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 

FISHING IN LOCKDOWN

            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.

ANGLING REPORT

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.

FISHING IN LOCKDOWN?

I have had several anglers message me regarding fishing in lockdown and what the position is. The Angling Trust have successfully lobbied Government resulting in angling being allowed within the lockdown guidelines. See updated guidelines below from the Angling Trust.

Lockdown fishing: updated guidelines published

The problem with the guidelines is that it leaves a certain amount of freedom to interpret for example what is local. Local is within your town or village, though you can drive a short distance to access an open space. I have reluctantly decided to hang up my rods until after lockdown as I live ten miles from the coast. Could I justify travelling ten miles to go fishing? Is it essential travel? Everyones circumstances are of course different and angling could be a lifeline to many giving valuable exercise for both body and soul. The sooner we can get on top of this COVID nightmare the better and staying home for a few weeks is surely worth the long term result.

In the mean time I will be enjoying a couple of books I received at Christmas that will hopefully inspire me in the coming spring and summer.

I will also be sorting through my fishing gear putting new hooks on old lures, tying rigs and having a general tidy. Might even stock up on a few flies, lures and bits and pieces. In the mean time I will try and write a few features on North Devon Angling plus report on any catches reported to me from those fortunate enough to live close to  fish filled waters.

FISHING HUTS

There was an old hut on the pier at Ilfracombe where I used to fish along with many local anglers. I had forgotten all about the hut until joining a discussion reminiscing about fishing from the old pier that was demolished close to twenty years ago. The pier could be fished at all states of the tide and being high above the water was a safe place even during winter storms.

During those cold winter nights as the waves pounded against the pier’s concrete pillars, the hut gave  a place to shelter. Huddled within anglers would pour a hot drink and enjoy a smoke as they glanced frequently at their rods resting upon the ramparts. The hut and its surroundings had a strange aroma of stale bait and urine. Despite this there was a certain comfort in this old hut. The camaraderie of anglers enduring the worst of the weather whilst sharing that dream of big fish and embellishing stories of battles won and lost over past seasons.

The talk of the old hut on the pier stimulated me to remember other fishing huts and lodges I had visited over a lifetime of angling adventures. At Stafford Moor trout fishery during the late 1970’s I recall the large fishing lodge. Its stark breeze blocked walls and large windows that allowed in plenty of light. Old leather chairs and sofas encircled a scruffy old wooden coffee table that was strewn with old copies of Trout and Salmon magazines. During the cold days of early spring the lodge gave a welcome respite from the cold winds that swept across the windswept moorland. Back then many trout fishers still tended to fit a certain stereo type of upper class gentlemen who talked in that distinctly old English way. As a young long haired youth, I soon learnt that fishing is a great leveller with the shared interest melting any barriers of class or age.

On North Devon’s rivers there are many splendid fishing huts my favourite being an old Tudor styled hut that sits beside the River Torridge at Little Warham. The hut is situated well above the flood line and looks out over the ever flowing river. It is not grand but has a certain timeless charm and has undoubtedly been a place of refuge for anglers over generations and I can imagine the Majors and Generals contemplating the complexities of wartime as they took a break from the pursuit of the once prolific salmon. The tranquillity and perpetuity of the ever flowing stream must have brought solace in those troubled times.

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On the River Test in Hampshire I joined two friends for a days fishing from its manicured banks. The immaculately decorated hut was plush and clean in contrast to that grimy old hut on the pier. Further up river we came across an old wooden shelter with an old bench on which were carved the words, “ Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits”.

On the Lower reaches of the River Taw there are the remains of the Barnstaple & District Angling Clubs hut. Its corrugated sides and roof were painted green. Today it is in a sad state of decay and most of the club anglers who gathered there have long since departed. The rod rack remains empty and ivy and brambles have encroached taking back the old hut. The river still flows majestically past through the seasons though sadly the once prolific salmon are few and far between. There is something about angling huts that is hard to put into words.

