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John Bailey: A fish worth more than its weight in gold

PUBLISHED: 18:23 15 April 2018 | UPDATED: 18:24 15 April 2018

Pots of gold – - the most lovely of fish. Picture: John Bailey

Pots of gold – - the most lovely of fish. Picture: John Bailey

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A few days back, I might just have seen Norfolk’s most important fish. I doubt if it weighed an ounce. It was a tiny crucian carp that just fitted into the palm of my hand, yet it was a major miracle.

Captain Crucian, Dr Carl Sayer, the genius behind the Norfolk crucian project. Picture: John BaileyCaptain Crucian, Dr Carl Sayer, the genius behind the Norfolk crucian project. Picture: John Bailey

I’ve written glowingly before about Dr Carl Sayer (Captain Crucian) and his team of wizards who are busy restoring crucian carp to their ponded strongholds around East Anglia. This tiny example of their work, though, might just be the most significant. The little lake in question was stocked a couple of years back by Carl and his merry men, but I and the owner felt sure the attempt had failed. Yet, at the start of this month, when trial nettings took place, this juvenile crucian along with 50 of his brothers and sisters were found to be present.

Carl is a scientist working at University College London and he does all the office, laboratory, teaching and writing stuff, but he also gets out there, in wellies, in the cold and the wet, actually doing things. And crucians are well worth doing something about. They are simply heart-warmingly gorgeous. Chubby. Golden. Of all the carp species, crucians are perhaps the hardest even to catch.

When Carl, I, and perhaps you, too, were kids, crucians were everywhere. Every farm pond held them. Diss Mere was famous, so too was Saham Toney Lake. Crucians of two pounds were so common there in the early 70s you could catch them simply by raking a landing net through the marginal weed beds. In all my experience, they were the only crucians actually easy to catch. It was like the species hit a brick wall some 20 years back. Before then, waters holding ‘twos’, the usual crucian carp benchmark, seemed to be everywhere. Then, within a year or two, populations at Roughton, Lenwade, Swanton Morley, Gorgate and a host of other locations simply appeared to collapse.

I use the word ‘appeared’ because, as I’ve said, crucians can be as difficult to catch as any species I have come across. There is a lake today, not far from the north coast, which Captain Crucian’s netting has proved to be full of them. In half a dozen trips I’ve yet to register a bite. I’m not completely useless but those fish, like many crucians before in my life, have run rings round me. My suspicion is that crucians are uniquely happy to exist entirely on the natural food a lake has on offer. If there is a surfeit of bloodworm perhaps, they are quite content not even sniffing at a maggot or a piece of corn.

Young crucians. Picture: John BaileyYoung crucians. Picture: John Bailey

I suppose what I’m getting at here is that there could well be crucian lakes out there, some even holding big fish, that exist wholly under the radar. It could well be that modern methods and baits frequently don’t help. Larger pellets and boilies on self-hooking rigs are not going to get near putting a crucian on the bank. Very few of us these days fish close-in with fragile wagglers, gossamer gear and a tiny ‘pinkie’ maggot on a size 20. Perhaps we ought to have a crucian convention of some sort. I’d love a meeting sometime, somewhere of all the crucian lovers of East Anglia. My suspicion is that there is a good number of us out there, almost as secret squirrels as the species we love. A pooling of knowledge might well help the species and, as a by-product, perhaps let us a catch a few fish we otherwise would not have done.

As a kid, my bedroom was lined with tanks holding the fish I caught around the Blakeney area. Half the occupants were crucians, testimony to just how plentiful they were in the past. I soon noticed that they, by far, preferred the softest, sloppiest food I could give them. Bread mash with the consistency of porridge was a favourite. Maggots would be sucked in and blown out over and over till they were little more than liquid held loosely by a wrapping of skin. That knowledge helped me catch hundreds of crucians in the course of my life, perhaps a little bit of crucian lore that has been forgotten in the modern angling period.

Let me return to the miracle one ‘ouncer’ of my opening paragraph. You might remember me talking about the proposed recycling unit at Lenwade in the heart of the Wensum Valley? Well, this little crucian lives in a pond 30 feet away from the designated run-off lagoon for this RDF plant, if the authorities were ever unwise enough to grant permission. Almost inevitably, this particular crucian haven would become contaminated and Captain Crucian’s efforts there would have been in vain. I have to add, the Wensum itself is a mere 70 yards further away and ground water seepage into the river would be an unspeakable calamity.

We anglers have a reputation for complacency but let’s shed this image. Visit the Norfolk County Council Planning site. Look up the Atlas Work’s proposal (C/5/2017/5007) and, as fishermen, let’s all object to it. Norfolk is still a wonderful, special county and not just for its crucians. Let’s do our darndest to keep it that way.

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