Sunday, 12 February 2012

A special place - Swithland reservoir

Sunday the 12th of February

No fishing for me this weekend with quite a few jobs to do around the house, errands to run and a christening to attend but I did manage to get my waterside fix yesterday morning when we took the dog for a walk, not being a great fan of walking without a purpose I usually try to persuade the wife that we should head for somewhere fishing related, sometimes I even win!

The venue for today was to be Swithland reservoir which I hold a permit for and isn't far from home. We parked at the top of a lane a little distance away from the water and made our way cautiously down the ice coated tarmac track looking across to the rolling hills of Charnwood forest with Beacon Hill in the far distance and the viaduct of the Great Central Railway cutting through the trees. Looking back uphill towards the car we stopped for a moment to admire the house perched on the edge of the fields with a view to die for, in fact the view was what made the place, it could be a two up two down for all I cared with an outlook like that. The temperature was still below freezing point approaching midday but it was a stunning day with the sun reflecting from the snow coated fields making the landscape glow and we passed several other folk out enjoying the day before we reached the locked reservoir gates that create one of the things that make a water special to me, privacy and peace. With no public access to the water only the angler, estate worker or water authority staff can walk the banks and on locking the gate behind you the feeling of being in a privileged place can't be ignored, in fact we were stopped by a patrolling Severn Trent warden within a few hundred yards enquiring as to what we were doing there, as soon as she departed happy that we weren't trespassing we had the place all to ourselves. A small strip of clear water towards the far bank was alive with waterfowl, other than that a huge sheet of ice lay before us.

Walking on the lake bed
 I'm told that when its full to capacity the reservoir covers around 160 acres though at present it is just slightly higher than its minimum due to the incredibly dry summer and we were walking on what would normally be the bed. The railway viaduct splits the water in two visually and a silt trap and overspill weir running almost beneath the line does so physically, when at or near capacity the entire water is as one but for several years that hasn't happened and this year just a trickle of water came down from the weir into the stream bed of the lower half or bottom lake while by its nature the top lake holds its level. The two halves are very different, the top is only a few feet deep and this year was choked with weed, very few swims are available and in fact the largest area of bank is inaccessible due to huge reedbeds, swamp, and undergrowth. Brazil island sits on the middle of the overflow weir and supports the centre of the viaduct, a mysterious and tempting piece of the unknown which is out of bounds to the angler. The bottom lake takes on a more typical reservoir style with depths at capacity down to thirty plus feet at the dam, probably twelve feet or more less than that currently. When full the water laps the bankside trees and for such a large body of water swims are few and far between, with the water low much more is available but then areas of sinking mud are also exposed and these pieces of bank have to be avoided.

Tracks in the snow - the bottom lake looking towards the dam wall
I have only held a ticket for one season and my fishing has been limited to winter sessions after perch, my results total two fish in a rough estimate of one hundred and fifty rod hours, its tough, in fact its tough for virtually any fish. Jack pike are fairly abundant, small fry have been seen at times over the years and obviously the predators live on something but you can fish a maggot for ever and a day and not get a touch. The water is best known for bream, it produced two British records up to the year 2000 the largest being 16lb 12oz's, it still does hold big bream though numbers are dwindling and that fish has only been surpassed by one ounce in subsequent years. In the mid 1980's it produced rudd to very close to record proportions notably to Brian and Jon Culley, some small rudd still exist they think, the monsters are long gone. Potentially it has a superb track record for producing huge fish, in practice it is an incredibly difficult water that has also suffered the ravages of huge numbers of cormorants. So we can sum the fishing up as being slow, incredibly slow, you could easily spend an awful lot of time there with nothing of note to show result wise.

The viaduct
 So is it such a special place? Yes it potentially could produce a huge fish, its track record proves that, but there is much more too it than that. As we walked across the crisp snow crust the eyes were constant drawn to tracks, mammals and bird prints were everywhere but ours were the first human marks to break the surface since the snow fell a week earlier, the isolation was wonderful. And then the noise, it took a few seconds to realise what it was, the answer was nothing, not a thing, no traffic, no planes, no civilisation, just the occaisional bird and then in the distance came the whistle of a steam train approaching. We stood and watched the plume of smoke rising above the tree tops and then the vintage engine and carriages came into view, I'm no train buff but what an incredible sight as it crossed the arches above the glassy reservoir surface and then silence descended once again.

Last week I was considering what tickets I would have for the next season and thought that maybe I would let my Swithland place go, after yesterday I'm not sure that I can, I  could quite easily spend my time down there without even casting a line because finding such a complete escape from modern day life is a very rare event.



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