Gillingham & District Angling Association
Over 7 miles of the River Stour and 5 lakes to fish
History

 

The River Stour flows through Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset from springs and streams in all three counties, but with a definitive starting point claimed by Stourhead and with a large part of its catchment edged by chalk hills containing the Blackmore Vale where the river pushes its way through the clay giving it a capacity to rise, rage and flood within a few hours.

 

The waters that the club were able to use were only rivers, and the stretch of river from Colesbrook to Highbridge Mill was the first to be used.  The club investigated the other stretches of river around, and found that the river above Gillingham town (Shreen) would make excellent Trout fishing water and was in fact designated as Fly fishing.  No longer a fly fishing stretch, the river is still used by the club to this day. 

 

In 1952, a member suggested that the committee should patrol stretches of the river to prevent poaching, where it was pointed out that the rules permitted any member to ask to see the membership card of anyone fishing the associations waters.  A Rule that still stands fast today!

 

At the 1952 A.G.M.  Mr E.A. Martin passed a comment that the people in the town seemed to think that the idea of the club was to prevent fishing, but he thought it should be made clear that the primary objective of the club was to improve the the fishing in the area for the benefit of everyone.  As this could not be done without money, a subscription would be charged to generate the revenue.   

 

The Club has always been keen to develop the angling experience, and in it's initial year, put 4,000 trout fry into the river above the town, and 8,000 coarse fish into the lower stretch of the river, something the club has been doing consistently to improve it's lakes and rivers since its inception. 

 

Growing from just the local rivers, the club now has other lakes as well as the same stretches of river.  Cups and Trophies are now fished for on matches and outings, and the club enjoys various annual events such as the presentation evening of cup winners and riparian owners dinner year after year.

The River Stour used by the club now, passes through Stour Provost which also has links back up the Stour.  In 1086, the Domesday Book recorded that the village had a mill, and although the location of that mill cannot be known for certain, it is a fair guess that it was not far from the present one. Now there is a complex of buildings dating from the early 19th century. There is Mill House from which both the mill and a farm were run. The Old Mill itself was converted to a cottage, but as a plaque on the side records, the waterwheel was restored in 1988 and continues to work. The wheel dates from the 1880s and was made at the Mill in Bourton. The mill complex is at the bottom of Mill Lane, which is continued by a public footpath that passes close to the Mill House, then runs beside a pretty little stretch of the Stour before crossing over towards Fifehead Magdalen.


LAKES OF OUR OWN. History of Lodden Lakes by Peter Rolfe previous Secretary of GDAA.

 

 

Donhead Ponds and Luckfield Lake are no longer club waters.   Lodden Lakes, however, always will be. We bought the land and, aided by generous grants, frenzied fund-raising and partnership with another local club, developed a complex of two lakes and a small car park. G.& D.A.A. Ltd had made the decision to go ahead with the ambitious project a short time before I becameSecretary and it became very much my responsibility over the years that followed.

Without the financial guarantees for the scheme of the then-Chairman, Tommy Suttle, though, things would have been much more difficult. He was a man of vision and the thousands of anglers who fish the lakes now and in years to come have much to thank him for.

The pit was a naturalists paradise. Some ten feet below the level of the surrounding land, pasture on three sides, was an open area of water of something over an acre, fringed on the west by high reeds. To the west of the reeds was a causeway ranging in width from five yards to thirty, and beyond that was an area of marsh-land some three hundred yards by seventy, a watery mixture of common reed, reedmace and small willows. The western boundary was a minor road at the top of a steep bank covered with a tangle of blackthorn, hawthorn, oak and elm saplings and willows of various types and sizes. Thereabundant rabbits and a family or two of badgers lived.

