QUAY SPORTS AND DEVON ANGLERS – SUPPORTING CHILDREN’S HOSPICE SOUTH WEST

Some of our amazing supporters at Quay Sports in Barnstaple donated money raised at their 1st Anniversary Fundraiser. They raised an impressive £1122 in ONE day and we’d just like to say a massive thank you to Toby, Harrison, Chris and Mark L and the rest of the store team for continuing to fundraise for Children’s Hospice South West.

A Glimpse of hope in dwindling waters

Many of my childhood days were spent beside the River Umber that flows through the village of Combe Martin. It was from this river that I caught my first freshwater fish a small wild brown trout of just a few ounces. The river also produced good numbers of eels that would seize a worm intended for the trout. During the 1970’s wild brown trout thrived within this small river and I caught hundreds of buttercup flanked trout with bright crimson spots. The prolonged drought of 1976 had a severe impact upon the river and many trout perished as some stretches of the river dried up. The river made a partial recovery but was hit by several pollutions that decimated stocks further.

I have never lost sight of this tiny river walking its banks from time to time on a stroll down memory lane. I haven’t fished it since the late seventies but still relish the memories of those trout and the adventures I had beside the river. On my last few visits I have failed to spot any trout and feared that the population had all but died out.

I recently read of a scheme to monitor the water quality in the River Umber and saw a report of fish being seen in the river. With the present drought I was worried that the river had dried up so Pauline and I took a walk beside the dwindling water. Some of those childhood haunts had changed little with familiar trees and walls still present.

The water flow was alarmingly low but it was at least still flowing. The water was clear though there were a few silty deposits. I noted one of the water monitoring stations and was pleased to see this indication that some still care about the river.

To my delight as I peered into the water I glimpsed two trout ancestors of those wild trout that brought me so much childhood joy.

Worrying Times

Photo – With kind permission of Ian Lewis
Wistlandpound Reservoir

As I write this drizzle is freshening the land but will do little to replenish local rivers and reservoirs that are showing the signs of an extensive drought. If the dry weather continues our news screens will be filled with drought fears and water companies will undoubtedly be forced to contemplate imposing hose pipe bans. If we do not get substantial rain this will be inevitable but all too late I fear. Water is a precious commodity for both ourselves and the environment. As anglers we see the dwindling rivers and most of us have ceased fishing many rivers as fish are threatened with low oxygen levels and increasing risks from pollution.

Dwindling water flow in the River East Lyn

Harts tongue ferns wilting

On my trips to the waters edge I have been alarmed by what I perceive as a significant lack of swallows, swifts and martins. Whilst at Wistlandpound recently I failed to spot any swallows. The swallows are often seen swooping low over water feasting upon fly’s emerging from the lake. The evening rises of years ago are few and far between now as I fear a dramatic reduction in insect life.

The impact of climate change is widely apparent compounded further by mankinds intensive use of the land fuelled by  an ever increasing population. There is hope in the growing awareness of natures decline but I fear it is all too late. I hope that I am wrong but the decline I have witnessed in my life is dramatic and life is short in real terms.

” Life’s a long song but the tune ends too soon for us all”

A parched outfield at North Devon Cricket Club, Instow

I attach a copy of correspondence from South Molton & District Angling Club. This highlights typical issues that impact upon local rivers and how anglers are at the forefront of raising concern.

Dear all

Its been brought to my attention of potential water and general environmental pollution on the bray by hanson quarry activities.
Mike Coulson, a club member, emailed me yesterday. I thought all club members should and keep an eye on our precious river. Fishing activity should not be encouraged in these low water conditions as the fish are probably stressed enough already but if you are in the area, walking, driving and notice any discolouratioin, milky colour, take a picture,time and place and inform the EA to keep the pressure on. 
I have copied mike’s email for your digestion.
thanks
Ed Rands (chairman)
  I attended a small meeting at the village Charles on Tuesday with 3 local people, including a contracted employee of Hansons and other quarries, a Parish Counsellor and a doctor,  to discuss the extended working at the Hanson Quarry below Brayford (due to work on the link road) and the increased pollution caused by the more frequent blasting. The concerns of those attending were the potentially serious health issues connected to breathing in silica dust from the atmosphere. (Silica dust particles become trapped in lung tissue causing inflammation and scarring. Silicosis results in permanent lung damage and is a progressive, debilitating, and sometimes fatal disease).
I was invited, with the blessing of South Molton Anglers, to provide a view from the angling community about the blasting – particularly about the potential damage caused by run-off from the quarry entering the river Bray (silting up Salmon and Seatrout spawning beds). The 3 locals approached Hansons about their concerns and so far have not had any response to their request for a plan to stop the dust and run-off. They intend to hold a meeting at Brayford village hall to increase awareness of the silica issue, gather more information from people who may have been affected and then with this information, put pressure on Hansons to act. From an angling/conservation point of the view one of the major worries is that if Hansons are to stop the increased dust they will have to use more water to spray on the workings. This will mean more run-off. The manager of Hansons who talked to the residents of Charles before my meeting admitted that there were traps at the quarry that are supposed to capture run-off but they haven’t been cleaned or maintained for as long as he’s been there. The Charles resident who is a contracted employee of Hansons and other quarries stated that Hansons are well known for their lack of regulation and limited concern about safety/ environmental matters. 
 
