A UNIQUE VIEW BEHIND THE SCENES

 

From time to time something interesting pops up in life and needs to be seized before the opportunity is gone. I received an email from Chris Vaughan at Lynton a gentleman I had met very briefly at the end of a talk I delivered at Lynmouth Pavilion a couple of years ago.

Hi Wayne

– It’s Chris Vaughan from Lynton.

I have a trip coming up for a few friends and thought you might be interested. A good friend of mine is Ollie Crimmen who is the curator of fisheries at the Natural History Museum in London. There’s a behind the scenes tour with access to q and a from Ollie in the ‘spirit room’ – basically a large area with more fish in glass jars than you would have ever seen plus giant squid etc. Also Ollie is probably ‘Mr Fish’ of Europe and any questions you may have he’ll probably know the answer.

If you think you might be interested in joining me for the day let me know. I’ll be there on Tuesday 20th December. It might make a good section for your column.

Let me know

Kind regards

Chris

After an exchange of emails between Chris and I the time off work was booked and I invited Keith Armishaw of River Reads to join me as I felt sure he would jump at the chance to meet Mr Fish of Europe and get a look behind the scenes of one of the UK’s treasure troves of Natural History.

And so on a cold bright December day Keith and I found ourselves walking through Hyde Park admiring flocks of Parakeets and taking in the splendor of the 1872 Albert Memorial.

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From here we walked on past the Royal Albert Hall to the Natural History Museum a highly impressive building that blends both old and new in a display of architectural majesty. Dodging past the masses of visitors we met with Chris and the group within the imposing foyer overlooked by the famous Diplodocus cast that has stood in Hintze Hall for 35 years.

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From here it was down to a side entrance to be issued with ID passes before meeting with Ollie Crimmen to commence our tour. After a short delay Ollie arrived and was warm friendly and overflowing with knowledge and enthusiasm from the start. Ollie joined the museum in 1973 at the age of 19 and worked alongside the previous renowned expert on fish Alwyne Wheeler. In his long career he has worked with an intriguing range of people and companies on various projects. These include Damien Hirst and swimwear manufacturer Speedo on a hydrodynamic swimsuit, using sharkskin to reduce drag while in the water.

On our way we met a young scientist who was digitally scanning the huge vertebrae of a blue whale. The 25 metre long skeleton is to be assembled in the Hintze Hall next summer replacing the diplodocus. Each of the 153 backbone and ribs takes several hours to scan with the young scientist explaining that she manages three bones per day.

We moved on into the vast vaults of the museum each containing a vast range of artefacts totaling several kiometres. Ollie slid open a draw to reveal an array of dried fish specimens. He explained that the museum has fish specimens from as far back as the 1600’s. Much of this is a direct result of the Victorians desire to horde and preserve. These collections hold valuable information for the scientists of today with the drying process preserving the vital DNA codes. In addition to these dried fish are many cases of fish skeletons which have had there flesh and skin removed by thousands of carpet beetles bred at the museum for this purpose.

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Ollie expertly answered an array of questions as we moved in awe through this vast vault of history. On questions regarding evolution Ollie casually mentioned timescales of ¾ of a million years in fish populations within Lake Victoria as relatively quick.

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We came upon the huge dried carcass of a sunfish preserved here since 1838. This solitary 1.5 tonne fish can produce up to 300,000,000 eggs of which only a tiny proportion survive.

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We walked into the vast spirit room within which thousands of fish are stored in alcohol. This has been the preferred method of conservation since around 1900; its downside is that it destroys DNA a scientific development that the Victorians had no knowledge of.

Ollie lead us into the centre of the room and unveiled the huge jaws of great white shark. Its teeth as with all sharks designed with their specific prey in mind. The razor sharp teeth rotate as they wear and age ensuring a vital cutting edge to slice through flesh and bone. We discussed the possibility of great whites in British Waters and Ollie could see no reason that these fish could not swim within our waters. We talked of global warming offering our examples of fluctuating fish populations. Ollie took a very impassioned view on this explaining that fish populations and species fluctuate widely over many years influenced by many factors. To draw any conclusions over just a few decades is just not practical.

