Winter Salmon and Sea Trout News –

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Mid winter and high on the moors salmon and sea trout are cutting redds ensuring the ongoing survival of these enigmatic fish that forge into our rivers each year in a struggle that is every bit as dramatic as the migration of the wildebeest on the Serengeti. This marvel of nature is overlooked by many who pass over swirling waters without a thought for these majestic creatures.

Anglers have a deep fascination for these fish and a passion to preserve stocks for future generations. I joined members of the River Torridge Fishery Association for their annual trapping of salmon for their hatchery located close to a tributary of the Torridge.

Below is a copy of Newsreel by kind permission of Charles Inniss.

The River Torridge Fishery Association – News Reel

President: Lord Clinton

 

Chairman: Paul Ashworth                                                                   Secretary: Charles Inniss

e-mail: charles.inniss@btinternet.com

NEWSREEL: WINTER 2018.

The salmon hatchery:  

            Over the weekend 10/11thNovember we successfully trapped the broodstock: 5 hens and 5 cocks all about 8/10lb and all in excellent condition. On Saturday 8thDecember we were able to strip all five hens in one go despite the gales and heavy rain. We now have just over 30,000 eggs laid out in the trays. All the fish have been successfully returned to the river and this year for the first time there was no sign of disease on any of the fish. So far so good.

(Above) Members of the River Torridge Fishery Association on Hatchery trapping day.

Juvenile Survey:

            The West Country Rivers Trust surveyed 40 sitesduring the late summer and early autumn. The results have not yet been published but apparently several sites on the Okement and Lew were encouraging. The sites on the Upper Torridge again revealed poor densities of salmon fry and parr.

This spring we released some salmon fry from the hatchery into the mill leat by the hatchery. This is a controlled area with no natural salmon production. The juvenile survey in September revealed good densities of salmon fry. The hatchery team was delighted to know its offspring were doing well and surviving in their natural surroundings.

The Annual Dinner and Raffle:

Another superb evening at The Half Moon. Over 50 of us enjoyed an excellent meal followed by the raffle and auction. Once again member support for the annual raffle was tremendous and over £1,500 was raised which will go towards continuing our efforts to improve the fishing on this beautiful river. In particular this money is used to finance the running of the hatchery and the cost of the juvenile survey. Particular thanks to Paul Ashworth, our Chairman, and his wife Geraldine who organised the raffle and the auction. There was the usual wonderful array of prizes.

The Fishing Season:

There are good years and poor years. 2018 will go down as one of the poorer years. Low river levels and high water temperature made fishing difficult. Too many of us, me included, wait for the ideal conditions and do not bother when the conditions are unfavourable. Those who ventured out caught fish having some success with the sea trout using dry fly.

Proposed Measures to reduce salmon exploitation:

            Despite rushing through the consultation process in the autumn of 2017, all has since gone quiet: presumably the proposals are sitting on a desk at DEFRA. Let’s hope a final decision can be made for the 2019 season.

Winter well:

            My very best wishes to you all for a peaceful Xmas and a healthy New Year.

In 2012 River Reads Press published “Torridge Reflections” a fascinating tome by Charles Inniss I am delighted that a fresh print run of 100 copies has been announced wirh copies available from River Reads, Cochybondu books and Charles Inniss. The first edition sold out and is highly sought after by book collectors and lovers of fishing in North Devon.

(Above) South Molton Anglers head to the river to count the redds.

Observation of salmon, sea trout and brown trout spawning is an important part of river monitoring and since the dramatic reduction of Environment Agency staff this job is often undertaken by volunteers. The South Molton Angling Club visit the spawning areas on their waters on the River Bray each winter to assess the numbers of salmon spawning. This years observations have been encouraging with good numbers of salmon, sea trout and brown trout seen before winter spates clouded the waters.

Just a quick update on our redd counting morning from Ed Rands.
“The river was in good shape to see what was going on although most other rivers were high and brown.
We walked a familiar strech of river and saw several salmon and sea trout.
There were also a good number of redds there, of different sizes e.g. brown & sea trout and salmon had been spawning which is very encouraging as we didn’t see much last year.
Hopefully they will hatch in the spring and go on their intrepid journey to keep these precious and vulnerable fish in our rivers.
 We also picked up plastic and other foreign bodies from the river.
So all in all a very enjoyable morning, thanks to those who attended.
Merry Christmas.
Ed Rands shared a number of old photos with me that had been found in the attic of a house during a house move. They are fantastic images that give a fascinating glimpse into the past.The images are from the Fortesque Hotel at Kingsympton and show salmon caught from the River Taw probably from the Junction Pool area. The these spendid catches of salmon were made during the 50/60’s.
In those days of plenty virtually all salmon were killed as stocks were abundant and few feared for the future of the species. Whilst  anglers undoubtedly contributed to dwindling stocks other factors have had a far more dramatic impact. Pollution, Poaching, Global Warming, Disease, Over Exploitation, Farming Practices,Silting of spawning grounds, Obstacles to Migration, Predation and other factors have all played their part. These days anglers are fighting for the survival of these magnificent fish removing barriers to migration, improving habitat, campaigning to remove netting, practicing catch and release and attempting to improve stocks by using hatcherys to improve fry survival.
It is sad to see how stocks have been allowed to decline over the years. We have lost a great deal from our rivers it would be tragic if salmon were to be consigned to the history books like the mighty sturgeon that once migrated up many of our local rivers.

What once swam under the bridge?

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I was chatting to a fellow angler at the weekend about salmon fishing on the Taw and how the fishing has declined since I first started fishing the river over forty years ago. As is often the case talk reminisced on large fish caught and the angler in question told me of his first salmon a fine fish of around twenty pounds. One particular fish was etched on his memory and he described spotting the dorsal fin of this huge fish on a lower Taw beat. The fish was lying close to the edge in a well known lie its dorsal fin showing above the water. He and a fellow angler climbed high up on the bank and peered into water. They were awestruck at the sight before them; a huge salmon estimated at between four and five feet in length. The fish sensing their presence swam slowly into the depth of the pool never to be seen again despite their efforts to tempt the fish with rod and line.

