The History of Bridgwater Angling Association part 3.

Somerset in common with most of the Southwest has been designated a “clean area” with regard to the problem of pollution. Agriculture prevailed and unlike the heavy populated and industrial areas it was not seriously menaced by the quality of discharge which wreaked so much destruction in waterways. In general this was true, but Somerset has had it moments.

During the war circumstances were exceptional. The priorities were considered sufficient to relax even the standards of precaution applicable at that time. Unfortunately, the excuse “there is a war going on” was used to cover much quite unjustifiable neglect. Fisheries suffered badly and a disaster to the Bridgwater and Taunton canal seemed to fall in to this category. The river Tone must have been involved as well. Through some mismanagement a large quantity of gas liquor from the gas works near Taunton was allowed to enter the Tone and it passed into the canal. Gas liquor by the way is A liquid containing ammonia and ammonium carbonate and sulphid, besides other products, obtained from coal in the manufacture of illuminating gas.

Taunton gas works.

This very deadly pollutant devastated fish life over most of the upper reaches. As far as it was possible to estimate , all stocks were killed down beyond Charlton, and the mortality was very severe to Maunsell. For some reason the Tench seemed particularly vulnerable, and it appeared that they were decimated even to North Newton.

Recovery took place but as it may be expected after destruction of this magnitude, time elapsed before the fishing seemed back to normal. At first the water from Taunton to Durston appeared denuded of fish, but with the passage of time roach began to be seen, but in very isolated shoals. Presumably, the flora and fauna was restored quite rapidly, and food was abundant early on so the limited numbers of roach grew to unprecedented sizes. As already canal anglers of the past have record of specimens of over three pounds in weight. Of course, as the population was fully established the number of exceptional fish declined.

What a nice roach.

It was mainly during these war years that a very grievous and quite tragic decline in the fishing of the river Parrett took place. Previously the Parrett might of been regarded as an anglers paradise. It carried large stocks of fish ; particularly chub and carp unbelievable when compared with present day standards. By 1945 the greater part of this population had disappeared. It is difficult to state the cause precisely, but it seems very certain that it was due to pollutions from Yeovil or perhaps to a lesser extent from the river Isle.

Usually anglers are declined to despair over pollution and its alleviation, so it is a satisfaction to be able to quote an instance of success. Very shortly after the second world war the river Tone was transformed from its deplorable condition to a first class fishing water. The local authorities were prevailed upon to replace the outdated treatment works At Lambrook road with a new plant down the river at Ham. Coincident with this, the Gas board decided to disband the gas works at Taunton, and the industrial discharge came under control. The consequence was that the Tone became, and remained over several years, one of the best fishing venues in the county.

Very unfortunately, however, developments over the years in Taunton have overloaded the treatment works and there have been a decline in the fishing to some extent.

This victory was followed by an attempt to establish salmon fishing in the Tone. It may be correct to say re-establish, because there is ample reason for belief that long ago salmon did run this river. Ova was planted up stream and salmon ladders were built at weirs. The descent of smolts was monitored for several seasons and there may have been some signs of success. But alas the experiment didn’t prove successful. It did appear that salmon did ascend in appreciable number as far as Creech St Michael but failed to pass Taunton.

At one time it was believed that Bridgwater associations waters were to remain serenely and indefinitely free from the above mentioned troubles. In particular ponds were thought to be quite invulnerable, so it may be a matter of interest to note that some time about the first world war or perhaps before then- there seems to have been a very destructive fish loss at Dunwear. It appears to have been brought about by the then prevailing practice of reclaiming clay diggings by silting. A channel was cut to turn tidal water from the river Parrett in to the original south pond (now the car park) Eventually this was filled and became a reed bed. Some contamination must have entered and there was a severe mortality in both the middle and north ponds. Afterwards roach seemed to be absent from these two waters.

Towards the end of the summer of 1922 the Hooper family caused a suprise by catching 3 very large roach from the top of north pond. In 1923 it was evident that they were present in some strength and it was an oportunity for several members to take the much coveted 2 pounders. Probably, this was a factor in the popularity of the pond occuring about then. Regrettably, as time went by, over population took place and only very small fish were caught.

