There can be few entrances to a day ticket water that are more impressive than the North East gate of Blenheim Palace – it’s like driving under Marble Arch. The sight that greets you then is quite spectacular too – Vanbrugh’s baroque masterpiece standing proudly on the hilltop.
The house was built for the first Duke of Marlborough as a reward for defeating the French at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. It is one of the finest palaces in Europe, but the main interest to anglers lies in the valley below the house – the lake.
The park was laid out by the great landscape designer Capability Brown, who was responsible for the damming of the River Glyme. This created the 240 acre lake, which is spanned a third of the way down by the Grand Bridge.
North of the bridge is Queen Pool where fishing is not allowed, but on the other side is The Lake – an angling paradise. It is nearly a mile from the bridge to the dam and at its widest there are 320m (350yd) between the steep banks.
Bank fishing is for local residents only, but anyone can fish from one of the 13 fiat-bottomed rowing boats moored in the boathouse below the palace. These hire craft provide stable fishing platforms that hold up to three anglers in comfort.
Turn to Stone
The lake has an impressive specimen list; pike to 271/2lb (12.5kg), bream to 10 lb (4.5kg), tench to 73/4lb (3.5kg), roach just under 3 lb (1.4kg) and eels, perch and crucians to just over 4 lb (1.8kg). But where do you find fish like these on such a big water? The man to tell us is Oxford specimen hunter and Blenheim expert, Peter Stone.
Peter, once a successful matchman and now a big fish buff, has been fishing The
Lake since its heyday in the late 1960s. He hasn’t taken a punt out in nearly 10 years, but has been a bankside regular – the flexibility a boat offers is not essential if you know where to find the fish.
Size isn’t important
The main problem facing visiting anglers is the sheer size of the place. But this isn’t important, says Peter. The same rules apply to waters of the same basic type, whether they’re one acre or 160 acres. Like most estate lakes, Blenheim is a dammed feeder stream, with the deepest water by the dam and along the old course of the river. It shallows up slowly away from the dam. In most places, depth increases rapidly from the bank before levelling off.
Halfway down the west bank and opposite the house is the spur – a flooded valley that once contained a tributary to the main river. It is about 100m (110yd) wide whereit joins the main lake at Cannon Point, some 50m (55yd) wide for most of its length and extends some 700m (765yd).
Red hot action
The amount of weed in the lake varies from year to year, but you always find it in the shallower water. There is less weed in water that is over 2m (6½ ft) deep, which in most parts of the lake starts within two or three rod lengths of the bank.
The spur is the exception, being much shallower and weedier than the main lake.
Many species of fish use the weedy shallows to spawn, often hanging around afterwards to feed up in the food-rich weed and lily beds. This makes the whole length of the spur a good early season hotspot.
The deeper channel which marks the old river bed is also highly attractive to fish, especially at the junction with the old bed of the tributary which used to run down the spur. There are other deep areas in front of the dam and where the old river bed first enters from the Queen Pool under the bridge. The maximum depth in all of these deeper areas is about 5m (1654ft).
Many fish take advantage of the deep water, both in the heat of summer and in the cold of winter. Shoals of bream patrol its length all year round and in the winter months both predators and prey shoal tightly in the warmer, deeper water. From autumn through to spring anglers can take huge catches of pike and big perch by concentrating on the deeper water. For the rest of the year, when the water is warmer, look for the predators among the many snags. In addition to the old favourites such as reed and weed beds, fallen branches and drop-offs to deep water, try around man-made structures like the landing stages and the boathouse itself. On hot summer days, shoals of small fish cruise in the shade of overhanging trees feeding on fallen insects. Bream and tench feed mainly at dawn and dusk, in the weedy margins and in deeper water. During the heat of the day, you can sometimes get them to feed in the deepest water. Even using these clues, there is still a lot of water in which you may find fish. Peter finds the best way to locate feeding shoals is to keep an eye out for signs of bubbling and rolling in likely looking areas.