a slow retrieve with frequent pauses to let the bait sink to the bottom of the pond. The only hook-up was from an occasional waterlogged leaf that had dropped in the autumn from the balsam poplar towering behind me. After twenty minutes of this approach, my already fragile confidence was in danger of disappearing altogether. Another failure threatened.
I decided on a different method, one last throw of the dice before I left for home, discomforted yet again. This time I cast out some five or six yards and retreated behind a concealing willow on the bank between this pond and the one downstream. Hardly was I in position when a miracle happened: the float, only just visible in the half-light, began to move to the right. It stopped, paused, and then changed course and submerged.
In a trice, I was behind the rod. For just a second or two I watched the line peeling off the reel. Then I tightened into the fish and felt his weight. Always, before, this had been the prelude to a great swirl and a lure flying back to me. This time, though, the fish was securely hooked. He made a slow run to the right towards the willow, changed his mind and set off for the far bank. I gave him line, with time now to gather my senses and regain my confidence. Slowly I worked him towards me. A surge towards the half-sunken bush to my left was easily frustrated, and, with a great splash and foam of water, he was half in the net. A forward lunge and he was surrounded by the mesh. There would be no escape this time.
I had told everyone that he was seven or eight pounds. "Yes, Pete," they had said, but I'd sensed their doubts. After all, the pond is very small. But no...he was even bigger. Behind the head the body was thick and solid, flat and wide as an aircraft carrier. Scales zeroed, I lifted him into the air in the net. Ten pounds exactly! What a fish he was - graceful in line behind the savage head, beautifully marked in green and yellow, belly firm with good feeding. I wondered how many of my crucians and tench had gone into building that muscular body.
A thought struck me. Perhaps Houdini was in fact female and the plumpness a clutch of eggs ready to populate my ponds with pikelets. Disaster averted then! I was doubly grateful for that chance encounter in Candy's tackle store and to the unknown angler who had given me such good advice. It had been my lucky day.
...but one of the few remaining ones!
A few 'new' crucians to add a little genetic diversity to the existing stock.
The ponds have silted up over the years and dredging is not immediately viable, so we spread 'siltex' in ponds '2' to '5' to compact the silt and increase the depth a little. Hard work, it's heavy stuff, but the benefits will show in the spring and the chalk is good for the water snails!
No sign of chub in '1' but there was one egg in the coots' nest. Pond coloured. Chub in '2'. One questing tench in '3' but no sign of the introduced rudd. 60 or 70 rudd in Dave's pond, plus a glimpse of a pike, I think, some 3lbs or so. A couple of small jack splashes in '5' but no sign in '6', so perhaps the dreaded spawning hasn't happened. Fingers crossed. A dead hare by '2' - youngish? - no black tips to ears. No sign of injury. There has been no sound or sign of dabchicks since I found one dead some time ago. Sad.
Finished off scything and checked '7' to brook was clear. Chub in '1' and '2'; coots continue to nest on former. Crucians spawning there too, in the reeds, which raises interesting thoughts: a. if they hatch; b. if the chub don't gobble up the eggs; c. if any young crus. build a high back.
It is astonishing that this year only '6' has any weed, the remains of last year's hornwort. The other ponds were heavily weeded last year - '3' was choked - but this year they are clear of weed, almost like shallow swimming pools. Swans?
Scythed the path as far as '6'. Levels slightly down because the inflow had blocked slightly. Coot nest-building on '1'; ducklings on '5' - I wonder if the pike has had any? I saw only two. Tufteds still on ponds, squawking from one to another as I disturb them. Two fat tench, poundish, feeding close to the bank in '5'. I thought there was a third fish with them at first, lighter in colour, which could have been a crucian but my view was not good. No sign of rudd in David's pond or '3' but perhaps we need more sun for them to show. Chub movement in '1' and '2'. Good to be back from Cornwall! How parochial!
Yesterday I found about 30 rudd, no crucians. Biggest rudd a good half pound. All in '3'. Today just one cru and 6 rudd, all in '3'. Six pairs of tufteds.
Six fish in trap, even though I hadn't zipped it up! Four baby crucians, 2 × 4" rudd. The crus are a huge bonus. All went into '3'. Tried a jig in '4', '5' and '6' - couple of plucks from small pike in the last but hornwort a problem on the surface and deeper in '6'. Very little sign of weed in any of the other ponds. Too early? Or are the swans keeping on top of things? Trap back in.
Is Dave's pond full of crucians? How else to explain the very small ones in the trap, seemingly last year's spawning? Why no bigger crucians?
Chub active in both '1' and '2' - perhaps the extra depth in the latter has encouraged them out from cover. Orange tips, martins and swallows. A couple of small pike in "5", nothing bigger. No sign of the rudd in "5" - victims of the pike? Put a trap in the rudd pond, baitless so as not to encourage duck pecking!
Put in a board at the exit from '2' to build the level in what is really a very shallow pond. Also straightened out the black plastic fish shelter cum weed suppressor in '1'. This involved finding the right length of twine, which I'd sunk - attached to a piece of terra cotta drainage pipe - in a spot that fortunately I remembered the location of; attaching it to the spool of said twine and walking around the pond paying out the necessary length until the angle was right and I could ease the plastic flat and below the surface. Then reverse the process, of course. I disturbed several chub in the process so they're obviously using the sheet as cover. I didn't tether the moveable corner to the bank because this would have needed a long tie, whereas the other three are short and close to the banks in the corner of the pond. I figured that a long tie might catch the legs of waterfowl, the last thing I wanted.
Disturbed the biggish pike in '6'. He'll have to be removed, like the biggie in '5'.
A quick visit to check on the trap, but it was empty. Spotted a solitary crucian, about 12oz, sun-bathing in '6'. Less pleasingly I saw an 8" pikelet in the same pond and - what a shock! - a pike of about 4lbs in '5', probably the cause of the disturbance on 4th May. Are we doomed to another round of spawning in these two ponds, I wonder? Hopefully the big one will eat the small ones! Or they're all the same sex. Or I've got time to remove this interloper before the small ones mature. Need to take down a prong to remove floating stuff on a day when the wind has gathered it in an accessible place.
Two nice male crucians in trap, both with spawning tubercles on gill covers: 6" or so, good colour and condition. Trap moved to '4'.
Nothing in the trap, very visible in the shallow, clear water of '2' - but when I pulled it in I found the hole made by the ducks last year. Now cobbled together, so try again. Saw the jack in '5', sunning in the margins - but nothing else. Ponds scummy in the sunlight; increasing floating hornwort in '6'.
Caught a mallard drake in the trap that I'd put between '3' and '4' to deter the one pike that may be in the latter. He went back safely if with ruffled feathers! Earlier I found a last year's crucian, humpy backed, caught in the mesh, which suggests that '4' may contain more tiddlers from a spawning in 2015. Put trap in the new swim in '2', just as an experiment. No bait.
I took down a few sprats to see if I could remove one of the very few remaining pike in '4', '5' and '6'. But as usual nothing was interested on a warm, sunny day. I did disturb something that seemed bigger than it had any right to be in the scummy warm corner of '5'. It could have been several fish enjoying a sunbathe, I suppose. I also spotted a fish of about a pound low down in '4' but it took no notice of the sprat and could have been one of the two chub in there; couldn't quite make it out. I think I'll go back to the jig until the weed gets too plentiful - no sign of that yet, except in '6', where the hornwort is becoming more obvious.
Warblers vocal, orange tips and brimstones colourful. Saw David and Trish, who said they'd seen a kingfisher two or three times. A martin or swallow dipped into '1' for a drink or a fly. I cut down the inflow a bit - warmer ponds mean more chance of spawning.
I spent an hour clearing as swim on Stable '5'. David has given me the go-ahead to catch some of the plentiful rudd in this pond to boost the stocks in my ponds '3', '4' and '6'. It was warm work on an evening that seemed to promise fine weather to come. The summer stretches ahead of us. Song thrushes and wood pigeons shared my enthusiasm.
With Steve and Gary, finishing off the willows on 2. I've started to rake through the swim with the drag because it has spent five or six years under the willows and there's plenty of leaf and twig litter to reduce. I plan to lime the pond as a whole with three or four bags of powdered limestone, hoping to sweeten the mud and hopefully reduce it.
Dead swan by '3' - half eaten by fox (?) One of last year's cygnets. Two puffs of silt in '5' suggesting jacks; saw one of them, about 1lb, no more, with pretty markings. At the Victorian Estate Lakes, swans nesting; yellow water lilies well up and more invasive than ever; plenty of broken duck eggs on path - magpies, jays, crows? David reported Mandarin ducks nesting in tree on Brach. I saw my first swallows this spring - just two of them. They must be shivering in this cold April. Did my first circuit, the spillway being passable at last.
A session on the '2' willows - nearly through to the clear patch on the bank that'll give access to the chosen swim area. Found a dead little grebe in the shallows. Territorial scrap? Haven't heard any recent calls. I've got out most of the upstanding reeds in '2' and '3', with the scythe on a rope. Need to think about liming '2', I think - especially the area that has been up the willow canopy for so long. Will need three 50lb bags of garden lime, at guess.
After the two(?) remaining pike with sprat on a bright cold morning, with no success, not even the sight of a fish, despite the clarity of the water in '4', '5' and '6'. This clarity is due to the Daphnia that are swarming in the shallows. The top three ponds have more colour. More fish? Just later in the cycle? Five swans down there today, a family reunion.
A cold wind today and I just walked round to check that no swan was mixed up with the line from the break on 20th. All was fine, with two swans picturesquely on '6', one on the bank, resting, between '6' and '5' and one on '5'. Four pairs of tufted duck on the ponds, plus the usual mallard. The balsam poplar scent was overpowering. Levels good and I lowered the exit pipe on '6' to let out more water. Reed re-growth on '2', '3' (particularly) and '4' needs scything/dragging out.
