Tranquil Torridge Waters

The River Torridge starts its journey close to the Cornish border near Meddon just a short distance from the source of the Tamar and shares many characteristics with this river.

The Torridge meanders through the heart of rural Devon gathering water from various tributaries including the Okement that flows from high on Dartmoor close to the source of its sister river the Taw. The Torridge eventually merges with the Taw in the estuary at Instow.

            Rivers have their own unique characters and as an angler it is a delight to tune into this and become immersed into the ever flowing waters. I fish the Torridge throughout the salmon and trout fishing season that commences on March 1st and concludes on September 30th.

            Each phase of the season is to be savoured from the cold days of early spring when wild daffodils decorate the banks to those mellow days of early autumn.

            Little Warham Fishery is middle river nestled in a tranquil valley close to the village of Beaford. I joined Fly Culture Editor in Chief Pete Tyjas the day after midsummers day to target the wild brown trout that thrive within this beautiful stretch of river.

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            After a long dry spring the river was showing its bones an all too familiar sight in recent seasons that have blighted the salmon anglers hopes. There were undoubtedly a few salmon and sea trout residing in the deeper pools. These fish may well be stirred to take an anglers fly when welcome rain falls to wake them from their slumber.

            Anthony and Amanda moved to Little Warham five years ago when my wife and I joined them on a delightful June evening. https://www.northdevonanglingnews.co.uk/2017/06/25/little-warham-fishery/

They have worked hard in those five years nurturing the river banks and restoring the farmhouse to provide stunning self-catering holiday accommodation.

http://littlewarhamfishery.co.uk/accommodation/

Despite visiting the fishery five years ago this was my first trip to the fishery armed with a rod and I was eager to share a day’s fishing with Pete. Pete had visited the river several years ago when it was still owned by Terri Norton Smith. After a quick chat with Anthony, I bundled my gear into Pete’s four wheel drive and we set off for the river. A long and bumpy farm track eventually took us to a shaded anglers car park within the woods above the river.

            It was at this point that I realised that I had left my camera, polaroids and hat on the front seat of my car back at the farm house. Fortunately, Pete had a spare hat and my phone would be adequate as back up to the camera.

            We gathered our tackles and descended down the steep steps to the fishing hut  depositing our lunch boxes and water. We placed our rods upon the rack beneath the hut and climbed the rustic steps. The veranda of the hut has a couple of seats on which to rest and admire the splendid view.

The inner confines are as a fishing hut should be retaining a timeless feel that has been shared by many generations of anglers. Above the fireplace is an etching of a salmon on a plank of wood. Testament to a salmon of 33lb, part of a catch of six salmon totalling 107lb made in April close to 100 years ago.

            Pete and I chatted about the Torridge its history and challenges faced by the river and its salmon. Some of this chat may well be broadcast via the popular Fly Culture Pod cast.

            The Torridge has inspired several authors over the years most famous of these is undoubtedly Henry Williamson, his books ‘Tarka the Otter’, ‘Salar the Salmon’ and ‘A Clear Water Stream’ weaving a rich tapestry of descriptive prose.  Lemon Greys classic fishing book ‘Torridge Fishery’ tells of the fishing above Little Warham and is a worthy book for any salmon angler’s library. Charles Inniss’s book ‘Torridge Reflections” published in 2012 is a delight to read reflecting on Charles years on the river at the Half Moon Inn. The poet Laurette Ted Hughes was also inspired by the Torridge and his work is celebrated in ‘The Catch’ by Mark Wormald, published in 2022.

            Pete and I were both keen to head for the river and set off to fish the upper beat above  the hut on  Anthony’s advice. We both set up with a duo set up a large bushy dry fly beneath which was suspended a small nymph pattern.

The river was showing its bones

            The Torridge is a peaceful river running much of its length far from roads or rail unlike the Taw that is flanked throughout most of its length by both. The summer valley was filled with birdsong as we approached carefully navigating through the lush green summer foliage. It had rained the previous night and the river had we were told risen by less than two inches. There was perhaps a slight tinge of colour but it was difficult to tell as the Torridge is never crystal clear like its sister river the Taw. We were hopeful that this slight influx of fresh would stir the trout to feed but the fish do not always read the script.

            With the river running so low we both agreed that the best areas to target would be the faster running riffles and runs where oxygen levels would be enhanced. This faster water also gives discerning trout less time to inspect our offerings.

            A flash of electric blue flashed past above the twinkling water. The sight of a kingfisher however fleeting always lifts the spirits an image that cannot be adequately painted with words. Damsel flies were also abundant hovering above the river and alighting on the riverside cow parsley its delicate white flowers punctuating the vivid greenery of mid-summer.

            The sun was beating down from a cloud free blue sky and we looked for shady lies to cast our flies. Pete wandered further upriver; I extended a line but was irritated to find I had missed out a rod ring when threading the line. A few minutes or two of retackling resolved the issue and at last I managed to put out a line on the water.

            The buoyant bushy dry fly bobbed down on the surface a tiny nymph suspended beneath. I focussed intently expecting the fly to disappear at any second as a trout seized the nymph below. I worked slowly upriver searching the water without early success.

