The River Witham and a two-man fishing match

Words by:
Barry Grantham
Featured in:
October 2021

Barry Grantham looks at the history of angling on the River Witham. From just south of Grantham it flows through Lincoln and into a tidal arm of The Wash known as The Haven – and in the 1950s it was the backdrop to a memorable competition.

It is thought that right from the Iron Age the River Witham was used as a navigable river. In Roman times it was navigable right up to Lincoln; the Fossdyke was then constructed to link it to the Trent.

The upper parts of the river are narrow and flow much faster than the lower part that flows from Lincoln to Boston. The upper Witham, from where it starts, varies a lot in depth from a few inches to several feet.

In the ’50s and ’60s, on a weekend, anglers could be seen lining the banks of the river from Lincoln to Boston. They used to arrive in coaches and by rail, stopping at the many stations along the river banks. It was controlled by various angling clubs and some of the river was strictly private. Some of the clubs did issue day tickets but this was very rare.

alterford Fly Fishing Club leased about two miles of river from just above the mill at Great Ponton to near the railway bridge south of Grantham. This water was strictly private as a trout fishery and was run by a Col C G M Winch. As the river gets near Grantham, it was controlled by Aveling-Barford angling club. Downstream from the town of Grantham to Long Bennington the river was controlled by Grantham AA. The river at this time held a good stock of roach, dace, chub and also grayling were just starting to appear. You could join Grantham AA in the ’60s for 15/- a year – that is 75p in today’s money.

The river was controlled by various clubs going downstream towards Lincoln. Long Bennington AC, Ransome and Marles Sports and Social Club at Barnby. Lincoln Angling Association had the fishing rights on the west bank at Bassingham. From here most of the fishing was private. When we get to the confluence with the river Brant most of the river to Lincoln was free, except for two short lengths – the rest controlled by Lincoln AA for matches, and permits were obtained from well-known Lincoln angler of the time Ron Hobley.

Lincoln Angling AA used to hold two-hour sweepstakes on the Witham between Russell Street and Laundry Bridge on a Monday night, and you needed good weights to win.

In the ’50s and ’60s the Witham from Lincoln to Boston was mostly under the control of the Witham Joint Angling

Committee, apart from a few small stretches which were controlled by private clubs. The committee consisted of the following clubs: Lincoln AA; Sheffield and District; Sheffield Amalgamated; Leeds and District; Rotherham and District; Boston AA; Grimsby AA; Grantham AA; Worksop AA; British Railways Staff Association; Doncaster AA and Scunthorpe AA. If any clubs wished to book the Witham for matches, they had to apply to Ron Hobley of Lincoln.

There were many popular stretches from Lincoln to Boston. The first, Five Mile House and then a stretch known as the curve but it was hard to access. The curve was more like a long pond.

Moving on we get to Bardney. The river held good stocks of bream and was also known for very large pike. The next popular spot was Southrey and here good bream could be caught. Stixwould is the next spot where good catches of bream and roach could be caught. One of the most popular parts of the Witham was between Kirkstead and Tattershall. Easy access was available with a road running along the top of the bank. I remember as a youngster living nearby, seeing the banks lined from Kirkstead to Tattershall and dozens of coaches parked along the banks every weekend. From Tattershall we have Langrick, Dogdyke and Chapel Hill where good catches of bream and roach could be had.

The last of the well-known spots before the river gets to Boston is Antons Gowt, and here great bags of bream could be caught.

Back in the ’50s a competition took place between Richard Walker and Tom Sails on the Witham. Walker held the carp record at the time – a 44lb fish. He was also making a name catching other specimen fish. Tom Sails was a very skilful match angler with Lincoln AA. Ken Sutton, an angling journalist, suggested a match between the two should take place at three venues: the River Witham, Bain and Avon. The first round on the Witham was won easily by Sails and on the Bain, Walker only just won, saying he had the best swim. In the final round on the Avon, Walker won, catching a 10½lb barbel as well as chub. Walker stated that, had Sails not died tragically in an accident, he would have gone on to catch many specimen fish.

Today the Witham is a different angling river. Much of the river above and below Grantham is controlled by Grantham AA and Grantham fly fishing. The river is well maintained and controlled, holding a good head of brown trout and grayling. Lincoln and District Angling Association over the last three years has gone from strength to strength under a new committee and a very dedicated hard working club secretary.

Lincoln controls the upper Witham from Meadow Lane to Lincoln. You have to be an LDAA member or buy a day ticket to fish this part of the Witham. LDAA river bailiffs do regular checks for non-members, so make sure you are a member or are able to purchase a day ticket on the bank. This part holds good fish along its length with specimens of all species being caught.

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