Unlocking the mystery of the eel

Unlocking the mystery of the eel

Wistlandpound Reservoir was created in an enduring feat of engineering by building a clay core dam  across Bratton Stream during the late 1950’s. It supplies water to a large area of North Devon and has become a popular area for walkers and is used by the Calvert Trust to provide adventure holidays for disabled adults and children. The lake is managed by The South West Lakes Trust who also control angling at the venue which has a long history as a trout fishery.

My good friend Steve Dawe is a keen eel angler and member of the National Anguilla Club and we got talking about waters that contain eels and in particular large eels. I recalled how twenty or more years ago eels had become trapped in the inlet of the local water works and that these eels were of a good size.

Wistlandpound had never to our knowledge been fished for eels and it is a well-known fact amongst eel anglers that venues that have not been fished and have limited access for eels can hold the eels of dreams. The European eel has been known to live to over 100 years so it is possible that any eels trapped within Wistlandpound when the dam was constructed could still be present.

Steve and I spoke with Ben Smeeth who is head of angling at SWLT and after due consideration Ben agreed to an exploratory session to investigate the lakes eel potential.

Steves credentials as an eel angler are well documented so it was a welcome opportunity for me to join Steve and learn more about how to catch specimen eels. Whilst I have caught many eels over the years I have never caught a specimen of over 3lb and this target is now firmly in my sights.

Eventually in mid-June I met up with Steve and struggled to the banks of a depleted Wistlandpound with an array of tackle, bivvies’ and provisions. The weather forecast was a little ominous with a weather warning in place for thunderstorms and possible flash floods! This did little to dent our enthusiasm as eels are reported to become  more active during thunderstorms.

With the reservoir at around 60% capacity we had a good choice of accessible bank and selected a swim that gave access to deep water.

Steve gave me useful advice on the rigs to use and how to mount the small dead-baits to give a good chance of hooking an eel. Fortunately, we arrived before the rain and managed to get set up before it arrived in spectacular fashion accompanied by a very long resounding  rumble of thunder.

The rain beat down on our shelters and I looked out the rods hoping that a run would not come at this time. After a couple of hour’s, the rain eventually eased and we brewed a hot drink and began chatting about fish and fishing.

Suddenly Steve’s alarm burst into life and he was at his rod in expectation. To our disappointment he failed to connect and reeled in to find that his bait was gone.

We didn’t have long to wait though for within minutes my alarm sounded and I hoked into the culprit. It was no eel but a stunning wild brown trout of around 1lb 8oz.

Within half an hour Steve was in action again and connected this time to bring to the net a stunning wild brown trout that must have been over 3lb. I wondered just how big these wild browns grow to within the lake. I suspect there are a few surprises as there is now an abundance of silvery rudd residing in the lake perfect prey the lakes wild browns to grow to a large size.

Recent seasons have unfortunately been blighted by an abundance of thick green algae making fly Fishing difficult at times. Whilst trout are no longer stocked into the reservoir there is a good head of wild brown trout present and I am sure that Fly Fishing during the autumn could produce the goods as these large browns feed on the lakes abundant fry.

As the evening descended Steve and I talked extensively about our fishing lives and the many places  that we have visited and plan to perhaps visit in the future.

As we chatted we frequently cast our eyes upon the rods perched beside the lake their tips pointing into the green water. As the light faded expectation grew as this was surely the eels meal time?

After last hot drinks we both retired to our shelters to catch some sleep. Occasionally an alarm would give a single bleep and I would tense in anticipation. On one occasion I looked out to see a shadow flit away from the rods, an inquisitive fox I believe.

Just before light some type of bird gave a repeated cry that echoed around the lake in a strange almost stereo like mode. I spoke to Steve later who thought it could have been a type of hawk. Thinking back, I should have recorded it on my phone.

I snoozed intermittently as a grey and misty day dawned. I took a look at the weather forecast that told of heavy rain from 8.00am. The rods remained poised at the waters edge but by now our expectations of catching the mysterious eel had faded. After a rushed brew and breakfast we packed away our gear to escape before the rain. The question remains unanswered for now. The problem is that life is short and big eels can take time to find.

Fortunately there are plenty of other SWLT waters that have proven big eel potential. Upper Tamar lake, Lower Tamar, Melbury and Jennets all hold eels of over 4lb with far bigger eels likely to be lurking in the mysterious depths.

