December, closed season for salmonids. Most trout fisherman won’t see the river now until the beginning of the season again come March. But for me, this is a time to explore and research.
The river Stour, the Midlands Stour, runs its course through the heart of the Black Country. A region famed for its industry and infamously known for it’s destruction of the rivers that flow through it. The Stour has suffered from horrific pollution levels in the past. The very industries, (like the carpet industry of Kidderminster) that the river powered also destroyed its ecosystem.
I have grew up around this river, watched it’s water flow in many frightening colours – brown, clear, orange even milky white. The very thought that the river may harbour a sustainable population of fish didn’t even occupy my mind as I went about my daily life upstream of Stourbridge.
Further downstream however, did produce some fish. But even then whether or not the fish were native to the river came into question. Often fish were prejudiced as “canal escapees” or “migrants from the Severn in between heavy bouts of pollution”.
My first angling memory on the river came in my pre-adolescence. Led down to the river by my Grandad, a veteran of the river who saw the true potential before many others did. The fishing was simple, stick float and maggots. The results spoke for themselves- roach, perch and gudgeon made for an impressively filled keep-net by dusk. I saw the potential too.
The river has so much variation over it’s course, from clean gravel beds to deep silty holes. The number of species that the could live here is nothing short of phenomenal for such a small river, it just needs our help to make it happen!
As the years flew by, I fished the river a few times a season. But I became more and more confused by what I was catching. I had been told throughout my childhood that fish struggled to survive in this river. So why were most of the fish I caught, plump, healthy and always in pristine condition? It made no sense!
As I met more anglers, I heard increasing amounts of fisherman’s tales about the Stour. Stories of great salmon runs, large grayling shoals and coarse fisherman plagued by trout. But for the most part these stories remained as just stories.
Along came the emergence of smartphones with photographic abilities and suddenly things changed. Every now and then an image would be smuggled around the local angling community; accompanied with an all too familiar crazy fishing tale, but photos don’t lie…
I saw the trout, grayling and many other simply astounding catches held in backgrounds I could instantly identify as the Stour. The cogs of hope began turning into reality. For many years the Stour continued to carry on this way, throwing out the odd surprise catch here and there but largely keeping out of the spotlight.
The river now needed a boost. It needed one last push to transform itself into a prime, fish producing, self-sustaining haven.
The ‘Salmon In The Stour Project’ was born. Now words really cannot express the excitement that spread amongst the local cult of Stour fisherman when we realised that someone else out there also cared about our little river. The project hold regular angler engagement meetings to keep everyone up-to-date with their work and to listen to the ideas and opinions of those who love the river. If you are interested in seeing their latest work or attending a meeting they have dedicated pages on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram which are regularly updated.
Although still in relative infancy, the project has already made massive steps towards releasing the river from the chains of it’s past. The ridiculous number of weirs along the river is decreasing thanks to their work and their valuable data will help the angling community to support and benefit from the fish living in the catchment.
The most surprising find for me were the brown trout populations. Not only the numbers that the project had identified in electro-fishing surveys, but the size that some of these fish were growing to! Wild brownies of 1,2 and even 3 pounds are out there!
However, it is one thing knowing that these fish are out there, it is a very different game trying to prove that they are a targetable quarry for fisherman of both bait and fly disciplines.
So as the build up to next season begins, I am setting myself the target to catch a trout from the river Stour and it’s tributaries worth shouting about.
I’m sure it will be one hell of an adventure searching for such a fish! The river is so lightly fished, particularly in the headwaters and it’s tributaries even less so. Access is not easy and through urban areas not pretty. But the thought of catching wild, trophy sized trout within walking distance of my home in the Black Country was simply unthinkable to me, up until now.
The quest begins…