Sam Fenner Environment Agency Fishery Officer

Sam Fenner Environment Agency Fishery Enforcement Officer

Sam Fenner the Environment Agency’s North Devon fishery enforcement officer is keen to engage with the local angling community and has recently attended several club AGMs.

Sam previously worked in Scotland gaining valuable experience working with the farming community in byelaw enforcement. He brings this extensive knowledge to his role in North Devon that involves a wide patchwork of rural landscape.

( Above) Paul Carter a previous Fishery Enforcement Officer has worked closely with Sam to pass knowledge gained from years of experience whilst working across North Devon.

I joined him for a walk along the River East Lyn one of North Devon’s most beautiful and historic rivers. It was early March when we met and the river was running high and clear after one of the wettest February’s on record.

The salmon fishing season commences on March 1st on the Environment Agency’s day ticket fishery. Trout fishing starts on March 15th. The salmon run generally gets underway in late April or May if conditions are suitable with the river very dependent on rain.

The dramatic decline of salmon was very much top of the agenda as we walked the river. Having fished the Lyn intensively in the 1980s I have many good memories of those days of plenty. Though when I talked with anglers back then the fishing was still just a shadow of its glory days in the fifties and sixties.

The water quality of the East Lyn is undoubtedly still good as there is no extensive agricultural pollution. Poaching is no longer a significant problem on the Lyn so the main issues facing its salmon and sea trout are undoubtedly survival at sea and predation.

The Lyn offers superb fishing for abundant wild brown trout at a very reasonable cost of around £5.00 per day. Tickets are available from Barbrook Filling Station.

We started our walk at Torrs Road and walked up to Ash Bridge half a mile above Watersmeet. I was able to relay plenty of stories relating to the Lyn and we paused at Overflow and Vellacott’s Pool both of which have a rich history. The recent decimation caused by ash die back is plain to see on the rivers banks and this has undoubtedly been a major issue for the National Trust. Sadly some pools that were prime salmon holding pools are now difficult to access with some angler’s paths now overgrown.

We sighted a pair of goosander above Watersmeet a species that undoubtedly predate on smolts and salmon parr within the river.

The boulder strewn river was as beautiful as ever and I look forward to returning its banks with the fly rod later in the Spring when its crimson spotted trout offer exciting sport.

Sam talked of the challenging role of being fishery enforcement officer. He is very keen to encourage more anglers to enjoy the superb fishing the Lyn has to offer.

Rod licence checking is one of Sam’s main roles, he also works to enforce local byelaws, assist with pollution incidents. Offers advice to fishery owners and clubs regarding stocking and fish health, promotes angling and its mental health and community benefits in conjunction with the Angling Trust. Sam also works with the D&S IFCA in carrying out estuary protection work.

Sam’s area consists of all of North Devon and its rivers and stillwater’s. Quite a challenge if you consider that there were up to eight fishery enforcement officers during past decades.

After walking the river we adjourned to the National Parks Pavilion Centre for a coffee and a chat with Julian Gurney who has a wealth of experience in relation to the River Lyn and its history. Julian has written a piece for the Exmoor Magazine that includes the fascinating history of fish traps at the mouth of the Lyn and the coastline.

The old salmon trap situated at the mouth of the River Lyn.

Sam urged that any signs of pollution or poaching should be reported to the Environment Agency via their hotline : 0800 80 70 60



Gerald Spiers delivers an engaging casting clinic

I was privileged to be invited to attend the Taw Fishing Club AGM at the Fox and Hounds at Eggesford last Saturday. The Taw Fishing Club has five and a half miles of fishing on the Upper Taw and its tributaries offering some excellent fishing for wild brown trout.

I arrived at 10:00am to join members in the field adjacent to the River Taw where Gerald Spiers of the Devon School Of Fly Fishing was offering a casting clinic for members. It was good to be close to the river with the evidence of Spring all around. Gerald chatted about the intricacies of casting and fly presentation in depth. Engaging the audience in discussion on mending the line, fly choice, reading the water, casting loops, arc, wrist position, and how to approach the water. He also discussed the finer details of tackle choice advising on leaders, tippets, rod choice and line care. I am sure all walked back to the hotel for lunch enthused for the coming season and eager to employ the knowledge imparted by Gerald. The art of fly fishing and fishing in general is a never ending game of interaction with nature that offers an absorbing fascination that can never be quelled once hooked.

Members and guests mingled over lunch and engaged in conversations that I feel sure contained many fishy tales. On our table the fishy agenda drifted into the toxic world of politics and the environment. It seems increasingly apparent to me that populist politicians are leading the human race on a slippery road to extinction. Failure to acknowledge uncomfortable truths to ensure election is a symptom of a generation that is increasingly disconnected with the natural world.

