Wednesday, 10 February 2010

So........Just How Good Was The Petteril?

ERT hosted a very special evening last night. We invited around a dozen guests who have fished the Petteril since the Mid-1950's to come and tell us about experiences on this special trout stream.

During the evening we learnt first hand about the truly wonderful river the Petteril once was. I tried to visualise the halcyon days in the 1950's and 60's when a good days dry fly fishing was measured in the scores of fish, across a range of sizes. Even the early season fishing could be very good. One angler Terry Cousins used to fish the river every opening day...dry fly only,with his best pal. They must have been special times. Another fisher Stuart Kinnear described in detail the hatches of flies, which would have given many a southern chalk stream a run for its money. The fishing was highly prized and some of it controlled by the Brakenbrough estate was only available to around a dozen very lucky anglers. But the river was not just the preserve of the privileged few and the fishers of Carlisle had access to some very good quality fishing all the way down to the confluence with the Eden.

Pollution was always a spectre waiting to take it's toll, often involving oil from various sources. However the worst was to come in 1968 when a road tanker containing phenol overturned. Then then fire brigade hosed down the completed load into a beck feeding the Petteril. The result was catastrophic and it would be an event that the river would never recover must have been heart breaking. About this time several infrastructure improvements were taking place (M6 / West Coast Mainline) run-off from these sources contained all manner of nasties. Post-war agriculture was also picking up pace with pollution incidents involving silage and slurry becoming all too common.

In short we had a river that had a suffered a severe body blow through the tanker pollution and every time it tried to recover it would receive another knock out punch through various point source and diffuse pollution incidents.

The river had hit rock bottom and to many the river wasn't worth the effort.

But nature is resilient and slowly but surely trout have gained a toehold back in the river. However this should not be interpreted as a recovery - it's too early for bold statements like that. But we do appear to be witnessing a fragile improvement of some sorts. Anglers are reporting catching adult trout and last year observing good numbers of fry and parr, where once they were absent. To a certain extent this has be observed in our fisheries surveys......but it is way to early to draw any conclusions and we are only one step away from yet another pollution body blow. However things are different this time with the commencement of our Petteril Project and the appointment of our very capable officer Alison Reed. The other exciting development is that last summer we found salmon fry and parr in our electric fishing surveys in the Wreay Woods area.......something that when I first arrived in the job I was told the river has never had and would never support!

So things are getting interesting on the dear old Petteril...a river I am becoming very fond of (I love the underdog) With efforts underway to improve the river through our Petteril Project we are better placed than we have been in many years to try and reverse the fortunes of this once termed 'Jewel in the crown of the Eden'

Terry Cousins came back into our office today to share some more of the entries in his fishing diaries with us. I felt very honored that Terry would choose to share this very personal information with us. What really touched me was that Terry said he had once wept over the state of the river.....I suddenly felt a very real sense of responsibility to the Petteril and it's fishermen. We must make every effort not to let anglers like Terry and Stuart down.