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Big Fish Column: Arrival of autumn means the river season is finally set to kick off

Daytime temperatures reasonable, overnight temperatures beginning to dip quite sharply, winds coming in off the Atlantic and lashings of rain. Autumn has arrived and for many of us that means the river season is finally about to kick off!


The Kennet, how bad is it really?

There is no doubt among local anglers that the quality of fishing on the River Kennet has steadily declined and, anglers being anglers, there has been no shortage of reasons given over the past decade or so as to why this may been the case.

The arrival of a ‘new‘, at least in terms of recent years, piscivorous mammalian predator has been the scapegoat for many, particularly on social media. But is the otter the real culprit here?

Many of you will have read the views of Reading and District‘s Fishery Manager, Del Shackleford, in Angler‘s Mail last week. Del has been heading up the Association‘s fishery team for more years than I care to remember and his knowledge of the river is second to none. I‘m a fishery biologist by training, and I know the Kennet intimately, but when Del speaks I listen!

Del‘s opinion that, ‘the Kennet is currently fishing better than it has for many years‘ will surprise many anglers, and I know few who would agree. It is only when you listen to Del explain further that you begin to understand the logic of his argument.

Del points out, quite rightly, that in terms of water quality the river is in better shape than it has been for 50 years. Sewage treatment has improved, land management practices have improved, and science confirms it. Del also makes the point, and here is the killer comment, that the Kennet of old – a river packed with big barbel but few small specimens – was not a sustainable ecosystem. Now there is just an occasional big fish but there is a recovery of silver fish and young year classes of chub and barbel are beginning to show.

Del concludes that the otter decimation of the big barbel has, ‘created a better, more sustainable river environment for the future.‘  This is a statement that is likely to cause more than a little heated (very heated…) bankside debate and, from a purely scientific point of view, the underlying fact that a river containing a healthy balance of year classes of different species is indeed more sustainable, and indeed desirable, than one full of big fish.

Of course, as with all aquatic science, it is not quite as simple as that. The Kennet, like many rivers, suffers from many ills and the Kennet otter situation is but a small factor, along with siltation, abstraction, signal crayfish….

This one will run and run, do let me know your thoughts via email and we will explore it further as the season progresses.


Get out there now!

Whatever your thoughts on the River Kennet there is no doubt that the River Thames is in great shape and locally it started to show some real autumn form last week with Romney Island anglers reporting double figure barbel and carp to over 20lb. There have also been some cracking double figure barbel reported from the River Loddon and indeed St. Patrick‘s Stream is in good shape too.

I‘m told some good perch are showing at Bourne End and Marlow, Mapledurham is worth a look for chub and as the water temperatures are still holding up and boat traffic dropping off there are, of course, bream aplenty!

It‘s time to get out on the rivers!


The week ahead

The autumn fishing starts here, make the most of the back end catfish on venues such as Finch Farm and dust off those river rods! Whether you heed Del‘s advice and head to the River Kennet is another matter entirely!

Any anglers wishing to report catches may contact me at

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