Tales from the Riverbank

A new book on fly fishing in the Peak District is a noteworthy event. One of the most famous of all books in the English language is Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton’s The Compleat Angler. Published in 1653 this book has been one of the enduring books on angling with the fly for trout in limestone rivers.

So, John Watson has not rushed the publication of his new book, Flies and Anglers of Derbyshire and Staffordshire. In the footsteps of the great, it pays to tread warily. John has been working on this magnificent book for 50 years. In its 358 exquisitely presented pages he describes over 400 flies and, of course, all of the wonderful rivers of the Peak District. John Watson’s book can be purchased at good local book or angling shops.

Over 450 million litres of water are supplied daily to the major cities surrounding us. Water is held in reservoirs, in our blanket peat and in underground limestone aquifers. The famous ‘Buxton’ water comes from aquifers deep under the Peak District. The diagram on their bottle label shows the simplified ‘water cycle’. It is thought that this particular cycle may take over 5000 years to complete.

Central to the water cycle in the Peak District are our wonderful rivers. The Bradford and Lathkill are some of the cleanest in the whole of England. They come from deep underground and run through land that is only used as nature reserves and for very low intensity farmland, managed in this way to benefit the water and also the fishing.

The Dove and the Manifold, in contrast, flow through their upper reaches through some very intensively farmed land. Whilst much of this is farmed under ‘agri-environment’ agreements it does easily colour up after some rain (as we had on Wednesday last week). So, as the Dove flows through the National Trust properties of Wolfscote and Dove Dale it carries with it traces of the catchment further upstream.

The Dove flowing through three connected dales of Beresford, Wolfscote and DoveDale are the rivers immortalised in The Compleat Angler. Today, 356 years later, summer evenings still see anglers casting into the gin-clear waters in search of brown trout in these dales. The Environment Agency have stocked grayling in the Dove and over many years salmon have too been stocked into this catchment, with a little success.

The River Dove in Wolfscote Dale, where nearly 400 years ago Charles Cotton and Izaak Walton fished for wild brown trout

The River Dove in Wolfscote Dale, where nearly 400 years ago Charles Cotton and Izaak Walton fished for wild brown trout

The other main fly fishing waters in the Peak District are the Wye – as it flows from its source on Axe Edge through Buxton to its confluence with the Derwent at Rowsley. The Derwent, with its several feeder streams flows from the high moorlands through the Hope Valley, south through Chatsworth Park and then beyond the boundary of the National Park towards Derby City and the confluence with the Trent.

Game fishing for trout and grayling are dominant upstream of Cromford and Whatstandwell and coarse fishing is the main sport downstream. It is said that over 20 000 people are members of fishing clubs in the Derwent catchment.

Other fishing rivers are the spatey Goyt, Dane, Noe and other peaty streams coming off our moorlands. Fishing is also popular at Ladybower, Tittesworth, Errwood and other reservoirs too.

A new and very welcome trend amongst the fisheries managers and river keepers is the re-introduction of a much more natural style of fisheries management. On the Haddon Estate, head river keeper Warren Slaney has led the way. The estate stopped all stocking in 2005. All bar a very short stretch is now catch and release and there is an extensive programme of recreating the natural riffles, pools and habitat that makes the rivers better for fish and also for wildlife. With guidance from the Wild Trout Trust (http://www.wildtrout.org/) and the Environment Agency (http://environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/recreation/fishing/31497.aspx) Warren has turned this stretch of river into one of the best in the country. Over 30 members of the Wild Trout Trust visited the estate this weekend to be inspired by his efforts. Warren’s blog is at:


There are very obvious benefits to wildlife from this new approach to fishery management. Peak District rivers are important for breeding dippers, grey wagtail, sand martins and occasional kingfishers. The native crayfish is being protected in a number of projects we are involved in. And our rivers have very good populations of the nationally scarce and declining water vole – ‘ratty’ from Wind in the Willows.

From the National Park Authority’s perspective, there is much work to be done to improve water quality in the Dove and other rivers and to promote catchment sensitive farming amongst all of our livestock farmers. Officers from our Countryside and Economy team are ‘on the case’, running a surgery once a week at the Agricultural Business Centre in Bakewell, helping farmers reduce pollution, improve habitats and make their way through the maze of grants.

I hope that in a further 356 years fishing will continue to be an important part of the quiet recreation in the National Park. For this to be the case it must, like all other aspects of our lives, become more sustainable. Warren Slaney is leading the way and others must be encouraged to follow.

An angler enticing wild brown trout with imitation mayflies on a summer evening on the River Dove.  A tradition stretching back at least 400 years.

An angler enticing wild brown trout with imitation mayflies on a summer evening on the River Dove. A tradition stretching back at least 400 years.

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