Angling Generations

Norman Bird was a founder member of Combe Martin Sea Angling Club and I was fortunate to join the club ten years after his son Nigel who joined the club in 1963. Nigel and I fished together with the club on many occasions during the seventies and early eighties and now fish together from time to time with the Wistlandpound Fly Fishing Club. I was pleased fo receive this picture from Nigel showing his grandson George enjoying his first fishing trip with his grandad at Bratton Water where they enjoyed catching a fine bag of rainbow and brown trout.

It is great to see the generations as they discover the joys of angling. For many years I enjoyed trips out of Combe Martin on George Eastmans boat Star of Scillionia PW265.  and was also privileged to help out from time to time hauling lobster pots and taking trips around the bay. Those glorious summer days were greatly enhanced by Georges great grandad George Eastman of whom I have many fond memories . Much has changed over the years but I still feel a sense of belonging when I stroll upon the foreshore at Combe Martin reminiscing upon a lifetime of encounters within the bay.

Footnote – Nigel traced Star of Scillionia PW265 around the West Country over the years from the Isles of Scilly to the Helford Passage were she was finally decommissioned and broken up.

Luring An Evening brace

As autumn descends upon us the evenings draw in and it seems essential to try and fit in those short evening sessions with the lure rod before darkness descends and many of us turn to bait fishing. There is of course the opportunity to catch bass after dark with the lure but this is something I always intend to try but tend to shy away from as I feel slightly uncomfortable wading the boulder strewn marks I prefer whilst fishing alone.

This season I have fished far more using weedless soft plastics and have enjoyed some success using the Megabass spindle worms.  This 5.5 inch lure gives me confidence as it is retrieved sending a pleasing pulsing action back through the light braid to the rod. I love fishing really shallow water as the tide floods in and have discovered that the bass will move into water less than a foot deep.

Whilst I carry a selection of lures I only tend to alternate between half a dozen patterns.

I arrived at my chosen mark as the tide was starting to flood and searched the shallow boulder strewn foreshore after ten minutes a flash of silver appeared just a few feet from where I stood slamming into the lure with ferocity. After a spirited battle at close range the bass of around 3lb 8oz was beached.

I fished on confident of further success and twenty minutes later the lure was hit by a far bigger fish that made an impressive reel screaming dash for freedom in the shallow water. A handsome bass of around 6lb was admired and its image captured before release.

The autumn months can offer the best chance of the year to catch that elusive double figure bass. At one time I believed the best chance of a double lay with a big bait. Now I am not so sure and feel confident that persistence with the lure will pay dividends eventually.

An Autumn Salmon

It is hard to believe that it is early September as I approach the river as the sun slowly climbs above the trees sending shafts of light across the river. The river is in perfect order running at a good height with pleasing  a tinge of colour that one could almost describe as that of fine ale.

I wade out into the cool water and begin my search, optimistic as an angler must be expectant that at any moment the line will zip tight. I absorb the familiar surroundings and listen to the soundtrack of the ever flowing river as it ambles to the sea. Wagtails bob about and a kingfisher flashes past. Fry are abundant in the margins giving hope for future seasons.

The seasons passing is obvious as leaves drift past and I notice a large number of ash leaves undoubtedly a sign of the ongoing of ash die back.

I have fished the river in perfect conditions several times this year and last with four or five years since my last salmon. After fishing the beat carefully drifting my flies across the favoured lies I work my way to the bottom of the beat covering the lies for a second time.

The salmons view as the fly drifts across the river

It is clear that the salmon are not  as abundant as they were when I started fishing this Middle Torridge beat ten years or so ago when leaping salmon and sea trout were a common sight. The picture of a twenty pound salmon further up river is of course an image that maintains hope in the knowledge that the fish had swum past the waters I am fishing.

The sun is now well up in the sky as I place my fly inches from the far bank. As it swings across the river there comes that electric pull down the line and in a magic moment that contact is made with throbbing life on the line. I hold the rod high and savour the moment as the rod kicks before the reel sings. I keep a tight line leaning into the fish as I step sideways allowing the salmon to push up river. The fish hangs deep in mid river; the rod bends, the line pointing into mid river, the salmon holding station in the strong current. For a while the salmon powers up river but as the pressure tells the fish seeks help from the current heading down river as I attempt to maintain a position opposite the fish . I glimpse a wide powerful tail and the flash of silver.

