Crucians at bedtime-By Peter Bishop
“Never bothered with the pond myself,” bumbled the Wing Commander through a mouthful of toast, as he stood by the range in the kitchen of Deepcroft Farm.
“Prefer Salmon fishing on the Teme myself. And a spot of shooting too. Have to keep the rabbits down and all that; and we get the occasional mink passing through as well. Shot one of the blighters only last week. My god, they can do some damage.”
Wing Commander Guy Morgan, retired, now mine host of a comfortable Bed and Breakfast near Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire, sipped a mug of tea and moved to clear our breakfast dishes from the huge oak kitchen table. He then passed them to his neatly coiffured wife, Gaynor, who had prepared a splendid full English breakfast for my wife, daughter, son and I.
“If you really want to try the pond you are welcome to do so, but I’m not sure you will be very successful.”
“What’s in it?” I queried inquisitively. The Wing Commander blew out his cheeks, fingered his bushy grey moustache, and cogitated for a few moments.
“Certainly little rudd and a few perch. Probably a tench or two as well.”
“Any carp? “I asked hopefully. The ex-RAF pilot paused for thought again, his eyebrows crinkling.
“Not that I know of.” But as he crossed the kitchen he remembered another species and spun on his axis. “Well, when I say there’s no carp, I mean big carp. There are little ones, gold-coloured things about the size of my hand.”
“Crucians?” I suggested helpfully. “Yes, that’s them, crucians. I do believe you are right Sir!”
Armed with this meagre information, my son Mark, then a mere 10 years old, and I decided to fish the farm pond that evening. Without the benefit of a convenient fishing tackle shop, I bought some white bread, corn, and luncheon meat in the village shop to supplement the worms I had dug in the compost heap at the rear of the farmhouse garden. After donning our Wellington boots and gathering the rods, creel, nets and two folding chairs we set off down the mud-splattered lane with high, neatly trimmed hedges that separated our route from the adjacent apple orchard.
At the end of the track a drooping metal gate, secured by orange rope, barred the way into a field full of cows. Climbing over, as instructed, we made our way across a field peppered with mighty Oaks, under the suspicious gaze of the cows, towards a wooded enclave that hid in its midst an exquisite, reed-fringed, pear-shaped, pond, no more than a third of an acre in size, seemingly choked with pondweed and some white water lilies at one end only.
At the other end, the bank had disintegrated into a muddy quagmire where the cows had come to the water’s edge to drink and churned the ground up with their hoofs. In between, there was sufficient room to fish though casting was challenging because of the overhanging branches. Because it was so sheltered, the surface was perfectly still, and slightly greasy with a film of algae suffusing the pool with a discernible green tinge – often a product of fertilizer being washing into the pond from surrounding fields. Just above the surface, a cloud of insects danced in a shaft of sunlight, their whirring wings creating a background humming noise that pervaded the silence. I prayed there weren’t mosquitoes. At least we could admire the dragonflies and variety of butterflies.
Enthused by the attraction of catching newts in his net, Mark, like all 10-year-old boys, was clearly impatient to get started but I managed to persuade him of the value of observation and its advantages when it came to select a swim. We crept around the peripheries watching the swifts and swallows skimming the surface to sweep up flies. Alongside the nearest cluster of lily heads there were unmistakable signs of fish bubbling just beneath the surface. Tearing some white bread from the sliced loaf I threw three small pieces to the lilies. Within a minute or two small fish were nudging the bread trying to break it up. Rudd! The upper layers were boiling with small fish the size, and colour, of gold sovereigns each tipped with crimson.
If there was a big carp or two in there – and the size of the pond would suggest that would be unlikely – I concluded surface fishing for them using crust would be fraught with frustration. My inclination was therefore to fish on the bottom and try and catch some little crucians and maybe a tench. The air heavy with the scent of apple blossom from the nearby orchard, we ignored the presence of the ever industrious bees, foraging amongst the bluebells and daffodils, and elected to fish where a small gap between overhanging branches allowed us to cast underarm left and right without too much hindrance. That said, I failed to consider the tangles that may ensue when striking upwards!
Before setting up a simple peacock waggler arrangement on both cane rods, with a size 16 hook tied to 2 lbs bottom, I plumbed up to find the bottom was fairly even and about 3 ft. 6 ins deep, and then mixed and moulded a couple of balls of soft, heavily scented, red ground bait laced with minuscule goodies. I bowled one ball each into our respective swims and watched as it fizzed turning the green-tinged water a cloudy vermilion colour. Mark chose to bait his hook with a single grain of corn while I carefully pinched a piece of flake around the hook ensuring the point was exposed.
