ANGLING REPORT

Once again as you may not have access to a shop for your Journal here is last weeks report.

TIME TO REFLECT ON THE MYSTERY OF THE EEL

            Whilst angling is on hold the natural world in which we normally cast our lines continues in all its glory. The first swallows and martins have now started to arrive after their epic journey and will be swooping low over the waters we normally fish. Less obvious to many will be the migrations that take place within our waterways as equally wonderous migrations occur.

The elver run should now be underway with many thousands off these small eels arriving in our rivers to forge upstream and populate ponds, rivers, lakes and canals. The eels begin their journey as larvae drifting the ocean currents from the eels mysterious breeding grounds in the Sargasso sea situated within an area of the renowned Bermuda Triangle. It is a sea located within the Atlantic Ocean and is unique in that it has no land boundaries. It is formed and bonded by four currents that form an ocean gyre. Within the sea grows a characteristic brown sargassum seaweed. The waters are renowned for their clarity and yet the spawning of the eels has never been witnessed.

The mysterious life cycle of the eel adds a fascination that has entranced a minority of anglers who seek to catch the large eels that lurk within many waters. The adult eels live in freshwater until they develop an instinctive urge to return once again to the mysterious Sargasso many thousands of miles from our shores. Some eels can remain in freshwater for in excess of fifty years and grow to a weight of over 10lb. A quick search on that wonder of modern times revealed that one European eel was reported to have lived to the grand old age of 155.  Specimen sized eels of over four pounds are an angling challenge that can become an obsession.  They can be found in a vast variety of waters and as they are not stocked and feed mostly at night their presence is only to be ascertained by actually catching them. There are documented cases of eels over 10lb in Devon waters and there are undoubtedly eels present that could shatter the existing British Record of 11lb 2oz.

The eel population has sadly plummeted over recent years and the species is presently classified as endangered. There is a fascinating section on eels in Charles Rangley-Wilsons fascinating book; Silver Shoals, a book that is well worth obtaining during this time of lockdown.

It is now several weeks since any substantial rainfall and the regions rivers are dropping quickly. I spoke recently with Ivan Huxtable who has managed fishing on the popular Weir Marsh and Brightly day ticket salmon fishing beats on the Taw for around thirty years. Ivan has reluctantly decided to hand over the reigns to his good friend Chris Steer who will now issue permits once this pandemic is over. Chris will be contactable on 07761285169. Ivan has eagerly reported many salmon catches to me over the years and always shared in the joy of angler’s success. He told me that he values the many friends he has made within the angling fraternity. Ivan is known to many for his valiant Exmoor Rambles to raise huge sums for local causes including valuable equipment for North Devon District Hospitals Cardiology, Seamoor – Chemotherapy Units and the North Devon Hospice.

Whilst angling is a very low risk activity in relation to COVID-19 the angling community has totally embraced the government guidelines. The message to stay home and Stay safe is clear. Fortunately angling will hopefully bounce back as the waters we fish await largely unaffected.

WORDS ON STRANGE TIMES

These are strange times with our freedoms understandably curtailed. I am very fortunate to live out in the country with a garden and access to open countryside to undertake our daily Boris walk. Nature is all around and is a great source of comfort during these dark days.

For several weeks the wind has been blowing from the North East a cold and uninspiring direction from an angling point of view. The wind has now swung to the South bringing a warmer balmy air that stirs the angler within.

It is difficult as an all round angler to decide what type of fishing I am missing the most. The Fly Fisherman within dreams of drifting a team of buzzers and the moment the line zips tight as a rainbow intercepts. The singing reel and the leaping trout.

Or waiting beside a calm lake absorbing nature as I await the piercing thrill of a bite alarm as a carp bolts after falling for my carefully laid trap.

Wading the river searching for the elusive spring salmon? Flicking dry fly and nymph into a riffle in search of a crimson spotted wild brown trout? Launching a sandeel from the beach in search of spring ray or working a plug for a silver bass.

Frustrating times indeed. In the mean time I have been buying a few flies and have a mission to sort out the chaos of the tackle shed. I really wish I was more organised as I tend to grab fishing time and often return from the water dumping the kit with the intention of sorting in the cold light of day.

