Anglers, like schoolteachers and football managers have their favourites. For the teacher it's the little girl with pigtails who presents the teacher with a weekly apple and an end of term mug bearing the legend "World's greatest teacher", for Roy Hodgeson it's Jack Wilshere, and for me it's perch, but followed very closely by my next best thing: the crucian. I think perch edge it for me because (a) I've caught so many of them, (b) I've caught a number of reasonably big ones and (c) because they're so widely distributed. By contrast, in over 30 years of angling I've never caught a crucian over a pound, haven't caught that many of them, and there are precious few lakes left that contain genuine 100% pure bred crucians. I did spend one summer fishing mostly for crucians at a local estate lake, which has now sadly been filled in and been replaced by soul-less executive houses, but here the fish were a mixture with some true crucians, but also hybrids, feral goldfish and in one instance a crucian-like apparition of about a pound with an enormous fan tail that gave my son a lively tussle on a very light pole rig. I even sent some photo's of my estate lake catches to Peter Rolfe, the country's leading crucian afficianado, and he confirmed some of the fish to be true crucians and others to be ...... well, you know how it goes. A typical catch from the estate lake (and here's hoping that the foundations of the expensive new houses subside and sink into the mud of what was once the pond) is pictured below.
I love crucians for the same reason that I (to my guilt and shame) bullied some of my classmates at school: for their plump rotundity, shyness and plodding nature. They evoke memories of a different era, of small farm ponds and fishing in the days before bite alarms were invented, the angling equivalent of village green cricket, warm beer, Morris dancers and church clocks chiming. If a fish can epitomise English values it's the crucian: solid, dependable, not ostentatious or showy, and with a unique beauty that's there in spades if you care to look for it.
I also enjoy the styles of angling that are most commonly associated with crucians. The crucian is a fish that is most frequently chased with float tackle, whether the pole fishing approach that my friend Roger was using to land the fish in the photo above, and which has accounted for most of my son's crucian captures, or the more traditional reed waggler and centre pin reel approach that I tend to favour. Although small, they're no mugs either, and bites can be finicky and tackle often needs to be fined down. I even have a favourite float for crucians, made by master Devonian floatmaker Ian Lewis, a sarkandas reed float with a small bristle insert, known as the "Crucian Bristle Tip."
I'm fortunate that there are a couple of pretty lakes near me which hold true crucians, although in both of them the fish are small. I'm sure they do run bigger, but I've never seen one come out of either venue that would go heavier than half a pound. However, with crucians the lack of ounces is more than made up for by attractiveness and (comparative) rarity value. The Angling Trust are now making a much deserved fuss of the crucian, encouraging the reintroduction of authentic crucians into well managed fisheries, and have designated June to be "Catch a Crucian month", with a photographic competition to accompany the publicity push.
As for me, like Martin Luther King, "I have a dream". Not one as worthy and epoch changing as his, but one that may just be shortly realised. My friend and well known angling journalist, Bill Rushmer, is organising a September trip to Marsh Farm for members of the Christian Anglers forum and their friends. Now, if there is a place of special pilgrimage for crucians then Marsh Farm is it; the venue from which the last couple of record fish have come, a place where the progency of the fish is known and attested, and a place where personal bests are a very real possibility. (if you don't believe me, look at the picture below of Bill with one of his many notable Marsh Farm captures). My dream is for a 2 pounder, which in a water which holds 3 and 4 pounders seems to me to be a modest one, lacking in avarice, altogether reasonable and unassuming, just like the fish itself. I may not achieve the dream, but be sure of this: I'll have fun trying.