Netting the Lakes

A couple of weeks ago we had our lakes netted. This is something all lake owners need to do to remove the small silver fish (perch and roach) that, as their numbers increase, start to compete with the carp or other stocked fish for food. It also gives you a chance to see how this latter group of fish are coming along. Of course, it doesn’t come cheap, as it’s a very labour-intensive business, which is why we’d waited until now to undertake it. An enterprising young fish farmer from the UK had contacted us out of the blue in the spring, offering us his services at a competitive rate. We um-ed and ah-ed and then decided to go for it. It would be fascinating to watch, as well as beneficial to our fish. So we booked him for three days in November to net two of our three lakes.

Up until the day they arrived, the autumn had been warm and sunny. Then temperatures plummeted, the sky clouded over and icy drizzle fell. Three days of being freezing cold lay in wait - and that was just for Chris and me watching from the bank! How Jack and his assistant Dan withstood hours on end sloshing around in water around nine degrees Celsius I don’t know. I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. The lads were energetic and jovial, and worked quickly and efficiently. They did everything by hand, since using machinery to pull nets through lakes damages the banks and beds. The only time they didn’t use their own power was when they very occasionally used their electric-motored boat. First they set their huge net as close to the banks as possible, and then slowly tugged it in, hand over hand, to become smaller and smaller, trapping the fish. At this point it became a pen and the sides were supported with rods to keep things firmly in place. (And talking about rods, the netting brought a fishing rod to light! An angler recognised it from the photo on Facebook we put up and admitted that the catfish had pulled it into the water.)

netting

Then the next stage began. Because the fish farmer couldn’t come until next day to take away our excess silver fish, Jack and Dan erected another pen and began to scoop out these little fish in hand-held nets from the first pen into this one. The silver fish were milling around at the surface, whilst the carp were lurking lower down. Jack and Dan netted out just shy of 270kg of small roach. There were very few perch, which was a bit of a surprise as we’d seen plenty in the past. Most likely Big Bad Barry, the big catfish that lives in that lake, was partial to them. Jack set up a battery-operated air pump in the roach pen to keep them healthy whilst being so constrained, and he and Dan turned their attention to the big carp. They pulled the pen in as small as they could and then it was arms into the water to catch each big, beautiful carp, carefully lift it out and hold it long enough, if possible, to allow us to take a photo, before returning it to the lake. Big Bad Barry didn’t appear, but he’d been in the net at some point as he’d left some regurgitated fish behind. It’s a catfish thing. There were a few snags on the lake bottom that Jack and Dan had had to lift the net over, and doing this briefly opens up an escape hatch through which determined fish can rapidly swim through. In addition, some overgrowing branches meant that the lads couldn’t get the net right up against the bank in several places, but they covered around three-quarters of the lake I would think.

netting

We fed the lads and thawed them out in the gîte - we thawed out in our house - and then they set off to their AirBnB in Clugnat, conveniently situated next to the bar, while we did the usual evening round of livestock-related jobs, very chuffed with the day’s events.

Netting the much larger Alder Lake was a two-day affair. The lads sewed two nets together to make one long one that would stretch across the lake and divide it in two. Then they set to work, netting the dam wall end to start with. Their many hours of cold labour reacquainted us with about thirty of our carp, introduced us to our one zander and removed another quarter of a tonne of silver fish. These were mainly good-sized little perch. The fish farmer, who’d come first thing that morning to take away the small fish from Notaire’s Lake, returned to collect this latest haul. He seemed very pleased with them, as he had been with the first batch, and it was obviously well worth his while to make the trip twice in one day from his base about an hour away. There’s good demand for small roach and perch from fishing shops, and Chris and I were pleasantly surprised by the size of the cheque we received for them. The fish farmer didn’t want very small perch, or any sun perch (also known as pumpkin seeds), a few of which we have in our lakes. These are freshwater fish native to the south-eastern United States which have found their way into European waterways through irresponsible aquarium owners dumping the exotic contents of their tanks into streams or rivers. These particular fish don’t cause us a problem as we don’t have that many and the only ones we’ve ever seen have been very small. Sun perch specialise in eating molluscs and so don’t compete with the other fish in our lakes anyway. Our cats were quite happy to deal with anything the fish farmer rejected!

netting

The second day on Alder was the trickiest, and by far the worst weather-wise too. A bitter wind picked up from the west, slicing through us on the bank and those in the water, and making it trickier to haul in the nets since that was toward the wind. In addition, Alder has two shallow bays to negotiate, and a large stump (the nick-named totem pole) to work around. Most of the carp turned out to be in this end of the lake and the lads had a lot of heavy lifting to do removing them all from the pen. The fish farmer made his last trip and took away another quarter tonne of small fish. We’d offset about three quarters of the cost of netting the fish from the proceeds for our perch and roach. We had no idea this would be the case and so we’re kicking ourselves for not netting the lakes before. We vowed to make this a regular event from now on, every two to three years. While the fish farmer was there we put in an order for some catfish for the top of the two Notaire’s Lakes, the one which we hadn’t netted this time around.

netting

The catfish arrived ten days later, five splendid, custom-built eating machines, one of which was 49 kg (110 lbs). “Big shits,” announced the fish farmer proudly, and then proceeded to haul each one out of the tank into a waiting net held by Chris, with help from Rors and me. Each catfish was gently lowered to the bank, photographed, and then sent slithering on its way into its new home. The idea for getting them was to make this underused top lake more attractive to anglers and spread them between the two Notaire’s Lakes, plus to appeal to a new market of catfish fans. We have every confidence this ploy will work out and not end up on the ‘good idea at the time’ roll of honour. But only time will tell.

netting