ISSUE 1 ARCHIVES - 'PASTURES NEW Pt2'
In part two we discuss the 'boom and bust' stocking mentality, the idea of retiring old fish, how to balance expectancy from anglers and why the Dinton ones have always been so notoriously elusive. Fascinating stuff from one of the UK's most fascinating waters
Sub: So, has there always been a flow of new stock going into White Swan?
Si: Yes, since day one really.
Sub: On what basis were you putting them in? Was it the best growers, or the best lookers? What was your criteria and selection process?
Si: Generally, it was the best lookers, the pretty ones. The fish I was buying in were coming from a good provenance, and they had the potential to do well. They were going into big, rich gravels pits, so they would never get a better opportunity to grow than that. I think I caught the first 20-pounder out of Black Swan in ’93, and those fish were going in at no more than about 4lbs, so they were clearly doing well.
In the early days, they were also breeding like mad in there. In new waters, there always seem to be a few years when they spawn very successfully and I think with the combination of new, young fish and the abundance of food, it was a perfect environment for them. So, from having a few initial stockings, we suddenly went to having an abundance of new fish to grow and use. After about five or six years, the perch stocks took hold and got on top of the fry and so we don’t get many coming through from spawnings now.
Sub: Have you always brought new fish in, as well as rearing the stock on site?
Si: Yes, even to this day I have always brought external stock in, but always from the same sources. It is always a risk bringing new fish in, but it is the same risk I take year in year out, so nothing has changed as long as I know exactly where they are coming from. I have two sources, one of which is someone I actually sold fish to, and he spawns from those now, so in effect, I am just buying my own fish back. He is just doing the spawning and growing on.
Sub: The big fish that are coming through in Black Swan now, do you know whether they are ones you have stocked, or ones that have spawned?
Si: The big common is one I stocked, there are some 30-pounders coming through now that have definitely bred-on naturally though. Even this year, Lewis Read caught a few single-figure fish, and I haven’t put anything in under 6lbs in two years, so the 4-pounders he has caught have obviously bred-on as well, so it is still happening, albeit not as much. We had two or three years when we had an awful lot of weed in the lake so, if you have fry one year, they make it through to 1½lbs the following year, and 4lbs the next; the weed can play a big part in that process.
Sub: Stocking waters always seems to be a contentious issue, and raises issues from all camps, but there seem to have been some pretty big gaps in the stocking histories of many of our waters, which have left old, big fish, and then new stockies which never really become integrated with the older stock. What are your thoughts about stocking in general, and the legacy of our older big fish?
Si: I’ve always disliked the ‘boom and bust’ mentality of stocking; put a few hundred fish into a lake, wait for them to get big, then everything dies because they are all the same age, and then start again. Even here at Dinton, with its ongoing policies, I think White Swan peaked in 2007, because all the old originals from the one big initial stocking peaked at the same time. So maybe 300 fish went into there in ’80 -’81, they all peaked at about 30 years of age and are on their way down now. Bernies Linear, Apple Slice and the Twin are three of those originals that were stocked in ’81. At their peak the Twin has done 54, Bernie’s has done 47 and Apple Slice 42.
'I’ve always disliked the ‘boom and bust’ mentality of stocking; put a few hundred fish into a lake, wait for them to get big, then everything dies because they are all the same age, and then start again'
Sub: What about fish like Triple Row?
Si: They are the ‘stockies’, some of the first ones I put in there. Triple Row came from one of the small lakes here on site. I chose it because it was such a pretty fish and was one I didn’t want to risk ‘losing’ elsewhere on site, so it went straight into White Swan. That one has done 46 now, and I think went in around ’96 at about 6lbs. Paw Print has a similar history, that came from the same little lake as Triple Row, but went into another of the reserves for a while and then I moved that one into White Swan at just over 20lbs, it has done 44-plus now and looks set to get much bigger.
'I think, as a carp angler, you always have these size-based targets. You want to catch a 30, or you want to catch a 40, but for me now, to see a six-inch fish I reared many moons ago reach a milestone like 40lbs, rather than actually catching it myself, is incredibly nice to see'
Sub: I think it is fascinating to see the histories of particular fish like that, especially when they’ve grown into such incredibly big carp.
