COMBE MARTIN SAC FUN FISH – The weather is looking perfect for the Fun Fish on Ilfracmbe Pier with sunshine and light winds forecast . We have guests on the day including Mat Mander Chief Officer of Devon & Severn Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authority, Dean Asplin from the Angling Trust and representatives from the Coastguard and RNLI who focus on water safety.
Bring along a rod and enter the fun fishing competition or just come along for a chat with club members and our guests. Its only two hours and once a year. There is also lots to explore around Ilfracombe’s Sea Ilfracombe Festival.
The event is generously supported by High Street Tackle Ilfracombe with an array of superb prizes for the competitors.
July and August are often quiet months for Stillwater trout fishing with last season an absolute disaster with the prolonged drought and hot weather putting fish off the feed or sending them into the cooler depths of the lake. This year has been different and after a wet and cooler July and August I had heard that Wimbleball was fishing well. A trip was undoubtedly needed but with jobs to do at home an all day trip was not an option.
A half day ticket at Wimbleball starts at 4.00pm and gives over four hours fishing during August at what should be the best time of day.
The weather forecast gave light North West Winds with occasional showers some of them potentially thundery. It was raining when I left home at around 2.30pm and I hoped the rain would ease by the time I arrived.
It was a pleasant drive over Exmoor and I noted the tinges of Autumn starting to show on the trees. I drove through occasional heavy showers and spells of sunshine that illuminated the moorland landscape.
It was raining steadily when I pulled into the car park where another angler was parked up waiting for the rain to ease before heading out to the lake. I set up under the shelter of the car boot opting for a floating line and longish leader with a tip fly and two droppers. I tied a damsel on the point and daiwl Bach’s on the droppers.
It was good to walk out onto the lake’s foreshore once again, I was a little surprised at how far the lake had dropped since my last visit. I knew it was now at around 75% but that’s quite a bit of exposed shoreline. The foreshore is coated in lush green growth of wetland plants and flowers that exuded a pleasant almost minty aroma as I walked eagerly to the water’s edge.
I waded out and put a line out onto the water slowly retrieving as I took in the panorama of lake, sky and land. Dark foreboding clouds, glimpses of blue, lush green fields and trees bedecked in their dark summer foliage. Ducks foraged in the shallows their heads emersed and curly rears exposed in typical duck fashion. A heron’s call echoed across the lake, swallows and martins swooped low over the water. The margins were alive with tiny fry that would surely provide a feast for predatory trout over the coming months.
I settled into the searching mode of cast and retrieve occasionally trying different flies and trying different areas of the bay. I saw a couple of fish rise shortly after starting but nothing seemed interested in my offerings and after three hours I was starting to have a few doubts. I have not blanked at Wimbleball since the lakes fishing has been under the management of Mark Underhill in 2018!
After trying different areas, I headed back to where I had started and again commenced the searching rhythm. A fellow angler fishing along the bank to my right seemed to have the body language indicating a lack of success. I heard him comment to his friend; “time to cut our losses and head for home”.
It was now just after 7.00pm and there was just an hour and a half permitted fishing time remaining. I had reverted to the damsel on the point, a diawl bach on the middle dropper with a sunburst blob on the top dropper.
As the luckless angler disappeared from view the line suddenly zipped delightfully tight. A trout erupted from the water and after a strong encounter a slim full tailed rainbow graced the net. The silvery flanks, full tail and sleek appearance reminded me of a fresh run grilse.
Next cast the line again zipped tight a trout leaping from the water. A beautiful wild brown trout of close to a pound that was quickly returned after capturing an image. To my delight the next two casts produced another brace of wild browns with vivid spotted flanks of olive green, bronze and buttery cream.
I fished on expectantly and missed one more fish as the light began to fade. Judging by the size of the swirl behind the lure it was a good sized fish. Shortly after sunset I eventually made my tenth last cast and walked back to the car.
In just over four hours hard fishing I had tempted four trout within a frantic fifteen minute spell. Had a shoal moved in? Had they just switched on for that short feeding spell? Whatever had happened it had whetted my appetite and I look forward to return trips during the autumn months when the fishing promises to be very exciting. With ongoing stocking of full tailed rainbows throughout and those wild browns that will surely feast upon those marginal fry. I wander how big those browns go to? Only one way to find out!