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The vast oceans of the world contain many wonders and mysteries. An angler fish that lives at depths of up to 1500metres. Ollie carefully extracted a specimen from the formaldehyde solution. He explained to his enraptured audience how the female fish uses its lure to catch its prey and how the tiny male fish has to search the vast oceans for a female partner who emits an alluring perfume. A quest that is vital for the continuation of the species.

dscn4959dscn4960deep sea angler fish; male and female

Behind Ollie as he talked was a huge tank containing a giant squid 8 metres long. In the middle of the room are rows of tanks each containing preserved specimens. The cover was hoisted to reveal several specimens including, a yellow fin tuna, caught off the welsh coast, arapaima, the huge head of a beluga sturgeon, a species that once swam in some of Britain’s rivers and may once again return if conditions and mankind allows, a manta ray caught off the Isle of Wight, an anglerfish, several species of shark and a sunfish.

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Ollie lifts the head of a beluga sturgeon

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After this enlightened talk we circumnavigated the spirits room to gaze in awe at specimens preserved in jars brought back on Charles Darwin’s historical voyage aboard HMS Beagle. The rare Coelacanth specimen sat beside the body of a barracuda caught off the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall. A previous record-breaking bass of 19lb and the impressive folded carcass of a rare 11ft long oarfish found on a beach near Whitby.

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Record bass, Barracuda and Coelacanth

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After the two-hour tour of the museums vast and mysterious archives the public viewing area seemed an anti-climax. The huge blue whale cast and numerous stuffed creatures are certainly impressive but nothing could match the experience we had been given behind the scenes.

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It was a privilege to meet with Ollie Crimmen and listen to his vast range of stories relating to fish and the world in which they live. A world that we as anglers go prospecting in each time we cast a line. Who knows what mystery could be revealed on that next cast into the underwater world.

Keith and I would also like to thank Chris Vaughan for giving us this unique and unforgettable experience.

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JAMIE MILLERS – NORTH DEVON TACKLE

Jamie Miller is the owner of North Devon Tackle with extensive carp fishing experience and a great deal of knowledge gained during his employment in the bait manufacturing industry. Jamie is also an experienced coarse and sea angler and this is reflected in the shop where there is an extensive range of tackle and bait to cater for coarse, carp and sea angling. Jamie’s personal best carp is an impressive 47lb 4oz caught from a Sussex carp water. Jamie offers valuable advice and is a friendly and approachable individual,
15644312_10154839695207533_1993548359_nThe tackle shop located in  Queens walk arcade just off the car park in Bear Street Barnstaple has an extensive range of bait and tackle from popular brands including Korda, Drennan, ESP, Guru, North Devon Company Lakebed Leads, Mainline Baits and Sticky Baits.
The sea angler is also well catered for with Sakuma tackle and frozen baits from Devon Baits. They also stock fresh worm baits and maggots.
The shop has now been up and running for over 18 months and provides a valuable resource for North Devon anglers. With Christmas just a few days away Jamie pointed out that they have tackle vouchers available in denominations of £5, £10, £20 and £50. There is certainly plenty to tempt any angler within the shops extensive range.

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WINTER THOUGHTS

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Another year has almost ended as we approach the Winter solstice on December 21st and whilst we have only just entered winter this date signals the journey towards the spring and rebirth. As an angler my thoughts are tempered far more by the changing environment than the man made calendar.

Much of my angling effort at this time of year is beside the sea casting baits into the darkness from the local rock marks. The mystery of the sea entrances and entices vigils beside the water in hope of spurdog, bull huss, ray, conger and perhaps cod. The changing climate is influencing what we catch and this provides an exciting ever evolving challenge.

As I grow older I know that my days clambering around the rocks are numbered. I have had a few near misses and grow increasingly aware of the risks. But I just love being beside the water the anticipation and the feeling of being out there in the elements.

Whilst the salmon and sea trout fishing is months away I still take an interest in their life’s journey and try to glimpse the fish spawning on the redds high on the moors. I peered over a bridge on Exmoor a few days ago, a salmons wasted carcass lay upon the gravels. I wondered if it had succeeded on its journey and contributed to the next generation?

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How has the weather impacted upon this years spawning a big spate in mid November had helped the fish to forge to their spawning grounds but since then the rivers have shrunk back after a period of little rain. What happens this year will affect the fishing season around 2021.

Stillwater trout provide a temporary connection with fish of an adipose nature. Hard fighting rainbow trout in cold clear waters with the thrill of the take and a great excuse to be out enjoying the great winter outdoors.