Bird life was plentiful. Trevor, a dedicated local ornithologist, had been netting and ringing birds there for three years and had recorded thirty-three species, ranging from pied wagtails, reed buntings and blue tits, which frequented the pit in large numbers, to comparative rarities like water rail, kingfisher and bearded tit. In fact, on my very first exploration of this wild and neglected place, on 10th February 1973, I found the unmarked corpse of a brightly coloured and unfamiliar small bird which my Collins field guide told me was a bearded tit. I sent the ring on its leg to the British Museum and in due course Trevor, who had ringed the bird at the pit some three months previously, got in touch with me. After that, it seemed that whenever I visited the place I would find the small, intense figure of the bird-catcher, often accompanied by his long-suffering wife, either crouched behind a clay bank to shelter from the icy wind or wading into the reed-beds to set his fine nets, supported by long bamboo poles. I watched his sure and gentle handling of the small and fragile creatures as his wife recorded their age, sex and weight, and shared his excitement if the bird was already ringed. When he had completed the final task, fitting the tiny metal bracelet around the birds brittle leg, Trevor gave the creature its freedom and with a flap and flutter of wings it would soar towards the grey clouds.

Trevor told me in a reproachful tone that we were proposing to develop an area of wetland unique in this part of Dorset. It was a sad truth I was becoming aware of. I had seen a sparrow hawk flash through a clump of bright-budded pussy willow and had watched the starlings fly in at dusk, squadron after dark squadron, until the trees and reeds rustled aloud and the whole area echoed to their harsh, high-pitched voices. I had even seen, in that first summer, a young cuckoo in a reed warbler’s nest deep in the forest of whispering stems.

 I knew that our responsibility did not end with the creation of a fishery. We could not help drastically changing the pit but we must restore the natural cover as quickly as we could. At that stage I did not know how, just that we had to do it. Fortunately, the healing energy of nature, something I had not at that point experienced on such a large scale, covered the scars of our vandalism remarkably speedily, though as I will explain we did help in our puny human way. The one redeeming thought at this time was that if we had not bought the area for anglers it would undoubtedly have gone for industrial development as had the many acres on the other side of the little road that flanked our site.

For ten days in October the yellow digger wallowed in the shallows, roared and belched smoke as it enlarged and deepened the existing pond, gouging out the reed-beds on the west bank, building up the causeway and leaving two islands some twenty-five yards off-shore. As I watched Paddy in the cab, with his dog beside him for company, I wondered if he had any sense of the romance and excitement of what he was creating. I feared not. He was a dark-browed and taciturn man, usually deaf to my suggestions unless I went over his head to the contractor himself.

With the excavation the water level dropped and the islands stood high above the surface. If I had had more foresight and more experience of levels, they would have been higher still and one of the minor tragedies that beset us would have been avoided, as I will describe later.

We had been slightly worried about whether or not we could hold a fishable depth of water in the lake, which now covered just under two acres. Local people who could still remember the days when the pit was being worked talked about shale beds” at the south end, though we had seen no sign of them. The inevitable Jeremiahs in the club were quite certain that digging further into the clay would pull the plug out” and we would lose all our precious water in the River Lodden some 150 yards to the south of the site and well below its level. Our anxiety was unfounded. The digger driver reported nothing but dark and greasy clay, the impermeable raw material of the once famous Gillingham brick. When the rains came that autumn the level steadily rose and our first lake was even fuller than we had expected.

The sub-committee of five responsible for the development held a number of meetings through that autumn and winter, thrashing out as sound a policy as we could. I can’t remember with certainty now who the five were. I think it may have been Bob Simpson, Derek Hatch, Bill Merefield, Jim Debnam and me.

First we decided on a fish-kill! We could not be certain what fish, if any, were already in the pond and we wanted to have some control over our stocking policy, ironic in the light of later events, as it turned out - but more of that later. I approached Wessex Water Authority to see it they would treat the pond with Rotenone for us. This they agreed to do and began making the necessary applications to the two Ministries involved - I forget now which these were but in any case we all felt this would take some time, knowing that the wheels of officialdom grind exceedingly slowly. 

In fact, permission came through quite quickly; I suspect that W.W.A. found our request unusual and intriguing and were very keen to experiment. The two main conditions had been easily met since at this stage our water was self-contained, with no danger of run-off to other waters, and also had been securely fenced against stock, thanks to the efforts of the usual two stalwarts, Jim and Bill. 

