Tony Watkins fished the Weir-Marsh and Brightly beats on the River Taw to tempt his first ever salmon a bright bar of silver estimated at 11lb. The salmon was tempted on a Wee Monkey Needle fly. Congratulations to Tony on his first salmon which I believe is the third fish caught so far this season on the Taw.
Day tickets for this lovely stretch of the Taw can be bought from Chris Steer on 07761 285169
I fished the Torridge with the river looking perfect and tempted no fish. I could use the age-old excuse that the otter swimming through the river disrupted the fish but in truth silver bars of spring are hard won and it seems they are hanging around the lower river. To be out on such a beautiful day is surely pleasure enough for now.
Many thanks to my wife Pauline for capturing a few images of the river.
The trout season on North Devon’s Rivers started on Tuesday and opens up many miles of wild brown trout fishing to fly fishing enthusiasts. The Fish pass scheme offers many miles of fishing across the Westcountry with many of the beats lightly fished in delightful countryside. It is well worth checking out their website https://fishpassapp.co.uk
They also sell tickets for several South West Lakes Trust Waters including Wistlandpound Reservoir near Blackmoor Gate that also opened on March 15th with fishing for wild brown trout and rudd.
I have a season ticket for Wistlandpound and took an opening day stroll around the lake having a few casts here and there. It was late afternoon and the sun was starting to sink beneath the horizon as I savoured the pleasing actions of putting out a line on the water. A few fish rose across the lake and a good swirl behind my fly gave hope of action.
The last stop on our walk saw me cast out as a few more fish rose in the lake. I retrieved the small black lure and was delighted when the line zipped tight. A wild brown gave a spirited tussle before being safely netted. I admired its black and crimson spotted golden flanks before watching the fish dart away into the dark waters in the fading light. The first fish of the season is always special!
Wistlandpound Fly Fishing Club met at Wimbleball Lake for their first competition of the new season and were faced with challenging conditions during the first part of the day.
A cold South Easterly Wind was blowing down the lake into Bessoms and Ruggs which was the area the majority headed.
My own day got off to a flier when a rainbow seized my cormorant dropper on the first cast. I then waited over three hours before catching the next fish. A small black lure fished on an intermediate line being the successful method that accounted for the final four fish of the day.
Paul Grisley caught a rainbow early in the day and also went several hours before catching three more rainbows in the last half hour of the competition. The best of these was a stunning rainbow of 7lb 12oz that took the fly line out to the backing twice.
Early Spring can be challenging and on this day we seemed to have several seasons in one day. The morning was bitterly cold in the South East wind with heavy showers and short spells of sunshine. Late in the day the wind dropped away and the lake took on a mirror like appearance reflecting the dark sky and colours of the landscape.
Result – 1st Paul Grisley – Four Rainbow – Trout 15lb 4oz – Best 7lb 12oz
Heavy rain has brought the river up a bit and brought some turbidity, if it was late Spring I would welcome this but somehow in early Spring the murky water does not inspire. I drift a big brass tube across the favoured spots. Its good to be back despite the cold wind and less than perfect river.
Salmon have been sighted leaping further downriver so its only a matter of time before someone strikes silver!
As I arrive a large bushy tailed fox scrambles into the hedgerow. I note the Spring flowers, daffodils, Primroses and celandines in what I often think of as Springs yellow phase.
I catch a movement in the corner of my eye ! A branch drifting downriver, but its strangely moving across the river? It somersaults in the river a tail slapping the water as it dives. My first glimpse of an otter this year. Whilst otters generate a lot of anger and debate amongst anglers I always thrill at the sight on this River made famous through the writings of Henry Williamson and Tarka the Otter. Otters belong here on this river; it is mankind that has upset the balance decimating the stocks of fish upon which the otters feed. Nature has a fine and complex balance that we so often upset.
It was great to be back once again swinging a fly across familiar salmon lies on the River Torridge. The river level was just about perfect with the first week of the season hampered by high flows and turbid waters. Spring salmon are a great prize that have become increasingly hard to win in recent seasons. Ten years ago today I was lucky to hook and net a beautiful fresh run fish from the Middle Torridge. I have fished every March since without repeating this. I will keep trying savouring the spring flowers and the hopes of a new season.
Fly Fishing enthusiasts from across the South West and beyond gathered at Roadford on March 6th for the popular Fly Fair. After a two year gap due to COVID the event was rejuvenated with an overwhelming sense of joy at a return to a sort of normal.
