After one of the driest Autumns for many years the rains eventually came courtesy of storm Angus the West Country’s rivers became raging torrents sweeping tons of leaves and debris seaward. The game anglers of the region are well aware that the deluge of freshwater will allow thousands of salmon and sea trout to forge eagerly upstream towards the redds where they will fulfill their destiny in spawning at their birthplace to ensure future generations.
Those who fish for salmon are amongst the most active of conservationists working with the Environment Agency and organizations such as the West Country Rivers Trust to give nature a help in hand wherever possible. Members of the River Torridge Fishery Association have for several years run a small hatchery that was initially set up under guidance from the EA. The hatchery is now run entirely by the association with volunteers working tirelessly each winter to secure broodstock, strip, fertilize eggs and then nurture the precious result of their efforts until stocking out swim up fry in early spring.
I was delighted to join four members of the association to assist in trapping this years broodstock at a location nestled away in a valley within the Torridge catchment. The salmon are trapped and netted before being carefully transported to the hatchery in an oxygenated tank of river water. The salmon are then kept after careful treatment to reduce risk of infection. When ready to spawn they are stripped of their eggs and milt before being returned to the river.
The first trapping of the day had been unsuccessful as thousands of leaves had blocked the traps upstream end. This second trapping was to prove more successful with a 9lb hen salmon secured. A fine sea trout of around 4lb was also caught and released above the trap to continue its upstream journey. It was thrilling to get up close to this beautiful fish as it neared the end of its migration.
The following day produced two more hen salmon and two cock fish. Another trapping session will hopefully secure enough fish for another successful hatchery season.
It is difficult to measure the success of the hatchery that has over the years produced many thousands of swim up-fry. The anglers that work so hard can only hope that they are making a difference and that one day one of the fish they have helped will give that delightful draw on the line as the fly is seized in a magical moment of deception.
Salmon will be spawning on many locations across the West-Country high on the moors and in rivers where few suspect such mighty fish can swim. Each winter I take time to walk the river bank in the hope of glimpsing the salmon as they carry out their annual ritual. It is always fun to speculate upon the size of fish that make it to the spawning grounds and dream of those spring and summer days when the fishing season is once again in full flow.