Fishing in West Cumbria

Isolated from the rest of the country by a barricade of fells, West Cumbria is an area of deep lakes and steep, spate rivers rich with brown trout, sea trout and sea-fresh salmon From the mountainous hub at the centre of the Lake District, lakes and rivers radiate out to the Eden Valley, the Solway Firth and the Irish Sea. Most of them are westerly inclined, arriving at the coast at points from Moricambe Bay on Solway in the north, to the Duddon-Lickle estuary bordering the old Furness district of Lancashire in the south-west.

Mainly spate rivers

These West Cumbrian rivers are mainly spate rivers, rain-fed owing to the impervious nature of their watershed and the naturally high rainfall of the area, and latterly, to the improved drainage system which affects many of the great northern rivers. They are precipitous streams, some rising at well over 2,000ft above sea level.

Summer salmon and grilse

The brown trout here are mainly small, with the better fish coming from the lower reaches. The salmon, too, tend to be on the small side, averaging 8 lb, with the odd heavier specimens. Summer salmon and grilse constitute the main runs occurring from June onwards, augmented by sea trout and herling. The sea trout, in contrast to the salmon, are often found to be heavier than their counterparts in the Border rivers and the Eden. The little River Irt, for example, is renowned for its sea trout.

The Rivers Wampool and Waver, which are about 12 and eight miles long respectively, meander over the northern coastal plain to Moricambe Bay on Solway and provide small but sporting brown trout, some limited sea trout fishing and, on the former, roach fishing, but these are only becks and offer fishing on a small scale. A slightly longer and more promising river, the Ellen, rises on the Uldale Falls and flows by Ireby, Aspatria and Bullgill villages before reaching Maryport on the Solway Firth. It is crossed by the A595 and A596, Carlisle-to-Dalton-in-Furness and Carlisle-to-Workington roads, and is easily reached by minor roads along its course. Since the trout and salmon disease struck our rivers in 1966-67 the River Ellen has made a better recovery than most, and continues to make a slight but steady increase each year.

Permits to fish the lower river may be obtained from the Ellen Anglers’ Association, while the Aspatria Angling Club controls upper reaches. Both these associations issue weekly permits at the amazingly low cost of £1. Enquire at Thompson’s Hardware in Maryport. On the private waters upstream, permission to fish may sometimes be granted by local riparian owners.

June for salmon and sea trout

The River Ehen drains Ennerdale Water and runs through Ennerdale Bridge and Egremont villages on its short course to the sea at Sellafield. In 1981 it was particularly productive, with salmon and sea trout in abundance from June to October. There are brown trout too. Wath Brow and Ennerdale Angling Association controls fishing on the lake and part of the upper Ehen. Lower down, the Egremont and District Angling Association waters may be fished, and week (no day) tickets cost £7.

Permits are available to fish the River Calder, a little river which also enters the sea near Sellafield. They are obtained from the Calder Angling Association, but the water controlled by the Sella Park Hotel, Calderbridge, Seascale, is best, though presently reserved for guests and permanent residents.

The upper water is now overgrown and fishing there is mostly a matter of worming.

The River Irt drains gloomy Wastwater, one of the remoter lakes. Permits to fish the Irt are available from the Lutwidge Arms hotel in Holmbrook, which has 5-£ miles of bank, although, of course, priority is given to residents.

The River Esk, the best known of the south-west Cumbria rivers, used to be a superb sea trout river. Consequently, it is almost entirely privately owned. Of late, it has been suffering from excessive and quite inexplicable acidity so that the runs declined badly between 1976 and IS 1980. But 1981 saw a welcome 11 improvement in the number of sea I trout and salmon and with luck this 1$ will be maintained. Rising well on the western slope of Scafell, England’s highest mountain, the Esk reaches the sea at Ravenglass in approximately 13 miles, sharing part of its route with the miniature Eskdale railway. The river is best reached via the A595 Whitehaven-to-Dalton-in-Furness coast road which, with minor roads, serves all rivers from the Ehen to the Lickle.

Wry Nose and Hard Knott passes The River Duddon rises above, and flows through the valley linking the Wry Nose and Hard Knott passes (both are challenges to the motorist) and marks the old Cumberland, Furness and Lancashire borders. This river apparently suffered more than most when salmon disease struck, but it was once a very fine migratory game fish river, and will no doubt recover. Unfortunately, at the time of going to press, tickets are not available for this water, which is mainly private or under the control of angling syndicates.

The rivers Lickle and Duddon have a common estuary, the head of which is a little downstream of the A595 at Duddon Bridge. The River Lickle, a short river, draining the Dunnerdale and Seathwaite Fells, was until recently a ticket water on part of its lower reach.