Its always a tense experience playing a salmon hoping that the hook will stay put and the knots hold strong. After around ten minutes I detach the net from my back and the battle continues with the fish on a short line. This is a tense time for many salmon are lost  during that time when the fish is so close to the net.

Then suddenly the fish rolls and is in the net as I give a call of triumph. “Yes!”

I carry the salmon to the margins and slip the barbless double hook from the top jaw. The Go Pro is clipped to my rod handle strategically placed at the water’s edge. I hold the salmon above the water for a brief self-take shot. The flanks of the 10lb plus hen fish are already showing subtle hues of the autumn season. Its image will remain etched upon my mind for the rest of my days fuelling the return to the river in search of silver.

The salmon is held in the cool water head upriver for a couple of minutes until I feel its strength return. It is a great feeling when the fish powers strongly away into the river to continue its amazing journey to hopefully spawn in the next couple of months.

A promising seasons end ?

An early start on the middle Torridge this morning as the river starts to drop and the colour starts to clear there should be a silver tourist somewhere ready to take a fly? The mournful cries of young buzzards and the croak of a raven hangs in the warm air as I walk to the river.

The rivers running high and full of hope as I drift my flies across time proven lies. I start with bright and bold hues of orange, yellow and gold. Then I go subtle with a silver stoats tail.

A kingfisher flashes past, a squirrel darts from branch to branch, wagtails flit to and fro. In the shallows pinhead fry dart as I wade the shallows. Vivid blue damsels alight upon the riverside grass. Bees gather upon the pink flowers of the invasive Himalayan balsam. Hazlenuts, blackberries  and seed-heads tell of the passing season. The river is topped up and flowing well with more rain in the forecast it could be a good end to the season on both Taw and Torridge. Big tides at present and rough seas all bodes well for the September so often the salmon fishers best.

Todays blank trip is all to common but ever the optimist. Its good be at the waters edge as always.

RIVERS IN DECLINE – Who Cares ?

See Below message from Alex Gibson of the River Taw Fisheries Association. I have repeatedly stressed the need to report incidents and concerns to the relevant bodies. It is sadly true that they may do nothing but at least our concerns are registered and if there is enough concern shown then just maybe something will be done.

The River and the Estuary; the EA and IFCA

While the cat’s away the mice will play.

As you all know our EA Enforcement Officer, Paul Carter, retired earlier this year. As things stand it is not clear when or indeed if he will be replaced. This presents us with a major problem not just for the river, but also for the estuary. Paul was cross-warranted to IFCA.

It is therefore even more important than ever for members to report pollution, poaching, illegal abstraction and other untoward events on the river as well as suspicious fishing activity including fixed long lines on the estuary where no netting is permitted except for sand eels. By putting reports into the EA we will demonstrate the importance of having an EA enforcement officer on our river. IFCA which is Brixham based with no North Devon presence or cross-warranting currently will send officers to the estuary to look into illegal fishing activities if there is appropriate intelligence information.

EA Hotline 0800 80 70 60

Devon & Severn IFCA (Brixham) 07740 175479

Alex Gibson

DIRTY WATERS – My Personal view – Wayne Thomas

I was wading down through the River Torridge a few weeks ago with a good height following heavy rain. I enjoyed my couple of hours swinging the fly across well known lies but I was down hearted by the lack of response in near perfect conditions. As I walked the river I struggled to get a grip on the slippery stones. It was as if the river bed had been coated in a layer of grease and eventually I lost my footing and fell heavily onto the stones. Fortunately my pride took the biggest blow and I fished on with a wet arm vowing to buy a new set of studs for my waders.

Last night I was wading the foreshore casting for bass waring the same waders and I reflect now that the rocks were not slippery. They were not coated in a film of slime like those in the river. Reading the article in the Guardian below I can relate to how our rivers are sadly being allowed to decline. It is a sad story and we must do all we can to stem this sad decline born of neglect and lack of focus. We must put this higher on the political agenda for surely the health of our river and environment is priceless?