One other concern is whether Hansons has an abstraction license – there are large pumps placed in the river near the quarry. It would be useful to know when they can abstract and how much water they are allowed to take.
 
In my recent discussion with the Charles group, I understand that next steps are a request for monitoring of the river Bray and a record kept of any visible run off. South Molton Anglers could probably assist with this. There is also a chap with a small holding below Newton Bridge who has already reported seeing “the river run white” who could be approached. More information will hopefully be gathered from the Brayford town hall meeting and then perhaps a careful approach to the press can be made – if no response from Hansons. 
I hope these two issues are of interest. Any thoughts you might have about how the angling community could help would be much appreciated.

The below report is full of statistics that makes grim reading. Statistics are of course complex and influenced by many factors that make them difficult to analyse. Data is vital in gaining knowledge yet there is seldom a level playing field. There are those who will want to ban angling completely in an effort to protect salmon stocks. In my view this would be counterproductive as anglers care deeply about the rivers and the salmon. Take away the anglers and who will care? Who will be there to observe the unfolding disaster?

The latest news on salmon stocks makes for grim reading see below from Mike Moser of the Nature Recovery Group.

Worrying news for Atlantic salmon in the Taw and Torridge river systems as the Environment Agency issues its latest assessments.
Salmon populations in both rivers are now considered “At Risk” (of local extinction); in the previous assessment, populations in the Torridge were “At Risk” and in the Taw “Probably At Risk” – so this is another step in the wrong direction. We urgently need concerted action throughout the catchments to identify the sources of pollution and sedimentation which are so damaging to salmon breeding. And we urgently need more restoration of peatlands and wet grasslands throughout the catchment to help maintain river flows.
The Smart Biosphere project in the Umber (Combe Martin) catchment has done just that, with sensors throughout the catchment delivering real time data for land management so that farmers and others can take positive actions to address any issues.
Let’s replicate this throughout the Taw/Torridge systems, and all work together to address the issues before it is too late for our Salmon.

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1093963/SalmonReport-2021-assessment.pdf

Wistlandpound – A Short Evening Session

After reading a few reports of good sized rudd being caught at Wistlandpound on Dry Fly Tactics I decided it was time to enjoy a short evening session. After a long dry spring and early summer the reservoir is now very low with a vast area of bank now fishable. Water clarity is still excellent with no signs of significant  algal blooms.

The lake was mirror calm and a few fish were rising. I opted for an easy to see Dry Fly as the light values were already starting to drop. I started at the top end of the reservoir and soon connected with a trout of around 10oz. To my surprise it was rainbow trout that have not to my knowledge been stocked for around ten years. It is possible that it has been accidentally stocked with brown trout but as far as I know the lake is now promoted as an un-stocked wild fishery. This raises the interesting possibility that there is a breeding population of rainbows in the lake?

A few more missed takes followed before I connected with a lovely brown trout of 10″.

After adding another brown to my tally I set out to target the rudd and managed a brace of golden flanked rudd as the light begin to fade. Both fish succumbing to a small peter ross fished slowly through a large shoal. There are undoubtedly some big rudd to be caught but getting though the small fish is challenging. The large numbers of rudd fry will undoubtedly result in some good sport with wild browns during early autumn.

LAUNCHING FROM A PEBBLY FORESHORE

Assembled on the pebbles

It was good to once again stand upon the pebbly foreshore at Beer with five fellow anglers awaiting the arrival of our skipper. It was 7.00am and we had all made an early start to reach this unique East Devon beach. This was my second boat fishing trip to Beer in search of Black Bream and I was looking forward to our day afloat.