Do I really need all of this gear?  An array of lures purchased over many years some of them hosting large barbaric trebles that seem a little excessive. It is perhaps time to declutter.

I am presently reading a book called STRONGHOLD by Tucker Malarkey. The book tells of one man’s quest to save the world’s Wild Salmon – before its too late. Whilst it relates mostly to Pacific salmon there is much to relate to within its pages. Most alarming is perhaps the reference to the demise of the Atlantic Salmon for its clear that what we now have left is a shadow of what we once had. Of this I am very aware following the research I undertook when writing my own book “I Caught A Glimpse”. Which is a good read for the lockdown!

The COVID-19 outbreak is undoubtedly a disaster on many levels but there is perhaps always an upside. Not sure if it’s just my perception but looking up into the night sky the stars seem brighter than ever. Is this a result of the lack of pollution from the many planes that normally leave vapour trails crisscrossing the sky?

The reduction in commercial fishing could give fish stocks a valuable reprieve. Following on from the World Wars fishing often showed a dramatic upturn as fish stocks had recovered. As I said in my previous feature perhaps this is a time to recalibrate.

Our daily walks into the countryside have allowed a time to observe. I have a collection of books by that acclaimed countryside author BB. His prose paints a vivid picture of nature with in depth observation. In some of his writing there lingers a melancholic atmosphere that somehow resounds with me today in these sombre times. Throughout BB’s prose there is a love for nature that gives strength. Most of his books have these simple words in their cover.

‘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.’

Anglers Paradise

What Fishing are you missing most?

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North Devon Angling News readers kindly sent me few images to remind everyone of those better days. I got to thinking what fishing am I missing most?

Sallem Ali – Afine brace of rainbows
Chay Boggis with stunning perch
Dave Richards with brace of rainbows
Andy Facey with good brown trout.
Jeff pierce with pleasing brown trout from the River Torridge
Peter Clarke waits !
Timothy Curtis as the sunsets!

Boobies, Buzzers and Wets the Art of Fly Tying

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Many thank’s to my good friend Jeff Pierce who sent me this short article that demonstrates the Fly Tiers Art.

(Above) Amazing poppers, Jeff ponders that they would be good for Bass & Pike, tied by Stack Scoville USA

Fly tying is a fascinating & most absorbing hobby in its own right, but made even more hypnotising when you catch your first fish on a fly you tied. That’s when it takes on a whole new dimension, the obsession of outwitting the trout not only on the water but on the vice, in the comfort of your own home. Blending, colours & textures of natural & synthetic materials together to match the hatch & fool the fish, trust me you’ll be immersed in no time, not to mention being buried in fly tying materials & hooks! Or to the uninitiated, creating an imitation of fish food by wrapping feathers, hair & synthetic sparkly materials to a hook, hoping it will fool a fish to take it…

Stuart Smith Scotland a true work of art recon’s Jeff!
Fabien Moulin, beautiful wets!

A favourite sea trout fly
A blinged up north country spider
Buzzer selection
Jeff’s own boogie selection
Boobies et al.

Looking for stories?

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With fishing off the agenda there is little to report on North Devon Angling news but with everyone at home I wondered if anyone would like to take on a challenge. Several who have read my book, “I Caught A Glimpse” have commented on how it brought back memories of early days at the waters edge and how our paths have been similar.

Its not easy staying at home away from the waters edge so I thought it would be good if a few readers could take half an hour to recall your earliest angling memories from North Devon. If you could send me your contributions via email or messenger ideally with an image I will have a read through and publish.  [email protected]

Of course if your at a loose end you could always settle down in garden and read a good book!

WIMBLEBALL – OPENING DAY – MARCH 1st 2020

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Wimbleball is a good hours drive from our house North of Barnstaple but it’s a drive I always enjoy winding across Exmoor’s wild landscape. A wintry dusting covered the moors on the high ground yet signs of spring were all around with daffodils already blooming and the snowdrops already withering.

I had been looking forward to Opening day with anticipation since my last visit to the venue on the close of the season last November. Storm Jorge had forced the cancellation of the boat launch and undoubtedly deterred all but the hardiest of Fly Fishers. I had arranged to meet Fishery Manager Mark Underhill and his wife Trudi for a chat before joining former England International Matt Kingdon at the lakeside. Mark and Trudi have transformed Wimbleball over the past two seasons stocking the lake with large numbers of fighting fit full tailed rainbows and introducing an enlightened catch and release option that enables anglers to enjoy a full day on the bank.

