The Crucian Renaissance

I honesty can’t remember the capture my first true crucian. It might have been from one of the ponds I fished in Windsor Great Park as a kid or possibly at Witley Park in Surrey – a bizarre place developed by the 19th century fraudster, Whitaker Wright, with landscaped grounds that included three artificial lakes, one of which concealed a remarkable underwater conservatory and smoking room. More importantly it held a fine stock of crucians which, although now long gone, provided much of the stock for the nearby Old Bury Hill fishery. This is still, I’m glad to say, a fine venue for the species. I remember targeting crucians on holiday at Thorney Lakes in the Somerset Levels but were they the real deal? There were certainly brown goldfish present in the water along with the inevitable carp and some quite hideous fantailed things that belonged in an aquarium. All of which had the potential to get romantically attached to what true crues were left. Therein lies the conundrum, for these affable little crucians can be their own worst enemies. They are randy as hell and hybridisation has become an too common feature threatening their future and genetic integrity.

Crucian habitat in the shape of small, shallow ponds has declined over the years as farmers no longer need them thanks to the availability of cheap plastic pipes. The onward march of King Carp has pushed out many species including crucians and there was no doubt that action was needed to reverse what could have become a serious and long lasting decline.

But ‘cometh the hour – cometh the man’ in the shape of angling artist and crucian enthusiast Chris Turnbull. Back in 2013 I was mulling over our ‘campaigns grid’ at the Angling Trust and was looking for a new still water issue that could connect angling and conservation when Chris phoned me up to see if the Trust would be interested in getting involved in a crucian project. He set out the issues as he saw them in way which coincided with my own experiences and we decided to join forces to try and give this lovely little fish a better future.

Chris proposed that:

Serious moves need to be made to extend the number of specialised crucian fishing waters, while efforts must also be made to protect and restore the few remaining natural crucian populations that exist in unmanaged waters which are likely to eventually die out unless special efforts are made to conserve them.

Crucian Crusader, angling artist and author Chris Turnbull.

National Crucian Conservation Project

After numerous phone calls, lots of badgering and a fair bit of research we felt confident enough in our case to hold a preliminary meeting with the Environment Agency in Peterborough and I’m pleased to say that the Agency came fully onboard allowing us to launch the National Crucian Conservation Project (NCCP) at the Angling Trust Coarse Fish Conference in Reading in May 2014.

The NCCP has no money and no employees but it does bring together knowledgeable representatives from public, academic and voluntary sector organisations ‘who share a common interest in furthering the status of Crucian Carp (Carassius carassius) in the UK’. (Please note this will be only time the ‘C Word’ gets used to define our beloved crucians!)

The objectives of the project are to:

• Promote the conservation of the species and its habitat

• Encourage the development of well managed crucian fisheries

And so we set out with the laudable mission of seeking to reverse the decline in crucian habitat and to promote designated and accredited ‘true crucian’ fisheries. We have brought together an impressive collection of knowledge and expertise including crucian champion and ‘Crock of Gold’ author Peter Rolfe who has been developing crucian ponds for over 40 years and Dr. Carl Sayer from University College London who has researched the decline of crucian habitat in his native Norfolk and is an acknowledged expert on the species. I agreed to chair the group on behalf of the Angling Trust and secretarial and technical support was provided by the Environment Agency’s Roger Handford and then Russell Robertson and subsequently Andy Martin. Also represented on the NCCP committee is the Government’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) and the Institute for Fisheries Management (IFM).

We hoped that our endeavours would lead to an improved understanding and protection of ‘wild’ or ‘pure’ crucian stocks; more opportunities to catch the species; and better sharing of information on lake and pond conservation. That was seven years ago and by any measure I think it’s fair to state that the project has been a success. New crucian waters have begun to spring up in many parts of the country and some existing crucian waters have been improved and rejuvenated.

