"The Thames is now home to over 119 different species of fish." EA spokesman 2005.
Over recent seasons I have fished the Thames more and more simply because it never fails to surprise. One season is never the same as the next and the quality of the fishing seems to get better every year.
One downside has been the loss of access in some areas and if the trend continues it will only make life more difficult for the angler.
David 'Deecy' Will and a big mid-Thames barbel (click for bigger picture)
My area of this river is from Surrey to below Oxford but the river is some 184 miles long if you follow the Thames path, so there is room for everyone. What I aim to do is give anglers contemplating fishing the river an idea of the clubs and free stretches available.
The Surrey area perhaps provides the majority of the free fishing with areas such as Hampton Court and Sunbury known for the barbel, carp and bream catches. What isn't generally known is the quality of the predator fishing. Pike, perch and zander thrive. In addition areas around Laleham and Staines throw up big chub and this year the increase in roach and dace has been evident. Parking is available in all these areas but Laleham probably provides the best access as you can fish out of the back of the car almost via Thameside which is off the Chertsey Road. I won my first junior match here with a big bag of gudgeon and dace around 1978. Local knowledge suggests by the M4 for carp and the middle reaches for chub and barbel from the middle of the river. Avoid Sundays; it is dog walker hell for anglers. At Sunbury there is limited free parking but I never seem to struggle parking around the Flowerpot, but to reach some of the river from here can be a bit of a hike. Staines by the bridge has a free car park. Weybridge I am not familiar with.
The Thames weir permit covers weirs in this section at Shepperton, Penton Hook and Molesey, which once held the barbel record with a 14lb 6oz fish. Big fish still exist and I know of people who drive many miles to fish this area of the Thames. Recent catches of huge Thames barbel suggest they may not be driving long distances for the good of their health.
From Surrey moving north west we enter the Berkshire area. Just before leaving Surrey almost on the border with Berkshire you enter Runneymede and the site of the short lived Magna Carta agreement between King John and the nations high and mighty. For those who like their roach fishing give it a try but try also chub, bream and barbel after dark. There is ample car parking at a price or free further up by the Bells of Ousley pub. Park in the road, not the pub car park though. Again there are barbel and chub but after dark is best.
From here on is where clubs begin to dominate. All can be joined easily and some have web sites. So rather than describing each in turn let me give web addresses to those clubs which describe their waters on web pages.
So what is the Thames really like?
I have been a Thames angler on and off since that match in 1978. Since that time the river has changed in many ways. Until recently the capture of large nets of small roach dace and bleak was very rare indeed. I can recall anglers of far more ability than me who would catch dace in huge numbers on the tidal river and when bleak dominated matches. Gudgeon were commonplace, in fact they often saved a blank day in winter on a punt from one the weir pool punts. The river is different now but those aforementioned species, although less in number, have seen an upsurge in others.
(click for bigger picture)
The following probably typifies the river now. I began the season as many now do, dreaming of monster barbel, but as always on many rivers the anticipation is outweighed by the reality. Of course if you have the run-off from a weir at your disposal you will catch barbel early season but not necessarily the bigger fish , so apart from a couple of efforts I save my barbelling for later when the big girls drift down into the more sedate areas. Chub too follow a similar pattern.
So what to do early season? One species well worth targeting are the carp . Whatever you may think they are here to stay and are not the easiest fish to catch. You must be spot on with your location which means finding them visually before fishing. Even then don't count on them being cooperative. Look for sedate water with cover, such as the entrances to boat yards, marinas, etc. They also seem drawn to human activity. I recall watching three big fish in a busy Thameside park totally oblivious to kids, bikes, dogs and rowing boats.
As the summer draws on barbel and chub come more to the fore for me. There are many known and many more unknown areas which produce barbel. I have caught barbel from several stretches many miles apart. Some are well known, others probably don't see an angler from one month or even year to another. Many struggle to catch their first barbel but then things fall into place and others will follow. The Thames was once described as one big barbel swim. Hopefully the following tips will assist.
- Follow your intuition, if you think a stretch is worth fishing, go for it.