Si: I think, as a carp angler, you always have these size-based targets. You want to catch a 30, or you want to catch a 40, but for me now, to see a six-inch fish I reared many moons ago reach a milestone like 40lbs, rather than actually catching it myself, is incredibly nice to see. To see a 1lb fish, with that potential, and see it become a big fish is a huge buzz.
Sub: Do you generate any sense of attachment, or preciousness about the ones you’ve reared on?
Si: Oh absolutely! You don’t want to see fish getting damaged or even just getting caught too often. I used to hate it seeing fish get caught regularly. Some would do two or three captures in the first few weeks of the season. On a few occasions when fish were getting caught too frequently, I would just take them out and put them back into one of the nature reserves. I didn’t want to risk them being damaged. I think when they come out too often it devalues the fish, as well.
Sub: It is really interesting to hear someone taking a pro-active, more conservationist stance on an issue like that, actually to consider moving fish when they are getting caught too much. It’s the polar opposite of anglers looking for fish because they come out frequently and are an ‘easy target’.
Si: There’s a couple of fish I’ve moved out of White Swan because they started getting a bit tatty or damaged through being caught too much, and you think, well actually this is one of the original fish and it’s coming towards the end of its life; it needs to be retired. We should all think a little more like that about our fishing and our quarry. As soon as fish get a bit of damage, they lose the feeling in their mouth and that leads to a downward spiral of getting caught more and more, which can then lead to them losing weight, eating more to try to counter that, and it perpetuates itself. I think it respectful, and nice to be able to move them on into somewhere quiet where they won’t get angled for once they get to that point.
Do you retire your ‘stars’, though? That is the tricky question I face, but that is why you need new stock coming through and where the on-going policy comes in. The EA used to say ‘only stock if you have to’ back in the ‘80s and it was all a bit scary when we didn’t know too much about it. SVC took out fisheries left, right and centre and no one really knew why, so there was a drive for only stocking when it was absolutely necessary. Why take a risk unless you really have to? I always felt that risk was essential; you just had to make sure that it was a calculated risk and the same one you took year in year out.
'I’ve been here 24 years now, so I have essentially 23 different year classes in the waters. Anglers want to catch the 40-pounders, but certainly the type of anglers we have here do appreciate the ten, or 12-pounders as a necessary part of the process and see those as having value and worth'
I’ve been here 24 years now, so I have essentially 23 different year classes in the waters. Anglers want to catch the 40-pounders, but certainly the type of anglers we have here do appreciate the ten, or 12-pounders as a necessary part of the process and see those as having value and worth, and in waters like we have here, they aren’t ten-pounders for very long. Often they do a vanishing act when they go in, and then pop up much bigger a few years down the line. Triple Row went in at 6lbs, then wasn’t seen again until five years later when it was caught at 31lbs
'Triple Row went in at 6lbs, then wasn’t seen again until five years later when it was caught at 31lbs'
Luke Vallory with 'The Trip' at 47.07, spring 2019
Sub: Any idea why that happens?
Si: I think they do that because they aren’t ‘fed’ here. I don’t rear the fish, they grow themselves on. They are going into big, essentially unfished nature reserves, so they aren’t preconditioned into looking for bait - call it ‘bait’ or ‘feed’, it’s the same thing, and they aren’t looking for it. The companies that are rearing fish commercially are getting through tonnes and tonnes of pellet because they are feeding lots of fish in a small space where they have to rely on artificial sources of food to allow them to grow. Here, I might stock a 20-acre nature reserve lake out with maybe 45 fish, which are then left to fend for themselves. They can literally breathe the natural food in, they don’t even have to go looking for it. When they do get put into one of the fishing lakes they just haven’t a clue what a boilie or a pellet is, and they’ll happily avoid them because they’ve no need to eat them. It always takes them a while to work out what bait is.
'When they do get put into one of the fishing lakes they just haven’t a clue what a boilie or a pellet is, and they’ll happily avoid them because they’ve no need to eat them'
Sub: The other nice thing about that scenario is that by the time they’ve got to be big 20s or 30s and do start getting caught, their mouths are bigger and they’re much less susceptible to damage than pellet-reared single and double figure stockies. I’ve seen fish like that ruined before they even get to 20lbs.