Later on that evening I did a little research leafing through the pages of that Classic tome, ” The Doomsday Book of Giant Salmon” written by that late master of angling history Fred Buller. Within the pages of this book are a couple of huge West Country salmon one of which is the famous 57lb salmon caught in a net by Mr Stephens and Jimmy Hill at Fremington in September 1925. This huge salmon would have been around the same length as the fish sighted by my fellow angler.

Whilst this salmon is likely to be amongst the largest to have run our local rivers it is intriguing to wonder what fish have swum under Barnstaple Bridge and into other North Devon Rivers. As salmon numbers continue to dwindle huge fish are probably consigned to the history books. But there are I am sure people within the local community who can tell of large salmon seen or indeed removed from local rivers in the distant past.

It would be great to hear any stories of large salmon or sea trout from North Devon Rivers even if they were caught many years ago by less than legitimate means. I would be delighted to air any such tales here on North Devon Angling News; an ideal read for those long winter nights. You can email any stories to info@northdevonanglingnews and I will publish over the Christmas period! I will not of course publish the names of the authors unless they are happy for me to do so. It is important that any stories are shared before the generations pass and with them their knowledge.

Salmon Season End of season flourish

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After one of the worst salmon and sea trout fishing seasons for several years it is good to report on a few fish as longed for rain brought a significant rise in both the Taw and Torridge. I expect to get a more details of fish from the Torridge when I attend the end of season Egg Box Dinner at the Half Moon but below are few images of fish caught in the last week of the season.

(Below)Ian Blewett’s early morning brace of Taw salmon

(Below)Chay Boggis caught this pleasing grilse of around 3lb from a middle Taw beat

(Below)The middle Torridge earlier this week fining down fading light.

Rain Brings hope of silver tourists

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Rain has brought a rise and colour to the River Bray it is to be hoped that further rain will follow and swell the entire river system.

Heavy rain has brought a welcome rise in river levels that could bring in a run of fresh salmon and sea trout to save what has been a dreadful season as a result of drought conditions throughout much of the summer. The final week of the season will see fish just a couple of months away from spawning and it is is imperative that angers follow good practice in practicing catch and release the following link give information and advice regarding C & R.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/impact-of-catch-and-release-angling-practices-on-survival-of-salmon

The tragedy of salmon farms

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I received this email today from James Barlow. I have decided to share  here on North Devon Angling News website because I share the concern regarding salmon farming and its devastating impact upon salmon, sea trout stocks and the wider impact this has on the environment. I have visited the West Coast of Scotland and talked to local people who have witnessed the dramatic decline in salmon and sea trout numbers. We have seen dramatic declines in the West Country but not as rapid as seen in parts of Scotland. In Norway I caught cod and halibut with their stomach contents packed with pellets. The water on calm nights shimmered with oil that I believe came from the waste from these farms. The cod and coalfish we caught were also carrying large numbers of lice.

As anglers we all care for the long term future of fish stocks for we have a vested interest in one sense in that we want to catch fish but also because anglers care about fish and the environment in which fish live.

This July I assisted in the rescue of 75 salmon from a local estate after over 100 wild fish had already died. We believe the deaths were exacerbated, if not caused, by lice infestation from local salmon farm cages in Loch Roag, Isle of Lewis. The regional Fishery Trust biologist recorded between 500 and 700 sea lice, a parasite, on several live fish between 5-8 lbs. These wild fish are literally being eaten alive. My photos from the first day can be viewed here.

‘The One Show’ episode is available to watch on iPlayer until 18/10/18. The relevant article commences at 3 mins 10 seconds and runs for 9 minutes.

They highlight the plight of farmed salmon in cages which, like the wild fish, are suffering from appalling predation by lice. Last year, of the 208 salmon farms in the UK, 82 farms declared that they had exceeded the statutory Government acceptable limits for sea lice – that is 39.4% of all UK salmon farms.
Due to transportation costs, for the past two years the Scottish Salmon Company, proprietors of the farm in Loch Roag, has been burying thousands of dead fish (morts) in a ‘temporary’ landfill site in North Uist.

In the summer of 2017 over 175000 fish died of disease or attempted treatment at salmon farms in the Hebrides (The Telegraph). If this mort rate, or the effect of their farming methods on wildlife, were to occur to a mammal or on land the public outcry would be deafening, I’m sure. On average Scottish fish farms expect a mortality rate of around 23% of their stock. Such a high death rate would not be tolerated in any other form of animal husbandry.

Please take the time to view the programme and decide for yourself whether this is a quality product which you are happy to eat or serve to your family. Even ‘organic’ salmon can be treated with antibiotics yet still receive certification. EU regulation states that, “chemically synthesized allopathic veterinary medicinal products including antibiotics may be used where necessary…”. While ”excessive” treatment can result in removal of the prestigious Organic certification fish may still be treated under veterinary guidance then sold as ‘Organic’. Standard farmed salmon are regularly dosed in an attempt to ameliorate their condition. When you watch the video it will be clear why this is necessary.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this request. If you have any questions I will endeavour to answer them to the best of my ability.
Further video and photographic evidence can be viewed via this link to a Salmon Fishing Forum thread – ‘Sad, Sick Salmon both Farmed and Wild’. My contributions are under the username ‘Lewis.Chessman’.

If you feel sufficiently moved, please forward this mail to your friends and family. This industry will not change its methods unless its profits are threatened by consumer pressure.

My thanks to you all,

James Barlow.

RISING RIVERS SALMON and Memories

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Salmon and sea trout anglers have been hoping for rain all summer to bring the local rivers into spate and bring fresh run migratory bars of silver into North Devon’s rivers. The rain that fell on Sunday whilst welcome was not enough to bring a substantial rise despite washing a great deal of sediment into the rivers. The Taw and Torridge both came up and ran dirty but have dropped back quickly. It is to be hoped that a few fish have been encouraged to move up river. A few anglers have cast a fly on the Taw and experienced rod John Kenyon fished the Weir Marsh and Brightly Beats of the Taw to tempt a fine fresh run salmon of 15lb using a Willie Gunn micro tube.

A few sea trout have been reported from the Torridge but no reports of salmon to my knowledge.

