I’ve never talked much about our fish on this blog, and since it’s animal week, then they should get a look in. We have three carp fishing lakes. Carp – ciprinids – are cool fish. Izaak Walton said so in his famous book, The Compleat Angler. To be precise, he said “The Carp is the queen of rivers; a stately, a good, and a very subtil fish” which was 1653-speak for ‘cool’. When we bought Les Fragnes, the lakes, which had been teeming with life when we viewed the property, were all completely empty. It was a massive blow and meant to we had to restock with carp.
There are several main varieties of carp – crucian carp, grass carp and common carp. Mirror carp, Royale carp and koi carp (goldfish) are variants on common carp that have arisen during their many years of domestication. We were looking for something in the common carp line. I’d started writing and emailing various fish farms in early September, but getting a reply was like getting blood out of a stone. I persisted in my pestering. Fortunately and finally, one pisciculteur in Indre got back to us and his prices for Royale carp were very attractive, so we went to visit. It was an impressive set up, clearly very professional and well managed, exactly the sort of place we wanted to get fish from. It offered a wide selection of fish – several types of trout, tench, perch, roach, catfish, common and Royale carp, pike, zander, sturgeon, grass carp and black bass. These were farmed in various sizes in various sized stock ponds. We watched as a delivery of trout was captured for a client. We peered into the various ponds. The manager netted a few carp to show us what they were like. They looked healthy and lively so we were satisfied. We came home and put in our first order – 550 kg of Royale carp in the range of 3 to 10 kgs, and two medium catfish. We opted for smaller fish as we knew we wouldn’t be opening for fishing business for at least another year and a half, so there was plenty of growing-on time for them. And the smaller you buy them, the cheaper they are. But small is relative here. Ten kg represents a stone and a half. That’s a lot of fish.
Royale carp are the night-club bouncers of the carp world. They’re solid fish with a large humpy shoulder, and as they mature they develop deep, round bellies. They’re browny-grey on their upper portion with a mustard yellow underside. Some have very distinctive patterns of scales. They’re handsome and imposing, a super fish to catch. Ours have the added advantage of being triploid, that is, sterile. They put all their energy into growing, rather than reproducing, which, when you want big fish, is all to the good. It also means they don’t display spawning behaviour so won’t stop biting during that period of the year. And a further plus is that the lake doesn’t fill up with lots of small carp which anglers will soon get fed up with catching.
We were very excited when the lorry turned up with our very first fish, almost exactly five years ago now. It was a white mini-tanker that made lots of satisfying swishing and sloshing noises, long after it had stopped moving. That could only be our carp eager to meet our lakes. It was a cold drizzly winter day – it was early November – and we were all suitably dressed in waterproofs, confident that we’d stay dry and warm during the proceedings. Not a bit of it. Unloading around 200 thrashing carp is a wet business. They send water up your sleeves, and splash it down your neck and into your boots. We were all soaked by the end of operations.
We began down at the big lake, and put around 100 of the biggest of the carp in there. There was just the one fishery employee. He suited up far more professionally than us, and took his position on the lorry. What had appeared at first to be one large tank was actually divided into half a dozen smaller ones. He opened one of these and began to net the carp. He lowered two or three into a large plastic box that Chris and I were steadying, reaching up with arms outstretched. This was why so much water ended up down our sleeves. The fish fought energetically against being put in. We then carefully lifted the boxes down and carried the fish between us to the lake. Caiti took a quick photo and we then gently tipped the fish out into their new home. The fish fought energetically against being emptied out. A few of them hung around for a short while before taking off, but most of them torpedoed away the moment they were in the lake. Benj lent us a hand so each of he, Chris and I did two out of three boxfuls of fish, but it was still muscle-aching work. Caiti snapped away. Ruadhri soon lost interest and wandered off to play in total and happy neglect.
The last fish to go into the big lake was the Wels catfish. He was 27 kg, which is a magnificent and large quantity of silurus glanis. Dark grey, long and sinuous, rows of tiny teeth, six sensitive barbels, sharp pectoral fins that wash the prey into the cavernous mouth – this guy was a custom-built killing machine. The fishery employee lowered him into our waiting plastic box. Would he even fit? Somehow he coiled himself up in it. Then into the lake he went. He was momentarily quiet, then with a muscular ripple of his body, he disappeared into the depths.
We’ve since topped up the stock by another few hundred carp, including some superb specimen fish who went in at 20 kg, a consignment of grass carp, a few more catfish and one sturgeon. So, with the exception of campagnols, carp are the most common creature to be found at Les Fragnes. But you’ve got to catch them first …!