Out of Lockdown Trip to Wimbleball

I took advantage of the partial easing of lockdown on Monday and travelled to Wimbleball Reservoir high on Exmoor in search of the venues hard fighting rainbows. On arrival a cool breeze was blowing and mist shrouded the hills, with sunshine forecast later in the day it was likely that the best sport would come early in the day. The water was certainly cold as I waded out to begin searching the water. A floating line and long leader with small black lures proved effective and soon brought a few pulls before I eventually stayed connected to a hard fighting rainbow of around 3lb. This was followed by two more similar sized fish before midday when the sun broke through as forecast.

The lakes surface reflected the blue sky and shimmered brightly, birdsong reverberated all around, buzzards soared high above and a pair of greater crested grebes flirted in the spring sunshine. The croaking of toads drifted across the water and fresh buds where bursting out from the tips of the bankside trees. There is far more to this fishing lark than catching fish!

As expected the fishing went quiet for a while but a change to an intermediate line in late afternoon brought further action with a wild brown trout and a brace of superb rainbow the biggest estimated at over 6lb.

Throughout the day I changed my flies several times in search of the correct pattern for the moment. I often ponder upon the value of changing patterns and its actual impact on results. The six trout I tempted were tempted on the following patterns; black wooly bugger 2,  Blue flash and olive Damsel 2, black buzzer 1 and orange blob 1. It is important to remember that there are many other factors to take into consideration beyond the choice of fly/lure including feeding depth, light values and rate of retrieve. It is also worth asking the question as to whether we are trying to imitate natural food that forms part of the trout’s diet or trying to stimulate a reaction? Generally early season I tend to go for black or olive and probably had  a black lure of some type or a damsel on the point throughout 95% of the day and fished a team of 3 flies throughout. The biggest fish of the day fell to the orange blob yet I only put this fly on late in the day when I had swapped to an intermediate line and speeded up the retrieve. Most decisions are made on the basis of an educated hunch and for most of my fishing I stick to the tried and trusted though this has changed over the years as patterns have come in and out of vogue.

It is this continual search for the answers that keeps us fishing the fun part is that each day has a different set of questions and different answers.

Beside A Clear Water Stream

Beneath the Bridge

Turning off the busy main road I follow a narrow lane flanked with primroses and fresh green growth. Several old farmsteads are nestled in the valley and it is exciting to be exploring new ground even though it is less than 10 miles from home. I park close to the bridge and walk up to take a look at the clear waters below as the sun shines into the deep clear water.

As I set up a light-weight nymphing outfit buzzards circle high above silhouetted against a blue sky with high white clouds drifting in the brisk westerly wind. I walk slowly up river searching the deeper runs and riffles with a pair of weighted nymphs. It is a delight to be out wading in the cool water and I am sure I will hook at least a couple of small wild browns before the morning is out.

A Clear Water Stream

I flick my flies searching the water exploring each run and riffle. Dippers flit up and down the river, pheasants take off in alarm as I push up through the valley. A sudden movement catches my eye as two deer gallop across the field opposite entering the river fifty yards above where I am  fishing. For a moment they stand transfixed in mid river before dashing away in a flurry of spray to disappear into the woods.

The tree fish steal a couple of flies whilst the trout are elusive, the morning evaporates all too quickly and I send a text to say I will be an hour late home. I catch a fleeting glimpse of  electric blue as a kingfisher flashes past. The occasional fly hatches from the river. Its’ going to be good here in the late spring and early summer. The clocks spring forward tonight and lighter evenings beckon.

As I return to the van a skien of Canada geese fly-overhead their distinctive call echoing across the valley. Half a dozen buzzards are riding the thermals.



Return to the River


It was good to once again wander the river bank and swing a fly in the hope of a spring run salmon. The seasons come and go so quickly and it is hard to believe that twelve months have flashed past. Once again the wild daffodils are decorating the banks as natures calendar turns its pages.