- Try different swims, on one stretch I fished eight swims, all featuring possible barbel holding areas before I struck gold
- Mussel beds and barbel go hand in hand. Either use a heavy lead to feel for them (difficult) or fish different areas until one latches on to your hook
- Fish evenings and into dark, during summer feeding times can be well into dark and often past midnight, winter sees dusk and the first few hours of darkness the best
- You will be fishing for big fish and competing species like chub and bream. In summer feed heavily and continue to feed the swim at intervals
- Learn to love bream ! They often travel with the barbel
- In summer, like winter, rain can induce barbel to feed heavily, watch the weather.
- I now use big baits all summer saving the small pellets, maggots, boilies and paste for winter. Summer is 20mm plus bait time
- As summer draws on sedate water often a mile or more from a weir produce bigger fish. Don't be a slave to that "classic barbel water"
- The middle of the river where gravel is present is the prime spot so use a heavy lead to locate these areas
- If the water temperature is all wrong in winter do something else, it isn't going to happen
If you're fishing the right areas for bigger barbel you will also be fishing for bigger chub, they like the same baits and fall to the same methods so enjoy them and treat any big chub as a bonus. I can't believe I am writing that but believe it or not some 'anglers' actually complain about specimen chub, or bream for that matter, interrupting a barbel session.
If you really want to target chub though there are two ways. The first is finding a swim which allows access to far bank areas with heavy cover. If possible fish a waggler along the leaf line using caster and hemp, maggots will see you bitted out. If it is too far then fish a feeder. Recast regularly with a feeder at least every couple of minutes to begin with, whilst on the float feed a good pouchful every cast. The other way is after dark with fish baits like bits of Mackerel. This is deadly after dark for chub as long as the dreaded Crayfish or Mitten Crabs are not present or too active. These horrors seem at present to be at the ends of the area I fish , as yet the middle Thames seems to be OK .
Peter Stone once set about catching big bags of bream from the Thames. His ideal was a hundred pounds or more. In today's terms taking the average you would be looking at 20 -25 fish for that, and like most of the big Thames fish night time is the right time. Now some will say that is an easy target based on a few bream caught accidentally whilst chub, carp or barbel fishing but in reality to do it on a consistent basis you will need to fish for bream with the correct tackle and good location.
As summer wanes so the roach fishing improves. I saw a number of 20lb catches taken this August and September and this continued during the Indian summer through to October. The guys taking these catches did so in an evening after work using poles and Hemp. Most of the fish were 4-6 oz with occasional better fish of a pound, but then every now and again bigger fish showed. It is superb fishing when done properly but fish with maggot and you would not believe this possible as only small roach, bleak, dace and chublets appeared. No one but no one tries to catch the bigger fish by design. I have seen a lot of big stillwater roach roll in the past so I know a big roach when I see one and I can tell you that a very big roach is a distinct possibility from the Thames, certainly in the Marlow to Reading area. I suspect one might fall to a pellet bait in the future but it would be nice to catch one by design.
Then there is lure fishing. Wandering a stretch armed with rods, lures and net you will catch pike, perch and a surprising number of good chub. Spoons like Kuusamo Professor in size 1 or 2 perch and silver or soft plastics fished jig style or straight retrieve will score. The chub especially seem to go for spinners more, with Mepps in larger sizes being especially good.
Frustrating winter but big barbel caught during a good spell
Once winter comes the river needs a good flush through these days. So little summer flow encourages heavy weed growth and higher winter temperatures means it dies off at a slower rate than normal. This winter so far has been frustrating in the extreme. One short period of good conditions gave way to icy sustained weather. Once it rained and warmed up the river was so full of loose weed it became unfishable. It is worth noting though that a good moon phase coupled with good conditions accounted for the capture of at least one 18lb Thames barbel and at least two 17lb barbel. For temperature buffs 44 degrees F and over seems ideal in winter for the barbel and bream with anything below within reason producing chub. Last winter in six trips during a cold settled period I caught one chub each trip, but what chub; every one was a shade over six pounds with one recapture.