I don’t think any of my fellow anglers had fished out of Beer before and I’m sure they all felt that sense of anticipation especially relishing the very special launching protocol on this steep beach. The boats are launched from the beach using a combination of tractors, wooden rollers (logs) winch wires and gravity!

I fished from Orca last October enjoying a fabulous day and was confident that Stuart Pike our skipper would find us a few fish and share a wealth of information gained during his many years at sea.

            Stuart greeted us all warmly and helped us to load our abundance of  gear onto the boat prior to launching. The morning sun was just rising over the white cliffs, a calm sea awaiting us. Those heat wave days already seemed a distant memory, I was sure I felt a slight chill in the morning air those golden days of autumn awaiting on life’s horizon.

            We watched the boat and skipper crash into the calm waters before climbing aboard from the mobile pontoon.

            First stop was to try and feather up a few fresh mackerel for bait. The mackerel proved hard to find with just a few succumbing from various marks despite good numbers showing on the fish finder.

            We had plenty of frozen mackerel and squid for the bream fishing so Stuart suggested we get out on the bream grounds and catch the tide. The fishing grounds are not too far out and are reached in less than half an hour.

            We all had light tackle set ups with only light leads required to send the baits down. Rigs were simple two hook paternoster rigs. I was using size 4 Sakuma Kong Hooks that are sharp, strong and reliable.

            Stuart sent down a bait dropper of chum setting up a scent trail that would hopefully entice black bream to our baits. Bites came within minutes sharp rattles on the rod tips. That brought small pouting, scad, mackerel and bream to the boat. Keith was delighted to boat a grey gurnard his first of the species and another milestone in his quest to catch as many species as possible. This gurnard his 200th from fresh and salt-waters across the world.

            Banter flowed freely between all on board as friends were re-united and new friendships forged. I had booked this trip last autumn and the final line up had changed several times over the months as potential participants drifted in and out of the plan. Fortunately, I have many angling friends keen to get afloat.

            The cast for today’s adventure came from all over the South West. Keith Armishaw runs  River Reads bookshop and River Reads Press with his wife Sandy https://www.riverreads.co.uk . Dr Mark Everard http://www.markeverard.uwclub.net is an author, scientist and broadcaster who has a deep passion for angling and the environment. Peter Robinson is a keen sea angler and fellow member of the Combe Martin Sea Angling Club. Mark Dean travelled down with Mark and is an all-round angler based in Somerset.

Bruce Elston is a keen all-round angler who renovates antique furniture from his work shop, Esox Antiques( The title gives a clue as to his favourite species of fish) in mid Devon.

Bruce Elston with his first black bream
Dr Mark Everard with a pleasing bream
Mark Dean with a specimen mackerel
Keith Armishaw is pleased with a black bream

            The social aspect of charter boat fishing is a significant part of its charm. The bringing together of anglers into a small often cramped space is a recipe that encourages close cooperation as participants engage in the all to frequent game of knit one pearl one. Fine braided lines, hooks and traces entwining into occasionally challenging puzzles that often prove more fascinating than Rubik Cubes. This challenging team game is spiced up with the addition of twisting congers and a rocking boat. Fortunately,  Stuart Pike our patient skipper is an expert in this pastime and assists frequently in addition to offering constant advice in reducing the frequency of the tangling game.

Stuart works hard at unhooking fish and untangling lines

            Tangles are of course an inevitable occurrence made worse by our reluctance to fully focus upon one fish species. The fishing grounds host a wide variety of species in addition to the bream that we were targeting with our light tackle. Undulate ray, thornback ray, blonde ray, spotted ray and small eyed ray were all likely along with conger. A second heavier rod and line gave the chance of these larger species. We would of course have been better advised to focus on one rod and fish it well rather than fish two and compromise our chances.

Keith with the only ray of a day

            In between marks Stuart spied a vast ball of whitebait breaking the calm sea. We motored over and drifted strings of shining feathers into a shimmering mass. It was mesmerizing to glimpse the tiny fish twisting and turning in the clear waters. The thousands of fry could be heard like rain beating upon the water. We knew that some predator was working below to create this mass. Whilst we suspected mackerel we failed to tempt any number. Stuart suggested that it could be the first tuna of the season and we had our cameras at the ready just in case.

            The main mark for the day was a muddy depression set close to a reef. Fishing proved to be steady throughout the day. Bruce added several black bream to his first of the species caught during the morning of the trip. Big channel mackerel gave spirited battles on light tackle. Numerous scad were kept for use as winter pike baits. Conger were frequent visitors to the boat side tempted with large fresh fish baits intended for ray. Keith boated the days only ray a small well marked thornback. The unusual catch of  coral frequently referred to as dead man’s fingers providing a glimpse at the wonders of the seabed far below.