Mark and Trudi Underhill

Early March is not for the faint hearted as it can be bracing. A cold wind was driving across the lake as I walked down to greet Matt who had been fishing for fifteen minutes without a touch. I had set up an intermediate Snowbee Fly Line with a gold headed black lure on an 8lb b.s leader. I never go below 8lb b.s as the trout at Wimbleball have smashed up many an angler’s tippet as they seize the lure.

I waded out into the cold water and put a line out allowing the fly and line to sink a couple of feet before starting a slow erratic retrieve. The cold wind and icy water tingled on the fingers. I settled into the rhythm of casting and retrieving, relishing the ever changing vista of the lake, hills and sky. Dark clouds threatened bringing showers of sleety rain.

Suddenly the line zipped delightfully tight and the rod hooped over as a feisty rainbow lunged and powered away causing the reel to sing pleasingly. Matt grabbed a couple of pleasing images of the battle. The full tailed rainbow was well over three pound and a great start to the day.

A few moments later Matt cursed as a vicious take smashed his 9lb point! Ten minutes or so passed before another rainbow hit my lure and gave an aerobatic display on a tight line.

An hour passed with a couple of fish coming adrift for both Matt and I. The hectic sport we had hoped for was not forthcoming though neither Matt nor I mind having to work for our fish.

When it goes quiet a move is often a good idea as the walk warms the body and the change of location brings an injection of fresh hope. The move brought two hook ups in quick succession with both fish coming off after a few seconds.

An angler appeared at the point to my left and immediately hooked into a trout his line singing tightly in the wind, rod hooped over forming a pleasing image against the horizon.

Matt suggested a move to some deeper water and so we set off once again in search of rainbows. The ongoing search inevitably brought connection for Matt as his black lure was intercepted. The next hour saw us catch a further four trout all cracking thick set rainbows of between 3lb and 4lb.

Dark clouds hastened towards us and icy droplets of  wind blow rain beat upon the face and hands. It was close to 3.00pm and we both were pleased to have had enough for one day. We walked back to the cars chatting eagerly of the season to come and more days beside the water.

With frogspawn in the shallows, hawthorn in bud and the soft grey of pussy willow tipping the branches spring was on its way and days of warm sunshine undoubtedly just a few weeks away as winter inevitably gives way to a new season.

Calling in to fill in our catch returns revealed that other anglers had also enjoyed some great sport with plenty of five fish bags, one individual catching fifteen trout on a catch and release ticket ;all on snakes and lures.

The return journey across the moors to the soundtrack of Johnny Walkers Sounds of the seventies was a fitting end to the days fishing. The poignant sound of Terry Jacks; “Seasons In the Sun” reminded me of a  work colleague whose funeral I attended a couple of days ago. A prompt to savour these precious spring days.

Wimbleball Fly Fishery launches wheelchair-accessible boat for disabled anglers

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Wimbleball Fly Fishery launches wheelchair-accessible boat for disabled anglers

The Coulam 16 Wheelyboat, a purpose-built angling boat, will join the growing fleet in Somerset

On Sunday 1st March 2020, the opening day of the new fishing season at Wimbleball Lake in the Exmoor National Park, Somerset, a new Coulam 16 Wheelyboat – specially designed for angling – will be launched, thanks to a joint venture by The Wheelyboat Trust, The Angling Trust and Wimbleball Fly Fishery.

The new Coulam 16 Wheelyboat will enable disabled anglers, and wheelchair users in particular, to access the clear waters of Wimbleball Lake, allowing users to fish independently for top quality rainbow and wild brown trout, courtesy of renowned Rainbow Valley Trout Farm near Bampton. The new boat is the result of a partnership between national charities The Wheelyboat Trust and Angling Trust that provided seven part-funded Coulam 16 Wheelyboats. The funds for the project were generously provided by The Peter Harrison Foundation and Lord Barnby’s Charitable Trust. 

