I think we have to go back to the turn of the last century to try and get a handle on things, certainly before the Industrial Revolution the River was full of fish, of course in those days it was much different to what it is today. By this I mean it was a natural river, before the water board dredgers moved in to make it navigable by cargo barges, which were the scourge of the match angler in the 60's. There can be few Trent anglers who haven't experienced the wash consequences of a loaded speeding barge trying to hit the high tide downstream or docking times. Tackle and keepnet loss was commonplace and it was a foolish fellow who left his peg to go for some serious toilet duty. I mention this because the upshot of the wash was the amount of suspension/colour created by the motion of the waves on the silt - but more of that later.
Before the denaturalisation of the river even, I recall stretches of wild beauty. The pegs above Stoke Bardolph weir I fished as a youth, I had to wade out on the gravel among the sedges to get a decent depth of water to trot a float through. Of course I didn't possess waders or a great deal of angling skill but I caught loads of roach and dace in incredible surroundings and saw lots of kingfishers. Today this same stretch of water, and many others, are no longer natural banked but have been dredged and reinforced with huge stones to prevent erosion - and a vast swathe of former spawning ground has been removed forever.
Already a picture can be seen that demonstrates mans interference. Once the heavy industry took hold in the midlands, the resultant pollution had a devastating affect on the fish stocks. It wasn't until the old Severn Trent River Authority got to grips with this situation and enforced strict legislation about polluters that an upturn in the water quality was achieved, by the mid seventies things started to look up.
Another major factor, particularly in the winter, was the amount of power stations using the Trent to cool down generators. This increase in the temperature meant the metabolic rate of the fish was much higher, another reminder was the dense fog that came off the river during the winter months. This situation is no longer a factor as most of the power stations have closed down and so the water runs much colder nowadays.
Let's also consider the amount of bait that was put into the river. In fact the tonnage of maggots, casters and groundbait introduced must have been incredible. Maggots were lugged to the bankside a gallon at a time after Dave Thomas showed everyone the way, spraying them all over the river. I think the huge fish stocks were artificially sustained and were only viable because of the anglers feeding them. So what happens when all this man made food resource is withdrawn? Well, the fish start turning back to natural food and the most natural food for fish is other fish, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to now understand why trout pellets and fish-meal are such fantastic bait for so many species.
Lots of anglers blame the swimfeeder for ruining the fishing on many waters. The R. Severn got the treatment and latterly so did the Thames , Warwickshire Avon, Trent, Bristol Avon and so on and so forth. Its an undeniable fact that the feeder opened up fresh pastures for the angler and the fish were not safe. I even started to catch them chucking right the way across the river. The fish had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide and this might explain why they switched off in the daytime on all methods before he river 'died'. However the waggler did much the same when the stick float ruled supreme and at times the pole was a master method.
Many people also blame the emergence of the barbel, I recall my brother catching a monster gudgeon at Clifton Grove in the early seventies it was at least 6 ounces and of course a baby Barbus Barbus. In the early eighties whiskers started showing around the middle reaches of the river and, for some strange reason best left to something much bigger and cleverer than me, they followed me all over the place in matches. I had a stick float catch of the critters on a peg on Burton Joyce rack in 1982, and then we developed an affinity with each other. I caught loads of them and they won me plenty of brown envelopes during a manic couple of seasons, the rest being feeder-caught I might add. They feed on almost anything (my mate caught one on a piece of raw turkey breast last year!) and it is this fact that makes many believe that they have a devastating effect on fish eggs during spawning, I'm sure this is true, looking at the size of some of them on the river today but the same can be said for many spawning fish, carp in particular. If truth be known the vast percentage of fish eggs get eaten by fish and a multitude of other wildlife. Ducks eat more than they 'carry to populate other waters with eggs attached to their feet' I'll be bound, so for all these reason I feel the poor old barbel got some undeserved bad press.
Towards the end of the eighties the river was in it's prime, full of all sorts of fish. In winter it was fantastic fishing roach, chub, silver bream and slabs with the odd barbel and carp.
So what happened to change this wonderful scenario? Well, it appears to me and it's only an opinion, that when the Severn Trent was sold, the government allowed the levels of consent to be relaxed. For the uninitiated the levels of consent are the amount of discharge one can legally pump into the river. It's not a secret that most big rivers are used to dilute and remove waste in all forms and guises. Some of the polluters pay vast sums for the privilege and they are accountable by law to uphold their responsibilities. By relaxing the levels of consent means, in laymans terms, that more pollution was allowed to go into the river and in a very short space of time the river had to be downgraded because it was not as 'clean' as it was before. All of a sudden the fishing returns plummeted and overnight prolific sections of the river produced no fish. Where there were fish, they were there in their thousands and huge catches could be made. Fish immediately under Gunthorpe bridge and you could catch 50lb but on the adjacent pegs you would blank. I think the fish got sick and didn't want to feed at all. When they did, it would be at night and not when they were being pursued by fishermen.
This same scenario was mirrored on all the major treated sewage-carrying rivers in the UK. Just look at what happened to the Thames and the Warwickshire Avon, at exactly the same time they all went down the tubes. I used to travel to Evesham and Twyford on the Wednesday midweek winter leagues until it became futile. One year, at Twyford Farm, my lowest series weight was 8lb, I had many double figure catches for an aggregate of getting on for 100lb . The next year, my aggregate weight over six matches was less than 20lbs, the highest weight being 5lbs. The river had literally died and the silver fish had all but vanished.
