The bricks and tiles was until well in to the mid 20th century an industry of quite traditional significance around Bridgwater and Highbridge. Excavations for the necessary clay created very many ponds in the district. In the earlier stages of the activity when digging was done by hand they tended to be small in the area, but with the coming of more sophisticated machinery they were much larger and latterly some covered as much as 20 acres. Having a favourable depth of about 5 to 7 ft, and a considerable enrichment from the surrounding agriculture land, nearly all became good fisheries. With the exception of a few such as Dunwear and Screech owl they were, for many years, not held in high esteem by the anglers. Most were disregarded, probably because so much other fishing was available and the demand so very modest. It is only with the growth of the popularity of angling that their potentialities were realised. Their value is further increased by their being so much less vulnerable to pollution than the other waters.
The place of the Dunwear ponds in the affairs of the Bridgwater angling Association has in previous post has been asserted. It was here where it all started, and all down the years there have been a panorama of its history. The leading personalities of each decade made their appearance at the ‘ponds’. Over so much of the time Dunwear was the most frequented of all the venues on the Bridgwater license, and the ‘regulars’ could be expected in their favourite places throughout each season. It was accepted that they might monopolise these swims, and it was quite customary to refer to ‘Watkins swim’ or ‘Ran hooks swim’ and so on. It was so for very many years. The main interest centered around the specimen contests, and competition for the capture of the largest carp was often intense.
Of all the ponds at Dunwear, the North and middle ponds must be the oldest. The middle pond is now the overgrown pond located behind the portaloo just after you enter the gate to get to North pond on your left. They were matured waters at the time Bridgwater Angling association was founded. Alas the date at which these were dug is not known, but it is more likely to be some time in the 1800’s.
There is a mystery about how these ponds acquired their fish stocks. It is very likely that those of Dunwear came from the river Parrett in the first place. Certainly, there was a rumour that they were taken from the river at Oath, but just who carried out the transportation is lost in obscurity.
Like many other disused clay pits the ‘ponds’ contained a fairly wide variety of fish. What ever the source of the original stocks may have been, much has been planted by the Association over a long time. During the years, carp, tench, roach, rudd, pike, perch, bream and even an occasional chub have been taken. In the early years a few bream were introduced to the North pond. The original fish soon disappeared, but a limited number of skimmers remained for quite 30 seasons.
By and large, carp have been the main attraction. For very long they were all of the original ‘wild’ or indigenous variety. These carp had a very modest average size and there is no recollection of a double figure specimen having appeared in the former days.
In about 1950 Ray Perrett brought about the introduction of some fast growing ‘mirrors or what was known then as continental carp-king carp he called them. As in or other places, this wrought an entirely new conception of what a specimen carp had to be. At Dunwear during the 1970’s carp over 20 lb became quite usual.
There is no idea just when the perch were not present in the ponds, but as so frequently happens with these fish, stocks fluctuated in both quality and quantity. There have been times of abundance, and some very creditable size fish. They have given a volume of pleasure to many people and sometimes come as a welcome relief from the tedium of pursuing unresponsive carp.
It might have been extraordinary if roach and rudd had not been conspicuous, but it would have been equally surprising if they had not suffered the over population which is so usual in enclosed waters of this kind. Only occasionally were fish of worthwhile size seen. The exception was described in a previous post on pollution of Bridgwater waters. This happened in the 1920’s as a consequence of the depopulation arising from a polluted ditch. The surviving roach with out much competition for food grew to over 2 lb and roach fishing in Dunwear at this time entered a golden age. Rudd we know arrived in the ponds in 1924 when they were spreading throughout the district.
Formerly, tench were seen very infrequently, but later they became established and have prospered. Although some good fish have been encountered over the years, the average size have been below that is usual in other waters. On the other hand, their general condition have been more than satisfactory, and they have given excellent sport. They have been a very valuable addition to the stocks.
When the old South pond (which is now the car park) silted up some sea bass must have found their way up the channel or ditch that had been cut to join North and Middle pond. (Bearing in mind that the old South pond was joined to the river Parrett at one stage). Thus North and Middle pond had a sizable population of sea bass for a long time and grew to a fair size. One could be observe in middle pond which was about 7 lb. Eventually they died out. One imagines that they could not breed in the freshwater. On infrequent occasions they did take a bait. When this happened it usually left the surprised angler to survey the wreckage of his tackle. They could move faster than the carp! With these sea fish other estuarine creatures arrived such as flounders, I can testify to this as I have seen one caught in the Railway pit way back in 1976. Another sea invader was a small type of prawn which multiplied in the water and provided a very good bait for perch and carp. Erroneously the anglers called it a shrimp.
Another species of fish which inhabits both North and South pond is a fish which is locally known as the Sun Bass. The real name for this fish is the Pumpkinseed. This small fish often takes up residence in the margin weed and was often targeted by young anglers with dead lines. It is a mystery how these fish got here. It is interesting to note that these fish are classed as an invasive species and imports of these fish are banned by the EU.
The association in 1956 purchased the North and South ponds and this was for a nominal sum. The value of the clay pits had not been realised, and it was a extremely fortunate transaction . The sum paid was little over £100 and now ponds of this kind would cost many many thousands. After the business had been concluded it was to be seen that the conveyancing had been carried out badly. There were errors in the deeds and inconsistencies in the boundaries. In recent years Bridgwater AA has deemed it reasonable to purchase the other 2 ponds that of big pond and the Railway pond. This transaction has paved the way for improvements to be made, mainly with security gates and the introduction of pallets and a restocking of the ponds. The future for Dunwear ponds seems well secured for the time being.
The above aero picture of Dunwear ponds was taken in 1952. The black arrow points to the newly dug South pond. The green arrow points to North pond with Middle point slightly to the left. The red oval shape encompasses the big pond which as you can see started of as a lot of small pits.
Saturday just gone May the 7th Watchet Angling had a match at Avalon fisheries, on the road side. The match was blighted by white popular trees sheading the white fluffy bits on to the lake making fishing in certain swims very challenging indeed.
The next match for the Watchet mob will be on Brick lake at the Sedges on Saturday 21st of May.