Fishing in land drains has been neglected in the past, which is mystifying, for these waters are among our most important and most popular coarse fishing assets. The layman is always puzzled when he hears an angler has been fishing in a drain. The fact that a man has-been spending his time in such a place merely seems to confirm the common belief that all anglers are mad anyway! The facts, however, tell an entirely different story for these drains offer fine, often superb fishing in remote, peaceful places which can have an attraction entirely their own.
The greatest number of land drains is to be found on the eastern side of England. The first group is located on Humberside,to the north of the river, where they drain the flat lands of East Yorkshire. Southwards, into Lincolnshire, there is another great concentration of these drains. Often many miles long and commonly running straight as an arrow through flat Fen-land country, these waters ensure that the huge agricultural larder of Lincolnshire remains free of flooding. Not so long ago, this entire area was a giant bog, little used and little inhabited by man. A map of 1661 by Dugdale shows that the entire area to the north of Boston – setting today for the superb Boston drains – was simply a huge morass known as the East Fen Deeps.
More of these drains are found in southern Lincolnshire, in Cambridgeshire and in West Norfolk – in country which could almost be described as the ‘Holland of England’, parts of which actually used that name, the former Lincolnshire county of Holland being an example. It is clear, too, that Dutch drainage engineers, men who made so much more of their own country habitable, played a part. Some, like Vermuden and Vernatt, are commemorated to this day in the names of drains.
The other major concentrations of land drains in England are on the Romney Marshes in Kent and over in the west, in Somerset, the latter being amongst the most recently cut, some dating only from the time of World War II.
In Wales, we have note of only one drain, the Marshfield Reen.
At the height of the coarse fishing season, from June through to autumn, most drains are either stationary or sluggish in flow. They are only run off at speed at those times when heavy rains threaten the very danger they were built to prevent – floods. During dry periods, the fishing is generally poor to difficult and it is because of this sluggish nature that certain fish are rarely found in the drains, some species being totally absent. Among these are barbel, chub, trout and migratory species like salmon and sea trout, all fish which seem to prefer life in fast flowing rivers and streams.
The predominant species in the drains are roach and bream, the latter usually the most sought after. Some drains also contain good populations of tench and rudd and eels are common. Pike of specimen size are also present, some of the West Norfolk drains, for instance, being currently hailed as among the nation’s most productive pike fisheries.
Apart from one or two isolated lakes in the Home Counties, land drains also offer the best chance of catching zander, a predatory species only recently introduced and still a subject of controversy. The Relief Channel in West Norfolk was the first place to be deliberately stocked with these fish and, just as the concerned doubters forecast, they have spread to other waters in this area. More detail of these developments is given under the relevant waters .
Many of the drains are extremely heavily fished. The. Boston drains, some of those in West Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, and some in Somerset are commonly booked from end to end for matches on summer and early autumn Sundays to cater for a weekly army of invaders from the Midlands, South Yourkshire and the South West. In such waters, the fish could be said to be highly educated and the angler will often be forced to resort to light tackle to get bites, a fascinating challenge in itself. That said, it should be added that there are still many miles where the angler who likes solitude can find somewhere interesting to fish-a statement doubly true for those able to fish mid-week.
Since land drains are used a great deal for matches, we have concentrated on presenting match catch records for them. These waters, as a rule, do not contain fish of the size found in most rivers and so individual species have only been mentioned where they have been considered of major interest to readers.