2021 AGM RIVER REPORT, RIVER TAW FISHERIES & CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION – ALEX GIBSON

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2021 AGM RIVER REPORT, RIVER TAW FISHERIES & CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION – ALEX GIBSON

  1. To say the least 2020 was an abnormal season for us – covid restrictions and two extended low water periods led to fewer fishing days. Nevertheless the beat survey was encouraging – 177 salmon, 192 sea trout and about 2,600 brown trout. To date I only have preliminary EA figures for salmon, 146 (90% returned). Last year’s beat survey numbers were 82 salmon, 265 sea trout and almost 3,000 brown trout.
  2. River Improvement Work: £10,000 was spent on gravel washing last year on the Upper Taw, Mole, Molland Yeo and Crooked Oak. We plan is to spend the same amount this year. We also plan to spend £8,000 on a Westcounty Rivers Trust fry index survey. WRT last surveyed six years ago in 2015. The EA conducts its full juvenile survey every 6 years and its next survey is scheduled for 2024. However this may be delayed a year because for covid reasons no surveys were possible last year. These WRT and EA surveys are crucial to us since they allow us to fine tune our river improvement plans by reference to the three-yearly information base.
  3. Mole Pollution Incident: As far as we are aware the EA is pushing ahead, very slowly admittedly, with its plans to prosecute what is a category 1 incident, the worst. Unfortunately information about the case is not forthcoming and we still don’t have access to the original fish kill survey. By releasing it the EA feels it may prejudice its case. We are determined on our part that prosecution should go ahead and it was for this reason the we turned down an enforcement undertaking offer of £6k from the polluter. These EU’s are a form of out of court settlement. Such an enforcement offer had it been accepted by us and subsequently by the EA would have meant no prosecution, an unacceptable outcome. The good news is that under pressure from us the EA has indicated that on a one-off basis it will survey two sites on the polluted stretch of the Mole this season. This should give us a handle on how that stretch of river is being recolonised.
  4. As you all know we work very closely with the Westcountry Rivers Trust and this is an excellent opportunity for me to thank Adrian Dowding. I have worked closely with Adrian from the time of the Access over Weirs Project onwards and I can safely say that his contribution has been invaluable. He understands our catchment and continues to be committed to help us.
  5. We were without an EA Enforcement Officer for about 6 months last year after Paul Carter’s retirement. This situation was made good in October with the appointment of Callum Underhill, who like Paul will cover the Taw, Torridge and Lyn. Due to covid restrictions it has not been possible to meet Callum and give him a full briefing on the river and RTFA. We hope to make that good shortly. Meantime telephone conversations must suffice.
  6. I have been Chairman since the 2007 AGM and this is the right time for me to stand down. I feel much has been achieved, but as you are all well aware keeping our river healthy and its fish stocks in good shape is a continuing uphill struggle given the threats we face. I am referring particularly to the threats from bad farming practices, the 35 sewage treatment works on our system and the 3 anaerobic digesters, which have led to a huge expansion of winter maize growing with damaging consequences from soil run-off. All this works to the detriment of better water quality and healthier fisheries. We have campaigned actively against these threats and I am sure we will continue to do so.
  7. I believe the Association continues to have a clear river improvement strategy, fully supported by the membership. This strategy is implemented to the extent that funding permits. We always try to be proactive rather than reactive and have punched above our weight regionally. We are well plugged into the national organisations that must lead the national initiatives and campaigns for better water quality and healthier fisheries. I am sure all this will continue under Andy’s Chairmanship.
  8. I am delighted that the Chairmanship is passing to Andy Gray. In my opinion he is the ideal candidate and he inherits a strong Committee which is widely knowledgeable, has plenty of experience and properly reflects all parts of the river and all types of fishing from brown trout to salmon and sea trout. There is a broad membership base. I know Andy will be a first class Chairman, ably supported in particular by Ian Blewett as Secretary and Richard Nickell as Treasurer. I am also delighted that Eddie Rands, Chairman of South Molton & District Angling Club, is joining the Committee. He will be a real asset.
  9. Finally I would like to thank everyone for the support that I have received over the years. And in case you think you have finally got rid of me I should point out that the Committee wishes to co-opt me back in an unofficial capacity. I hope to be able to add some value in this role.