I grew up in the village of Combe Martin and fished the River Umber that is the heart of the long valley that I once called home. Precious childhood memories abound of a stream full of life, crimson spotted brown trout with bellys of buttercup yellow hues. Elvers ascended the river in early summer and could be found under every stone close to the rivers mouth. I was chatting with a fellow villager  a few weeks ago and he related to the river of our youth. “Don’t see any trout in the river these days, not since the sewage works was built up river”. The sewage works was of course built to end the disgusting practice of discharging effluent directly into the sea. I can well remember the turds floating in the sea at Camels Eye close to the outfall. Whilst this was not an ideal situation and not acceptable I sometimes wonder if we have just hidden the problem shifting the issues. Investment is of course the answer but who pays?

In a corrupted world it is the environment that pays the price. But eventually we will create a vast cesspit and from what I have seen with the litter left strewn around there are those who would not mind this.

See below link to an article that recently appeared in the Guardian.

Wayne Thomas

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/aug/12/government-britains-rivers-uk-waterways-farming-water-companies?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

In Cornish Waters

Its alarming how fast time and life fly’s past and the latest uncertain times have not slowed anything down. It was good to be heading down to Penzance with James and Rob for our annual pilgrimage in search of shark off the tip of Cornwall. As always a constant monitoring of the weather forecast preceded the trip and for once it seemed that luck was on our side with winds forecast to drop away to a light southerly on the day of the trip.

We planned to revisit a well known cove close to Penzance on the day before our boat trip. We had enjoyed an enjoyable session there twelve months ago when a calm sea and sunny skies had greeted us. Twelve months on it was a grey and breezy day with steady drizzle. Huge waves surged against the headland and plenty of weed floated in the water.

Lures were launched from the old granite jetty and as the tide flooded a few fish started to come to the shore. James went for a walk to the headland and took a refreshing swim whilst Rob and I persevered with the lures. Mackerel and small pollock put a pleasing bend in light rods and it was great to be away from life’s trials and tribulations.

We returned to Penzance to enjoy a delicious meal where we were staying at the Lugger Inn on the promenade. There was of course much talk of pandemics and its devastating effect on the economy and daily life. In this strange world of masked shoppers, sanitiser and social distancing it was good to relish the thought of heading out to sea.

Dolphins captured on film by James Thomas

After grabbing breakfast and hot coffee at Mc Donald’s we joined Jason Barrow and Bruce Elston on the quayside to board Bite Adventures, one of Cornwall’s  top Charter boats. By 8:30 we were feathering for mackerel in the calm waters of the bay. It was a misty morning that seemed surreal as dolphins materialized all around the boat gracefully swimming within just a few yards. Whilst we wanted to grab our camera’s Chippy was urging us to get to work catching bait for the day ahead. We listened intently as Chippy told the tale of the huge tuna hooked the previous day. The resurgence of tuna in Cornish waters is an exciting development. It is frustrating that it is illegal to target these splendid game fish that could support a thriving sport fishing venture. The tuna are classed as an endangered species yet it is not catch and release sport fishing that will lead to the loss of these fish in our waters. The tuna have returned to Cornish waters because the pilchard have returned. The commercial fishery is of course reaping a harvest of many hundreds of tons each day. How long before we have once again allowed the decimation of a fishery repeating once again the mistakes of the past? Do those in power not understand that the food chain needs to be healthy if the prime species at the top are to prosper? Sustainable fishing is of course the answer fishing methods need to be restricted to prevent overfishing.

After  1.5 hours we reached the sharking grounds close to thirty miles off the coast of West Cornwall and within minutes of stopping the engines we were to witness the memorable sight of tuna leaping several feet from the water. The deep and mysterious waters off the West Country Coast hold many secrets and this is perhaps one of the greatest attractions of shark fishing for anything can turn up in these waters. Recent sightings have included minke whales along with the tuna and dolphins.

