Tales from the River Bank

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The areas rivers are already at summer levels bringing concern amongst salmon anglers that we could be in for a repeat of last year’s disastrous season when rivers ran low for most of the fishing year. A brief rise last week after localised rain encouraged at least one fish into the Taw with Bob Lewington tempting a fresh run grilse of 6lb from the Weir Marsh and Brightly Beats. There are positive stories from the Taw and Torridge in that the brown trout fishing has been excellent with wild trout to over 1lb caught on Half Moon Beats of the Torridge. Anglers have also caught and returned good numbers of silver smolts on their way back to the sea a sign that all is not doom and gloom.

With salmon and sea trout scarce, I contacted Snowbee Ambassador Jeff Pearce and suggested an evening fishing the middle Torridge for wild brown trout. Jeff was keen to visit a new stretch of water and I picked him up whilst the sun was still high in the sky.

Arriving at the river the lack of recent rain was apparent with the river running very low. When I say there has been a lack of rain this not entirely true as localised heavy showers had brought a short spate the previous week bringing the level up three feet. As is often the case in recent years the dirty river dropped very quickly as a combination of dry ground and thirsty trees mopped up the welcome water.

Despite its subdued and sedate flow rate the river and its surroundings looked resplendent in its late spring flourish of vivid life and colour.

I expected to see plenty of trout rising as fly life seemed abundant with insects flitting above the water illuminated by the slowly sinking sun. We walked to the top of the beat discussing the various holding pools as we passed them. Each pool held its memories and I enjoyed recounting stories of salmon and sea trout caught during previous seasons.

I had tied a small grey duster dry fly to my light tippet and started to wade carefully up a long glide. I cast the fly to likely spots as I scanned the water for signs of feeding trout.

A splashy rise twenty yards upstream raised expectations and I waded stealthily to get within range.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Pearce
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Pearce
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Pearce

After a couple of casts there came that most delightful of moments as the waters surface was broken as the  dry fly was taken in a sublime moment of deception. A flick of the wrist set the tiny hook and the water bulged, the rod flexed and line was ripped through the rings as I was forced to give a little line. A twelve ounce wild brown trout gives a pleasing account on a three weight rod. Jeff was soon at hand to capture the moment and commented that such a fish could be the best of the season.

I fished on for a while rising a couple of more trout that came adrift after a few moments. Fishing the upstream dry fly to rising fish is perhaps as close as one can get to the true essence of the hunter fisher. This searching and seeking is so different to the trapping mindset of the static bait fisher.

Don’t get me wrong I am not setting out one type of fishing as superior to another just highlighting the contrasting approach. Non anglers find it difficult to contemplate upon the diverse nature of angling. Why we need so many rods, reels, lines and tackles.

I am in danger of wondering into complex waters so to return to the night in question. Jeff was fishing a slower section further down and had found several trout sipping flies from the surface. I watched him place his fly delicately upon the water and hoped to see him connect. As I turned to walk away down-river I heard a  triumphant exclamation. The Snowbee Prestige G-XS Graphene Fly Rod ( Matched with a Thistledown 2 Wt line) was well bent as a good trout battled gamely on the gossamer thin line. After a few anxious moments a delighted Jeff gazed at his prize in the rubber meshed net. A pristine wild brown trout that would probably weigh close to 1lb 8oz. A splendid prize that was twice the size of  the trout I had returned a few minutes earlier.

Jeff held the fish close to the water at all times lifting it only momentarily from its watery home to record a pleasing image to take away. It would be difficult to surpass this success and as the sun sank the temperature dropped and we both changed over to nymphs and spider patterns fished down and across.

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Pearce
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Pearce

This style of fishing is less demanding than the upstream dry fly and allows the attention to wonder slightly absorbing the sights and sounds of the river and its banks. The electric blue flash of a kingfisher, the yellow wagtails, the handsome cock pheasants and the lively brood of beeping ducklings all part of the rich scene.

