The River Stour rises in the Wiltshire Downs and flows through Dorset to join the Avon at its mouth at Christchurch. Above Christchurch the Throop fishery is noted for its big barbel, pike, carp, chub and roach. Even salmon and sea trout make it upriver as far as Wimborne. But at Fiddleford Mill you’re in the upper reaches of the Stour. Here the river is fairly small and streamy but even so, it still holds plenty of coarse fish. Barbel and carp are absent but chub, roach, dace, bream, pike and tench are well represented.
Running for about a mile below the mill pool, the Stour is bordered by fields crossed with hedgerows. Willows, bushes and trees add character along its course. Common reeds line much of the bank and in places the river itself is virtually choked by reeds. To reach the Fiddleford Mill stretch of the Stour you walk through a farmyard and bear left. A path leads over a sluice gate which overlooks the mill pool. Cross a narrow bridge over a weir which spills into the pool. A gate leads to a field which gives access to one bank of the river. The other bank is accessible through a field on the other side of the farm.
The mill pool
This is a major fish environment — the busy terminus of the Fiddleford stretch and a good area to begin your attack. The pool is generally about 3m (10ft) deep with a bottom mainly of mud with some gravel patches.
Water flows in over the weir and creates turbulence below the sill, then runs through quite quickly before tailing out about half way down the pool. The force of water scours a deeper hole and pushes material up into a raised section towards the bottom end of the pool. In this area, where the water pushing through is not too turbulent, set up your stall for roach, chub and dace. Dace also like it a bit higher up the current in faster water. Bream keep to the quieter areas of the pool in back eddies and out of the main current.
Study the water under the sill – there is a chance of a chub or two in deeper water off the main flow close to the bank. Around the gates and other underwater hiding places jack pike and perch lie in ambush. At times fish wander into deeper water below the sluice gates, while tench hangback towards the tail of the pool and around the weeds and reed beds. Bigger pike may lie in ambush at this exit point to surprise fish in the river or to move into the pool to attack.
In summer the main river is fringed with common reeds, with healthy weed growth. At the mill pool run- off The vegetation is thick here and chub in particular appreciate the protective reeds. If you’re after chub in the weedy runs you may need fairly strong line – maybe 6 lb (2.7kg) straight through to avoid losing fish in the snags. At the end of the race Chub lie and pick up food as it comes over the sill. On warm days in summer and autumn, drop a few floaters from the bridge so they are carried over the weir. The chub often pick up these floating offerings, giving away their positions as they do so.
The narrows Below the old railway bridge the river meanders, forming a large U bend. At the bottom of the U, tall reeds on both banks form an avenue, into which water flows, picking up pace as it pushes through the narrow gap. When the river is low this faster pace oxygenates the water, reviving the chub. They lie in spots where they can intercept food carried in the current but avoid the full force of the water so they don’t have to work too hard to maintain position.
At the bottom end of the reed corridor where the river widens again, a floatfished bait could pick out roach from calmer water near the bank. In flood conditions the narrows become a boiling torrent which is too powerful for any fish. They are forced to hole up in sheltered spots and eddies.
In winter, as in summer, it’s a good idea to keep on the move. If you don’t get a response in one area try farther along. In cold weather the fish tend to be less active so don’t overfeed them with bait. Roach, chub, bream and pike feed in the cold but a sudden frost or drop in temperature usually sends fish into a quiet mode. It may take a couple of days until they feel like being active again.
When the river is a torrent the fish tend to concentrate in places where they can shelter from the full force. Your strategy should be to identify these spots.
In winter flood the water runs out of the mill pool at great pace. It’s too much for the chub and forces them into the shelter. Reeds die back but the remnants of vegetation provide some cover. Backwater Just below the mill pool there is a cut which offers a break from the turbulence. Out of the main flow its water is relatively calm and a haven for fish. Friction factor Water slows down where it meets the bottom of the river and the banks. The point where the bank and the bottom join has the slowest and smoothest flow. When the river is up and belting through, fish look for easy areas where they don’t have to battle against the current -down at the bottom near the bank is often a fair spot to place a bait. Mobile debris When the river is high, a lot of rubbish is flushed down – logs and all sorts which can make fishing difficult. If you see rubbish carried in the flow, then there’s likely to be stuff shifting underwater too which may force fish to take refuge where they can.
Look for branches actually extending into the water. They provide security and shelter for chub and create possible ambush points for pike on the prowl. Colour and silt In winter pay attention to the clarity of the river. A rushing torrent stirs up silt and colours the water. Even so a big visual bait such as breadflake can still be effective for chub, roach and bream.
A high river flowing at speed tends to herd the fish into quieter zones. They still maybe willing to feed but if a lot of silt is disturbed it puts fish down. Fish also respond to a change by keeping a low profile. A sudden frost or drop in temperature puts them off. Once they get used to colder and frostier weather as full winter takes a hold, they are happier to move about and feed again. The old bridge The river widens at the old bridge and the flow slows down. It’s a prime spot for match anglers looking to tap into fish. There is a fair depth here of about 1.8-2.4m (6-8ft) and a steady flow of water pushing through which attracts a lot of roach and bream up to 6 lb (2.7kg). There’s a likelihood too of finding the odd chub. Big pike may also enter this hotspot looking for spoils. Big pike up to 22 lb (10kg), tend to stick to regular territories along the river but will move to where fish are for hunting.