A misty gloom created an eerie atmosphere as Chippy pointed out the towering shadow of a giant tanker at anchor. Perhaps at rest as economic turmoil sweeps across the world.

The rubby-dubby sacks in position releasing a pungent slick of fish fragments and oils we started our drift. Lots were drawn to see who would go first. Baited feathers were then sent to the depths to catch whiting hook-baits. Plump whiting were hauled to the surface along with numerous gurnards that were immediately sent back to swim from whence they had come.

Rob had drawn number one in the draw and it wasn’t long before the float plunged beneath the waves and the reel screamed its warning. And so the day unfolded as we drifted through the day. Periods of tense anticipation between runs then quite frequently two sharks at once in frantic periods of action. Chippy expertly advising us where to dodge as we successfully managed to avoid tangled lines. The sharks were brought to the side of the boat and quickly unhooked using the T-Bar to dislodge the circle hook. Three shark of around 90lb were brought onto the boat for a quick photo providing a lasting memo of a special day.

Gannets, storm petrels, an artic skua, fulmars and the more common seagulls kept us company throughout the day. Grey skies stretched to a far horizon; rods bent in frequent encounters with streamlined blues.

By the end of the days fishing we had caught 26 shark most between 60lb and 70lb with three of them estimated to be up around 90lb.

We bounced back over a slight swell to Penzance all cherishing memories of great day afloat and looking forward to the next out on Cornish waters.

Fly Culture – Podcast

I was pleased to have the opportunity to chat with Pete Tyjas for one of his recent Fly Culture Podcasts. See link below – If you download you can play it on the phone; a good way to entertain on a long car journey or in my wifes opinion ideal cure for insomnia.

https://www.buzzsprout.com/402997/4765247-wayne-thomas-on-writing-and-fishing-in-devon.mp3?blob_id=18923708&download=true

Bass on the lure

With a boat trip off Ilfracombe cancelled due to a brisk wind I decided upon a short session with the lure rod in the hope of a bass. I timed my arrival at the mark two hours after low water as the flooding tide pushed over the shallow boulder strewn shoreline. The shallow water was a little murky with more suspended weed than I would like but if the lure can be presented I felt sure bass would be there. I had a Megabass spindle worm clipped the end of my line from the previous trip in similar conditions. This lure is weedless and can be fished nice and slowly in the snaggiest of water without fear of losing tackle.

5lb bass

I started searching the water close in where weed was not so prevalent and after a couple of casts there was a  swirl and knock as a bass snatched at the lure. The next ten minutes were non eventful as I peached the mark carefully. A cast to an area of slightly clearer water brought a big swirl and an all too brief encounter.

My confidence was now high and as the tide pushed in my confidence grew. I followed the edge of the tide up and was rewarded as a bass hit the lure with thump. Line was ripped from the reel and the thin braid burnt my finger as I applied heavy pressure as the fish thrashed about in the weed. After a spirited tussle the bass was secured and at around 5lb despatched to take home for tea. I only take the occasional fish for the table returning any fish over 7lb and any under 4lb. Pan fried bass fillets are delicious!

5lb bass

I continued to search the shallow water and  enjoyed another spited tussle with another bass of identical size that was slipped back into the shallow water. The fish swam strongly away and  I hope to encounter the fish again in ten years time when it will perhaps be a double.

Old Trophies bring back a few memories

We had a bit of a lockdown clear out like many others and in the shed was a box of old trophies many of them from a while back. Whilst Pauline suggested it was a shame to throw them out I decided the re-cycling centre would be their resting place but just to preserve them a bit longer I took a few photos. I hope the images bring back a few happy memories.

Lynton Rodbenders, Barnstaple Rod N Reelers, THe National Federation of Sea Anglers. Wyvern Division, South West Federation of Sea Anglers

( Above)Peter King was the owner of the tackle shop in Bear Street Barnstaple and an active member of several North Devon Sea Angling Clubs. He was also a keen salmon angler.

(Above) A selection of trophies from the Ilfracombe Fishing Festival that was organised by the Ilfracombe and District Angling Club. Looking back those week long festivals were amongst the happiest days of my fishing life.

