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Chris Boughton's angling column: Taking a walk down memory lane with West Stow Country Park Lake



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This will be my 50th angling article for Iliffe Media newspapers since November 2021, although I did have 150 angling pieces published in the Free Press and other local newspapers and magazines going back 11 years.

This time around by far the most popular articles have been the nostalgic look-backs, especially Rushbrooke Lake (aka Rougham Lake) and the lake at West Stow Country Park, when they were Bury St Edmunds Angling Association Waters. Bury AA leases for both lakes ended over 20 years ago but positive memories are clearly long lasting with many local angler’s.

Rushbrooke was the jewel in Bury AA’s crown for 40 years and was a reliable, consistent and 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.

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

Most waters have their highs and lows and looking back at Bury AA venues I reflected on the lake at West Stow Country Park after a walk around the lake last week.

Like Rushbrooke it also started out as a mixed course fishery but for the last 26 years, since Bury AA relinquished fishing rights at West Stow, it has been a carp syndicate water.

West Stow CP Lake, however, was originally a very different water than Rushbrooke Lake.

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

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.

Rushbrooke, however, could get very low in an extended run of hot summer weather when it would sometimes 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.

Last year former long-time Bury AA Treasurer, Nick Bonney, gave me a Free Press clipping from one of the first matches held at West Stow. 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!

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 12 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. 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 general coarse fishery if you were pleasure fishing and could pick your swim, offering in many ways more variety than Rushbrooke.

There were noted tench, roach, bream and carp pegs to target and I got to know the lake pretty well in the eighties making over 300 pleasure and match visits in that decade. It was highly convenient for me as I lived just five minutes away in Lackford at the time.

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

The current Association treasurer Steve Bull 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 at West Stow, 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 course 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 angler’s 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.

Quote from a government fisheries website: “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 more than 20 cormorants at the lake!

I could have written so much more, the brutal bumpy long walk from the main car park to the lake comes to mind. If you have memories of West Stow Lake in the Bury AA days that you are happy to share in a future article please email me: chrisboughton@outlook.com