The Taw Club has been running successfully for over a century and is presently in a very healthy state thanks to a hard working committee Chaired by Gordon Murray with secretarial responsibilities carried out by Chris Searles. The club has a current membership of fifty and welcomes new members to its ranks.  The Taw Club is a friendly group that offers plenty of opportunity to mingle and learn during club teach ins and bank clearing days.

The Chair addressed a large proportion of the membership at the meeting and highlighted concerns mirrored across angling clubs throughout the land. There was conversation around the aging dynamics of club membership and the need for a younger generation to take up rods on the water. Angling participation and social interaction has undoubtedly been impacted upon by covid and recovery is slow.

The health of the river was top of the agenda with a focus on working with landowners to safeguard the future. Gordon expressed his views on pollution and quoted the phrase; “ Kind Words butter no parsnips”. Farming incentives to deliver habitat improvement, River fly monitoring, Citizen Science Water Quality Sampling and the vital work of an underfunded Environment Agency was all discussed with passion. It is essential that this desire to safeguard our rivers is put into practice.

                The Environment Agency was represented by North Devon’s Fishery Enforcement Officer Sam Fenner who engaged with the club members offering advice and guidance on a range of river related enquiries.

There was discussion around invasive species including signal crayfish and mink. The increasing population of beavers were also acknowledged which are generally thought to bring wide benefits to the rivers eco systems.

An exciting increase in  shad spawning in the Taw system was noted with hope that this will bring focus upon the importance of the Taw system to this rare and endangered species.

Catches of wild brown trout across the club’s waters has been consistently good over recent seasons with between 300 and 500 trout registered by members each season. The use of an online recording system has been a very beneficial recording tool ensuring up to date information is shared across the membership.

The AGM was concluded with a talk from Gerald Spiers who gave some valuable advice on wading safely. His three top tips being to wade slowly and upright, wear studded waders and use a wading staff.

         Membership details for the Taw Fishing Club can be found at :-




Opening day action – Image Jeff Pearce Snowbee


                  When my good friend Martin Turner sent a question via messenger saying he was going to Wimbleball mid-week would I go for bank or boat? As luck would have it I already had the day pencilled into my diary and asked if he minded me joining them on the bank?

         A few days later I convinced Martin that there was no rush to get at the water for early dawn and as a result we decided on stopping off at  Dulverton for breakfast. We walked into The Copper Kettle Cafe at around 9:15am and ordered up their mini breakfast and hot drinks. Half an hour later we set off glad we had gone for the rather adequate mini breakfast.

         Martin and I have always plenty to discuss and had talked non stop since leaving my house in Loxhore and had still not exhausted the agenda when I climbed out of the car an hour after dark following the days fishing.

         It had been a bright and sunny day with a strong East to SE wind adding a bite to the moorland air. We had decided to start off near Bessom’s but on meeting Martins friend Mike Snudden walking the path and reporting no action we changed our plan and diverted to Rugg’s that was sheltered from the cold wind.

         I had been absent from Wimbleball for far too long and was eager to re-engage with this water that has a beguiling wild feel. It’s hard fighting rainbow trout are renowned amongst the Fly fishing fraternity testament to the hard work undertaken by Mark Underhill and his family over recent seasons.

         Early March and to me fly selection is simple, surely any lure with black and green fished on an intermediate line is the order of the day.

         We spread out along the bank and set about searching the icy waters emersed in our own worlds. I relished the cool water as I waded out to my waist, the chill water on the fingers as the line was retrieved. I expected that thrilling pull at any moment as I settled into the rhythm of cast and retrieve.

         I took stock of the surrounding rolling hills, the stark bare trees of early spring, blue sky and occasional fluffy white clouds. The margins were populated with frogspawn and melodic bird song drifted on the chill wind.

         I was surprised not to have caught after close to an hour and strolled over to Martin and Mike who were engaged in conversation with a fellow fisher.

                  The angler was Chris Guest who I had engaged with frequently on social media over recent seasons. It is always good to meet in person and we chatted fluently for several minutes comparing notes on bass, trout and books.

         My theory on not needing an early start proved questionable as Chris had caught nine trout before we arrived with ice in the margins.

As Chris had not caught whilst we were present we decided upon a move to a new area.

         The boat launching area has been kind to me in the past and it was to here that we moved. Punching a line into the bitter cold wind proved hard work and I soon had an urge to move to an area with a little more shelter where I had enjoyed success on previous trips.

         In truth it was good to have a brisk walk and warm up a bit after several hours fishing. I had foolishly tempted fate earlier boasting to Martin and Mike that I had not blanked at Wimbleball since its new era.

         After half an hour of searching the water I was delighted to feel a savage pull through the line. A large rainbow trout of perhaps five pounds erupted from the water, a couple of yards to the left there was another swirl as another large trout appeared in a flurry of spray! The result was inevitable as the two trout that had seized two flies on my cast headed in separate directions!