My thanks and best wishes to you all.

Alex Gibson

26 March 2021

River Taw Fisheries & Conservation Association  – Taw News

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The rivers Taw and Torridge are running low and clear after several weeks of dry weather. Despite this a couple of fresh run spring salmon have been tempted from beats on the Middle Taw. This bodes well for when rain eventually swells the rivers and temperatures rise.

The River Taw Fisheries Association  held its AGM recently  via zoom with a good attendance from the membership. The association has changed its name to the River Taw Fisheries & Conservation Association  reflecting the organisations focus on habitat restoration and protecting fish stocks. Alex Gibson has stepped down as Chairman after over decade of sterling service and hands the reigns to Andy Gray. Alex reported in his closing statement that approximately 177 salmon were caught from the Taw and close to 200 sea trout along with good numbers of wild brown trout.

(Above) Alex Gibson – RTFCA Retiring Chairman

The BBC programme Panorama is highlighting the disturbing discharge of raw sewage into the nation’s rivers is well worth catching up with. This issue has been raised by the River Taw Fisheries and Conservation Association who recently shared data from the Rivers Trust highlighting sewage pollutions across the UK via a sewage map. The health of the nations rivers are vital to us all and should be protected to ensure the long term survival of vital fish populations and other wildlife.

What’s lurking beneath the surface of your local river?The Rivers Trust Sewage Map.

IN SEARCH OF RAINBOWS

Wimbleball Lake high on Exmoor has earned a reputation as one of the West Country’s Premier Fly Fishery’s with its hard fighting full tailed rainbows and immaculate wild browns attracting anglers from far and wide. This recent upturn in fortune has been delivered by Mark Underhill his wife Trudi and their family team who continue to build on the venue’s attractiveness as an angling venue.

I was fortunate to join with Snowbee Ambassador Jeff Pearce and Angling Journalist Dominic Garret at Rainbow Valley Trout Farm prior to a day’s fishing. The farm situated beside the pristine River Exe supplies quality rainbows to Stillwater trout fisheries across the UK including Rutland, Grafham, Pittsford numerous South West lakes including Kennick and of course Wimbleball.

The Trout Farming industry has had a difficult decade or so as market forces, the challenges of climate change and ever increasing demand for water has increased the need for legislation.

I arrived at the trout farm fifteen minutes or so before time and it was appropriate that a faint rainbow arched across the valley as the morning sun illuminated the scene.

I chatted with Mark about future plans and life in general for a few minutes until Jeff and Dom arrived. We then embarked upon a brief and fascinating tour of the trout farm. The first impression was of the cleanliness of the incoming water flowing in through a fast flowing leat. Within this swam an impressive number of rainbow trout that were destined for stocking out into Wimbleball. The trout are kept here for a while in a sort of strength and conditioning period ensuring they are fighting fit before stocking out. Mark tossed trout pellets into the water where they were eagerly devoured in a swirling frenzy.

We walked slowly around the stew ponds listening intently to Marks fascinating explanation of fish rearing and its many complex issues. An in depth understanding of the environment was apparent as we discussed the challenges posed by invasive species such as signal crayfish and Himalayan balsam. Whilst the numbers of trout were considerable the stew ponds were large and the fish in superb condition.

The four of us could have spent many hours discussing the world of angling and beyond but the sight of the trout and the call of the lake was strong.

The journey to Wimbleball required us to take a scenic route as a result of numerous road improvement schemes across the area. A trio of anglers took a ride through the twisting and turning roads of Devon and Somerset. Pretty hamlets and villages, trees in blossom and glimpses of streams and ponds brought thoughts of future explorations that will probably never see the light of day.