Lower Tamar Lake

At 35 acres in size Lower Tamar is a day ticket only water. But if great fishing and beautiful surroundings is what you’re looking for it could be the place for you. With carp to 40lb, bream to 14lb, Tench to 7lb, perch to 4lb and roach to 3lb it offers excellent sport for everyone. Bags of 50lb+ are common to pole, feeder or float tactics. There are multiple bream over 10lbs.
Species: Carp, Bream, Rudd, Roach, Tench, Perch and Eels
Fishing Times: Open all year, 24 hours a day
Day Permits: Available at Upper Tamar Lake or online at www.coarse.swlakesfishing.co.uk
Contact: 01566 771930

SOUTH WEST LAKES TRUST – OPENING STATEMENT

See below statement regarding the opening of South West Lakes Trust Waters. At present there is no night fishing in line with the government guidance that states no staying away from home. It is to be hoped that this will be reviewed at some point to allow 24 hours angling.

Please find below the link to our website which has the amended rules for the re-opening of fisheries and guidance around social distancing and measures to protect everyone. Its ESSENTIAL you read this information as it also includes a new update on night fishing which will not be permitted at this stage.

Fishing will be dawn to dusk with the exception of tomorrow 13 May when the fisheries re-open at 10am.

https://coarse.swlakesfishing.co.uk/coarse-angling-coronavirus-information/

This statement applies to both coarse and trout fishing.

Thankyou for your patience and understanding at this time.

Ben Smeeth

Coarse Angling: Coronavirus Information – SW Lakes Coarse Fishing
Issue date: 12 May 2020 15:45 Prior to every fishing trip, it is essential that you check the information on this page to ensure that you are up to date with relevant site information, rules and regulations. In line with government guidance to continue to stay home but enjoy more time outdoors we ar…
coarse.swlakesfishing.co.uk

ANGLING TRUST CONFIRM FISHING TO RESUME ON WEDNESDAY

Looking Good stay Safe and follow the rules.

FAVOURITE PLACES –  I  have fished Part 1

There is plenty of reminiscing going on at present and I guess that’s inevitable in these strange times when our freedom has been taken away. Looking at a wide range of pictures on social media has prompted me to put together this short article highlighting a few of the wonderful places that angling has taken me to. I will add that North Devon and my home waters are far higher on the list than these notes indicate. The reason for this is that on trips away there is perhaps a fuller emersion in the angling dimension.

You may notice that each section contains a photo of the expedition party as we all know its not just about fish and places its also very much about friendship!

SARK

            Arrival to this Island situated out in the English Channel takes one to a world apart where life runs slower. There are no cars, no street lights and few shops. Steep cliffs descend to clear waters where huge grey mullet were our target. Sadly, the numbers have declined since our early visits when we often glimpsed double figure specimens. We also caught black bream to over 4lb on float-fished bread-flake. On our early visits we took the ferry from Weymouth and carried huge packs of gear. We fished all day for mullet then retired to our accommodation for tea before heading out to fish for the huge conger that lurked at the base of the harbour jetty. It was then the then hike back up the harbour hill the autumn leaves smelling of decay as they collected on the path. It was then time to dine on cheese on toast, enjoy a last brew and crawl into bed for 1.00am.

Up at 7.00am,  fry up and back out on the push bike for another day watching floats bob upon the water disappearing from time to time followed by a bent rod and screaming reel.

There were of course the occasional visit to the Islands two pubs. The Belle-air ( The Tourist Pub) or the Mermaid Tavern that was like stepping back into the 1970’s. Sadly modern times had started to catch up when we last visited but I remember fondly the smoky haze and nicotine stained décor that reminded me of my youth.

IRELAND

            I have been to Ireland on three or four fishing excursions. A week plugging for bass on the Copper Coast. A week fishing for grey mullet on the Copper Coast around Dungarvan and a week on the West Coast with the Combe Martin SAC. Ireland is a beautiful land to cast a line an angler’s dream. In a week long bass fishing trip I managed to blank! But I loved every minute.

When I went back a year later I caught a PB mullet of 6lb 15oz and glimpsed several mullet that would have crashed the scales to over ten pounds. I really must return!

There is a wonderful valley where the River Tay meets the sea at Stradbally Cove. As the tide floods into this tranquil sheltered cove grey mullet drift like grey ghosts into the river mouth. I remember seeing a large sea trout sadly languishing with disease and wondered what treasures this river had once held as it ran through the green and pleasant land on its journey from high in the mountains that the sun set behind each evening as we relaxed after a hard day on the coast.