         A few minutes later Martin and Mike arrived to hear my tale of woe. Mike had banked a good rainbow of around 2lb whilst Martin remained devoid of any action.

         My line zipped tight once more and for a few moments I enjoyed brief connection with what looked and felt to be a good trout. I missed one more trout but by now I was feeling confident and expectantly fished eventually avoiding a blank day with a slim full tailed rainbow of just over 2lb.

          I was delighted to look across to Martin fishing fifty yards to my right his rod bent over a fish leaping clear of the water in a flurry of spray. After an exciting tussle a lovely rainbow of well over 3lb graced the net.

         I soon added a second rainbow to my bag a chunky fish of perhaps 3lb 8oz and missed a couple of takes.

         Once again Martin stood in the icy water his rod in a pleasing curve and his reel singing as a big trout surged to and fro. It was now close to five o clock and the sun was sinking slowly behind us. I stood beside Martin sharing the moments and snapped away trying to capture a few images of fishy drama in the slowly fading light of the day.

         After perhaps five minutes a fine blue rainbow trout of close to five pounds was held aloft in triumph. Mike arrived back holding a fine rainbow of close to four pounds along with the tale of a large fish that had taken him to the backing before departing with his fly.

         I grabbed a photo of Martin and Mike holding a pair of Wimbleball’s finest. Mike headed for home whilst Martin and I fished on eager for another connection as the chill of evening descended.

         As we walked back the car holding a brace of rainbows each we reflected upon the day and how enjoyable it had been. Whilst we have had days with far more fish we both agreed that these days when its hard work are so often more memorable and rewarding.

          These days of early season are so full of promise as we look forward to those warmer days when we will drift teams of buzzers in a gentle ripple driven by a warm southerly wind that will surely blow the bait into the fishes’ mouth.

Wind from the West, fish bite the best.
Wind from the East, fish bite the least.
Wind from the North, do not go forth.
Wind from the South blows bait in their mouth.


Below are a few images of open day action sent to me by fellow Snowbee Ambassador Jeff Pearce


The hour long film is a fascinating documentary made by rewilding charity Scotland The Big Picture, about the current challenges Atlantic Salmon are facing in Scotland’s rivers, and the project that is trying to solve these issues.
Riverwoods is equally applicable to solving Atlantic Salmon decline in North Devon’s rivers, and the hope is that a community based solution will emerge from the North Devon screenings.
The film will be followed by a short presentation by Wayne Thomas of North Devon Angling News on his experiences of fishing for West Country salmon, and an audience conversation about how to reverse salmon decline in North Devon.
The Riverwoods film tour of North Devon is being run by Adrian Bryant of Earth Collective community interest company, founder of the Caen Catchment Beaver Project at Braunton, who will introduce the film

Celebrating a new start – Salmon Season 2024

On March 1st 2024 members of the Barnstaple & District Angling Association assembled beside the River Taw celebrating both the start of a new season and the re-opening of the clubs fishing hut.

Some members had even brought their tackle with them despite the raging brown torrent that was racing towards Barnstaple the estuary and its eventual meeting with its sister river the Torridge at Instow.

As I walked to the river I savoured the birdsong as blackbird’s delightful tune filled the early Spring air.  Primroses, wood sorrel, celandines and other fresh green shoots of spring were evident in the roadside hedge.

I have a wealth of memories regarding the old fishing hut and you can read my account of a visit to the old hut fifteen years or so ago at the end of this article the account can also be found in my book I Caught A Glimpse that can still be bought at the Little Egret Press.

There is something reassuring about the return to the river at the start of each season. There is that eternal optimism of the returning angler. For despite the constant decline in salmon numbers and concerns about water quality there is a resilience in nature.

I negotiated the road bridge and headed down the familiar fisherman’s path to the old hut. A bright red gazebo seemed slightly surreal erected at the front of the newly refurbished shelter.

It was good to hear cheery voices as I approached and I smelt the smoke lifting from the BBQ. There was a cheery greeting from fellow members and a welcome hotdog as talk of the new season and past adventures did the rounds.

Water quality was high on the topic list as we chatted about the council meeting held at Petroc college a few days before. All agreed that it was good to place the state of our rivers higher on the political agenda. The integrity of our local MP and local water companies was discussed but I will steer clear of politics on this platform!

The jovial camaraderie of the assembly had a touch of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ or ‘Dads Army’. Don Hearn the club river keeper brings a refreshing air of optimism and whilst he acknowledged the dwindling salmon numbers compared to the past he also talked of the joy of club life on the river bank.

Club Chairman John Webber declared the hut open with the ceremonial cutting of a green ribbon that threatened to disintegrate in the wet conditions.

Dark clouds and a ferocious hail storm failed to dent the optimism of those  gathered and I left with joy in my heart for a new season. The smell of wild garlic lifted from the ground a pleasing scent heralding the onset of spring and warmer days ahead.