We're nearly there on '2', with about 5m to go with the clearance. Pond '1' is looking good with the board holding up another few inches of depth and the sheet submerged except for a couple of small wrinkles that still protrude. We managed to straighten it out to make it look less of an eyesore and now it's submerged the wind shouldn't affect it. The increased flow hasn't yet caused any problems and water is moving through the whole system. No sign of the pike in '6' but the sprats disappear regularly. Could that be swans, I wonder? I disturbed another close-to-the-bank fish in '4', which I think was more likely a pike than a chub. Worryingly I lost my lure on the reed bed in '6', with too much line for my liking. I'm hoping that that doesn't cause a problem for waterfowl. Little grebe calling, coot nesting in '6', several tufted ducks as well as mallard on the water.
Hobbling around with dodgy hamstring but when I finally arrived the guys were busily cutting back the willow on '2'. Dave had rodded the '5'/'6' pipe and pronounced it clear. I suspect that the exit pipe from '6' is rising with the increase in level, which is why there is no apparent flow down it - may need to hold it lower with a willow rod. The level is up slightly in '1' after I put a slab in the outflow gulley. I'll make a better job of that by sinking a board there instead. The plastic sheet has largely sunk, but I think still offers the fish some refuge.
A day or two ago I disturbed what I think was yet another jack at the inflow to '4', so I've put a fish trap in the channel to catch or prevent. All but one of the sprats in '6' have vanished so it may be worth another try there with dead bait, sink and draw, or a spoon or plug. Less flotsam today, which makes for easier spinning.
Began cutting a way from '1' to '2' on the Shaftesbury bank to make a swim to fish close to the overhanging willows, where I suspect the crucians, tench, chub and barbel spend much of their time. '1' is very clear and from that side, with the sun behind me, I spotted at least 15 chub happily mooching around the pond. The black plastic sanctuary is looking a bit of a mess and I'm thinking of plastic pallets as a better bet. Wooden ones would be cheaper but preservative might be a problem. A floating island might be another idea. Water lilies might not do well in this colder pond and if they did might find it too shallow to look good - I don't like to see the leaves jutting up above the water.
The sprats I left in '6' are still there so that doesn't seem likely to work. I did disturb at least one pike in the reeds near the outflow, just possibly another - which may have been a bird. Two pike in there would be bad news because of possible spawning and being pushed back to square one!
No offers to sprat in '6'. Baited up with '5'. Cleared the broken bough in the corner of '6' and cut another swim on the Salisbury bank through the reed grass. Four swans: 2 adults and 2 of last year's cygnets; a couple of Canada geese, a pair of tufties, a few mallard - and a heron floated over. Focus now on '2', where the willows overhang a big area on the far bank. I think I'll try to cut a way through to that side and prepare a swim. I suspect there are plenty of fish in this pond - much less weedy than the others - but that they hug the shelter. Theoretical numbers for '2': 63 crucians, 7 tench, 10 chub, 20 barbel.
No offers to spinner. Plenty of chiffchaff song on a lovely spring day. '1' clear and a dead 8" tench floating near the "sanctuary", apparently unmarked though quite far gone and too far out to examine closely.
Tried sprat for the '6' pike but he/she wasn't interested - no sign at all.
After the rain, the ponds look pristine, with any reed rubbish sunk or pushed tight to one end by the brisk wind. They're brim-full, too, with just a tinge of colour from developing algae. The next stage should be increasing greenness and then a gradual clearance as the Daphnia multiply and the weed begins to grow.
The strong wind has begun to shift the plastic sheet in '1'. With more forecast over the next few days I'll have to keep an eye on this. March is going out like a lion.
There are a couple of guest swans on the ponds, a young bird from last year and an adult. No fights yet! The little birds that fly in and out of the far bank willows are back. Chiffchaffs? Spotted Fly-catchers?
I've removed two pike from '3' and one out of '4'. I'm going to fish sprat in '6' this coming Saturday to try for the one that couldn't swallow a mackerel!
The Pond '1' netting day, with Cole, Dave Redwood, Duncan, and Gary Procter. Remember that this pond has been so clear that you could see the bottom everywhere and that no fish has been seen, ever (!), except for a couple of possible surface movements. So the catch was unexpected and gratifying: 24 crucians, 4 tench, 18 chub averaging 8oz - 10oz with one at nearly 2lbs, 3 barbel (now 8"), 1 roach (½lb), 1 loach. The crucians were probably 5oz, the tench a shade bigger. All the fish were in excellent condition, plump and shining.
The last time we netted '1', 11th May 2014, we caught 16 chub (1 @1lb, the rest the survivors from a stocking of 23 in April 2014); 4 smallish crucians; 2 ditto tench; 1 roach!
So the comparison of the current population with the previous one plus added fish is as follows: CHUB 18/16; BARBEL 3/40; CRUCIANS 24/29; TENCH 4/22; ROACH 1/2. This is assuming that the 2014 netting was complete, which is doubtful, as the chub numbers show.
The tench should have survived similarly to the crucians so we missed quite a number, as expected. Would this have gone for the barbel as well? I've no experience of netting them and so don't know if they are as difficult as tench. It is possible that we lost some through the inflow pipe before I put in the extra small mesh screen or that some died after stocking.
We put in place a black polythene sheet 6m × 8m to suppress weed and to provide a sanctuary for fish. I have now increased the inflow to increase depth by 6".
Gary briefly hooked the pike in '6' on Duncan's mackerel bait and Cole saw an unexpected pike in '3'.
Netting the pond...5
The stone loach...6
Probably the largest crucian...10
One of the best chub...11
Two more chub...2
A bucket of chub...3
A pair of crucians...6
The net of crucians...7
Two more barbel...8
Drying the net...9
A mighty pike angler...10
Drying the net...11
Cole would like to point out that he won the beer put up for the sweepstake on the total catch...and very nice it was too.
I winkled out two jack today on a small voblex, one from '3' and one from '6' - both about 1lb.
We've de-reeded ponds '2', '3' and '4', which were beginning to be taken over by reedmace. It took a day's work with a machine but I'm pleased with the result. There is plenty of cover still for birds and fish on the other banks and the wounds will soon heal. The ponds look much larger as a result of the work. Number '5' is looking particularly scenic at the moment and is much favoured by the swans.
These six ponds remain a bit of a mystery. When the weed has gone, hopefully by the early winter, a netting should answer a lot of questions. For the moment I'll try to sum up what I think is happening.
Soft weed is usually a problem in these silted up little ponds (20 yards × 40 yards - i.e. a sixth of an acre each). Swans help reduce the weed but they don't seem to like hornwort very much and that is the commonest weed there - perhaps it's too bristly. At the moment there are 4 young swans from last year's 8 in residence. They tend to keep together and to move from pond to pond, presumably eating the tastiest weed. At the moment they're on '1', where the weed is a mix of curly-leafed pondweed and the dreaded Canadian pondweed. I hope they'll thin out the weed, including the algae and duckweed that colonize the main weeds.
Pond '1' should contain crucians, tench, barbel and chub - "should" because I've seen no sign of any of them this summer. The only fish I know for certain to be there are loach and bullheads, which I've dragged in with weed when I tried some rather half-hearted weed clearance. It's a good pond, some 3' - 4' deep, with a controllable inflow from the cold-water stream that has its source in springs some 300 yards away. I have seen no fish basking, no movement of the weed, no bubbling. Perhaps otters have had the lot!
'2' is much less weedy and I think this is because there is more fish activity. It has the same mix of fish as '1' but only once or twice have I seen any evidence of them. On one of the very rare hot days this summer I disturbed a number of basking chub. They have grown well, to about 12oz from last year's 6" or so. The pond is probably the shallowest in the chain but I've left plenty of cover from encroaching willows on the far bank and that is where the fish seem to live during the day. Just occasionally a fish breaks surface close to this refuge, so there are some there - but what (apart from the chub) and how many and how big I just haven't any idea.
'3' is choked with hornwort and algae and the only sign of fish has been a jack of about 1lb that sunbathes in the one clearish spot. He must be living on something. Weed-clearing showed no sign of any fry.
'4' looks good, with clear spots among the weed - until their recent move to '1' the 4 swans spent a lot of time on this pond. I have seen only one fish movement here, I think from a chub of 1lb+. There is no sign of pike and I think the pond is ready for re-stocking.
The pike experiment of several years ago caused problems: the original 6 small jacks grew quickly. They bred and the young spread up as far as '3'. They've made it difficult to re-establish a breeding population of crucians in the bottom four ponds. As some consolation we have had some good sport on spinner and dead-bait with pike up to 6lbs. There are very few left now. Some very small pike will help keep the crucians nicely deep-bodied but I can't relax in my efforts to keep them under control. '5' still has a couple of little jack in it, no more that ½lb, but they'll be removed before they grow much bigger than that. There are still at least 2 in '6', one of them nearly 2lbs.
The weed growth in '5' is uneven. There is a biggish area of clear water on one side and it is here that I spot most fish, usually rudd - there are probably a 12 or so - but just occasionally tench up to 1lb. I've seen half a dozen of them together. There were plenty of rudd fry this early summer but I haven't seen them lately. I image they lurk in the weed for safety now they are a couple of inches long. I have dragged out mostly very small tench and crucians with the weed. The biggest of both species was probably 4", the crucian with a very high back, no doubt pike-induced.