            I snagged a high tussock of grass on the back cast just as the fishery owner Anthony appeared to witness my incompetence. Anthony was accompanied by his four year old son, Brook was fascinated by the mysteries of the water’s edge. I helped him to turn stones in the search for life whilst Pete chatted with Anthony about their first five years at Little Warham.

            After this short interlude our quest continued. My fishing rhythm eventually arrived after a slow start. Casting a 3-weight and tiny flies was a stark contrast to the large pike flies I had been casting two days before on the vast Chew Valley Lake.

            Casting into the head of a shallow run the dry fly disappeared and I lifted the rod to feel the thrilling pulse of life on the line. In a second or two it was gone a small trout that had brought a welcome slice of optimism.

            The morning drifted by as we waded the river searching and reading the water as we savoured the summer river.

            By midday we had covered the upper beat and decided to return to the fishing hut for a snack and a cool drink. As we walked the river bank we talked of fishing, of cricket and of people we knew.

            Back at the hut it was good to take a break savouring the summer views from the open porch. The  Torridge flows beneath the fishing hut through a long deep pool where it is easy to imagine salmon and sea trout resting. On the opposite bank a tall coniferous forest towered high whilst at the rivers edge mighty oaks dominate casting welcome shade across the pools. We discussed the trout’s apparent reluctance to feed reminiscing on the many excuse’s anglers concoct when the fish refuse to play the game. A bright hot summers day with a North East wind was always going to be a challenge.

A summers day work

            The afternoon would surely bring its rewards. We picked up our rods and strolled down towards the bottom of the beat.  A long shady run beneath a wooded bank took our fancy and whilst Pete headed towards the tail I started midway flicking out the trusty duo.

            The fly disappeared, I lifted the rod and the light rod flexed in my hands. The small wild brown leapt from the river and battled gamely for a few moments. The barbless hook slipped from its jaws and I admired its beauty for a moment before allowing it to swim back from whence it had come.

            The river tumbled from pool to pool cascading over rocky ridges into deeper pits. Long shallow riffles and slowly swirling eddies. The steep wooded banks and dense vegetation creating a rich habitat. Throughout the day we continued to catch welcome glimpses of kingfishers as they streaked past.

            The hot sun beat relentlessly into the valley. Climbing up and down the banks and pushing through high vegetation perspiration dripping from my forehead reminded me of a jungle movie scene. With a throbbing head I recognised the early symptoms of heat stroke and set off for the fishing hut and a cool drink of water.

Always pause to admire the colours lights and shades of the day

            I found Pete fishing beneath the overhanging tree canopy where he had spied rising fish. I wished him well and went on my way to the hut.

            After a cool drink I wandered back to find Pete stood mid river. Izaak Walton ended his classic book the ‘Compleat Angler’ with the phrase “Study to be Quiet” a phrase that is said to embody the philosophy of tranquillity and solace in angling. It was a pleasure to watch Pete’s skill at casting a delicate line across the water emersed within a kaleidoscope of reflections.

Emersed within a kaleidoscope of reflections.

            Anthony who had been cutting the grass appeared at my side and we both watched as Pete gave a commentary on the fish he had spied rising quietly under the shady bank. He had stood quietly observing and merging into the river scene. Numerous dry flies had been tried without success. After each offer to the trout, he had rested the water totally focussed upon deception. A dimple upon the surface and a tell tale ring. Pete’s line glided out the fly alighting on calm waters to drift over the fading rings. A swirl, a curse. Twice more the fish was tempted and escaped the hook! Pete reluctantly wound the line onto his reel and slowly waded towards us. Once again the water was broken by the rising fish. Pete caught the movement in the corner of his eye and stopped. Carefully he worked out the line and took careful aim dropping the dry fly precisely. The delightful moment of deception was followed by a flurry of spray. The rod pulsed and bended as the fish dashed for freedom.

It was soon safely in the net a beautiful wild brown trout with red and black speckled flanks of olive and bronze. At around a pound it was a wonderful prize earned by slowing down, observing and applying a large degree of patience and stealth.

            As we walked back to the car I spied a rising fish but with throbbing head and creeping nausea I knew that the fish would have to wait for another day.

A Fish of Dreams

 

 I have been visiting Chew Valley Lake on a fairly regular basis since it opened to pike angling on a limited basis in October 2001. Since those early days the lake has built on its reputation for producing huge pike and I have long dreamt of catching one of these huge fish.

Whilst I have tempted several twenty pound plus pike on lures and dead-baits during the annual pike trials my most successful days have come whilst fishing with the fly. My best pike being a fish of 27lb 12oz caught on a fly in April 2008.

27lb 12oz pike from April 2008

Spring time from late March through until late June and September are the months I try to visit with the fly rod. During the warmer months of summer pike are potentially  susceptible to stress with water temperatures high and weed growth extensive.

On each visit to this vast 1200 acre lake there is the knowledge that the pike of a life time could be just a cast away. The desire to catch the elusive thirty pound pike has resulted in many years of heartbreak for dedicated specimen hunters who visit the lake year after year enduring many blank trips and days when just jacks seize the bait, lure or fly.

I have always enjoyed fishing the lake and whilst I always hoped to catch the monster I generally just enjoyed the fishing. The lake has an abundance of wildlife and the vast sheet of water always provides a spectacular back drop throughout the seasons.