This wooded valley hidden on the Copper Coast is  a place I often wander to in my minds eye. A boat moored upon the bank and mullet browsing as they move in on the flooding tide. The quiver tips poised expectantly as we wait in the peaceful valley far from the troubles of the world.

Norway

            The land of the midnight sun. Clear cold waters, big fish, snow-capped mountains, glaciers. Almost too much for words to describe or to do justice for as I write I realise there is so much to say and so little time.

So many highlights from our two journeys to this spectacular land. Our fishing was largely divided into day time fishing with lures for cod and coalfish searching the mighty Fjords with deep and mysterious waters that teamed with life. Or drifting the shallows in the long evenings for the mighty halibut with fresh dead-baits bounced over the sand.

On one memorable night we fished through a windless night on glassy tranquil waters catching huge numbers of hard fighting cod the best falling to Rob Scoines a mighty fish of over 40lb on a light bass rod. I will never forget that night with mist hanging in the air as we savoured  a twilight of delight to the sound of sheep bells drifting in the cool clean air.

Another highlight had to be climbing a mountain to gaze across a vast vista of mountains and fjords.

Iceland

            A fish every cast I was told by our hosts! To my disbelief this was not too far from the truth for at most marks the rod tip bounced within moments of the bait hitting the sea bed. Codling two at a time, plump dab most over a pound. I also witnessed a shore caught plaice of over 7lb.

The many highlights of this trip included a whale watching excursion where we found several pods of humpback whales getting so close the spray from their blow spume drifted on us in the arctic air.

We fished a competition on a beach and as darkness fell the Northern Lights danced mesmerizingly above the mountains. We bounced back across a rugged road to the hotel and the presentation night as Motorhead blasted out on the car radio; “Born to Raise Hell”. A truly memorable fishing trip and I came second in the competition catching 52 fish if my memory serves me right.

Egypt

            In total contrast to the cold lands of Norway and Iceland in 1997 Nick Phillips and I ventured to the vast Lake Nasser in search of Nile perch. We enjoyed a week long adventure camping each night in the desert and fishing in temperatures that at times exceeded 100 Degrees Fahrenheit. At the time the comet Hale Bop was traversing the night sky. It was strange to think that the last time this had been seen from earth the ancient Egyptians were building pyramids.

I guess one highlight had to be catching a Nile perch of 83lb whilst casting from a rocky shoreline. The huge fish smashed into my Rapala lure its body erupting from the water as it shook its head violently before diving deep into the lake. Twenty minutes later I struggled to hold the mighty fish aloft for a photo!

Then there were scorpions, crocodiles and feasts under the midday sun. The Nubian guides were great people and showed great warmth and friendship.  I remember clearly an Island we fished one day where snake skins littered the boulders upon which we stood. Cobras we were told; get bitten by one of those and it’s probably the kiss of death!

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Scariest moment had to be when I was unhooking a Nile perch of around thirty pounds. The loose treble found the middle of my finger going right through! The perch was still on the other treble and thrashed around in the boat. A big 3/0 treble and thick gauged wire with a big barb was not good. I have to admit I felt a little dizzy as the blood oozed. A pair of pliers came to the rescue, an oily rag stemmed the blood flow. A hospital was far away; at least six hours and there were fish to catch. Amazingly by the end of the week my finger had healed and all I have is a scary memory.

The first night of our stay was in a luxury hotel I remember the heat and buzzing of a mosquito in our room. Music seemed to drone on in the distance until the early hours. We got to bed at midnight and were on our way into the desert to begin our adventure shortly after 4.00am in the morning. We stayed on safari boats camping at a different location each night as we fished our way along the vast Lake Nasser. I loved the remote desert but I cannot say I relished the craziness of Aswan and Luxor. Dining on a boat moored up beside the Nile was however a memorable experience.

Anglers Paradise

ANGLING REPORT

Once again as you may not have access to a shop for your Journal here is last weeks report.

TIME TO REFLECT ON THE MYSTERY OF THE EEL

            Whilst angling is on hold the natural world in which we normally cast our lines continues in all its glory. The first swallows and martins have now started to arrive after their epic journey and will be swooping low over the waters we normally fish. Less obvious to many will be the migrations that take place within our waterways as equally wonderous migrations occur.