In the late 1950s and in the 1960s there were two separate algae blooms in the north pond. Both were due to enrichment from percolation from a badly polluted ditch. The resulting de -oxidation turned up many fish.

Any sense of security about the associations waters were utterly shattered by the events of 1968. This was an instance where the word ‘disaster’ was wholly justified. First of all a phenomenal thunder storm occurred in the July of that year. It flooded a large part of the Somerset moors just when the cut hay was on the ground. Many square miles of rotting vegetation resulted. Agricultural interests insisted upon drainage, and this brought about a massive and unprecedented mortality of fish. The Parrett, Brue, North and south drains and the West Sedgemoor drain were the principle waters experiencing the slaughter. The total loss was beyond estimate. There was so many dead fish that in places they had to be carried away from human habitation. Very fortunately prompt action by the River Authority in diverting the flow of contaminated water into the Cripps river saved the Huntspill from serious damage.

It appeared at first that the Kings Sedgemoor Drain had escaped, but some 14 days later when other waters were showing distinct signs of clearing, a dam retaining a large amount of pig slurry on a nearby farm collapsed. This resulted in a comparably severe fish kill on all but the top mile of the drain. It was a climax of a shocking episode.

An example of pig slurry discharge.

Previous experience on local water ways tended to give rise to hope of a rapid recovery on the Kings Sedgemoor Drain, but this was dashed by extensive engineering works and widening operations in connection with the construction of the Sowey river. Water levels were kept low over a period of at least 3 years. Weed growth grew profusely and after the water level had been restored to normal the weed remained to be a menace. later there was yet another pollution. This time it was due to the disturbance and removal of silt from a ditch leading from Chedzoy and its being drained off before there was time for settling.

The depreciation in the quality of local fishing, about which there is fairly general agreement, is usually attributed to pollution, but observation strongly suggests that many fish loses are closely related to heavy weed growth. Pollution as it is commonly conceived, consists in the main of sewage and frequently is due to housing developments carried out without appropriate extensions to sewage treatment facilities. Without question villages in the region have grown considerably but it is not clear that there have been many additional discharges into the drain.

During the last 30 years or so weeds have become distressingly more prolific. Previously, the drains and canal presented miles of open water. Now they may be choked with vegetation long before the end of the summer. It may be worth making the observation that this profusion of growth is due to the enrichment of water from the use of artificial fertilizers on the land and in this instance the run off from farms may be suspected.

The other important source of excess nutrition is sewage treated or untreated. (The inclusion of ‘treated or untreated seems very ominous). The masses of weed must soon have areas of die-back and it is likely that deoxygenation resulting is responsible for mortalities otherwise thought due to pollution.

Accumulations of weed are capable of creating various conditions adverse to fish life and the ecology of the water as well as a great disadvantage to fishing. The intense photosynthesis in bright sunlight can cause dangerous fluctuations in dissolved oxygen leading to a condition called ‘gas embolism’ where bubbles of gas are liberated in to the body fluids of the fish. Probably a more likely consequence of the photosynthesis is the production of high levels of alkalinity which are equally fatal. It has been noticed that unexplained disappearances of fish such as that of the quality roach from the B&T canal in 1968, have coincided with upsurges of weed growth.

Another aspect of weed growth problem which may be overlooked is the need for space for fish. If a water is heavily weeded they may tend to leave it. It may be imagined that they are in the weed, but is likely that conditions therein cannot support fish life.

Important also is the fact that the loss of bank space for fishing may be serious for a club dependent upon the sale of tickets to pay for present day rents and boy ain’t this more applicable today than its ever been.

The next match for Watchet Angling is at Summerhayes on longs this coming Saturday the 26th of March.

Tight lines Pete C.

The History Of Bridgwater Angling Association, Part 2.

As already stated the 1930’s was a time of steady enlargement of the association where membership was concerned. But all this was brought to a halt by the out break of world war two in September 1939. Very soon, even those not eligible for service in the forces, found themselves occupied with various wartime activities which sadly reduced opportunities for fishing or serving the affairs of the association.