On June 18th, 2022 my luck was to change when I fished the lake with my good friend Steve Dawe. As is often the case when catching a big fish there was a big slice of luck involved with circumstances combining to bring about success. Several big pike had already been landed earlier in the season. Bruce Elston a long time fishing companion boating a huge pike of 33lb 13oz in May. Steve and I booked a boat for June 14th and were looking forward to a day on the lake despite the forecast of hot sunny weather. The afternoon before I received a call from Bristol Water to say that due to staff shortages they would have to cancel all of the boats. They offered us alternative dates of the following Friday or Saturday. The only day that both Steve and I could make was the Saturday so on Saturday morning I met Steve at the fishing Lodge for 8:00am.

We steamed out onto a flat calm lake beneath a dark and cloudy sky. This was perhaps our first stroke of luck. The previous day had been the hottest day of the year so far with temperatures into the high twenties. The cancelled day on Tuesday had also been hot and sunny. These conditions seemed far more conducive to the search for pike.

As we steamed out we talked of the Chew Valley giants and of the lake’s history and the expectation that always lingers. There is much talk of the pressure of fishing for these pike yet when you steam out you realise that this is a vast body of water and locating pike is not always guaranteed. Add to this that the pike needs to be feeding and you soon appreciate that finding a big pike is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Basing location on previous experience and instinct we headed for a favoured area and commenced a drift. At first there wasn’t a breath of wind to move the boat. We knew that this was to be short lived as the forecast gave a strengthening northwest wind.

As predicted within half an hour the wind picked up and the drogue was employed to slow the drift. An hour into the trip and we had not had a pull or seen a follow. After five minutes of starting a drift I observed a boat that I thought we would drift closer to than we would like. This was perhaps the key stroke of luck. I pulled in the drogue and motored fifty yards closer to the shore. As we set off on a new drift I noted that the boat we had moved to avoid had motored elsewhere!

We need not have moved but this new drift line proved to be fruitful beyond our wildest dreams. A few minutes into the drift the line was jerked tight as something big hit my fly. There was nothing I could do initially as what was undoubtedly a big fish surged away stripping line from the reel. I tend to play fish hard and piled on pressure as soon as I could. The fish circled the boat fortunately on a long enough line to miss the drogue that hung behind the drifting boat. The fish made repeated powerful runs against maximum rod pressure. We both knew that this was a big fish but were still shocked when we eventually glimpsed the magnificent creature in the water.

At this moment the wire trace seems worryingly thin. This is the fish of dreams; how good is the hook hold? Fear and anxiety play on the mind for these vital final moments of drama. Steve sank the net beside the boat and I coaxed the pike closer until it was over the net. Steve lifted and I gave a shout of triumph; YES !!!!

A warm shake of hands in celebration of shared success.

I held the net as Steve prepared the unhooking mat dousing it in cold water. The scales were readied and weigh sling set up. Both cameras were switched on in readiness. I lifted the pike from the water shocked at its weight. I slipped the barbless 6/0 from its jaws and lifted the fish from the net. I rested the huge fish onto the weigh sling and allowed Steve to witness the weight. The reading fluctuated between 42lb and 43lb so subtracting 4lb for the weigh sling the weight of the pike was a minimum of 38lb.

38lb Pike
The successful fly at the end of the day with fourteen pike wear and tear
38lb pike

I cradled the fish briefly for a couple of photos then held the fish in the water for a few moments. I released the fish when I felt it was ready and watched as it sank slowly before swimming strongly away coming to the surface just in front of the boat to disappear with a defiant swish of its tail.

Such moments in a fishing life always seem slightly surreal. To catch early in the day is perfect as for the remainder of the day you can just bask in the reflection of success. There is of course the knowledge that the conditions are good and that just maybe another big pike will succumb.

We had several more drifts in the same area catching numerous jacks of between 3lb and 4lbs. Even these small pike give a surprisingly good account on fly tackle.

We tried drifts around various areas of the lake finding a few jacks at each location often at the edge of deeper water where weed growth provided some cover.

It was good to note large numbers of swifts swooping over the water feasting upon the prolific fly life that helps make this a superb trout water.

Pike 16lb 5oz

We returned to the area that had produced the big pike and after a couple of drifts I was pleased to add a 16lb 5oz pike to the days tally. This was followed by Steve hooking into a fish that powered away stripping line form the reel at such an alarming rate that Steve feared he would run out of line. I pulled in the drogue just in case we had to follow and was relieved to see Steve’s backing knot approaching the rod tip. After several more powerful runs a large pike eventually appeared beside the boat was soon safely within the waiting net. At 20lb 5oz it was a best on the fly for Steve and cemented a highly successful day.

Steve with is 20lb 5oz pike

We fished on as dark clouds gathered adding a few more jacks and a low double to the total. The tally when we packed up shortly after 6:00pm was 23 pike.  A fine day’s fishing by any standard.  We will be back in the autumn once again to continue chasing dreams and perhaps catching them.

SUMMER TROUT AT WIMBLEBALL

Exmoor looked splendid as I took the winding road to Wimbleball Lake, hills and woods lush and green illuminated by the morning sun.

