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Coarse Fishing in the South Wessex Area

December 9 2008

Tom Carter - 5lb Avon Bream

The Hampshire Avon

The Hampshire Avon rises in the Vale of Pewsey and, with its tributaries the Bourne and Wylye, drains the chalk of Salisbury plain. The River Nadder, which is joined by the Wylye near Salisbury drains part of the South Wiltshire Downs and (more significantly for anglers) the clays of the Wardour Vale.

The River Ebble and the Ashford Water enter the Avon downstream of Salisbury and Fordingbridge respectively.
Below Fordingbridge a number of New Forest streams enter the Avon. The Avon flows into Christchurch Harbour where it is joined by the River Stour.

The total fall from Pewsey to the sea is 110m, the average gradient downstream of Salisbury is approximately 2m/km. The flow is characterised by a high groundwater component derived from springs rising in the headwaters of the Avon and its major tributaries.

The river and its tributaries are of national and international importance for their wildlife communities. The majority of the river has been designated as a river Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The river is also a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EU Habitats Directive (Atlantic Salmon are listed as threatened in Annexe II of the EC “Habitats and species” Directive). The catchment is an internationally important area for over wintering waders and wildfowl.

The Hampshire Avon is nationally renowned as one of Britains' premiere coarse fisheries. The name 'Hampshire Avon' distinguishes it from the other seven 'River Avons' found in the UK, while in fact the Hampshire Avon passes through Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset.

The Avon is essentially a 'chalk stream', the chalk aquifer ensures an exceptionally high water quality contributing to the species richness and the abundance of aquatic biota, this has proved a highly advantageous situation for coarse fish populations in the Avon, in terms of growth rates.

The chalk influence of the Avon catchment ensures that the river reacts relatively slowly to rainfall compared to the clay dominated Dorset Stour catchment. However once the chalk aquifer reaches critical saturation level during winter, the springs 'break'. The extra groundwater often maintains a high flow and level through the rest of the winter. Without the influence of floodwater from the Nadder, the Avon would run clear for most of the year.

Species of coarse fish to be found in the Avon include barbel, bream, carp, chub, dace, perch, pike, and roach. All of these species reach specimen sizes, in particular barbel, chub, pike and roach. The majority of coarse angling takes place between Salisbury and Christchurch.

The Avon is perhaps best known for its superb roach fishing. Many specimens of 2lb+ are caught every year including several fish over 3lbs. The best roach fishing can be found on the middle and lower reaches of the river. Local roach anglers will often wait until the New Year before targeting specimen roach. By this time the river has flushed out old weed growth and the increased flows will have pushed roach into their winter lies. Notable areas for specimen roach include: Salisbury & DAC and London AA waters around Salisbury; Fordingbridge Rec. (day ticket venue); Christchurch AC stretches (Fordingbridge area and Somerely Estate); Ringwood & DAS (Ibsley and Ringwood area) through to Winkton (day ticket).

Chub fishing has been extremely good over recent years, 2001 was no exception with many fish in the 6lb bracket, several of 7lb+ (up to 7lb10oz) the largest chub reported included fish of 8lb 2oz and 8lb 10oz. Specimen chub are caught throughout the season. Notable areas for chub extend from Salisbury to Hale, but also include the middle to lower reaches: Christchurch AC waters (Somerely Estate, Royalty Fishery); Ringwood & DAS (Ibsley and Ringwood area); Lifelands (day ticket).
Barbel captures reported in 2001 included many fish between 10lb+ and 13lb+, most of these fish came from the middle and lower stretches of the Avon. Exceptional specimens reported in 2001 included fish of 16lb 4oz, 15lb1oz, and 14lb 5oz. Barbel are caught throughout the season and are to be found from London AA waters around Salisbury downstream to the Royalty Fishery at Christchurch. Areas of note include: Lifelands, Ringwood, Severalls Fishery, and the Royalty Fishery.

Dace are found throughout the Avon and River Nadder. In 2001 Lifelands and the Severalls Fishery, Ringwood produced 30lb nets of dace during the autumn. The Royalty Fishery at Christchurch offers good all round coarse fishing, with barbel 10lb+, carp 30lb+, chub 6lb+, pike 30lb +, nets of dace, and in 2001 a 200lb haul of bream was reported. The Royalty Fishery is now under the control of Ringwood and District A.A., day tickets are available as usual.

Season tickets, guest tickets and day tickets for various club waters can be obtained from local tackle shops. There are also a number of smaller syndicates that offer limited membership and access to estate waters. Day ticket fisheries can be found at Fordingbridge, Ringwood, Bisterne, Winkton and the Royalty at Christchurch.