When I wrote of the old club hut a decade or more ago I was saddened at its demise. Today the old hut and spirit of the angling brethren had risen like a phoenix bringing optimism for the future. It is my hope and fellow club members hope that the rivers problems will be solved and that a new generation of club anglers will continue to gather memories as the rivers eternal flow continues.

I have just finished reading a book about the Chalk Streams of Southern England. ‘The Lost World Of The Chalk Streams, by E. A. Barton tells of an enchanting riverside world between the wars. A selection of atmospheric black and white images capture a bygone age. There are extracts of prose that bring poignancy and inspiration  as I write this and look back over fifty years beside the Taw.

The Test In August – “The season has turned and like the first grey hairs of middle life, signs of approaching age cannot be overlooked.”


“The enjoyment derived from a day’s angling should never terminate with the day but should linger in the memory like a pleasant taste, to be reconstructed with but the smallest effort of will at times when there is little else to distract. Over the fire on winter evenings. When one’s book is finished, or with a friend in retrospective mood, one reverts back to those days spent together by open loch or quiet river. The habit of visualising accurately a picture of the surroundings of some specially interesting incident at the moment of its occurrence is one well worth cultivating. After a time it becomes so reflex and automatic that it is easy to recall vividly. Even to the smallest detail, the passage of some memorable event. Such a habit becomes a priceless possession, for by its aid can be conjured up, with photographic accuracy, a collection of moving pictures of everlasting delight. So that when the afternoons of life are beginning to draw in, and the wheel creaks at the cistern, that habit cultivated in youth becomes an ever delightful resource by which one lives again with little less than reality the golden experience of the  past

I stopped on the bridge as always to peer into the river below. The sun shone and the river took on that blue green translucence typical of springtime. A few martins and swallows swooped above the river seeking nourishment following their long flight from far off lands. After a brief survey of the pool I moved on and came to the old gate that leads to the river bank.

            The gate hung partly unhinged, it’s fastening asp broken, a few bits of litter caught my eye discarded by some ignorant motorist. A problem that blights our countries hedgerows tarnishing our land with an urban feel, continuing down the steps I glanced at the old fishing sign, rusting and grimy, the clubs name still present above the words, “Private Fishing Club Members only”. The pathway beside the river had always been well trodden at this time of year (Early April) yet now it was partly grown over. Celandine flowers brightened the waterside meadow with their bright yellow hues. It felt good to be walking the river bank again after a long break but strange melancholy feelings drifted into my being. I glanced at the old corrugated fishing hut its door was open, someone was about I thought, tidying up or fishing somewhere down stream.

            My club membership had long since lapsed and I was heading to fish the free water a hundred yards or more downstream. I had fished this section of river heavily twenty five years ago hoping for a silver spring salmon but had visited rarely over recent seasons. However a river is like a long lost friend familiarity returns quickly and certain things retain a core character. The constant flow of a river towards the sea has always given me an almost spiritual reassuring sense of stability. A feeling I had always treasured each spring as I trod the banks rod in hand hopeful of one of anglings greatest prizes, a fresh run silver salmon. The grass flourishing, buds bursting into life on riverside trees and spring birds filling the air with song, migrants returned from a long cold winter, a sign of the coming warmth of summer.

            I had very little time today just a grabbed moment from life’s busy schedule no time to fish methodically, just a few random casts into favourite lies. I remember long ago seeking a salmon a prize that seemed unattainable. Eventually after many days by the river I had tempted a salmon, what had seemed so difficult I realised was really quite easy. You just had to be in the right place at the right time with a little good fortune. Salmon are a perplexing fish, totally ignoring all offerings one minute then suddenly erupting from the water to seize your bait, lure or fly with an unbelievable determination. After catching that first salmon an angler will forever be able to cast in hope for he believes in the impossible. This faith remains forever fuelling the desire for cast after cast.

            I climbed down the river bank entering the water above a sweeping bend in the river. An old tree stood, its roots exposed from constant attack annual winter floods. Beneath the tree was a favourite lie that had held many salmon and sea trout over the years. I waded out into the river, relishing the feel as the cool water pushed against my legs. I extended my fly line above the water and dropped a bright orange Ally’s Shrimp fly near the far bank. I allowed the fly to swing tantalizingly across the flow, took a step downstream and repeated the process. Many times in the past I had seen salmon and sea trout leap from the water at this spot. I hoped to see one now, I really didn’t need to catch to glimpse the prize would suffice.