The North Devon Sea Angling Association ran a competition league encouraging friendly competition between the regions many clubs.

Combe Martin SAC competitions back in the 1970’s were all bag weight competitions like most clubs of the time. My 52lb 13oz haul set a club record for a 6 hour match. 6 mullet and 3 conger if I remember correctly from Camels Eye!
(Above) Pauline pointed out that I really have been fishing the North Devon Coast for a long time!

Summer Fishing at Wimbleball

WIMBLEBALL

As we enter July trout fishing tends get harder going as the water temperature rises and the fish go deeper. I was eager to get out onto Wimbleball before the summer doldrums set in and had arranged to meet with Snowbee ambassador Jeff Pearce for a day afloat.

I met up with Jeff at the boat launching bay just before 9.00am and my spirits were immediately lifted by the enthusiastic banter that was flowing amongst the anglers gathering for a day on the water. I have found that angling has been a great antidote to the widespread doom and gloom of the COVID pandemic.

We were all greeted cheerfully by Trevor the fisheries resident guide and bailiff who is always willing to offer valuable advice on where to fish and what tactics to employ.

It seemed the perfect day for trout fishing with a moderate westerly breeze and broken cloud cover. If this had been a month earlier teams of buzzers would have been the way to go I am sure but general consensus was now for deeper water and lures.

During the more difficult days of mid to late summer a boat gives a significant advantage allowing a larger area of the lake to be explored.

Jeff and I decided on a few casts in the sailing club bay just to get warmed up so to speak. As we drifted slowly Jeff caught a glimpse of a good sized rainbow estimated at 6lb + and put his olive damsel into the area. The fish immediately seized the offering and erupted from the water in a flurry of spray. I grabbed for the camera to no avail as Jeff pulled in a slack line to reveal that the hook had partially opened out. Testament to Wimbleball’s hard fighting fish or a dodgy hook?

I had one trout follow my lure in the bay but after this early success we decided to head out onto the lake proper. The deeper water up near the dam seemed a good idea so it was off to there that we headed powered by the petrol outboard.

Drifting the margins Jeff had the first chance as a trout likened to a tuna chased a damsel nymph to the side of the boat. A few more glimpses of trout brought excited comments from Jeff as we explored the lakes margins that dropped off into deep-water within just yards of the bank.

After a few tentative plucks the first fish of the day was secured. A small handsome rudd of just over 8oz!

The Upton Arm has a reputation for producing some superb wild brown trout. And so we headed up into this delightfully wooded bay. Drifting with the strong breeze proved a little too fast even with the drogue so we decided to drop anchor at a promising looking spot not too far off the shoreline. I often ponder upon this for when we fish from boats we often strive to get close to shore whilst when we shore fish we aim to put our flies as far out as possible. In truth the margin of the lake is its biggest and most often productive zone.

This area soon proved a good call as Jeff hooked a fine rainbow of close to 5lb that used its broad tail to good effect. Over the next couple of hours Jeff added another three rainbows to the tally. I couldn’t get a pull and started to question what I was doing wrong. I was on a sinking line and fishing a damsel nymph whilst Jeff was on a sink tip with using various large nymphs on the point a yellow and red buzzer on a dropper.

As the fishing eased we decided perhaps unwisely to try elsewhere and headed for the deep water of the Narrows close to some old boat launching steps. Sticking with  the sinking line and a damsel nymph I searched the deep water. Suddenly the line zipped tight and a rainbow of a couple of pounds graced the net. Over the next couple of hour’s we drifted around anchored  for periods and it was me that started to enjoy success adding a couple more to the days total.

As afternoon drifted into evening we decided on a last half an hour back in the sailing club bay. After a few casts another rainbow hit my black zulu on the dropper. With four trout each it seemed a good time to head for home.

As we packed away the gear the lake looked superb in the early evening light. We reflected upon an enjoyable day of two halves. A morning when Jeff seemed to charm the trout and an afternoon when I somehow found the key to success. These long hard summer days though challenging are often just as rewarding as those easier days of plenty in the early season.

We will be back in search of those broad backed tuna shaped rainbows with full tails before too long!