            The days fishing passed by all too quickly as fishing days tend to do. The sounds of gulls, the sights of soaring gannets. Boats  viewed on distant horizons the dark outlines of of the Jurassic coast seemingly sketched as a break between land and sea.

A good at sea

            Orca crashed into the shingle of busy Beer Beach. The hustle and bustle of beach life a contrast to the tranquillity of the day afloat. The boat was winched slowly up the steep beach to rest above the tide line. We offloaded and trudged over the pebbles to our cars.

The general vibe was that it had been a good day with all keen to do it again next year.

            We assembled for a coffee in the Anchor Inn, a welcome shot of caffeine to keep us awake on the long drive home.

      

Vintage Motors Stir Memories

My wife and I attended the Woolsery Show at the end of July and came across a display of vintage Seagull Outboards. Chatting to the gentlemen who restores these outboards we discussed how times have changed. We reflected upon our youthful days beside the coast, messing about on the water. I am sure many sea anglers of a certain vintage will have fond memories of boating days. The Seagull outboard was undoubtedly basic but it was fundamentally sound British engineering and a relic from those days before we became refrained by a culture of fearful protection.

Reflecting upon those youthful days I sometimes wonder how we got through them for looking back we did some stupid things. My mate Graham had a boat that we had christened “Leaky Lil” for obvious reasons. An old wooden pram dingy that was probably less than eight foot long. I recall setting out for a days fishing from Combe Martin with my mates Graham, and Chunky. The sea was flat calm and we chugged up channel powered by our old faithful seagull outboard. We anchored off Heddon’s Mouth Beach and the tide rushed past at a rate of knots giving the effect of being anchored in a fast flowing river. With the three of us and all our fishing gear there was only a few inches freeboard. I don’t recall what we caught on that day or other days. But to be out in such a little boat with no lifejackets, flares, radio etc. was sheer stupidity. In addition to these foolish days at sea we climbed cliffs, explored caves and coves. We also searched for crabs on low water spring tides peering into those delightfully mysterious holes. Those summers of youth spent amongst barnacle encrusted rocks and salty kelp have I guess instilled a permanent love of the sea.

Above extract is from my book ” I Caught A Glimpse” published in 2019 by the the Little Egret Press.

https://thelittleegretpress.co.uk/product/i-caught-a-glimpse-ltd-edition-hardback/

LURE FISHING

I joined South Molton Angling Club for an evening at Instow where members tried their luck with both Fly and lure tactics. It was an enjoyable evening but no bass were tempted. Fortunately the Cricket Club gave a chance for members to discuss tactics for next time over a welcome pint.

http://www.highstreettackle.co.uk

The following night I headed out onto the coast where I enjoyed more success. Early into the session I tempted a small bass on a surface lure and went on to tempt four more after dark on a soft plastic. The best of these a nice fish of 64cm that will be enjoyed pan fried with just a sprinkling of pepper.

Combe Martin SAC Lure Competition – fish registered so far.

Daniel Welch. three bass total – 167.5 cm

James Corner two bass – 122 cm

Wayne Thomas two bass – 115 cm

Peter Robinson one bass – 62 cm

Ross Stanway – One bass = 53 cm

A boat caught bass for James Corner of 60cm

WAY OUT WEST ON REEL DEAL

Extreme Heat warning for large areas of the UK !  Not a problem 50 odd miles West of Ilfracombe  where I enjoyed a great day drifting for shark on Reel Deal skippered by Dan Hawkins. Armed with a couple of cameras I attempted to capture the day enjoyed by three Welsh anglers and an Italian. I intend to write a full feature on the trip but thought I would share a few images of the day that speak for themselves.

Many thanks to Dan Burt, Nick Davis,Tom Lardner and Stefano for making me welcome and to Dan Hawkins Skipper of Reel Deal for sharing his thoughts and expertise.

Steaming Way out West – Leaving the Dramatic North Devon Coast behind.
Fifty-Three miles out in the deeps and the wait begins – ‘Expectation’
Blue Skies – Waiting rods
Shark on ! The joy and excitement is clear to see as Stefano battles with a denizen from the deep.

All shark are now realeased boat side.

Dan grabs the rod and sets the hook as  a shark grabs a bait fished boat side.

Fulmars often give warning that sharks are about taking off suddenly.