The water is cold and fairly clear  running at a perfect height. Several years ago on March 7th I netted a fresh run Springer of around 9lb so I am optimistic that success could come with any cast. I drift the Fly across familiar water and on one cast there is a brief tightening of the line followed a second later by a heaviness. Too gentle to be trout it could be a snag in the river. Repeated casts over the same spot rule this out so I change my Fly and cover the lie again. There is a brief tug and a flurry of spray as what was a good sized trout shakes the hook free. Im not convinced that it was the trout that intercepted the fly first drift. Salmon takes can be so subtle at times feeling like a drifting leaf has brushed the hook. I contemplate what might have been and fish on content that I have a full season ahead.



Blakewell Features in Trout & salmon

I always tend to associate Spring with trout and salmon fishing so when picking up the Tesco shop I indulged in the April Edition of Trout and Salmon Magazine. Browsing through its pages of pleasing images I was delighted to come upon local fishery owner Richard Nickell’s familiar smiling features.

The magazine has another excellent feature on trout fishing on Dartmoor with local cane rod builder Luke Bannister.

A pleasing brace of doubles taken on my last visit to Blakewell back in December.

Salmon Season Starts

March 1st is the first day of the salmon season on North Devon Rivers and both the Taw and Torridge are looking good running high and clear.

I took my rod the bottom of the Taw at midday and had a few casts to greet the new season. This was on the Barnstaple Club Water and I suspect any fish that have moved in will have pushed up river with plenty of water and big tides. It was good to wade out into the cool water once again and flex the rod. I can remember the river on opening day when I started fishing for salmon back in the late seventies when club members would have been out in numbers hoping for that first fish off the season. Sadly the number of anglers have dwindled along with the spring salmon. Another major factor is the mandatory catch and release that is now enforced along with a spinning being discouraged despite being legal for the first month of the season.

I  am always fascinated at the amount of debris brought down by the winter spates. It is hard to imagine the ferocity of the waters that carried this so high onto the bank. It is also fascinating to see how the river changes each year as nature moulds its path to the sea.

Big Bulldog Browns

It’s an exciting time of year as winter passes with new fishing adventures on the horizon. Today was the last day of winter yet at this time of year the seasons seem to fluctuate from day to day and even from morning till night.  There was frost on the grass when I looked out of the bedroom window as the moon sank beneath the tree line and the sun rose from the opposite direction illuminating the fields as the frost  melted away in a warm dawn glow.

I was fishing at Bulldog fishery which is less than five miles from my home so truly local. The lane to the fishery winds down through woodland and between the remains of the old Lynton to Barnstaple Railway. The Fishery is located beside the Barnstaple Yeo that was running high and clear its sparkling water flowing into the  top of the lake. I have been meaning to pay the fishery a visit for sometime after seeing some stunning images of its big brown trout.

I set up and walked the fishery bank peering into the clear water. The shaded far bank proved an ideal vantage point with the sun behind me I could see clearly into the lake. The downside of course was that my shadow could also be cast onto the water alerting the fish of my presence.

The trees would hopefully break my silhouette. Half way down the Lake I glimpsed two very large trout just a couple of rod lengths from the bank. I pulled a few yards of line from the reel and wetted the damsel nymph in the margin. The line was carefully flicked out in front of the trout; my heart was in my mouth the fish turned towards the fly eyeing it with intent for a moment before turning away showing disdain at my offering.

Such chances are often fleeting but it was an exciting start to the trip. I moved along the bank and put a long line parallel to the bank. After a couple of pulls the line drew tight and a trout pulled back. An impressive brown trout its spotted sides showing clearly in the gin clear water. The trout close to five pounds was certainly a great start to the day.

A few casts later a rainbow chased the olive damsel nymph close to the bank where I saw its mouth open and engulf the lure.

With two trout on the bank I was pleased to take a break from fishing and chat with the fishery owner Nigel Early about his exciting plans for the fishery. The trout lake is due to be considerably enlarged to provide far more bank space making it an ideal venue for visiting clubs or small groups of anglers. This is an intimate Stillwater trout fishery that contains some huge brown trout up to 15lb that are undoubtedly wily and worthy targets. The fishery policy is for all browns over 5lb to be returned carefully to the water preserving a valuable asset and ensuring that visiting anglers have the chance to catch the fish of a lifetime. There are two day ticket options; four fish £30 or five fish £35. Large returned browns do not count as part of this bag.

