In these times of economic restraint, there has never been a better time to start looking for some value for money fishing. If you join a club you invariably have a whopper of a joining penalty, in addition to the payment of your membership. Why? When a club needs to attract more members to boost the coffers that pay ever-increasing fishery leases, would you want to make it even more expensive to become a new member? So now is the time to start looking at value for money sport and you can’t get any better value than…FREE !!! You may be surprised to learn there are quite a few still waters where public fishing is allowed, subject to the ownership of the regulatory license of course. But how about this. How about free fishing on a river? How about gin clear water, chalk stream,gravel,lush green streamer weed, and let’s add not just coarse fish, but brown trout as well. Sounds like a dream? Well wake up because on a section of the river Wey in Farnham, Surrey, you get just that. Smack dab in the centre of a park, teeming with dace, gudgeon, roach and chub. It’s been free for years, and while a lot of locals know about it, they rarely seem to fish there. I did learn that the river actually has two sources. One in West Sussex, near Haslemere, the other near Alton in Hampshire. The nearby town of Alresford joins that town as being famous for producing watercress, with sites as large as fifteen acres, and the renovated railway line has been named after it, “The Watercress Line”. The river has a rich variety of wildlife with Kingfishers, Dartford Warbler, Heron, Wild geese such as Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall, along with dozens of others. It also meanders from Alton to Farnham through pasture meadows, in some of Hampshire’s most peaceful countryside.
Once it gets to Farnham, it is just like a chalkstream, with bends, faster gravelled stretches, and slacks behind beds of streamer weed that all make it look like a miniature Hampshire Avon. All that is missing are the Barbel, and even that could be changing, since downstream near Godalming the Environment Agency have stocked 100 barbel back in 2007.These were fish bred by the EA at their Calverton fish facility near Nottingham. The reason being that downstream there is a lack of suitable spawning beds as the barbel like fast gravelly runs. I would guess they would do better stocking them downstream near Farnham, and they might then spread naturally throughout the whole Wey system, much like they have done on the River Loddon. The river itself has started to recover downstream on the slower stretches from the invasion of the Signal Crayfish. This follows the removal of literally tons of the critters. One local trapper apparently took out a staggering 3.4 tons from only a 200 yard stretch. It is quite frightening the damage these Crayfish must be doing to the eggs and fry of the fish, and once the adult stock starts to die off naturally, there will be little coming along to replace them. Like many booms and bust the Crayfish will surely be on a cycle. They will eat out everything in a river or lake, only declining in numbers when they have no food source left, and then it will be too late for us anglers.
In medieval times there were monasteries along the river, and it was the monks who provided food on the table in the shape of fish. They were so dependant on fish they actually fattened them up like the fish farms today, except they fed everything on grain. Boats abound from about Guildford onwards but all craft, regardless of size, require a license from the National Trust to be on the water. Their amazing length restriction of 71 feet long by 14 feet wide was brought about due to the size of the locks used. Dredging is undertaken in the downstream stretches mainly on the bends where the current disperses silt. From Godalming in Surrey to the Thames and thereby London, the Wey was always a major highway for moving goods.350 yeas ago the river was reputed to be impassable, until landowners realised the water could get their produce to the London markets, and thereby a higher price. The Wey navigation, as seen today, was really a considerable engineering exercise, and predated the Canal Age by some 100 years. Professional eel trappers would use funnel nets to take their catch, and one assumes these wrigglers were sent to London for making the famous “Jellied Eels”.
On the Farnham stretch the Wey is barely a youngster a rod length wide. Above the town it is a small, somewhat overgrown stream, but by the bridge at the Police station it opens out to become very fishable. It is here that the free fishing is best, from the bridge, downstream through the well maintained Farnham Park, over another road, and down through the bottom section of Park. From here you can follow it down the side of a path, where it again starts to get overgrown and very natural.However, some of the best fishing is found right in the Park itself. Don’t expect to get the river to yourself. Dogs, children (avoid weekend !) and general paddlers will all be messing about, but as long as you can find a small swim of ten yards or more you will be in with a shout. The lower half of the park tends not to be used by the families so much and you can wander along spotting fish.