A blue shark appears in the clear water after the fulmars take off in alarm

Dan Hawkins works hard setting up rigs and unhooking constantly offers advice. Along with regular tea and coffee
Dan Burt feels the hurt as a shark dives deep.
Dan Burt with a fine blue estimated at 90lb +
With barbless circle hooks all the shark were released at the side of the boat

Nick Davis plays a hard fighting blue as Dan looks on offering encouragement
Tom Lardner in action
Floats bob optimistically upon the vast ocean – Any second—what is beneath?
Neatly hooked in the scissors
Quality Penn tackle supplied by High Street Tackle

On the way back we are treated to the wonderful sights of dolphins

 

Drought Thoughts 2022

Advice from Richard Fieldhouse of Barbless Flies

As I’m sure you are well aware, it’s been pretty hot over the last few days  in this weather it is recommended to leave the fish in both rivers and stillwaters alone. Water temperature has a massive effect on the ability of a fish to recover once it has been caught – it is generally accepted that once the water temperature is above 18°C, fish will start to become stressed (the warmer the water, the less oxygen is dissolved in it).

For the above reasons, it’s probably just best to give the fishing a miss and sit in the garden with a cold drink for the next few days – enjoy it while it lasts!

The above is good advice for those who fish rivers and small still waters. It is alarming to see how low our rivers are here in the South West. I paused to look over the wall at Barnstaple Square on a recent evening out. A large salmon was swimming lethargically close to the wall. It was sad to see this iconic fish aimlessly swimming the estuary as it waits for rain to swell the rivers enabling it to forge upriver to achieve its life goal.

A few weeks ago whilst on the lower Taw I found a dying lamprey languishing in the shallows. These prehistoric creatures have been migrating  rivers since before dinosaurs roamed the land. And that is a long time ago. It is good to see that they are surviving in our rivers though it is worth thinking about their perilous existence as mankind continues to trash the world.

Are there many left who deny that climate change is happening? Are those that deny it totally removed from nature?

Wimbleball levels dropping after months of dry weather.

SEEK THE DEEPS IN HOT SUMMER SUN

I joined Snowbee Ambassador Jeff Pearce at Wimbleball Lake to try for a summer rainbow. We knew conditions would be challenging with the long hot dry spell continuing to impact upon the lake and the surrounding countryside.

Jeff had already been fishing for several hours when I joined him in late afternoon. He had boated a rainbow of over 4lb and had lost a couple. We hoped that the fish would come on the feed as the hot sun sank beneath the surrounding hills.

We set off for the wooded Upton Arm to try a few drifts. The water level had dropped significantly since my last visit in Late May. The expanding shoreline revealed scars from the past with tree stumps standing high and bare like skeletons upon the barren shore. Jeff likened them to alien invaders.

Michelle Werrett has written a nostalgic feature in Fallon’s Angler that touches upon this lost valley that was flooded in the 1970’s to meet the ever increasing demand for water across the South West.

www.fallonsangler.net 

As we drift across the water it is fascinating to try and picture what this valley once looked like with deep woodland descending to the streams that flowed at their base. The wild brown trout that thrive within the lake and the minnows  swimming in the margin’s descendants from this flooded landscape.

I started off with a floating line and a long leader a fab on the point and two buzzers on droppers. Jeff fished a fast sink line with booby and a fab with smaller imitative pattern between.

(Above) The vital link

After an hour without success, we headed for the deep water off the dam close to the aeration curtain. This was where Jeff had enjoyed success earlier in the day an area that often fishes well during prolonged spells of hot weather.

I changed over to a fast sink line with a bright booby on the point, a small imitative pattern on the middle dropper and a bright fab on the top dropper. There is a certain fascination with fishing down deep and slow. Expectation that a big hard fighting rainbow will seize the flies far below the boat. This expectation is fuelled as we chat with fellow anglers who have caught a few and lost several powerful fish.

After fifteen minutes Jeff hooks a hard fighting rainbow that battles gamely before being coaxed to the net. I hook a fish close to boat that slips the hook after a short tussle giving my confidence a welcome boost.

As the hot sun beats down I am pleased that I have made good use of a hat and sunglasses to protect from the hot sun. Plenty of water is essential to keep hydrated on these long hot and challenging summer days.

After  several changes of tip fly I eventually tempt a hard fighting rainbow of around  2lb. A well earned reward for persisting deep and slow.

Some excellent fishing can be enjoyed on even the hottest summer days with the deep water undoubtedly the place to target as fish seek cooler waters and increased oxygen levels.