I would like to present you with an enhanced re write of an old article from the first version of Source to Sea fly fishing. After stumbling onto the old website tonight, I can’t let this one go….
At Hodbarrow lake 27 Years ago when I was around the age of 10 my introduction into the world of fresh water fishing began, I can assure you that Hodbarrow has continued to intrigue me for years. If I ever left Millom, I would miss Hodbarrow more than anything else about this region.
Historically Hodbarrow was a mining area, and up until well after the 2nd world war haematite ore was heavily extracted from this area, and it was thanks mainly to the mining industry that today’s town of Millom as we know it was born.
One major problem which the industry faced, was holding back the tides as they rolled in twice daily, I’m told initially a sea defence was built, constructed predominantly of wooden stakes and mud, but it became apparent very soon that this defence was inadequate and a new and more sturdy “Sea Wall” was needed, so work began on the second outer defence which was to be constructed with locally sourced stone.
Although very formidable compared to the first defence system, the second sea wall began to show cracks and points of failure due to the mine expansion and undermining the area under the wall to reach more ore rich ground, the shifting sands and clay like base on which the wall was built didn’t help either, as the second wall began to fail, a 3rd Sea wall was constructed to surround the entire mining area to make the mines watertight once and for all…..
Looking South West over the old submerged pump house towards the collapsed 2nd Sea Wall
Ariel image taken from above the 3rd outer defence, the land fault clearly visible between the 2nd wall ends, along with the old pump house at the top right.
The 3rd outer sea defence still stands to this day and is holding quite well given its age. This whole area makes for fantastic fishing opportunities, simply because on one side of the wall you can be salt water fishing in the Irish Sea and on the other you can be fresh water fishing in Hodbarrow. I would like to continue with the story of how Hodbarrow as a Trout fishery was born…
Looking towards the Westward end 2nd sea wall section “middle right”, with the Lake district fells in the back ground..
In the 70’s, development was underway on the banks of Hodbarrow lake and it became a popular tourist attraction in the form of a caravan site, and the land was renowned as a valuable nature reserve, with Arctic terns nesting here year after year, among many other bird species. The lake was drained to some degree in the 1980’s so that a long straight and thin spit of land could be constructed “shown protruding from the left on the image above”, and this was the beginnings of making Hodbarrow a prime water skiing venue. The water that was drained from the lake to allow this spit to be built was replaced with water from the sea until the lake rose above the level left behind from natural springs of the mines, and the use of sea water is where a un foreseen problem would arise in the near future..
The owner of the developing holiday making site was receiving numerous complaints from caravan owners and holiday makers regarding the sheer amount of predominantly two-winged insects which were hatching from the water and “terrorising” people in the evenings. An idea was put forward to introduce fish into the lake which could help alleviate this problem, as they would hover up the insects whilst they were still developing in the aquatic stage of their life, and would consume a percentage of the hatching and mature egg laying adults at the surface.
The adult menu of bigger fish consists of Snail and Stickleback
Some small coarse fish were purchased and transported to Hodbarrow to be kept in a segregated area of the Lake. The owner went down daily to hand feed these fish, but one day to his dismay he found that the fish had died. Over a period of time, of which I cannot confirm, the EA were called to come and sample the water. They went on to suggest introducing Rainbow trout which are more tolerant of slight deviations from ideal conditions.
Subsequently rainbows were purchased and placed again in a segregated area, hand fed by the owner, and to his delight the fish were seemingly quite happy for a full fortnight, most importantly they did not die…These lucky fish were released and allowed to venture off into the gloomy depths of the main body of water and further stocks were purchased and introduced, it was shortly after that did Hodbarrow opened up as a fishery.
The lake produces good hatches of Two winged flies, Damsels, Up-wings, Sedges, and its very abundant in Lesser Water Boatmen, Water Hog louse, topped off with huge shoals of sticklebacks. The fish that are introduced into Hodbarrow are very lucky fish indeed, they have over 190 acres to roam, spread out over 4 miles of shoreline, with a maximum depth of 110ft where the 2nd sea wall went down the furthest…………… plus all that food to go at!!
Where can you get “Im with this Idiot” T shirts these days…………? :)
Forgive me as I reminisce now but as kids we were once kitted out with basic sea fishing equipment one Christmas, we then spent many hours of our life’s digging up lug worm on Millom shore, prior to the tide rolling in. When fishing, in between waiting for bites we would pass time hand lining for crabs down the gaps in the blocks of the 3rd sea wall we were stood on. Winching in occasional flatfish on 25lb line was one thing and great non the less, but nothing prepared me for the first fight with a Hodbarrow Rainbow. I will remember the following till the day I die, as clearly as if it was yesterday.