Secondly, we realised that between a quarter and a third of the bed of the lake was virgin clay, lacking the thin layer of fertile, decomposing material that is essential before a water can be fully productive. Dung was the answer, and an S.O.S. went out to our riparian owners, dairy farmers to a man. They were glad of our request because the wet autumn had meant that dung-spreading on the heavy Blackmore Vale land was temporarily out of the question.  Very soon between forty and fifty loads of rich manure steamed in great heaps on our western boundaryinstead of on the fields. We hoped that by the time that we came to distribute some of it in our first lake it would have rotted down to the black fibrous mold we knew would bring life to the water.

Last of all we decided on the three species of fish with which the lake would eventually be stocked: tench, crucians and common carp. We arrived at this conclusion only after long discussion. Many of our members were match fishermen and bream would have been a popular choice. Fortunately, the dangers of introducingthat species could be seen in the situation at a much larger day ticket water about nine miles away, where pale and slimy “skimmers” could be hauled out all day long - indeed, could hardly be avoided! We felt that the crucians, well known for their ability to populate a water quickly, would give members a chance to catch good bags of healthy fighting fish after only a year or two, with the tench growing to a reasonable size before the common and mirror carp began to take over. 

There was pressure to stock with roach, always a popular fish but more than ever in demand then because our part of the upper Stour was suffering from a shortage of these fish, after the days of plenty in the sixties and early seventies. We were uncertain about how this fish would adapt to clay pit conditions and decided to wait until the second lake was dug before experimenting with this species and perhaps perch. When that second water became available - and at this stage we did not know when that would be - we would be able to pursue separate stocking policies.

The day of the Rotenoning was an exciting one, though in one way an anticlimax. Not only were the bailiffs of the Avon and Dorset Rivers Division there, complete with Assistant Fisheries Officer, a boat, hand nets, tanks, oxygen cylinders, spraying equipment and a number of tins of Derris; also in obviously inquisitive attendance were observers from other divisions of the W.W.A. and a number of casual onlookers from our own club. Reg, our movie buff, was behind his camera, building up his store of material for the definitive film of the development of the area.

Rotenone is the active ingredient of Derris. It stupefies fish, allowing them to be easily caught. It is a fish toxin, affecting the gills, and unlicensed use of it is illegal, but fish will recover quickly if moved promptly into oxygenated water.  

The Derris was mixed in a five-gallon container with the right amount of water and the boat was pushed off, rowed by a muscular underling while the smartly barboured A.F.O. used the pneumatic spray. When the white mixture had been applied over the whole lake, the outboard motor was started with a pull and a roar and we were treated to a fine display of aquaplaning, as the small boat sped from shore to shore, thoroughly dispersing the milky fluid. Nets in hand, we all looked expectantly at the water. We had been told that eels would probably be the first fish affected, but after ten minutes it became clear that the lake surprisingly held none, in contradiction of local legend. Sticklebacks fringed the water in their sad, dead thousands. The only other creatures that seemed in the least distressed were several hundred newts, which swam close to the surface, all moving in one direction, towards the leeward corner of the lake, like an armada of miniature submarines at periscope depth. In landing nets, they were gently transferred to the shallow water on the other side of the causeway and swam down and away, none the worse for their experience.

In the spring of 1974 we started the dunging operations, after the water had been tested and declared free of Rotenone. The level of water in the unexcavated area to the west of the causeway had steadily risen over the winter as a result of our having blocked a storm drain that had previously carried away surplus water through a tunnel beneath the road. Through this tunnel, once upon a time, a tiny locomotive had hauled the waggon-loads of clay to the brick works. 

The shallow lake formed as a result of our drain-blocking, by accident rather than design gave us the means to transfer the dung, now well-rotted and sweet-smelling - to us, anyway! - across to the new lake from its resting place on the western boundary. A sixteen foot Thames working punt had been brought to the site some weeks previously, from the Stour not the Thames, to replace the Huckleberry Finn raft we had previously been using as a platform from which to cut reeds and plant up the islands. In this punt we pushed and poled great loads of dung across the flooded section to the causeway, whence it was pronged into the lake, some of it sinking immediately, some floating further out into the lake on the wind, until it became waterlogged and sank further out. These sessions were hard and dirty work, but at last we were close to the end of our efforts for the time being. The first fish could soon be put into the lake.