One of my favourite local rivers is the East Lyn that tumbles to the sea from Exmoor through the Watersmeet Estate. The riverside walk has been made even more popular following the TV appearance of Julia Bradbury in a program that showcased the beautiful wooded valley. I have many fond memories of the River Lyn and walking its rocky banks brings mixed feelings. The Lyn was undoubtedly an amazing salmon and sea trout fishery that offered splendid fishing at a low cost. I fished the river extensively over a twenty year period and landed a good number of salmon and sea trout. When I first fished the river back in the eighties individual local anglers often caught in excess of fifty salmon in a season. I never approached those figures but often walked away from the river with a brace of salmon caught on worm or spinner. Back then following a spate the river would be lined by anglers who traveled from far and wide to enjoy the short window of opportunity that followed each spate . When the river flowed with a colour of a fine ale salmon would seize the anglers Mepps spinner with gusto fighting the rod and line in a flurry of spray in the confines of the boulder strewn water course. As the  water cleared the worm reigned supreme as anglers stalked individual salmon. Spotting the salmon is of course an art in itself with a keen eye required to locate the salmon in the turbulent flow. Experience built up over many seasons helped greatly for the salmon would frequent the same lies year on year enabling the anglers to target the right spots.

Pauline and I walked the river on August Bank Holiday following a day of heavy rain the water looked perfect as it tumbled towards the sea. Surely a Mepp’s flicked across the pools would bring a silver reward? But time has passed by and we saw no anglers searching the water. There was once a thriving community of anglers who fished this river who would meet up each season to share stories of past seasons and other waters. There was a darker side to fishing on the Lyn with snatching of fish endemic before the fishery bailiffs stamped their authority.

There are of course a few salmon still running the river and the occasional angler practicing catch and release. As we walked the river we came upon EA Fishery Officer Paul Carter who was hoping to glimpse a salmon as he walked the banks  ensuring that any anglers fishing had their rod licence. Paul also has a vast array of memories of North Devon’s rivers and many characters who have trodden the fishermans paths. Today Paul has the latest technology to help record any hostile reaction from poacher or unlicensed fisher. Sadly the precious salmon stocks have dwindled and it is so important the present stocks are protected. Ironically the anglers who chased those silver bars for many years are those that care most for the future of the iconic fish.

We did see two fishers on our walk, a trout fisher and a heron. Long may there be fishers on the Lyn for a river without fish or fishers is somehow rather empty.

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.

Torridge Salmon Season -No Extension

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The Environment Agency have decided not to extend the salmon Fishing season on the River Torridge this year. Over recent seasons anglers have enjoyed an extension to the season from  September 30th to October 14th and this has been a welcome addition with good numbers of salmon landed. The decision will come as a bitter blow to fishery owners and local businesses who receive welcome revenue from visiting anglers. It is to be hoped that dwindling stocks of salmon will recover and that this decision will be of benefit to salmon stocks.

This season has been a very poor fishing season as a result of the prolonged drought conditions that have persisted since May. The start of the season was blighted by snow melt and very high water. In the longer term it is to be hoped that weather conditions results in good fishing once again. Such weather conditions have been experienced before with older generations recalling the drought of 1976 when rivers and local reservoirs ran very low.

A fine salmon caught at Liittle Warham during last years extension.

The River Taw Fisheries Association Newsletter

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The River Taw Fisheries Associations latest newsletter is an informative read and I must give special thanks to their Chairman Alex Gibson for permitting me to reproduce it here on North Devon Angling News.

Chairman: Alex Gibson
Lower Braggamarsh House

Burrington, Umberleigh
Devon EX37 9NF
Tel: 07785 232 393
Email: gibson2sms@btinternet.com

Secretary:

George Marsh
Buscott, 21 Station Road
Ashcott, Bridgwater
Somerset TA7 9QP
Tel: 01458 210 544
Email: mrgeorgemarsh@yahoo.co.uk

Treasurer: Richard Nickell, Blakewell Fisheries, Muddiford, Barnstaple, Devon. EX32 4ET Tel: 01271 344533. Email: richard@blakewell.co.uk

Web site: www.rivertawfisheries.co.uk

Chairman’s Report

The season got off to a poor start. We lost the first six weeks because of freezing weather and then a number of large spates. As the river settled few salmon were caught and sea trout were late to arrive. By the end of May only about 15 salmon and the same number of sea trout had been caught. We must hope that

our migratory fish are simply a month or so late like everything else in the countryside this year.

Last season was mixed – quite good for salmon fishermen, but very poor for those who target sea trout. The beat survey showed 286 salmon and 214 sea trout. (2016 numbers: 185 salmon and 302 sea trout.) This is the first time that I can remember sea trout numbers being below salmon numbers. No-one can come up with a plausible explanation or, perhaps more importantly, a remedy. We do know that sea trout numbers can fluctuate quite dramatically and we must hope for a bounce back. The EA rod catch numbers for 2017 were 243 salmon (88% returned) and 193 sea trout (81% returned). Brown trout fishing had another good year with about 2,300 fish caught, roughly the same as 2016 even though conditions were less favourable.

Members kindly took part in the EA Salmon & Sea Trout Consultation and will have heard about the proposed National Protection Byelaws that should become effective next year if all goes to plan. For us this will mean an end to salmon and sea trout netting in the Taw/Torridge estuary and a requirement on us to reach and maintain a catch and release rate for salmon of at least 90% or face the imposition of 100% C&R. We have never reached 90%, so all fishermen will have to apply themselves. Those who rent out fishing and those who invite guests to fish their beat will need to get the message across. It is unfortunate that our River Taw Byelaws with their out-dated bag limits convey the wrong message.

The IFCA netting byelaws were finally approved and as a result the salmon and sea trout by-catch in our estuary is now a thing of the past. Everyone should be congratulated for their efforts during a long and complicated campaign.

Two major water quality problems are taking much of the Committee’s time at the moment; siltation and sewage treatment works (STWs). The articles later in the Newsletter by Mark Lloyd and Bill Beaumont directly address the first of these problems. Laurence Couldrick’s article addresses the second.

