ISSUE 1 ARCHIVES
Settle in for part 2 of Ross's fascinating story about the history and conception of Lower Berryfield, some sleepless nights feeding artemia to hatchlings and some philosophical musings on the value and worth of carp of this ilk.
How does the process work? What is a year in the life of a new carp like?
It all starts in the spring, so March/April time. A lot of it is hinged on your pond preparation, the pond has to be drained, limed, disinfected and then it has to be flooded again and be allowed to settle as the pH will be sky-high initially. Once that has been done it is fertilized and then you let the sun do its part. You can then either stock early, smaller fry into a green pond or slightly larger fry into a clear pond that’s full of zooplankton, ie. rotifers and daphnia. So, along with everything else you have to keep check on the rotifer and daphnia cultivation. If that isn’t right, or abundant enough, you’ll be stocking fry out and they won’t survive. They are cannibalistic so they’ll predate on themselves heavily and you’ll just end up with a pond full of a few shooters.
So while all the pond prep is going on, in tandem I will be preparing the brood stock, so in the hatchery I’ll be bringing them up to temperature and also giving them a specialised ‘brood stock diet’ through the spring, which is good for their ovaries and reproductive qualities. When the time is right and they are fully prepared, they are induced, stripped of their spawn, and milt from the males, and that is literally mixed by hand in a bowl, traditionally with a feather, and then that is left to hatch. Carp have a very short embryolosis period, so from egg to fry is normally just three and a half days, which is why they are so fragile at first. Carp fry have no immune system, no backbone even, so when they hatch they are very delicate. They don’t have scales either when they hatch; these don’t develop for 8-12 weeks.
Is there a reason for them having such a short embryolosis period?
In the wild, carp eggs are fed on by all manner of things, including the carp themselves - they have rubbish paternal and maternal instincts. As humans, we carry our young for nine months, and then do everything we can to protect them but carp don’t work like that. They produce hundreds of thousands of eggs so with such a short incubation period, the chance of predation is reduced and they can escape into some cover. That’s how it works in the wild, at least. Here, once the fry has hatched we normally run them through the hatchery for a week, maybe two, with a diet of artemia which are a tiny brine shrimp, otherwise known in the general sphere as sea monkeys, so we have our own artemia hatchery here as well. We feed the fry with the artemia we hatch here and then they go out into a mud pond where they have fresh water, zooplankton, daphnia… they get sent off on their own pretty quickly!
Once they’re out in the ponds, we keep the levels of zooplankton monitored very carefully until it becomes exhausted and then they get weaned to a solid diet. They continue to grow out there until about November, which is when we start to harvest them, usually starting with the smaller fish as they are less hardy than the bigger ones. They then come inside, are cleaned up and graded, and then they can go back out into a wintering pond in about December. From there, it is about a selection process, growing on the best lookers, or the fastest growers, or the unique ones.
I imagine the whole process is pretty demanding on your own personal routines as well?
You could say that! It is something you have to be continually on top of, and of course as I spend a lot of my time outside, I’m always at the mercy of the weather as well. So if we have a particularly hot summer, then I have to be constantly monitoring the oxygen levels, water levels that kind of thing. When they are at the fry stage they have to be fed during the night as well, because they have such a high metabolism. Due to them essentially having no stomach, they continually need food passing through them because of the small levels of absorption they acquire from their diet. They have to be fed every five hours, regardless of time of day at this stage of development. If you miss a feed, you may not notice any immediate effects but a week or so later you can have a few start to die on you because of something that occurred earlier in their developmental process.
'They have to be fed every five hours, regardless of time of day at this stage of development'
So a few weeks of broken sleep then?!
Yes, and that is per batch of fry as well, and of course, we hatch multiple batches here. It is all part of the job. Harvest time is another really busy period; very early starts to get water moved around, ponds drained down to ensure that you get all the fish in a particular pond moved safely in one day, so they’re not left open to predation and suchlike. Then there’s all the logistics of arranging collection, and the paperwork. CEFAS are very stringent so we have to be vigilant and toe the line carefully with the official side of things.
Why do you think fish like these are important to future generations?
I think carp like this, that offer some genuine variety and are truly beautiful creatures, can be the future for modern carp fishing. Looking back to the days of Yates and Walker and the Redmire fish that kicked off the whole modern scene, I think having some connection to that history and roots of our pursuit is important, but I also think that in a few years time carp like these could be the new dream-makers, the ones that keep you up at night and haunt your dreams.
'I also think that in a few years time carp like these could be the new dream-makers, the ones that keep you up at night and haunt your dreams'
Funnily enough, I got into carp fishing because of the Dustbin, that one carp single-handedly changed my course. I was match fishing at the time when I was first at Sparsholt and I remember seeing a picture of it. I can’t recall who had caught it, but it was just pristine; the beautiful, perfect mouth, big shoulders, and that little heart-shaped tail… it was that carp that made me want to go carp angling. We need new icons, and dreams for future generations and I think unique, individual character fish are the ones that can do that.