We both enjoyed success with hard fighting trout tempted as the light faded. Hopefully as summer arrives and a little rain the brownies sea run brethren will provide some more exciting sport.

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Pearce

RIVER UPDATE

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After a prolonged drought; the most significant since 1976 there has been some welcome rain though not enough. Local rivers have only risen slightly with each spell of rain and have dropped back quickly. Reports of any salmon and sea trout are scarce with a couple caught on the Lyn last week. If you have any news of fish from the Taw or Torridge please let me know.

I ventured onto a Middle Torridge beat in the middle of last week and found the river extremely low despite it having risen 18″ two days before my visit.

It was good to be back on the river however and I was initially hopeful that a few fish may have moved up with the rise in water. After a couple of hours without seeing a fish move I began to have concerns that the river was devoid of life. As I stepped into the river at the top of the beat I caught a fleeting glimpse of electric blue as a kingfisher flashed past. Following its flight up river I admired the view as evening sunlight broke through illuminating the trees.

I fished my way downriver searching the lies and noting the contours that were exposed by the low river. I would hopefully retain some of this info later in the season when the river is once again running at more healthy level. A savage pull on the line yielded a pleasing brown trout of close to a pound.

Its not been a good season for the salmon angler with no water equaling no fish. A few signs of autumn brought a slightly melancholic atmosphere  to the session as I wondered slowly back to car in the fading light.

South Molton & District Angling Club – Vacancies

South Molton & District Angling Clubs AGM was held on February 20th at the Coaching Inn, South Molton. A good number of members were present to listen to reports from the clubs officers. Eddie Rand’s delivered a humorous account of the clubs year focusing on the rivers health and plans for sympathetic work to be undertaken at a suitable time to both improve fishability and fish habitat. 

Roger Bray stepped into the role of secretary following the resignation of Ian Binding following many years of loyal service to the club.

Ian Binding was one of the clubs founding members and has fifty years of fond memories of his years with the club. Ian told me that the club was initially formed as a sea angling club with members enjoying excursions to local venues. They often fished from local ports aboard local charter boats including the Combe Martin boats whose skippers included Mickey Irwin and George Eastman. When fishing became available on the River Bray courtesy of the Poltimore Arms they took on the fishing and have remained tenants on the water via the Stucley Estate. The rivers are primarily wild brown trout fisheries that offer fine sport for the dry fly fisher using light tackle.

The club has room for a few new members with game fishing membership allowing access to 5 miles of fishing for just £50 per year. Social membership stands at £10. The club holds monthly meetings at the Coach and Horses, regular outings to local still-water trout fisheries including Blakewell, Bratton Water and Exe Valley. There are also boat trips throughout the years from local ports. Anyone interested in joining this friendly and active club should contact Roger Bray on 01271 371506 or via email – bray375@btinternet.com

Matt Kingdon gave an enlightening talk to the membership outlying his experiences of fly fishing for Team England at various venues including the renowned Chew Valley Lake. He also gave a fascinating insight into the rules, tactics and effort involved.

Following the formalities and talks Eddie Rand’s presented trophies to Rob Kingdon for his capture of a 30lb + tope on one of the clubs boat trips in 2017.

Mike Latham won the clubs Fly Fishing Trophy with a 4lb 5oz trout.

There were of coarse plenty of fishing tales exchanged throughout the evening covering all disciplines of angling. Eddie had several tales of a recent trip to Spain’s River Ebro where he caught catfish of over 40lb and a fine carp of 37lb.

Threats to the vital arteries of the land!

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Spring seems to be in the air today and thoughts are turning to running water, spring salmon and crimson spotted wild trout that thrive in Devon streams.

We must not take these delights for granted as there are threats to these vital arteries of the land brought home to me as I read through the latest emails from Chairman of the River Taw Fisheries Association Alex Gibson.

