Sheltered from the coastal extremes, Somerset and Avon covers a large, gentle, green flank of England, speckled with first-class reservoirs and lakes, and drained by the tidal Severn.
The rich farming counties of Avon and Somerset encompass many prolific fishing waters. Some, like the Bristol Avon, have long been recognized by the travelling match anglers of the Midlands, as well as by the home-bred matchmen of Bristol and the South West.
The middle and lower reaches of the Avon have encountered spasmodic pollution problems, but the 1972 National Championship fostered a wider interest and showed the river’s potential to a far larger audience. Since then, although it has been through another ‘low’ period, it once more yields first-class sport. The initial contest breakthrough happened in fact just before the 1972 National, when Chris Summers of Droitwich, Worcestershire, tapped a huge shoal of bream cruising in the Sutton area and made the scales groan with a weight of nearly 56lb. This pioneer catch was then beaten by a remarkable 78lb 9oz bream catch made at Ladydown.
Chew and Blagdon
The Bristol Avon attracts most of the angling headlines, but is not the only quality water in the area. The world-renowned Chew and Blagdon trout waters are in this area, and other first-rate Stillwater coarse fishing is found south beyond the Mendips. There are also the man-made land reclamation waterways, such as the King’s Sedgemoor Drain. Nearby is the broad River Huntspill, and through the flat, rich alluvial plain between the Mendips and Quantocks run rivers such as the Parrett and its tributaries the roach-famous Tone, the Yeo, the Brue and the Axe. A short distance north into Gloucestershire is the large ship-carrying Sharpness Canal which follows the line of the A38. They all provide good fishing for thousands of local and long-distance anglers each week, and constitute an added bonus each year for anglers holidaying at nearby Weston-superMare, Burnham and Minehead.
The Bristol, or Wiltshire, Avon rises high on the Cotswolds above Tet-bury and soon becomes the home for some excellent trout fishing. In these sparkling, clear waters it also holds superb-quality green-backed roach. In 1969 a batch was netted there at random to help out the Severn where stocks had declined and which had a period of disappointing sport. Close on a thousand were taken in one netting—most of them topping the 1lb mark, dozens over 2lb and the best near 3lb in weight. The river in these areas, where it loops through lush pastures, is preserved. Indeed, there is little day-ticket fishing anywhere along the Avon. Fortunately, from Malmesbury downstream, much is controlled by local associations which either have open membership or issue annual honorary permits. These, and information about the areas, can be obtained in advance from the association secretaries or local tackle dealers.
Bristol and District AA waters
Near Malmesbury, the Bristol and District Amalgamated Anglers con-trol a one-mile length with good roach, dace and chub fishing. They also control a stretch downstream near Christian Malford. At Sutton Benger the Isis Angling Club has water, an open membership, and other good fishing grounds on the upper Thames not too far away to the north-east.
This is an area which has yielded match catches to 50 lb, bream to 4-5lb and some very good pike. The largest Avon pike I have recorded was caught by Ken Lansbury in 1959 near Newbridge below Bath and weighed 33lb 4oz.
Notable among other Avon fish are the 15½lb carp caught at Staverton in 1967 by J Davies, a chub of 5lb 7oz caught in 1963, and a bream of 8Vfclb caught in 1965. An experimental stocking with barbel was carried out some years ago by the River Authority of the time. Although not flourishing as they have along the Severn, the largest authenticated barbel is 9lb lloz.
Chippenham and Lacock
Below the weir near Chippenham is a small stretch of free fishing. The river then begins to slow and steady itself. The Chippenham Angling Club controls a fair stretch with day tickets available at the local tackle dealer, while just below Lacock, the Bristol and District Amalgamated Anglers have extensive holdings, as they have at Pewsham. Melksham and District Amalgamated Anglers (members of the Bristol DAA) and the Portcullis Angling Club also have waters in the area. At Staverton the Ushers Angling Club controls a very good section below the milk factory where the water is steady, averaging 6ft in depth. One peg, which is just into the water and clearly defined by a bankside tree, has very good margin fishing for roach and bream under the rod tip, while just downstream on the wide left-hand bend, Lloyd Davies won his 1972 National section by float fishing the far bank.
Bradford-on-Avon Angling Association issues day tickets for their excellent Tythe Barn Fishery, while downstream the Bristol and District Amalgamated Anglers con-trol water at Freshford and sections at Limpley Stock and Farleigh. Here the Bath Anglers’ Association have extensive holdings including the weir where the big barbel were caught. They also have very good waters downstream at Claverton and at Manor Park at Bathampton. At the latter the Bristol and District Amalgamated Anglers have more fishing at Meadow Farm.
The Bath area
There is some free fishing at Bath, but most bank space is naturally controlled by the Bath Anglers’ Association which also has waters at Bathford and Batheaston. At the latter, Bristol and District Amalgamated Anglers have a lengthy stretch with access at the horse showground. Bathampton Angling Association control good roach and bream waters here, and have water at Kelston where, not too long ago, catches to 50lb have been recorded in matches.
At this point the match country begins. There is a good stretch from Kelston to Saltford controlled by the Bristol and West of England Federation, with good access at Sheppards boathouse. They also control long sections at Swineford below and above Willsbridge. These are stretches of good, easy float water, with roach making up most of the catches, and bream from the ‘skimmer’ size to plump fish of 2lb.