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I read of carp and plan to cast more for these fish next year if I can find the time. There are so many waters that hold carp these days but which water suits my style of fishing. Commercial fisheries offer the chance of a personal best and I am tempted to chase a thirty pounder. Yet a neglected overgrown pond that is seldom fished appeals more to my carp fishing soul.

If I find time I will target perch and pike over the coming months. Pike is surely the essence of winter coarse fishing. A red tipped float optimistically poised upon dark waters that reflect the skeletal trees and dead reeds of winter.

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A foray after grayling in cold clear waters trotting a float or casting an upstream nymph. Perhaps a session after silver flanked roach with crimson fins. As I list the joys of winter fishing I no longer struggle with the melancholic atmosphere of the season for I know that I cannot hope to fit in all that I wish to do before the spring arrives full of promise. All too soon we will meet in a riverside Inn and discuss past seasons and enthusiastically embrace the start of new salmon season. Trout fishing will commence on rivers and reservoirs. In the words of Jethro Tull; “Life’s a long song,
But the tune ends too soon for us all”.

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Rising Sun

ILFRACOMBES HIGH STREET TACKLES IMPRESSIVE LURE STOCK

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How time flies I thought when  Danny Watson at Ilfracombe’s High Street Tackle told me that he and his partner Pauline Chard had been running the shop for three years. In that time they have built up an impressive range of stock covering all disciplines of angling. Danny has a particular passion for lures which is reflected in the range of lures carried in the shop with top brands represented including Fiiish Black minnow, Delande, IMO, HTO and several GT Ice cream surface lures. I was discussing lure fishing in depth with Danny and the application of lures outside of the traditionally accepted season. Strangely this was highlighted when I received reports of a good catch of bass from a North Devon mark using lures.

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In addition to lures the shop also has an impressive selection of rods and reels by top brands including Penn and Tronix. Looking along the rod racks it is amazing what is available these days at a very modest cost with plenty of rods retailing for less than £50.

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They also have a good stock of frozen bait including AMMO. Next Summer High Street Tackle are proud to be supporting Combe Martin Sea Angling Clubs Fun Fishing Event in conjunction with the SEA-ILFRACOMBE FESTIVAL.

In the run up to Christmas High Street Tackle certainly has plenty to offer with a wealth of stocking fillers to please any angler.

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FINE FISH ART

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Angela Patchell contacted me in the hope that I could help promote her piscatorial based artwork. It looks great to me so I have shared a short article from her with a few images of her work.

“Award-winning Artist & Designer Angela Patchell tells  about her passion for drawing fish

I have always lived by the sea or close to the river bank. I find it gives me the sense of well-being and tranquility that I need to create my fish artworks. I began drawing fish and sea shells as a child, we lived in East Africa which meant I could collect amazing sea shells and seafood from the Indian ocean. I now live in North Devon and Wicklow, Ireland with it’s abundance of fish-filled rivers and sea fish.

I avidly collect every type of fish available to me, occasionally swapping my drawings for real fish.
I meticulously study each fishes texture, pattern, colour and shape. My aim is to achieve a “fossil like quality” in my drawings so I rub real fish skin into Indian ink, this is an ancient technique used by Japanese fisherman to record fish catches. I then draw into the rubbings with graphite, inks, charcoal and pastel. This lengthy technique gives each fish drawing a tactile, fossil-like quality which gives my artwork a real unique quality.

The paper I use to draw my fish on is hand-made sourced from Himalaya. It is important to me to use natural plant materials with the papers I use and to get my fish from a sustainable fish source.

Angela Patchell’s fish artworks are exhibited and sold world-wide. She has recently been commissioned to work with a celebrity chef to create a range of bespoke linen for his seafood restaurants. If you would like to commission or purchase an original artwork visit her online gallery at www.angelapatchell.com

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TORRIDGE FISHERS WORK FOR THE FUTURE

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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.

img_3742(Above) Paul Ashworth, Ken Dunn, John Graham and Paul Coles

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.

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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.

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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.

img_3728(Above) A fine sea trout

img_3734(Above) The salmon is carefully measured and a record kept of all fish caught as broodstock.

img_3716(Above) These brown trout would delight the trout fisher on long summer evenings.