Everyone who fishes our river, with the exception perhaps of those who fish the Bray, will have noticed a huge increase in the amount of silt in the river. The deterioration of the Mole is particularly worrisome. The growing of winter maize is the main culprit. The run-off from fields is dramatic, particularly when combined with a very wet winter and spring. As a non-farmer I am amazed that some farmers are so uncaring about their top-soil. It is in a real sense their equity. There are three anaerobic biodigestors on the Taw system and they have an enormous appetite for maize. Not only that, but they operate on an owner self- monitored basis. If anything should go wrong there will be a major pollution incident with fish kills, as happened recently on a tributary of the Tamar. We can do no more than keep our fingers crossed.

As for STWs, we have at least 35 on the Taw catchment. All of them out-flow into our river and all of them belong to South West Water. The question is – how many are fit for purpose today and how many will be fit for purpose tomorrow as more and more houses are built in the towns and villages of our catchment? We are applying as much pressure as we can on SWW, working with like-minded organisations including Angling Trust and South West Rivers Trust. We have to encourage SWW to do the right amount of maintenance and investment. Like biodigestors, STWs are also owner self-monitored, a term that does not inspire confidence. We are trying to establish what the EA’s overseeing role is and how actively they are fulfilling it.

Northam Landfill continues to lurk in the background with 650,000 cubic metres of waste in danger of being exposed to the Taw/Torridge estuary. Strorms last winter ate away at the Burrows and brought the problem into greater focus. We are adding our voice to those keen for proper protective action to be taken.

River improvement work was carried out on the Little Dart and its tributary, the Sturcombe, on a match-funded basis between RTFA an

WRT. 13 debris dams were cleared and 17 spawning gravel sites cleaned. Selective coppicing and wood debris enhancement work was carried out over about 3km of bank. This work will continue this year. In our river improvement plans there will be an emphasis generally on gravel cleaning. Bill Beaumont’s article explains why. Any change in farming practice to reduce siltation will take time and is not within our control. Gravel cleaning has an immediate effect and we do have control over it.

This year the EA will carry out its 6-yearly juvenile survey at 67 sites. To enable us to “read” the river effectively and prioritise river work we need to find a way to finance the WRT’s fry index surveys in the intermediate years. Each of these surveys cost about £8,500. Some financing ideas are being worked on.

The Taw has lagged behind other rivers in providing volunteers for the Riverfly Partnership. This season we are making a big effort to redress this situation. 8 potential volunteers have been identified for training. Over time their surveys will add to our knowledge of the water quality and general health of the Taw.

I am concerned about what I perceive as a lack of fishing effort on the river, especially since we have lost the early part of the season to the weather and there is always the threat of drought conditions as we move into summer. Rod catch numbers are an important indicator of the health of a river and its fish stocks. So please, when the river is fishable get out there and fish.

A final point. Please have a careful read of Roger Furniss’s article. Before long we may need to review our constitution which has a rather old-fashioned look about it.

Hon. Treasurer’s Report

The Association continues to work to improve the Taw catchment and last season made two donations, £3,870 and £5,000, on a match-funded basis with WRT for river improvement projects on the Little Dart.. We will be committing to further projects next season, again with WRT on a match-funded basis.

Currently our own cash resources total almost £14,000 and we also have an additional £23,000 held to our account at WRT. This is a comfortable position, but river improvement work is expensive and we must continue to seek additional funding sources

Alex Gibson

Chairman

AGM

RTFA held another very successful AGM and auction at Highbullen Hotel in March. Following on from the success of last year, the auction this year raised a total of £4,280, a very important boost to RTFA funds. Thanks must be given to those who donated auction lots and to those who organised the auction and its delivery.

Subscriptions & Membership

Subscriptions are due in April and I am pleased to report that we are now receiving the majority of subs via standing order. This is good news. A total of £3,640 has been collected. May I remind you all that the RTFA bank details for setting up a standing order can be found on our website under the heading Membership, along with

application forms for new members. New members are asked to complete an application form and send it to me for our records, but at the same time please set up your standing order and inform me when you have done so.

Recruitment continues. We have 5 new members this year and I am sure this figure will increase as the season progresses.

Rates
Full Members (Riparian Owners) £35.00 Associate Members £15.00

Raising money requires hard work and commitment. I would like to thank you for your continued support.

Contact details

richard@blakewell.co.uk
Blakewell Fisheries, Muddiford, Barnstaple, North Devon EX31 4ET.

RTFA AGM and Dinner

River Taw Fisheries Association AGM Friday 22nd March 2019

Highbullen Hotel

Richard Nickell

Hon. Treasurer

The Environment Agency (EA)

It was good to speak to so many of you at the AGM in March. As regards Fisheries Enforcement Officer numbers in Devon we have remained the same as last year, but the addition of the fully warranted part time officers has been of great benefit. In line with all Enforcement Agencies we operate an intelligence- led approach to enforcement, so you all have an important role, acting as eyes and ears for your river. Please continue to report any suspected illegal fishing activities to the EA’s 24 hour hotline – 0800 80 70 60. The more intelligence we have, the more effective we can be on your behalf. Pollution incidents can also be logged on this number. For non-urgent or general fisheries information please feel free to email me.

So far this season I have not had any reports of diseased salmon in the Taw which is good news. Again please update me if you do see any diseased fish.

Bio-security is of great importance for river users to prevent the transfer of invasive aquatic species. Please adopt the “Check, Clean, Dry” approach with all your fishing equipment particularly if you fish on a variety of different waters. For more information go to www.nonnativespecies.org/checkcleandry

I mentioned at the AGM that this summer, weather permitting, we will be carrying out the full Taw catchment electro- fishing programme at 67 sites. This should give a comprehensive review of the current juvenile stock status in the catchment.

Paul Carter

EA Fisheries Enforcement Officer North Devon pj.carter@environment-agency.gov.uk

If you want to know……..

About the state of the river and for fishing reports visit the River Taw Fisheries Association Web Site on

www.rivertawfisheries.co.uk

and click on Current News and Webcams & Gauges

Save our soils to rescue our rivers

Over the past 60 years, we’ve seen a dramatic change in farming practices and land use choices, driven principally by
high intensity production of cheap food and European subsidies. This has led to the soils on which we depend forfood throughout England and Wales becoming damaged and eroded, causing widespread pollution and flooding. Agriculture is now responsible for the highest number of serious pollution incidents of any sector and is the main reason why only 14% of rivers are in good health.