The event organised by South West Lakes Trust is an invaluable show case for Fly Fishing providing a platform for companies to display their products and more importantly for anglers and lovers of the waterside to mingle generating firm plans for the coming season.
When I arrived home after a day chatting to fellow anglers my mind was buzzing with talk of flies, presentation, tackle, fish and the waters in which they swim along with the extensive environmental challenges. I will try to give a brief account of the day but would urge all who love fly fishing to attend next year.
Thanks must go to South West Lakes Trusts Dil Singh, technical lead for game fishing who organised the event along with his dedicated team. The event was opened by the Fairs patron Charles Jardine who gave a warm welcome stressing how vital angling is to us all during these challenging times. The fairs main sponsor was Chevron Hackles.
Charles delivered a fascinating Fly Casting demonstration later in the day. This was delivered with his normal repertoire of humour with clear inspiring instruction illustrated with a few tales from the waters edge. To watch Charles cast is a true reflection of how an expert makes a task look so easy and effortless. The bitter cold North-East wind was conquered as he both mastered the conditions and captivated the audience.
The basic principle to learn about fly fishing was the importance of relaxing and being at one with the rod and line.
Amongst the fly fishing topics covered were trout, pike and salmon. A rather sad observation made by Charles was that today salmon fishing consisted of plenty of casting practice with the vague chance of catching once a year. This is rather a poignant statement that to my mind very much describes the state of West Country salmon fishing!
Charles ended his demonstration by casting a fly line using a broomstick!
Retreating to the warmth of the conference centre there was an abundance of Fly fishers to engage with and discuss the wonderful places we share and the issues that we feel so passionate about.
The environment was high on the agenda with members of the fish pass team present to discuss the many miles of water available across the South West via their fishpassapp.co.uk The invasive species stand gave valuable information about how anglers can reduce the inadvertent distribution of species by cleaning and drying waders and nets between trips.
Several Fly Fishing groups and associations were well represented with Burrator Fly Fishing Association, Kennick Fly Fishers, Siblyback Fly fishers and Stithians in attendance along with the Pike Fly Fishing Association. Apologies to those I have undoubtedly failed to mention.
Snowbee Tackle were well represented by Simon Kidd and one of their ambassadors Jeff Pearce who mingled with the many angler’s present discussing the finer points of Fly fishing.
It was a delight to catch up with so many friends that share my passion for fishing. The planning of future forays at such social gatherings is undoubtedly vital for the future of fly fishing and it is very clear to see how valuable quality time at the water’s edge is for our mental health and well-being.
Pete Tyjas is editor of Fly Culture magazine a publication that provides a brilliant and inspiring read incorporating quality writing on fly fishing from across the globe. Pete also produces the excellent Fly Culture podcast that makes for fascinating listening on those long drives to fishing destinations. www.flyculturemag.com
It is always good to catch up with John Aplin Managing director at Casterbridge fisheries Limited. I have been very fortunate to visit Johns wonderful stretch of the River Frome in Dorset and even catch some of the marvellous grayling that swim within the clear waters of this tranquil chalkstream. http://www.casterbridgefisheries.co.uk
I was introduced to Nigel Nunn from Kent who has turned his hobby into a full time job.
Nigel is now a full time Fly Tier crafting flies that are intended to catch trout and not anglers. Nigel is a frequent visitor to the South West with his wife Julia who shares his love of fly fishing. Since becoming a full time fly tier Nigel overcame the challenge of impaired vision after developing cataracts on his eyes. Working with fellow anglers Nigel creates flies to imitate the wild insects hatching across the country. He explained how he receives orders from across the country reflecting the timing of fly hatches that move through the rivers of the land generally from South to North.
Luke Bannister builds high quality split cane fly rods for the connoisseur who delights in the qualities of split cane as a tool to deliver the fly. Luke relishes fishing for wild brown trout that abound in West Country rivers.
Rodney Wevill is vice chairman of the Pike Fly Fishing Association and a keen member of the Facebook group fluff chucker’s. Rodney is a keen fly fishing devotee who targets a wide range of species beyond pike.
Rodney has enjoyed success with that most elusive of fish the grey mullet. I expressed my own frustrations at chasing these fish with the fly. Catching mullet on bait is often difficult enough without complicating matters. Rodney and his good friend discussed the intricacies of stalking these mesmerising fish using small flies to imitate their natural food.