We assembled on the Wimbleball shoreline where we were joined by Dom’s friend Charles Halliday, who runs the Fishwish angling coaching business. a keen kayaker who had agreed upon the comfort of boat for this day afloat. We eagerly and loaded our gear into the boats deciding that we would all head for the Bessoms end of the reservoir and hopefully catch a few rainbows to start the day.

Early in the season bank fishers often out fish the boats if they can locate the fish. The big advantage with the boat is that you can cover plenty of water by drifting over a wide area. If this fails to work you can completely relocate to a different area of the lake within a short time.

There was a cool wind blowing into the bay as we drifted and conditions seemed perfect so it was surprising when the fish proved elusive. For an hour we all failed to get even a pull but persistence eventually paid off when we saw Dom’s rod bending as a fighting fit rainbow dashed about on a tight line.

Jeff and I continued to search the water varying fly choice and depth. Jeff persisted with a floating line and team of imitative patterns. We both had a couple of tugs at the fly before Jeff was in action the rod hooping over in a pleasing sign of success. A rainbow of around 3lb had got us off the mark.

Confidence is key especially on a hard day and I tend to stick with a small selection of flies and lures that I have confidence in. I often wonder how many casts are made during a long day on the water my guess is that it must be close to five hundred meaning that the  actual ratio of success is comparatively low. On our day on the lake with four of us fishing we probably made upwards of two thousand casts and actually boated a dozen trout losing around the same number. if you have been casting flies long enough with occasional success there comes a belief that each cast will bring that magical connection. It is undoubtedly that second of delightful connection that keeps us hooked. The bent rod and the singing reel are just the confirmation of success and the netting of the fish the sealing of the deal.

Days fishing always fly past at an alarming rate and this day is no exception. We move around fishing several areas of the lake. Taking in the splendid scenery of rolling farmland, wooded valleys and an ever changing vista of sky and water the light changing as clouds drift high above on the cool North West breeze.

Swallows and martins dart to and fro across the water a sign that warmer days are on the way. Fresh buds are bursting forth on trees and shrubs all around the lake. Whilst mid-April can be cold and a little bleak there is promise in the air that those warmer days of May and June are on the near horizon. The trout will then be feasting on the surface sipping in dries and buzzers.

These early days of the season can bring bumper bags of trout whilst some days can be harder going. The beauty of these bigger waters is that the fishing is not always easy. The fish are earned and success has a greater value because of this. Whilst I enjoy the occasional day on smaller Stillwater’s there is undoubtedly a deeper sense of satisfaction to be found from these vast sheets of water.

The trout of Wimbleball are undoubtedly a worthy prize their full tails giving long searing runs. In addition to the stocked rainbows there are also a good head of wild brown trout some of which have reached an impressive size feasting upon the rudd fry that abound. It would not come as a surprise if someone hooks a double figure wild brown. What a prize that would be!

I look forward eagerly to my next day searching the water with good friends and building upon those tales to tell on future days between fishing forays.

Many thanks to Jeff Pearce and Dominic Garnett for allowing me to share their excellent images on this page.

See Dominic’s enjoyable feature below.

https://dgfishing.co.uk/fly-fishing-on-wimbleball-lake/

A BLAKEWELL BRACE

A week ago it was like summer today, it is like winter as I walk out to the Lake at Blakewell! Hail and snow flakes are driven by the icy North West Wind. A few moments later the sun is shining and the world looks a less hostile place.

I have a two fish complimentary ticket from the Christmas Competition and had not got around to using it as a result of COVID and the lake being closed so I was pleased that Richard & John allowed me to use it after several months. I had a plan to wander around the lake casting to individual fish seeing if I could spot one of the lakes doubles. The water was crystal clear but the gusty wind frequently riffled the surface making spotting fish tricky.