In spite of these pressures there were some who were able to find chances of getting out with their rods. Very soon they were confronted by shortages of tackle and bait. The resources of the tackle manufacturers were being diverted to war work. It was hooks and line which presented the greatest difficulties. Various ingenious expedients were adopted to overcome these. It was not long before it was realised that the suture silk used in the course of treatment of wounds was identical with the fishing lines of those days. Some hospitals noticed a mysterious disappearance of this material.

In the later part of this turbulent period, during which of course, Ray Perrett was secretary, developments of momentous portent were taking place. A large scale programme of improvements to the drainage of the moors around the Sedgemoor area was getting underway. The Huntspill river was cut and was completed in February 1943. It could be mentioned that the general belief that this waterway was created for the purpose of supplying water to the Royal Ordnance factory at Puriton is not true. It may have had importance in this direction but its main purpose was to drain the land up towards Glastonbury. This function had been seen long before the war. Furtherance of the agricultural potential of the land was made more essential by the German U boat campaign.

The Kings Sedgemoor Drain was widen extensively throughout its length, and subsequently other channels such as the North and South Drains and the West Sedge Moor Drain appeared. The transactions relative to the former two occupied some months but while these were taking place Raymond Parrett backed by a guy by the name of Paul Hellard, refused in spite of many protests , to call the committee together . They held off taking this proper course of action until they were able to present a fait accompli. No doubt this simplified the negotiations but it was a highly unconstitutional procedure which would not be tolerated in present times.

These acquisitions, with the increasing popularity of angling appearing after the war, soon took the membership from hundreds to thousands and brought the funds to beyond the wildest dreams of those who controlled the association in former days.

The large measure of opinion questioning this apparent progress soon became evident. It has been mentioned that it was felt that it went beyond the requirements of the local anglers. To meet the expenses incurred, encouragement had to be given to anglers from farther afield, including in particular those from the Bristol area, towards whom a feeling of friction had grown up. This was thought to contrary to the interests of the local angler. The contention was that the Bridgwater Angling Association had been set up to meet the needs of those living in the locality, and that it should give priority to this aspect of it functions. It was a view that lingered on for quite some time.

A suggestion put forward was that another and separate association might be floated. It could embrace the waters further removed from Bridgwater and accommodate the visiting anglers whilst the associations original waters could cater for the locals. It may have been worthy of consideration then but its practicability may be doubtful now.

The advent of the improved drains marked a turning point in the Associations fortunes and built the reputation of Somerset fishing. All England championship contests on the Huntspill and Kings Sedgemoor Drain made these and other waters in the vicinity known and indeed famous throughout the country. Membership spread widely and especially into industrial areas. The consequent influx of visitors in holiday times must have made an appreciable contribution to the local tourism. It could be said that Association was on the angling map. Three national championships were held and written about on this blog.

Although constructed essentially as channels for the free passage of flood water, the drains have supported excellent fisheries and some of the local angling clubs are now largely dependent on them for their fishing. It was the quality of the bream and tench which made them so popular and valuable. It was very good fortune that they came to the fore front when the rivers of Somerset had declined somewhat from their former glory.

The depreciaton of the fisheries in the drains and other waters during recent years through pollutions and excessive weed growth is very obviously a great tragedy, but it must be realised that but for the efforts of many dedicated members in spurring authority on to taking action taking action as far it was possible the consequences may have been far worse.

Also the effects of weed growth which has made so many of the lesser drains useless in summer is to be regretted. So often these little waters have been considered unimportant and it has not been seen sufficiently clearly that they had have added variety to the local fisheries and have provided the kind of quietude coveted by many fishermen.

The 1950s and the 1960s brought a variety of challenges to the Association and one of the biggest problems was pollution which will be one of the main subjects in part three.

Tight lines

Pete C

The History of Bridgwater Angling Association, Part One

The year in which it all started and by that I mean the formation of Bridgwater Angling Association was it appears 1905 and there seems ample support for this date. Amongst the various accounts which have been heard there is one that has been told by a former member and his story has been passed down throughout the years.