Shallow water and feeding fish being the key. This summer will once again see me wading in the shallow clear water of summer following wise words of encouragement from Rodney and his good friend Gary Brazier.
Alan Riddell’s stand with an impressive range of flies
I spent several hours at this year’s fly fair and left buoyed with optimism for the future of Fly Fishing. The challenge for the future is of course to encourage more young participants. Angling has undoubtedly received a boost as many have discovered its true value whilst escaping from COVID induced lockdowns etc. In these increasingly dark times solace can often be found at the waters edge. The ability to wander free with a rod and line is without doubt an experience to both cherish and share.
Can be purchased online via the South West Lakes Trust Website and via the Fishpass App.
The sun was rising above the hills of Exmoor illuminating the sky in shades of golden yellow as I drove the winding road towards Wimbleball Lake. Whilst silhouettes of trees still told of winters grip the roadside snowdrops and rising daffodils told of the coming of spring.
It was the last weekend of February and the first day of a new season on Wimbleball Lake a fishery that has been rejuvenated in recent years following careful management by the Underhill family.
I met with Snowbee Ambassador Jeff Pearce at the lake for 8:00am and chatted with fellow anglers who had travelled down from the North of Bristol leaving shortly before dawn in their eagerness to connect with the first trout of the season. The two month break certainly rejuvenates enthusiasm with over thirty keen anglers booked into fish on this opening day.
Jeff and I had elected to fish the bank confident that the fish would likely to be close in. We started off near to the boat launching jetty where cheerful fishery assistant Trevor helped anglers on their way with words of advice and encouragement. Wading out into the icy cold water I pushed out my intermediate line with a small black lure on the point and a cormorant on the dropper. I paused a few moments allowing the line to sink whilst I looked around admiring the scene before me. Early morning sunshine casting light upon the cold waters that were ruffled by a cold South Easterly breeze. The stark outline of the surrounding hills and trees framing the lake.
I began a slow and lazy retrieve relishing the early season anticipation and expectation. On the second or third cast there came that delightfully electrifying tug as the line pulled tight the rod tip jagging. I lifted into the fish the rod hooping over as the rainbow surged away into the lake. The fish fought gamely testing the tackle and my patience as I coaxed the fish to the waiting net. A full finned rainbow of close to five pound was a great start to the season. Jeff was busy welcoming anglers to the boats and rushed over to catch a few images as I posed with my prize in the icy water.
During the following half an hour I added another three stunning rainbows to the days tally. The icy water stinging the fingers and numbing the toes seemed of little consequence. Jeff eventually joined me hoping to savour his first trout of the season yet by now the South East breeze was increasing in strength making casting more difficult.
We decided to move to a more sheltered area and start a fresh search. Wading out into the waters of a shallow bay we again began the routine of searching the water. Jeffs line zipped tight and he enjoyed battling his first trout of the season a silver rainbow of over 2lb.
We fished the bay for another half an hour without further success and decided once again on a move to deeper water close to Bessom’s bridge. Fishing here proved challenging with the strong icy wind battering the shoreline. Confident that fish would be present we fished hard and I was rewarded with a stunning looking long lean rainbow of close to 4lb.
We gave it another half an hour in the teeth of the wind before conceding defeat and heading once again to sheltered waters. A few fish were being caught in the bay and we fished optimistically before stopping for a bankside sandwich and a coffee.
We discussed tactics and decided to move once again and escape the cool wind. Moving to the far side of the sailing club we found calm sheltered water. By now the sky was a vivid blue with bright sunshine shining into the clear water. Once again my line zipped tight and a wild brown trout exploded from the water performing an acrobatic summersault. Jeff secured a few pics of the immaculate wild fish before it darted away to freedom.
It was mid-afternoon and we sensed a slight easing in the wind speed. The area close to the boat launching area seemed worth a revisit following the success enjoyed earlier in the day.
We braved the cold wind for an hour before conceding defeat at close to 4.00pm. Late February high on Exmoor can be brutal but the rewards are high with Wimbleball’s hard fighting rainbow trout amongst the hardest fighting trout I have ever encountered.
Fishing this vast often windswept lake feels truly wild.
Early season the fish can be concentrated as the catch returns revealed at the end of the day with some anglers recording up to twenty fish. Both bank and boat fishing giving great sport with the popular lures of the day working well.
I have always found black lures or olive damsels to produce well in early season fished down in the water at a slow pace. Anglers often follow fashions with favoured variations proving successful each season.