Nigel is no stranger to big trout and was proud to tell me that he had provided stock fish from the trout farm that have set English, Scottish and Welsh records Including rainbows of 26lb 9oz (Welsh) and 24lb 6oz ( Scottish).

Another project underway is a carp lake of several acres that has been stocked with ten carp over thirty pound and another 120 carp ranging from low doubles to mid twenties. There will be ten swims on the lake that should open in early May and will undoubtedly provide some exciting fishing. I feel sure that the lake will mature nicely over the coming years to bring a valuable carping venue close to Barnstaple.

After leaving Nigel to continue his work I returned to the trout lake where I managed to spot another huge brown trout that once again frustrated my efforts swimming at my nymph before turning away and disappearing into the depths of the lake. Several good sized fish were showing near the inlet and followed my olive damsel before turning away. With the sun beaming down from a clear blue sky it was undoubtedly time for a little finesse. A bead headed nymph was flicked out and the lines tip twitched. A 4lb plus rainbow was added to my bag. With Sunday dinner waiting I reeled in and headed for home thoughts of big browns etched on the minds eye.

A Stubbornly Buoyant float

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I fished in hope of perch today suspending half a juicy lobworm beneath a sliding float. The six hours passed by all too quickly with the float remaining stubbornly buoyant throughout the day. It was sheltered in the old quarry as gale force winds roared above, the trees swaying vigorously too and fro. The dark and moody water hiding its secrets. Fallen trees lay rotting at the waters edge. It has been several years since I last fished here and it was good to be back finding that it was reassuringly familiar. Waters are like old friends that never seem to age.

Reports from lockdown

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For those who don’t buy the Journal here are a couple of recent angling reports written during lockdown. With a reduction in angling news it’s been liberating to have the freedom to write something different beyond the normal catch reports.

ANGLING REPORT – January 11th 



            The Angling Trust have done a sterling job in lobbying government to allow angling to continue within the present strict lockdown rule. Angling can be practiced locally as daily exercise and whilst angling would not generally be considered as cardiovascular exercise it is undoubtedly beneficial for mental health. Anglers must make their own judgement regarding the ethics of fishing during the lockdown and whether it is within the spirit of public good. Angling is without doubt as COVID safe as is possible the only issue could arise if an accident arises whilst fishing or travelling to the water’s edge. This could of course impact upon the busy emergency services as can virtually any activity.

As a result of the lockdown angling reports are few and far between so I will take this opportunity to look back at angling in North Devon during the past. It is generally accepted that fish stocks have declined dramatically in recent times and I would certainly concur with this view. I would however add that the picture is not always as bleak as it is painted.

I have over recent years raised serious concerns regarding the all too frequent pollution incidents that impact upon our local rivers. Fortunately I feel that there is a ground swell of concern across society for the health of the planet that could bring renewed hope. Since I have been casting a line in North Devon’s rivers I have seen a dramatic decline in salmon numbers. There are many reasons for this but it is not the first time in our history that salmon have been endangered by human activity. During the Victorian era many rivers were dammed for water mills and effluent was frequently discharged into the regions rivers that were treated as open sewers.

I came across an old newspaper cutting recently that reflects upon fishing the Upper Teign. “ When I called, in the dim light of a December evening, Mr Perrott was putting the finishing touches to a red Maxwell. He last went fishing on April 5th 1930, but as the water was very high and the weather very cold he only got two trout. On his eightieth birthday he walked eight and a half miles and caught eighteen. “Trout are not so numerous as in the good old days” said Mr Perrott. “They were more plentiful when the lead mines at Christow prevented the salmon from getting into the upper reaches. I on one occasion killed one thousand trout in ten days and one day one hundred and twenty-two. I started at 5.00am and finished at 2.00pm. It is not necessarily the neatest fly that kills. The modern fly is too small. Fish rise to them but do not take.”

The above extract from the Western Times Newspaper, January 1st 1932 raised several interesting facts. The first observation is that whilst the River Teign was considered a top class salmon fishing river in recent times it was not always so as pollution from mine workings undoubtedly had a significant impact upon the rivers migratory fish population. The apparent abundance of wild trout is on the other hand quite staggering.