Examples include: Little Melton Lakes, Rocklands Mere and Mill Lodge Farm Fishery in Norfolk, Yaddlethorpe Ponds at Scunthorpe, Grace Lake at Biggleswade and the Moat at Marsworth. Many clubs have embraced crucian conservation including Kinver Freeliners in the Midlands, Nottingham Piscatorials at Newark, Port Sunlight in Cheshire, Newbury AA’s Warwick’s Water, Christchurch AC’s Holtwood Ponds, Pinnock Lake at Wimborne and my own Reading & District AA’s pool near Burghfield. Such has been the new found enthusiasm for crucians that there is simply not room to mention everyone who has risen to the challenge. Even after all this time hardly a week goes by without a phone call or email to the Angling Trust from a club or fishery owner wanting advice on creating a bespoke crucian fishery.

Much of the work we have done so far has been guided by Peter Rolfe who is an absolute font of knowledge and incredibly helpful. Peter has his own crucian website at: http://www.crucians.org which also hosts the sterling efforts of angling author and fellow crucian enthusiast Mark Wintle who has painstakingly put together a categorised list of all the crucian waters that we know. In addition to the database of crucian waters, which we are regularly updating and verifying, we have produced our crucian ID guide and a guide for fishery owners and clubs on best practice in managing a crucian fishery. Much of this is also supplemented by videos featuring well known crucian enthusiasts such as Hugh Miles and Chris Yates.

We have produced several videos showing how clubs and fishery owners can go about developing crucian fisheries by working in partnership with their local EA area teams which can be found on the Angling Trust YouTube channel. There are two versions of a special ID guide including a quick version can be easily downloaded in hard copy or to a smartphone for those anglers who might want to double check their captures.

All these resource materials are hosted on the dedicated Crucian page on the Angling Trust website which can be found here – https://anglingtrust.net/national-crucian-conservation-project/

Role of the National Coarse Fish Rearing Unit at Calverton

Like many anglers I have my criticisms of the EA but they have been nothing but helpful from the outset. In fact, very little of this progress would have been possible without the wholehearted support of the National Coarse Fish Rearing Unit at Calverton whose staff have been magnificent. They have not only provided huge numbers of top quality one and two summer crucians for stocking but have been on hand to offer advice and expertise. All of us at the project are grateful to Alan Henshaw and his team for their passion, commitment and professionalism. Crucian production increased at Calverton in response to the increased demand caused by the project. The latest figures show that between 2013 and 2019 they stocked a total of 251,645 DNA tested crucians into 244 separate waters.

The support of the Environment Agency has been vital in helping develop new crucian waters.

Proof of the Pudding

Once the tench season is over for me I like to get myself a crucian fix and living in the South of England gives me access to some lovely venues. One of the places that had been on my list ever since I saw the pictures in our NCCP photo competition was the gorgeous looking Abshot Pond near Fareham, a place superbly developed by Portsmouth & District AA. As it happened I was working on another nearby project with Steve Mottershead, the club’s excellent and visionary Fisheries Officer, who invited me down for a tour of their waters and a session at Abshot. I’m always happy to combine business with pleasure and I can’t commend the Portsmouth guys highly enough for what they have done with Abshot. As you can see from the pictures it’s everything a crucian and tench water should be with plenty of reeds and marginal habitat and lovely beds of lilies stretching right across this charming woodland pond of an acre or so. However, it has had a chequered history with the highly invasive top mouth gudgeon identified there in 2005 resulting in the water closed, drained, de-silted and disinfected in 2012. The club then decided to focus on crucians and tench with a few roach and rudd for variety. Their initial restocking comprised crucian (500 small) , tench (100 small, 12 large), rudd (200) and roach (200). Four years later and this productive little water was motoring and required regular removals of roach and rudd to keep the biomass at a level that would allow the fish to grow to decent sizes.

Abshot Pond – a truly stunning little fishery

Martin and Steve Mottershead from Portsmouth & District AA with some of the fast growing tench, roach and crucians that are thriving at Abshot

I received a warm welcome from the locals who advised me to fish three sections of pole close to the lilies using micro pellets for feed. I varied the hookbaits and caught well on tiny pieces of flavoured meat, soft hooker pellets and double red maggot. The fish came regularly and were in superb condition with roach and crucians approaching a pound and tench from ‘bars of soap’ up to a couple of ponds. They all fought hard in the tight swims and the whole session was a pure delight in great company. I learnt to fish in small ponds and more than 50 years later they still captivate me.