Fisheries across the UK were invited to apply for the seven Wheelyboats, and Wimbleball Fly Fishery is the first to be launched.  A crowd of bank anglers, boat anglers and VIP guests from South West Lakes Trust, the Environment Agency, South West Fishing for Life and The Wheelyboat Trust will gather on the pontoon to see the new Coulam 16 Wheelyboat set off for her first fish of the season. Trudi Underhill will launch the new boat with a bottle of bubbly and Gillian Payne from South West Fishing for Life will cut a ceremonial ribbon. Guests will hear speeches from Mark Underhill, who owns Rainbow Valley Trout Farm and leases the fishing at Wimbleball, and Andy Beadsley, Director of The Wheelyboat Trust. Andy Beadsley and Patrick Veale will be the first disabled anglers to take to the water.

Mark Underhill, Proprietor of Wimbleball Fly Fishery, says: “With our new Wheelyboat, disabled anglers will be able to fish across the 374-acre Wimbleball Lake, exploring the many bays and inlets, all stocked with some of the best trout in the country. Our new Wheelyboat will join the existing Mk II Wheelyboat, which was launched in 2005, as well as eight other Coulam-built boats already on the lake, with a further two arriving early in the season. It’s fantastic that our growing fleet of Wheelyboats will be able to accommodate more disabled anglers, allowing more people to indulge in their passion for fishing or indeed take up the sport for the first time.”

Andy Beadsley, Director of The Wheelyboat Trust, says: “As a disabled angler myself, I know first-hand the enjoyment that comes from casting a line and whiling away a few hours on the water doing something you love. We’re delighted that another Wheelyboat will be calling Wimbleball Lake home and hope that many disabled anglers and hopefully those new to the sport too, will come and experience for themselves the joy of angling independently.”

Ben Smeeth, Head of Angling at the South West Lakes Trust, adds: “The provision of a new Wheelyboat for fishing at Wimbleball Lake fits perfectly with our aims at South West Lakes Trust to enable as many people as possible, of all abilities and ages, to enjoy themselves at our lakes. Being outdoors and active and in particular taking part in fishing can have great benefits to peoples’ health and I fully support this great addition to Wimbleball Fishery.”

Coulam 16 Wheelyboats are widely used on fisheries large and small across the country, along with more than 1,000 standard Coulam 15s and 16s that the Wheelyboat model is based on. Access on and off is via a ramp from a pontoon onto a hydraulic platform built into the boat, that lowers the angler from gunwale height to floor level with ease. Once on board, the angler can sit at the bow or the stern and is able to operate the boat entirely independently. The Coulam 16 Wheelyboat can accommodate up to three people, uses an outboard motor up to 10hp and is designed primarily for angling on stillwaters, on the drift or at anchor.  The smaller Coulam 15 Wheelyboat is designed for angling on rivers, e.g. the River Tweed, where a boatman rows and the angler fishes from the stern.

The Wheelyboat Trust currently supplies four models of Wheelyboat that provide disabled people with independent access to a wide range of activities on inland and inshore waters including angling, nature watching, pleasure boating and powerboating. All Wheelyboats are hand built and fitted out to order by Jim Coulam of boatbuilders Coulam Ltd having been designed by naval architect Andrew Wolstenholme.

As a charity The Wheelyboat Trust relies on donations from individuals and organisations and their work could not continue without the ongoing generosity they provide. To donate and help The Wheelyboat Trust get more disabled people out on the water, please visit: www.wheelyboats.org/current-projects.

To find out more about The Wheelyboat Trust, visit www.wheelyboats.org.

More Magic Memories from the River Lyn

Many thanks to John Slader for contributing to North Devon Angling News following on from William Ould’s writings.

(Above)A Young John Slader receives Fly Casting Tuition from his Father Bill Slader whilst fishing the Rivers East Lyn

Your recent post with the contribution from William Ould I found most interesting and it brought back many happy memories of the river Lyn I like to call home.

Not sure if William will remember me but for sure he will recall Bill my father.  There is not much difference in age but being brought up and going to school in Barnstaple our paths didn’t cross that often.  I remember him along with Michael Shute and Chick Andrews, not to mention a host of other individuals that frequented the river.

