How exactly do you take a forgotten tangle of a lake and turn it into the perfect crucian fishery? With passion, teamwork and support from rod licence funding via the Angling Improvement Fund, anything is possible! Angling Trust blogger Dominic Garnett met up with fishing royalty including Chris Yates, Hugh Miles and crucian guru Peter Rolfe at Wimborne and District Angling Club’s grand opening to find out more.
Judging by the quiet flurry of activity, you can tell that something a bit special is happening this morning in Dorset. Here at Edmonton on the waters of Wimborne and District Angling Club, we are expecting not one but several of Britain’s best known and loved anglers to celebrate the rehabilitation of one of our most iconic species.
Granted, so crucian carp don’t tend to get folks in a lather like dormice or red squirrels; but to anglers the decline of this beautiful fish has been alarming. Rather than collectively crying into our beer though, the Angling Trust’s Crucian Conservation Project has been making great strides.
From new lakes for the species to the thoroughbred stock from the Environment Agency’s Calverton fish farm, the crucian is now the comeback kid of coarse fishing. And with the guests at today’s event including not only Martin Salter and crucian carp expert Peter Rolfe, but Passion for Angling legends Hugh Miles and Chris Yates, this feels like a landmark point in the journey. With a bit of luck we’re also hoping one of them will Christen the lake with its first fish.
Perfect crucian habitat
Of course, one of the main causes of crucians going missing has been the decline of their favourite places. Small lakes and ponds don’t look after themselves, after all. “So many crucian lakes are eventually lost, or are changed forever with the thoughtless introduction of carp,” says Hugh Miles, who has loved the species as long as he can remember. “These days, though, I think things are already turning round. More and more clubs are creating crucian lakes, which is wonderful to see.”
Pinnock Lake, the pool of perhaps an acre before us, is a case in point. Back in 1958 it was opened as a trout lake by the late Jack Hargreaves; but in the decades that followed it had gradually been neglected, becoming badly silted and overgrown, to the point where it might have been lost for good. The place didn’t need a haircut so much as full body surgery.
Comparing the beautifully clear, rich looking water before us to pictures from a year or two ago, you would hardly believe the change. I’m tempted to describe its rebirth as a minor miracle but, as club chairman Mike Hirsh tells us in his revealing opening speech, the true story is one of graft and perseverence. Members and volunteers have really taken the initiative, while the title “club secretary” simply doesn’t do justice to the energy of Stuart Hitchman, whether he has been working with pen, shovel or wetsuit. As for hiring Noel Edmonds to stand there with a replica shotgun (below left), I’ve always thought this was a more fitting use for his talents than hosting gameshows.
Angling Improvement Fund support has also been key in buying resources and machinery. The whole idea was sparked into life from a simple conversation Mike had with the Angling Trust’s Dean Asplin, who advised the club to apply for funding. Every fishing club in the country is eligible for this, of course, and it’s a vital way that Environment Agency rod license funds are put back into grass roots fishing projects.
Catch me if you can!
After the ribbon cutting comes the serious business of trying to catch the lake’s first ever fish. No pressure there then! Our famous faces are even more civilised after a celebratory glass of bubbly, but you can tell they’re keen to be the one who breaks the deadlock. In fact, now that the pleasantries are done, you can already see that the competition for swims is intense:
The lake has a pleasant balance of access and natural features, with shallows giving way to a lovely deep channel running just a rod length or two out. The tactics and tackle of our experts are varied, to put it mildly. Martin Salter and Hugh Miles will kick off on the pole. Meanwhile, Chris Yates is to space age carbon fibre what the Wright Brothers are to 21st Century aviation, although nobody would bet against him bagging the first fish. Nor do we spot any method feeders or bolt rigs, which is a relief because most seem to think these are shooting offences where crucians are concerned.
In so many ways, crucian fishing epitomises simple, light line angling. The fish are not usually far out and as far as bait goes, some hemp, pellets and sweetcorn will do nicely. This is what the faithful have been prepping the lake with recently, anyway, alongside with efforts to keep the place spotless and scare off any potential predators.
Martin Salter is certainly revelling in the experience. “It’s always great to see people who not only have the vision, but roll their sleeves up and make things happen,” he says. “It’s striking a blow for traditional angling, too. Venues like this are ideal for getting kids and newcomers into fishing the right way and showing them what the sport it about. It shouldn’t be all about size, but beautiful, iconic fish like the crucian carp and tench.”
The first bite of the day doesn’t take long and is deliciously positive. Judging by the amount of elastic rushing out of the pole tip, this isn’t one of the three hundred little crucians now residing in the lake! With the cameras snapping, Salter is bricking it, and hoping the red elastic on that dodgy top 3 kit he found in his garage will hold. It’s a tench alright. A pretty one at a couple of pounds, too.
As crucian expert Peter Rolfe tells us, tench are an ideal species to stock alongside crucians because they don’t interbreed or out compete them. That said, another addition to maintain balance might potentially be chub, on Peter’s recommendation, because these would “manage” excess fry each year, without multiplying as crazily as perch.
“Crucians are incredibly good at breeding!” says Martin. Of course, this can be their downfall when they’re mixed with carp or goldfish. They’re also vulnerable to every predator, from cormorants to pike. “If you spend any time with Peter- who is the real crucian expert- there are three key things about the species to always remember” says Martin. “They like shallow water, everything eats them and they’re randy as hell!”
Having stacks of small crucians could of course be a nice “problem” to have. In fact, excess small fish could easily be shared around to help populate other suitable waters with genuine Carassius carassius.