The elver run should now be underway with many thousands off these small eels arriving in our rivers to forge upstream and populate ponds, rivers, lakes and canals. The eels begin their journey as larvae drifting the ocean currents from the eels mysterious breeding grounds in the Sargasso sea situated within an area of the renowned Bermuda Triangle. It is a sea located within the Atlantic Ocean and is unique in that it has no land boundaries. It is formed and bonded by four currents that form an ocean gyre. Within the sea grows a characteristic brown sargassum seaweed. The waters are renowned for their clarity and yet the spawning of the eels has never been witnessed.

The mysterious life cycle of the eel adds a fascination that has entranced a minority of anglers who seek to catch the large eels that lurk within many waters. The adult eels live in freshwater until they develop an instinctive urge to return once again to the mysterious Sargasso many thousands of miles from our shores. Some eels can remain in freshwater for in excess of fifty years and grow to a weight of over 10lb. A quick search on that wonder of modern times revealed that one European eel was reported to have lived to the grand old age of 155.  Specimen sized eels of over four pounds are an angling challenge that can become an obsession.  They can be found in a vast variety of waters and as they are not stocked and feed mostly at night their presence is only to be ascertained by actually catching them. There are documented cases of eels over 10lb in Devon waters and there are undoubtedly eels present that could shatter the existing British Record of 11lb 2oz.

The eel population has sadly plummeted over recent years and the species is presently classified as endangered. There is a fascinating section on eels in Charles Rangley-Wilsons fascinating book; Silver Shoals, a book that is well worth obtaining during this time of lockdown.

It is now several weeks since any substantial rainfall and the regions rivers are dropping quickly. I spoke recently with Ivan Huxtable who has managed fishing on the popular Weir Marsh and Brightly day ticket salmon fishing beats on the Taw for around thirty years. Ivan has reluctantly decided to hand over the reigns to his good friend Chris Steer who will now issue permits once this pandemic is over. Chris will be contactable on 07761285169. Ivan has eagerly reported many salmon catches to me over the years and always shared in the joy of angler’s success. He told me that he values the many friends he has made within the angling fraternity. Ivan is known to many for his valiant Exmoor Rambles to raise huge sums for local causes including valuable equipment for North Devon District Hospitals Cardiology, Seamoor – Chemotherapy Units and the North Devon Hospice.

Whilst angling is a very low risk activity in relation to COVID-19 the angling community has totally embraced the government guidelines. The message to stay home and Stay safe is clear. Fortunately angling will hopefully bounce back as the waters we fish await largely unaffected.

ANGLING REPORT. A Long Closed season

The COVID-19 outbreak has probably stopped some of you buying the Journal so he is this weeks column.

North Devon’s angling community are waiting patiently until they can return once again to the water’s edge. Close to three weeks of lockdown have passed it is likely to be several more weeks before the chance once again cast a line.

The lockdown will have had a devastating impact upon many businesses that rely upon angling. Fisheries have lost their income at the busiest time of year with Easter normally a bumper time for both coarse and game fishing. Many fisheries incorporate holiday accommodation and are often fully booked throughout the Easter period. Those fishing tackle shops that have an online presence will continue to do some business as anglers stock up for future times but bait sales will have ground to a halt.

Early April is a time when many anglers renew their Rod Licences in line with the historic financial calendar. I suspect many anglers will have delayed purchasing a licence until fishing resumes. This will have had a significant impact upon funding for fishery work and habitat work throughout the country.

The charter boat sector will have lost a significant part of their season and will be hoping for fair weather to allow a return to fishing grounds when normality returns.

The rivers are now running low and clear so runs of migratory fish will be at a minimal until we have substantial rainfall. Strange how just a few weeks ago the rivers were raging torrents.

The lockdown is in effect similar to a closed season. The older generation of Coarse anglers will remember the closed season that prevented fishing for coarse fish from March 14th until June 16th. The glorious sixteenth was a day to celebrate with anglers often casting their lines into lakes and ponds across the land at the stroke of midnight. It is to be hoped that all anglers can share in the magic of a new season when this tragic pandemic ends.

Nature will have enjoyed a reprieve with many waterside paths untrodden. Birds will have nested undisturbed; grass snakes will have basked in the warm sun upon the banks where anglers normally contemplate their luck. The friendly robins will wonder where the anglers have gone with their handfuls of juicy writhing maggots. The large carp in many of the region’s lakes will perhaps miss the angler’s high protein baits. Will the fish be easier to tempt when we return to the water?

The longer term impact on angling will be hard to predict. A long lay-off could hopefully encourage an eager return to the water’s edge and a greater appreciation of the great outdoors. There is of course the fear that some will get out of the habit and not return.