We knew, of course, that it is not very sensible to put fish into a recently dug water before at least one summer has elapsed, to allow natural food stocks to develop. In the case of this first pond, though, excavation had been only partial, and as the invertebrate population had not been affected by the Rotenoning, we felt that we could safely add a small number of fish in the summer of 1974, aiming to start limited fishing in the 1976 season. We obtained the necessary permission from the W.W.A., who proved most helpful, promising us extra fish when they became available.     

At about eight oclock on the morning of 16th June the phone rang. It was Doug, a long, rangy South Wiltshire man with accent to match who kept an eye on our one piece of stillwater fishing, a field pond about fifty yards by twenty rather optimistically called the stock pond. Apparently some of the lads” had had a successful morning session with the tench. Would I like to come and collect the fish for the clay-pit?

When I arrived, complete with polythene bags and cardboard cartons, I found about forty tench between six and ten ounces and twenty-five or so smaller ones awaiting collection. The sun was already hot on the back of my neck as I transferred the fish into the bags, with a little water, and carried the bags in the cartons to the boot of the car. Within half an hour I was untying the black polythene and releasing the first fish. We wished them well as they swam rather hesitantly into the clear depths of their new home. Our own lake was beginning to come to life at last.   

Later that summer and in 1975 the following fish were added: 20 fully scaled king carp from about two and a half pounds to nearly six; about 300 tench, ranging from two to ten ounces; and about 170 crucian carp. The tench were fromfour separate sources and the crucians from two - we rather vaguely felt that some benefit might come from multiple strains. In the summer of 1976 we added a dozen mirror carp between two and four pounds and a dozen fully scaled pounders from another pond. 

We were to see no more of the initial batch of tench until spawning time the following year and the crucians disappeared until one or two were caught when the fishing eventually opened. A small trial stocking of rainbow trout also vanished without trace; they were tiny fish and although they were spotted rising optimistically for a week or so after being introduced, they soon became nothing but a memory of a mistake.

The manuring of the lake quickly produced results. There was an enormous increase of submerged plants in the lake, not the hornwort and Ranunculus we had tried to establish but a profusion of milfoil and a grass-leafedPotamogeton. On a number of occasions, I unlocked the punt and drifted quietly and slowly over the lake. The punt was high-sided and the very devil to control in anything above the faintest breeze, but it seemed ideal for fish observation. Probably as a result of the abundant weed, the water was extremely clear and in all but the deepest spots, about nine feet beneath me, I could see the clay bottom of the lake in the gaps between the weed. That year there was an explosion in the numbers of giant pond snails; they could be seen in their hundreds, clinging to the weed stems. When I drifted across the lake in the punt, dozens that had been travelling in the surface film were gently nudged together into a mass. As the punt moved gently into the thickest weed, which broke the surface with its pink flowers, there would be the heavy splash and swirl of a suddenly disturbed carp that had been basking in the hot sunlight. I looked downinto this mysterious other world, able to see into it so clearly, but never to catch so much as a glimpse of the fish I knew to be there.

Only from the bank could one sometimes see the carp. I’d spent an hour or two each week through the summer sitting on the slope at the north end of the pond, where the water was shallowest, admiring the big fish as they cruised through the great clouds of Daphnia, like airships through water-green sky. Through binoculars I could see their mouths opening and shutting, sucking in the zoo plankton around them. Occasionally one would roll at the surface, showing a gleaming bronze chain mail sideI enjoyed the experience, leaning back in the new long grass, chewing a sweet stem and watching elegant fish glide through the clear water of our own lake.

But we were not to set about catching these fish until 1976 and suddenly there was much more to be done. Out of the blue, funds had become available for the development of the second lake. We had postponed thoughts of developing the other part of the pit for several years, but Sturminster and Hinton Angling Club, through Jack Caines, the Secretary, expressed an interest. They had the money and needed a stillwater fishery; we had the potential fishery but next-to-no money. It seemed an ideal partnership. Of course, we had to convince the membership that it was a good idea. Both clubs held very well-attended Extraordinary General Meetings. Remarkably, there was only one dissenting voice.

