You either love them or loathe them. Once recognised as a local delicacy, now so expensive, only the elver stations can afford to buy them.
Towards the middle of March can be seen the elverman with their strange nets on the roofs of cars making their way down the lanes to the river. They will spend a long night on the river bank, dipping the net into the water against the flow, hoping for that big catch. Experienced elverman usually know where the elvers are in the river, but they keep that to themselves! They could be anywhere between Sharpness and Tewkesbury.
An elverman with his net
two elvers in the tray
The River Severn supports almost every species of freshwater fish and attracts a large number of anglers. But because of the many moods of the river, it tests even the best of these, especially the match fisherman.
Barbel non-existent in the river before 1956, now one of the most common fish to be caught. Bleak, found in the lower reaches of the Severn. Bream, usually found below Stourport down to Tewkesbury. They like deep, still water. Chub swim in shoals along the whole length of the river. Can be caught by the fly fisherman in the summer.
Elvers begin life as eel larvae, drifting from their birthplace in the Sargasso Sea for three years across the Atlantic Ocean to the Severn Estuary. The elver season lasts until the end of April and during that time countless thousands are caught and sold to the elver stations. From here they are exported live to Europe and Japan for the restocking of their waters.
Until recently an annual event at Frampton on Severn was the Elver Eating Contest, where contestants would make pigs of themselves by stuffing as many elvers as they could into their mouths. Due to the scarcity and cost, this has now ceased.
From the baby elver will grow the eel. Should they escape the nets of the elverman the elver will continue to swim upstream and over a period between eight and fifteen years grow into an eel. During this growing period they are known as guelps and when mature the name changes to vawsen. The eel will feed by night on various animal foods and during the day will bury itself in the mud at the bottom of the river.
Maturity occurs in the autumn and then the eel will begin its long journey back down the river and out to sea. Crossing the Atlantic
Ocean again to breed in the Sargasso Sea, never to return to our shores.
Yet another expensive delicacy is the salmon. A fish that is caught from the estuary right through to the shallow upper reaches of the Severn.
It is during the summer months that the salmon will proceed upriver to breed between September and February in the shallows. Many other types of fish used to swim upriver to the shallows, but the building of the weirs during the nineteenth century stopped them. It is only the salmon that can now jump over the weirs to travel upstream.
A putt, no longer used on the Severn Estuary
Martin & Richard Morgan at Black Rock setting off with their lave nets
Dace, once a popular fish to catch, but not now, after the fish disease of the 1960s. Considerable skill required for dace fishing. Grayling found in the higher reaches of the river above Welshpool. Related to the trout and salmon family. Pike can be found along most of the length of the river, but not many are reported being caught. Perhaps because they put up a good fight before finally being landed. Roach the one fish that appeals to all anglers, especially the large ones! Another fish that is multiplying again after the disease of the 1960s. Shad, two species that spawn in the river in May are the twaite and allis. This sporting fish is more commonly found below the weir at Tewkesbury. Trout, today this fish is only to be found in the clear water above Newtown. Near Llanidloes the Severn is a typical trout stream and the authorities regularly re-stock the Dinam Estate stretch of the river.