River fishing in England when compared to that on offer in Scotland or Wales is much more mixed in its nature. The rivers of Scotland and Wales are almost totally orientated towards game fishing because of their nature and the species of fish they contain. The rivers of England, on the other hand, have an added ingredient in so many instances-huge populations of coarse fish. When you add that a similar state of affairs exists when you compare still-water fishing, it is small wonder that the largest concentrations of coarse fishermen are to be found in England, a fact reflected by the makeup of the National Federation of Anglers, the national organisation of coarse fishermen which has but a few affiliates in Wales and none in Scotland.
Yet England still has rivers which are principally thought of as game fisheries. It also has rivers which contain coarse game fish in addition to those which contain coarse fish only. The net result of all this is a selection of rivers, big and small, which offer many things to many different kinds of angler.
England’s longest river, at 180 miles, is the Severn. In fairness, we should add that it rises in Wales and much of its upper reaches are in the Principality. The Severn is, perhaps, typical of the major mixed fisheries. It has a superb head of coarse fish, not least the recent population explosion of barbel. Yet it also attracts salmon and, in its upper reaches, offers trout sport. It could not, however, be considered a major salmon fishery though sport with these fish is improving.
The second longest English river is the Thames. In its upper reaches, a pattern typical of so many English rivers, the accent is on trout. Lower down, it is a major coarse fishery. Latterly, there have been repeated rumours of odd salmon trying to fight their way up the river though all too often these have turned out to be hoaxes. The interesting thing is that while MPs have been known to talk in Parliament about the potential joys of being able to watch salmon leap from the water near Westminster Bridge, one of the biggest legendary salmon ever reported in the British Isles came from the Thames in the days when it really was a salmon river. This leviathan is said to have weighed 72 lb 8 oz and to have been caught in 1821 by a Mr Richard Coxen of Twickenham. A report of the day said he sold it to a fishmonger in Bond Street ‘in the sum of 8s. 6d. To the pound’. It is certainly a long time since salmon were a reg-ular Thames sight. In 1961, Sir Tufton Beamish, a council member of the Salmon and Trout Association, said the last ‘definite’ information of salmon in the Thames related to the 1820s.
Britain’s biggest river system, the Trent, offers another contrast. Today, the Trent is a coarse fishery which is rapidly improving. Some of its tributaries, especially those in Derbyshire, contain trout and even here, where the battle against pollution has taken a recent turn for the better, there are reports of salmon fighting their way back. Indeed, several have been caught on rod and line.
A quick tour under these three headings -game, mixed and coarse fisheries – offers the easiest way to give an overall picture of the current state of English river fishing.
Firstly, the game fish rivers. As a generalisation, it would be fair to say that these are concentrated in the south and north. In the south, the greatest number are to be found in Devon and Cornwall, with rivers such as the Exe, the Fowey, the Tamar and the Lyn. In addition to salmon, all these rivers attract sea trout, known in this part of the country as peal. Along the Channel coast into Sussex and beyond are other rivers which attract sea trout. In all these rivers, there are trout, too. Up north, there are excellent game rivers to the west and east. In the north west, there are fine salmon and sea trout rivers draining to the sea all the way from the Fylde on up to the Solway Firth. One, the Eden, produced the biggest salmon overtaken in England, a fish of 60 lb. Over in the north east, this kind of water is not nearly so common. Out on its own in Yorkshire is the Whitby Esk but from there it is necessary to move into Northumberland before similar fishing, like the Coquet, is found.
Then there are the mixed fisheries, rivers which offer sport with game fish-including the migratory species – and coarse fish. In the south, the most famous examples of these are waters like the Hampshire Avon and the Dorset Stour. In the Midlands and western England, the Severn is the only example. On into the north, this kind of fishing abounds. On the western side of the Pennines, the Lune and Ribble would be typical examples. To the east, is the Yorkshire Ouse system though the mix is coarse and trout with no migratory species.
Finally, there are the rivers which are purely coarse fisheries. The greatest concentration of these is in central and eastern England with sluggish flowing waters like the Great Ouse, the Welland, the Nene, the Norfolk rivers and those of Lincolnshire and Suffolk. Of the streamier type, there are the middle and lower Thames and, of course, the Trent. To the south, one thinks of rivers like the Medway.
The variety is almost endless and the kind of sport which can be expected (and its availability) is shown in the s that follow for all the major rivers and many of the lesser ones, too. In order to give an additional perspective, records of the best match catches and of the biggest examples of particular species have been given for the major rivers where known. In all cases match catch records are for five-hour events except where otherwise stated and trout means brown trout, again unless otherwise stated.