Si: Yes, that’s right. I much prefer stocking the smaller fish, but I have stocked quite a few big fish in the past as well. I did quite a bit of that in the early 2000s, but none of the 40-pounders that I have moved has lasted more than seven years, and that is five or six different fish. Those ones have generally been caught more consistently as well, so I think those bigger-framed fish just turn on to the available food sources much quicker than their smaller brethren and then, of course, they inevitably get caught more. Some of those 40-pounders had spent 20 years never getting caught, and then suddenly a couple of them were in the position of being caught six or seven times a year.
Sub: Do you think it’s just too much for them to take?
Si: I do. I think it’s just too much pressure and stress for them to take. I stocked those ones because they were grown on for that purpose, to be put into White Swan and to be angled for. From a fishing perspective, they did fantastically well for us. I want anglers to be able to fish for big, home-grown 40lb fish, but from the conservation point of view, it isn’t always especially good for the fish.
Sub: Knowing that longevity and lifespan becomes shortened, is that something you would still do now?
Si: I would still have to, because that is what we do here, and the fish we grow on are always destined for one of the fishing lakes. I know there are a couple of bigger fish on the complex that aren’t in the fishing lakes, and the question now is, would they go in White, or Black Swan? Do I get lynched by 70 people, or 50? (laughing). I’ve made the decision that they’re difficult to catch, and that is why they’re still where they are. A lot of lads have fished for them and not caught them so I think they’d be suitable stock for White, because they are difficult to catch, therefore they’re not going to go in there and get caught five times a year. If I had one that I thought was going to be a ‘friendly’ one, it would be going into the 90-acre Black Swan because there’s more chance of it disappearing in there and not getting caught too much.
Sub: You operate a very fluid, organic system of decision making here it seems?
Si: I think you have to, because the fish are all very much individuals. If I had a potentially friendly 40-pounder to move, I’d rather it go into the 90-acre lake, only do a couple of captures, reach 50 and live for another ten or 20 years, than it go into the 20-acre lake, do 15 captures over the course of a couple of years, top out at 45 and then die. I have to weigh up which is the better option, and future, for that fish, but at the same time, we have to offer the best fishing we can for the syndicate. It’s very much a balancing act. Black Swan has needed quite a few more putting in there for the acreage, and there’s quite a few I would have liked to have put into White, but they had to go where I felt they were needed most.
'If I had a potentially friendly 40-pounder to move, I’d rather it go into the 90-acre lake, only do a couple of captures, reach 50 and live for another ten or 20 years, than it go into the 20-acre lake, do 15 captures over the course of a couple of years, top out at 45 and then die'
Sub: How do you find the lads react to the decisions you make with the stocks?
Si: I think, for the most part, they trust what I do. It is very much part of the system here at Dinton.
Sub: What is your policy for introducing new, small stockies? Do you introduce new fish on a regular basis each year, regardless? Or do you do it on the basis of any losses?
Si: Every single year, fish will go into both lakes. No fish come on to the complex and go straight into either Black or White Swan, though. They will go into one of the quiet nature reserves for one or two years before I even consider putting them into either of those. There never has been, but if there were an issue, then it could be dealt with away from the main fishing lakes. That is always a safeguarding process of ours here. I also like the fact that they get a good while to settle, unfished for, before getting moved.
This year we had a flood and I actually netted 40 fish that had come from one of the reserves. They were up to 37lbs and all went into the big lake because I needed some more in there anyway, but in a scenario like that, when a decision has to be made on the spot, it is sometimes better to put all your eggs in one basket. If, somehow, something viral like KHV had come in via the flood, then rather than spreading them all over the complex and potentially affecting all the lakes, you may only affect one. You wouldn’t know until later in the year, and if I’d spread those ones, using that flood as an example, around four or five lakes, you could be in serious trouble and undoing years and years of work. One risk, one stocking; it’s based on a lot of common sense, rather than science, at times.
Keep your eyes peeled for the concluding part where Si discusses more of the complexities of keeping a top class big carp fishery at it's very best, and some more amazing old shots. Coming next week