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Cormorants played a big role in West Stow Lake's problems as a general coarse fishery




This will be my 14th angling article for Iliffe Media newspapers since November, although I did have 150 angling articles published in the Bury Free Press and other local newspapers and magazines going back 10 years.

This time around by far the most popular article has been the nostalgic look back at Rushbrooke Lake when it was a Bury St Edmunds Angling Association water.

Their lease ended 19 years ago but the popularity of the venue as a general coarse fishery that anyone could fish, just by joining the local club, is clearly long lasting in many anglers’ memories.

West Stow CP Lake in 1991. John Hosking building fishing platforms for disabled anglers. Picture: Chris Boughton
West Stow CP Lake in 1991. John Hosking building fishing platforms for disabled anglers. Picture: Chris Boughton

This lake was the jewel in Bury AA’s crown for 40 years and was a reliable, consistent, mixed coarse fishery that was often netted to provide a top up for other Bury AA waters.

It wasn’t just a lovely place to fish, it was also an endless stock pond for the club.

Most waters have their highs and lows and looking back at Bury AA venues I reflected on the lake at West Stow Country Park, which also started out as a mixed coarse fishery.

West Stow Platform building 1991. From left: Mike Durham, Nick Bonney & Dennis Vaughan. Picture: Chris Boughton
West Stow Platform building 1991. From left: Mike Durham, Nick Bonney & Dennis Vaughan. Picture: Chris Boughton

It is around 26 years since Bury AA relinquished West Stow and it became a carp syndicate water.

West Stow CP Lake was originally a very different water than Rushbrooke Lake, however. To start with West Stow is circa 17 acres and Rushbrooke four and half.

West Stow Lake is the product of gravel extraction and Bury was the first lease holder back in 1979.

The lake is spring fed and had a boarded slatted overflow into the adjacent River Lark so the water level was fairly easily controlled.

Nick Bonney at West Stow CP Lake in 1980
Nick Bonney at West Stow CP Lake in 1980

Rushbrooke, however, could get very low in an extended run of hot summer weather when it would need a pump to oxygenate the water.

There was little natural weed growth initially at West Stow and predators (primarily cormorants back then) had easy pickings in the clear water, especially of the lake’s abundant roach, skimmers and rudd. Rushbrooke Lake provided all the original carp and tench for West Stow Lake.

Meanwhile, following a conversation with former long-time Bury AA treasurer Nick Bonney last week, he emailed me a Bury Free Press clipping from one of the first matches held there.

It was the summer of 1980 and the competition was the annual Bury AA committee match. Nick won the match with 36lb of roach and skimmers and the future of the lake as a general coarse fishery looked bright in the August sunshine 41 years ago!

Nick Bonney on his way to winning the Bury AA Committee Cup in August 1980
Nick Bonney on his way to winning the Bury AA Committee Cup in August 1980

The lake, however, turned out to be a particularly unfair match venue, especially due to the widely varying topography.

On what used to be referred to as the high bank you could have 14ft of depth not far in front of you. Just a couple of pegs around the corner the swims were much shallower.

Also, as the skimmers matured into bream you needed to be on a bream hotspot (about eight pegs in total only) to have much chance of winning.

Apart from the shallow far end of Rushbrooke Lake most of the pegs there are a similar depth.

Stocking more roach at West Stow CP Lake in March 1992. Picture: Chris Boughton
Stocking more roach at West Stow CP Lake in March 1992. Picture: Chris Boughton

There were originally 90 permanent pegs at West Stow (later reduced to 80) and when the club held a couple of sell-out opens there were a lot of dry nets. It was a good coarse fishery if you were pleasure fishing and could pick your swim!

I fished the lake regularly for the 16 years that Bury leased it (matches and pleasure) and for five of those years lived conveniently less than a mile away at Lackford.

So I experienced at first hand the subsequent sad decline of the lake as a general coarse fishery.

I also played a part, unsuccessfully, in trying to facilitate a reversal of that decline. In 1991 I was vice-chairman of the club and then chairman the two following years.

I steered the committee in commissioning noted fishery scientist Dr Bruno Broughton in carrying out an investigation and report on the decline.

Talking to the current association treasurer Steve Bull last week, he confirmed that the club still had the original copy of the report and I borrowed it for a re-read.

There were multiple recommendations, most of which were never pursued.

For personal reasons I resigned as chairman later that year and a couple of years on, after further fishing decline, the then Bury AA committee decided not to pursue a lease renewal for the lake.

A big factor in West Stow’s decline as a general coarse fishery was the arrival of the cormorants. It was by no means the only factor, but I believe it was the major factor.

Every time the club restocked the lake they were effectively feeding these birds rather than enhancing anglers’ catches.

Looking back to 1993 and re-reading the fishery scientist’s report today, I think that even if the recommendations had all been implemented the cormorants would still have been sitting on the top of the trees on the island salivating at the thought of roach, skimmers and rudd for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

A quote from a government fisheries website says: “Cormorants eat on average one pound of fish per day which typically comprises of small (less than six inches) size classes.

“They are opportunist feeders, preying on many species of fish, but concentrating on those that are easiest to catch.”

There were often around 20 cormorants at the lake! The fishery scientist’s report also included detailed recommendations for Rushbrooke Lake, most of which were implemented. But maybe that is for another article!

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