FISHING AS PERMITTED – STATEMENT FROM THE ANGLING TRUST

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The Angling Trust have in my opinion done a sterling job in getting angling allowed as legitimate exercise within the present lockdown. As always there are going to be contentiuos areas of debate as there is within the Government guidance. Angling itself is a relatively safe pastime in relation to COVID so going fishing in itself is not an issue in my view. The travel to and from is probably the most risky exercise as is driving on our roads at anytime. I personally will try and be discreet with my fishing as I am aware that there are others whose activities have been taken away will feel deprived.
   I suggest that anglers check before visiting any fishery to ensure they are open for business.
STATEMENT FROM THE ANGLING TRUST
Good morning everyone
The Government have now formally responded to the representations made by the Angling Trust. We have promoted the huge benefits of fishing on individual health and wellbeing and have been able to present a case to which the Government have listened. On this basis I am pleased to announce that fishing will be permitted during the third national lockdown.
The DCMS Sports Team confirmed the following;
“fishing is allowed as exercise so long as participants adhere to the rules on staying local, gathering limits, social distancing and limiting the time spent outdoors”
This has also been confirmed by DEFRA;
“Cabinet Office have now officially confirmed that angling / fishing (incl. sea fishing off private boats, water sports) can be considered exercise and are hence permitted.”
We have worked extremely hard to reach this position and we as anglers have a duty to abide by the strict conditions under which fishing is once again permitted. With infection rates and death tolls rising we must stick to the Government’s rules and ensure that angling remains part of the solution and does not cause problems.
Please bear in mind these key points which will be reflected in the new Angling Trust guidelines which we will publish shortly:
– This is a strictly limited resumption of LOCAL fishing and very different to how we have been allowed to operate since May
– We are in a National Lockdown and this must be respected. The law requires a ‘reasonable excuse’ to leave your home or penalties will apply.
– The government has recognised that fishing can be seen as exercise, which is expressly permitted under the lockdown rules, although outdoor recreation is not.
– Organised sporting gatherings are prohibited so no match fishing.
– The exercise is limited to once a day so no overnight fishing whatsoever.
– To remain within the law you should follow the government’s guidance, and only fish locally within the district where you live. If you have no local fishing available then you will have to take your daily exercise in other ways.
We are once again able to enjoy the sport we love at a time when many others can not and we must ensure that every angler adheres to the rules.
I would ask all anglers who are not members to join the Angling Trust and give us your support. We have worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome and that is only possible thanks to the support of our new and existing members. I would ask all anglers who value their ability to go fishing to make the same commitment as your fellow anglers have and join the Angling Trust. We are stronger together!
Membership – Angling Trust https://anglingtrust.net/membership/
Stay safe and very best fishes
Jamie Cook
CEO – Angling Trust

Statement from the Angling Trust on the national lockdown rules

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Statement from the Angling Trust on the national lockdown rules

Whilst the regulations have not yet been published we have been informed this evening by the Cabinet Office that the Government have taken the decision that fishing in England will not be permitted during this national lockdown period. Whilst this is disappointing news I would ask anglers, fisheries and clubs to respect these rules and the reason they have been put in place; to help save lives and support the NHS.

Individuals should not go fishing from midnight tonight (5th January) and clubs and fisheries should close their waters to anglers. We will be publishing more detailed guidance on specific areas like bailiffing and fishery maintenance once the Government regulations have been published. Please check the Angling Trust website over coming days.

Over the past few weeks we have been in communication with the Government at the highest possible level. We have presented a strong case on how fishing could continue safely during the third national lockdown. We have explained that fishing benefits physical health and mental wellbeing and that it is regularly the only form of activity individuals undertake. You can read our representations to Cabinet Ministers here.

My team and I have consistently presented the arguments ahead of the changing Government guidelines, which have allowed fishing to remain permitted continuously since the first national lockdown was lifted in May. We have been successful when other sports have not as all anglers will know.