I wondered when the pond was last fished, if at all. Perhaps it was indeed an authentic ‘virgin water’. Surely not, I concluded. Someone else staying at Deepcroft Farm must have availed themselves of it at some time previously. After positioning our yellow-tipped floats in the algae scum we had to wait all of ten minutes for the first bite, which I missed. Mark drew first blood with a little palm-sized crucian carp – his first-ever of the species – seconds later.
For a few seconds, his float had bobbled about in the middle of an effervescent cloudburst of infinitesimally small bubbles before finally dipping beneath the surface. With an expression of pure unadulterated joy, and wonder, that only catching a fish can bring to the face of a boy, Mark lifted a pristine specimen of maybe four ounces straight to hand for me to unhook. Like a cat that got the cream, his face beamed with delight and pride. “Can I have a photo Dad?” Who could refuse? At that point, I also explained some rudimentary rules on how to handle fish safely.
No sooner had I performed that unhooking than my own float vanished from view and I found myself connected to something that clearly had designs on reaching the sanctuary of the lily pads. As my Allcocks Aerial spun and the split cane tip of my much-loved Richard Walker Mark IV Avon rod shuddered and bent to take the strain, the fish was brought to heel just in time and within a minute a chunky, slime-covered, tench of around a pound and a bit joined the crucian in our shared keepnet. This was a good start. Next, Mark had a splendid roach of about ½ lbs and I responded soon after with another immaculate golden crucian of comparable size. As my son latched into another plump, flapping crucian that necessitated my assistance with the landing net, I could sense the challenge forming in his mind long before he uttered the words.
“Bet you a pound I catch more than you do Dad,” he said with an impish grin. “You’re on,” I replied in the full knowledge that if I won – and I couldn’t recall ever ‘defeating’ him in any contest – I would never get him to concede a penny of his pocket money. In such circumstances my son has shown himself to possess quite a determined and competitive streak – certainly more than I do.
He then caught a pristine tench of his own – it may only have been 12 ounces – but the beaming smile on his cherubic face told its own story of innocent delight and pride. Not for him the dismissive, and often disdainful, treatment the so-called specimen hunter sometimes affords a small tench when it has the temerity to snaffle a hair rigged boilie intended for a gargantuan carp.
There may not have been quality in such a small farm pond, but on the evidence of the first hour after tea there was certainly quantity in abundance. According to the impromptu scorecard on a scrap of paper, Mark was leading 23 fish to my 19 at the end of the first hour – most of them small crucian’s – but despite equally apportioned introductions of red groundbait, by 7 pm I had soared ahead by 44 fish to his 36. I had also captured the best crucian so far -probably all of 1¼ lbs and a nice perch on worm.
Sensing the frustration on my son’s face as the crucian bites became evermore tetchy and difficult to hit, I eased off as we headed past 8 pm, allowing him to catch up with several tiny golden rudd, after I reset his rig to sit shallower and baited with slivers of bread flake. As the warm August sun retired behind the lush tree cover casting a crimson glow across the pond, it suddenly felt chillier as the birds performed their nightly rendition of evensong.
On the far side of the pond, there was a huge splash amongst the white lilies, forcing the mallards and coots to scamper for cover. For a second, I thought a cow had fallen in, but then realised there must indeed be a big, or better stamp, carp in the pond – unless of course, the small tench had taken to synchronised summersaults…. With dusk rapidly descending we decided to finish for the night and tallied up the marks on the official scorecard. Mark had beaten me fair and square with 56 fish to my 51, so that was another pound I owed him. His cheeky face beamed with delight and a degree of cockiness. In the surrounding woods, an owl hooted. It was our cue to pack up.
After carefully releasing the contents of our joint keepnet we headed back across the field and up the muddy track to the farm in semi-darkness, just as my wife and daughter were starting to get concerned by our continued absence. Within half an hour of our return to the house, though my son was in bed and had drifted off into a contented sleep. “I love crucians Dad, they are so beautiful,” were his final, wearisome words as I tucked him in. No need for a chapter from Mr Crabtree goes fishing that night.
The following morning at breakfast Wing Commander Guy Morgan was at his guffawing, muddled best making an ‘officer’s mess’ of the fried eggs. “Well, did you catch anything in the pond last night? “Yes, it was brilliant,” chirped up my son enthusiastically. “I beat Dad by 56 fish to 51 and he owes me a pound now!”
“Oh really? Didn’t know there was that many fish in the damn pond. I was going to fill it in last year,” he blustered in his affected accent adding, “So pleased you had a good evenings fishing.
“Oh, and were there any crucians?” Before Mark could reply I jumped in. “More than enough to send him to sleep dreaming of ‘Crucians at Bedtime.’
This sample chapter gave “ Crucians at bedtime” its title. If you enjoyed it, the 224-page softback, published in 2018 by Vivlia, can be obtained through AMAZON for £7.99 plus p&p. Written over 25 years ago, I believe that story encapsulates the joy we experience as anglers, and fathers when we take our offspring’s pond fishing for the first time.