            It was a delight to load the boat, start the motor and head out for a day on the lake in search of the lake’s renowned trout. I generally fish the boat with a partner but on this trip arranged at the last minute I was fishing solo.

            Each day’s fishing is a blank canvas and the picture will be painted by choices made during the day. Where to fish, tactics to employ all influenced by weather, experience and of course the often unpredictable trout. Playing this fascinating game of chess with nature has been a healthy addiction throughout my life.

            I headed across to Cow Moor Bay and drifted the boat, casting a team of flies into the margin. The occasional fish was rising and I was hopeful that they would start to rise throughout the day as beetles were blown onto the water. Recent reports told of some impressive catches of wild browns and rainbows to dry fly tactics with foam beetle patterns working well.

            After half an hour without a pull I decided to head for the wooded Upton Arm one of my favourite areas of the lake. I chugged along in my boat admiring the lush green woodland. Flocks of Canada geese eyed me from the shore line as I passed.  Old tree stumps showed high and dry exposed like skeletons as the water recedes following yet another long dry spring.

            The Upton Arm its banks shrouded in dense woodland has a unique character of its own. The occasional trout were taking beetles close into the margin and I cut the motor allowing the boat to drift in the gentle breeze. A wild brown of perhaps 12oz seized the dry beetle pattern and gave a spirited account on the 5/wt rod and floating line. I admired the fish in the clear water slipping out the barbless hook without lifting the fish from its environment. These are truly stunning looking wild fish with vivid spotted flanks.

            Another brown of close to a pound followed taking a coch-y-bonddu wet fly on a dropper. The occasional larger rainbow were slurping down dries but seemed hard to tempt.

            By now there was little breeze and white fluffy clouds were drifting across the brilliant blue summer sky. The haunting call of a cuckoo drifted across the lake. I glimpsed fish cruising in the crystal clear water and savoured the moments pouring a sweet coffee from the flask and enjoyed a snack. Its moments like these that endure in the memory on those cold winter days and when life is on one of its down turns.

            A rainbow of  perhaps two pounds sucked down my foam beetle and gave a good account on the light outfit.

            Whilst the occasional fish continued to rise it was no frantic hatch and I felt that the majority of fish were not rising. Changing tactics slightly I switched to my 7/ wt rod and a team of flies with a slow sinking booby on the point with a coch-y-bonddu wet fly on the dropper. A good fish was cruising a few feet off the margin and I watched intently as it approached my flies. The line twitched and I pulled tight to feel that pleasing resistance and a flash of flank as the fish reacted in the clear water. The fish took off for deep water testing the tackle, powered by its full tail. The fish would probably have pushed the scales towards 4lb. I captured an image of the fish in the net before releasing it. With warming water and hard fighting fish it is vital to net the fish quickly and release with only minimal time out of the water. Fishing alone I chose to take no self-portraits with the fish.

            On a hunch I changed the tip fly to a bright sunrise blob. I cast this out and allowed it to sink slowly before beginning a slow retrieve. I could see the bright blob in the clear water and watched as a rainbow cruised towards it. I gave a twitch to induce interest and observed the trout’s mouth open and engulf the blob. I stripped the line tight and connected relishing the joy of sight fishing. During the next half an hour two more rainbows succumbed to the same tactics each one hooked by watching the fish take the fly. If I had waited for the line to twitch or feel a pull I would not have caught. A good pair of polaroid’s being an invaluable tool on this occasion.

            The vivid bright sunrise blob seems so out of place and is far removed from any natural food the fish might find. What triggers the response from the trout? Is it curiosity? It’s not aggression as I was not retrieving fast so I can only assume they think its food and need to sample it. There are certainly no hatches of sunrise blob flies to imitate! These nuances make this whole thing so fascinating. Another question could be why did I choose to tie on a bright gaudy fly? To this I would answer that it was a hunch based on previous experience and the old mantra of the salmon angler to use bright flies on bright days.

            Whilst there were a few fish around there is always the nagging thought that there will be more elsewhere and by mid-afternoon this lead me to  leave the sheltered waters of the Upton arm and head for a breezy Cow Moor.

            An hour drifting around Cow Moor brought no action and there were few fish rising so I decided to head for Bessoms.

            The open expanse of Bessom’s and Rugg’s was a total contrast to the intimate wooded Upton Arm. A couple of youngsters were basking in the sun with loud dance music blasting across the lake. I started a drift and after five minutes felt a savage tug as a rainbow of close to four pounds hit the sunrise blob. This was to be the last fish of the day and gave a superb account as most of these Wimbleball rainbows do.

            I fished on until around half past six having a few more casts in Cow Moor before mooring the boat and heading for home. It had been a great day with six rainbows between 2lb and 4b with a couple of stunning wild browns. Whilst the fishing is not always easy its always rewarding and on a summer day Wimbleballs vistas of moorland, woodland and pasture are truly stunning.

BULLDOG CARP FISHERY

            I have been privileged to have been invited to fish the new carp lake at Bulldog Fishery on three occasions in the past twelve months and it has been a pleasure to see it develop into a beautiful venue.

            On my first visit in April 2021 the banks were still a little bare, with no completed swims and vegetation still not  yet flourishing. Despite the cool early spring weather, I was pleased to spot a couple of dark shapes cruising in the clear water and relished the opportunity to try and tempt these fish that had not yet endured much angling pressure.