Regretting not having kept a diary, I nevertheless vividly recollect an occasion fishing for mullet just below Lyndale bridge on a high tide.  William was also there and at the top of the tide he hooked and landed a specimen of a mullet.  I have in my mind it was much bigger than the 4lb 9oz show in the photograph.  It drew a crowd of visitors and Jack Clapp came out of his café to see what all the fuss was about and killed the fish by breaking its neck.  Not such a fitting end to a splendid fish.

As a child I often accompanied my father when he was salmon fishing but my true first time for salmon was in 1960 when at the age of nine he bought me a day’s  licence as a birthday present.  Costing the sum of five shillings, a not insignificant sum in those days, he bought it at Tregonwell’s on the Tors Road.  We sat on the first floor looking down the river as Ronald Burgess filled out the paperwork and my father enquired whether there was a concession for a child. He was told there wasn’t as it was not expected someone of my age would fish for the king of fish.

Licence secured, we went up to Watersmeet walking up the path behind the house towards Stag Pool and Horner.  The route taking you well above the river and what my father always referred to as the “Hangings”;  an area which brought me into contact with a number of fish in later life.  The path eventually comes back into close proximity to the river below Stag pool.  I was given instructions to stay put whilst my father back tracked and ventured down to Dumbledon a particular favourite pool of his although not so easy to access.

As I was waited for his return I looked into the river to see a salmon laying back in what was a very small pool.  I cautiously took a few steps closer and surprisingly managed to get into position without disturbing the fish.  Using a No 4 mepp I cast upstream but my inexperience kicked in as I managed to line the fish which immediately shot off and took sanctuary in the white water.  My heart sunk believing I had scuppered my chances but I had a couple more blind casts only to find myself attached to the fish hooked fair and square in the mouth.  Typical youngster I held my ground not wanting to give the fish an inch and shouting at the top of my voice “Dad, Dad….”  A waste of breath really as any shouting would have been drowned out by the sound of the river.  As luck would have it, looking down river, my father’s head appeared over the rocks as he exited Dumbledon.  He quickly negotiated the rocks to join me and help land the fish; a grilse of just over 4lbs.

Returning to Watersmeet we each had a celebratory small bottle of fizzy grapefruit and Dad caught up on the news with childhood friend Roy Nercombe.

I went on to catch many more salmon in the 60’s / 70’s but none stick in the memory quite as much as the first.

The last time I fished the Lyn for salmon must have been over 15 – 20 years ago.  I was visiting my parents in Barnstaple in August after very heavy rainfall; what would have been the perfect conditions in years gone by.  I arrived in Lynmouth at lunchtime but questioned if I would be able to find a parking space although to my surprise there was only one vehicle parked above Vellacotts.  Thinking everyone had caught their brace and gone home I ventured down to the river to find an angler fishing in Overflow who, along with a friend, had travelled from Cornwall for a day’s salmon fishing.

We chatted and although he had caught a grilse he had little else to report.  Because I couldn’t see the salmon I assumed he had returned it but later during the conversation he opened his bag to reveal the fish.  I went on to fish until dusk casting in every known pool from the Tors Road to Watersmeet without a touch and nor did I see a fish in what I considered perfect conditions.   Rather disheartened I travelled back to Barnstaple wondering whether I had seen the last Lyn salmon!  So sad when I think back to those days of abundance we enjoyed and took for granted back in the 60’s.

Although I still purchase a migratory fish licence I really do call into question whether I will ever cast for a salmon again.  I think I would rather live with my memories and feel privileged that I experienced first hand those days which, when we look back on them, were so special.

John Slader

17th February 2020

(Above) Bill Slader with a fine brace of Lyn salmon

Last casts of the Wimbleball season

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It always seems difficult to fit in enough time for fishing trips so with the season at Wimbleball drawing to a close I was keen to have one last trip at this rejuvenated water. The last two years have seen this large reservoir return to form after a sterling effort by Mark and Trudi Underhill and their team. Regular stocking of full finned hard fighting rainbows has ensured that a building number of Fly Fishing enthusiasts are visiting the lake.

It seemed a good idea to visit the lake on the last day of the 2019 season on Saturday, November 30th. I contacted my good friend and Snowbee Ambassador Jeff Pierce to see if he fancied joining me. He too was keen so we agreed to meet up at 9.00am and take out a boat giving the freedom to explore a larger area than bank fishing.