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The Pier

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The Pier

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Ilfracombe pier is not a venue I often fish these days but it is a venue that has a certain appeal. I have many fond memories of the venue that has to be the most heavily fished venue along the North Devon coast and it is undoubtedly for this reason that it has over the years produced an outstanding track record.

Being a veteran I can of coarse remember the pier in its heyday when you could fish from the Victorian structure at any state of the tide in pretty well any weather conditions. The beauty of the pier was that you could turn up and fish being confidant that you would have company. It was the social hub of North Devon’s sea angling community easily accessible, safe and at times productive.

Of course back then we didn’t value what we had taking it for granted like many things in life that are only really appreciated in hindsight. I value the memories of those cold winter nights on the pier and witnessing some fine fish caught. I also look back with a tinge of sadness at the lovely people and characters I fished with who are no longer with us; I won’t mention names but those who were there will share my sentiments.

Ilfracombe lost a huge asset with the demolition of the pier a place where people fished and others strolled to watch us watching our rod tips. Some inquiring what we had caught, some understanding the fascination; others perplexed at the fools who wasted hours staring out to sea.

Those who were there in those distant days will still remember and visualize how it was when anyone mentions the North End or by the Club hut. Beneath the water there were of course always tales of the mighty conger that lurked within the structure eels that divers glimpsed as they explored. Strange that the biggest eel recorded at 42lb was caught from the pier in 2015 long after the pier was demolished.

( Note Chris Wilson refers to an eel of 56lb has anyone got a record of that?)

I fished the pier with Rob Scoines on October 26th the main reason I chose the venue was because I had a few leftover harbour ragworm left from a flounder fishing excursion. With news of a few red mullet being caught I thought why not try the pier might even catch a sole. It was a very calm mild night after a week or so of easterly winds. We offloaded the van and ambled the few yards to the lower landings. There were a handful of other anglers already set up in the hot spot on the corner so we set up where there was space.

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I fished two rods one with small worm baits the other with a larger offering of mackerel, to be exchanged for a fresh pouting shortly after catching one on the worm baits. The worm baits brought a steady succession of small whiting, tiny pouting and a solitary dab. Danny Watson from High Street Tackle chatted enthusiastically about prospects for the coming winter. Fellow CMSAC member Ross Stanway turned up with his young son Charlie. We chatted about old times and made plans for future forays. Young Charlie caught a few whiting; bringing a smile to his face.

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When we packed away at the end of the night beneath the deviant structure of Damien’s Verity Rob commented that it wasn’t his favorite venue. It’s not mine and the fishing was poor but it still has a certain value as an easy sociable venue where good fish are sometimes caught.

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Remember?

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I look back on the seventies with fond nostalgia at my early year’s sea angling with my teenage friends who were junior members of the Combe Martin Sea Angling Club. The tackle we used then was generally inferior to the equipment we use today yet am I alone in having a strong connection with past memories when I glimpse familiar items of tackle? I was peering into the window of a second hand shop in Minehead last weekend. On display was a Mitchell 624 boat reel a workhorse of a reel that I well remember clamped to my ABU Pacific 6; where it went I cannot remember. I do however remember those days afloat on the sturdy old wooden boats of the day.

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I was prompted to write this when a friend at work showed me an Intrepid Sea Streak he had undoubtedly looked after with a degree of care. I recalled that as youngsters we all treasured our latest tackle as if it was the latest sports car. The most popular shore reel of the day was the Ambassador 7000 with red side plates. I clearly remember being given a 7000 for either Christmas or Birthday. Other popular shore reels of the day were the Mitchell 602 and Mitchell 600. Both had black plastic or fibre glass spools and were very prone to bird-nesting. That brings back memories of tangled blue Sylcast line produced by Modern Arms.

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If you Coarse fished you may well remember the Efgeeko Green Vinyl seat box? Everyone had a Mitchell 300 with a Match spool and a specimen spool. It would be interesting to see what vintage tackle pictures readers could send me. The appeal in old tackle is not in its usefulness but the memories that are rekindled of good days fishing.

I  was struggling to remember the small black reel that every Junior angler took fishing in the seventies. A quick search on Google brought the answer; the Black Prince. http://www.intrepidreel.com/reels.html

Chris Wilson read this article and sent me a couple more images including this Mitchel 602

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