Whatever venue you fish it’s a habitat. The healthier and more diverse it is, the richer and better it will be for producing and growing good fish.
A variety of techniques are used to improve habitats in stillwaters and rivers alike. The benefits are usually not only for the fish but the invertebrates, birds, plants and mammals. The benefits of an aesthetically pleasing fishery to visiting anglers also generally mean a healthier fishery that looks natural. The destructive nature of carp in the fishery, including a high population of ducks and red signal crayfish, can really change the dynamics of the bank via erosion and have a significant effect on the plant growth. The careful management of the crayfish to stop them burrowing into banks is advised with a well run routine of trapping, coupled with a managed culling of ducks to keep the numbers in check. The ducks can also have a lethal effect on the ammonia levels in the water through their faeces, if in high numbers. Growing marginal plants such as reed mace between pegs can help break up the overall impact of the man-made construction and offers cover for a range of aquatic creatures, while shrouding the view from the angler in the next peg, offering seclusion. It also offers possible sites for wetland-inhabiting ground birds and offers nesting sites for reed bunting and reed warbler, among others. This can also offer the angler another place to fish when established because fish find shelter in the shade from the beating sun around these big marginal reed beds in the hottest days. The other advantages are that they offer a refuge for the fish from avian predators and a resting place for predators such as pike and perch, waiting to ambush prey fish.
Something certainly on the increase is incorporating the odd shallow shelf or bay in newly dug fisheries or on a maintenance drain down. The main reason is to offer the fish somewhere suitable to spawn in a very deep fishery. This shallow area will provide appropriate substrate for weed growth to offer the fish the fitting medium to lay their eggs. This promotes natural recruitment that, with a variety of plant growth possible, can be enhanced by adding plant species to promote growth but also enhance the habitat for invertebrates and birds. Also, this weed provides a nursery habitat for small fish to grow out of reach of predators. Another idea that has been used on newly dug fisheries is adding clay humps. This is thought to help fish, especially carp, access nutrients, which is why it’s suspected that carp at certain times of the year rub against this aggregate because they gain a mineral through their skin that they are missing. If you have a large percentage of geese and ducks on the fishery, I would advise that any planting is protected by large chicken mesh cages to prevent the plants being uprooted or eaten. I have seen many days of marginal planting ruined by waterfowl in a matter of a few hours when left to their own devices. The protection from footfall and angler traffic through this newly formed growing part of the fishery is also advised to allow the plants to become established. Many a disgruntled angler has unwittingly undone a perfectly placed planting schedule just to get a slightly different angle for their line! I have used these areas as no-fishing banks to minimise the disturbance of anglers and offer the fish a haven to spawn and rest up after capture. This has helped push the fish and fishery to grow successfully in future years. The out-of-bounds areas, although castigated by anglers because they feel the fish have an advantage over them, have proved there worth on big fish venues up and down the country at times of stress on the fish like low oxygen in late summer mornings and repeat captures.
Islands can be used successfully as wildlife havens but most that I come across are overgrown and displaying a Christmas tree configuration of rigs and become the forgotten areas of the lake. The management of these is paramount to get the best from them. If you have a mass of trees on the island it really stops the wind funnelling down the length of the lake and offering you a good source of oxygen. The main reason to reduce tree cover is the potential for anglers to become snagged on the overhanging branches, creating possible fish-welfare problems. This has unfortunately become a far to common problem and caused the untimely death of many fish by mismanagement. The overhanging branches offer fish sanctuary from the avian predator, so it’s important to have some but they should be kept above the water to stop the possibility of snagged fish. The man-made floating islands, which are made from mesh and suspended, offer the same protection if your fishery doesn’t have an island. They are successfully used for a fish refuge on fisheries with a bad cormorant problem and now increased otter presence. These also need to be checked weekly at the very least because they become casting targets and festooned with rigs and line! These can also be planted on top to offer a pleasing colourful addition to your fishery and a possible nesting site for birds in spring. They do need checking regularly if planted, especially during winter, because otters will use them for a undisturbed place to eat their prey and can become magnets for fresh kills, which are out of sight and cleared away by numerous animals, leaving little trace. If you are looking to reduce the tree population on the island completely but don’t want to lose the cover provided, maybe consider adding lilies to the margins to offer cover. Avoid fringed lilies with small leaves up to four inches. These are highly invasive and can be very problematic. The yellow or white lily would be my choice and offer suitably large, nobbly root structures called rhizomes, which creep along the bottom of the lake and can cover a surprising distance once established, sending off leaf stalks at regular intervals. These rhizomes can be cut and moved around the lake to establish beds in different areas if needed. I would advise planting in a basket and weighting down with stones to prevent the carp uprooting them. Choose planting areas wisely. Looking for less than 5ft-deep water can be your best course of action to get them established. One of the main problems encountered on consultancy is the increased wear of the banks around the island from exiting and entering bird life, which can really be quite substantial if you have a good population. Faggoting or geotextile matting can be used around these worn pieces with soil back filling, which will help to stop the birds constantly using the same path. Or laying a woven hedge with the commonly found willow along affected parts to sprout up in spring can make a real nice natural look to the island. Possibly leaving the odd strategic gap where there is a shallower incline to allow them access elsewhere is advised, because ultimately they will find the path of least resistance to the water.
The reduction of trees around the perimeter can aid the fishery greatly, with winter being the best time to reduce the cover due to the lack of leaves.
I discussed in the silt management article the benefits below water but the benefits on the ground, as it were, are also very advantageous. The constant leaf fall on a path year on year creates a layer that becomes impenetrable to water runoff, turning the paths to a muddy mess. So the constant autumnal cycle of leaf fall is easier managed with fewer trees. The cleared trees will also allow wind and sunlight penetration that will help to keep the path dry and useable all year round. The problematic branches for anglers can become a proverbial Christmas tree of tackle if these aren’t identified and removed as soon as possible. Not only for the safety aspect for the anglers pulling for a break but for the birds, which can become entangled in the line and sometimes caught on live rigs with bait attached. The professionalism of tree companies means it can be done quickly and efficiently, even offering you bark chippings for your swims or to create paths around your venue, which can save you a bit of money. CMCS’ sister company, C&L Treecare Specialist Ltd, has a fully trained team dedicated to specialist fishery tree care and will advise and complete any tree work needed. The introduction of wind lanes, which is gaps in the trees, to allow wind penetration is a major factor and really helps the fishery thrive, including offering the fishery manager a better environment for fish, which is what we all want for our fishery.
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