Britain's best river fishery is free for all

Angling Times this week lifts the lid on the best river fishing in England – and it’s absolutely free!

For five months of the year, the lucky residents of Norwich, the capital of Norfolk, have the UK’s finest running water sport right on their doorstep.

The Wensum here offers huge catches of roach or skimmer bream for those prepared to put up with the hustle and bustle of a vibrant city centre and this winter it has been on fire.

Winning match weights have scarcely strayed below 20lb and have run to nearly 40lb, and match organiser Tony Gibbons said that in one magic spell of six matches over Christmas, the average weight per angler was over 15lb.

The Norwich and District Anglers Association chairman is no slouch himself and has taken near 30lb roach nets in recent weeks on his favourite stick float.

Together with friend Pete Swan, he was hoping to recreate sport like this for the AT cameras on a miserable Wednesday morning in East Anglia. But Mother Nature had other ideas.

Relentless rain the previous day had seen the river rise and it was pushing through between its concrete banks, but the anglers weren’t too worried. They’d set up on the Coal Yard stretch, next to the footbridge upstream of the main road bridge by the football stadium. Modern apartments loom over the river here, which is tidal, joining the Yare just below Norwich where it flows into the sea at Great Yarmouth. Anglers like to check the tide timetables before planning their fishing.

“The best tide for roach is an hour into the tide, for the next three hours, and the best for bream is an hour before high water and the first two hours as it drops. It drops for 6.5 hours and rises for 5.5 hours so you get a 12 hour tide.

“Fishing here is completely free but anglers have to respect the surroundings – we don’t have matches every week because the residents in the flats haven’t paid good money to look at a bunch of us scruffy anglers every week! There’s a white line painted on the towpath which we don’t obstruct with any tackle,” said Tony. 

By his own admission Tony is old school and likes nothing more than to come down here with a match rod, centrepin and set of stickfloats, a set up which would unfortunately prove of little use today. Instead a sticky groundbait mix was balled in and he set about running a pole rig through.

“To catch fish here you need to fish a method that you’re comfortable with – the pole, the whip, the stickfloat, the feeder or the pole feeder, they all work well. I still believe the running line is the most successful on a roach river because it catches the better stamp fish. But today we’ll have to fish for the bream and skimmers.

“You can come down here when it’s at normal level and not even see a bream, but get some colour and flow in and they feed en masse!” he said.

Pete made the change first, to an unusual set up entailing a feeder rig on his pole. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is but he’d tied a paternoster rig with a groundbait feeder onto a long length of line. 

This was freelined to the bottom, with the top of his line tied to a 12ins length of number six pole elastic, which hangs just out of the water. A further 12ins of line connected this to the pole elastic connection. Bites are signalled by the elastic rattling or stretching.

Braced with his 8m margin pole on a rest, it only took a couple of casts before his special elastic indicator was dragged into the river as a fish hooked itself. A fit 2lb 8oz river bream put up a good account of itself in the flow and it was soon netted.

Holding his double maggot bait perfectly still, Pete went on to bank another 15 in two hectic hours, with Tony chipping in with four on a rig just tripping through.

“That’s how it works on this river,” explained Pete. “You can get 10 bream in as many casts then it might go quiet for a bit.

“Great fishing isn’t just limited to a few pegs either, it’s all the way along our 50 peg match length from Carrow Bridge to Bishops Bridge. And the best part?,” he added, “It’s all completely free!”