Saturday, 1 June 2013

Afore Ye Go — Marsh Farm Crucian Carp

It's the angling world's most famous crucian carp fishery without any shadow of a doubt. Holding fish to eye-popping size, Marsh Farm offers the angler not only the chance of breaking the British record for the species but the certainty of bettering their best. Almost without exception, every angler I know of set their own record there and if they ever considered beating it twice over would have to return finding it almost impossible to better on home waters because so few do hold fish to compare to even its average stamp let alone it's largest.

PB number 1
A complex of lakes set in the Surrey countryside at Milford, there's crucians in every one but very large specimens probably in only two and on any weekend in Spring and Summer the banks will be lined with anglers hell bent on bettering that difficult-to-beat PB.

But don't be fooled by reports...

An easy trick to turn is what you'll have been led to believe — do this do that, set up, chuck out, sit back and await the inevitable but despite the reputation created for it by the media as a day ticket venue with big fish on tap, in reality it's not quite so easy and the truth far less palatable because where crucians are concerned, many will go away empty handed.

On my first trip to Harris Lake I failed to understand how to even go about 'serious' crucian fishing though I'd experience of catching them less than seriously elsewhere. I had large fish that were clearly them priming in my swim yet couldn't get them on my hook and through lack of knowledge went home with just a 4 ounce baby on my score card.

However, on that day even those in the know struggled and from a lake brimming with anglers most blanked outright, just a handful succeeded to bank one and only the most determined and skillful managed more. I doubt if there were more than ten crucians caught between thirty anglers and every one that was caught was quickly signaled around the lake by word of mouth. Everyone knew what was caught and where and that seemed very important at the time...

That was lesson number one. These fish were pressured in a way that is quite out of the ordinary for crucian carp, a fish overlooked most anywhere else as the accidental by-catch of a mixed net and ignored as a viable target. Here, every single soul around the lake fished for just one thing and it was clear it'd been fished this way around the clock all summer long and for years on end. Those crucians were as clued up as a crucian could be so I really did have to set out my stall next time around to fish expressly for them and nothing else with everything besides regarded as their inevitable by-catch and making all my future decisions and adjustments with them in mind.

Fishing tight to the margins for miniscule bites  is hard work
The second problem was the by-catch. On the specimen day ticket lake, Harris, that will certainly be tench. And what hard fighting tench they are! This in itself is a trouble because landing a three pound crucian is one thing, an equivalent male tinca quite another...

So, do you go as fine as feasibly possible in order to get those crucians biting, or do you fish heavy and bank the lot?

By my second trip I'd learned my lessons having previously tackled up very delicately for crucians but snapped up on lots of tench, so I made the compromise that really matters. I balanced the tackle throughout, stayed fine, but decided upon a better strategy for landing those troublesome tincas.

They might be something of  a nuisance but at six-pounds plus well worth fishing for in their own right

The tench there have a habit of seeking the reed beds in the final stages of the fight, just like chub they head for the snags under the near bank. I found that bullying would have me out of control with an enraged fish where gently teasing it along and having it tire itself as far as possible in open water gave a greater chance of landing it and avoiding the pain of retackling time after time. It would have been far easier to fish 6lb pound line throughout, of course, but I was certain that would have cost dearly in terms of my chances with the educated target.

Without tench the lake would be a cakewalk in terms of sitting it out for those legendarily hard to see let alone hook bites that crucians give. You'd just fish till the signs of fish being about arrived and then proceed to strike at any small movement until you hooked one or two and got your eye in with the pattern on the day. This is nigh impossible because the vast majority of bites you will get will not be from crucians so reading patterns is very hard work confused by the fact that early signs with tench can seem identical to those from crucians so striking at what are actually line bites can result in foul hooked tench which given their pugnacious nature when properly hooked are an unsavoury prospect when hooked in the tail...

I got around this problem by developing what is now my standard canal roach rig but was created at Marsh Farm across those two sessions, mistake by mistake, success by success. It shows only true bites when set up correctly and better still, it distinguishes between those from tench and crucian.

When a fish picks up the bait the float rises in the water — when it drops it again it sinks back down — but line bites don't happen that way with it so there's absolutely no confusing one with the other.

Tench bites lift and then zip under while crucian bites are a pattern of lift and drop, so all I had then to do was wait a while to see which it was, and if it was crucian not a tench playing with the bait I'd ready myself to strike at the next small lift and on the rise.

These problems when thought about, worked through and answered with appropriate tackle adjustments and fight strategies worked brilliantly. That second trip I managed to bank every tench hooked with two 'fives' and a six-pounder amongst them, but also three crucians graced my net including that inevitable PB which was beaten three times over in succession.

And number two...

What was also remarkable about that session was not only that I went on to catch more fish than anyone else around the lake but actually caught almost as many fish as the entire field combined yet the banks were lined with really good anglers. It was a cakewalk for me that day (I thought I'd cracked it wide open...) and the fella to my immediate left didn't get even a single bite yet I was there with a bend in my rod all morning long, and that's the third problem with Marsh Farm.

