Blagdon Lake is the seat of learning for stillwater fly anglers around the world. This month, Chris Ogborne takes a snapshot of his favourite lake in springtime and reflects on the permanence of this beautiful water.
Increasingly these days I’m finding time to reflect and enjoy the finer aspects of fishing. In an angling career that has been intense at times, and even frantic with the unique atmosphere that only top level competition can generate, it’s only in my later years than I have been truly able to sit back and appreciate some of the things we so easily take for granted. And so it was this week when I allowed myself a few hours around Blagdon’s hallowed shores. A meeting in Bristol finished early and I arrived at the South Shore as most of the boats were heading for home. It was incredibly peaceful, not an angler in sight and I had nothing but the resident and visiting bird life for company.
I saw my first migrants of the season, in the form of a flock of sand martins that had almost certainly arrived on the favourable southerly winds. I saw grebes performing their mating dance, crowning and presenting strands of water weed to each other in one of nature’s most beautiful ceremonies. There were no end of ducks around the margins and coots that had ceased quarrelling were quietly building nests in the withies. The daytime breeze had dropped and calm water around the margins just begged to be fished with a floating line.
But beyond this I also had to reflect on the future of this beautiful fishery, and that we anglers so often take it all as given. My friend Danny McNicol always said that ‘Blagdon will always be Blagdon’ as he dismissed the thought of any real change at the lake. But today there are pressures that even the far-sighted could not have anticipated. Water companies are not charities and the temptation to make a profit from resources such as Blagdon must be intense. It would be all too easy to let this lake become a pike fishery, running at high profit with minimal cost. It would be oh-so-easy to take it down the franchise route, without the worry about summer weed growth that saps the revenue or the cost of constant re-stocking against an ever-present cormorant problem.
I hope this doesn’t happen because Blagdon is, has been and always should be the best stillwater trout fishery in Britain. It has certainly stood the test of time and from way back in 1904 when it opened its doors to anglers it has hardly changed in any material way. The photos I took today could truly have been taken fifty years ago, when I first fished this lovely water. Apart from a slight change in the tree line there is virtually no change at all to the skyline. There’s no change to the number of houses on the slopes of the Mendips, the farms are still viable and traditional. It was then, as it is now, stunningly beautiful.
Personally, my early days on Blagdon involved the development of the fly patterns I was evolving here. I worked on buzzer patterns, variations of the infamous Diawl Bach, my own Stick Fly, Bristol Hoppers, and so many more. I pioneered a ‘light line’ philosophy which stood me in good stead in so many competitions around the world. I developed my own tactical approach that led to success in home, international and World Championships. It allowed me to create and develop a unique business. And I owe all this to Bladgon.
Blagdon is the most demanding, the most scintillating, by far the most challenging and undoubtedly the most beautiful lake I know. Set in the rolling Mendip Hills and yet barely a stone’s throw from the thriving conurbations of Bristol and Bath, it’s also so easily accessible. If you’re not already a fan, I urge you to try the fishing here and I urge you to do it now, before it’s too late.
Not that Blagdon is the only precious place at risk, because ALL our fisheries, yes, all the amazing places that we enjoy with scarcely a second thought, are under pressure. Water authorities have no obligation to provide anglers with a place to enjoy their favourite sport . Their first and overriding priority is water supply and they, like any other business, need to make a profit. If revenues from fishing drop – as they most definitely are – then our sport could be at risk. Angler numbers are shrinking, it’s a fact. The average age of anglers is rising, another alarming fact. We so desperately need to foster the next generation of anglers if we are to survive.
There is nothing completely inevitable about the decline of angling, but I’m afraid as a group we anglers are notorious for taking our sport for granted. In real terms a day on any of our lakes is ridiculously cheap, yet we are all too quick to vote with our feet if the weather isn’t to our liking, or the summer weed growth renders our favourite spot unfishable, or if we don’t agree with the current stocking policy. But you only have to look at Wimbleball on Exmoor to see what can happen if anglers fail to support a fishery. It’s not scaremongering to wonder ‘where next?’
Have a look at the images here. It’s Blagdon, on a perfect early spring evening. If you want your children to enjoy this same view, with the option for them and their children to fish the same spot, then PLEASE support the fishery by going fishing more often this year. Most importantly of all, take a youngster with you, because new blood is what we need most of all.
Use it or lose it. It’s our choice and I so fervently hope that we don’t fall under the spell of apathy that affects so much in our sport these days. More than anything, I pray that Danny McNicol’s words are upheld and that Blagdon will always be Blagdon.”
Top Flies and Presentations for Blagdon…
For some great patterns to try on Bristol Water Fly Fisheries, take a look at our previous blog with top fly patterns and presentations from Turrall’s Gary Pearson.
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