Bare fields of maize, stubble turnips, over-grazed pasture, slurry spreading and winter-wheat have all led to vast amounts of soil, nutrients and water washing off the land into rivers and lakes. This has a disastrous impact on aquatic wildlife because it smothers insects and fish eggs in gravels on river beds and leads to algal blooms that deplete oxygen in the water. It also heaps costs on the rest of society. Government research estimates the costs of poorly-managed soil to be £1.2 billion each year, or £23 million a week. We are losing soil at around ten times the rate that it is being produced, which is fundamentally unsustainable.

By contrast, healthy soils have high organic matter content, a strong, porous structure and a wide range of soil organisms including worms, fungi and bacteria that work symbiotically with plants to produce more nutritious food and lock up carbon underground. They allow free percolation of water to replenish groundwater storage and keep rivers flowing in summer droughts.

Of course we have to keep on farming, but we do need to change farm practices significantly to save our soils and rescue our rivers for future generations. Simple measures like minimising soil disturbance, sowing rows across the slope, planting follow-on crops to avoid bare fields, reducing stocking densities and slurry quantities can all make a dramatic difference. In high-risk areas (probably less than 10% of the area of a catchment) land-use change will be needed, such as switching from arable to pasture or pasture to woodland.

There have been initiatives such as Catchment Sensitive Farming which have offered advice to farmers and land managers. These have been a step in the right direction, but have largely failed at a strategic scale. Too often they’ve worked with farmers who are most receptive to change, rather than those who are causing the biggest problems. Uncertainty about budgets, inappropriate targets and a lack of clear objectives has led to high staff turnover and an incoherent approach.

Most importantly, advice hasn’t been backed up by a credible enforcement regime. The government has directed the Environment Agency and Rural Payments Agency to take a light touch approach to enforcement and has slashed

budgets to a point where the EA is now able to visit fewer than 1% of farms each year. The many farmers who are following the rules are exasperated to see their neighbours cutting corners and getting away with it.

The government has at last recognised these strategic failures, and it is running a consultation about the future of farming in advance of an agriculture bill. The Angling Trust, WWF and The Rivers Trust have teamed up to write a report setting out a pathway towards a more sustainable future for land and water.

Achieving fundamental change across more than 100,000 farms in England and Wales will require a co-ordinated approach with four complementary measures:

  •   Alignment to a clear set of objectives and planning process in each catchment by all relevant organisations, co-ordinated by the Catchment Based Approach network;
  •   Firm but fair enforcement by the Environment Agency of existing and new regulations to outlaw excessive soil erosion, water run-off and pollution;
  •   Local, well-trained, expert advisors providing free, advice targeted at the higher risk landowners;
  •   Targeted incentives to enable land use change in high risk areas of the catchment (probably less than 10% of land area).

    The Government intends to phase out direct payments to farmers and move to a new system where public money requires delivery of public benefits. Our report estimates that to reimburse farmers fully for changing land-use in England would cost less than £500m per year out of the £2.3 billion subsidies currently paid in England and Wales.

    We estimate that enforcement and advice will cost just £10 million a year – a fraction of the cost to society of continuing with our current approach. This is a no-brainer of epic proportions that could transform the state of our natural environment rapidly and ensure that we have food and water for the next generation.

Fishing Hotels on the Taw and Mole

The Highbullen Hotel, Chittlehamholt The Fox and Hounds Hotel, Eggesford The Rising Sun Inn, Umberleigh

Mark Lloyd

Chief Executive, Angling Trust

Tel: 01769 540561 01769 580345 01769 560447

Salmon spawning gravels in the chalk streams
of Southern England and their impact on egg survival.

In recent years declines in Atlantic salmon numbers and catches have given cause for concern in many of the southern chalk rivers. Several potential causes for such changes have been suggested, including factors operative in both the marine and freshwater phases of the life of the salmon. There is, however, a strong viewpoint that problems at the early freshwater stages could be of major significance.

Whilst the composition and quality of salmon spawning areas have been reasonably well studied in North America, in the UK there have been very few published investigations in the UK on gravel composition that is suitable for Atlantic salmon.

Over most of the stream beds of the chalk rivers of Southern England, the gaps between the larger gravels are filled by finer sediments and in many places, there is an overlying blanket of sand or silt, often associated with growths of aquatic plants. There is a seasonal cycle of low-flow (spring/summer) sediment deposition followed by high-flow (autumn/winter) wash out. In general, by the time that salmon spawn (normally December onwards), the shallower, faster flowing reaches of river which they select for redd construction will have been swept free of fine sediment by the seasonal increases in discharge. In addition, the female fish disturb the gravel and, in the process, winnow away clogging interstitial material. In normal conditions this redd construction creates an open structure which persists for sufficient time to permit adequate irrigation of the egg pockets by flowing, oxygenated water, thus promoting egg development and, ultimately, enabling emergence of fry If, however, the flushing flows are inadequate or conversely, if the sediment load is greatly increased, it may be that the areas of suitable spawning gravel are greatly reduced or degraded. In these situations, if the female fish are unable to loosen, excavate and/or winnow redds or the interstices of redds become blocked by fine particles during development and prior to emergence, then the spawning will be a partial or complete failure. In the case of blockage of interstices during development, it is known that when fine (less than 2 mm) sediment is more than 20% by weight and/or less than 1 mm sediment is more than 15% by weight, reduced survival is likely.

Several factors are known to contribute to increases in fine sediment loading of streams. Impacts from abstraction of water, reduced weed growth, forestry operations, enhanced erosion of the land surface, aquaculture e.g. discharge from fish farms and cress beds, poor agricultural practice, etc. are all likely to have detrimental effects on the river’s fine sediment load. Recent changes in agricultural practices are causing particular concern, increased growing of maize as a silage or biofuel crop (a 2,500% increase in acreage over

the last 40 years) and intensification of livestock farming are known causes of increased sediment loads entering rivers.

Several fisheries have historically cleaned areas of gravel where salmonids are known to spawn. With evidence increasingly suggesting that siltation of spawning gravels may be a significant cause in the widespread decline in salmon numbers, (Solomon 1992, Scott and Beaumont 1993) there is now a resurgence of interest in the natural composition and the impacts of cleaning of salmon spawning gravels.