However, with 60,000 new infections announced today, the Government have taken the decision that leaving home for recreation or leisure, including all forms of recreational fishing, should be prohibited in England during this third national lockdown period.

I thank you for your support and for being a credit to our sport. As members, you can rest assured that the Angling Trust will continue to represent our sport at the highest level and will present proposals for the resumption of angling when it is safe and sensible to do so. We will come through this period of national crisis. We will fish again, but until then, please, stay safe.

Jamie Cook
CEO, Angling Trust

My Fishing Year 2020

Looking back on my fishing year

2020 ! Well what a year; a year that will remembered for the global pandemic that changed the way we live. I am sure that in the future we will reflect upon those pre-pandemic years with a certain yearning for what we will perceive as a golden age.

It has certainly been a scary year in many ways but life will move on and a new normal will eventually prevail. There are positives in that we have perhaps been forced to realise the value of the great outdoors and how nature is a reassuring constant in our lives a fact that we as anglers have been able to savour.

When the year began who could have imagined the restrictions that would be imposed upon us. But apart from the three months of tight lock down fishing continued and we all had to focus on what is on our own doorstep.

January

The promise of early casts

An early session on the rocks and I meet a hungry bird.

Winter mullet have become a common catch in winter

February

Winter pike fishing – The true essence of winter fishing the bright glow of optimism upon cool dark waters.

And of course there are also winter carp!

In the middle of February we headed for Dorset for a short break beside the River Frome. The river was out of sorts but it was still good to be beside the water.

At this time we had no idea that times were about to change!

Little did we know that fishings social aspect would be banned under strict COVID restrictions! Tiers, bubbles and face masks were not on the agenda!

MARCH

The salmon season was underway but with swollen rivers there would be no silver spring bars.

The Wimbleball Trout were obliging and put a pleasing bed in the rod as a coid wind swept across Exmoor.

April

Into lockdown and  April and May we walked the country lanes and glimpsed wild brown trout in clear waters.

MAY

As lockdown was lifted what a joy to once again smell the salty sea air. Breathe in and enjoy a new found freedom.

At Wimbleball crowds flocked to the shoreline and the British public relished the great outdoors like never before.

It was a joy to once again ponder upon those important matters like what fly to use?

JUNE

Carp are very much a fish of the summer though I don’t always catch! Its fun waiting though….

A boat on Wimbleball brings hard fighting rainbows and summer Rudd

In mid June I join Steve Dawe on a one off trip to catch the mysterious eel from a water that has never been fished for eels before! We prove that there are some big trout present!

JULY

Summer bass on the lure

Summer salmon fishing on the Taw & Torridge its not just about the catching its good to just drift a fly across the river.

AUGUST

A trip to Cornwall and the delights of mackerel on light tackle…

Followed by bent rods and aching arms far off Lands End

And  summer drifts into autumn

SEPTEMBER

Success is sweet when it comes my first salmon for several seasons after many hundreds of casts comes that delightful tug and well bent rod..belief is restored!

Autumn is a time for mullet but sometimes they’re  not there or are rather small!

It was a good year on the lure…I just love it when they hit that lure.  Sublime!

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A carp fishing interlude at Hacche Moor Carp Fishery

And then shark adventure number two with Jason Barrow and others

The trout seasons ends with the rivers low. I enjoy a last day nymphing on the Lyn. A week later the river is a raging torrent.

October

A good time to hit the beach as the sunsets earlier.

As winter approaches grayling are a fish that spring to mind and once again the Dorset Frome beckons..

A 2lb 12oz grayling my fish of the year!!

(Above) And when the seasons over there is always time for a riverside walk.

A last trip to Wimbleball 

December

Winter Trout and  Christmas at Blakewell

And as the years ends those familiar home waters call…..

Happy New Year for 2021 tight lines to all…….