Perch are my target now
In these conditions from now on perch will be my target. Six hours freezing for one bite is not conducive to good health and I yearn to see fish I catch in daylight sometimes. I remember a photograph in 'The Complete Anglers Handbook' of perch spots on the Thames at Teddington. It was all here, wooden pilings, trees and the obstruction created slacks. Teddington still produces big perch, notably to small livebaits near to the weir. So I will look for similar types of swim on my stretches and fish during the day at first light and dusk. Who knows, maybe there is another Medley out there.
Will monster pike follow?
With all the food fish in the river you might expect monster pike to follow. Maybe they do but until anglers get away from the weir pool mentality we might never know. Certainly lots of pike inhabit winter weir pools on the river but then again a big old girl with a ready supply of bream, roach and chub to feed on in light flows away from what little angling pressure there is fits more with where I might begin to fish.
More fish in a variety of sizes
So that covers the major species. The truth is the Thames is a superb river. It supports more fish now than for a very long time with small fish and large. So why are it's banks so deserted for the most part? Who knows ? it may just be people are too idle to walk more than a few yards from the car, it may be its past reputation lingers on, or it could be that a days fishing for whatever comes along has been superseded by the need to have ones elastic pulled every cast. Maybe the ability to make the decision to up sticks and try another swim is alien to anglers these days.
barbel and carp anglers are fishing the river. In-the-know pleasure anglers are having a ball with roach and perch on the pole in late summer, and predator anglers are doing very nicely in the weir pools for pike, perch and zander. Even sea trout are caught in winter.
Give it a go, here are some useful bits for research. As well as the web links below please don't ignore the old books. Many years ago barbel were as popular as they are today. How many today would pay a man for a week to pre-bait a swim with thousands of worms? That's what happened and Thames professionals made a living from it. They knew the spots and the anglers who paid them wrote reams about these spots. I can assure you those same areas, over 100 years later, still produce barbel.
Dickens's Dictionary of the River Thames 1887
'The Big Fish Scene' Frank Guttfield
'Old Father Thames' Peter Stone
'Bream & Barbel' Peter Stone
'The River Prince' Chris Yates
'The Oarsman's Angler's Map Of The River Thames'
'The Lower And Mid Thames Where And How To Fish It' Amphlett FH.
'Angling For Coarse Fish', A Practical Work On Fishing For roach, perch, barbel, chub, dace, carp, eels etc, According To The Most Modern Methods In Use On The Thames, Trent, Norfolk Broads, In The Fens and Elsewhere, Bickerdyke John.
'Nicholson's Guide To Thames Fishing' Bill Howes
'How To Fish The Lower Thames' Frank Murgett
'Coarse Fish With Notes On Taxidermy, Fishing In The Lower Thames' CH Wheeley
'At the Tail of the Weir' Patrick Chalmers
And many more, mostly out of my pocket's reach.
www. littlemoreanglingsociety.co.uk, with links to the Oxford and Abingdon Alliance.
www.ukrivers.net (if you want to make a difference to this country's river fishing).
Clubs that control the middle Thames without web sites
Marlow Angling Club, Medmenham and Marlow, Tel: 01628 521445
Salt Hill Angling Society, Windsor. Private/Members. Contact in writing to Mrs P Symons, 18 Wood Lane, Chippenham, Slough, Berkshire SL1 9EA
Old Windsor Angling Club, Romney Island, Lock Cut & Meadow, Tel: 01628 602537
Dorchester Angling Club, Dorchester, Tel: 01865 341184
Benson Angling Club, Benson, Tel: 01491 834540/ 01865 341184
Jolly Anglers Angling Society, Wallingford, Tel: 01491 835856
Hurley Farms Ltd, Hurley Farm, Tel: 01628 823501
Feltham Piscatorial Society, Sunbury Creek, Tel: 020 8890 9005
Twickenham Piscatorial, TwickenhamWarborough & Shillingford Angling Club, Tel: 01491 201852, Weekly ticket £ 5. Tickets available from the Cricketers Arms
Oxford and District Angling Association, Medley, Channel to Folly, Donnington to Kennington and Clifton Hampden, Tel: 01865 711410
Remenham AC, enquire in local tackle shops
Shiplake AC, enquire locally
Cookham and District, which is affiliated to the Thames Valley Angling Association, good value, gives stretches at Cookham, Bray, Clivedon and Maidenhead.