On October 6th North Devon Angling News will be hosting a screening of Riverwoods supported by the National Trust and Adrian Bryant fromBraunton’s Countrywise Centre . The film is an evocative documentary highlighting the decline of salmon and how this catastrophic collapse of natural ecosystems can be prevented.
The film will be followed by short presentations from National Trust Wetlands Ranger James Thomas and Wayne Thomas talking from the heart about salmon populations across the West Country. Refreshments will be provided to enjoy with discussion and debate around the issues raised.
THE CHALLENGE – SALMON IN HOT WATER
Over many centuries, the loss of natural woodlands alongside rivers has profoundly changed their ability to support the salmon runs that once flourished. Today, many of Scotland’s rivers run through bare, treeless glens, reflecting the ecological decline that we have come to accept as normal.
Within those rivers, the King of Fish is in crisis. Atlantic salmon rely on cold, clean water and are susceptible to pollution, abstraction and rising river temperatures due in part, to a lack of river woodlands that would once have shaded and nourished our rivers.
Restoring a rich mosaic of woodland habitats to Scotland’s river catchments is a vital step in providing food and sanctuary to young salmon, giving them the best chance of migrating to sea before returning as titanic adults to their natal river to give life to the next generation.
Only 3% of Scotland’s native woodland remains.
More than 90% of all living Atlantic salmon measure under 12cm, making young fish in particular, susceptible to rising river temperatures.
Salmon eggs can survive water temperatures up to 16c. In a changing climate and without the shade afforded by trees, recorded water temperatures in some of Scotland’s rivers are exceeding the lethal limit for Atlantic salmon.
At any given time, 90% of the world’s salmon exist in rivers, placing an emphasis on restoring their freshwater habitat.
In the 1960s, 30% of adult salmon returned from the sea to spawn; today that figure is 3%.
RIVERWOODS – the initiative
Riverwoods is a broad partnership of organisations, focused on restoring a network of riparian woodland* and healthy river systems throughout Scotland, and increasing the ecological connectivity between land and rivers.
*Riparian woodland includes trees and woods within a river catchment, that influence river processes such as recycling nutrients, storing carbon and regulating water temperature, and flow. This includes instream woody structures, gorge and floodplain woodlands, wet and bog woodlands, and those far beyond the riverbank that still shape and govern river processes.
Why are river woodlands special?
Native trees and shrubs next to rivers, streams and lochs perform a range of vital functions. They provide shade, which helps regulate the temperature of the water; their roots stabilise riverbanks and offer vital shelter to young fish; leaves and insects falling into the water provide a valuable food source for a range of aquatic creatures, and a rich tapestry of vegetation locks away carbon, filters pollution and slows run-off.
RIVERWOODS – the film
The salmon need the forest. The forest needs the salmon. And Scotland needs them both.
Riverwoods is a spectacular and compelling story of Scotland’s Atlantic salmon – a fish that is the angler’s ultimate prize and a key building block in a complex forest ecosystem.
The feature-length documentary filmed and produced by rewilding charity SCOTLAND: The Big Picture,shows how Scotland’s rivers have been greatly diminished but crucially, how they could be reborn through a shared vision of restoration and recovery.
Restoring river woodlands at a catchment scale is an effective nature-based solution to help secure the future for Atlantic salmon.
River catchments with a mosaic of native woodland habitats, sequester carbon, reduce erosion, improve water quality and slow catchment run-off.
The health of Scotland’s rivers and the life within them, is directly dependent on the health of the landscapes through which they flow.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Tell your friends, family and work colleagues about the Riverwoods film and encourage them to attend one of the film screenings (it’s free!).
Shady River Fishing shared this cautionary tale recently that I feel is worth sharing on North Devon Angling News.
Ticks are very common in the vicinity of moorlands streams and rivers.
