Bridges have an irresistible attraction for most anglers. You can hardly better a bridge as a vantage point for reading the water, and bridge pools will often give you a good indication of the species present in an unfamiliar stretch of the river. If you are fortunate you may be able to pinpoint some really big fish.
The midspan piles which support many bridges can have a significant effect on the pattern of water flow in a river, often with great benefits for the angler.
POINTS TO WATCH
It is illegal to fish from bridges because they are public rights of way. Even if you, or your club, have the fishing rights adjoining a road bridge, you could be prosecuted for fishing from it. Nor can you moor a boat underneath a bridge.
Despite a wide variation in design, bridges have one thing in common – they provide cover for fish. Most affect a river’s flow, creating an area of water which is attractive to fish.
For the angler’s purposes, bridges fall into two categories. Older bridges, with buttresses and pillars, disrupt the flow considerably and so provide more interest for both fish and angler. Many old bridges were at some time allied with water mills and adjoin deep pools with eddies, slacks and bays that were formerly mill pools.
Modern structures made of precast concrete do not create such a rich habitat for fish since it is unusual for them to have buttresses or central piles that influence the flow. Yet they may still afford shelter. Fine dace of about 12oz, chub to 3lb, and a shoal of barbel of 4-5lb have been seen in Oxfordshire streams no more than 10ft wide, in water only 12in deep. There, the bridge supports did not affect the flow at all. Security, shelter or shade may all attract fish to modern bridges. Certainly there are examples where the fish shelter during the day and only venture into open water as it gets dark.
With the traditional style of bridge, whose piles stand in the river, the bulk of fish activity normally occurs downstream of the structure, where the flow, tem-porarily constricted by the piles, reverts to normal. Big fish do live under arches – particularly in mill bridges where the mill still exists – but water there is often too fast and shallow to be fished comfortably. Chub, roach and dace spend some of their feeding time under the arches, as the stonework is a larder for natural food – small crustaceans, water insects and leeches, algae and silkweed. From June to October bridge structures and piles which support the river bank are covered below the water line with thick bands of silkweed. Hidden within the weed is a mass of minute animal life that provides an abundance of food for fish and can provide the angler with one of the best natural baits available. Despite these feeding patterns, the pool below is far more of a regular home for fish. From August onwards, roach, dace and chub graze or feed on the weed, browsing like cattle when the water is quiet, or lying in the weirpools to take small particles of weed as it is dislodged and worked downstream by the current.
The deep central run, 8ft deep, is the home of big chub. Slacker water 5-6ft deep and close to cabbages, is favoured by big perch, which ambush minnows from their shelter. Bulrushes and cabbages also provide ambush cover for the occasional large pike, and the bulrushes are the home of caddis. Roach shoals are attracted to the smooth central glide where the bottom begins to shelve up towards the bridge. The boulders in this shallower water are the home of crayfish, on which chub feed. Between the stones of the arches, there is abundant silkweed.
With the winter floods, the bridge pool widens and slacks are created which engulf the marginal willows. This seasonal slack water harbours roach and chub.
There appears to be little natural food or weed life in some rivers, so fish are probably attracted by the accumulation of debris against the piles. An assortment of prams and bedsteads shelters barbel from the strongest midstream current. For the angler, their tempting presence outweighs the risk of the possibility of snagged tackle.
Down from the bridge, the bank is often reinforced with metal piles to cut down erosion in times of spate. Again, there seems to be a scarcity of food, but barbel certainly favour the area. They are not often in evidence during the day when the towpath is busy, but gather shortly after dusk.
A barbel hotspot occurs some 4ft from the towpath bank, where the current, hastened by the bend, slows down once more and the surface ‘boil’ ceases.
This downstream section also holds big roach which, when the river is at its normal level, choose an even glide 8-9ft deep in the centre of the river. When the river is in spate, the silted up shallow slack becomes an attractive back-eddy, some 6ft deep, and the roach will fall back into its shelter.
Although the angler cannot fish from bridges, his sport can benefit greatly from an understanding of their influence on a river and its animal and plant life.