I look forward eagerly to my next Wimbleball session and once again connecting with its full tailed battling rainbows.
I joined South Molton Angling Club at Bratton Water to enjoy a Sunday morning beneath a cloud free sky. As my good friend Matt Kingdon commented it was good to feel the warm sunshine on the face as birds sang in the woods as if to welcome the forthcoming spring. As the gloomy news continues to prevail the tranquil waters we fish seem evermore important for our ongoing mental health. Casting a line and chatting with fellow anglers as nature goes on, a vital tonic.
Visiting this picturesque venue I must reflect upon the recent death of fishery owner Mike Williams who nurtured the fishery over many seasons. Mike always gave a cheery welcome even during recent years as ill health took its toll. Mike supported the local community on numerous occasions hosting events for local youth clubs and beaver groups during summer evenings. I remember these events fondly when our son James attended. It was delightful to assist as a dozen or more young anglers attempted to cast a fly across the water with many delighting in the catching of their first trout. Whilst many may not have become lifelong anglers they will have gained an appreciation for this connection with nature. I also remember an evening spent with Bratton Fleming Cricket Club when we enjoyed a few beers and an evening BBQ. These special times were made possible by Mike and Jan.
The lakes stocks had recently been boosted with a stocking of quality brown trout and several of these had already been landed when I arrived. The bright sun and crystal clear water were perhaps not ideal for fishing but I had every confidence that success would come. I set up with a 10ft 5 weight rod with a PTN on the point and a cormorant on the dropper. After 20 minutes without a take I made a move to the next peg. First cast and the cormorant was seized by a stunning looking brown trout of close to 2lb. Success breeds confidence that was emboldened when another trout followed my flies to the surface before turning away at the last moment.
I fished persistently putting out a long line and allowing the flies to sink before commencing a slow retrieve. I completed my three fish bag after two hours fishing. All three fish were pristine brown trout of over 2lb.
With my bag complete I strolled over to chat with Matt Kingdon who had already banked one fine brown. Matt was fishing a team of small nymphs slowly inching them back through the clear calm water. As we chatted I watched the line tip carefully sharing in the anticipation. A couple of fish were missed and several fish broke the surface raising expectation.
I glimpsed the flash of a golden flank beneath the surface and as I uttered a warning to Matt he tightened into the fish his rod hooping over in success. The fish writhed on the line and we were surprised to see that Matt had hooked into two browns. The odds of landing both were slim but skill and perhaps a little luck resulted in a fine brace of trout safely in the net.
I was delighted to catch the result on camera before heading home for dinner with firm plans of future fishing forays during the coming months.
Club secretary Roger Bray later reported that all members had succeeded in catching their three fish bag the best a pleasing brown trout of 2lb 13oz.
“The event today was a great success with eight members attending. An encouraging start to 2022.
We should thank Jan Williams for allowing the event to take place and to provide a well-stocked brown trout lake in weed-free conditions.”
We enjoyed some fine weather with an occasional breeze with everyone bagging up quite early with 2lb 13ozs the benchmark for the year, although it took the secretary until 2.30 pm to do so.
Bratton Water remains Open with some stunning brown trout providing exciting and rewarding fishing.
I was keen to get out on the shoreline following the big stir up from Storm Eunice and Franklin so I arranged a trip to a local rock mark with my good friend Rob Scoines. This would probably be one of my last forays in search of winter species as my attention tends to turn towards freshwater goals as Spring unfurls. We arrived at low water with a couple of hours light remaining in the day. The sea was coloured up as expected and optimism was high that fish would be foraging close to the shore. In the past such a murky sea would have screamed cod but those days are long gone. Instead we hoped for spurdog, bull huss, tope and big conger.
I have started using single hooks for most of my winter rock fishing with either a 2/0 catfish hook or a 6/0 Sakuma Manta with a short length of wire as insurance against the teeth of spurdog or tope. Contrary to general opinion this does not seem to put off the fish to any extent, particularly when the water is coloured or after dark. I was also using the new 80lb b.s shock leader from Sakuma. I will also be employing the clear shock leader as a hook length during the spring and summer targeting huss and ray.
It was good to out in the fresh air as the late afternoon sunshine illuminated the cliffs and hills. A gannet glided across the coloured water and I wondered how they manage to find food in such conditions. I also saw this as a good omen that there were fish to be caught. It was action from the start with small conger smashing into my hook baits within moments of the baits hitting the sea bed. A small pollock also took a small mackerel bait intended for rockling.