To establish the structure of potential spawning gravels in southern England, a gravel composition survey of sites on the rivers Hampshire Avon, Wylye, Nadder, Dorset Frome and Piddle was carried out. The objective of the study was to compare conditions between and within rivers, to determine the particle size composition of spawning gravels, and to consider the implications of the results obtained on likely salmon spawning success.

To obtain detailed information on gravel bed structure, bed samples need to be collected, as far as is possible, in an undisturbed state. To do this freeze cores were taken of the stream bed. A copper pipe was inserted into the riverbed and 2 litres of liquid nitrogen was gradually poured into the pipe over

a 5-10 min period. The pipe with frozen attached sediment was then withdrawn and laid on a tray to thaw. The tray was partitioned transversely into 100 mm sections to permit depth stratification of the sample.

Gravel cores were collected from the rivers during March, a period when salmonid eggs and alevins would still be present in the gravel and hence the data would be applicable to their survival. Cores were taken either from areas of known salmon spawning activity or from areas where salmon were known to have spawned in previous years but actual redds were avoided. In all cases the extreme margins of the river were avoided.

Sediment analysis was carried out by washing the gravel through a succession of sieves. Sand indices were calculated for all sites. This index looks at the ratio of coarse to fine sand in a sample and relates it to the probability of a salmon egg surviving to emergence. For this study particle size categories of 2.0 mm to 0.5 mm and 0.5 mm to 0.063 mm have been used for the coarse and fine sand respectively.

The study showed that from the point of view of salmon spawning conditions, all the chalk streams studied had Sand Indices above levels at which reduced emergence of salmon fry may be expected to occur, with even the best river gravels in

the region having reduced emergence expectations. Thus, the level of fines within

the southern chalk streams may be a contributing factor in the recent reduction in numbers of salmon within these rivers.

Any excess of sediment (particularly in late winter-early spring) could further affect hatching potential and perhaps even prevent successful emergence of salmon.

Although a salmon may spawn successfully in certain types of gravel, it does not follow that the gravel will give good survival rates for the eggs and alevins. Studies have shown that when salmon spawn in gravel with a high percentage of fine material present, egg survival was below 10% compared with around 60% in good gravels.

Further studies were carried out on effectiveness of gravel cleaning. This process uses water jets to flush the fine sediment out of the gravel to allow good survival of the eggs. This management was found to be both effective at increasing egg survival, giving an 8-fold improvement in egg survival, and for the effectiveness to last at least two years.

Of course, the quantity and quality of spawning gravels are only two factors in the complex life history of the salmon. However, unlike problems that occur in the marine environment, mitigating measures can be taken to improve gravel condition and alleviate this aspect of the problems that beset these keystone species.

W. R. C. Beaumont

Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT)

Our ever changing catchments and the sewage treatment problem.

Many of the rivers and streams in the West Country fail the standards set by the EU Water Framework Directive due at least in part to high phosphate levels entering the water. Modelling, mapping and monitoring of a river usually highlight three sources: farming, both point source from slurry and manure stores but also

diffuse, from across the land and riverbanks; septic tanks from small hamlets and individual properties and sewage treatment works (STWs). Apportionment studies from across the region show that the split between the three is locally variable, but in general around 50%, plus or minus 20%, is from agriculture and the balance from sewage treatment.

As you know Westcountry Rivers Trust has worked with farmers over the years to try to reduce agricultural loadings. This is having some impact where we can

secure infrastructure grants and improvements in land management. In some of our catchments we have seen reductions in nutrient loadings and increases in invertebrates and fish populations, but that still leaves the other side of the problem, namely sewage treatment.

Over the years our small rural sewage treatment works have been pushed outside their original design specifications as increasing population has led to increased housing development. This, coupled with changing weather patterns, misconnections, where clean roof and road water is getting into the sewerage system and a reduction in the permeability of our towns and gardens as people pave over their land, is reducing STWs capacity to treat waste. It is therefore not surprising that the effectiveness of individual STWs is called into question in terms of their contribution to phosphate loading within our rivers. This is in addition to other chemicals and pollutants that may make it through the treatment process.

At the Trust we have always tried to operate through evidence and consensus, which is why we are gathering more and more data on our
rivers in order to pinpoint the problems and provide sufficient data to
hold polluters to account. This is why we have also set up citizen
science programmes and invested in monitoring kit that can be deployed upstream and downstream of any problem area. These efforts have allowed us to highlight the problems as well as develop solutions. This does not always mean the best option is the end of pipe solution of a multi-million pound facility, although in places with significant development this is exactly what is required. The solution needs to be defined by the scale of the problem in relation to the rest of the river.

An alternative option that exists alongside formal treatment is the creation of constructed wetlands to take final discharges. This is currently being used successfully in the east of England. Where space permits this option has been shown to be effective, but correct design is essential. Another option is to work with the communities that use the STWs to prevent clean water getting into sewage systems, to hold back flood water and stop it overwhelming these systems and to reduce the amount of phosphate products used by householders. The final option involves reducing other loadings to bring the total loadings in an area under the legal limit. Whatever option is taken though, there needs to be an increased openness and honesty led by community monitoring, if we are to truly deal with these failures on our rivers.

Laurence Couldrick,

CEO, Westcountry Rivers Trust

CATCHING THE ENIGMATIC TAW SEA TROUT

The sea trout is often regarded as an enigmatic fish by anglers. It
is a very close cousin to the Atlantic Salmon and appears to have
a similar lifestyle. The sea trout is in reality a sea-run brown trout
that starts its life in freshwater before it smolts and descends to
the sea in the May of each year. However, in truth we know far
less about the sea trout than we do about salmon. No one really knows where these juvenile fish go to feed and grow. The accepted wisdom is that they chase shrimp, sand eels and capelin in waters around the coasts of the Celtic Sea and grow quickly before returning to the river of their birth in the years that follow. They are by nature a rather secretive fish, running the rivers in the dark hours and the best time to catch them on the fly is probably at night when they are up on the fin and at their most active.