I was involved with a small group of people headed up by Nottingham Anglers Association that called ourselves the Nottingham Clean River Campaign, we lobbied the media and tried to get the anglers into action, sadly the apathy shown beggared belief. However out of the blue came an announcement that Stoke Bardolph water treatment plant, possibly the biggest in Nottingham, was to have a multi million pound refurbishment and new modern equipment was to be invested in. It appears that the levels of Ammonia and un-ionised Ammonia being discharged from the outflow broke EC regulations and they had to do something pretty fast. This type of chemical can destroy the bottom end of the food chain and mean the fry have little or nothing or nothing as a food source, the ones that survive predation of course.
Talking of predation, one of the single most significant factors in all this is the emergence of the Cormorant on the Trent Valley. I don't think I need to go into the devastating effect these have had on small commercial, regularly policed waters, so just try and imagine what carnage this fish eating machine has had on hundreds of miles of Trent with none about to disrupt them! The river runs much 'cleaner' today. By that I mean water clarity, and that is perfect for a predator that relies on sight detection of it's quarry, of course the ones that don't get swallowed whole either get grabbed and scarred by the hook beak or are completely freaked out. Hardly surprising then that we can't catch fish. The way the law is going, these birds continue in the main to be protected. Many go missing in action but thousands prevail, unlike a few years ago when they had a bounty on their heads and were shot around the fenland regions for a reward.
The overall effect of the disastrous match catches meant that, with a tremendous amount of reluctance, anglers were forced to seek new venues, having blanked or caught very little for two or three seasons. I remember fishing an AT winter league and on a good looking river there were over a hundred dry nets. These were the finest anglers ever to grace the river and yet soon the circuit folded up. Local clubs reported a year on year downturn in day ticket revenue of ten ten percent. Well, you don't have to be a great mathematician to see where that ends up after ten years, no revenue but still the rent to pay. Commercial fishery managers were quick to capitalise on this massive captive and fishless market and carp puddles appeared all over the place, Makins, Mallory, Glebe, Hayfield, Hallcroft, Woodlands, Cudmore, Clattercote, Drayton and many others, featuring safe venues with food and drink facilities and ton up weights of carp the norm.
Vandals and thieves had already started to prey on anglers cars during the end of the Trent matchfishing scene and my cars got turned over a couple of times. This is not something one wants to experience when trying to enjoy a pastime and concentrate on winning a match.
I honestly think the Trent will continue to get better in terms of fish stocks, the River Authority has to provide more spawning grounds to replace those removed all those years ago. Who knows, commercial barges may return and create some colour in the water and stop the cormorants having it all their own way, or at least make it a bit harder for them to see the fish, but somehow I very much doubt it!.
In conclusion, the river has become a different animal and so too has the angler who used to fish it. They have simply moved to pastures new, it is not aspirational any more to catch roach on a stick float or waggler. They are quite hard to catch compared to some of the drive-through pasty waters, and as there is no longer a match scene, you can hardly pick up any Kamasan points let alone winnings. Odd matches are run in summer. They are poorly attended and it seems they are run in a sense of duty/hope or some romantic notion, they soon fizzle out due to haemorrhaging attendance's
Despite all this doom and gloom it still is a great summer venue and I can wholeheartedly say that on chosen swims huge catches of fish can be made of all species and a on all methods. It is a paradise for anglers like myself these days. Having retired from the match circuit I like a bit more peace and quiet when I am fishing and the chance of a bigger fish. The barbel will, in the next few years, start to get over the 14lb mark and they are a much sought after fish, the buzz fish of the moment I think it's fair to say.
So what about this season? I've already put my neck on the block and said there is plenty of fish to be had. Well, here is a blueprint for the middle River Trent but it can equally be applied to most rivers in the UK.
The fish will have or are due to spawn at the start of the river season so any well-oxygenated shallow gravels are where the bigger fish will be. Below weirs are ideals places to try and depending on your quarry, feeder, stick or waggler will produce. For the bigger species i.e. barble and chub, legered luncheon meat still takes some beating but sweetcorn is a little used Trent bait that is brilliant when the small fish plague you. Once the fish have spawned they will gradually work their way back to old haunts but if the summer stays red hot, they stick to the weirs like poo to a blanket. Only a summer flood will alter this and as we have several good flushes through, I think the start should be very good.
Here are a few middle Trent hot weir spots to that are on a day ticket:
Radcliffe Viaducts/Colwick (okay it's kinda weirish!), Clifton Grove/Beeston, Stoke Bardolph Weir, East Bridgford/Gunthorpe Weir, Fiskerton.
Other non weir hotspots
Wilford Willows (flats), Hamms Bridge Shelford (just below) Hoveringham, Whitemore Grove, Caythorpe, Trent Steps (opp blue Barge & flats),Long Higgin (bottom Manvers and bottom Parkside at yatch club) Bottom Ferry Field, Top end of Road Stretch, Nelson Field (middle) all Burton Joyce. Newark Dyke, East Stoke,
I would like to take this opportunity of wishing you all a very successful river season and maybe I'll see you on the bank sometime.
Good Luck and Great Fishing!