I THOUGHT I SHARE A CAUTIONARY TALE……
About 2 months ago I was fishing in the Devon countryside as usual. When I got home I noticed a Tick Nymph on my inside leg, so I pulled it off as I usually do when I see them on me. I’m always getting bit by ticks and did not think much of it, I just pull em out and forget about it. The next day I noticed a red rash around the bite, now normally the tick bite stays small then it goes away. This Rash was much bigger than usual and prompted concern from my fishing widow partner, who insisted I go and check it out, so I of course I didn’t do that. Anyway a few weeks later I was feeling very tired and aching knee joints and generally put it down to being over 40. After about another week or so I rang the doctor and went to see the Nurse who took some general blood tests, at this point I said “could you test me for Lymes Disease by any chance?” She said “yes we can do”, so she did.
Fast forward another four weeks and I was wondering on the test because I hadn’t improved much. I rang the surgery and was told in no uncertain terms that I had indeed contracted Lymes Disease!!!!
I was quite shocked but perhaps I shouldn’t have been as I am always up the River chasing Salmonoids and I can’t remember how many times I’ve pulled ticks off of myself, so suppose it was just a matter of time before this could happen. Anyway it’s a big long course of antibiotics and no Beer either ♂️ I was fishing on this occasion on the Mighty River Lyn when I got bitten, it’s full of ticks up there at certain times, but Ticks are everywhere around this part of the country and unfortunately so is the Disease. So be careful out there folks.
Over fifty years ago I caught my first brown trout from the River Umber that flows through the village of Combe Martin. The fish was tempted on a small red worm a small wild brown trout with a butter shaded belly, olive flanks and crimson spots. Sadly, their numbers have plummeted in this tiny stream as a result of pollution and reduced flows.
Fortunately; there are still many miles of healthy rivers in North Devon and whilst migratory fish have declined the wild brown trout are thriving and offer delightful sport on light fly fishing tackle.
I decided to start my 62nd birthday with a couple of hours on a local river chasing those wild brown trout that were amongst the first fish I caught as a child. Armed with a 7ft Snowbee 4 wt rod I waded into the clear water and started to search flicking the flies upstream beneath a canopy of green.
Starting with New Zealand style tactics I made my way slowly up river. A kingfisher flashed by an electric blue streak that brightens the day.
After searching several runs and stickles I hooked a sprightly brownie that pulsed and turned in the current before being coaxed to the waiting net. A beautiful trout of perhaps 10” that had taken the nymph. I admired it briefly and reflected that fifty years on I still enjoy those same emotions of pleasure from catching these jewelled creatures that dwell in cascading waters.
I tempted another three pristine browns using dry flies in the next couple of hours.
Pheasants called in the nearby fields a reminder that the shooting season is not far away. Another six weeks and the river trout season will have closed again. How times flies it seems ever faster as life passes by.
There are plenty of fishing adventures on the horizon with mighty tuna and shark on the agenda. Its still good though to tune back into those wild browns in intimate waters.
Wistlandpound Reservoir is just up the road from where I live and is an ideal spot to combine a summer evening walk with a few casts here and there. It was ideal that Pauline could join me and capture a few images of the scene and hopefully a fish or two. Despite being on my doorstep I haven’t visited as often as I had planned even though I did tempt some stunning wild brown trout earlier in the season.
Mid-August fishing can be a struggle so my expectations were not high so my target for the evening would be to tempt a golden flanked rudd or two. These beautiful fish are considered a nuisance by some but I see them as a pleasing diversion from the trout. I have glimpsed rudd of over a pound and would love to catch one of these larger specimens.
I had grabbed an old split cane Scottie Fly Rod that was already set up with a PTN on the point and black spider on a dropper. There is perhaps something organic and tactile about split cane and this rod could undoubtedly tell a tale or two and has a slightly poignant history.
I bought the rod from a friend at work who had picked it up at a car boot sale at Torrington. He wasn’t really an angler but had started to take a bit of an interest and we planned to take rods to the River Torridge and cast a line for trout. He was going to retire at some point in the near future and would have time to indulge in a new hobby expanding upon his love for family time, playing golf and tinkering with his sports car.
At the Roadford Fly Fair we met up with a friend and got chatting about life and fishing. How’s it going we asked to be told rather awkwardly that this would be his last Fly-fair as he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. A bit of a conversation stifler but we stumbled on and somehow got talking about fishing rods. It turned out he had sold his old Scottie Fly Rod at a car boot sale at Torrington.