I remember there was plenty of paperwork. Bob Machin, Jack Caines and I hammered out the agreement between the two clubs, with Gillingham and District Angling Association Ltd granting Sturminster and Hinton Angling Club a lease that stretched way into the next millennium, in return for the funding we needed. We applied for permissions to dig the second pond and then to make a car park with a fine new entrance on the adjacent road.

Excavation of the second pond, now the Dave Hillier lake, began on the first of October 1974. By the third week in November work was coming to an end. Instead of a reed-and-willow-filled marsh, we had a hole of about three and a half acres, with promontories, bays and islands, all carefully sited according to my design to give maximum space and privacy to our fishermen. 

On my carefully drawn and coloured plan it all looked very fine. In reality it was very different. The islands seemed far too big, and all was ugly and naked in the dark clay, like apicture of No Mans Land. Bare slopes gleamed in the winter sunshineThe few mature trees that the machine had re-planted made things look more stark rather than less. It took a great effort of the imagination to see those wounds healed.

Yet water was already pouring through the two four-inch balancing pipes joining the two lakes and as the rain hissed and drummed down as if it would never stop in the January and February of 1975, the levels gradually equalised. Now the lakes deepened more slowly but it was soon obvious that we were going to be blessed with more water than we had considered possible, which would have been a problem but for the foresight of Tommy Suttle, who had ensured that we had the right to dig an overflow down through the south neighbouring field to the River Lodden.

With some urgency this was done as soon as a cold spell temporarily gave machinery access to the land, though we made the mistake of using the short lengths of clay pipe then in vogue for land drainage rather than a four-inch diameter plastic pipe. We had cause to regret this economy when a mink decided to use the small diameter pipe as a winter store for pieces of moorhen and we suddenly realised that water was no longer running away. Digging several deep holes in heavy clay in an attempt to locate the blockage, with the rain lancing down all day, was work John Stone and I could have done without!

Plenty of water was on the whole, though, a bonus, especially since the lakes depend entirely upon rainfall for their supply. One regret was that we had failed to correlate the level of the islands in the smaller lake with that of the overflow. They had once stood so high above the surface; now they were submerged by about twelve inches. The dense reed-beds that developed on them made wonderful spawning places for fish, hideaways for water fowl and productive features for anglers to cast towards - but the splendid, vivid marsh orchids we had laboriously dug up and rafted there out of the excavators path were sadly drowned. On the other hand, the islands on the new lake, diminished by six feet of water, were now in proportion to their surroundings and criticism died.

The overflow and car park completed, with pride we mounted a large sign by the five bar gate: Lodden Lakes - Gillingham and Sturminster Angling Clubs - Members only. Beware of adders!” This last comment was designed to deter casual visitors, but I dont suppose it worked. There were only grass snakes there anyway! Someone showed us what he thought of our warning by firing a twelve bore at the sign and putting a considerable hole through it.

We could now focus on bringing vegetation to the starkly bare clay and the cold, grey water of the new lake. In the late winter and early spring, we cut down the few small willows on the wooded slope up to the road. The branches were sawn into stakes of three to four feet in length and from three quarters of an inch to four inches in diameter. These, roughly pointed, were thrust deep into the clay near the water so that they could be in contact with moisture throughout the year. When we ran out of willow in the pit area we brought in bundles of stakes from elsewhere. Altogether we planted about two hundred and about half of them took” that first summer, sending out fresh green shoots that grew firmer and more vigorous as the year progressed. We found that planting a rooted tree in pure clay is a very chancy business, although we did conscientiously prepare a number of sites with topsoil and peat for the young oaks and maples we were given. Enthusiastic members were encouraged to plant whatever they could spare from their gardens, which shared out the labour somewhat. The car park was screened off from the site with hawthorns planted on the side of the bank surrounding it.

As for the vegetation around the lake itself, we need not have worried. I remember reading somewhere that nature abhors a vacuum: certainly the apparently barren margins were quickly colonised in the spring, with a multitude of different grasses, reed and sedge, vetch and rush, meadowsweet, docks and nettles. Coltsfoot made a massive resurgence and its yellow flowers made the pit gay in March and April. Marsh marigolds we introduced to the wetter places flourished beyond expectation and in many places willows buried in the excavation sent up vigorous stems. Where we spread dung and brushed top-soil into the summer cracks in the clay, the growth of grass in particular was swift and, kept cropped by the rabbits, developed into a short, tight sward. The multitudes of rabbits helped to condition the banks further with their droppings, though their gnawing attentions to some of our newly planted trees were less welcome.