            Strange  really, since the introduction of catch and release in the early season I have lost much of my determination to seek salmon. I always used to relish taking that first fresh Springer home to enjoy with new potatoes and lashings of butter. I regularly fish for a wide range of species and return ninety percent of the fish I catch. I have no problem returning a coloured salmon in the autumn but I somehow struggle with returning a bar of silver sea liced salmon. I often think of Hugh Falkus’s comments on catch and release and his views that it was somehow wrong. Somehow I feel he had a point there is something undignified in toying with a fish so magnificent as the Atlantic salmon. Perhaps I just don’t like being told I have to return the fish, I remember catching a well mended Kelt several years ago. It had inhaled the Mepps spinner to the back of its throat and was bleeding profusely. I gently returned it to the river, to my horror it keeled over and drifted away to die. How would I feel if this happened to a prime fresh run fish?  

            This leads me on to another restriction that has been imposed to preserve stocks. In the early season I and most other anglers used the spinner to fish for salmon. A Mepps spinner or Devon Minnow was cast into the cold waters and retrieved slowly its throbbing reverberated through the line to the rod giving a physical transmission between angler and river. At any moment there was the anticipation of the electrifying take as a bar of silver attacked the lure. I fully support the need to preserve salmon stocks and if that impinges on my pleasure then so be it I guess, I just wonder about the long term effect of these restrictions on our freedom?

            I continued to fish on down stream, ice cold water started to seep into my chest waders. I realised that my repairs to the holes had failed and a new pair of waders would be needed before my next trip.

            It was time to leave I had to collect my young son form his cricket coaching. I climbed from the river my boots squelching as I retraced my way along the riverside path. I came again to the old fishermen’s hut, the door was still open, inquisitive I strolled over and peered inside. The door had been broken from its hinges, the old leather seat was torn, old mugs stood in an old wooden cabinet where mice had made their home the old hut was damp and derelict. A feeling of sadness came upon me. I immediately understood the melancholy feeling I earlier sensed. Twenty odd years ago I had spent many hours beside this river and talked with the club anglers of the day. They were generally anglers in their fifties or sixties who had fished the river for many years. They generally had a tale to tell of the good old days, of encounters with huge spring salmon, some won some lost. They had intimate knowledge of the river and a deep respect and love for the salmon. Each year working parties would trim troublesome branches and carry out repairs to gates and stiles. The fisherman’s hut was a meeting place where tales were swapped over cups of hot tea. Fishing magazines sat on the table to provide inspiration during break in fishing or tending to the river bank. There was always a rod leaning against the old rails that segregated the front of the hut from the bank side. A bench dedicated to an angler invited one to, “rest here and find pleasure”.

            It dawned upon me that a generation of anglers had passed away. Few anglers now trod these banks in search of spring salmon. Upriver on prime beats people still pay large sums to fish but here on the club and free water few bother to cast a line. Perhaps restrictions have taken away the motivation for these anglers to fish or perhaps people no longer have the patience to chase dreams. I realise that back then we seemed to have time to talk, time to fish, time to dream.

            The faces of a host of anglers fill my minds eye as I walk away from the river and the derelict old fisherman’s’ hut. I realise that whilst the river flows relentlessly on we anglers are just passing spirits. The comfort of the rivers immortality is temporarily shadowed by the realisation of our own fleeting visit to its banks.

            As I walk across the bridge I again pause as always for one last look at the river. A car races past, a train thunders along the nearby track I re-enter the modern world and walk back to the car. On getting home I think back to the old fishing hut and vow to jot down my thoughts before they get lost and drift away like the old anglers who once fished the river.


         South West Lakes Trust hosted their annual Fly Fair at Roadford where Fly anglers from all over the South West converged for this ever popular curtain raiser to a new season. A wide variety of stands represented those involved in the Fly Fishing Community. The events main sponsors were Chevron Hackles, Holmleigh Angling Centre, Catch, Snowbee and Turrall.

         Charles Jardine opened the event stressing the need for anglers to get out fishing and support their local fisheries. He also spoke of the benefits of introducing young people into the fascinating world of fly fishing that has many positive benefits for mental health and general well-being.

         Discussion flowed freely throughout the day with many plans set for the coming season. The long wet winter has undoubtedly impacted upon winter fishing with those fly anglers seeking sport with grayling and pike having a difficult time with only short periods when conditions were suitable to visit the water’s edge.

         There has been considerable change over recent seasons as society has been impacted upon by Brexit, Covid and the cost of living crisis. Angling and fly fishing has of course been affected by all of this but it is perhaps even more important that our pastime thrives to bring much needed sanctuary from this gloom laden world.

         Fly fishing has long been seen as a rather elitist branch of angling and when I started casting a fly fifty years ago the art of fly casting was still to some extent seen as a sport for the gentry.

         The boom in Stillwater trout fishing during the 1970’s broke down these social barriers to some extent as a wider section of society enjoyed catching rainbow trout stocked into water supply reservoirs.