'6' is my next-favourite pond, a little bit bigger than the others and a little deeper, despite the two flourishing beds of common reed that give it character. This was where I put the 6 small pike originally as an experiment to see if the crucians grew higher backed in response, which they certainly did, and it is from this pond that we've had most of the pike. When the last of them have been removed, and the weed has declined, I shall re-stock with crucians. I have caught tiny tench in the weed so probably there is a small population of this species in the pond still. There are also one or two rudd. Yesterday there were two adult swans and one cygnet on the water. Usually they nest in the small lake on the other side of the road and then migrate to my six ponds to feed on the plentiful weed. It's disappointing that there is only the one cygnet this year. I wonder why.
"7" is tiny and much overgrown. The plan here is to clear the willows all around it and then dredge out weed and mud, and finally lime it heavily. That will keep us busy this winter and leave the pond ready for stocking.
Apart from keeping an eye on things there is little for me to do until the netting has taken place and we find out exactly what we have in the ponds. I am particularly interested to see how high-backed the crucians are in the two ponds with chub in. This species may be ideal for stocking with crucians and tench but we shall have to wait and see.
Plenty of activity in '4' and '5'. The tench seemed to be getting ready to spawn, sometimes dashing from place to place with some attempts at following each other and sometimes just basking over the hornwort and in the clear patches. Not much sign of crucians: one was lounging with a couple of tench on the edge of the weed in '5' and I think there were others mid-pond but couldn't be sure. I saw seven rudd, one short of the eight we netted. All the fish I saw in '4', at least ten or twelve fish, were tench all looking fat, spry, well grown and ready to spawn - this in a pond where the netting turned up only a couple of fish. Just goes to show what a lead-line-furled net misses, thanks to the growing hornwort.
At the moment there's no water running through the ponds so '5' and '6' are low and warm. I'm trying to see how low down the leak is in '5' and sadly it is still flowing. I'm thinking seriously of getting in a mini-digger to dig a trench in the bank and back-fill. I think hand-digging will be too arduous.
Two pikelet swirls in '6'.
Swans in '1' still, beginning to feed on the floating algae, with apparent excursions to '2' for a change of diet perhaps - they've set up a base between the two ponds. What brilliant lawn-mowers they are!
Two swans and their family of eight cygnets have moved up to us, from the lake downstream, presumably. At the moment they're focussed on Pond '1'. A couple of days ago the adults were picking curly-leafed pondweed off the bed of the pond and strewing it on the surface for the young ones; now, though, the cygnets are feeding on the surface algae independently.
I've tried digging a trench alongside where I think the leak is in '5' and have found water. I think, though, that the cause of the problem may be to deep down for my poor hand digging to sort out. I'll try the old lime trick - which is pouring powdered lime into the water in the proximity of the leak and watching closely to see where the water is being drawn through the bank.
I've secured the pipe between '5' and '6' at a height beyond water level so that there's no chance of any pikelets in '6' making the journey upstream. There are probably another couple there awaiting our attention. I spotted another one sun-bathing in '3', perhaps the one from '4'.
Tench and perhaps crucians were Daphnia-feeding in '5' two evenings ago, one very visible with a serious case of fungus but just as active as the others. Spotted about 10 chub in '2' so the netting was pretty inefficient there, unless they've moved down from '1' - I'm finding just how much fish move up- and down-stream. Six 6" - 8" crucians have gone into '2' and once the final two or three pikelets have been removed I'll begin some stocking of '1', '3', '4' and '6'.
More pike removal required on '6', a quick stop for Pete and JAA for some bait (not the chap shown here, just 'good stripes') and then with Duncan brewing the tea, we removed five more E.L., at least one more to go and the safe money is on two or three. From an initial stocking in 2012 of six fish (6), we've now removed around a score of 6" fish (26) in 2013 from '5', three of the original stocking in June 2013, two ¾lb fish in July 2013 (28), two more in 3-4lb range in May 2014, probably original stocking, then five today (33). Two at 3lb and ¾lb (35) were taken from '5' two weeks ago and two ¾lb from '4' with one escaping...(38)
It's a tiny pool, perhaps 25 yards square...amazing really.
Dave, Bryan, Nettie, Duncan and I netted ponds '5' to '1', in that order so that we didn't have to cart a heavy wet net all the way back up the path. Pond '5' produced some good fish, the rest very little indeed - details below. We missed one little pike, which flipped back into Pond '4', but removed four others - one female in spawn of about 3lbs and three little jacks of about 1lb each. There was little sign of successful spawning even in '5' where there is obviously a breeding population of both crucians and tench despite the presence of pike. Ponds '4', '3', '2' and '1' had very few fish. The problem here I suppose may have been otters or cormorants, though we've seen no sign of the black birds - they get up very early though!
Netting was not easy and I'm sure that we missed some fish but if there had been plenty there we would have been more successful, I'm sure.
I (that is JAA ) popped down to try out my new 'tiddler' rod - the water in '6' is completely clear and there are at least four pike in ½lb bracket, possibly five, remaining. Pond '5' had a small shoal of rudd mooching about and two small shoals of fry, hard to see what but they looked vaguely crucian. There is one pike in the 3lb range in this pond, mostly hunting in the trees and 'strikes' went on most of the afternoon. There were a couple of tench on show in '3' in the 1½lb range, but I didn't see any other fish at all. Managed to snitch a couple of the rudd, but otherwise not a bite in '3', '4' or '5'.
After a wet, mild winter, I hope the ponds will be ready to fish quite soon but I don't really know how many crucians and tench we have after that disaster of a spawning season in 2012. The ponds are mostly very clear, with '4' and '5' slightly coloured. There are plenty of Daphnia. There's a lot of floating algae in '1', some in '2'; the rooted weed, though, is not yet extensive, with most in '6'. Pond '5' is still losing water through the bank though not as much as before and further upstream from where Simon did the work last year. It may well be that the whole bank has been made porous by the balsam poplar roots - a super scented tree but a fast grower and not one to plant too close to the water, especially on an artificial bank. I did warn him!
Cole, who has a rare talent for removing nuisances, caught the last of the pike, on sprat, when we were doing the final clearance of willow from '6' - a good day, with a big bonfire and an outdoor feast of , potatoes in jackets, wicked biscuits, beer and coffee.
'The Wetlands' ground clearing...1
'The Wetlands' ground clearing...2
'The Wetlands' ground clearing...3
'The Wetlands' ground clearing...4
The Wetlands' ground clearing...5
The Wetlands' ground clearing...6
I have seen just one small jack in '6' and another in '4'. Otters have killed one small jack and, sadly, a chub of over 1lb in '4'. I found a small dead tench in '5'. Dabchicks are trilling so perhaps there are enough small fish there to keep them fed. There are nests on '3' and '4'. I love the sound this bird makes - reminding me of wild places.
We have just one swan, a youngster, plus the usual mallard and more tufties than usual. Perhaps they're planning to nest on one of the ponds. The martins are back, so good to see. I watched an otter hunting on one of the neglected ponds on the other side of the brook on one of my evening strolls by the water and I do wonder how much predation there has been since last summer. We plan to do a netting on Sunday May 11th as a population survey. I did spot a good shoal of fish (30-40 perhaps) - in '3' but there hasn't been much sign of fish otherwise - a few bubbles, which could be anything. The rudd, for example, seem to have disappeared.
Yesterday I stocked forty 6" - 8" chub from Chris Seagrave, 23 in '1', 10 in '2' and 7 in '3'. I'm hoping to find out how this fish co-exists with crucians and whether it triggers the high-back reaction that pike do. Perch, I know, have the same effect but they can breed in great numbers and become a problem. I hope that still-water chub won't do this and that they will act as limited predators as well as providing worthwhile sport.
The path down has been strimmed, the first sign of summer.
I tried to spot some fish on a bright, hot morning, thinking they might well be sunning themselves, with limited success. In '4' I saw a couple of surface-cruising chub that I'd forgotten we had in there - I thought all were in '5'. Chub really do well here in the good clean water supply and I must add more. In '5' I spotted a shoal of eleven rudd enjoying the hot day and some (I saw only three for certain) were chasing in '6', perhaps prior to spawning. I thought I spotted bigger fish following them lower down but could not be sure. In '6' I disturbed the "big" pike in the reeds at the far end.
The screen over the pipe from '6' to '7' is blocking with the duckweed, which leads to a gradual build-up of water level so a secondary screen needs to be in place.
Submerged weed is now growing strongly in '1' and '6', with some in '2' to '5'.
Scythe reclaimed on the second throw of the drag. Then I spent half an hour trying to cut the reeds but with limited success because the scythe tended to slide up the reeds rather than staying low. The heat wave is now established and algal blooms might be on the cards - but I'm hoping that the Daphnia will reduce the problem.
Too bright today for the pike to feed and anyway the hornwort, milfoil and curly-leafed pondweed are all beginning to grow tall and on most casts catch irritatingly on the Mepps spinner. In '6', where the water is clear, I spotted several big clumps of Daphnia and in '5' there were myriads busily feeding on the algal bloom - millions and millions of tiny creatures in a great broth around the whole pond, an incredible sight. I couldn't see the same thing in the other ponds - perhaps that is still to come. I wonder how long the water will take to clear and how fat the fish are waxing; all they have to do to feed is breathe in.
The plant growth in this wetland area is equally phenomenal: waist-high nettles, wild flowers and sedge, together with willows and poplars, obscure the ponds so that you catch glimpses of the water through the greenness, a patch of wildness just a few hundred yards from the busy A30.
I've hung the traps up to dry, after the fiasco of Pond '7', where there is no sign of fish - I don't want to spread the duckweed from there into the other ponds. It threatened to be a problem last year, particularly in '6' and '7'. I wonder where the crucians have gone in tiny Pond '7'. I did trap a couple of tiny jacks together with a couple of crus last year so perhaps the pike are still there and have snaffled my crus, though they hardly seemed big enough to be a problem and the two I trapped were removed.