The book ,Exmoor Streams By Clave.F.Wade published in 1903  has many mesmerising tales of tumbling streams with abundant wild trout and salmon. The author recalls  “They are at times so plentiful that I remember a boy once catching between seventy and eighty in the same pool fishing downstream with flies. I admit I have eaten them and they are even better and sweeter than the trout.” To my horror I realise that he is referring to salmon parr! That the River East Lyn survived such overfishing is testimony to the resilience of the salmon.


Mysteries of the past

The lockdown has inevitably impacted heavily on angling with travel restricted in line with national lockdown guidelines. There has been widespread debate regarding what is deemed local with angling permitted as daily exercise on a local basis.

This is perhaps the quietest time of year for angling with most looking forward to the Springtime that will bring longer days and hopefully an easing of the COVID situation.

I once again take this opportunity to reflect on angling in North Devon in the past. In 2019 I was privileged to have a book published entitled; “ I Caught A Glimpse” that includes a mixture of my own recollections and those of others.

The Bristol Channel was once the home of huge common skate that were frequently landed from deep-water marks. The largest of these weighed in excess of 200lb and were boated using tackle far inferior to that available today. Earlier this Winter Combe Martin SAC member Jamie Steward was fishing from a shore mark near Weston-Super-Mare when he hooked a rare blue skate. Whilst the fish was not large in skate terms at 8lb 3oz it confirmed that these fish still swim within the murky waters of the Bristol Channel. The reason the large skate disappeared was undoubtedly as a result of overfishing in past decades. These huge fish support a recreational fishery off the West Coast of Scotland where a strict catch and release policy has resulted in a thriving population. Perhaps these fish could re-populate North Devon’s local waters if conservation measures were introduced.

It is not just off the coast that species have disappeared as North Devon has also lost freshwater species. The River Taw renowned for its game fishing also has a population of Coarse fish including roach and dace. Whilst dace  still abound the specimen roach that were once abundant have all but vanished. These fish were caught to over 3lb and interviewed anglers who caught these fish on a regular basis up until the late seventies when the population appears to have collapsed. The reason for this is unclear as the water quality enables a thriving population of wild brown trout that are generally considered to be less tolerant of poor quality water than roach.

It is likely that other species of fish once swam in the Taw and Torridge including perhaps mighty sturgeon that have become extinct across the UK.  There are occasional reports of twaite shad caught from both the Taw and Torridge during late spring. These fish are protected by law and must be returned immediately to the water. Large shoals still migrate up the River Severn and Wye each Spring seizing lures intended for trout and salmon.

It is testament to man-kinds disregard for the natural world that many species of fish have swum into the history books. As we witness the dramatic decline in salmon and sea trout stocks I worry that future generations will reflect upon the treasures that we have allowed to dwindle and die during our watch.

A Sunday morning brace of trout

It was good to be beside the calm waters of my local trout fishery as a weak wintry sun peeped through the morning clouds. I threaded a five weight floater line through the rings relishing a quiet couple of hours searching the water. I tied a buoyant fly from barbless flies https://www.barbless-flies.co.uk/products/stillwater-dinkhamer-selection  and suspended a couple of small nymphs beneath it. I stretched the line out across the water retrieving at a slow pace focussing on the floating fly. On the second cast the fly disappeared and I tightened and felt the pleasing resistance of a rainbow trout.

I spent the next half an hour enjoying the motions of fly fishing. The swish off the rod and pleasing settling down of flies and line one upon the calm water. With no further action I pondered upon the fact that a trout so often falls on the first couple of casts at the water. It is as if the catching of that first fish transmits a warning to the lakes residents?

A change of tactics is called for and I tie on an olive damsel removing the buoyant Dinkhammer and cast out allowing the bead headed lure to sink deeper into the lake. After a couple of casts the line draws tight and a vividly spotted full tailed brown trout is brought protesting to the net.

With a brace of trout secured its time to stroll back along the lakeside taking note of the daffodils pushing forth in a promise of the coming spring.

I return home for Sunday dinner and still have time for a walk around the village on a quiet winters day with thoughts of better times ahead.