Ullswater Fish and Fisheries
by Tim Clarke
Pooley Bridge - once a prosperous fishing village
One of the landmarks a visitor to Ullswater will easily find is located in the middle of Pooley Bridge at the northern head of Ullswater as its waters are channelled down the river Eamont towards the Eden Valley. It is a Fish Cross erected by Barton Council in the Millennium year 2000 to commemorate a decision made one thousand years earlier in the reign of King John to establish a Fish Market in Pooley Bridge. King John was best known for the signature of the Magna Carta in June 1215, close to the end of his 17 year reign. The current Fish Cross is similar to one erected more or less in the same place several centuries ago, which was repaired by the Earl of Sussex in 1697 but removed in 1860 to allow more room for horse-drawn coaches to turn.
21 Fishing Companies in the 1800s
So there is no doubt that Ullswater has historically been an important site for fishing, supplying fish to markets over a very wide area. James Clarke’s 1787 ‘Survey of the Lakes’, gives accounts of the massive harvesting of the schelly – a rare fish nationally and now a protected fish – with 10-12,000 fish taken in an average net haul, with horses pulling carts containing 800 fish in baskets to markets as far as Manchester. Bucket loads of eels used to be pulled out of the lake near Pooley bridge. In the 1800s, there were 21 fishing companies surviving on the fisheries.
By 1850 numbers of char, great lake trout and schelly dramatically reduced
Ullswater used to be well stocked with brown trout, char, great lake trout, vendace (in Ullswater known as Schelly or Skelly), chub, perch and eels. In the mid 1770s char were very common, thriving in the Ullswater depths, and was the main fisheries target. However, both the char and great lake trout became virtually extinct by 1850 and the schelly had dramatically reduced in numbers. Major William Parkin, a Justice of the Peace, and celebrated local sportsman who had fishery rights over part of Ullswater tried to re-stock the char population by releasing 10,000 char fry into the lake in 1895 but the attempt failed. In the past most char had been caught with nets across the Narrows from Skelly Nab to Hallin End.
Ullswater is still however well known for its Brown trout and it is considered one of the best fishing lakes in the Lake District, both in terms of quality and numbers.
There remain doubts about the nomenclature for the great lake trout, also known as the Great Grey Head, as quoted in the reference material. There are records of fishes weighing as much as 25 kg being caught at Goldrill Beck, initially named as Great Lake Trout. But it seems likely that they were not trout at all – they were probably confused with salmon. But even so, it is hard to conceive of fish of this size being speared with a gaff and pulled out of Ullswater.
There is however evidence of some large so-called ferox trout (Salmo ferox), being caught in the past, but nothing like the size given for these historical Great Lake Trout, the largest recorded was 3 kgs; but none have been recorded in Ullswater for a long time; these ferox trout, which are predominately cannibalistic, are still caught in a few other lakes in the Lake District and some lochs in Scotland.
Anecdotal data from the 1800s suggest that the average size of fish taken from Ullswater is smaller than fish from other lakes in the Lake District. It seems that flesh taste and colour also varies from lake to lake. In general, the flesh of the trout from Ullswater is not as pink as the trout from Windermere, nor so tasty (but Ullswater locals will certainly disagree….).
Nowadays fishing in Ullswater is limited to angling within very well specified parameters fixed by National, Regional and Local bye-laws. Most of the bed of Ullswater is owned by one of three bodies: Dalemain Estates, the National Trust and the LDNPA. The shore line has a variety of private owners.
by Tim Clarke
Watson John: The English Lake District Fisheries 1925
Buckland F & Walpole S: Report on the Fisheries of the English Lake District 1878