'We need new icons, and dreams for future generations and I think unique, individual character fish are the ones that can do that'
Do you think there’s been a bit of a resurgence of interest in scaly and more interesting strains recently? How do you see things from your side of the fence?
I think there has, definitely. Even as recently as five years ago, there just wasn’t really any volume of scaly fish being stocked. For a long while, the major stockings were all Fisher Pond carp, and Dinks. Partly, that was because there was no real freedom of choice for the fishery owners, as there were so few people actually breeding carp on, and it also coincided with the boom in the carp industry and the sheer demand for new fish. There’s been a backlash from the over-saturation of one type of carp and now suddenly there is a huge demand for unique-looking scaly fish again. It had got to the situation where you could move from one water to another, and the stock would be almost identical; the fish would look all the same, and who wants that? There are plenty of corking-looking fish out there to angle for, but understandably there are also a lot of self-preservationist anglers out there as well, who like to keep those special ones close to their chests.
'There’s been a backlash from the over-saturation of one type of carp and now suddenly there is a huge demand for unique-looking scaly fish again. It had got to the situation where you could move from one water to another, and the stock would be almost identical; the fish would look all the same, and who wants that?'
Do you think there’s been enough done in the media to promote the interest in quality strains and the connection to our history?
No, not really! I think five years ago, or so, Ben Gratwicke did something in Carpology but it hasn’t really been touched since. If it weren’t for the work Simon Scott has done in the media then no one would know anything at all about strains and stocking. No one really knows we are here. All our business is by word of mouth, and on recommendation. The way carp angling has been pushed is a shame. How many newcomers know any history about Redmire, say? I spoke to some guys in France last year and they were banging on about being able to catch all these huge ones out there, and they said they’d never fish anywhere like Redmire because it didn’t have a 30-pounder in there. That just epitomises the state of the scene and the opinions that have been created. I think a little bit of appreciation for that history needs to come back in, to try to generate a better appreciation of where carp fishing has come from, and where it could go.
There have been problems created in the English scene through illegally imported carp. What do you perceive to be the problems being created there?
It has created all manner of problems, but I think imports are viable partly due to naïvety. I feel very strongly about bio-security because of my education and work. It goes much, much deeper than the superficial problems associated with dropping huge European carp into our waters just because someone wants to catch a personal best. That is just the tip of the iceberg; the real problems are about bringing in diseases and viruses that do spread, and will kill fish, particularly with our river systems the way they are. With the level of flooding we are experiencing, seemingly every year, it is ever more important, and even with the best will in the world and the best fishery management, it is not always possible to stop the spread of these viruses. People desperately need to take heed and realise how detrimental this practice is the home-grown UK stock. With a little foresight, and some patience you only have to wait a few years to have some proper home-grown big fish. Aside from all that, CEFAS are catching numbers of people at the ports now, but due to the risks associated with the spread of disease these fish have to be killed. It makes me sad to know that happens, but they couldn’t be released back into the wild because of the potential disease hazards.
'It goes much, much deeper than the superficial problems associated with dropping huge European carp into our waters just because someone wants to catch a personal best. That is just the tip of the iceberg'
I can’t get my head around how people could even consider fishing for illegally imported foreign fish, and how much stress, damage and death they are essentially supporting. I almost wish we could print a list of the waters in the UK containing these type of fish.
There isn’t enough good education out there. How many carp anglers actually know what KHV is, how transmittable it is, how easily it can spread? Awareness is key. I think if someone is passionate enough to sit and fish for 48 hours, having probably paid a fortune for a ticket and their bait, then I think they should be prepared to do some homework to find out where the stock they are fishing for originated.
Would you say your work breeding these carp has affected your appreciation of them, and of angling in general?
Yes definitely, I’m much more inclined to head somewhere for some peace these days, so you’re more likely to find me chasing a myth on a 300-acre pit where I’ll see no one, than sitting on a pressured five-acre pond. Funnily enough, I also like fishing for those that don’t look like the ones I grow; I don’t like the idea of fishing for my own fish. I think you do generate some sense of attachment to them. I will have had the C6s on-site here for six summers, probably have photos of them during their development and there’s always that pre-harvest tension, hoping that they’ve survived and are still in there and still growing strong. I consider a 20-pounder to be huge fish still, and it’s a shame that the ‘big is better’ attitude prevails in many circumstances. A 20-pounder, or a 30 or even a 40-pounder has had to go through a hell of a lot to get to that size being bred in the wild, avoiding predators, surviving winters… they deserve the utmost respect, regardless of how big they are they should be appreciated.
Thanks, Ross. That’s been a really insightful and thought-provoking discussion. The cake and tea wasn’t half bad either. Cheers, Arthur!
'A 20-pounder, or a 30 or even a 40-pounder has had to go through a hell of a lot to get to that size being bred in the wild, avoiding predators, surviving winters… they deserve the utmost respect, regardless of how big they are they should be appreciated'