I heard the swans chasing in the lake on the other side of the main road and hope that eventually they will swim up the brook to feed on the aquatic plants that will be so rampant by the end of July.
A dull, cool day and the pike were feeding - I had two jacks from '6', both about ¾lb, and had two other strikes that I missed. I saw what appeared to be a bigger pike swirl close to the right hand willow. Less of an algal bloom evident today - this confined to ponds '2' to '5'. Paid rent, less the £60 paid to Simon to mend the leak. Martins and swallows - lots of birds in opposite bank willows. Paradise! No fish in Pond '7' traps.
Two crucians in two separate Pond '6' traps, the 5" one with a markedly humped back, the 3" more pond crucian shaped.
Why? Perhaps not all "remember" how to grow "up" and those that don't are the ones that get eaten. Evolution in action?
Fish feeding in '1' and '2'. Algal blooms in most of the ponds thanks to the warmer weather. Bank still sound in '5' and all levels holding. Three traps put in '6' yesterday. DM is keeping a good wide path strimmed all the way down to the far bank of '7', making access much more pleasant. I knock back the taller nettles lining the path to stop them toppling into our way.
The traps yielded nothing but a 5" pikelet - so they have spawned again. I must make renewed efforts to catch the female. The scythe rope broke amongst the reeds and left the tool in the pond.
I've removed three pike from '5', one female (6lbs or so) and two males (3½lbs). Two of the original stockees remain, one female, one male, and with the weed growing and making light spinning difficult, I guess this is how it will be until the autumn. Second year jacks have been netted and removed from '5' - see below - and at least one is still there, and another has been seen in '4' - these are fish of about 10". Add this info to the fact that last year I trapped a couple in '7' and it gives some information about pike movement and growth. The pipes between '4' and '5' and '6' are screened with a centimetre mesh wire-netting, so the pikelets must have been very small when they moved from '6'. I hope that the bigger pike in that pond will prey on however many younger pike remain there. The young pike in '5' and '4' won't be too much of a problem until they're big enough to take a lure in the autumn but I must make a serious effort to catch and remove the big female from '6'. I guess that she'll reach about 8lbs by the end of the summer, big enough to predate even the largest remaining crucians and tench.
On 16th and 17th June I rescued eleven rudd caught in the mesh screen between '5' and '6', moving upstream. This happened last year and perhaps is an annual movement of fish connected with spawning? No crucians, though, this year.
In April 2013 we netted '5' and sold about 40lbs of crucians and tench, returning 30 crucians and a few bigger tench. The eight or nine chub looked very good and are slowly putting on weight at about 12oz - 1lb. About a dozen jacks removed, nice little fish of about 6oz. Disappointing numbers of small crucians and tench, perhaps because of last year's appalling summer or perhaps the jacks were partly to blame!
To net '5' we had to cut back the roadside willows, which David did. Since then they have been removed completely to mend the leak, which I at last located. Simon trenched, back-filled and re-made the bank where the willows had been. So far so good, with levels holding at minimal inflow, but the bank is much under-mined by poplar and willow roots and it must be unsure how long the repair will last.
Some sign of fish feeding in '3', '4' and '5'. DH and CF fished and caught tench in the latter two. They saw crus but failed to catch any. Three biggish tench visible in '6' one hot day and there were crucian scales on the bank of '6' in the winter so some remain post-pike. CF saw a tench in '6' that he estimated at about 3lbs. We've not yet been able to net this very overgrown pond so there is no way of being sure what is in there.
Here are two more photos that show the change in body profile in crucians when pike are introduced. The crucian in picture (1) below was caught on 11th April 2011; picture (2) below, was taken of a fish trapped in the same pond 18th August this year. Both fish were about 5" long.
(1) 11th April
(2) 18th August
From this one piece of evidence it appears that back development is more marked in the smaller fish, perhaps reflecting predator size, but it's probably far to early to jump to that conclusion.
There have been some interesting developments in the pike/crucian project. In March 2011, I stocked Pond '6' with five jack to about 2lbs obtained from elsewhere on the site.
In the early summer of 2011, we caught plenty of crucians (and tench) from this pond, mostly about 5" total length (the tench a bit bigger). Later in the summer the pond went very clear and it became impossible to catch fish there. I was slightly worried then that the pike had eaten all the crucians and tench - after all, stocking with five jacks had been guesswork - had I'd over-done it?
To come to the present. How much do small pike grow in a year and a half? I'm not sure but it is accepted that it takes 7lbs of fodder fish to put on 1lb of pike weight. So if the pike now weigh 4lbs each (again a guess), that means that they will have eaten 5 × 2lbs (the difference in weight from when they went in) × 7 = 70lbs of tench and crucians. We know from the netting that the other ponds each held about 100lbs each.
The new trap, courtesy of Steven in Denmark, has at last been successful. On 31st July, I caught six crucians, baiting the trap with bread; today I found 10 in the trap - with no bait! At last I've been able to see if the crucians from '6' are developing the high back in the presence of predators, as I was fairly confident they would. You can see what they look like for yourselves.
Excited by this success, I put the trap in '5' during the day, not really expecting too much because I think trapping is more successful over-night. In fact, I caught two crucians, beautifully conditioned fish but distinctly lower-backed than those from '6'.
The fish in '5' are not over-crowded because I have removed many hundreds by rod and line and moved them further up the chain of ponds so the lower profile seems unlikely to be the result of their having less food.
Though there are a number of factors that make this experiment less than completely scientific, it seems clear that the "gape-defence" theory is sound - i.e. that crucians will grow higher backs to make it more difficult for predators to seize them. I worked out the proportions of these fish, using the formula of greatest height divided by the distance between nose and the beginning of the tail fin, to provide a ratio. The crucians in '6' so far have an average ratio of about 1:2 - i.e. they are twice as long as they are high; those in '5' average 1:2.5 - i.e. the fish in Pond '5' are 25% more 'high backed'.
I shall continue to monitor the situation because I need more evidence. My priority this autumn will be to remove 4 of the pike from '6', to avoid further spawning. Oh, yes, those little pike have spawned already, as I found when I trapped '7', the little pond into which '6' flows, and here is the evidence.
The connecting pipes are screened but evidently not efficiently enough to prevent the passage of pike fry. Needless to say, the 2 pikelets went back into '6'.-->
The 15 crucians caught in the trap in '6' have been put into '1', where there are now 25.
A fish-in, a few hand sized crus, scratching work, stock re-location, theory only, but a bit cool and the fish left...the Woodsman brewed and it was still a good day. Nabbed four goldfish from the ditch, where the left hand-spring joins the complex there's a pool by the pipe inflow, no doubt abandoned by some 'pet lover'. Two brown, two gold, two pregnant, next to gentically certified crucians. Nice. Seemed mean to sucker them on pinches of bread. But it wasn't. It was unwise to put them in the ditch in the first place though.
Fished '5', the most coloured of the ponds this year, for the second time and noticed how the average size has risen for both tench and crucians - 8" fish are now the norm. All appear in fine condition, with many of the female tench carrying spawn. I have found eggs on hornwort strands and willow rootlets, possibly crucian spawn as it reminded me of goldfish eggs. There is a shoal of about 15 golden rudd. I wonder why there aren't more rudd fry.
In May someone dumped four goldfish in the drainage ditch by the entrance to the site, an example of how easy it is to find your stock degraded. Colin, with a masterly bit of angling, caught the lot on the "Fish-in" day. They wouldn't have got into "my" ponds but could easily have been swept down in a flood to the lake on the other side of the A30. I know that people do this with the best intentions - they can't bring themselves to kill unwanted fish - but the effect on crucian populations can be catastrophic.
I've so far added 15 tench and 10 crucians to Pond '1' and 14 tench and 9 crucians to Pond '2', all about 8" and beautifully healthy to the eye. I've been feeding '5' and '6' just a bit, mainly to attract the fish to the swims.
I've set the trap in Pond '6', so far without any luck apart from 1 tiny crucian today. I see evidence of the pike on most warm days but so far have no certain idea of their size.
Ponds '1' and '2' have plenty of floating algae, '3' and '4' just a little, '5' only in the margins. Pond '6' is clear and weedy, with duckweed increasing. Curly-leafed pondweed and some hornwort are the main "weeds".
This is the second full year of renting these ponds and I suppose it's not surprising that my ideas about how to manage them have changed. Now we've at last netted four of them, it's much clearer how many tench and crucians we have and that makes it easier to work out what to do.
As I hoped, each pond (about 40 yards ×20 yards in size) supports about 100lbs, which means I can produce approaching 1000 × 4" - 6" 2nd year fish from each pond, netting alternate years. It's very difficult to net out every last tench, because they're so good at hiding in the silt, so these will always be there but in smaller and smaller numbers as we remove them in the years to come.
After the March netting, the top two ponds have been left un-stocked; Ponds '3' and '4' have 30 brood crucians in. Ponds '5', '6' and '7' (tiny, at about 15 yards × 8 yards) remain un-cropped. Pond '5' is my "fishing pond", Pond '6' is the "pike experiment" pond, and Pond '7' was stocked last spring with brood crucians from a different source.
This year I plan to move rod-caught and trapped crucians (and tench) to Ponds '1' and '2' to grow on. The crucians in '3' and '4' should breed. The crucians in '5' should grow faster and faster as I remove more and more tench - there should also be some spawning in this pond. In Pond 6, it should become clearer whether the presence of pike makes crucian grow deeper in the body. In Pond '7', the new strain of crucian should have spawned in 2011 and the young should become obvious later this summer. When they are 2" - 4" they'll be moved on to '1' or '2'. I shall be very interested to see what shape variations we get.