Open the below link to see what a badly managed dairy operation can do. The pollution here was on the Taw system, but fortunately did not affect the main stem of the river. Nevertheless the damage to fish stocks was extensive. If you come across anything of this kind when at or around the river please report it immediately to the EA Emergency Hotline – 0800 807060

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/dallyns-dairy-stream-thick-with-cattle-dung-near-barnstaple

The Pollution Threat from Sewage Treatment Works (STWs) on the Taw System

As we are all well aware, the importance of water quality in our river cannot be overstated.

The Committee has come across a new, to us, cause for concern in this area, namely the STWs on our system which are owned and managed by South West Water (SWW). Simply put – Are these STWs currently fit for purpose and will they be fit for purpose when all the planned house-building in our catchment’s towns and villages has been completed? For example, South Molton is planning over 1,200 homes and Chulmleigh over 90. Is the right amount of maintenance being carried out by SWW and is sufficient investment committed for the future?

There are at least 35 STWs on our system, all of which discharge into the main stem or its tributaries. SWW like other water companies runs STWs on the basis of “operator self-monitoring” which immediately raises an amber or even red warning light in our opinion. Also there is a question about how rigorous the Environment Agency is or indeed can be in this area given recent cut-backs.

This is not a Taw specific problem and we have raised it regionally with South West Rivers Association so that individual rivers in the south-west can take their own action. From discussions with Angling Trust we understand that they are aware that this is a national problem and are working with World Wildlife Fund.

As for the Taw specifically, we are working with Fish Legal to discover whether in relation to STWs the EA is fulfilling its role to protect and improve river quality under the Water Framework Directive and carrying out its duties towards fishermen. Other initiatives to raise awareness of this problem are being undertaken.

The Committee believes it is important that members are aware of this threat, particularly those who fish directly below STWs. Any obvious signs of pollution from STW sources should be reported to the EA emergency hot-line – 0800 807060. Also, as we understand more about the STW situation it may be that we will need to mount a campaign with the support of our membership.

Alex Gibson

Riverside ramblings

A tumbling river in springtime with the smell of ramsey and birdsong filling the air has been a part of my life since I was a child catching crimson spotted brown trout from the River Umber that runs through the village of Combe Martin. A few weeks ago I found myself looking into the river where I first tempted those spotted trout. Sadly there were no signs of the descendants of those trout  which is a sad refection on the waning state of our countryside.

Fortunately there are still plenty of rivers in North Devon that still have healthy populations of trout. I took a wander along my local river wielding a split cane rod I had bought from a work colleague. The old scottie rod had been bought at a car boot sale and I later found that the rod had been taken there by Richard Mann who I had fished with on several occasions at Blakewell Fishery. Richard was a very enthusiastic angler who had fished far and wide with many a tale to tell. In latter years he had done a huge amount of work for a local branch of the Salmon and Trout Association. Richard sadly passed away last year.

I flicked the flies upstream and thrilled as the free rising trout seized the fly.  The old rod flexed as the trout gyrated and darted to and fro in the clear water. I wondered what other adventures the rod had been on? It didn’t really matter what rod as the small river didn’t demand distance casting, a bit of precision perhaps. A modern carbon rod could have ticked every box in functionality but perhaps the old rod was more in keeping with the late spring evening? The river had those same characteristics I had enjoyed close to fifty years ago, perhaps that is one of angling’s greatest attributes in that it brings back those childish perceptions and feelings.

A couple of nights later I was casting a fly across the River Torridge in hope of  salmon. The river had dropped away but still had a nice tinge of colour. I started hopeful but as the evening swept past I felt slightly melancholic at the lack of salmon surely after the recent spate there would be salmon present? It was a glorious evening full of birdsong and riverside aromas. I did catch one or two glorious spotted brown trout but these were not enough tonight for I had set my expectations higher and with that came a slight feeling of failure. I will of course be back casting again full of expectation next time the river rises and brings fresh hope of silver tourists.