One afternoon I had set up the family tent in our side garden on Huddlestone Road with a view to camping out that night, my mate Dominic was allowed to camp out with me too, we had no idea that his uncle Mark was going to appear and wake us up at around 3am to see if we wanted to go fish Hodbarrow….! I remember quietly getting on my bike and sneaking out of the garden, crapping myself in case my dad woke up. Blurry eyed in the steely grey/blue of night to-day break, we pedaled to the sea wall in record time. We only had Marks rod to fish with and we took it in turns to bait up with bread and cast out, retiring each time into the cover and safety of the bramble. Casting this lightweight outfit was new to me, the set up was 10lb line and a medium-sized stick float coupled with a starlight indicator, held on to the top by an oversize float rubber, underneath was some shot onto the drop and the hook. The conditions were calm and quiet until the luminous starlight disappeared down at an angle into the gloomy depths of Hodbarrow as I was holding the rod. The line pulling really tight and the drag making a racket was something I never experienced from fishing off the other side in the sea.
Eventually the fish came ashore and I couldn’t believe what had just happened……….
Explaining to my parents where this fish came from that following morning was another story…………….and just that ;)
My grandfather George Cummings was an avid angler and hunter, with myself being the eldest grandchild who now also had some Hodbarrow experience “trust me he got to hear about my fish once I was in the clear”, most summer evenings I would religiously stand by the lamppost outside my home at 7pm, waiting to see his car come around the corner for him to take me to fish the evening rise, not once did he let me down, he was very happy at having such a place to go in his home town. As a child i remember quite clearly in the years that followed seeing fish rising everywhere once things got going, giving me something to throw my bubble and fly at. Being out well past 10pm with my grandfather and fellow anglers was always a buzz, especially safe in the knowledge that I wasnt going to get into trouble with my parents.
Typical overwintered Hodbarrow Rainbow Trout
Before long, stories were going around town of big fish being caught down at Hodbarrow, and these were not angling tall stories neither, as they were often witnessed by many, Local sea anglers who had just started to fish for trout for the very first time were amazed at how hard these fish could fight, just like I did that first night. There were instances of carelessly unattended float rods going into the water, the fish in there quickly started to become legendary amongst those who sought after them. One name in particular which I remember quite fondly from my childhood was “Big John” a name aptly given to any Hodbarrow fish which smashed an angler…..
“It was Big John, im telling ya!!!!!” :)
Sadly over the late 80’s – 90’s years and largely through under stocking “not poaching”, Hodbarrow was always a kind of hit and miss place. You would fish there all year and take a few fish, or someone with no experience who never fished it before could be there and within 10 min catch a fish of a lifetime to someone! You paid your money and you took your chance….
One final twist to Hodbarrows history is that in 2004 during a moment of genius by the fish supplier, the very first addition of brown trout “approximately 3-5 inches in length” were introduced into the lake, and what a monumental day that was!. In the 2007 season aggressive feeding brown trout began to turn up in anglers catches, displaying a growth rate that has been truly phenomenal, from a tiny trout that represents something from the upper reaches of a Cumbrian spate river, to fish like the one above in just over three years!!
What is also fantastic news is that of course unlike diploid rainbows, the mixed sex brown trout that were introduced were able to reproduce to a degree under certain conditions in the shallow wind-swept bays over winter. This can be viewed as quite a rare occurrence, given that successful spawning cycles usually required clean feeder streams, of which there are none into Hodbarrow, but this proves that nature works in fantastic ways to ensure species survival.
A Hodbarrow born Brown Trout 30,3,2008. This fish had been reared from the initial stock of Browns of 2004
In June 2008, Millom and District Angling Association and myself recognised the excellent angling potential from continuing stocking Hodbarrow with tiny Brown Trout and we paid for a second supplement of Brown Trout to be delivered ourselves, ” check out this old website news page “. Given how crap this year has been for me on the shores thanks to excess water in the estuaries and relentless North West winds to flatten most Mullet fishing days, I have decided to return to my old haunt for the rest of this season. When those few thousand little fish went in, I did bid them a fond farewell, promising to return them safely if they gave me some sport in about four years time……