Looking further ahead (D.V.!), small crucians from '3', '4' and '5' should be available for netting and moving to '1' and '2', for feeding up in 2013 and for sale in the following winter. By the time of the next netting, hopefully, all six ponds will then be cleared of overhanging willow on three sides so that they all can be cropped.
I say "three sides" because the farthest bank will be left wild and inaccessible, to provide shelter for the birds and other creatures. This little valley is a marvellous place for wild-life and I'm very conscious that it is my responsibility to make sure that nothing I do will seriously impact upon this.
It will also be interesting to see if crucians try to move upstream from pond to pond as they did at spawning time last year. Perhaps migration does occur. If that is the case some will be temporarily trapped behind the connecting pipe screens so I shall be able to see.
How will the ponds react to the lack of bottom "weed" this year, I wonder. Last year the swans cleared the hornwort that choked all 7 ponds and so far there has been no sign of re-growth. Sadly, only one adult swan returned this spring. He or she moped around the area for a week or so but then flew away. Since swans mate for life, it seems likely that one bird has been lost to power lines or some other accident. We do have one swan on site, a rather lonely-looking young bird, still with plenty of brown feathers. Perhaps it's one of last year's cygnets, too young to hope for a second pairing.
With no bottom "weed" there may be more problems with algae and duck-weed this year.
I hope that Pond '5' will become a worthwhile little fishing pond for me, the grandchildren and anyone I want to do a favour to. Constantly removing small tench should eventually mean that both remaining tench and the crucians will grow big enough to provide some sport. The chub fishing, perhaps on the fly, might be interesting - they looked in fine condition when we moved them at the netting.
I've decided against trout, at least in the short term, tempting though it is to have some pet fish and tasty suppers. They'd almost certainly harass fry, whatever pond I stocked them into, and would work against my plan to produce as many crucians as possible. Even in the fishing pond, they'd be a nuisance; they're suicidal when it comes to taking pellets or maggots on the hook and are far too easy to catch.
As I write this, the sun is beginning to peep through after the gales and torrential rain of the weekend. We're promised warmer weather at last and I'm looking forward to getting out the tackle ready for another summer's fishing.
I'll keep you posted.
The long-awaited day of the netting finally arrived. The un-seasonal hot weather had produced a film of algae on the ponds, though not enough to be a serious obstacle. The banks were dry and I'd let the pond levels subside a few inches to encourage the fish away from the bank-side obstacles and into the centre of the ponds, where hopefully they would "clump" together as crucians, certainly, tend to do.
In the event, from the top four ponds only, we netted out 162lbs of tench and 251lbs of crucians, plus 60 bigger crucians kept back for brood fish, some chublets, about 20lbs of golden rudd and a few bigger tench up to about 1lb. In all there were several thousand fish. Ponds '5' and '6' are still far too overgrown to net and Pond '7' is my brood fish pond. The crucians were mostly 4" - 6", the tench an inch or two longer, and all in excellent condition. The few bigger fish, including the sparkling chublets, were moved down to Pond '5', the "fishing pond". 30 of the best crucians were put back into each of Pond '3' and Pond '4', hopefully to spawn this summer. Ponds '1' and '2' were left fallow temporarily, to act as growing on ponds for fish to be transferred there later.
It was, all in all, a very satisfying result. Andy Parker was our professional for the day and as usual he bought the surplus fish. My keen helpers will be rewarded with a day's fishing in May, with prizes for all!
Fished Pond '2' at last - and what an anti-climax! Fish were soon bubbling after I'd fed pellets to all the ponds and had come back to the swim. There were fish active for the whole afternoon, including some sending up the big patches of bubbles I'd seen previously. But bites I had none! - or rather, just one, from a rather thin 7" tench that swallowed the scrap of worm I was using in desperation. Sadly I had to kill the fish to get out the hook, so deep had it gone - completely out of sight. It had what looked like a healed ulcer on the gill cover and was rather hollow-bellied, though bright enough, with good fins.
So, the jury's still out. I think maggots are the next ploy. I know from the trapping in the autumn that there are plenty of crucians here too, so It looks like another very over-crowded pond. It's certainly very shallow, not much more than 18" so silt is obviously a problem, as well as the overhanging willows. The birds seem to have dealt with most of the hornwort. Three young coots and two adults were dying to get at the pellets. Four young ducks were much bolder and tested out the edges of the swim on several occasions. The adult duck kept well away.
The pond obviously needs to be fed, which I haven't done up to now, except an occasional handful to keep the swim alive - and much good did that do me! The hungry birds may be a problem, though.
Swans on '7' today, doing their usual lawn-mowing job. What a bonus! I fished '5', just for the pleasure, really, and moved another 11 tench. I had 4 lovely crucians, which scrap so much harder than most of the tench. They are exquisite fish, deep and golden, a marked contrast to those from '6'. These remain much darker - "tawny" to use "B.B.'s" very appropriate word - but are obviously proper crucians. I had a couple out before I moved to '5'. Did I see a hint of a higher back developing on the smaller one?
The pellet-eating duck sneak about under the over-hanging willows, waiting for me to leave so they can eat whatever groundbait the fish have left. They seem to be getting bolder and may become more of a problem.
Interestingly, I've noticed big, frothy patches of bubbles in '2', where the swans are demolishing the weed. They can only be fish rather than vortex disturbance from swan activity. So, the next challenge is to test fish '2', to see if there are bigger fish in there. I did put chublets in there, of course. Could they be causing the bubble patches?
A routine feed in the morning. The swans are attacking the hornwort and algae in Pond '2' and already big open patches are appearing. Ponds '3', '4', '5' and '6' now seem largely free of soft weed and '7' is still about 2/3 covered. Pond '1' is much clearer today and I can see isolated curly-leaved pondweed plants.
In the evening I fished Pond '1' to check on the condition of the fish before adding more, half-expecting the fish to be slow to the bait after the morning feed. Surprisingly, though, I began catching straight away and had about a dozen fish before deciding that I'd found out all that I needed to know. All but one were 5" crucians, all in excellent condition, plump enough to suggest that they were making the most of the trout pellets.
The exception was a male tench, a deep little fish of 6" with no sign of fin problems. I can now begin to add more fish from Ponds '5' and '6'.
I've been waiting for this pond to lose its green colour and at last this is happening.
The swans were still on Pond '2'. The cygnets in particular were nibbling away at the weed with gusto and the smacking of beaks was quite loud in the still evening.
A family of mallard, mother and four ducklings, has discovered trout pellets; they've turned into diving ducks instead of dabblers, on Pond '5'.
The first time I've seen the Wetland for a week. I spent an hour cutting back the plants encroaching on the narrow path alongside the ponds, feeding the fish as I moved on. I used the usual 4mm trout pellets and the casters left over from our rather fruitless trip to the Royalty - expensive food, but nutritious.
Meadow sweet in full flower now, with plenty of woundwort and vetch. The creams and purples and blues liven up the greens of all the other tangled wetland plants. I think that I'll bring in a few flag irises from "The Ponds" and some sweet flag from "The Lakes" to increase variety still further. Some marsh marigolds too.
It's been interesting to watch the changes in the ponds since the spring. Pond '1' has never properly cleared since we cleared out the floating hornwort and there are clumps of filamentous algae, mostly on the surface but some clinging to some soft weed lower down. There was some bubbling from feeding fish, but not over the fed area. Pond '2' remains the same weedy mess - it's my control pond, where eventually I can compare fish growth and condition with the other, more managed, ponds. Pond '3' is now beautifully clear, the heavy brown algae stains having disappeared. Ditto '4', '5' and '6'. The swans were in '4', all of them nibbling away at the soft weed. They seem to graze each pond in turn and have saved me a lot of hard work. I threw the adults a handful of pellets as a thank-you. They accept me now with no more than a token hiss and usually paddle towards me looking for food. The cygnets, still seven of them, are noticeably bigger. Pond '7' is half cleared of hornwort, thanks to their efforts.
With MP. We moved another 34 tench out of '5', fishing almost until dark. Only one small crucian and one circling bat.
Fished '5' on a perfect summer's day, just for a few hours late morning. There were just a couple of nudges on the float, both of which I missed. Not that it mattered. I was perfectly happy with the waiting and the watching. The swans had moved up from '7' into '6' and I took some pics of the adults up-ending over a handful of pellets, with the young looking on. Later, they moved through '5', line-ahead in front of me on their way upstream to Pond 4, where I found them - busily algae-feeding - on my way home. A strange squawking duck landed on '5' in front of me - bigger than a mallard or tufted duck, big-billed with browny plumage. The heron was fishing one or other of the ponds all morning and I spotted the kingfisher. I dozed in the warm sunshine to the sounds of sedge warblers and blackcaps, wood pigeons and blackbirds. Just before I left, the biggest grass snake I've seen in years swam across my pitch not a yard from the bank. I admired its markings and the striking yellow "collar", staying rock still so that it didn't suspect my presence. It was well over 3' in length and seemed to take for ever to move to pass from left to right. I'm not surprised it looked so fit and well - the feeding in and about the 17 wetland ponds must be rich. Today, there were more dragonflies and damselflies about than I have seen so far this year.
I looked into the bucket I'd brought along to transfer the fish. The water was clear and full of tiny invertebrates. The crucians and tench might not be interested in my bait but there was certainly plenty of natural food in the pond for them to grow fat on - and the heron and the kingfisher wouldn't be there without the fish, nor would the little grebe and the little egret, nor the otter that passes through from time to time.
So I sat and thought. My Buddhist tolerance would have been strained by the sight of a cormorant, though. There is a limit!
Scythed out hornwort and reeds from Pond '6' swim and intended to have a good go at the hornwort in '7'. Lo and behold, there were the swans doing the job for me, all 9 of them, just as they'd done for the last of the upper ponds, on the other side of the brook.