Swallows and Martins were swooping above the water in profusion and I was thrilled to once again see these harbingers of summer after a bleak winter of COVID lockdowns.

            On this first trip I was delighted to catch a 27lb 8oz mirror carp and a very colourful 16lb koi.

            I returned again in August to find most of the swims now completed and lakeside rushes starting to grow to give the lake a more natural feel. As always I was given a warm welcome by father and son team Nigel and Tom Early. On this occasion I was to fish a twenty four hour session.

            The session got off to an encouraging start with a mirror carp of 8lb tearing off as I erected my bivvy. A couple of hours later a common of 12lb 3oz graced the net.

            As the sun dipped below the horizon I relished the reflections in the lake and the peace and quiet of this lush wooded valley. I lost a good fish in the fading light when the hook pulled and hooked two more big fish as darkness fell.

            The night was still and quiet with the occasional splosh as big fish rolled sending ripples out across the lake.

            As daylight broke a couple of bleeps resulted in a bream of 6lb 6oz.

            At half past seven as the early morning sun shone through illuminating the lake. Bullrushes reflected in the water, early morning mist slowly rising from the calm waters. The kettle started to whistle and then a screaming bite alarm. Minutes later I was cradling a pristine 16lb mirror carp in the morning light.

            Skeins of geese flew above silhouetted against a brilliant blue sky. A heron glided up the valley its wings pulsing rhythmically  like a prehistoric bird. I watched all of this and noted in my diary. “This sure beats working”.

            Late May 2022, Nigel and Tom invited me to a carp fishing social weekend event and I was delighted to attend  for a few hours on the Saturday afternoon into evening. On arrival at the lake, I was surprised to hear that just one carp had been tempted.

            This was to change over the coming hours however as the lake came to life in dramatic fashion. I settled into the deep corner of the lake where Chris Connaughton had already got a few fish interested in floaters. I put a bait in the margin to my right and catapulted out a steady stream of floaters. Eventually the occasional fish could be seen slurping down baits and after an hour or so I put out a floater set up.

            After a few close calls the water eventually erupted as a carp hooked itself against the heavy controller. After a spirited tussle a mirror carp of 18lb was safely netted. At the same time on the opposite bank, I noted another carp being netted by Thomas Rushby

            Food was due just after 7.00pm so with other things to attend to that evening I packed away my gear and loaded it into the car. I returned to the lake to chat with fellow anglers.

            The sound of a bite alarm rang out and Thomas Rushby lifted his rod to commence battle with what appeared to be a good sized fish. We gathered around to watch the tussle and offer encouragement. After a few tense moments the fish a handsome common carp was safely in the net and a weight of 27lb 2oz was recorded. After a few images were captured the carp was lowered back into the lake to swim back into the calm waters.

            I took the opportunity to learn a bit more about the complexities of modern carp fishing. The intricacies of zyg-rigs and application of washing lines to tempt the wily carp.

            During the next hour Chris Connaughton banked a brace of fine mirror carp. Nigel delivered a delicious tray of roast pork and potatoes. That were washed down with a few cool drinks as tales of fishing were swapped.

            I left the lake as the sun set wandering what more secrets would be unlocked during the next twelve hours or so.

These are a few additional images kindly provided by Chris Connaughton.

            Bulldog Carp Lakes are due to open sometime this year and will undoubtedly offer another excellent venue for North Devon’s carp angling fraternity.

A brace of carp on the fly rod

A warm breeze with high clouds drifting across the late Spring sky. Bird song filled the air and the countryside has reached that moment in time when everything is lush, fresh and vibrant.
It is always good to escape to the water’s edge and a few hours was all I could manage for this visit to Bideford Angling Clubs carp lake. Karen’s lake opened in June 2019 and has matured into a wonderful lake in the three years that have followed.

https://www.bidefordanddistrictanglingclub.com

Steve Bailey, Jude Gubb- Bideford Town Council, Paul Carter E.A, Karen Slade, Pete Skinner

Bideford Club Opens – Karens Lake


In fact, looking back at the opening day pictures it was a similar day to that on this recent visit.


I had visited the lake a week previously and caught one carp on the surface and with limited time and warm conditions I hoped that surface tactics would again bring rewards.
I catapulted out a few floaters on arrival and set up two sets of gear. A modern floater set up with an artificial dog biscuit and a 7 weight fly rod, floating line and a deer hair dog biscuit imitation.
I sat back and poured a coffee watching the surface for signs of feeding carp. It wasn’t long before there were a few swirls.
With the fish within range of the fly rod it was this option I chose putting the fly out just past the weed where several carp could be seen slurping down the floating baits.
This was exciting visual fishing as the carp cruised in the clear water clearly visible with the help of a good pair of polaroid’s to reduce the surface glare. A couple of fish moved into the left of my swim and I put the fly in amongst the free offerings. A good sized carp swam slowly towards the baits slurping down several of the free offerings before treating my fly with disdain.
Another carp swam purposefully towards the fly. Its orange lips opened, the fly disappeared and I set the hook! The surface erupted as the carp surged away diving for sanctuary. With large weed beds all around I was determined to keep the fish on as short a line as possible and piled on as much pressure as I dared. The 7-wt rod was straining as the reel spun as I attempted to slow the carps first run. It’s surprising just how much pressure you can apply with a fly rod if you have the confidence.
A few tense minutes followed as the tussle ebbed and flowed. The carps bronzed flanks gleaming in the sunlight as I coaxed it towards the waiting net. I breathed a sigh of relief as the fish came over the net cord. I secured the net and ensured that the unhooking mat was wet along with the weigh sling. The scales recorded a weight of 21lb 6oz my biggest carp on the fly.