Godalming Gold

If there’s one angling club that has been at the forefront of the Crucian Crusade it is Godalming Angling Society whose waters at Marsh Farm near Milford in Surrey regularly hit the headlines with specimen crucians including several record breakers. Their three day ticket fisheries, developed with lottery funding from Sport England, are deliberately carp free and provide great sport with tench, crucians, bream and roach. For several years now the day ticket income has exceed £20,000 demonstrating that there is a demand out there for something other than catching tame patsy carp.

With this blog in mind I thought I ought to get myself down to Godalming to try and catch a decent crucian or two as a good picture is worth a thousand words. Fishing the day ticket water first I got the timing all wrong as it seems the crucians had fed in morning and shut up shop which was not what Sean and I needed to hear as we had rocked up at 1pm! I winkled out a couple of modest tench and got smashed by another on pole gear down the inside. With the weather set fair and plenty of bait left over I resolved to try again, this time on the adjacent club lake where the monsters reside.

Waiting for the big crucians to show down at Godalming

Despite an early start on a Monday morning the lake was busy so I opted to fish in a quieter area which was benefitting from a facing wind. Being a shallow bank float fishing was out of the question so I opted to fish a small 15gm method feeder at around 30 yards. I primed the spot with half dozen payloads of caster, pellet and corn in sweet fishmeal groundbait via a large cage feeder. I’ve found that spombs in the shallow water can frighten the fish and attract far too many ducks for comfort. After letting things settle down I pinged out the mini method feeder every ten minutes or so alternating the hooks baits between rubber casters, artificial corn and small brightly coloured dumbbells, all hairigged on band on a 16 hook. Using ‘natural baits’ would mean getting constantly hammered by rudd so I was happy to sit it out and wait for the quiver tip to signal the arrival of the target species.

A personal best Crucian for Martin to mark the launch of a new book compiled by Chris Turnbull celebrating the ‘Crucian Renaissance’

After four hours I was beginning to fear the worst when out of the blue my tip twitched and pulled round. Bending into a heavy fish I knew immediately it wasn’t a tench as there was no belting run, just a dogged resistance and a bit of kiting on the way in. Inevitably it surfaced out of reach of the landing net causing a few ‘squeaky bum’ moments but the excellent QM1 hook held fast and she was safely landed. I knew immediately that this was something special and called across to a neighbouring angler to give me hand with the weighing and photos. The dial went round to 3lbs 8ozs giving me a new personal best crucian and the best possible cover shot for this article. (Big thanks to Roger Baker for his photography skills)

The book

Chris Turnbull has been busy over Lockdown compiling a fabulous new book of the same name celebrating the ‘Crucian Renaissance’. It is published by Little Egret Press and is the latest in their ‘Willow Pitch’ series and dedicated solely to the enigmatic crucian whose interests we have been championing for the last eight years. With a foreword from Chris Yates and original contributions from a host of well known crucian aficionado’s including: Hugh Miles, Peter Rolfe, Mark Wintle, Mike Holcombe, Ed Matthews, Trevor Harrop, Carl Sayer, Bernard Cooper, Phil Smith, Gary Boyce, Richie Martin, Russell Shaw, Matthew Fernandez, Andy Bettiss, Steve Nunn, Mike Lyddon, Steve Frapwell, Gary Knowles, Richard Naylor, Tim Norman, Matt Wright, Julian Barnes, Max Loesche, Ken Wilkes and yours truly, this will delight any angler who shares our love for these bonny little fish.

Filmmaker Hugh Miles continues his love affair with crucians

You can order it here – https://thelittleegretpress.co.uk/product/willow-pitch-vi-crucian-renaissance-limited-edition-hardback/?fbclid=IwAR2EqoZjwN7D0VamTSt3HtGIktaAEHrcnad3iVyanMWYg_2y7LrGQZlT_Nk

For those of you who are yet to get the crucian bug I can only recommend you give them a try. They can be as frustrating as hell, with almost imperceptible bites at times, but when it all comes together I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

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