Twice now I've disturbed a biggish fish in '6', probably a jack. The ponds from '3' to '6' are clearing beautifully.
Moved 68 tench from '5' to '3' and '4'. I've lost track of numbers now, thanks to the computer or me losing Journal Mark 1, but that must be about 700 moved from '5'. Today the feeding was desultory, thanks to a freak heat wave, and only 16 were caught before the fish went into a sulk. There was some spawning-like splashing in the willow roots to my left but I couldn't see what was responsible. A little shoal of 14 golden rudd patrolled around '5', all apparently about 6" or 7" long. I saw no other fish, though I took several looks into '6' in search of pike.
The heat today brought up the brown stains in '3' but '4', '5' and '6' are all much clearer than they were. I could easily see the tench struggling to escape as I hooked them in '5'. Hornwort is growing in '4' and '6' and I need to clear the crucian swim on the latter. Pond '7', too, needs attention with the scythe. Algae seems the main "weed" in '1' and this also seems to be trying to obscure the biggish hole in the weed that I dragged clear on 25th in Pond '2', in an attempt to catch a fish or two from that so-far-unfished pool.
There's a marked brown algal bloom in Pond '1' and Pond '3', with '4' and '5' less brown, and '6' least brown. I wonder if that's a result of too much enrichment from pellet-feeding in the bad, old carp days. Or is it my feeding that is causing a problem? Or is it something to do with the freakish weather this spring? Prolonged rain is forecast for tomorrow. I wonder what effect that will have.
After a heavy shower, which sent me to shelter under the willows, the sun shone warmly for an hour or so - this was late afternoon - and crucians began rising in Pond '1'. These weren't the normal crucian leaps, but a distinct feeding on flies and nymphs - several times I saw crucians lancing after some insect and swirling the surface without breaking through. What price crucians on the fly then?
My dash for shelter under the willows had an unexpected consequence; I was joined by a DP, caught without a coat while walking his dog. He owns the small lake on the other side of the A30. The new dam has been in place for 2 years, after the lake ran dry. And there are no fish in the lake! What would I advise? He is keen on conserving "native" fish and - of course! - had obviously considered carp, as everyone sadly does. I gave him my opinion and recommended the website. I hope I hear from him again.
Drying off after the shower, I pronged out a great pile of algae, which has smothered the remains of the floating hornwort. Little now remains apart from a small section in which the crucians were spawning the other day. I shall leave that undisturbed for another week or two.
The swans, with seven cygnets still, were on Pond '1' yesterday, 9th June, which meant that I couldn't feed there. I gave the adult birds a handful of pellets as a present and then went on to feed '3', '4', '5' and '6', popping a little in '7' just to see if I could get the crucians there into the habit of coming to the feed.
Today I trimmed back a few overhanging balsam poplar twigs and small branches that were getting in the way of the rod tip in the Pond '5' swim. No sign of the swans. Perhaps they've made the move down to the small lake on the other side of the road, where G says they normally spend the summer. It underlined for me the importance of the whole area as a wildlife sanctuary, which is as much my responsibility as are the fish. The challenge is to prolong the life of the ponds, to enable some income to be made and the crucians to be managed, and at the same time to maintain the best possible environment for the bird and other animal life down there.
Fished '6' and, later, '5'. The move was forced on me by my almost total failure to catch in '6', despite a host of bubbling fish in the swim. I had one small crucian and this is what I think were bubbling. It wasn't even as if I was getting lots of bites that I couldn't hit; I tried fishing shallow and deep but the bites were just not happening. I was fishing with pellet and a "magic" jelly bait given me by KA but neither worked. The fish were obviously feeding on the pellets I'd thrown in so why didn't they go for the one on the hook? Most odd! Back to maggot next time.
In '6', once the fish homed in on the pellets the tench in particular were easy to catch and I moved another 11 up to Pond '1' in what had by now become a short evening session.
Plenty of midges, mostly non-biting, along the path - so I kept my mouth shut! A mallard duck was escorting a little brood of 4 or 5 ducklings across '4'. In Pond '7' ducks are regularly feeding in a weed-free patch at one end of the pond - about ¼ of the total area. They are muddying it up but keeping the hornwort at bay. There has been no sign of spawning crucians in '7', just one or two bubbles.
Fished '1' and first cast had a ghost carp of nearly 2lbs, which I moved to the lily pond, as befits an ornamental! Thereafter, the usual tench and crucians - all seemed plump and well, quite feisty for littl'uns. Most of these stunted fish are sexually mature and indeed crucians (rather than tench, I think) were spawning merrily in the smallish patch of floating hornwort and algae that remains. I saw no sign of such activity in any of the other ponds.
On Stable 7 I found the swans and got severely hissed at for my pains. Yes, one cygnet is missing from the original 8. I wonder if that was the one I saw sheltering on the pen's back shortly after hatching - perhaps a sickly one.
There are a lot of young birds on all of the ponds: coots, moorhens and little grebe. I have to be very careful not to spoil a marvellous reserve with whatever work I do there. Pond '2', in particular, has several nests - and that pond, of course, is the most overgrown of all. It really does need some attention if it is to produce accessible fish but will that effect its attraction for the birds, I wonder.
Fished '5' on a cool, overcast day, with rain in the offing. When it arrived, my silly jacket (name withheld!) didn't do much good and I got damp, at which point, to dry out, I did some work instead - cutting back willow and poplar branches that the rain had made droop over the path and pronging out yet more hornwort and filamentous algae in '1'. There's not much left to do there now except cut back reeds where they've spread too far into the pond.
Only seven tench but about a dozen nice crucians. Does the change in ratio suggest I'm at last winning over the tench? Time will tell - but on 23rd something similar occurred. Perhaps the tench have sensed the dangers of the swim I regularly fish.
"Ratty" was busy in the swim. I spotted the swans, in Stable 8. I counted '7' cygnets.
With M, who had about 100 crucians and 30 tench from '6' on his "whip", whilst I struggled in the high wind on '5' and contributed just a measly 25 tench, but returned half a dozen really nice crucians, quite different in colour from those in '6', really golden, lovely fish. By the end of the summer some of these should be approaching 12oz, if not more. With his very fine and skilful method, M had a field day with the 4" crucians, so perhaps I should learn from him and go lighter. He also netted several even tinier crucians when he cleared the margin of debris, so '6' is truly stuffed with these fish!
I fed '6', '4', '3', and '1'. I had a good view of a water vole on '5'. M reported long-tailed tits in the far willows on '6' but their song was too high-pitched for me to hear. Once I could hear bats - now I can't even hear grasshoppers or long-tailed tits!
The only advantage to the strong and gusty wind was that it massed the hornwort against the inflow bank on Pond '1' and I was able to prong out at least half of what remained before retiring home knackered and more than ready for a 4pm lunch!
A couple of thoughts. Why have the crucians apparently stopped using the inflow pipe between Ponds '6' and '5' as a subway? Perhaps it wasn't a flight from pike after all. And why are both tench and crucians so much darker in '6' than in '5'? Mark suggested that it was just a question of different colour pond beds - but all the ponds are badly silted and presumably the original bed is well covered. And I don't remember this phenomenon from the days when I raised fish here commercially. Is it a reaction to predators?
Fed, this time including Pond '1' with '3', '4' and '6', with a sprinkling in '5' to keep the swims alive. Two tench didn't survive the move - I found them when I did some more pronging of hornwort.
D, N and I fished in ponds '5', '6' and '4' respectively, moving 173 fish. Neil holds the record for the greatest number of fish caught on the same maggot - 19!
I shall need to keep plenty of water flowing to keep Pond '1' in good condition and feed according to the increasing population, as well as regular brief sampling to check on the condition of the fish. There is no way of knowing how many were in there to start with, of course. It should be the pond in best condition to net come the winter, though. The remaining hornwort needs to be sorted and some reedmace scythed and pulled. There are a couple of mildly overhanging willows, too, on the west bank.
The tench in '4' seemed rather smaller than those in '5' and '6', though I caught several bigger ones that could well have been those that I transferred from '5' originally. The small males were obviously mature at about 5", with very pronounced testes; several females were quite plumply in spawn. The one crucian I had there was in sparkling condition. Pond '4' is quite badly silted, I think - it certainly seemed shallower than the others.
Both N and D put back some tench too big to move, up to nearly 1lb. D had his first crucian ever (another convert!) and also caught a rudd in '5'; I moved it to Stable 5, on the other side of the stream, where there are rudd already, because an explosion of the rudd population in the crucian ponds is not part of the plan. I just hope there aren't enough brood rudd there to cause a problem later.
With JAA (). We fished '5' (him) and '6' (me); and moved 215 fish. JAA put back seven or eight tench that were too big to move, the biggest about 1lb, as well as quite a few 7" crucians. I put back perhaps three goodish tench. The fish were in immaculate condition, even plump in '6', where the feeding has been regular. One tench was jet black all over, an astonishing fish. On closer examination we saw that it had no eyes, yet was in immaculate condition, obviously coping very well.
It was a noisy day by the water, with plenty of birds: blackcaps (or garden warblers); great tits; chiffchaffs; sedge or willow warblers; as well as songs I didn't recognise; plus the usual water birds: ducklings, young coots and moorhens and secretive dabchicks.
A grass snake slithered across the path in front of me.
Pete and JAA () did some crucial top level stock re-distribution from Ponds '5' & '6' to Pond '1'. The idea was to take all crucians and tench caught out of Pond '6' and all tench that were not "netters" out of Pond '5'. This is done with a size 18, maggots and a large white bucket half full of water. I practically fell in filling my bucket as Pete gave me the one with a dodgy handle...you swing in your tench, dip your hand in the water and unhook and en-bucket the fish. Unless it's a 'netter', then it goes back. It's necessary of course, but huge fun, although coffee breaks necessitate hanging up your float and hook, with bites pretty much one-a-cast and in Pond '5', the occasional fish is ¾lb with the odd one at 1lb, so you need to pay attention! Pete had this oddity, a black tench with no eyes (not the best snap, you try photographing a black fish against a white background), not something you see everyday.