Later that year I attended my work colleague’s funeral. He had retired after being diagnosed with cancer. We never did get to cast a line on the Torridge so on the odd occasion when I take out the old Scottie I cannot help but have a cast for my lost friends who had shared ownership of the old Scottie.
The sun was slowly sinking as we walked to the reservoir and there was barely a breath of wind. Reflections of trees, evening light, the occasional trout rise dimpling the surface and vapour trails decorating the cloud free evening sky.
We stopped at the first area of open bank and I extended a line upon the calm water. It took a while to adjust to the need to cast slower with the cane rod and I ended up spending a few moments untangling my fine leader. As is often the case other areas of the lake called and we ambled on chatting and absorbing the embers of the fading summer day.
We ended up on the far shoreline where I had caught a good brown trout earlier in the season. I waded out and suggested that Pauline capture a few images of me fishing out the fading day.
Tantalisingly beyond casting range the surface was broken as a large shoal of fish feasted upon something, a hatch of fly perhaps? Large numbers of martins swooped above the water a sure indication that flies were indeed hatching. I flicked a fly yards from bushes that stretched out into the lake, paused and began a slow retrieve, the line tightened. A rudd was guided to my hand and lifted from the water its flanks glowing a burnished bronze and silver in the fading light.
After a quick picture the fish was slipped back. I cast again to be rewarded with a slightly bigger rudd.
A pleasing end to the day etching out another memory I remembered those immortal lines that feature in the books written by the late countryside writer BB.
The Wonder of the world, the beauty and the power, the shapes of things, their colours, lights, and shades; these I saw. Look ye also while life lasts.
Recent rainfall has rejuvenated North Devon’s Rivers and the countryside bringing a lush green to the landscapes. I have reported several salmon caught from the Taw and Torridge over recent days and was delighted to make connection with a special fish myself, more of that later. On leaving the River I was delighted to receive a message from Paul Carter who had just netted a fine fresh run silver salmon from the Middle Taw estimated at 15lb.
The guys from Shady River Fishing have been enjoying some excellent fishing higher up the River catchments targeting wild brown trout. Euro Nymphing tactics producing some stunning fish in the high water conditions. The pick of recent catches being this stunning wild brown of 14” that was estimated at 2lb.
Visit ‘shady river fishing’ on Instagram.
The middle Torridge was looking close to perfect when I arrived for a morning session. Peering into the river I could easily make out the stones at a depth of 18”, the water was the colour of the finest ale. The water glistened in the morning sun and I admired a large silver wash fritillary butterfly as it settled upon bankside grass. I paused for a minute or two sitting on the bench as the river flowed past. A juvenile buzzard mewed above a sound synonymous with August and the passing of summer.
I waded into the cool water and grimaced as I felt a leak in my waders. I put a line out across the river allowing the fly to drift across the flow searching for the increasingly illusive Atlantic salmon. It was good to be here following the familiar pattern of casting, drifting and stepping down through the pool.
At the point where I knew salmon had taken my fly in the past I felt a strong pull and lifted the rod tightening into a fish for just a few seconds. A chance gone perhaps? The margins between success and failure are often small. I analysed my response to the take, had I lifted into the fish too quickly? It is good practice to allow a little slack to allow the salmon to turn down with the fly but in all honesty the delectable moment of the take is so fleeting. In truth most of the salmon I have caught have hooked themselves or at least I have difficulty in actually visualising that fleeting moment of deception and connection.
I fished on searching the river and its known lies. It has been a little disheartening so far this season to drift the fly over the lies time and time again. Fishing the river in conditions like this even ten years ago I feel certain I would at least have seen a fish jump.
Despite the lack of success and ongoing concern regarding salmon and sea trout stocks I have stubbornly retained a sense of expectation as I fish, whilst there are still salmon to be caught hope springs eternal.
The river and its surroundings have a feel of late summer, early autumn. The invasive Himalayan Balsam are sadly flourishing their pretty pink flowers attracting bees and butterflies. Vivid blue damsel flies flutter amongst the riverside vegetation. Pin head fry flit to and fro in the river’s margins.
After fishing the top of the beat I fish back down searching the water heading for my final casts of the day in the bottom pool.
I wade out into the river once again still hoping almost expectant as this pool has provided many of the salmon I have caught from the Torridge over the years. As I proceed slowly down the pool I hear the piercing call of a kingfisher and glimpse the electric blue as the bird flashes down river. My optimistic heart views this as a good omen.