It is more than probable that Dunwear ponds were a popular fishing venue for anglers at the back end of the 18oo’s. Now according to historical accounts in 1905 they consisted of the North pond, Middle pond and a South pond. Now we know the location of North pond, that has stood the test of time. South pond which is mentioned is not the South pond of that we know today. The original South pond was situated were the car park is now and the reed bed to the left as you enter the car park. The middle pond still exits but is is now completely over grown see map below. The yellow is North pond, The green is Middle pond and Red is South.

A time came when the owners of the brickworks situated in Plum Lane and surrounding lands were complaining about damage being done to bricks and tiles in the yard, and they decided to prohibit fishing. Just who is to blame is not on record. Amongst the then small band of anglers there were some with a small degree of influence. They approached the owners with a proposition that they be granted the right to fish on condition that they formed an association and accepted responsibility for the behaviour of the members. This was conceded, and the Brigwater Angling Association came in to being.

Thus it can be asserted that Dunwear ponds was the Associations birthplace. Down through the years following, so much of the history was enacted there. Outstanding members long since departed from the scene, came to fish in their chosen swims with regularity, and made such a contribution to events inseparable from the development.

No rent was asked for these fishing rights and they continued to be held free of charge until 1956. In that year changing circumstances led to the Association being able to purchase the North, Middle and the “NEW” South Pond (the one we know today). The cost was £100!

It seems very certain that the first secretary was one Herbert Farrance. His large family was very well known in the district and particularly in angling circles. Several family members were very keen anglers and were deeply involved in the origins of the Association. Herberts mother in law a one Mrs Novark also took an important role in the club beginnings. By all accounts this lady was a formidable character and noted for riding a tricycle loaded with her fishing tackle along the canal.

An advert printed in the Bridgwater Mercury from 1904.

It’s unlikely that Mr Farrance remained in office for any length of time, because it appears quite early on that the secretaryship was held by Cliff Allen. He appears to have occupied this position for a period until his livelihood took him away from Bridgwater. Then his brother Arthur took over and resumed the responsibility.

It now appears that Arthur Allen served through a time of relative tranquility as far as angling matters are concerned, but it was a period that saw the violent disruption of world war one. Arthur retired in the late 1930s to be followed by the legendary Ray Perrett. It may be asserted that Raymond had a longer and more eventful term in office than any other secretary. Although this in turn was interrupted drastically by war, It saw profound developments in the history of the association.

Ray Perrett’s father had a significant place in the early angling scene. He kept a well established grocery business in St Johns street Bridgwater roughly where the William Hill bookies is now. With the assistance of a younger Raymond he sold some fishing tackle as a side line. This took place in a part of the shop where anglers brought and exchange stories of their fishing adventures. Photos of specimen fish and out standing catches where often exhibited in the window.

Even a sparse account of the history of Bridgwater Angling Association would be incomplete if it did not contain the surname Vinten. Snuffy as he was called by his friends was apparently by all accounts a small man with a shrewd mind and a force full personality. Snuffy kept a shop in Fore Street on the corner of Court St in Bridgwater He sold tobacco, fishing tackle and guns. At the time and by that I mean in the early part of the 20th century it was the angling centre of the local area. This was the place where angling issues great and small were debated and settled. Mr Vinten had been chairman of the association since its inception, but the strange thing is that no one at the time can ever recall him attending a committee meeting. But if anything appeared in the minutes which failed to meet his approval, the secretary was required to strike it out. Snuffy died in the late 1920s and his death was considered a great loss to association and to local angling.

Go back a hundred years or so and you would of met Snuffy.

One Frankie Styler was another person who figured prominently in the early days. As far as it can be ascertained he was the clubs first treasurer and his retirement did not come until to the 1950s.

Like so many personalities of the association Frankie was a shop keeper, he had a drapery business in Eastover in Bridgwater which was not far from the Bridgwater Motor Company. Roach fishing was his main love and like many of his contemporaries, he would not have been happy without an average of about three quarters of a pound in his catches, this meaning that many of his fish would be well over a pound. Certainly he would be very far from happy with the quality of roach fishing that is prevalent today.

There was a trio often seen to be seen at Dunwear ponds or on the banks of the canal. It consisted of Ran (Randolf) Hook, Wally Roberts and Jim Jefferies.