         I remember being thrilled to catch the occasional limit bag of trout when I started out with the fish averaging around 1lb. As fisheries spread competition increased and small still-waters started opening stocking ever larger trout. Into the 1980’s and 1990’s double figure rainbow trout became a regular feature with some fisheries stocking fish to over 20lb.

         This increasingly artificial commercial fishing resulted in ever increasing expectations from anglers. Another factor that perhaps influenced stocking was a significant increase in cormorant populations across reservoirs. The stocking of rainbows under 1lb 8oz became unviable as smaller trout were simply mopped up by these predatory birds.

         Covid impacted upon us all but there was an initial post covid boom in fishing as anglers escaped to the great outdoors to enjoy a pastime that offered a safe environment. The value of fishing to mental health became much appreciated and for a time it seemed fly fishing was in a good place.

         Sadly, the cost of living and angler’s unrealistic levels of expectation has resulted in an unsustainable situation. The spiralling cost of fish food and hot summers has impacted upon the farms that provide stock fish. The result is that fisheries are forced to pass the costs onto customers. In a cost of living crisis, it is very much a case of the survival of the fittest and as a result we are seeing the collapse of some fisheries Draycote Water in the Midlands being a case in question.

         So having painted a rather gloomy picture of the fly fishing world in this country I will now look for those proverbial green shoots.

         This year’s fly fair brought together a wide dynamic of anglers from the West Country Fly Fishing scene. With a new season ahead, there was undoubtedly a positive and optimistic drive as the leaders of this pastime urged us to get out fishing and support our local fisheries.

Jeff Pearce and Russ Symons talk flies

         Concern for the environment was evident with fishery associations promoting their waters that are often surprisingly cheap alternatives to the commercial waters.

Laura Dee Invasive species information stand

Companies like Catch and Fish Pass are now offering a new way to buy day permits using the latest mobile phone technology.

Tim Price from Catch

         In contrast to the modern world traditional craftsmen like Luke Bannister were at hand to display magical wands of split cane that add sweet perfection to an angler’s day.

         I took pleasure in introducing Michelle Werrett whose new book Song of the Streams is enchanting readers to fellow author Mike Weaver whose writing has delighted West Country anglers for many decades. His book In Pursuit of Wild Trout published in 1991 is a classic tome that is timeless in its validity.

         The West Country has a wealth of wild streams that offer exciting fishing for wild brown trout and a sadly diminishing number of salmon and sea trout. Adrian Bryant has been promoting the excellent film Riverwoods across the region and I joined him in presenting a short preview of this film giving my own brief view on the tragic decline of salmon.

         Chatting with many at the Fly Fair it was apparent that there is a willingness to adapt and there are signs that new thinking is starting to break down the barriers of tradition. There is a growing desire to fish for varied species across different waters.

         Pike from large stillwater’s and canals are an increasingly reported trend. Perch, rudd and carp are also gaining a following with Dominick Garnett columnist for the Angling Times giving a thought provoking talk on fly fishing for coarse fish. There is also an increasing number of anglers targeting sea fish with bass and mullet offering exciting sport during those hot months of summer when the trout are dwelling deep down in the reservoirs.

         There are those who taking fly fishing into cross over territory with LRF with talk of using squirmy flies employed to catch blennies and other species from rock pools using 2 wt. rods more often used to target wild brown trout in moorland streams.

         The definition of Fly Fishing on Wikipedia is Fly fishing is an angling technique that uses an ultra-lightweight lure called an artificial fly, which typically mimics small invertebrates such as flying and aquatic insects to attract and catch fish.”

This differs somewhat to my own thoughts where I had always believed fly fishing to be a technique that involves projecting the fly to the fish using a line as the weight. The traditional casting styles were entrenched within my  mind set. But I now see an unfurling world of unorthodox presentations as anglers dibble and jig their flies or lures.

         This is a world far from those days captured within the classic tomes depicting Fly Fishing on the revered chalk streams of England. Surely though there is room for all as our splendid pastime evolves as it always has?

         We are living in times far removed from those of Halford whose doctrine of the Upstream Dry Fly stimulated debate within the world of the wealthy and privileged during Victorian Times.

         I returned home from this year’s fly fair full of enthusiasm for the coming season with plans made that this year I really must try to make happen.

         Many thanks to Ashley Bunning and all at South West Lakes Trust for hosting a fabulous fair.



SEA TROUT – Midnight Rambler


The river beckons and eyes falter, straining in the fading monochrome half-light. As they weaken, so our ears fine-tune to the emerging clamour of the night: The chattering river, the owls and the scurrying creatures of the bankside. The night time world is waking.

The dictionary has a word for this: it is the hour when the world turns crepuscular. And is there a better time to go fishing? The hour when we crepuscules emerge blinking into the gathering gloom?