By the summer of 1976 only a few bare patches remained to remind us how recently the lakes had been dug. The birds were back in large numbers: though we had not seen the water rail or the bearded tit, we had attracted a lonely greater crested grebe and - fortunately on a passing visit - a cormorant. Plenty of duck of various kinds had been lured in by the open water and the flourishing aquatic life. The developing reed-beds held reed buntings and warblers again, snipe were quite common and coot, moorhen and little grebe had never deserted us. Swallows and martins swooped and dipped from dawn to dusk.

We forked in prodigious amounts of the now crumbly black manure to fertilise the virgin clay of the new lake bed, and milfoil and ranunculus quickly became established. The dominant weed over much of the lake was, however, chara, which formed a light green carpet over most of the bottom, clearly visible under six or seven feet of water. Certainly no-one introduced this very pretty though not very pleasant-smelling weed. Perhaps it was brought in by water fowl. It is a weed that I have since found eager to grow in newly excavated ponds - and a very desirable one it is too. 

 Obviously finding conditions to their liking, thousands of snails grazed over this soft pasture. We had introduced Limnaea stagnalis and peregra - the great pond snail and the wandering snail - in some quantity and the resulting snail population promised rich feeding for the 1500 or so tench and crucian carp averaging about three ounces that we stocked this second pond with. Several hundred roach and perch joined them shortly afterwards. I remember that Brian East from S&HAA made several journeys to the cress beds at Longbridge Deverill to collect bucket-loads of these snails. We resolved to keep common carp out of the new lake for as long as was possible. In our heart of hearts, we knew that sooner or later some bright lad would slip carp from one lake into the other, however much we warned members against it; and anyway once the carp spawned their fry would somehow find their way through the balancing pipes despite the screening. Nevertheless, it seemed sense to postpone that day as long as possible so that competition from bigger fish was avoided until the others were well established.

Dug in the autumn of 1974, the second lake was fertilised and lay fallow in 1975. It was stocked with crucians and tench in 1976 and with roach and perch in 1977. In 1978 it was made available to limited fishing and big bags of fish were common throughout that season, with the fish averaging about ten ounces in weight. Good though the sport eventually was in that second lake, though, it did not open as dramatically as the very first season of all, two years earlier, when at long last the first Lodden Lake was fished.

To go back to that opening day in June 1976.I was out at the stock pond, catching a few tench for Donhead Ponds, I think. On the way home I decided to drop in to Lodden Lakes to see how the fishing was going. We had decided on a limit of eight rods, four from each club, on four days a week, and I was little disappointed to see only two cars parked inside our imposing five barred gate. It seemed a perfect day, although the tench had not gone too well at the pond: fine and still, but with a thin, hazy cloud keeping the full glare of the sun off the water.

Indeed, only four anglers were on the water and it was soon obvious that they were enjoying themselves - one rod was well bent as I pushed my way through strongly growing reeds. I arrived just in time to slip the landing net under a splendid tench of nearly three pounds, golden flanked and perfect in every fin and scale. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. Even assuming that the fish was one of the ten-ouncers stocked in June 1974, it had grown at what seemed to me a prodigious rate. A pound a year was the very least we’d expected from the carp, but had never even considered from the tench. Obviously the long neglected original pond had been even richer that we had supposed. 

The tench was gently unhooked and slid back into the water - we had banned the use of keep-nets during the first season. Arthur, a ready-mix lorry driver who later worked tirelessly to build the paths that now make access so comfortable, was delighted with the sport.  He had been catching practically a fish a cast since about breakfast time: tench and carp, on worm, bread and maggots. It seemed to make no difference what bait he used. His float stood only a few inches away from the reedmace stems, in a patch some three yards square clear of the milfoil that crammed the shallow end. As I watched, it quivered twice and then with a slow, deliberate run its red tip gradually vanished below the surface. It was another tench, slightly smaller this time, which bored away towards the weed-beds, its fins making deep vortices in the warm, green water.

