During the first week of January the Society organised a major fisheries management operation at Marsh Farm and Johnson’s. We decided not to run the nettings ourselves but use outside contractors for two reasons. One is they are more efficient and have all the right gear such as specialised electro fishing equipment and secondly we wanted to benefit from their expertise to get advice on how best to manage the waters. 5 Star Fisheries, based in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, came highly recommended for work they had done recently at Gatton Park. A three man team led by company boss Ben Cornick made the journey south to Godalming ready for 5 days work on our waters.
The operation had two main aims. These were:
1) Remove unwanted carp from Marsh farm waters
2) Asses the levels and health of stock in the waters so we can plan future policy on the basis of fact not assumption.
Removing the carp from the Marsh Farm waters is a major priority. We created Marsh Farm as a dedicated non-carp venue almost 20 years ago yet sadly an increasing numbers of larger carp have found their way into the venue. Of obvious concern is the potential for carp to hybridise with true strain crucians, a particular risk in the smaller waters of Marsh Farm. Also these fish will change the balance of fish stocks and the way anglers have to fish. If the carp are not removed we risk losing what makes Marsh Farm so unique and special.
Day One started on Hill Pond. This is relatively easy water to net being shallow and oval. The team undertook two sweeps and found 13 carp which were transferred to the holding ponds. They also found over 140lbs of crucians, 330lbs of silvers, just under than 50 lb of bigger skimmers and bream and one very large 2lb 8oz perch! The biggest bream were returned to Richardson and the rest went back to Hill Pond. One interesting feature of nettings is you never get all the fish in any venue. What the Hill Pond netting did not reflect was the tench population as most of the tench were hunkered in the margins.
Ben and the team were very positive about the health and condition of the fish in Hill Pond and felt the stocking level was about right at the moment.
Next up was Harris Lake. 5 Star took some time to run their fish finder over the lake and found the majority of fish in two pockets either side of the middle island. The first net was laid out on the Railway bank and produced a fantastic haul of mainly crucians with fish topping 3lb. Ben and the team were amazed at the quality of the fish and had never seen a net like it. They spend a lot of time on carp-dominated commercials where crucian populations simply can’t thrive as they do at Marsh Farm. The netting on the causeway side produced more tench along with some silvers but few rudd. Overall 207lb of crucian and 325lb of tench were netted and only one carp which was removed. There were no bream caught.
The fish in Harris are healthy and in good condition and have the potential to grow on even bigger. Ben did not recommend stocking more fish in the lake rather improving conditions for the existing stock to make the most of the great fish we have already.
Once again the echo sounder was used to locate the main areas of fish and these proved to be either side of the dog leg. Two nets were set out and the first to be pulled was on the Apollo bank. This yielded plenty of quality bream - an astonishing 1,147lbs of bream were caught mostly in this first net. The fish are generally in good health but not quite attaining their potential weights and again Ben has recommended some strategies to improve the condition of the fish. 500 lb plus of tench and 81lb of crucians were also caught along with some mixed silvers. But only 10 carp averaging 9lb each were netted.
Realising that the nettings were not picking up all the fish and in particular the carp, Ben and the team spent the next day electro fishing Richardson. The results were amazing. By working along the bankside and island margins and probing the undercut banks Ben and the lads extracted a further 45 carp - 34 commons and 11 mirrors. They also turned up regular pockets of roach and rudd, doubtless avoiding predation under the marginal cover, alongside an incredible population of young tench. As with Harris, Ben and his team were impressed by the quality of our waters and the ability we have to grow on tench populations. Something they just don’t see on carp dominated commercials.
I mentioned earlier that one reason for employing contractors is they have the equipment and expertise to do jobs that we simply lack. This was very evident when it came to netting Johnsons. Ben and the lads ran the echo sounder across the lake and located a concentration of fish about 80-100metres out. They then set about creating 380metre long net. In the past such a net would have been near impossible to pull but modern nets are much lighter as they use a slender leaded cord as an anchor. This does less damage to the lake bed and also means that one man can pull a very big net!
This perhaps makes the job sound easy- which it was not –but it was effective. The net yielded a fabulous haul of specimen fish. There were well over 50 big carp. Some were known fish – the Peach was caught and weighed at 43lb and there were other beautiful commons and mirrors some weighing 30lb plus. By no means all of these bigger fish were familiar to the team on the bank.
Surprisingly there were very few small carp and only 10 hybrids were netted. There were an estimated 150 tench with two bigger fish weighed at 7lb 2 and 8lb. Not many crucians featured either but the two biggest both weighed in at 4lb 8. A few roach were caught up to 1lb10 and surprisingly very few rudd. This shows again how nettings will only catch a proportion of the fish in a lake.
Once again Ben was impressed with the quality of the fish and their general health and condition. Further electro fishing of the margins at Johnson’s did not turn up huge concentrations of rudd or smaller carp/hybrids but there was evidence of cormorant damage on some fish notably crucians.
Summary and recommendations.
We have four excellent and different fisheries across the Marsh Farm and Johnson’s complex. Hill Pond has a healthy population of smaller silvers with tench and crucians as bonus fish which is perfect for coaching. Richardson has evolved as a tactical match venue with a good head of bream and tench and Harris offers a unique carp free specimen water open today ticket anglers and members alike with stunning crucians and tench. Johnson’s is an incredible water able to support specimen fish of all species from the humble roach to carp.
The stocking levels in each lake seem in balance and Ben does not recommend further stocking on any of these waters at the moment. His feeling is you don’t improve a fishery by adding more fish rather you do it by improving the condition and habitat of the stock you have got. Here are some key recommendations that the Society will be acting on in the coming months and years:
1) Silt management. Excessive silt build up across Marsh Farm in particular leads to a lack of oxygen in the bottom layers that does not support natural invertebrates for fish to feed on. This should be managed so natural feed supplies can flourish.
2) Cormorant predation. There are signs that classes of small fish are missing across the complex and evidence of damage to big crucians on Johnson’s. This remains an ongoing challenge for the society.
3) Supplementary feeding. Marsh farm in particular sees very low levels of angling activity over the winter and as such the fish tend to switch off. Supplementary feeding over the winter and particularly in early spring will help fish retain condition and put on extra weight and should also improve winter fishing prospects by keeping the fish active.
4) Carp management at Marsh Farm. Marsh farm is a unique venue where tench and crucians can flourish because of the absence of carp. The Society needs to stay on top of this going forward.
Overall this was a very positive and successful operation. We have established a good working relationship with the team from 5 Star which we hope to continue in the years ahead. They were truly awestruck by the fish we have here that we sometimes take for granted. There is something special in the geology and water quality of our lakes at Milford that allow cracking fish to thrive. We offer a diversity of angling across the complex that impressed our Yorkshire visitors which we will work hard to improve in the coming years.