So let’s get down to business: My first and most important task is to reach my pool in time to catch the last of the light. Once there I’ll sit on the bank, read the lie of the water and wait for it to get properly dark. This is, of course, an impossible call because no matter how long I sit and stare, the darkness never quite takes over. My widening eyes adapt just enough to keep me merely half-blind: I see the shadow shapes of trees and anything small silhouetted against the sky. But where land and water merge, all detail is lost.

But hey, who’s in a hurry? I’m enjoying the moment and all the while my senses paint a picture of the pool: the chuntering water, the flitting bats I glimpse but no longer hear, and sometimes, most wonderful of all, an otter or even two. And there – did you hear it – a fish churning close to the far bank. Just a moderate cast downstream. Catchable, but still I wait

Inevitably, my mind starts to wander. Big questions press in: Why do I catch nearly all my Sea Trout on Teal, Blue and Silvers? Why don’t I fall in at night – I’m quite good at it during the day. And what the heck is a Sea Trout?

Ah, there’s the thought. What the heck is a Sea Trout? For a great deal of my life this didn’t much bother me. They’re a vague sub-species of brown trout, right? Rather like the relationship between Steelhead and Rainbow Trout. So trout are trout, salmon are not, and sea trout are somewhere in between. Taxonomy? Pah! Who needs it.

I was wrong. Forget Salmon, they’re something else and irrelevant to this article. But Sea Trout and Brown Trout are the same thing. Identical, right down to their last drop of DNA. One’s bigger and the other is usually smaller, because one went to sea and the other didn’t. Or, rather, it hasn’t yet. One is bright silver when it runs back into the river – but soon reverts to its true brown trout colours.

This is important because it puts the lie to a theory I’ve been nurturing for a decade or two. Namely, that with Salmon numbers in free-fall, Sea Trout could save my fishing.

My theory went like this: Most returning Sea Trout are smaller school fish. They run into their rivers in shoals, while their bigger brothers and sisters make their way in their own good time. And over the decades school fish been getting smaller. I have not a shred of evidence to support this, but it seems to me they’ve halved in size from 1.5lbs to 3/4lb. There are plenty of wise river keepers who will say that the reason for this is that 3/4lb Sea Trout can swim through the inshore gill nets, set for bass and that kill uncounted numbers of Salmon (and big Sea Trout).

So, I reasoned, there would always be sea trout returning to river hitting the redds and ensuring the future of the, um, Sea Trout. Long after the last salmon had played the last post, there would still be sea trout slipping through the nets and heading up-river and towards me.

Ah well. Wrong again.

My theory fails at that moment when part of a river’s Brown Trout population decides it’s going to up sticks and go to sea. It may be because there are too many competing trout in the river. Or not so many trout, but even less food. Why one fish decides to go and another doesn’t we can’t say. Some do, some don’t.

Maybe they just fancy a change of scene. When New Zealand’s rivers were stocked with Loch Leven’s trout all those years ago, there were rivers where the entire population of new fish upped sticks and left for the sea and a new river. They’d had look at their new home, didn’t like it and without so much as a thanks or goodbye, left never to return

However, the stakes on going to sea are high. Migrating smolts face many more dangers than had they stayed in the river. There are more predators, for example. And like salmon, climate change and warmer water is shrinking smolt size, and the smaller a smolt, the less chance it has of surviving the journey. So the decision to head to sea is getting more dangerous.

The reward for the ones that make it is food. They grow faster and bigger, and that pays off when they return to the river to breed. Big fish can dominate the redds.

So for this stage in their lives, the decision to go to sea is about the survival of all brown trout. They’re a species hedging its bets. Some stay, some go. Some will win, some lose. Hindsight is everything.

Unfortunately, that hedged bet is getting more dangerous. A recent Norwegian report surveyed 10,000 miles of Sea Trout rivers and lakes ranging from the Arctic to the south of the country. In only 25% were Sea Trout populations considered healthy. They had disappeared altogether in some rivers, and in 40% populations were in either a poor or very poor condition.

And their biggest threat? It’s sea lice, the major by-product of salmon farming. 83% of all the water surveyed was impacted by farmed sea lice. Amongst salmonids, Sea Trout are hardest hit by lice because they stay in coastal waters where open-net cage salmon farms are found.

The bad news doesn’t end with the fish farms. Globally, the fishing effort at sea has industrialised. At the same time, rising sea temperatures collapse ocean food chains and stop some fish breeding (fry are a major source of Sea Trout food). The laval soup at the base of the ocean food chain thins out, and the bait fish that depend on it get smaller and carry less body fat – in part because warmer water raises their metabolic rate so they have to eat more just to keep going. That metabolic trap works its way up the food chain – bigger fish also need to eat more just to maintain body weight, but there’s less food. This is the world Sea Trout migrate to feed in.