I fished several spots around the lake and failed to get a touch. I tried several patterns without success but did manage to spot a few trout cruising in the bay. A black bead headed lure on a long leader resulted in a twitch on the tip of the fly line. Next cast the line zipped tight and a spirited tussle followed before the fish came adrift! I checked the hook point and all was well. Next cast and again the line zipped tight….off came the trout. Third time lucky I thought when I hooked the next a couple of casts later…off it came. Still at least I had found the right fly and tactic. Ten minutes later the brace was in the bag.

Its always good when you find the right answer and yet I always wonder if the trout had simply switched on for some reason. This thought is reinforced as I walk away and notice that one of the other anglers has a well bent rod. Its mission accomplished anyway with trout for tea and spring proper on the way.

A Gold and Crimson Reward from a sparkling stream

A brilliant blue cloudless sky and a North-East wind are never good for fishing but  despite this it was delightful  exploring this small clear water stream with a New Zealand style set up. This was challenging fishing with no manicured banks and plenty of branches and brambles to snare the flies. As I worked up stream flicking the team of flies into the deeper pockets and riffles it was both frustrating and encouraging to see plenty of trout darting for cover as they caught sight of me trying to be stealthy. I feel sure this will be easier in the evening when the sun is lower in the sky.

Two tiny trout succumb to a dry fly, images of perfection in the clear water their flanks a mixture of gold and crimson spots. It is also encouraging to tempt a small salmon par an indication that salmon have successfully spawned in this water during the winter.

The river weaves its way through woodland, fallen trees, lichen draped branches and wild flowers. Deer footprints in the muddy river side. A squirrel scampers across branches watching me warily. Marsh marigolds, primroses and the smell of wild garlic, Is there a better place than beside a trout stream in early spring?

Out of Lockdown Trip to Wimbleball

I took advantage of the partial easing of lockdown on Monday and travelled to Wimbleball Reservoir high on Exmoor in search of the venues hard fighting rainbows. On arrival a cool breeze was blowing and mist shrouded the hills, with sunshine forecast later in the day it was likely that the best sport would come early in the day. The water was certainly cold as I waded out to begin searching the water. A floating line and long leader with small black lures proved effective and soon brought a few pulls before I eventually stayed connected to a hard fighting rainbow of around 3lb. This was followed by two more similar sized fish before midday when the sun broke through as forecast.

The lakes surface reflected the blue sky and shimmered brightly, birdsong reverberated all around, buzzards soared high above and a pair of greater crested grebes flirted in the spring sunshine. The croaking of toads drifted across the water and fresh buds where bursting out from the tips of the bankside trees. There is far more to this fishing lark than catching fish!

As expected the fishing went quiet for a while but a change to an intermediate line in late afternoon brought further action with a wild brown trout and a brace of superb rainbow the biggest estimated at over 6lb.

Throughout the day I changed my flies several times in search of the correct pattern for the moment. I often ponder upon the value of changing patterns and its actual impact on results. The six trout I tempted were tempted on the following patterns; black wooly bugger 2,  Blue flash and olive Damsel 2, black buzzer 1 and orange blob 1. It is important to remember that there are many other factors to take into consideration beyond the choice of fly/lure including feeding depth, light values and rate of retrieve. It is also worth asking the question as to whether we are trying to imitate natural food that forms part of the trout’s diet or trying to stimulate a reaction? Generally early season I tend to go for black or olive and probably had  a black lure of some type or a damsel on the point throughout 95% of the day and fished a team of 3 flies throughout. The biggest fish of the day fell to the orange blob yet I only put this fly on late in the day when I had swapped to an intermediate line and speeded up the retrieve. Most decisions are made on the basis of an educated hunch and for most of my fishing I stick to the tried and trusted though this has changed over the years as patterns have come in and out of vogue.

It is this continual search for the answers that keeps us fishing the fun part is that each day has a different set of questions and different answers.