I'd exhaustively road tested the "JAA (Pat. Pend.) Traditional Crucian float" (OK, a small porcupine quill with a sliver of cane wedged in the top). Works jolly well. By the end of the afternoon we'd relocated 138 tench and 67 crucians into Pond '1'. I'd put a score of 6-8" crucians back on Pond '5' in addition, so it was work work work...did I mention Pete gave me a pitch with a red ant's nest?
D., N., and I cleared almost all of the remaining floating hornwort from Pond '1', using a combination of our "rope trick" and good, old-fashioned "wade-in-and-prong-out" tactics. The water has a greenish tinge, slightly enriched I would guess. We spotted quite a bit of bubbling. Baiting up and test fishing are next on the list. "Some brood fish" are rumoured to be in this pond. Species? Size?
There were a dozen crucians in the pipe from Pond '5' to Pond '6', none in that from '4' to '5'. The flight from pike theory seems to be holding water! So far 26 have made the journey.
First martin of the year dipped Pond '3'. Where are they all?
From Pond '6', 17 crucians and 6 tench to Pond '1'; from Pond '5' 29 tench (320 in total) to Pond '1'. Checking on the flow between Ponds '5' and '6', I found 16 crucians struggling to get through the mesh into '5'. I removed the screen and let them go. Were they escaping from the pike in '6', I wonder? I checked the '4' to '5' pipe, just in case, and found one rudd, no crucians.
The swans have gone walkabout - no sign of them at all. This means that I can feed whichever ponds I choose without fear of losing all the pellets to greedy birds.
Fished from 11 till 2.45: pre-lunch in '5'; post-lunch in '6'. Moved 22 tench to '4', 30 to '3', from '5'. From '6', 16 tench and 17 crucians to '1', where the swans were gobbling weed - all eight cygnets present and correct. Eighty-five fish - not a bad haul for 3hrs 45 mins: 26 an hour, all on single maggot. (291 moved from '5' to date - but there seem just as many left as there were at the beginning, as I expected, of course.) I returned several bigger (10") tench to '5', plus 3 lovely 7" crucians. Three crucians to about 55 tench gives some idea of the ratio in the pond, I suppose. Roughly half and half in '6'. The fish from '6' are very dark when first caught but revert to normal in the bucket. Any ideas as to why this should be? - camouflage against the pike? The fish in '6' average about 5", in '5' about 7".
Lovely on a warm, close day with cloud early, sun after midday.
Ponds beginning to clear nicely, especially '5', '6' and '7'. Plenty of birds everywhere but still no kingfisher, rather to my surprise.
Fed '3', '4' and '6', with a few pellets in '5' to keep the tench swims alive. The swans were on '2', gobbling away at the weed. As far as I could tell, they seemed to be eating more algae than hornwort. This is now the worst conditioned pond of all, with more willow overhang and more weed than appears anywhere else. So I'm very happy to see the swans beginning to save me work. Disappointedly, I could count only 7 cygnets. Perhaps I miscounted the other day.
It's obviously a rich little pond, number '2'. As well as the swans, the crucians and no doubt tench, it's supporting a family of coots - with at least 3 young - and a pair of moorhens with their brood. When the swans have cleared more of the weed I'll fish the pond to see what is there. Earlier trapping showed crucians of several generations, which is promising.
Pond '7', the little one at the end of the chain, is looking much better now after all the hard work. There's very little floating hornwort and algae and the water is quite clear. I pronged off some weed that had floated into the margins and then did the same with quite a lot of reed rubbish in 3'. Before leaving for a hard-earned tea, I removed quite a lot of hornwort from '1'. One more good session with the rope on this pond should see it in really good order.
I think there's more than one pair of dabchicks on the site - there was trilling from several ponds, it seemed to me. There are certainly plenty of small fish for them to eat.
Josh and I fished Pond '3', a new one for me. We caught about 20 tench to nearly 8oz and perhaps 10 crucians to 7" (in spawn), so this pond, like the others, seems to be full of fish. They were all in decent condition, although there was a hint of "carp pox" on one smallish crucian. Josh had the biggest tench and the biggest crucian on the last two casts. Typical! I had the smallest crucian, though, at 3½"! There were plenty of bites but the crucians, in particular, were very difficult to hit on pellet, much easier on maggot.
The swans were on the water, shepherding eight cygnets, double the number I expected. There was no aggression towards me from either adult and they quickly responded to the bribe of a handful of pellets. The dabchick is very active in Pond '5', hunting for small fish almost all the time, so I guess there are young birds hidden beneath the far willows. There's plenty of excited trilling. I've seen no ducklings so far though adult birds are plentiful.
I found a dead crucian in the little Pond '7', unmarked but apparently in spawn. I've noticed this before at this time of year but have no explanation. I should have cut it open to check for eggs but it was a bit too far gone for that to be an attractive task!
Worked with D. We used the rope to drag much of the hornwort in '7'to the bank and I then pronged it onto the bank. In so doing, I found Dave's lost bow-saw. Meanwhile D. was cutting back two in-the-way willows on Pond '1' and we then tried the rope-trick again. We ran out of time before we could do a proper job but did enough to prove that the method worked and created quite a lot of open water after two pulls. One stickleback and one bullhead came out with the weed, so the oxygen levels are obviously fine. Thoughts of stocking with trout returned! But perhaps that should wait until after a netting.
Fished from 6pm until 8pm in Pond '5'. Moved 22 tench × 5" - 8" into '4'. (239 so far, I think) Returned 3 × lovely 7" crucians in sparkling condition, plus 1 × 9" tench. A Little Grebe was fishing for most of the evening, but it didn't seem to worry the tench and crucians. There was some crucian surface activity mid-evening, with several fish priming. The crucians do seem to be growing in this pond and it will be interesting to see how big they are by the end of the summer.
A stroll round on a hot afternoon. I disturbed fish in most of the ponds, with some possible spawning behaviour here and there, though nothing prolonged or confirmed. Spotted 2 golden rudd in '6', where - disappointingly - the reeds out in the pond are beginning to re-grow: I'd hoped that the extra depth of water would discourage them. I shall have to arrange for some cutting to be done - David in a boat? But how to get the boat down to Pond '6'?
Next weekend the grandchildren are due to do a bit of fishing so I may discover more about the population of these ponds then. Pond '3' has some scum on top, Pond '4' is clearer, '5' better still, though with a distinct algal bloom, '6' satisfactory. So it's only '1' and '2' (and '7') where the floating hornwort is a problem.
No sign yet of any cygnets.
Fifteen tench from '5' to '4' in an evening session.
I visited the Wetland at dusk and enjoyed the bats. There were quite a number of small ones and one or two bigger specimens - Pipistrelles and Daubentons perhaps? A magical place in the half-light.
I treated myself to a new rod yesterday, a Drennan 13ft Silverfish Float rod, and was keen to try it out, of course. So I thought I'd combine business with pleasure and move some tiny crucians from Pond '6' to Pond '1' at the Wetland. I've had problems before hooking these tiddlers on pellet to a size 16 hook, but thought that a single maggot, side-hooked on an 18, would do the trick. The new rod handled elegantly. Casting the light tackle and playing the fish were a real pleasure - there's more to fishing than just catching fish, as they say, and I really enjoyed four hours or so by the pond. It was warm for April, with enough cloud cover to cut down any glare from the water - useful, because the swim I fish on this pond faces into the low spring sun.
Sure enough, I began to hit some - but not all! - of the tiny bites that had been such a pain the time before. The culprits were little crucians, not much more than 2½" long and I had 21 in all, plus about 10 tench, which were much bigger. I had to put the net under a couple. The bigger crucians I'd caught previously on pellet had been quite thin but the tinies were deeper in proportion and really in very good condition. Perhaps it's the next items in the food chain that are in short supply - or perhaps the tiny fish are deeper to protect them against their hungry parents. Another difference was their colour: they were darker backed than the bigger crucians, with tawny fins and a deeper gold lower body, gill covers and lower head. They reminded me very much of the "golden carp" we caught from Galleywood Pit in the late 1940s. I wanted to put one or two in a jam jar! I did several scale counts and all were good - lovely, lovely little crucians.
I'd fed pellets before I began fishing but to my surprise there was very little bubbling, although the swim was full of feeding fish. I caught as many at half-depth as I did on the bottom. Perhaps the tiddlers keep themselves to themselves to avoid the dangers of swimming with bigger crucians and tench, though at 2½" I should have thought that they ought to be safe enough now, except from the resident jacks.
I put the crucians and the 5 smallest tench into Pond '1', where the floating hornwort and scum are as thick as ever. Where there are holes in the weed, I could see how very clear the water is. Trout should do very well there if I can overcome the weed problem. Duncan and I are going to have a go at clearing the floating stuff with a rope next Monday but first there are some overhanging willows to cut down.
At the end of the session I had 10 minutes fishing at the inflow end to Pond '6' and found crucians there too - I had put some pellets there earlier so I wasn't much surprised. I'm sure that the pond is stuffed with crucians and tench. The challenge is to help them to grow to maximum size by the end of the autumn. By then, I hope that the ponds will be at least partly nettable, which will enable me to control the numbers in a more efficient way. Rod and line catching is great fun but no doubt I shall be a bit fed up with catching just tiddlers after a summer at it. So far, my efforts at trapping have met with total failure, something I can't understand. Perhaps it will be more efficient as the water warms up, but why that should be I don't know. Part of the fascination of all this lies in seeing how quickly the small fish grow.