The Dorset Stour

The Stour rises on the greensand at St Peter's Pump in Stourhead Gardens and flows 96km to the sea at Christchurch: the fall over its entire course is approximately 230m. The catchment lies predominantly within the county of Dorset with smaller areas falling within Somerset and Wiltshire.

From Stourhead, the river flows south to Gillingham where it is joined by the Shreen and Lodden. The Blackmore Vale to the west and south is drained by the Stour and a dense network of tributaries. Flowing towards Sturminster Newton, the Stour is joined by several clay influenced tributaries. Fewer tributaries join the Stour as it flows through a narrower valley towards Blandford Forum. Downstream of Blandford the landscape opens up again across pasture and arable fields. Towards the coast, the floodplain widens to form extensive level pastures, marsh and mudflats, meeting the Hampshire Avon at Christchurch Harbour.

The clay influence of the Blackmore Vale ensures that the river reacts more quickly to rainfall compared to groundwater dominated chalk streams in the neighbouring Frome and Avon catchments. Rapidly rising levels and coloured water are regular winter features of this river.

The Dorset Stour has often been perceived as being outshone by its near neighbour the Hampshire Avon. However “dyed in the wool” Stour anglers have over the years quietly notched up some very impressive specimen coarse fish catches topped by the British record roach of 4lb 3oz from Corfe Mullen in 1990.

Through the summer months the many relatively slow flowing impounded sections on the Stour are highly productive in terms of aquatic plants and invertebrates supporting a wide diversity of coarse fish species with roach being the most abundant. However, the Stour has traditionally been regarded as a winter fishery, fishing well once the weed has blown out, especially after a flood, when the river is fining off but still carrying a little bit of colour.

Species of coarse fish to be found in the Stour include barbel, bleak, bream, carp, chub, dace, perch, pike, roach and tench. Barbel, chub, pike and roach all reach specimen sizes.

Coarse fishing takes place on the Stour from Gillingham to Christchurch Harbour. The upper reaches from Gillingham to Marnhull are noted for throwing up the occasional big roach of 2lb+. Chub, dace, perch and pike are also present. Most of the club water here is controlled by Gillingham & DAA.
Towards the later part of 2001 the stretch upstream of Sturminster Newton Mill produced good bags of roach with weights topping 30lb. The waters from Sturminster to Durweston are noted for having produced specimen chub of 6lb+, roach of 3lb+ and pike of 20lb+. Shoals of large bream and the odd large tench are also present. Parts of these stretches are controlled by Sturminster & Hinton AA and Durweston AA; a number of other local clubs also control short sections of fishing within this reach.

The Stour around Blandford has got a good track record for producing roach over 2lb, chub of 5lb+ and pike of 20lb+. Good mixed nets of roach, dace, chub and perch along with bags of large bream are taken in matches. A bream of 8lb 10oz was reported from the Crown Meadows in 2001. Blandford & DAC control parts of this section, and there is a limited “free stretch” owned by the council at Blandford (Please note: an Environment Agency rod licence is still required to fish here).

Moving downstream to the Wimborne area, some exceptional specimen chub and barbel have been captured here in recent years including chub of 7lb+ and barbel of 14lb+. The last 7 years have seen an increase in the stocks of perch with 2lb+ specimens appearing regularly; specimens of 3lb+ were captured in 2001. Wimborne & DAC, Christchurch AC and Ringwood & DAS control fishing on various sections around Wimborne.

Longham, Manor Farm, Muscliffe and Throop are well known for the specimen coarse fish produced each season including: 10lb + barbel, 6lb+ chub, 20lb+ pike and 2lb+ roach. At least two barbel of 14lb+ were reported from the lower Stour in 2001, with a 14lb 9oz being the largest. A number of big chub were reported from the middle and lower reaches of the Stour in 2001 including several over 7lb topped by a 7lb14oz specimen. There is limited “free fishing” (an Environment Agency rod licence is still required) on the council owned stretches at Longham and Muscliffe. Most of the club controlled waters in this reach come under either Christchurch AC or Ringwood & DAS.

Apart from numerous 6lb+ chub and double figured barbel reported in 2001, Throop is also noted for its bream shoals with a 100lb haul of bream in 2001, the largest bream reported weighed in at 11lb.

The tidal Stour includes lower Throop downstream to the Harbour. Here some of the best pleasure and match fishing weights of roach and dace can be made in the area. Throop Fishery is managed by Ringwood & DAS, whilst the tidal section is largely controlled by Christchurch AC. Both clubs issue day tickets; contact local tackle shops for more details.

