River Wear

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Lambton Worm

River Wear

Post by Lambton Worm » Wed Jan 04, 2017 11:03 am

Steeped in the rich history of the region, the river Wear -Northumbria’s third-largest spate river- is flanked all along its route by iconic landmarks. The World Heritage-listed Durham Cathedral and Castle, medieval Finchale Priory and the still intact castle keeps of Lambton and Lumley all keep it company along the way. Much more recent tradition is also reflected (literally in the case of Lumley Castle) by the presence just over the river at Chester-le-Street of Durham County Cricket Club’s Riverside Ground, home of the most recent English first class county and winners of three County Championships in the two and a half decades since their elevation. Further downstream on its tidal reaches, the Wear is similarly overlooked by the Stadium of Light, home of Sunderland AFC, although as I follow a rival club twelve miles up the road, I’ll not dwell on that matter.

The rivalry between Wear and Tyne now defined by football goes right back to the charters granted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries aimed first at restricting, and then de-restricting, trade through the relatively late developing port of Monkwearmouth. However the two may in fact have at one time been connected. Many geologists now think that, prior to the ice age, the Wear was a tributary of the Tyne and met its larger neighbour where the river Team now runs out at Dunston. Looking at the wide U-shaped valley occupied by the diminutive Team it’s clear to see that it must’ve been created by a far grander stream (or at least the glacier thereof). The probable course of events, post glaciation, is that the progress of melt water flowing down the Wear Valley was interrupted by a moraine and the river carved out a new channel direct to the sea between what is now Chester-le-Street and Sunderland.

In angling terms, the Wear is to all intents and purposes a game fishing river which also contains coarse fish, much in common with the Tyne and, to a lesser extent, the Tees. As such, it’s different in nature to the North Yorkshire spate rivers of the Humber catchment, where non-salmonid species tend to predominate the further downstream you go. Whichever part you look at, aside of the estuary, brown trout will always outnumber any other species in the Wear. Indeed in the summer, shoals of sea trout will quite often outnumber larger coarse fish in the pools they hold up in.

The Wear frequently vies for the distinction of being statistically the best sea trout river in England. Not that this was always the case – catch returns having declined almost to the point of extinction in the sixties and seventies as a consequence of heavy pollution in the estuary. Thankfully, the efforts of the Northumbrian Water Authority and its successors, the NRA and EA, to reverse this problem were largely successful and the decline of coal mining and other heavy industry during the late twentieth century has also helped. Similar to the Coquet up in Northumberland, the Wear is regarded by locals as being much better for sea trout fishing than it is for brown trout, although like on the Coquet, big brownies of 2lb-plus are not uncommon.

The presence of coarse fish in the Wear has been a matter of more serious (and at times embittered) debate in an area of such deep-seated game fishing traditions. Current scientific thinking doesn’t support the idea of indigenous stocks of coarse fish (nor indeed grayling) north of the Humber catchment, a hypothesis supported by the complete absence of such species in most of the smaller Northumbrian rivers. Yet, in spite of radical game angling dogma and well-documented illegal stockings during the sixties and seventies, the truth is that no one can pinpoint the exact time that coarse species (other than barbel) actually appeared, and chub, dace, perch, pike, gudgeon and grayling have all in fact existed in reasonable number in the lower reaches since proper records began. Perhaps the most plausible explanation, whilst still hand of man, is more ancient than many would imagine: monastic pisciculture had already been in practise at Finchale Priory for four centuries of spate and inundation by the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530’s.

Whatever their origin, the coarse fish in the Wear are now given official recognition as ‘established’ by the EA and regular re-stockings of grayling, chub, dace and barbel (known to have first been introduced illegally in the early seventies) are made.

As might be expected of a river whose course runs in excess of fifty miles there are many clubs that fish the river from dale to tideway, the main ones (on the middle reaches) being Bishop Auckland AC[http://www.bishopaucklandanglingclub.org.uk/], Ferryhill & District AC[http://www.ferryhillanddistrictanglingclub.com/], Durham City AC[http://www.durhamanglers.co.uk/home] and Chester-Le-Street & District AC[http://www.chester-le-street-angling-club.co.uk/]. There are two free fishing stretches either side of the famous meander in Durham City and day tickets are issued for the half mile of water controlled by English Heritage at Finchale Priory.

One of the river’s great angling chronologers was the late John Hepworth, secretary and membership secretary of Durham City Angling Club for many years. A fitting eulogy to John can be found on DCAC’s website http://www.durhamanglers.co.uk/dcac-officials, including an excellent article by him about an early season chub fishing foray on the Wear.

Another article about (mostly coarse) fishing on the Wear, originally published in Waterlog Magazine in 2007, can be found reproduced on the Fishing Archives website http://www.fishingarchives.com/the-coar ... he-stream/.

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Re: River Wear

Post by Olly » Wed Jan 04, 2017 11:27 am

I knew and fished on several occasions with John on the Dorset Stour and up north. A sad loss.

The chub fishing can be excellent and the British record dace came from the river. Barbel are 'sporadic' from Bishop Auckland to Chester Le Street but have attained double figures. Large roach are or were in the Durham City area. A very mixed fishery - rather akin to a northern version of the Hants Avon.

It produced a 6lb 12oz chub for me along with other fish of 5lb 12oz, 4lb 8oz and a couple of 3's in one very cold - freezing - afternoon. However I am yet to find those elusive barbel and big roach.

Lambton Worm

Re: River Wear

Post by Lambton Worm » Wed Jan 04, 2017 5:07 pm

John knew just about everything there was to about fishing on the Wear – and much of the rest of the North East as well. He had the answers to questions I’d been asking for years, but for which the official information either didn’t exist or wasn’t being disclosed for one reason or another.

I knew John was more widely known in the angling community through his Chub Study Group associations – the chub were his passion as far as I could tell. Would I be right in thinking your 6lb 12 was the DCAC club record, once? (Might still be) I remember it used to be listed at about that mark when John was still running the website, but it’s been redesigned and I can’t find the lists. I had a 6 and a 5-13 out in 2016, and another angler took six chub for 25½lb in a river match in July, so they’re still about. Durham City Angling Club is excellent now, with the coarse angling scene on the river starting to take off again, but the club was flagging 20 years ago and might not still have been in existence but for John’s term as membership secretary, during which time it was completely turned round. His contribution can’t really be measured.

As you say, the barbel only seem to take well in certain areas of the Wear, with just Feren’s Park in Durham City and Crichton Ave, C-L-S, having gained any reputation as hot spots. I’ve only ever had them at Ferens. Not sure about the roach now – there aren’t many at Shincliffe any more that’s for sure.

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