Those wishing to fish Duddon and Lickle rivers might apply for membership of the Millom and District Angling Association which also has fishing on parts of the rivers Esk, Irt and Annas.

The Duddon is almost all privately owned or syndicated, but the good stretch below Duddon Bridge is available through the Millom AA.

Although only five miles long, the River Crake has a fair flow since it drains Coniston Water. The head of its estuary is at Greenodd, on the A590 Barrow-tolevens road, making it one of the more accessible rivers. Unfortunately, it is all privately owned, apart from a little ‘parish’ water.

A little farther along the A590 is the River Leven, which leaves Windermere, the largest lake in the area, near Newby Bridge on a short, picturesque run to the estuary which it shares with the Crake. It is tidal below Lowood Bridge. The Leven is mainly privately owned by a club for which membership is by invitation only, but permits to fish game and coarse species are available for the upper reaches.

The lower river below ‘Fish House Rocks’, is controlled by the Lower Leven AA on a members-only basis.

It’s difficult water to fish, but these privileged anglers do well enough. Incidentally, members are allowed to share a rod with a friend, but with only one fishing at a time and the proviso that a member must be pre-sent at all times. Day permits at £1.50 each are issued by the Swan Hotel, Newby Bridge, to fish the 400 yards of their marina. Above that is the outflow from Windermere, which is free if you are in a boat. Though a boat is essential, waterborne anglers are, generally speaking, very successful here.

Moving farther into old Lanca-shire, one reaches the little River Eea, a brown trout and sea trout water, with fishing controlled by Cark and District Angling Association on a member only basis. The next notable estuary easily reached from the A590 is that shared by the rivers Gilpin and Kent. The former provides fishing for brown trout and sea trout with some late salmon. Although privately owned, permission may be obtained from some riparian owners and farmers, and enquiries should be made locally.

The River Kent, which flows under Levens Bridge on the A6 road, rises high on Kentmere Common, with Kentmere Reservoir near its source. The river becomes accessible by minor road to Kentmere from Staveley, on the A591 road from Windermere to the A6 link. A little above Kendal it is swelled by the tributaries Mint and Sprint, which also provide sport with the game species. Permission to fish the higher reaches of these two streams may be granted by local farmers.

At Kendal there is a stretch of public water but most of the main river is either privately owned or is under the control of the Kent Angling Association, the Burnside AA or the Staveley Angling Association in the middle reaches. The Kent AA issues day permits up to August 31 (thereafter weekly tickets only) and you can enquire about these at the sportstackle shops in Kendal. The Middle Kent above Kendal is controlled by the Burneside AA who issue day and weekly permits through the Jolly Anglers Inn, Burneside, at £3 per day, £10 per week, £17 for the season. There is also good fishing on the lower river for which very reasonable permits may be obtained from Mr L Parsons, Low Levens Farm, nr Kendal. Apart from the A591 and A6 roads, the Kent, Mint and Sprint valleys are fairly well served with minor roads.

The upper reaches of the River Lune and its tributaries are within view of the motorist travelling on the M6 motorway through the impressive Tebay Gorge. Tebay LMS Fishing Club controls most of the upper river, and issues weekly £15 permits to fish. These may be obtained from three local hotels, the Cross Keys, the Junction at Tebay, and the George Hotel in Orton.

Late-season trout and salmon

There is good brown trout fishing and late season sea trout and salmon fishing in the water controlled by the Sedburgh Angling Association. Enquiries about Sedburgh AA waters can be made at Lowis’s Shoe and Sports Shop, Main Street, Sedburgh. In its middle reaches the Lune is controlled by the Kirkby Lonsdale Club which, from Monday to Friday, issue £15 weekly permits for waters. They have recently added a further four miles, and just beyond their waters the River Lune flows out of Cumbria.

The Rivers Clough and Rawthey, tributaries of the Lune, also have a run of migratory fish. Parts of both streams are controlled by the Sedburgh Angling Association and permits may be purchased in Sedburgh, which lies on the A684 Kendal-to-Wensleydale road.

Spate rivers

Most of the rivers in this area are spate rivers—which means that your chances are very much affected by weather. A good spate is needed to bring migratory fish in, and a good height of water is needed anyway for successful salmon fishing. Once there, however, fishing for sea trout is best when the rivers are low and conditions are settled. In general the water is so clear that any sea trout fishing has to be done at night.

Modern road building and drainage has resulted in rivers running off very quickly after a spate—to the detriment of the fishing. And that’s not the worst of it: during the building of the A66 Keswick bypass, the contractors used ballast which had a lead-sulphur content which has been seeping into, and polluting the Derwent ever since.