21lb 6oz Carp on the fly

I was grateful to see two club members arrive at the entrance gate opposite and called them over to capture an image. It is always good to share the joy of success.


After a short break to savour and reflect upon success I continued to put out free offerings. By now the carp were a little more wary and I missed several chances as the fish managed to eject the fly before I could make contact.
I had a few tries with the floater rod further out but by now the Canada geese had got an appetite for floaters and each time I cast the heavy float headed straight for my set up.


The fly rod could be wielded without attracting the geese and I switched back to these tactics partly because of this and because the fly rod was far more exciting and rewarding.
My time was running out as early afternoon arrived and last cast time was approaching and had in fact gone when a couple of fish appeared slurping down a few floaters to my left.
The fly disappeared; the reel sang its song the rod took on an alarming curve and a few minutes later 12lb of mirror carp lay safely in the net.


A brace of carp on the fly is a great morning’s fishing and a reminder that fly fishing is not just a quirky tactic but on its day a very successful one.

Wild Brown Trout Sport at Wistlandpound

After a successful trip to Wistlandpound last week and reports of good sport from other anglers I headed back to the reservoir again. On arrival I met up with Fluff Chucker Rodney Wevill who had travelled up from his home close to Launceston. It was good to meet up with Rodney on his first visit to the picturesque water close to my home in North Devon. We chatted fishing on our way to the water and I was able to give a quick run down of the waters history since I started fishing it in the late 1970’s.

Starting on the South Bank of the lake we commenced putting out a line on the water. We both connected with hard fighting browns within five minutes and admired their spotted flanks and varied hues. I was using a small black lure on the point with a black spider pattern on the dropper. The fish were hitting the point fly and a slow retrieve seemed to be the favoured approach.

Rodney hooked a cracking fish that came off close to the net whilst I was pleased to bring a pristine fish of around 10″ to hand.

Rodney Wevill hooks a good brown

Martins swooped above the lake and birdsong filled the air. It really felt that spring had arrived at last after weeks of predominantly North and East winds.

Rodney with a typical Wistlandpound brown trout

We fished an enjoyable session with Rodney catching eleven browns to just under 1lb. I managed eight fish the best a stunning trout of 15″, Its buttercup flanks dotted with spots of brown, black and crimson.

A stunning trout of 15″, Its buttercup flanks dotted with spots of brown, black and crimson.

These fish though small by commercial fishery standards are a delight to catch offering truly wild fishing at a very reasonable cost. Day Tickets are £11.00 from

https://www.swlakestrust.org.uk/book-now#e

http://www.snowbee.co.uk

Chasing Pike on the Fly

When my good friend Steve Dawe expressed an interest in fly fishing for pike it seemed a good idea to arrange a trip to that mecca of pike fishing Chew Valley Lake. This large expanse of water in Somerset has a well-deserved reputation for producing huge pike. It is also a water that has shattered more dreams than it has made for its rewards are not always easily won.

It’s a venue I love to visit when I get the chance though rising fuel costs are certainly a cause for concern when travelling outside of North Devon in search of fish. We seemed to have struck it lucky when we arrived at the Lodge to look over a flat calm lake. The previous two days had seen all boats cancelled as a result of strong to gale force Northerly winds.

Calm waters on a Spring Morning

Early April is perhaps a little early to target the pike on the fly as they will still potentially be recovering from spawning. May is probably the best month before weed growth and high water temperatures put paid to pike on the fly until September when the water starts to cool again.

We were encouraged by reports of a few pike seen in the weedy margins and decided to head to these areas first. I have enjoyed some success in the past targeting pike on the fly and tend to stick to the flies I have confidence in. Medium sized black lures with perhaps a bit of lure flash added.

Confidence is key to enjoying fly fishing, especially pike fishing with the fly. The allure of Chew is that you know that the next cast could bring the fish of your dreams. Thirty pound plus pike are present with twenty pounders likely. The reality is of course that the majority of pike caught will be jacks. These give exciting sport and help to maintain that interest.

In the first hour the pike were certainly feeding with several hits that resulted in a nice jack to get Steve off the mark. I hooked and lost one and had several follows. Moving into deeper water we had several fish follow the fly to within a few feet of the boat. Some of these were good fish certainly upper doubles maybe bigger. Steve added a second jack to the tally.

Early success for Steve Dawe

By mid-morning the takes dried up a bit and we searched the lakes known hotspots. Each area brought a hit or follow with good sized trout also attacking the large flies from time to time. We both had a brief interlude with the trout gear but our hearts were not in chasing trout we wanted a big pike and soon returned to casting the big flies despite aching arms.