Across Devon and Cornwall the sea trout is colloquially termed a “peal”. On the Taw the smaller fish that appear in large numbers in June, July and August are called “school peal” or “harvest peal” and the bigger fish in the 2 to 6 pound bracket are “peal” or “salmon-peal” in old parlance. Any fish above the 6 pound mark is termed a “pug”, a term coined by the old salmon estuary netsmen to describe these deep and powerfully built fish. If you are lucky or skilful enough catch a 6 pounder or anything bigger, then you will have done well because it’s a very good fish indeed. The Taw regularly produces big sea trout; the biggest in recent years caught by a salmon angler on the main stem was over 16 pounds – a monster. A big fresh August hen of over 14 pounds was also caught on the Mole in 2016, but every year double figure fish are taken and a good smattering of 7- 9 pounders regularly succumb to night anglers.

So how do you go about finding a taking sea trout on the Taw system? Well the first thing to realise is that the fish start to run the river far earlier than most people imagine. Some of the big fish start to appear in late April and continue to trickle into the system

thoughout May. These fish often run hard and can be found well up on the Upper Taw and Mole. I have seen sea liced peal caught at night at Wampford Bridge on the Mole in the second week of May. On the Taw night fishing operations normally commence in earnest at the beginning of June. The runs of fish really start to build and by the third week of June good numbers of peal will be present throughout the main stem and well above the junction. Night time temperatures will have warmed and stabilised and with a bit of luck, warm and gentle South Westerlies will blow, thus encouraging the fish to be in a taking mood. Rather like salmon, the truth is that fresh run fish will more readily take the fly than the

older residents. But fishing a fining river after a small summer spate will pep things up and often produce great results.

Sea trout will lie up in sheltered water and deep shaded pools during the day, but will become more active as the light values change at dusk. When the river is low, anglers fishing at night will often hear fish in the riffles as they move from pool to pool. Sometimes these new arrivals will settle in a pool and then become ready takers. At times you can intercept running fish at the heads of the pools but more of that later. It is generally accepted that in settled conditions as the darkness deepens and night draws in the peal will become more active. Some will decide to run upstream, but those that have stopped to rest will often move from their daytime hiding places to take up positions in the deeper glides and pool tails. They will often lie together as a loose shoal or you may find a smattering of individuals distributed through the pool, but when there is a bright moon peal will seek the shelter of the gloom provided by overhanging trees and bankside vegetation. When conditions are good you will often see or hear peal swirling and moving or jumping with a very distinctive “ker-plosh”. An encouraging sound that is always good for morale.

Let’s talk a little about tackle, flies and tactics. Given that the Taw is essentially fly only, you’ll need a nine and a half to ten foot fly rod rated AFTM 6 or 7. A good quality fly reel with a properly working drag and floating line to match. A good reservoir or still water trout set up will suffice admirably.

Depending on your level of expertise or approach you may want to pack a couple of medium or fast sink versi-tips or poly-leaders if you should wish to fish deep in the pots later in the night. Use10lb BS leaders of 9 to 10 feet in length – anything lighter and you are asking for trouble. Peal at night aren’t generally line shy. You should aim to travel light, there is no need to festoon yourself with vests, pockets and gismos. Wear chest waders if you can because they will allow you to wade deep and manoeuvre in the pool when required. Wear a warm jacket with big pockets into which you can deposit licence, fly boxes, leader material, nylon clippers, spare torch et al. Take a net – a small Gye net or other suitable alternative is a must. A hat with a peak or wide brim helps and a modern LED powered head torch is essential; make sure it has a red-light function. By turning away from the river, you can use the red light to change flies and undo the inevitable tangles and most importantly the red light won’t spook the fish and ruin your night vision. Never, ever, shine a white light on a pool at night – you will kill the fishing.

Many anglers are happy to stick with the more traditional fly patterns such as Silver Invicta or Butcher and so on, but these days many anglers also fish modern flies that are bigger by comparison

and of substantially different appearance. I have real confidence fishing slimly tied Black and Silver Snakes, Waddingtons or tubes of anything between an inch and two inches in length on the point. There are those who say that fishing a dropper increases the chances of tangling and they are probably right. However, there are a lot of anglers who do fish a dropper because it works for them. My fishing friends and I use black and silver stoat’s tail and hair wing butcher variants, tied on size 6 or 8 low water salmon singles on the dropper and we catch a substantial proportion of our fish on them.

Let us assume you have secured your beat for the night. It is late June, the evening is settled, warm and there is good cloud cover. Having checked the Bye Laws the first thing to do is arrive early when it is still light, stow your kit in a safe place and conduct a recce. Stay well back from the river and Identify the pools, pool tails and glides that might hold fish. Also check those hazards that might affect your casting and those areas where a switch or roll cast might be useful. Take note of the access points and routes because the river will become a different place when darkness falls. As the dusk deepens and the bats appear you might wish to start by having a cast or two in the riffles at the heads of the pools. This is often the place to intercept running fish and there is always a chance of encountering a resident salmon in the oxygenated water. You will find that your eyes will adjust to the gloom and when the dusk deepens and all becomes a darker uniform grey, switch your fishing effort to the glides and pool tails. Make your way gently into the water and cast downstream at a forty five degree angle under the far bank, put in an appropriate mend and work your flies back across the river with a gentle series of pulls or a slow figure of eight retrieve. Fish your cast out, take a long pace and cast gain. Remember, you are searching for that taking fish and always fish right down to the very tail of a pool. Peal will often lie in amazingly shallow water at night.

In the wee small hours you may feel the river has gone dead. The peal  may have stopped showing and gone down and all is quiet. This is the
time to change tactics. Put on a quick sinking poly leader and short tippet; team it with a big fly and start searching the deeper parts of the
pools. Fish the fly with a slow retrieve and concentrate on getting the fly right down. This method often delivers surprising results. However, as the eastern sky starts to lighten it will be time to switch back to the floater and concentrate on the glides and pool tails before dawn heralds the end of your fishing.

A peal will take your fly in a variety of ways. Sometimes you will feel a fish pluck at your fly, but not take. Take a step back and cast to the same place again, a fresh fish will more than likely have another go. Sometimes the pulls are savage, sometimes the fly just stops dead and sometimes the fly feels as if it has gone peculiarly light in the water. No matter, the response should be the same.

