I consider myself to be a fortunate soul. I have a good life, good friends and plenty of interests to keep me looking forward to times spent away from work. Any regular readers of my articles will know that my most enduring passion is angling and that I love passing on my love of fishing to others.
In this regard, I am also fortunate. As I work in a school, the running of an angling club is relatively easy and it allows me to put something back into angling. Encouraging and helping the future generation of anglers into this great sport gives me satisfaction beyond measure. I still remember my long and difficult apprenticeship and if I can help in any way to guide young people along this path then thatâ€™s just great.
The School I work for has a pond. When I arrived at the School some eight years ago now, I resolved that its neglected, somewhat overgrown and silted-up water feature would be regenerated and stocked with trout. Nothing works better in getting youngsters hooked on fishing than to give them a beautiful loch where they have a good chance of becoming attached to one of its finned residents.
One half of the School pond
I can happily report that thanks to the very generous help of two parents, plus the enthusiastic help of Ted Carr and Patrick Bowden-Smith, we now have a pond that is back to its former glory and filled with hard-fighting brown trout.
The re-establishment of the pond as a successful fishery has been a fascinating journey which has taught me much. Long ago, I had embarked on a fisheries management course but this was usurped by the more pressing demands of an 11-month deployment to Bosnia and following that a two-year MSc course and the sitting of my Chartered Engineering Review. I still remain interested in fisheries management and the process of regenerating the pond has therefore been absorbing. If truth be told, I am sure that I would have found it easier to pass a qualification in fisheries management than I did my Masters and Professional Review such is the power of enthusiasm!
With the necessary funds offered by a very generous parent, the first step we had to undertake was the partial draining of the pond to allow the removal of many tons of silt and organic debris that was choking the life out of it. This we did in halves, keeping the water level up in one half of the pond at a time, to allow us to move any existing fish into this half whilst we drained the other â€“ the pond, being somewhat dumbbell-shaped, made this easy to accomplish. This preliminary operation was in itself a fascinating procedure as we really had no idea what we would find. The resultant mix of abandoned goldfish (a quite extraordinary number!), small roach, minnows and large eels were moved with the minimum of distress and the dredging was conducted successfully. The enthusiasm and interest of Ted and Patrick throughout was infectious and made even the messiest or mundane tasks enjoyable â€“ itâ€™s easy to learn when you are enjoying yourself.
The next stage was a waiting game for we decided that we needed the best part of a year and a half to allow the pond to â€˜settleâ€™ and regenerate itself with a good level of biodiversity before we introduced any apex predators. This ended up being a less inactive period than we would have liked, as we spent our time tracing and dealing with a number of leaks brought about by the disruption of our dredging operations. Being a natural structure, we knew our works were likely to have an impact we could not predict completely and so it proved to be. Some of the field drainage in the area of the pond dated from Napoleonic times â€“ so working out where water was going proved to be interesting and far from straightforward. Happily though, our leak-repairing was successful and we could then sit back and let nature do its stuff.
It certainly did. It was truly amazing to see the speed with which nature re-established itself when given a helping hand. Before long, the pond was sustaining a huge number of snails, damsel flies, hog-louse and various other flies â€“ all good trout food!
The stocking was done thanks to the generosity of another of our parents â€“ who just happens to run a trout hatchery. It was great to learn so much about stocking theory and trout husbandry from Craig. His knowledge and undisputed empirical experience allied to his wonderfully gentle yet authoritative manner meant it was very easy to treat our every meeting as a â€˜school dayâ€™. We stocked a range of fingerlings, one-year and two-year fish which means that we have that most precious of things â€“ a stocked water that feels like a natural one. You are never sure just what size of fish is likely to rise to your fly which makes a pleasant change from our ubiquitous rainbow-trout waters where you know that most fish will be at the 2lb markâ€¦
One of the pondâ€™s bigger residents â€“ tempted by a weighted nymph
Towards the end of the summer we engaged in weed cutting in order to ensure that both our young anglers and canoeists continued to be able to enjoy the pond at its best (yes â€“ they can coexist happily together). The removal of excess weed, given the relative shallowness of the pond (and therefore limited volume of water) will prove essential on an ongoing basis to ensure that the pond does not suffer as it did in the past from low dissolved oxygen (DO) levels which makes keeping a healthy head of fish untenable. It was certainly noticeable that the trout took far longer to recover from being hooked in the high summer months where the water was warmer and therefore held a lower DO level than they did when the water was cooler. Too many weeds and the resulting demand for DO in the hours of darkness when plant life respires rather than photosynthesises is the single most challenging issue for a pond such as ours.
As we get towards October and the end of the pondâ€™s first season in its new form, I am happy to report that the fishing has been challenging (there is such a huge supply of natural feeding why would they chase something that doesnâ€™t look just right?) but that a good number of our young anglers have exercised its finned residents. A number of the larger fish have also been caught and released so interest remains high from the members of the Club which is just what we want.
However, no-one has yet caught the monster fish I just happen to know we slipped into the pondâ€™s depths when young eyes were busy reading text books â€“ but I canâ€™t wait to hear the story from the pupil who does!