Some swims you will find anyway, but a few good spots are right by the bridge at the top of the park. Chub and Brown Trout lay under the far bank here. Creep in quietly and you should see them, plus the kids don’t seem to find this part so attractive. Then about twenty yards downstream is another depression, marginally deeper than the rest. Blink and you’ll miss it. This is a good spot for legering lobworm or cheese for chub. They average about 2lbs, but run to over 3lbs.Then there is a shallow stretch, full of streamer weed. Two ways to approach it. It looks dead, but the fish run channels on the far bank, right alongside the edge of rushes. Probably too tight to floatfish, but if you fish a link leger with a short tail, say a foot long, with cheese on a size 10 hook and quivertip rod you will probably get Chub.
Move downstream a few paces opposite the bowling green. There are a nice couple of runs ideally suited to a small stick float. From here down to the curved bridge you can get some really good Roach over 1lb, Dace, Gudgeon, and Chub from 1lb to 3lbs. Maggots are best, and keep them going in on the little and often basis. It’s a popular area in the winter when the weed has died back, and although a challenge in summer, if you get it running through the weed you can almost guarantee a bite if the kids aren’t playing by the bridge.
Then, walk down and stand on the bridge. There is a twenty yard stretch where you will get big Chub; certainly I have them to just under 4lbs. Because the families feed occasional ducks there are always going to be scavenging chub about. Drop either pieces of cheese over, and using Polaroid’s watch them disappear inside a white mouth. Or, adapt the local practise of breaking off bits of bread crust and floating them down to the next bend, watching for signs of swirls. You can then either freeline a piece of crust down on a size 10 hook and 4lb line, or use a bubble float as a controller if you want to run it further downstream.
If you walk to the end of this half of the park, cross the town road into the next section, where the bridge pool here is very deep. It might look empty, but its not. I have taken chub over 4lbs on link legered cheese here and some really good Perch to over 2lbs.I have been told of some big Roach living there, but personally I have never seen or caught them.
The river shallows here, and you can put away the stick float as it is barely a foot deep, and constantly retrieving the float upstream will put the fish on their guard. The streamer weed is abundant, but there are loads of fish under the far bank margins even though you may not initially see them. You have two targets here. Either you go for the Chub which run 2 to 4lbs, in which case you will either be freelining or link-legering with enough shot to barely hold bottom. If you walk down quietly you will probably see the chub. Walk too fast and they’ll spook, but stay for five minutes and they will be back. Use a larger bait, lobworm, cheese or breadflake. You may need to cast on top of the streamer weed and gently drop the bait onto the gravel, clumsy casting is not going to do it. Chances are you will actually see the chub come up and take the bait. Or, you can target the dace and roach. To do this use a size 16 hook on the same link leger, 3lb hooklink and double maggots, covering the hook well. Then sit down and catapult out a dozen maggots at a go to get them feeding. You will be surprised how many fish will be boiling below you, especially if you have a few floating casters as well. This is the method that will get the brown trout on the feed, as they get all agitated seeing the dace darting about grabbing freebies. You can get browns to over 2lbs,but I suggest putting them back as they are beautifully marked, wild fish that have survived poaching, herons and children with nets, so I guess they deserve returning. There are plenty of fast food eateries just walk into the town, but leave the trout in the river.
From here you can go stalking through the rest of the park, out the bottom end, walk over the bridge, and follow downstream. It will be all about looking for slightly deeper or fishier runs here, and as it deepens and slows slightly you can go back to stick float fishing. Just make sure you retrieve the float slowly upstream, not cranking it in like a jet ski.
As it slows you will get more tree overhangs, and more roach, that like the calmer flow. There will also be brown trout here, the occasional pike (after the roach shoals), and legering worm will give you a shot at eels. You can work your way right down to the next bypass road bridge, and either walk back and do the whole stretch again from the top, or sit it out in one swim for a bigger Chub. Travel light, net, bait one rod and tackle. That’s it. Quite a few good match anglers like to go there for practise fishing at the faster pace, but it rally can be a relaxing place. While the fishing is good, I can’t help thinking the real reason I enjoy it is because it’s totally FREE!!!
COPYRIGHT: Graeme Pullen. All rights reserved.