A dabble in '5' and '3' brought immediate response from the usual 5" - 9" tench so if we ever manage to net these ponds efficiently there should be quite a haul.
The male swan is quite aggressive towards any intruders that approach the nest. Two Canada geese were quickly shown the door. He tolerates me, at least so far, perhaps because he knows that I provide tasty trout pellets. Mallard are everywhere, as are moorhens and coots. I see a heron every time I arrive but so far there's been no sign of kingfishers. Chiffchaffs and garden warblers are back. It's an exciting time of year.
Twenty-five25 × 6"- 8" crucians stocked into pond '7'. I'm gambling that there are indeed no other fish in the pond and that the crucians will breed this summer, despite the generally poor condition of much of the pond.
Today, I had the best part of a day fishing ponds '5' and '6'. The tench were soon biting madly in pond '5'. Over about three hours, I moved 52 up to pond '4', between 4" and 8". This makes about 200 I've transferred since last year and I shall need to feed pond '4' quite heavily to keep all the fish there in good condition. I returned tench to '5', bigger fish at about 10". The tench are in pretty good shape, considering the over-crowding - I caught only one I considered skinny. He obviously was suffering and I knocked him on the head.
Once I started fishing there was plenty of bubbling all over the baited swim. Before today there'd been no obvious response to the pellets going in but the fishing seemed to stimulate bubbles. Why should that be? Just coincidence perhaps.
The one crucian I caught in '5' was plump and glowing, unlike the thin things I caught in pond '6' when I'd moved there at about tea-time. The crucian bites were very much more difficult to hit than the tench ones earlier, probably because the fish were mostly very much smaller. I soon wished that I was using a pole float, a 20 hook and a single pinky. I wonder just how many crucians there are in this pond, probably thousands. Certainly there was plenty of bubbling after I'd thrown in some loose pellets.
I've begun feeding the ponds, not too heavily to begin with because I couldn't be sure how active the fish were. Unfortunately, the male swan has quickly developed a taste for trout pellets so I have to decoy him with a handful in one place and then throw the main feed into the chosen area. He's not always deceived, I'm afraid. He and his mate are incubating 4 eggs, I think.
I keep changing my mind about the best way to manage these ponds. They really do need netting and the surplus fish sold but because of the weed and the willows this isn't yet practicable. Perhaps by next winter we may have done enough clearance to make it worth trying. Until then, certainly I shall move some crucians from pond '6' up to pond '1', which seemed from the trapping last summer to have fewest fish. Pond '1' was where I originally intended to put some trout but the incredible amount of floating hornwort and algae, apparently brought up to the surface by the sunlight, has persuaded me to wait until I've been able to do something about that problem - though quite what, I'm not yet sure!
Pond '2', as well, is plagued with the dreaded hornwort rafts; the other ponds are cleaner, though scum and algae are on the surface.
The dirtiest pond of all is the tiny number '7', despite D's efforts today with drag and rake. The banks are piled high with half-decayed leaves, twigs, branches and hornwort dragged out from the pond. Perhaps the mulch will discourage some of the abundant nettles. Today D. cut down a biggish willow over-shadowing the north bank and a dozen or so saplings and poplar suckers invading the bank separating '7' from '6'. Both these ponds need a huge amount of work, but the water pH is 7.5 and I think I can get them both back to something like health and beauty, given time. There are piles and piles of cut willow to burn up and it all looks a mess but at least now that water is passing through the whole system the ponds are no longer stagnant and hopeless.
I've continued work on pond '7', mostly using the scythe as a drag to remove hornwort and any remaining twigs and small branches. I've used a prong to pull stuff onto the bank. I've spotted water hoglice and an occasional ramshorn snail so the pond isn't entirely lifeless. Still no sign of any small fish in the weed. Plenty of decaying leaves from the two huge poplars. The work seems endless, but I console myself with the thought that every scoop is deepening the pond and making it a better environment for the crucians I plan to move into it. I can't do this until they become catchable in the other ponds with the warmer weather.
Apart from ponds '3' to '4', where the water flows through a small channel and the pipe is completely blocked, all the pond in- and out-flows are now screened. There's a huge amount of dead algae and hornwort floating on all the ponds and they really look a mess, which has made me re-think the trout-stocking plan. I'm going to postpone this until I'm convinced that the fish will survive. Perhaps it's because the ponds have been fed with pellets heavily in the past. The previous tenant raised carp there.
There are now '5' jacks to about 2lbs in pond '6' and half a dozen chublets in pond '2'. The swans are nest-building between pond '4' and '5'. Well, she seems to be doing the work while he patrols the ponds, looking vaguely possessive. It will be interesting to see how threatening he becomes when the cygnets arrive.
All the connecting pipes except one are now screened and flowing. The one between '3' and '4' is completely blocked and the water now flows in via a small trench. The plan is to put a replacement pipe in that trench and then back-fill.
The willows along the far bank of all of the ponds have rooted into the silt and are proving impossible to pull out without doing damage and creating leaks. Netting plans will have to go on hold.
It looks as if the swans are preparing to nest between '4' and '5'.
I'm working as hard on pond '7' as hard as my aged back permits. Much of the over-hanging willow has been cut back and there's masses of cut material awaiting a huge bonfire when the sap has dried out of it somewhat. I usually leave several "eco heaps" when I've been coppicing and pollarding - i.e. piles of twigs and branches that shelter all sorts of creatures - but there is just so much of it here that some must be burnt.
The main problem of this little pond is the amount of leaf-litter and rotting weed and twigs in it. So it's become almost a daily routine to spend half an hour or so dragging as much of it in close to the bank so that I can then prong it out, leave it to dry and then heap it up ready for burning. Once the rotting, de-oxygenating material has been reduced enough, I'll lime the pond to speed up the process of making it fish-habitable once more. De-leafing will need to be on-going, though, because of the huge poplars near the pond.
I'm beginning to have second thoughts about how to use this little pond. The big pond upstream of it - number '6' - is very overgrown but full of stunted crucians and tench. It's that pond where I hope to introduce pike, to prove to my own satisfaction that crucians change shape in the presence of a serious fish predator. Number '6' overflows into '7'. I'm considering, when '7' is fit to receive fish, whether to move a number of low-backed crucians into it, to see if they change shape as a reaction to the scent- or taste-awareness of pike coming in from '6' via the overflow.
This is what a stunted crucian looks like. These are from pond '6'. Once upon a time there were many, many ponds in the Uk holding little fish like this. Now, though, they are rare.
I'm clearing around "the puddle", the tiny 7th pond, which is beset with overhanging willows and a mass of hornwort. Because it's small, though, a little work goes a long way. Once I've cleared enough of the bankside stuff to get at the weed, I'll get to work on that. If there are no fish in there - and I should get some idea from what comes in with the hornwort - then it might well be a useful little spawning pond. It's not fed directly from 6 because the overflow pipe from that pond ends a yard or two from '7', which makes it less likely that fry or spawn would survive the journey. Also, I'm pretty sure that, for some time, '6' has been far too low to flow into '7' anyway.
Because this little pond has been so neglected, it's cluttered up with half-rotted weed and leaves. I shall drag out what I can and then treat the pond with 1cwt of lime to help break down whatever organic stuff remains. Garden lime is safer than builder's lime, because the latter is toxic to fish and perhaps to invertebrates - though I'm not sure about that - so should only be used after due consideration. We always used it as a kind of prophylactic before we stocked fry into stew ponds.
DM and NH began work earlier in the week trimming back overhanging branches on pond number '3'. I want to do a trial netting after Christmas, as a way of checking just how many crucians there are in the three central ponds. Numbers '1' and '2' are so very weedy that I don't think a netting will be feasible until a lot more work has been done and number '6' is very, very overgrown - probably a project for next winter rather then this. It's full of tiddler tench and crucians, though.
Anyway, I went down today to see how much they'd been able to do in a short winter afternoon and things were certainly looking much better - though it'll need another session before that pond is clear enough to net. Number '1', close to the stream and with its own spring, is clear of ice and I think there'd been an otter at work. There were a couple of spots sprinkled with small crucian scales. The crinkly back edge is typical. It's handy to get to know what they look like because even if the corpse has been completely eaten there are usually some tell-tale scales left. Incidentally, the browny-coloured segment is the only bit that shows on the fish; the rest is covered by skin and the overlap of the other scales.
Ponds '2' - '6' had a good 2" of ice on them, though a slight rise in temperature had resulted in a skim of water above it. My two swans flew over with that wing-beat noise they make and I thought that if they were going to come in at all it would be on the ice-free number '1' - but I was wrong. They turned into the wind and planed down to number '3', where I was standing. Webbed feet forward like skis, they came down fast and without any hesitation, sliding forward on the ice until they finally came to a halt just a few yards from me. Exciting stuff!
Now that the vegetation on the bank has taken a beating from the weather I've been able to explore the area more fully and today I found the overflow pipe from number '6' into the tiny number '7'. It was sticking up above pond level and when I pushed it down a couple of inches the water began to flow freely down it, not blocked as I'd half-expected. I cut a stout willow branch and pushed it firmly into the mud and clay so that the pipe was held in its new position.
This is really good news, because I have had a problem regulating levels. Numbers '5' and '6' both have slight leaks - where these are I've not yet discovered. So, to keep levels high I have to let in water from the top end. In the past, before I discovered the overflow pipe, I've been a bit worried that this fresh water would in the end flood the bank of number '6', because it's impossible to regulate the inflow exactly to match the rate of leakage. Now the overflow pipe will stop this happening and I can keep water flowing through the system.
The overflow lets water into the small silt trap pond below '6' and from there any surplus disappears into the surrounding soil, eventually percolating into the brook, which then flows under the road.