Osney Lock, River Thames
Description: First 150m below Osney Lock on towpath side
Iffley Lock, River Thames
Description: First 100m below Iffley Lock on towpath side
Scours Lane, River Thames
Description: Scours Lane leads down to the river, turn right to the grassy parkland area downstream which overlooks the countryside of the Mapledurham estates. No fishing from slipway at Scours Lane or the boat club.
Car parking: Very limited on road in surrounding industrial estate. Additional parking is available at Rivermead Leisure Centre. Scours Lane is about 15mins walk upstream.
Hills Meadow, River Thames
Description: The effect of Caversham Weir and the backing up of the current around the small mill stream combine in this section. The considerable flow of the main stream close to the bank contrasts with the slow and shallow water of the mill stream. Spaces are limited due to the bankside trees and vegetation.
Car parking: Pay and display car park off George Street at Reading Bridge.
Caversham Lock, River Thames
Description: This is an attractive fishery providing easily accessible, comfortable fishing right through Kings Meadow down to the junction of the Kennet and Avon Canal at Kennet mouth. No fishing from mooring platform at Tesco or from lock area.
Car parking: Pay and display car park off Napier Road
Christchurch Meadow, River Thames
Description: Especially popular on summer weekends. Access to the river is very good with the entire length of the river bank available downstream from Wolsey Road. Upstream from Wolsey Road to the end of the section, fishing is prohibited as the site is a swan sanctuary. There is a platform for wheelchairs near Wolsey Road.
Car parking: Pay and display car park off George Street at Reading Bridge.
Thames Side Promenade, River Thames
Description: A particularly popular and attractive park area, Thames Prom provides a pleasant setting for relaxing fishing. Although the river is often busy with rowers and other water traffic there is usually enough space for all river users to exist together. No fishing for 200m upstream and downstream to Caversham Bridge due to swan sanctuary.
Car parking: Car park off Richfield Avenue near Holiday Inn (do not park on access road or use hotel car park). Plenty of additional parking at Rivermead Leisure Complex.
Sonning Lock, River Thames
Description: Upstream of lock on tow-path to old power station discharge point, just beyond island in river, fishing available throughout season. Downstream from lock to Sonning Road Bridge on towpath side, 1st November to 14th March only.
French Horn Sonning, River Thames, Staines Bridge to Teddington (16 miles) and Teddington Lock Island.
Description: For fishing at Teddington Lock Island contact the lock keeper on 020 8940 8723.
Car parking: At the Lock Island, park on the Teddington Side and walk over the suspension bridge. Wheelchair Access: Fishing platforms for anglers using wheelchairs have been installed at Silver Sands, (upstream of Penton Hook Lock, near Staines), Sunbury Leisure Centre and Romney Lock (ramps are available for access across the lock gates - please ask the lock keeper).
Tackle shops (please bear in mind shops do come and go)
Maidenhead Bait & Tackle
11-13 Station Parade
Tel: 01628 530500
Kings of Maidenhead
18 Ray Street
Tel: 01628 29283
Slough Sports & Angling Centre
245 Farnham Road
Tel: 01753 521055
Stow`s Angling Shop
8 Upton Lea Parade
Tel: 01753 521612
Windsor Angling Centre
153 St. Leonards Road
Tel: 01753 867210
Chertsey Angling Centre
40 Guildford Street
Tel: 01932 562701
47-49 Church Street
Tel: 01784 461831
11 Feltham Road
Tel: 01784 243185
363 Staines Road West
Tel: 01784 240013
Acton Angling Centre
187, Old Oak Rd
Tel: 0208 743 3381
Frames Fishing Tackle
202, West Hendon Broadway
Tel: 0208 202 0264
Not near the Thames but good knowledge
Hounslow Angling Centre
265-267, Bath Rd
Tel: 0208 570 6156
Fat Phil's Angling Centre
334-336 Abingdon Rd
OX 1 4TQ
Tel: 01865 201020
Predator Angling Centre
6, Kidlington Centre, High St
Tel: 01865 372066.