The fish jagged aggressively for the deeper water further out. It was most definitely a crucian; my first of the day. I’d been fishing since dawn, waiting patiently for those first signs of activity in the swim, a bubble perhaps or an amber flank rolling. Instead, it was a gentle tremor that, because I was now so tightly coiled in anticipation, saw me strike far too soon and miss the bite. If you could even call it a bite, that is. In keeping with the traits of my quarry, that tiny, minuscule movement most certainly fell under the ‘bite’ category. I’ve said it before; they are frustrating to angle for. An archetypal fish, perhaps. Everything required to be an angler can be tested on a trip after crucians. At least the way I like to fish for them, on float tackle.
Seconds passed as the determined fighter struggled to find sanctuary. My landing net swept him up and onto the bank. A time to enjoy his beautiful shape and form in the diffused early morning light. A dinner plate of golden scales. Once admired, the fish was carefully released in the next swim. I was fishing so very close in that it would have been unwise to release him in my own. He would surely go and tell his friends that the feast they were starting to enjoy had a sting in its tail. I resumed fishing, at the same time enjoying a large cup of tea and slice of malt loaf for breakfast, but before I had a chance to finish my snack, the float sank again. Quite confidently, for a change, and another fight commenced. A crucian once more, this one that much angrier than the first. Or maybe a little bigger? It certainly took longer to net and was nearly lost in the reeds several times, but somehow made it onto the bank; a fine two pounder.
Once more I fed the swim, a chance to finish my now ‘optimal drinking temperature’ tea undisturbed, and a perfect opportunity to let any fish in the swim graze undisturbed. I watched several brightly coloured finches barter over some food source or other, fed the resident mallards’ young a few grains of sweetcorn, and almost forgot that waiting in the margin, picking delicately at the particles I had laid down, lurked big crucians. My next cast resulted in a missed bite. Then another. Each strike into nothingness more disappointing and frustrating than the last. So much for winning their confidence. You’re just spooking them, I told myself, and they’re spooky enough already. A deep breath and one last mouthful of tea to calm my nerves before the rig was sent back out. I sat, poised, and hoped.
Tense minutes passed by, maybe fifteen or more, and I grew increasingly convinced I’d spoilt the fishing. Too many missed bites. I teased the rig a little, moving the hookbait slowly, in an attempt to induce a bite. To my absolute delight it worked, as the float sank from sight. No fussy eating this time, just a confident sail away bite, one that even the Kid from ‘Pinball Wizard’ could have made contact with. It was a crucian yet again, steadier and less feisty than the previous two, plodding up and down just over the margin. I took my time, after all, this fish felt like the biggest crucian I had ever hooked. And although not the factor influencing my fishing for them, it would be a fantastic bonus. An eternity seemed to pass. Begrudgingly the fish came up to the surface. It’s head and broad shoulders rose out squarely from the divide between our world and theirs. That all important gulp of air stopped the fish from fighting, and to my delight, the crucian was beaten.
Through squinted eyes, I cautiously took a look at her in the landing net. Incredible depth, almost equal to her length. As I carefully hoisted the fish onto the mat it became apparent how big she was. I’m not just talking about her weight but her presence. Strange to think of a relatively small fish of having presence. A marked difference between the two pounder I caught before and I thought that fish looked impressive. At 3lb 1oz she was indeed a fish I have dreamt of catching, ever since I first sat on that farm pond, almost 25 years ago. Never once did I think I was in with a chance of achieving it as I set out at an ungodly hour that morning.
I could have looked at that fish for a long time. It really was a beautiful and rare creature. But the time had come to let her go. For some other lucky angler to have an encounter with and hopefully appreciate as much as I. The session itself offered a few more fish, and I ended up with seven crucians, six fish over two pound, topped by my first ever over the three pound barrier. It was a day to remember and it had only just passed eleven o’clock. With my bait in short supply and the bites now few and far between, home seemed the best option. My expectations already far, far exceeded. What a fantastic experience. They don’t come along that often and I for one am glad they don’t. It makes them all the more precious when they do.
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