As I reach the bottom of the pool the line swings round in the current. The line zips delightfully tight and the water twenty yards below erupts as a fish leaps high above the river gyrating at the lines end. The rod hoops over and the fish heads downriver as I relish the moments of drama. For a few minutes salmo-salar dictates making several strong runs and leaping several times. There are a few anxious moments as the fish lunges near to branches on the far bank. Pressure eventually starts to sap the salmon’s energy and I coax the fish up river. The fish holds station in mid river and I slip the net ready to secure my prize. There are tense moments as line is gained and lost at close quarters. I pile on the pressure and the salmon rolls into the net. I wade up to the reed fringed bank above and take a moment to admire my prize. The salmon its flanks decorated in autumn hues signifies that it has been in the river for a while. I slip the barbless hook from its jaw and take a quick couple of pictures with the salmon in the net. I then carefully slide the fish into the river cradling the fish in the current lifting its head momentarily to capture an image. The fish is strong and kicks its tail as I support it. I watch satisfied as the precious fish swims into the ale coloured water to hopefully fulfil its destiny on the spawning redds later in the winter months.
I recieved an email from a reader of North Devon Angling News and have published it here with my reply. Darren’s email mirrors many of my own observations and thoughts on the River and its decline. Many thanks to Darren for giving me permission to publish along with my reply.
I chanced upon the NDAN website and indeed your book “I Caught a Glimpse” this year – excellent reading and nice to see a website so regularly updated.
Both from reading your book and old articles on the website it’s interesting to see the change in target species over the last few decades. We read about the reasons put forward and they seem to be many and varied. It set my mind running on a couple of points of local relevance.
The East Lyn is indeed a beautiful river and, although I wasn’t lucky enough to experience it, I’m sure it’s days of plenty live long in the memories of those who did. But why the drastic decline – with the salmon run a shadow of its former glory and I doubt it’s fished much at all for sea trout nowadays. You wonder what the culprits are. We can’t blame fish farming – the Severn is mercifully free from that industry which seems to have blighted the west coast of Scotland. The twin evils of pollution from farms (pesticide and fertilisers) and sewage discharge from treatment plants can’t be an important factor in that catchment can they ? The brown trout population seems to be relatively healthy so the environment for parr developing to the smolt stage would seem to be good. I’m my limited walks along the river and along the coast looking out to sea I don’t see the preponderance of fishing eating birds and seals I’ve seen elsewhere.
If I’m right in that unscientific guesswork it makes you wonder what’s going on out at sea. I suppose the salmon could be caught in large numbers at or en route back from their feeding grounds (like they used to be with drift nets on my native river Foyle). But surely not the sea trout which, as I understand it, doesn’t travel large distances and feeds around the coast. I’ve no doubt the bait fish such as sandeels, whitebait, etc. are hoovered up in huge quantities which could affect dependant species (although the bass seem to get by).
You do wonder if rising sea temperatures have had a pernicious impact. The reports of cod and whiting seem to have been replaced by smooth hound, bull huss and black bream but I wonder if it’s had am impact upon some part of the life cycle of the migratory fish as well.
Something else that seems unusual to me is the differing behaviour of sea trout in the estuaries. I cut my teeth in the mid eighties catching sea trout with frozen sandeels freelined in the ebbing and flowing tides in the narrow points of estuaries on the Donegal coast. The great times on that have gone now but its still worth a throw. What I wonder about is why sea trout were not caught more regularly on bait and lures in the estuaries of sea trout rivers such as the Teign and the Taw. I’ve fished those estuaries quite a few times over the last 25 years but haven’t seen a sea trout taken. I can’t work out why. Perhaps you’ve seen many caught.
Anyway – I just thought I’d drop you an e-mail to congratulate you on the book and thank you for the helpful website. My head scratching re the East Lyn and seatrout behaviour at just thrown out there in case you happen to know the definite answer !
All the Best
Thank you for your email it is really good to get positive feedback regarding my book and the website.
Would you mind if I publish your email on North Devon Angling News with my own thoughts as set out below.
As regards the East Lyn many of your comments mirror my own thoughts.