A second jack for Steve

The weather seemed to be going through all seasons with calm conditions early changing to cold and windy later in the day with a brief shower that abated as soon as we got our coats on.

By late afternoon I was starting to contemplate a blank session. I still believed though and persisted. Each move brought a little hope that we could find that big pike that was on the feed.

At just after 5.00pm after eight hours of constant casting I put the boat into a reed fringed bay and put out another cast. The line was jerked savagely tight the rod hooping over and the water surface erupted in a flurry of spray. The pike looked far bigger in the water than the scales would tell. At 12lb 8oz it was no monster but it was reward enough for a long hard day of persistence. Steve captured the image in the late afternoon sun and we fished on for another hour before deciding to pack up with a long drive home ahead of us.

Back at the Lodge we chatted with trout anglers who had been practicing for a big competition over the weekend. They had caught several pike on buzzers whilst fishing for trout. Perhaps we should have scaled down on our big flies! We will hopefully be back in a few weeks when the waters have warmed up a little.

Fluff Chuckers – Brown Trout Bank Day – Colliford

I joined the Fluff Chucker’s group event at Colliford Lake on Saturday March 26th in search of wild brown trout. Cast off for this informal competition was at 9:00am with pre meet at 8:00am.

I arrived on time at the car park to meet with fellow fluff chucker’s who were eagerly debating the day ahead and recent excursions with their fly rods. It was my first visit to this vast lake of 900 acres situated high on Bodmin Moor and my first impression was that it was a little daunting. These fears soon evaporated after chatting with fellow anglers who assured me that the trout were often found close to the margins.

I had undoubtedly been lulled into a false sense of security over recent days of warm sunshine as I had underestimated how cold it was likely to be. Whilst there wasn’t a cloud in the sky a bitter east wind was blowing across the lake creating many white caps.

We all donned our waders and set off shortly before 9.00am eager to cast a line with the majority heading for a bank that gave some shelter from the wind.

The lake is surrounded by ancient moorland with craggy granite outcrops and wind swept stunted trees. Sheep grazed here and there with old stone walls and fences dividing this harsh yet beautiful landscape. The water clarity was good and peat stained resembling the finest malt whiskey.

I approached the water’s edge with a degree of stealth and put out a short line with a small black lure on the point and a black spider pattern on a dropper. As I retrieved and lifted the fly ready to recast there was a swirl in the water and the glimpse of a golden flank. This gave my confidence an immediate boost.

It was however three hours before I actually made contact with one of the resident trout after moving to a bank that was being battered by the strong wind. A pleasing wild brown of 12” bringing welcome reward for my efforts. I had spoken with a few other anglers as I wandered the shoreline and knew that no one seemed to be catching a lot which was not surprising in the conditions.

I wandered back and forth along the shoreline trying different retrieves and searching the water. I had confidence in the flies on my leader and stuck with the tried and trusted.

Success came once again as I stripped the lure to suddenly feel that delightful connection as a good fish hit the fly leaping from the water in a somersault of spray.

I was relieved when a pleasing 15.5” wild brown was safely within my net. After a quick photo and careful measuring the fish was returned and swam strongly away after holding in the cold water for a few moments.

The remaining hour or so was a little frustrating  with four more trout being hooked briefly before shedding the hook.

It was all back to the car park for 5.15pm and the prize giving. The event was generously sponsored by Partridge of Redditch, Yeti, Hooks and Hackles and South West Lakes Trust.

I was delighted to receive the runners up prize for the second biggest fish of the day.

Full results below with thanks to Rodney Wevill who was the events main organiser.

Fluff Chuckers / Partridge of Redditch Brown trout bank event.

Not a great day for pictures at the event today.

Bitter cold easterly winds made it a day of heads down and try very hard to find some fish.

A very good turnout with anglers travelling from North Devon, Somerset and the usual pirates from Cornwall.

The overall winner was Roger Truscott with the longest fish and the most fish caught.

The runners up being Jack Welshman, Wayne Thomas and Jon Allen.

Even though it really wasn’t ideal brown trout weather there was a good amount of fish landed with respectable fish from 13” to 17”.

Fluff Chuckers would like to thank all the anglers that supported the event a great turnout and most importantly the sponsors for their great generosity providing the prizes.

Partridge of Redditch

YETI

Trout Fishing South West Lakes Trust

Hooks & Hackles

South Molton Angling Club – UNDERTAKE CITIZEN SCIENCE

Half a dozen members of South Molton Angling Club attended a  Riverfly count combined with  Westcountry CSI (Citizens Scientist Investigations). https://wrt.org.uk/project/become-a-citizen-scientist/ They enjoyed a Spring day in glorious sunshine beside the beautiful River Bray near Brayley Bridge. The results from both exercises exceeded all expectations with plenty of river life present. https://www.riverflies.org

The discovery of a number of eggs attached to the base of stone raised questions as to their origin. Further enquiries to an expert within the West Country Rivers Trust revealed that they were the eggs of a freshwater bullhead or Millers Thumb that spawn during March and April. These delightful fish are undoubtedly etched upon many minds as small fish caught as children exploring streams and rivers.