Unfortunately, staying in the river is also difficult. So much so that if I allow myself to get properly gloomy about this I have to say the trout rivers in my part of the world are becoming hostile environments for fish,

Trout redds are usually further into the headwaters than a Salmon’s. These smaller streams are warming faster as our climate changes, and they’re more vulnerable to farm pollution. The brutal truth is that the survival rate for smolts shrinks by as much as 70% if they start their return journey short of peak fitness and weight.

There’s more. The increasingly heavy rainstorms driven by our warming atmosphere wash redds downstream, leaving behind beds of small stones where once there was gravel. And, in my part of the world, rivers are a cheap way for water companies to move human sewage to the sea and boost dividends for shareholders. Meanwhile, dairy farmers have massively increased stocking density so slurry mixes with chicken and human shit to turn the water phosphate green and coat river beds with algal slime. Insects and fry don’t stand a chance. Clean rivers are increasingly hard to find.

Despite all this, I’m still fishing, still crepuscular and always thrilled to be part of the gloaming. Is there anything to beat the excitement of the wallop administered by turbocharged 2lb Sea Trout take at midnight?

And the weirdest thing about night fishing? It’s that I so rarely catch the opposite bank. I like to think this because I cast really well. I’m so good I could hit a dimpled rise with my eyes closed. Hmmm. A more likely explanation is that I always cast short. But I’m not changing anything now.

Finally, did I tell you about the time 2 otters thrashed and trashed my pool as I watched darkness close in – and how, as soon as they left, I caught an 8lb Sea Trout with my first cast and 6lber with my third?

There’s nothing on earth to beat crepuscular fishing. Although maybe I should experiment with some new fly patterns. It’s possible that Teal, Blue and Silver may not be the only fly that catches Sea Trout.

FishRise by Richard Wilson is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

With thanks to: Paul Coulson FIFM, Director of Operations, Institute of Fisheries Management

Passionate Young Angler seeks Sponsorship to chase his dream

Max is a very passionate fisherman and long time member of Dulverton Anglers Association.  He is currently in the England Youth Fly Fishing Team and has already 2 caps to his name so this will be his 3rd International match this year.

He is also the Loch Style National Youth Championship winner, (catching 11 and 2nd place caught 4)
Max spends most of his time either fly fishing or carp fishing
Max turns 16 this year and has been offered a place at Sparsholt College, in Hampshire to study Fishery Management Level 3.  Although the course is funded, he will need to board due to the distance.  Therefore he is looking for sponsorship in order he can fulfil his passion (dream).

If you can help young Max please contact Lance Nicholsons at Dulverton

Rainbows and spartics at Bulldog

I joined Wistlandpound Fly Fishing Club for their final Winter Challenge match of the season at Bulldog Fishery. After heavy rain the water was a little coloured and members struggled to catch for the first hour.

As the morning progressed I noticed rods starting to bend as members found the right formulae. I had been fishing a floating line with a bead headed black lure and had received just the one pull after an hour and a half of concerted effort.

I had tried several areas around the recently enlarged lake and noted that other members were catching from the very spots I had departed. I had to leave at lunch time and knew that if I was to catch I needed to change tactics.

I swapped over to an Intermediate Snowbee line, stuck with the black lure on the point and a Montana nymph on the dropper. After five minutes I had a good pull through the line and briefly hooked into a fish that came off after a few seconds.

A recently stocked spartic

Encouraged and with renewed confidence I continued to search the water moving a few yards to a small promontory. The line zipped tight and I was delighted to net a spartic trout of around 1lb 8oz. A few minutes later a chunky rainbow of around 4lb was safely netted after a good tussle. I fished on with confidence and completed my three fish bag by 1.00pm. Speaking with fellow members it was interseting to note that several fish had been tempted using flies with a touch of orange. I had caught on a black pattern; would I have tempted my fish earlier with a touch of orange? Was success down to depth and rate of retrieve? Or did the trout simply come on the feed?

My three fish bag including a 4lb rainbow and spartic.

Competition Result :-

1st Andre Muxworthy – 3 trout 9lb 3oz

2nd Wayne Thomas – 3 trout 8lb 8oz

3rd Nigel Bird – 3 trout 6lb 10oz

4th Colin Combe = 2 trout 5lb 10oz

5th Dave Mock –2 trout  5lb 5oz

Winner Andre Muxworthy with his three trout for 9lb 3oz.

It was now time for a quick catch up with fellow club members and to take a look at the drained carp lake with fishery owner Nigel Early. The lake has been drained, nuisance bream and small carp removed. The lake will reopen this coming Friday with plans to stock more carp over coming months. The lake has already produced carp to 33lb and will flourish over the coming months for sure. I have included a few pictures of the lake for future reference.


The Impact of Pollution – Ask The experts

This event at the end of February offers a unique opportunity to learn about water pollution across North Devon with representatives from across the region. I will be on the panel representing anglers though I do not profess to be an expert, just someone with a passion for angling  within a healthy eco-system.