Fishing the Upper Thames

Above an estuary full of the world’s shipping, above the dirty, overdeveloped London Basin, miles of green-banked river meander towards the pretty, rural source of the Thames.

No English river is more steeped in angling history than the Thames. Charles II was England’s first serious fishing monarch and he often angled at Datchet. He was once ac-cused by Lord Rochester of ‘slaughtering gudgeons.’ Once a royal river, the Thames has remained a truly national river and now provides sport for many thousands of fishermen from all over the coun-try. John Burns was right when he called this willow-fringed meanderer from its source down to the tide surge of the Nore ‘liquid history.’ There are still arguments about the source of the Thames. Some think it is at Seven Springs near the Churn while others believe it to be at Thames Head near Cirencester.

The Thames often misses the angling headlines, leaving them to the more match-oriented waters of the Midlands or North, but it has yielded some exceptional catches and individual specimens galore. At Pangbourne, near Reading, the English five hour match record was broken in October 1977 by a 174Vlb haul of bream. The Thames has also yielded a 14lb 4oz barbel and at least half a dozen others topping the 12 1/2 lb mark. The records show a best chub of 7lb 1oz; perch 4lb 5oz; bream Hvilb; carp 3022lb; dace lib; pike 32 lb; roach 3lb 9oz; and a trout caught near Reading which weighed 16lb 15oz—all truly great fish and all indicating the remarkable quality of the Thames.

The Thames Water Authority (TWA) issues permits allowing holders to fish any of 21 weir pools, Grafton, Radcot, Rushey, Shifford, Eynsham in the upper reaches and Sandford in Oxford where the barbel still grow big.

In the upper reaches above Cricklade trout and coarse species, like dace, grow well, but much of this part of the river is preserved by individuals or is for members of con-trolling clubs only. The Isis Angling Club of Swindon controls two lengthy sections in this area, and has open membership.

No day ticket water is available until Lechlade, where the Trout Inn issues tickets for about 2 1/2 miles of bank from St John’s Lock upstream to the Roundhouse at Inglesham. The water has excellent fishing for most species including trout, and recently a barbel of 9lb was taken.

Buscot Weir is just downstream. The London Anglers’ Association controls much of both banks from St John’s Bridge on the A417 to below Buscot Wharf, and day tickets are available along the bank.

At Eaton Hastings on the A417, day tickets are issued for a lengthy stretch of the river which holds most species. Often a big shoal of bream can be contacted when feeding upstream near the spinney, good roach are often taken, and the downstream section on the bend is noted for its large chub. Most tactics are successful here.

Downstream is Grafton Weir where big trout and barbel are often caught; then at Radcot, the Radcot Angling Association controls a good stretch with day tickets available at the Swan Hotel. Nearby, fishing at Radcot Weir is available for holders of Thames Water Authority Access permits, as is Rushey Weir, downstream. From there to Tadpole Bridge at Buckland, the Coventry and District Angling Association controls a very productive stretch with membership cards available from Midland tackle dealers.

There is another Trout Inn near the bridge on the road from Buckland on the A420 and this con-trols a very good section of the Thames and issues day tickets. Here the river averages 5ft in depth and usually has a good stream running, making float fishing a joy.

Fine fishing water

Farther downstream at Newbridge on the A415, day tickets are available for two more stretches of fine fishing water. These are obtained from the May Bush Hotel for about 1 1/2 miles of fishing by the hotel and for a stretch on the opposite bank by the Rose Revived Inn.

The Birmingham AA, which issues associate membership cards, controls water from this point on the upstream right bank at Thames Side Farm near Longworth church, and a half-mile stretch downstream at Appleton. Both sections have yielded very big bream, and 9lb barbel.

Near Chimney village off the B4449 is the Great Brook which holds very good chub and roach. Now controlled by clubs, there are, however, some stretches still available by permission. It is difficult fishing in a confined and often weed-filled area, but anglers will find it most rewarding.

Below Newbridge there is very good fishing at Bablock Hythe off the A420, and day tickets are available from the Chequers Hotel and the Ferry Inn. The Oxford Alliance Angling Society has water here too, and their weekly and fortnightly permits can be bought at most Oxford tackle dealers.

At Yarnton on the A40 Oxford-Whitney road, the Birmingham AA controls one mile above Kings Weir, and a stretch on the right bank at Pixey where the approaches are from the A34 Oxford-Abingdon road. Just upstream the Oxford Alliance Angling Society controls the water at Eynsham.

Oxford-based clubs control most of the fishing in and around the city. Oxford Angling Association controls a very long length from Osney Bridge, and they issue holiday permits for excellent fishing waters. Further information is always available from local tackle dealers.

Research is currently being con-ducted into the sad decline of Thames swans, and any angler seeing a swan in distress—foul-hooked, poisoned, tangled in line—is asked to report his sighting to the nearest lock keeper. Someone will then go to the bird’s assistance.

Most Thames tributaries provide good fishing, though along most, like the Glyme, Evenlode and Win-drush, it is strictly preserved. The River Coin has a high reputation for trout fishing akin to that of southern chalkstreams. The Bull Hotel in Fair ford on the A417 controls about 1 Vi miles of trout fishing and issues day tickets. Fishing is dry fly from April to September 30. At Bibury on the A433 the Swan Hotel also has dry fly trout fishing available for guests.

The River Cherwell is a fabulous water for those who take the trouble to learn its secrets. It holds a big head of most species including chub to 6 lb, quality roach and big dace. The Birmingham AA and the Coventry and District Angling Association control stretches near Aynho on the A41 and at Kirtlington on the A423. Farther downstream at Kidl- ington, water is controlled by the Twickenham Angling Society and the Leighton Buzzard Angling Club. There are also excellent Stillwater fisheries. Chief among these are the lakes at Blenheim Palace near Woodstock. Fishing is from boats with the main species caught being tench, roach, perch, and some really excellent pike fishing. Specimens over 20lb have been taken.

Good gravel-pit fishing

There is some very good gravel-pit fishing at South Cerney in Gloucestershire with much of it available on day ticket. The Isis Angling Club controls a lot of pool and gravel-pit fishing and membership to this club is open. The South Cerney Angling Club controls rights to fishing at Ham Lane and Hills Lake pools, plus the Bradley Main gravel pit. Weekly tickets are available. Nearby is the larger Ashton Keynes lake which is stocked with most Stillwater species along with brown trout. Day tickets are obtainable from dispensing kiosks at the waters edge.

Near Swindon is Coate Water where day tickets are available on the bank and where roach and bream abound along with tench and pike. Nearby is Wroughton Reservoir, a 2-acre trout fishery controlled by the Thames Water Authority. It is stocked with brown trout to 5lb and the number of rods per day is limited, so the angler is advised to book well in advance.

Tackle and tactics suitable for Up- per Thames fishing are very similar to that of fishing most Midlands waters. Maggots are the most popular hook baits, though excellent results are often achieved with seed baits, bread flakes or worms. Tares have recently become a popular and highly successful bait in the Eaton Hastings and Buscot reaches, accounting for some big roach catches and some sizeable barbel.

In the Eaton Hastings section bream tend to run big and have fighting qualities greater than those from the slower waters in the east of England. A bream of 4lb will put up a remarkable fight akin to the bream found in the lower Shannon in Co Limerick, Ireland.

Big barbel have been tempted with most baits, often ledgered, ranging from worm to parboiled potatoes. Like the bream, Thames barbel seem to be endowed with extra fighting capabilities.

Thames pike fishing has been underestimated. The river often yields pike in high double figures and many are taken with plug-baits from Hampton upwards.