Spring Salmon Fishing – Brightly & Weir Marsh on the Taw

After hearing of a fresh run springer of 11lb caught by Tony Watkins on the Weirmarsh and Brightly fisheries on the River Taw  I decided it was time to reacquaint myself with this prime stretch of water above Umberleigh.

The drive to the fishery culminating in a pleasing country lane lined with spring flowers brought back happy and poignant memories of time spent with the late Ron Warwick whose bungalow overlooked the Taw valley and the river that he loved. Visits to many riverside beats and fisherman’s paths rekindle many memories of those we have known through angling and time at the waters edge. It would be impossible for me to fish the Weirmarsh and Brightly Beats without remembering Ivan Huxtable who looked after the fishing and the anglers for many years. Whilst Ivan himself was not an angler he was always very supportive of the angling community and the river. He also raised a huge amount of money for local charity’s including the North Devon Hospice with his regular sponsored walks over Exmoor.

https://www.northdevonhospice.org.uk/news/ivans-terminal-diagnosis-will-make-for-poignant-exmoor-ramble/

I met with fishery manager Chris Steer for a quick and invaluable refresher on the beats and the likely holding lies enabling me to prioritise my efforts when it came to searching the water.

The fishing is split into three beats; Upper, Middle and Lower with the day rotating between beats with changeover at 1.00pm.

I was fishing the Upper and Middle beats both of which boast some stunning Fly water with good holding runs and pools. As Chris explained the likely holding lies, pools and crossing places I struggled to retain much of this valuable information though when I returned to the water with my rod a short time later much of the briefing had undoubtedly sunk in. As I fished methodically downriver I recalled much of Chris’s wisdom in relation to likely taking spots.

Knowledge of these taking spots are invaluable on any salmon fishery and learning where they are can require many decades of fishing. Fortunately, if anglers share their knowledge these hot spots can be passed down through the generations enabling anglers to have a better chance of hooking into that silver prize.

These taking spots do of course change over the years and also change in relation to the river’s height and flow. As salmon populations dwindle this knowledge built up over the generations becomes ever more vital. Whilst the river is constantly changing to a degree some features that create the perfect resting place for salmon remain. Yet learning about catching salmon becomes increasingly difficult as the experience becomes ever rarer.

I took my rod to the top beat at around 10:00am and began swinging a trusty black and yellow pattern across the first run below the railway bridge. I fished down through each pool and run methodically full of anticipation tempered with a degree of realism in that my prize whilst undoubtedly present is scarce.

As spring flowers bloom beside the riverside path, I cannot avoid contemplating the changing times. Many have walked these paths and some of the pools reflect their names and events that have occurred. They may have sat upon the angler’s bench during times of war and trauma. They would perhaps have been reassured by the perpetually flowing water and the changing seasons. If they could perhaps through some miracle revisit they would be saddened and troubled by the demise of the salmon and sea trout along with dwindling numbers of elvers.

The demise of our migratory fish are undoubtedly an indication of the rivers failing health. This should be of concern to all as water is as vital to life as the air we breathe.

Myself and many others marvel at migrations undertaken by swallows, martins, swifts, cuckoos and chiff-chaffs. The sight of that first swallow always brings a sense of joy yet surely the silver salmon is equally important as an indication that all is as it should be?

Imagine the dismay if we could no longer glimpse the swallow as its scythes through the warm  fragrant summer air. Surely we should be equally dismayed if salmon no longer reach our rivers?

Whilst I continually try to raise the many issues that blight our rivers it is perhaps wise to appreciate the wonders that we still have. The river on this Spring day certainly appeared in superb health with clear water and plenty of fry visible in the margins. There were also what I assume were a few olives flitting above the water though no signs of rising trout.

The warm sun beat down upon lush green fields and lambs played friskily as I waded in the cool spring river. It is pure joy to be immersed in this idyllic rural landscape and fishing somehow connects you and slows things down enabling an appreciation that is not possible during a fleeting visit or walk.

Over the years I have observed wildlife at close quarters for as an angler you merge slowly into the scene. If you observe the patience of the heron as it fishes you will notice its slow and deliberate movement. As anglers we should perhaps mimic this unhurried patient approach for there are undoubtedly far more fish in the river than we perceive.

The late great nature writer BB has this quote at the start of his many books; –

“The Wonder of the world, the beauty and the power, the shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades, these I saw.

Look ye also while life lasts.”

 

I recently received a delightful email from Dr M George who has fished the Taw for many years. Dr George  expressed appreciation of the river and the wonderful environment. He had fished the river on the same day fishing further up the system. Over the years Mike has landed many salmon and  sea trout during his weekly visits that are often short sessions focussing on the prime taking spots. He gave a valuable piece of advice in that he always holds the rod very high as salmon take “On the dangle” and hook themselves against the loop in the line. No loop a tug but no fish ! I reflected upon this as I read the email for during my day on the river I had received a strong tug as I lifted the fly to recast. Perhaps if I had just slowed down and given a little slack a silver salmon would have pulsed at the end of my line? As we fish we learn and modify our stance those little amendments can eventually make us better anglers. Many thanks to Dr M George for sending the beautiful images (Below) from the River Taw.

Those who value the River Taw should consider joining the River Taw Fisheries & Conservation Association.

http://www.rivertawfisheries.co.uk/index.html