Followed swiftly by the third ...
Not only do you have to set up to fish well and devise strategies that lend you that critical edge, you must also seek to find the fish too because Harris is incredibly 'peggy' with even adjacent swims let alone different areas of the lake producing startling differences in fortune between equally skilled anglers.

Luckily crucians are carp after all, cannot resist showing themselves and will prime in any swim where they are actively feeding. Those are the swims where you must be fishing. They also like to be where tench are feeding so patches of bubbles are a good sign, in fact the reason I chose the swim where I had such good fortune was because at first light it was the one where large patches and tracks of them were spotted rising.

Anglers arriving and filling every available peg on a weekend morning is too much company!
From my limited experience but sharp eyed observance of patterns and trends when there, I would say move along if you don't see a crucian topping close by soon enough. But moving along on a weekend session is going to be difficult with the banks crammed by eleven and club members fishing from dawn so I would also recommend visiting mid-week and getting there when the gates open to day ticketers at 7am.

Firstly you'll be in with a chance of securing a good peg by observing fish movements before choosing your swim but also because arriving late will give you less of a chance because Harris tends to fish very poorly come afternoon, a fact I observed and that was confirmed by a regular club member who fishes the place once a week throughout summer.

As for the fourth problem — and one that I'd not imagined could arise let alone be bargained for !

Well, my third session report from Marsh Farm will go into some detail about that...

Expect it soon enough.


  1. Good write up, but a couple of extra observations I would make. First the media reports of large crucians from Marsh Farm in recent times are all exclusively from the members only lake behind the day ticket lakes, known as Johnson's Lake it is the original source for stocking the match lakes.
    Second is that although the match lakes, primerilly Harris, produced very big crucians in the initial years it no longer does that. When I first fished there and catches of several 3lb fish in a day ware not unusual, the crucians were the predominate species and a bite usually came from them. Then the club stocked numerous small tench and even bream to a point where they became the major stocking in the lake. This was partially balanced by the EA giving numerous small crucians to be stocked into the match lakes, these fish being in the ounces range rather than pounds.
    Then there is the fact that often the crucians can become almost impossible to catch during the daylight hours, but become almost suicidal after dark. The club ticket holder can stay on for this, but the day ticket visitor must leave before the gates lock making another hurdle to jump.
    The visiting angler can still get a great days sport and 2lb plus fish are a realistic target. The 3lb fish will be a very difficult target though not impossible and meanwhile the tench to over 5lb can give one hell of a lot of sport on the fine tackle.

    1. There's a lot of extra & useful info for the day ticket angler there Phil, and I agree with all of it. It is difficult on Harrisons for various reasons and the those tench, though they do at least give you a good arm wrenching, do confuse the issue to the point where it seems impossible to get a 'feeling' for the crucians. Fishing tight to the reeds is one way out of the hole but as you say, they are very wary during the daylight hours and not at all easy even early morning so even that doesn't guarantee a thing.

      Nevertheless, catch even one and most anglers will set a PB there, and that's still something that Harrisons can boast even though its glory days are clearly long gone.

  2. Top write up Jeff, i must pay a visit too Marsh Farm as i live only twenty minutes away!

    1. You really should, Tom. And if you're that close you can afford to do it regularly because the ticket is very fair for what it offers at £7 all day for one rod (two are a bloody liability!) so you could really get stuck in and work through it.

  3. Hi Jeff

    Looking at the second photo - the one where you are 'chilled bank side' I note that you have a folding stool / ruck sack combo plus a chair. The question is how do you get on with the folding stool / ruck sack combo? I've fancied one for a while, are they impractical for all day sessions?



    1. The folding rucksack stool is brilliant kit for what I do, Mark. For roving the canal it just can't be bettered and though it can be hard to sit on for extended periods, I don't fish it for any long than four. Everywhere else I take it as the tackle bag, use a low chair to sit on but use it as a handy table on which I can place bits of kit and use it as an arm rest and back rod rest too. I can't recommend them highly enough for mobile anglers. They don't sit well on slopes is the only drawback I can find with them.

    2. Thanks Jeff BTW - What make is yours?


    3. Mark, it's a Daiwa 'Wilderness' retailing at around £24

  4. Shakespeare do a folding rucksack with a stool that comes with a back rest too. I don't find it particularly comfortable for longer sessions though. And the bag is not very large.

    I much prefer a decent ruckscack (Korom ITM) along with a proper folding chair (adjustable legs etc) with a strap that can be put over your shoulders. A very comfortable way to fish and good for roving too.

    I'm very tempted by a TFG Compact Seat Box with ruck straps. Allows you to float fish 'properly' (ie seated upright) and more lightweight than a 'proper' match-style seat box. Bit pricey though?

  5. Anglers arriving and filling every available peg on a weekend morning is too much company!

    Nice photo Jeff ... but it was a Wednesday
    Gary Cullum (pictured)
    Hemel Hempstead

    1. Hi Gary, I thought it must have been a weekend by the sheer numbers present! If I remember correctly you fished that day with a rather nice cane rod?