SOUTH MOLTON ANGLERS ENJOY DOUBLES BONANZA AT BLAKEWELL

SOUTH MOLTON ANGLERS ENJOY DOUBLES BONANZA AT BLAKEWELL

I joined several members of the South Molton Angling Club Blakewell Fishery. What a contrast in weather conditions compared to last weeks Christmas competition that saw anglers greeted by frost and mist rising from the water. This week was dark and overcast with occasional outbreaks of heavy rain.

The dark and gloomy conditions did little to dampen the enthusiasm and good humour of the South Molton anglers who were all pleased to be out in the fresh air casting a line.

I decided to head for the area that had been producing the previous week and started off with my favourite olive damsel nymph. After half an hour without a pull I decided to try a different pattern. I could see that other anglers were catching steadily so the trout were obviously feeding. I glimpsed a big rainbow cruising just a rod length that convinced me to stay put. A bead headed black lure soon brought a rainbow of around 1lb 8oz. A few casts later I glimpsed the large rainbow again this time converging on my lure! The mouth opened and the line drew tight, the rod hooped over and a few anxious moments followed, a big trout lunged to and fro before being coaxed over the rim of the net. At thirteen pound it was a fish to bring a broad smile and set the hands a tremble.

Amazingly twenty minutes later I caught sight of another big trout as it followed my lure nailing it just a few yards from the bank. This one pulled the scales to 11lb a very pleasing brace of trout for 24lb.

Shortly after this on the opposite bank Matt Kingdon was into another Blakewell beauty that pulled the scales to 14lb 6oz. After completing my own limit I wondered over to get a picture of Matts and found he had a fine rainbow of of 9lb 12oz to go with it.

Amazingly back on the bank where I had enjoyed success Jim Ricketts was battling a good fish and we all watched on as his good friend wielded a net that was slightly undersized. We all felt relieved for him when the 12lb 14oz rainbow was safely banked.

The club had enjoyed a great Sunday mornings sport despite the gloom laden sky. Six big rainbows were banked by lunchtime along with plenty of table sized fish.

Blakewell Christmas Competition 2020

Blakewell Fisheries Christmas Competition is always an enjoyable social occasion in North Devon Fly-Fishers Calendar and it was good to be back amongst familiar faces albeit more socially distanced than in normal times.

It was a cold and frosty morning with a vivid blue sky and mist rising from the lake as the warmth of the sun beamed down. Eighteen anglers were taking part in this years scaled down event and after a welcome glass of port we all headed out to the lake. As is normal trout were hooked within the first few seconds of the start as flies were cast onto the calm surface.

I elected to use an olive damsel nymph with a small buzzer on a dropper. Within fifteen minutes I had three rainbow trout in the bag which was my mornings quota. This left me a couple of hours to wonder around the lake capturing images of the lake and the anglers.

Gary Matthews with a fine 10lb 5oz rainbow

Dinner was served at 12:30; a hot pasty and a pint. The afternoon session saw me persevere with the same team of flies. As is often the case catching became a little more of a challenge but after a couple of moves I completed my five fish limit.

The lake had fished well with plenty of hard fighting rainbows averaging between 1lb 8oz and 2lb. Amongst these were a few outsize specimen rainbows. The winter sunshine and colours around the lake were stunning and it was great to see a steady stream of families arriving to select their Christmas trees.

The winning angler was Trevor Whyborn with his five fish bag of 18lb 6oz that included the biggest rainbow of the day at 11lb 11oz. In runner up spot was John Buxton with five for 17lb 4oz and third Gary Matthews with two trout for 12lb 3oz.

Once again many thanks to John and Richard Nickell for hosting this annual event after what has been a challenging year in many ways. The COVID outbreak inevitably had its impact but not so much perhaps as the ongoing warm summers that cause difficulties for trout fisheries the length and breadth of the country. It is noticeable that smaller Stillwater trout fisheries like Blakewell are at their best during the cooler winter months.

Trevor Whyborn with an 11lb 11oz rainbow

John Buxton with his 9lb 5oz rainbow