Beside A Clear Water Stream

Beneath the Bridge

Turning off the busy main road I follow a narrow lane flanked with primroses and fresh green growth. Several old farmsteads are nestled in the valley and it is exciting to be exploring new ground even though it is less than 10 miles from home. I park close to the bridge and walk up to take a look at the clear waters below as the sun shines into the deep clear water.

As I set up a light-weight nymphing outfit buzzards circle high above silhouetted against a blue sky with high white clouds drifting in the brisk westerly wind. I walk slowly up river searching the deeper runs and riffles with a pair of weighted nymphs. It is a delight to be out wading in the cool water and I am sure I will hook at least a couple of small wild browns before the morning is out.

A Clear Water Stream

I flick my flies searching the water exploring each run and riffle. Dippers flit up and down the river, pheasants take off in alarm as I push up through the valley. A sudden movement catches my eye as two deer gallop across the field opposite entering the river fifty yards above where I am  fishing. For a moment they stand transfixed in mid river before dashing away in a flurry of spray to disappear into the woods.

The tree fish steal a couple of flies whilst the trout are elusive, the morning evaporates all too quickly and I send a text to say I will be an hour late home. I catch a fleeting glimpse of  electric blue as a kingfisher flashes past. The occasional fly hatches from the river. Its’ going to be good here in the late spring and early summer. The clocks spring forward tonight and lighter evenings beckon.

As I return to the van a skien of Canada geese fly-overhead their distinctive call echoing across the valley. Half a dozen buzzards are riding the thermals.

Wild Brown Trout on the East Lyn

Many thanks to Simon Francis who sent me this inspiring feature on the tumbling waters of the East Lyn.

Wild Brown Trout on the East Lyn

The season for wild brown trout has sprung into life on North Devon’s East Lyn. Having bought my ticket from Barbrook Petrol station, I fished the National Trust Watersmeet and Glenthorne fishery, especially the stretch from Crooks Pool (that used to be called S Pool) up through Rockford, to the Meadow Pool in Brendon.
Whilst cold on the opening days plenty of fish were taken. Mostly from noon to 3pm. Almost exclusively they took the point fly and invariably this was a barbless bead head hares ear, or pheasant tail. I tried shrimp and caddis patterns, but it was the gold head hares ear that took the majority of fish.
The fish held just off the main current, and takes on my New Zealand rigged setups were pretty gentle, just a pause, a dip or the wool just drifted under. I saw just two rises on the first two days, presumably parr, most fish were sat right on the bottom.
A few Grannom, a rare March Brown and a couple of Stone Fly were hatching. Heron, Dippers, Nuthatch, Treecreepers, and Ravens kept me company, but the Otter spraint from previous weeks was absent.
Whilst I’ve not fished the river this week, I’ve walked it every day, it’s dropped and has cleared, and is crystal clear now. The fish have risen in the water column, and a hatch will trigger surface action. I’ll be out in the next few days armed with some elk hair caddis, March browns, but also general attractor patterns.
I saw one, quite large, sea trout or grilse quite high up the river, and will return with something heavier than my 3wt and 2.5lb tippet!
For anyone that hasn’t tried the East Lyn before, you should. It is stunningly beautiful. It’s wild fishing. It’s as far away from bashing put and take rainbows as you can get (fun though that can be). It’s not for the wobbly, or faint hearted, as some of ravines and rocks are hard work, but the rewards of wild spotty in your hand are more than worth it.
If you are passing Primrose Cottage www.primrosecottageexmoor.co.uk in Rockford, pop in for tea and tell us how you are getting on, or for emergency flies!
Rod Licenses are required. Fish barbless. Leave no trace of your presence and pick up any other rubbish you see. Tickets are available at the Barbrook Petrol Station,Barbrook Filling Station, Barbrook. Tel: 01598 752248 or the Tourist Information Centre, Town Hall, Lynton. Tel: 0845 6603232
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