The River Frome

The River Frome rises on the North Dorset Downs near Evershot, and flows down a gradient of 2.2m/km over approximately 60km to the sea at Poole Harbour. The catchment is predominantly rural and lies entirely within the county of Dorset.

From Evershot the Frome flows south to be joined near Cattistock by the Wraxall Brook, and at Maiden Newton by the River Hooke. Two small streams, the Sydling Water and the Cerne, also join the Frome upstream of Dorchester. Below Dorchester, the Win, South Winterbourne and Tadnoll Brook enter from the south, while the Frome itself meanders in an easterly direction to Poole Harbour.

The Frome downstream of Dorchester has been notified as a river Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). This section supports species rich plant communities, rare and scarce aquatic invertebrates and a range of fish species.

The Frome is similar in character to the Hampshire Avon in the fact that both rise from chalk based aquifers.

The River Frome is primarily a salmonid fishery controlled by private syndicates and large estates, access to coarse fishing on the River Frome is therefore fairly limited. However the range of coarse fish found in the River Frome is unique in that it represents a more natural assemblage of species. This is because the fishery has been managed almost exclusively for salmon and trout.

Coarse fish species found in the Frome include dace, roach, grayling and pike, these species regularly turn up fish of specimen sized proportions. Of the coarse fish, the Frome is most noted for specimen grayling, regularly producing fish over 2lb, with several fish over 3lb reported each season. Specimen grayling exceeding 4lbs have been recorded in the past.
The fishery at Wareham is owned by the Environment Agency. Coarse fishing in the area around the quay allows good bags of roach and dace to be made from autumn onwards. This stretch has in the past produced specimen roach over 3lb.

In 2001 numbers of grayling between 12oz to 2lb and good nets of dace have been caught on various stretches owned by the Wareham & DAS and Dorchester & DAS. Specimen sized grayling are recorded each season at the Pallington Lakes day ticket stretch of the Frome. Christchurch AC lease a stretch of the main river and carrier at Tincleton, an area which contains specimen sized grayling and dace.

Dorchester FC control stretches of the Frome around Dorchester although this is primarily a premier trout fishery. Some of the most notable specimen grayling have been recorded from the main river and its carriers in this area. Small numbers of 2lb+ roach have also been caught here in recent years.

Stillwaters and Canals

There are many stillwaters offering coarse fishing throughout the South Wessex Area, including ponds, lakes, gravel pits and a short section of the Kennet and Avon Canal near Devizes.

Many gravel pits were dug out in the Ringwood area during the 1950s and 1960s. These are now fully matured coarse fisheries offering anglers the opportunity to catch carp of up to 40lb, tench over 10lb, and large bream and roach.

Coarse fish reported from the Ringwood pits in 2001 included: specimen carp (a large number of 20lb fish, several over 30lb and a 42lb 6oz specimen); specimen tench (a large number between 6 and 9lb, several 10lb+, with the largest weighing 12lb1oz); bream to 14lb 4oz; crucian over 3lb; pike over 20lb. Christchurch AC and Ringwood & DAS control most of the lakes and pits around Ringwood.

Most of the angling clubs in the South Wessex area have several lakes and ponds under their control, further information can be found in this guide (see fishing directory) or from local tackle shops. Season tickets, guest tickets and day tickets for various club waters can be obtained from local tackle shops. There are also a large number of day ticket fisheries offering a variety of ponds and complexes of lakes, with mixed coarse fish (bream, carp, crucian, perch, pike, roach, and tench).

In the Avon catchment some of the day ticket fisheries include: Hurst Pond, the Longhouse Fishery, New Forest Water Park, Peter's Finger Lake, Walden's Farm, and Witherington Farm. Captures reported in the angling press in 2001 included: Hurst Pond (several large perch to 3lb7oz); Longhouse Fishery (carp bags to 174lb, tench to 6lb12oz, perch 3lb); New Forest Water Park (several carp over 20lb, tench of 7lb, perch 3lb); Shearwater (carp bags of 100lb+, bream bags of 50lb+); Walden's Farm (carp bags 50lb+, perch 3lb, pike 19lb, tench 7lb); Witherington Farm (carp bags 100lb+).

Day ticket fisheries in the Stour catchment include Todber Manor Fishery where captures reported in 2001 included carp bags of over 100lb.

Day ticket fisheries in the Frome catchment include: Luckfield Lake, Pallington Fishery, Radipole Lake, and Warmwell Lakes. Captures reported in 2001included: Luckfield Lake (tench to 7lb 8oz); Pallington Lakes (several carp over 20lb, largest 33lb; and tench to 7lb 8oz); Warmwell Lakes (carp to 31lb 8oz, perch to 3lb14oz).