Whilst I seemed to have found a congers nursery area Rob seemed to have found the kennel with dogfish finding this baits. The constant action continued with a fish a cast the large rock pool close to my position steadily filling with small conger and dogfish. I noticed Rob enticing a slightly better fish to the shore and was pleased to see a spotted ray swung onto the rocks. Rob also tempted a decent rockling that he decided to return instead of keeping it for bait as he suspected it might be close to spawning.
As darkness descended we hoped the bigger fish would move in. We both missed a couple of slack line bites with one fish breaking off my wink link to the weight as it tore off with the bait. Was this a better fish? If so how come it hadn’t become hooked as the countless strap eels and dogfish had been.
As the tide pushed in we moved up the rocks away from the surging swell. Strangely the bites eased off until we eventually packed away close to high water. It had been an enjoyable session with plenty of small fish. Very different from the fishing that would have been experienced twenty odd years ago when we could have expected a late cod. The numbers of small conger and dogfish now present are undoubtedly an indication of a change in our coastal waters. Whiting and pouting are now scarce; is this due to a change in the climate or an increase in predation from immature conger and spurdog offshore?
As always each session brings more questions than answers. Why for example did I catch in excess of twenty strap eels when Rob caught none yet seemed to catch more dogfish?
As often seems to be the case our trip coincided with stormy conditions the river slightly up and coloured following the fallout from storm Dudley. Fortunately, when it came to my day on the river the colour was starting to drop out. It wasn’t going to be easy but if I fished hard I would be in with a chance.
It was a mild day with a strong blustery wind blowing downstream from the west and casting was not easy. I was using a 10ft nymphing rod with a large weighted nymph on the point and a small nymph on a dropper 12” above. https://www.barbless-flies.co.uk
I decided to start my search on the Upper section of the beat after chatting with John who was keen to assist as always. I walked the bank carefully peering into the clearing water that was frequently ruffled by the strong wind. Whilst I hoped to spot fish it was obvious that searching the water methodically was my best chance. I dropped the heavy nymph into gravelly runs and deeper channels watching the bright line indicator intently. Where possible I fished from the bank wading only when beneficial.
After searching for close to an hour. I glimpsed the movement of a fish; just a momentary blur. I dropped my nymph above and as the flies drifted I saw a flank turn and lifted the rod to connect. The grayling came up in the water its dorsal fin standing proud in the current. The rod bent over as the fish used the strong current to its advantage surging downriver towards the sanctuary of a mass of tree branches. I held the grayling hard and persuaded it back into mid river. The silvery sides and crimson red dorsal fin a splendid sight. A tense couple of minutes passed before I eventually coaxed the prize into the net. A splendid grayling that was undoubtedly well over 2lb.
I took a couple of quick pictures to capture a memory. Slipping the lady of the stream back into the cool water. Delighting as the fish disappeared with a flick of its tail.
I searched on for a while before returning to the warmth of the Annexe for a hot coffee and a snack.
I returned to the river with Pauline searching the lower stretch of the beat carefully. The gusty wind made fishing tricky and my fishing rhythm seemed to have temporarily deserted me as my nymphs seemed to find overhanging branches and tangle frequently. It was also slightly annoying to feel the slow ingress of cold water into a leaky wader! I persisted and eventually started to fish with my previous confidence with only occasional minor tangles.
Birdsong reverberated from the nearby trees. A couple of mink appeared beside the river appearing rather bold despite my presence. The search of the water was enthralling as I became lost in concentration and expectation as I surveyed the ever flowing water.
I lifted the rod to each flicker of the bright tippet indicator. A brief connection with a grayling brought renewed hope the electrifying jolt of life and the glimpse of a silver flank. I spotted a couple of grayling elusive shadows in the stream.
The hours passed by all too soon and the light levels started to drop. I had numerous last casts before conceding my day was done. Walking slowly back through the trees I caught sight of a few Sika deer and enjoyed a brief encounter; stood just a few yards from a deer we stared into each other’s eyes in the fading light.
The following day Pauline and I called into Lyme Regis on our way home. It was surprisingly mild and sunny as tourists strolled around the sea front. Talk was all about the coming Storm named Eunice. Within the delightfully untidy shelves of the second-hand bookshop, I discovered a small booklet; The Fish of Exmoor, by H.B. Maund. More of that in a separate feature….