There has undoubtedly been a dramatic decline in salmon and sea trout runs on the East Lyn and the vast majority of West Country Rivers.
I have witnessed the decline on the Lyn first hand and it has to be appreciated that the decline that I have seen is based upon just over forty years and that my own baseline would have been much depleted in comparison to an angler who had seen the fish that ran the river forty years prior to that.
The facts on the Lyn and other rivers are to some extent blurred by a reduction in angling since the introduction of catch and release. In the days of prolific salmon runs there were also large numbers of anglers fishing the river. The angling community that once fished the Lyn came from far and wide when conditions were right and I met many anglers on the river who had commuted from London and other areas. These were familiar faces who joined the locals on the river bank jostling for the best spots. I often walk the river and now I seldom see a salmon angler even when conditions are good. Last week I spotted a good fish of 9lb plus resting in Overflow pool and feel sure there would have been other fish present.
Like you I do not believe the River Lyn has significant issues regarding pollution, Water Quality or indeed salmon farming.
It is likely that the most serious issue is loss at sea. These factors could relate to the marine eco systems that are in turmoil as a result of climate change, overfishing and an imbalance in predation.
Climate change also impacts upon the spawning of salmon and survival with many scientists predicting that water temperature will be too high for salmonoid species to successfully spawn within the next forty years. Others predict the virtual extinction of salmon within the next twenty years.
One regular angler on the river tells me that otters are decimating the remaining salmon stocks on the Lyn and I have heard of many otter sightings on the river. During drought conditions there are often seals around the river mouth feasting upon salmon, bass and mullet. The juvenile salmon ( smolts) are also heavily predated upon by cormorants that lurk in the river mouth particularly during the spring months.
Another major factor that impacted massively on salmon numbers was UDN during the 1960, 70s and 80s. There was also a recent outbreak of disease that resulted in a large loss of spring run fish.
The reasons for the decline in salmon stocks are undoubtedly complex and I see little reason for optimism though nature has a habit of bouncing back if given a chance. Everything we can do might help, reporting pollution, working with River Trusts and highlighting the decline of an iconic species. It is tragic that the salmon stocks on the Lyn were once so prolific that they could be harvested by anglers and via the salmon trap at the mouth of the river. For many years stocks seemed to be abundant and seemed to bounce back from UDN and natural weather patterns etc.
Across the natural world there has been a catastrophic decline and salmon are just another indicator that all is not well with our world.
As regards to sea trout I have never understood why they are not caught on a regular basis in West Country estuaries. They are as you say caught in Scotland, Ireland, the Hebrides and across Sweden etc.
Later this Autumn Medlar press are publishing a book that promises to deliver more information and thoughts on the history of Exmoors Rivers.
Ask many sea anglers which is their favourite species and my guess would be that many would answer bass. This would come as no surprise as the species ticks many boxes. Bass certainly look the part with their streamlined bodies silver flanks and defiant spiky fins.
They are also reasonably prolific and can be caught from the warmer waters of the South West throughout the year. Their biggest attribute is perhaps the fact that they can be caught using a wide range of tactics that suit different angling approaches.
Bass can be caught from a wide range of terrains across the region from deep water rock marks, shallow, rocky beaches, harbours, estuaries and those classic sandy storm beaches. The topography will to a certain extent determine the methods employed to catch bass and of course what is currently on the menu. Bass and all fish will go where the food is so this is ideally where the angler should head choosing bait that matches the hatch.
My own bass fishing approach is to some extent determined by who I fish with, what method is likely to bring results and what I enjoy most. In recent seasons lure fishing has to some extent been my go to method producing good numbers of fish over shallow rocky shores.
But to some degree I have always associated bass with shallow sandy surf beaches inspired years ago by the writing of Clive Gammon and others who fished the famous surf beaches of South West Ireland. The evocative picture of a loan angler stood in the surf holding the rod whilst waiting for the electrifying tug of a silver bass hunting in the third breaker.
Whilst this approach has its appeal the modern angler tends to fish in a lazier yet perhaps more effective way. My good friend Kevin Legge has fished North Devon’s surf beaches for several decades and I always enjoy a session with Kev whose confidence and experience always inspires. Kevin’s approach is in some ways similar to that of the modern carp angler anchoring baits far out in the surf relying upon the large sharp hooks to self-hook the fish against the breakaway lead.