 These two fishermen stayed all day and landed over one hundred fish between them, with carp up to three and a half pounds and tench up to three, with nothing under half a pound. This was the pattern of sport for the next few weeks, but of course it could not go on forever. First the carp and then the tench became more difficult to tempt, though the odd good fish was being landed until the middle of July. Crucian carp, from about four ounces to just below the pound, began to show up more frequently, as did tiny tench about four inches long.

When I first fished the lake, about ten days after the beginning of the season, the famous 1976 drought was well established. Even just after dawn there seemed an awareness of the heat to come. Moorhens and coots seemed more subdued than usual. The swifts, not martins or swallows. were dipping in flight at full speed,touching their beaks into the water. I stood amongst the camouflaging reeds in place of the heron I had frightened away at first light. Three or four rod-lengths out, my free-lined bread flake lay in a clear patch in the milfoil, but the Mark 4 Avon and six pound breaking strain line were not going to be tested by a carp that day, as I soon realised. 

The carp, which I could see quite clearly in front of me, were moving with a sense of purpose quite different from that of feeding. In groups of four and five they swam swiftly, close to the surface, which bulged and swirled as they surged and turned. Huge splashing and writhingin the margins showed where the fish were extruding eggs and milt. A small withy, roots hanging like a bead curtain in the water, swayed at the assault. I stayed until lunch time, having good sport with the tench once I realised that the carp were too preoccupied to care about anything I had to offer. Several times carp came within inches of my feet as they rolled, oblivious to my presence, and pieces of weed that I brought to bank were covered with the tiny globules that were the eggs of fish.

Exciting and fascinating though the experience had been, I thought that it would mean problems later. We knew that both carp and tench had successfully spawned in 1975. In the autumn of that year, when I bailed out the punt, which we had kept half filled with water to discourage local youths from voyages of discovery, I found that it contained a number of tiddlers of both species, presumably scooped in as fry or eggs. It seemed likely that we would soon have too many fish for the lake to support.

It t is always difficult to be certain just how many fish you have in even a small pond, let alone a two-acre lake, but it became clear by the next summer that tench were present in enormous numbers. A half-way competent matchman had no difficulty in catching a fish a minute throughout a long day, all perfect little tench of between four and six inches.

Still harbouring thoughts of a specimen fishery, with a strictly limited number of rods available, I knew that culling was essential. We had a holding pond dug, some ten yards by five, four feet deep, and lined it with a fine-meshed net. The idea was that for one day a week keep-nets would be allowed, on the understanding that only small tench could be placed in the nets and that the catch should be put into the holding pond at the end of the day. Initially we used the culled tench to stock the second lake, saving ourselves hundreds and hundreds of pounds in the process. After that, periodically, the lining net was lifted and the fish sold, with the proceeds ploughed back into the fishery, to provide platforms and stone paths around the lakes.

Financially then, the scheme was a great success, but it was not without its critics. I quickly realised that some anglers had no idea of what eight inches - our top limit for cropped fish - looked like. Not only that! Some could not tell the difference between tench and carp...or roach...or crucians! So there were mutterings, after a year or two, as the fishing began to slow, that we were depleting the lakes of fish that members would prefer to catch. It became more difficult to persuade fishermen to co-operate.

By then, fortunately, the problem had eased. We never again had such a prolific spawning and thanks, I am convinced, to our vigorous culling over two years, the remaining fish began to grow at an acceptable rate.

When we finally gave way to AGM pressure and allowed many more people to fish the lakes, it became clear that our still-abundant stocks of fish were essential to the enjoyment of the membership. By then, too, the lakes had become self-financing, with members of the two clubs paying a small supplement to fish at Lodden.

In 1983, I resigned the secretaryship because of pressure of work from the day job: changes were afoot in North Dorset education, and I was hectically involved. Ever since those times, though, I have made a point of visiting Lodden Lakes once or twice a year, noting the improvements that have been made, seeing how the trees I planted have grown, and remembering the exciting, pioneering years. Time and again I have squatted anonymously beside appreciative fishermen, and listened to their praise of the place we once worked so hard to create.

 

 

 

 

 


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