Fishing the Stour

Near the mouth of the River Stour
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Bordering both Suffolk and Essex, the fish-rich Stour is the preserve of club anglers. But day tickets can be had, and the creek-riddled estuary holds mullet and flounder for everyone.

The Stour has long held a reputation as a fine fishing river, but one which does not give up its secrets too easily. Indeed, there is much truth in the old local belief that an angler who can catch fish from the Stour can catch them anywhere.

It is a small river, with its slow stream meandering quietly through water meadows and largely agricultural land, passing through or skirting pretty Suffolk villages such as Stoke-by-Clare, Clare, Cavendish, and Long Melford in its upper reaches, and the lovely countryside of the Dedh

River Stour downstream at Wolverley
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am Vale in its lower reaches, scenery which inspired the paintings of Constable.

Variety of fishing

The river changes dramatically in character throughout its 40 mile length. One day the angler could find himself fishing a fast, streamy narrow stretch, often overhung with willows and alders, and with dace and chub as the main quarry, while a mile or so downstream he finds a wide, deep and slow flowing stretch, with great lily beds, needing an entirely different fishing approach. One of the great beauties of Stour angling is its versatility.

River Stour from Okeford Hill
Image by MarilynJane via Flickr

Even more varied are the species present, the Stour being exceptionally well stocked with most British species such as roach, dace, bream, tench, chub, pike, perch, gudgeon, eel, rudd, carp, the odd rare trout, and zander.

But the fish for which the Stour has acquired its fame are its roach and bream. Specimen roach over 2lb, although not as numerous now as they once were, can still be caught anywhere between the upstream reaches around Clare to downstream Flatford, with the middle reaches around Sudbury arguably the best. Bags of lesser roach are commonly taken throughout the river.

Record bream

Large shoals of bream inhabit the areas from Long Melford downstream with the Sudbury, Great Cornard and Bures reaches of special note. Indeed it was at Great Cornard that the one time record bream weighing 12lb 14oz was caught. While it is unlikely that another as large will be netted, 10-pounders are nevertheless possible for they can often be seen in summer basking at the surface in the sunshine.

River-stour Canterbury
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There is very little free fishing along the course of the Stour except in a few places where local residents enjoy free access. Would-be anglers are therefore recommended to join the respective clubs controlling the stretches which interest them. Day tickets can still be obtained in a few places, however.

Rising by two streams which unite just below Haverhill, the infant river trickles due east toward Wixoe. But it is of little importance here, and it is not until it flows past the villages of Stoke-by-Clare and Clare (A1092), growing all the while, that it reaches any real significance as a fishery, with dace the predominant species and with some roach and chub. Most of the fishing here is controlled by the Sudbury and District Angling Association (SDAA) and the London Anglers Association (LAA).

The fast stream in these upper stretches soon reaches Cavendish and Glemsford (A 1092) where the river is swollen by its first tributary, the Glem, and where fishing is controlled by LAA and Long Melford Angling Association (LMAA). Chub begin to feature more in catches, and the angler who travels lightly, roving from swim to swim ledgering cheese or crust under i’loodrafts and undercut banks, can be rewarded with fine specimens.

Travelling downstream one comes to Lis ton Mill Pond, justly noted for its fine roach as well as its beauty. The Chet tributary joins the mainstream here with fishing in the pool and surrounding stretches controlled byLMAA.

Skirting Long Melford (A 134) the river wanders on, through the private Withindale Mill, to Rodbridge where there is a section of free fishing on the left bank looking downstream from the road bridge on the B1064. The river here is quite wide with average depths of 7ft and with deeper holes. It is around here that specimen bream can figure in catches, with roach and dace and some big pike. Fishing is shared in these stretches by the SDAA and LMAA.

The River Stour at Dedham. in Constable Country
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From Sudbury to Flatford Mill

Further downstream, the river passes through the private mill pools at Borley and Brundon, flowing alongside the A134 to Sudbury and out to Great Cornard on the A133 where SDAA again control the fishing. The Sudbury Club issue day tickets for many of their best stretches. In addition to the species mentioned, big carp are occasionally taken around Sudbury, with tench too, some of them of specimen size to over 5lb, figuring frequently in summer catches.

Downstream of Sudbury to Bures the LAA have most of the fishing rights, with the exception of a section upstream of Bures roadbridge which is controlled by the Colne Angling Society, and two strictly private sections midway between Sudbury and Bures, at Lamarsh. The LAA waters around Bures regularly provide fishing for bream, roach and dace.

Leaving Bures follow the minor road toward Wissington in order to follow the course of the river to Nay land back onto the A133. The Colchester Angling Preservation Society (CAPS) have most of the available fishing, as they do for nearly all of it downstream toward Boxted where Colchester Piscatorial Society also have fishing rights. The River Box, a trout stream developed by Anglian Water Authority, joins the Stour downstream of Boxted.

Through Constable country, there is excellent fishing all the way down to Stratford-St-Mary and Dedharn, where the Colchester clubs again control fishing, until at last the stream reaches Flatford.

Just downstream of Flatford the river becomes tidal, but retains its identity as a coarse fish river for all the usual species, with the added bonus of some big carp and mullet which inhabit the brackish water clown to Cattawade Bridge (A 137).

Downtide from the Mistley quays, the Stour opens out into the mud-banks and creeks of a large estuary. Here there are no licences, no bailiffs, no commercial restrictions. Subject to tide and season the fisherman can go where he pleases. Inshore creeks swarm with mullet and flounders. The mullet are notoriously difficult to catch, even on bread paste, and are rarely caught on any other bait. The baited spoon method is well-known to account for flounders. Farther seawards, past Wrabness and Harwich, there are bass and whiting according to the time of year. Both species may be hooked by beach-casting, or caught from a dinghy in the channels.

Felixstowe and Harwich

Felixstowe is considered the best of East Anglia’s fishing, having a great variety of fish. From the estuary and beaches the angler can fish lumpsuckers, plaice, dogfish, turbot, garfish and sea trout, and in warmer months plaice, sole, eels, bass and dab. Night fishing is especially good, and there is good fishing from the pier from September for a small charge.

At Harwich it is possible to get permission from the Trinity House Superintendent for parties of anglers to fish from the lightships in the estuary, provided one books in advance. There are fish of all species, with excellent whiting and cod from September onwards. Both rowing and power boats are available for fishing the many miles of mudflats and deep creeks.

At Walton-on-the-Naze, bait can be dug locally, and boats are available for offshore fishing when the local boatmen have done their daily work of lobster potting or in-shore trawling. Flatfish are caught in the back-waters, and conger, skate, dab, bass and codling from the beaches and pier. For sea fishing, advice is needed regarding local marks and obstructions.


The pier at Clacton offers the best local fishing. A deep channel lies about half a mile offshore, and the boatdeck of the pier is reserved for anglers and boat passengers. Other

than at a stretch near the pier by Holland-on-Sea, beachcasting is not advised as the water is rather shallow here. Lugworm is the best and most popular all-round bait at any time of the year.

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