A brisk westerly breeze was blowing when we arrived at the beach to coincide with a rising tide and the onset of night. A moderate surf was pushing in and at times it surged up the sand making fishing a little difficult. Kev doesn’t relish a surging push like this as it seldom results in good catches. But persistence can pay off in fishing and with a bait in the water you never know what is lurking out in the dark.
We fished fifty yards or so apart each anchoring two baits out in the surf. I had elected to use joey mackerel on each rod casting out as far as I could and then walking back as the tide flooded until depleting line on the reel forced a recast.
After a couple of hours Kev wandered over with a smoothound estimated at 8lb and tempted on a squid bait. Apart from this the baits had been untouched throughout.
The brisk breeze drove spells of rain and drizzle into the beach and I pulled up my hood whilst I watched the rod tips for signs of life. The distant lights of seaside towns and villages flickered from across the bay and ships lights shone from out on the sea. Standing alone on the sands was liberating immersed in the natural world. Bright eyes shone in the headlights beam as a fox approached. Ever resourceful they have learnt that anglers bring bait that makes a tasty meal. For this reason, a tough bait box is essential to repel their efforts to steal from the bags left away from the incoming tide.
As I removed old bait from the hooks the fox showed little fear and came right up to me despite my initial efforts to drive it away. The fox was certainly persistent and at times sat patiently behind me on the wet sand like a dog waiting for his meal. Eventually I warmed to my companion and allowed him to take the discarded bait each time I reeled in to refresh.
The best time for bass is often close to high water which was at 01:40am. We decided to call time at around 1:30am and as I watched the rod tips intently a gentle nod of the tip caught my attention. I picked up the rod and felt a slight tug followed by a slight slacking of the line. Another slight tug followed and I suspected a dogfish. I raised the rod and began retrieving not sure if anything was attached. A few lunges on the line as the tackle was brought into shallow water indicated that a fish was attached. A pleasing silver bass of around 3lb 8oz was dragged across the sand. I despatched the fish, descaled and gutted it as it was a perfect eating size. I return all bass I catch of over 6lb keeping the occasional fish for the table as it is one of my favourite eating fish.
Think back to those formative fishing days as a teenager in North Devon and mackerel would feature high in those fishing memories. Caught on silvery spinners, strips of mackerel fished beneath bright crimson tipped floats or more commonly on strings of feathers launched from the rocks. I remember watching the shoals as they drove scattering silver whitebait from the water as the birds swooped to feast upon the fleeing fish.
I had begun to think that those days of plenty had been consigned to history books but sometimes nature bounces back. I had heard that mackerel were abundant in shoals not witnessed for decades with large shoals showing from Hartland to Porlock.
I headed down to Ilfracombe to enjoy a session after the mackerel and scrambled out onto the rocks amongst the foundations of the old pier. It was good to see the rocks and pier busy with anglers of all ages casting a variety of lures and feathers. News that mackerel were about had brought out the occasional angler in abundance. And whilst I’m not generally keen on fishing amongst crowds I resigned myself to this hustle and bustle of communal angling.
I had brought a spinning rod and a few metal lures to savour each fish taking a few home for tea whilst enjoying the thrill of catching. For the first twenty minutes or so I suspected that I had missed out on the recent abundance. But then I noted a few mackerel starting to show with the twisting and turning fish being swung ashore.
A sharp knock was transmitted through the line and I was in. The mackerel are miniature tuna and fight hard their bodies packed with muscle. As I watched them in the clear water I reflected upon the huge tuna I had seen caught last winter and questioned my sanity in seeking contact with a member of the mackerel family 500 times bigger than the fish at the end of my line.
As the tide flooded I was forced to leave my rocky platform with five mackerel, real jewels of the summer sea. The sun was setting as I put the rods into the car and lines of anglers were still casting from the rocks.
Whilst mackerel can sometimes encourage a less savoury aspect in those who litter or take more fish than required it also brings anglers of all ages to the shoreline to enjoy those simple pleasures.
During July and August many Ilfracombe Charter boats take holidaymakers on short trips to catch mackerel an experience that can be the introduction to a more serious angling addiction.