The best known Avon fishing venues are perhaps at Keynsham. The sport here is very even and many contests take place. Most of the water is controlled by the Bristol and West Federation, or by the Keynsham Angling Association or the Ridgeway and District Anglers’ Association. Day tickets and information about match schedules and venues are available from local tackle shops.
The Avon is best known as a float water. Stick-float fishing in its various forms is the most popular, though the waggler float also has supporters. Like the Warwickshire Avon, however, small swimfeeder fishing is giving excellent results.
The Frome is the major tributary of the Bristol Avon. A shallowish, winding stream, it has good small trout fishing as well as coarse fishing. Day ticket fishing is available for about seven miles from lower Marston to Shawford and at Rode and Stapleton the Bristol and District Amalgamated Anglers control waters from the weir downstream, and downstream of Blackberry Hill bridge. This water produces chub to 4lb and most other allied species.
On the River Marden the Calne Angling Association has large sections of mixed fishing with the accent on trout.
The Somerset Plain lies to the south, and sports a network of natural and man-made waterways. Most important of the former is the River Parrett system, which, although troubled by pollution from its long tidal reach, somehow manages to recover quickly. It is a good early trout water in the upper reaches, and the March Brown and similar patterns, fished wet, usually meet with success. Season permits for the trout fishing can be obtained from the Half Moon Hotel in South Petherton, as they can be for about eight miles of good coarse fishing.
At Langport, day tickets can be obtained from the local tackle dealer for a five-six mile stretch controlled by the Wessex Federation of Anglers which also has water at Thorney Mill. The Parrett bream and pike are good. The best bream I have caught here neared 6’2lb and a pike I took on a large copper spoon, fished deep and slow, weighed 18lb though most are about 8lb.
A major Parrett tributary is the fast-flowing River Tone which rises high in the Quantock Hills, soon to feed Clatworthy Reservoir before flowing to Taunton. The trout fishing is excellent, though mostly preserved in the upper sections. Then from Wellington it deepens, slows and becomes the home of some superquality roach.
The Tone made the angling news with some prodigious catches of roach in the 1969-70 season. Since then sport has dropped back but many big fish are still to be caught. Permits are available in Taunton tackle shops for stretches at Bathpool and Wellington and downstream to the confluence. The same tackle dealers also sell day tickets for the Taunton-Bridgwater Canal which has large tench and carp. They mostly come to worm bait, but the canal water is very clear and the fish are hard to tempt.
The River Yeo meanders for 25 miles through Somerset from Milborne Port to join the Parrett near Langport. Around Sherborne there is excellent trout fishing. Coarse species start to show in the Yeovil area where day tickets can be obtained to fish the Westland Sports Angling Club water, and at Ilchester downstream where II-chester Angling Club controls several miles of water.
The Brue’s fine coarse fishing
From a scar in the Mendip Hills the top-quality River Brue flows to the sea at Burnham. Along the way it develops into a fine coarse fishery. Membership to the Bristol and District Amalgamated Anglers is more than useful to fish at West Lydford, Lovington, Meare, Edington Burtle (where the roach are good) and at Bason Bridge, where the roach always seem fatter, and are joined by black-backed, slab-sided bream which fight as well as the vigorous Shannon bream.
The man-made waters of Somerset are famed in fishing circles, having yielded massive catches of bream and roach, pike over 20 lb, and even tench and carp. In some seasons s very heavy weed growth makes the choice of swim difficult, but the bream are always ready to feed.
The Bridgwater Angling Association holds fishing rights to most of these waters, the widest of which is the River Huntspill, famed in the past for its match catches. The cur-rent popular section is the left bank below Woolavington Bridge and on to Withy Grove—the section where Coventry angler Joe Cramp set a new match catch record of 74lb 6oz in 1973. Anglers also enjoy fair suc-
I cess upstream on the same bank near the first fence and at the top end near Gold Corner when the breeze is from the south-west. The River Cripps joins the Huntspill here to link it with the River Brue. Many good bream catches are made along this short waterway, although weed is a problem during the sum-mer months.
Glastonbury and Sedgemoor Drains
Another connecting waterway is the Glastonbury Canal (South Drain). Like the River Cripps, it holds a big head of bream, roach and perch, as well as providing the chance of contacting a good tench or the odd large carp. The North Drain follows the course of the Brue, and a good access point is at the village of Mark. Bream is the most likely species to be found, and bread and worm cocktail baits are very successful if a feeding shoal is located.
In the past, the King’s Sedgemoor Drain has been a favourite water. Its eight miles of water to Greylake Bridge are good on their day, but can be disappointing. Access points are not frequent, and more often than not a long walk is necessary though the bream invariably make their mark visually. Good sport can be had at the end of the first meadow below Parchey Bridge and catches have included quality roach and bream, occasionally tench and carp, and even dace. Weston-zoyland was the scene of Dave Burr’s 1965 National Championship catch record—more than 76lb.
The Langacre Rhine joins the King’s Sedgemoor Drain near Middlezoy, the Eighteen Foot Rhine runs from Walton, and the most recent is the Aller Moor Relief Channel which drains from Othery and Langport and joins it near Greylake. Roach and small rudd are the predominant fish in these smaller peaty waters and maggot is the best bait for them. Bream are on the in-crease, and for them bread is best.