I am not so sure either of us thought it was such a good idea when we set out at dawn with a bitter east wind and a forecast of temperatures of 5 degrees C. it was certainly a bitterly cold late November day with slate grey skies and a cutting Easterly wind that anglers dread. We have all heard that old saying, “ when the wind is in the East the fish bite the least”.

The only way we were going to enjoy today was to make sure we would keep warm. I had togged up with my full Chillcheater thermals, with a fleece trouser and top. On top of this I wore leggings and a Chillcheater waterproof smock. So suitably wrapped up we climbed onboard the boat and steamed out onto the cold expanse of water.

There were several other anglers braving the elements on the bank all fishing in the Bessom and Rugg’s area of the lake. This area gave some shelter from the wind and had been producing plenty of rainbows in recent weeks.

We both opted to start using sinking lines and a team of flies. Typically, a lure on the point a small imitative pattern on the middle dropper and blob on the top dropper. This was a combination I was to stick with all day.

We dropped anchor and extended our lines searching for fish in keen anticipation. It was great to be out despite the chill conditions and we chatted enthusiastically about past and future fishing forays.

After half an hour neither of us had so much as a pull and decided to make a move. On arrival at our new destination Jeff spotted a fish rise which gave some optimism. I heard a curse from Jeff  who had just cast out letting the line sink as he retrieved a drink from his tackle bag. The rod tip had surged over, loose line zipping tight. A momentary connection followed before the fish shook itself free from the barbless hook. A few minutes later Jeff saw another rise and cast hopefully immediately connecting with a hard fighting rainbow that had seized a tiny diawl bach as the flies hit the water. The rainbow would have weighed around 3lb and was carefully released at the side of the boat.

We fished on in this spot for a while before moving again and again in search of elusive trout. We saw that the bank anglers were enjoying some success with their rods bent and reels screaming in protest. To our surprise they seemed to be catching on floating lines despite the conditions.

Jeff worked hard as always changing his lines from sinking to intermediate and to a full floater. I persisted with the sinking line approach believing that most fish would be down deep. What I did do was change the tip fly on a regular basis and vary my retrieve. Slow and steady, fast and erratic. Sometimes letting the line sink deep and on other casts commencing the retrieve as soon as the fly hit the water.

Eventually the line zipped delightfully tight as something hit a damsel nymph beneath the boat. The fish fought deep swimming in circles with no long fast runs. To our surprise it was beautiful spotted brown trout  of round 2lb that appeared at the surface.

Jeff grabbed a quick picture of the fish at the side of boat and I let the out of season fish swim away into the chill water.

It was now early afternoon and we fished on relishing the challenge buoyed by some success. We both agreed that we looked forward to a return in the spring as swallows swooped low over the water, buds were breaking on the trees and trout were lazily sipping buzzers from warm waters caressed by a gentle breeze. Despite thoughts of spring and summer there is still something beguiling about this bleak winter landscape.

We continued to make regular moves hoping to locate a pod of fish. Once again my line pulled tight and another fine brown trout was brought to the side of the boat.

We watched the bank anglers continuing to enjoy some success which spurred us on to fish ever harder expectant of action with every cast. Jeff had several pulls that he failed to convert.

When my line again drew tight I was convinced I had hooked a big rainbow. The rod took on an alarming curve and line was ripped from the reel. For a minute or so the fish had the better of me causing a few anxious moments as it threatened to take the line around the anchor rope. Relishing the battle I piled on the pressure hoping Jeff would capture the bent rod as the fish tested my tackle. It was undoubtedly a very good fish as we caught a glimpse of its flanks in the clear cold water. Eventually the pressure told and a beautiful brown trout that must have been closer to five pounds than four broke the surface. The fish was drawn into Jeff’s rubber meshed net and carefully unhooked before a quick picture above the water. A stunning fish that would make this a day to remember.

We fished on for another hour moving a few more times but my arm was starting to ache. I suggested to Jeff that another ten minutes would do for me and I don’t think he was too disappointed at my suggestion. It was after all close to 4.00pm by the time we had moored the boat back at the launch pontoon.

We vowed to return in the spring at the start of a new season. It promises to be a good one if this season is anything to go by.