Ran Hook was chairman for a period from some where in the early 1920s until the late 1930s. Immaculately precise in all his methods, he won the Association cup on five occasions. At the time the cup competition was the event of the year and getting ones name on the plinth was a real distinction. There was an intense rivalry between him and Bill Watkins who also had won the cup on several occasions.

Wally Roberts was almost a dwarf but what he lacked in height he made up for in angling prowess. He was a likable man and seemed incapable of saying or implying anything unpleasant about other people. Amongst the fisher folk of the day Wally had enormous respect as a first rate angler. How ever later in life he had fallen victim to the economic state of the country then prevailing and was reduced to rather straightened circumstances, and added to this predicament poor Wally began to suffer from failing eye sight. Jim Jefferies was another splendid companion but his life was cut short during an out break of very serve influenza.

Another unforgettable character was a gentleman called Stan Lewis. Stan stood in direct contrast to Wally Roberts. He was an enormous man. He was well known in sporting circles around the town. As a young man he played rugby for Bridgwater. He was well over six foot tall and in training weighed in over eighteen stone. An excellent angler by all accounts and it was some somewhat incongruous seeing such a man handling the most delicate of tackle. Later he became the land lord of The Crown Inn in St John street in Bridgwater.

There were so many who featured in the evolution of the association that it is quite impossible to do justice to all of them. One can mention a few names from the early days. Albert lock, who followed Frankie Styler as treasurer, Bill Carver, Jack Diamond, Cliff Lea, Bert Croker, were amongst those in the fore front before the first world war. Fred Denner Sammy Adlam, Cyril Matherick, Bob Radford, Bob Stacey, Donald Baggs, Mitchel-the mad jeweller- and pennywho kept a barbers shop on the Taunton road all seemed conspicuous a little later. The Hoopers, a father and two sons, and the Seamen family were essential features of the scene at Dunwear.

The history of the association over the years before 1914 is now very vague and shadowy. No one from them days who were involved are no longer around. It may be guessed that some of the members of the Farrance family, Ray Parretts (more on him later) father, and Snuffy Vinten where amongst the people concerned, but an attempt to name all the active spirits would be hazardous.

In the 1920’s the association reached a mile stone in that the membership exceeded 200 and to boot had a healthy bank balance. Come the 1930’s the club would start to develop. Definite signs of progressive thinking and concern for the future was quite evident, but this was brought to a halt by world war two. In the next part we see how after the war Bridgwater Angling Association evolved in to one of the biggest angling clubs in the country.

A day on the bank at Banklands.

Thursday February 3rd just gone my dear friend John Hughes and I decided to have a go at fishing the Bridgwater and Taunton canal at Durston. Our original plan was to fish the bank between Maunsel Lock Tea rooms and the Somerset Boating Centre. On entering the car park we were met by a hearty group of volunteers from the Taunton section of the Inland Waters Association. Amid the hustle and bustle of unloading hedge trimers, shears and other assorted tools and bits and bobs, we where told that our intended place of fishing was the target of a good old tidy up and a bout of well needed hedge trimming. Fair enough no problems with that, so me and John decided to fish the other side of the bridge known as Banklands.

Nothing complicated was implemented I just set up a small waggler and John decided to go piking with ledgered dead bait. The most notable thing about this stretch is that it is not all that deep, I say three and a half foot at most. But this did not seem to spoil the fishing. Yours truly had a most productive day with out even trying. Plenty of plumpish Roach, Rudd, Perch and hybrids were caught, even a Dace. John managed to catch a pike of about 5lb which put a smile on his face. All in all it was a pleasant days fishing. This was a type of session where one just chilled out and just took in the surroundings and lived the moment.

John catching his pike

It has been mentioned before in this blog that one of the nice things about fishing the canal is that you meet a lot of pleasant people who always have a bit of time for a chat. I got talking to a local lady who lives in one of the nearby farms who was out for a jolly old stroll. She happened to mention that in all the time she had been walking this stretch we were the first anglers see had ever seen fishing this part of the canal. I think this a bit of a shame, but saying that me and John agreed to visit this place again. The fish know of this place and so should you.

That, all for now Part two of the history of Bridgwater Angling Association will be in the next post, until then tight lines Pete C.