Crucian carp fishing according to Chris Yates
Just a few yards down the bank, none other than Chris Yates is poised on the bank, rigging up. Having given the lake a quick blessing with a splash of wine, we’re hoping the angling gods are smiling on him. Well, I say rigging up but he confesses that the same float and shot have stayed on his line pretty much since the start of the season. Wouldn’t it be perfect to see that cane rod bend with the first ever Pinnock Lake crucian? I know that this is what Chris is hoping, although he is better known for catching larger “king” carp.
“I caught my first crucian by accident at about 12 years old” he says. “It was in a pond near where I lived and must have weighed about half a pound. I dreamed mainly about the bigger carp there and so perhaps I made little of it. But in the bitter winter of 1962 to 63, everything froze solid and it seemed every fish in the pond had died. The only survivors were the crucians.”
This experience was to give him a newfound appreciation of the species, as they then became the only fish left to catch. “They’re such tenacious characters!” he says. “I love the way that they’re so secretive and you can’t always tell what’s going on. They’re definitely more subtle and mysterious than king carp.”
It’s a joy just sitting on the bank with Chris Yates. While some of the bigger names in angling like to remind you of their kudos and track record, he’s as laid back, funny and thoughtful as you hoped and imagined he would be, whether the topic is birds of prey, tench or 21st Century politics (you’ll rarely hear him speak ill of any living soul, but he reserves a special contempt for narcissistic leaders). You get the feeling he doesn’t miss the cut and thrust of writing for the weeklies these days, but is still passionate about books and writes about fishing for Fallon’s Angler Quarterly.
Chris loves wild, grassy banks best, and so as neat as the new platforms look, he steers clear of these and sits by the reeds. He tells me that as a fellow beanpole angler (he is six foot four), he much prefers sitting on the ground. Either that or he can’t be bothered carrying any seat beyond the bare-bones canvas back support he always has with him, allowing him to sit flat on the deck.
With what he sees as the “industrialisation” of mainstream carp fishing and a dwindling sense of natural mystery, he is even keener to celebrate fish like the crucian. Perhaps his most memorable session was during a memorial trip for the late Terry Lampard. “His ashes were mixed in groundbait for the roach and crucians he loved so much,” Chris reflects. “I was the only one to catch crucians that day, with one of 2-7 and another of 3-7. I’m sure Terry was looking down and approved of the simple way I was fishing!”
Breaking for cake
With only odd other tench showing, including one for club president Brian Heap, it’s time to take a timeout for tea and cake, which seems one of the few magical words that can break Yates’s quiet focus. It’s also a great chance to mingle with some more of the dedicated group of people who made the project happen. Folks like Nick Lawrie, who drives vehicles and built the supply shed, for example, or the local landowner, who has also been hugely supportive.
The overriding moral of the story is that a successful project such as this is about pulling different people and organisations together successfully. Expertise from Peter Rolfe, the Angling Trust and the Environment Agency have been key, as has volunteer work and donations- including supplies from unlikely sources such as Jewsons for some of the raw materials.
“It’s a perfect example here of exactly what the Angling Improvement Fund is for” says the Angling Trust’s Mark Wilton. “It’s all about creating sustainable improvements for everyone, so clubs can not only keep existing members happy but try and attract new ones and put things in place for anglers of every age. With the excellent work put in by club, the funding has gone a long way. It just shows what can be done- and we want fishing clubs to keep stepping up and applying so we can help them with projects that make a real difference.”
The refreshments go down a treat as we toast to the success of what is sure to be a delightful fishery for future generations. Who knows, perhaps in a few years time there might be true specimens here? Today, they are just not as obliging as the tench, but in fairness this is typically finicky crucian behaviour and perhaps to be expected with the banks quite busy. Nevertheless, club members can now look forward to many happy years of fishing for bona fide crucians in peaceful settings.
There’s just about time for a last cast or three as we start to cast our minds away from the lake and head for home. Nick Lawrie manages a beautiful little tench before Chris Yates finally puts a bend in his split cane. Apparently it’s typical of him to be a little late, but by the curve you suspect it will be the best of an enjoyable day. What a perfect way to congratulate Wimborne DAC on a successfully realised project.
Further reading and useful links
LINES ON THE WATER: For further news and entertaining reading from Angling Trust blogger Dominic Garnett, why not follow “Lines on the Water”? It’s completely free- all you need to do is click on the upper right hand side of this page. So far, we’ve covered everything from inspiring community fishing projects, to eye-opening fishing stories and seasonal tips from the experts.
THE ANGLING IMPROVEMENT FUND: Administered by the Angling Trust, the AIF makes excellent use of Environment Agency Rod Licence funds by supporting worthwhile projects that benefit fishing and communities right across the country. For further details and guidelines on how to apply for the next round of funding, CLICK HERE.
THE NATIONAL CRUCIAN CONSERVATION PROJECT: Launched in 2014, this nationwide Angling Trust initiative has already had a huge impact on this much loved British species. Up to 2016 alone, a whopping 52,046 DNA tested Crucians were stocked into 195 separate waters. For further details CLICK HERE.
WIMBORNE & DISTRICT ANGLING CLUB: With a fantastic variety of river and stillwater fishing in Dorset, including the River Stour and of course the new Pinnock Lake featured in this blog post, Wimborne DAC come highly recommended! See their website for full details of day and season tickets: www.wimborneanddistrictanglingclub.co.uk
HUGH MILES: Read the acclaimed angling and wildlife filmmaker’s blog and catch a selection of his fantastic photographs here: hughmiles9.blogspot.com