Don’t strike per say, but rather lift the rod firmly and pull down on the line in your other hand. Tighten into the fish and hopefully the fireworks will begin. The wonderfully exciting thing about night-time peal fishing is that you never know what is coming next. It could be a feisty school peal, but equally it could be an eight pounder fresh from the tide. On feeling the hook there’s a good chance that the fish will immediately take to the air and then run and then jump again. Fights can be spectacular and heart-stopping – a big peal will change direction in an inkling, so be warned – but weather the initial storm and things will calm down. Sooner or later you will be able to draw your prize into the net and with beating heart and shaking hands saviour one of angling’s great triumphs and admire one of our most enigmatic game fish – before doing it all again.

Oh and by the way, a word of warning. Once you try night- time peal angling it can become seriously addictive.

Ian Blewett

RTFA Committee Member

River Taw Fisheries Association Committee

Chairman Secretary Treasurer

Lower Taw Upper Taw

River Mole

Alex Gibson George Marsh Richard Nickell

Simon Hillcox
Mark Maitland-Jones

Simon Phillips John Smith Peter Tyjas

Andy Gray John Macro Chris Taylor

Associate Members’ Representative Ian Blewett*
IT Adviser Bryan Martin* Newsletter Editor Judith Kauntze* Torridge Representative Paul Ashworth*

* Non-voting Members

RTFA – FIT FOR THE FUTURE?

Alex Gibson asked me to contribute this article to your Newsletter because of concerns about whether RTFA is up to speed constitutionally. Nevertheless it is with some temerity that I write as a very new (2018) Associate Member of RTFA. This article reflects my experience gained over 14 years serving the 20 individual river

associations in the South West and as a Committee Member on the Exe, Fowey and Teign Associations. The views expressed are mine alone.

In common with most of the river associations in the South West, RTFA started life as a Riparian and Fishery Owners’ Association reflecting the direct ownership interests of its leading players. This is apparent in the membership arrangements with two different levels – Full for riparian and fishery owners and Associate for everyone else – as a new rod holder on the Taw I have joined as an Associate Member which means I pay less than for my membership of three other rivers! Does any of this matter?

When I first joined the Exe Association, RETA, its constitution was similar to the Taw’s. It had relatively few members and had been run by the same small group for many years. It changed its constitution to allow anyone with an interest in the river and its fishing to be a full member by the simple addition of the word ‘and anglers’ in its constitution which now includes To represent the interests of riparian owners and anglers of the River Exe and its tributaries. The Committee includes representatives from all parts of the river. There are now 250 individual members each paying £30 pa, many by Standing Order, plus a few corporate members paying varying amounts. The benefits of the changed constitution include:

  1. Better representation of all anglers on the river and reflection of the socio-economic benefits of angling on the river – removal of the old ‘us and them’;
  2. Better basis of influence on the establishment (Defra, Environment Agency, Exmoor National Park, SWW, Angling Trust, IFCA’s, etc);
  3. Better income from a wider base;
  4. Easier fundraising for specific projects, especially when applying for

    public funds;

  5. A bigger pool of potential Committee Members;
  6. More potential volunteers who feel fully involved – now reflected in

    work on Riverfly, juvenile fish surveys, habitat and gravel improvement,

    and cormorant and goosander monitoring and control;

  7. Easier communication with the bulk of the Exe angling community.

This is not to suggest that the RTFA is not a very successful

association – its work on barrier removal and other river improvement schemes, IFCA netting byelaws, siltation and sewage treatment is testament to its success which rivals that of most associations. Indeed RETA is only now following the Taw’s lead on removing barriers to migration. However there is an increasing threat which suggests it’s time for a change – the threat to game angling, especially for salmon and sea trout, posed by the EA’s focus on regulating fishing while doing little to address the real threats to rivers, their fish and hence our fishing.

To be a credible force when dealing with this and all the other threats and to influence the debate it is important to have a strong democratic base – there are still those in power who see us as an anachronistic irrelevant group of rich owners even though our track record of caring for our rivers is in direct contrast to theirs. The continuing reduction in the EA’s ability to fulfil its statutory fisheries duties is increasing the need for us to manage our own rivers for the benefit of all anglers, not just fishery owners. Equally the interests of owners (and I am one on the Exe) are best served by the most effective river associations.

As I said in the opening I wrote this with some temerity and it is with the same temerity that I ask the question – is RTFA constitutionally fit for the future?

Roger Furniss

Former Secretary, South West Rivers Association

End of Season Gathering

The newly refurbished Rising Sun Inn at Umberleigh will be hosting an evening to mark the end of the season on Sunday, 30th September. More details to follow on the website.

To book a table and for further details, please contact

Charles O’Shea on 01769 560447

River Taw Byelaws

Seasons

Salmon 1 March to 30 September Sea Trout & Brown Trout 15 March to 30 September

Methods

Limits

Salmon

Salmon bag limits

Fly fishing permitted all season Spinning permitted until 31 March No other method or bait fishing permitted

No salmon to be retained before 16 June
No salmon greater than 70cms in length to be retained after 31 July

2 fish in any 24 hour period 3 fish in any 7 day period 10 fish in a season

No rod caught salmon to be sold or offered for sale

Sea Trout bag limits 5 fish in any 24 hour period 15 fish in any 7 day period

Brown Trout

40 fish in a season Size limit 25cms

No rod caught sea trout to be sold or offered for sale Size limit 20cms

We strongly recommend

that you practice catch and release wherever you can and release all sea trout under 1lb and above 4lbs

Editor: Judith Kauntze. Email: Judith.Kauntze@btinternet.com

River Report

posted in: Game Fishing, Sidebar | 0

Both the Taw and Torridge are at summer levels with little chance of fresh run salmon moving into the river. Big tides might see the odd fish trickle into the lower reaches. Low water seldom deters sea trout that are likely to move into river and move stealthily up river with night fishing the only likely approach likely to succeed.  I had a couple of hours on the middle Torridge at the weekend and tempted several brown trout on small black and silver flies intended for sea trout. The best trout was a fine wild brown of well over 1lb.

There are plenty of quality wild brown trout throughout our local rivers that can give superb sport using dry fly and nymph tactics. Fishing after dark with surface lures or traditional sea trout flies could bring success with big sea trout. The Welsh rivers are heavily fished after dark and some fine sea trout are caught. I am sure that many more big sea trout would be tempted in North Devon if they were targetted at the right time.