End of Season Flourish

Len Francis ended his salmon fishing season in style tempting a brace of 11lb 8oz and 4lb 8oz from the Weir-Marsh and Brightly Beats of the Taw. Ed Ruell caught a fish of 4lb 8oz. Several salmon were also seen in the high water conditions that would have deterred many anglers. A large salmon was also hooked and lost after a battle in the high water. Heavy overnight rain has now almost certainly brought an end to this season. The heavy rain has come too late to save what has been a difficult season hampered by low flows.

SEASONS and CHANGING TIMES – A few thought from the waters edge.

Autumn seems to be setting in early this year with the salmon fishing seasons end almost upon us and no prospect of wetting a line with heavy rain bringing a big spate that has come too late to save what has been a lacklustre season as a result of low flows for much of the year. On the plus side the swollen rivers will enable salmon and sea trout to forge upriver and with no anglers or nets to impede their progress they will hopefully successfully spawn ensuring fish for future seasons.

Autumn colours are already showing on many trees on higher ground; martins and swallows are glimpsed as they head south battling the autumn gales as they start their epic journey. In a few weeks they will be swooping over a different landscape in Africa with elephants, lion and wildebeest instead of red deer, foxes and badgers. Each year these natural migrations take place and to some extent we take it all for granted expecting it all to continue year on year. Sadly things don’t always go on and we should watch with concern as nature faces troubled times. I read today of a threat to the Horse Chestnut trees and a shortage of conkers. Ash die back threatens to decimate our woodland.

As I drive around North Devon I am dismayed at the number of houses being built. Have we the infrastructure to cope? How will all of this impact upon the natural landscape and wildlife of North Devon? My recently published book “I Caught A Glimpse” reflects upon a North Devon I grew up in. Each year the stories within its pages seem far removed from the present day.

The coming months are often the best of the year for many anglers with carp already showing from our local lakes at impressive weights their bronze flanks reflecting autumns hues. Stillwater trout are likely to bring exciting sport. On the coast sea anglers will be relishing the chance to catch tope, bass, conger, Huss and grey mullet. In the estuary flounder anglers will enjoy simple fishing as rod tips rattle as bunches of ragworm are engulfed.

These autumn storms will of course pass and warm sunshine will bring reminders of summer warmth. November generally gives those first chill days but even then garfish and mackerel can bring a pleasant surprise on the coast. Part of the joy of angling is not knowing what will happen next and being out there by the water is a constant adventure. What better place to watch the drama of life on earth unfold?

Blakewell – Rainbows Give great Autumn Sport

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Garry Brown enjoyed a great session at Blakewell Fishery on the day of my book launch banking six fine rainbows the best a superb fish of 6lb that secured a bottle of champagne for the best fish caught during the event. The coming months should see anglers enjoying good sport on the small Stillwater trout fisheries with both Blakewell and Bratton Water well worth a visit.

Wimbleball – Fine Autumn Trout sport

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Stillwater Trout anglers are enjoying fine sport at Wimbleball Reservoir with rainbows into double figures succumbing to lures fished close to the surface. The catch and release policy is proving extremely successful with anglers catching up to twenty fish a day with 3lb plus fish frequently stripping anglers lines to the backing. September and October are exciting months for the trout angler on big reservoirs with the trout falling to fry imitations or dry daddy longlegs.

Denis Bilkey with a fine Wimbleball rainbow

I CAUGHT A GLIMPSE – BOOK LAUNCH

(Above) Image – Courtesy of Tony Gussin

After what seems like a long journey my book ” I Caught A Glimpse” has finally been published and I am delighted with the end result. The launch day at Blakewell Fishery proved to be an enjoyable event with a good number of local anglers attending to meet with publisher Wayne Cryer from the Little Egret Press and myself. The lush water gardens, pools of swirling trout and tea rooms bathed in bright sunshine proved the perfect setting. There was a steady stream of anglers arriving throughout the event and it was pleasing to see generations of North Devon Anglers mingling and reminiscing with several old friends reunited.

The book will be judged by its readers so I await feed back confident that I have produced a worthwhile tome. There is of course far more that I could have written about and this becomes increasingly obvious as I talk further with the anglers of North Devon.

A big thank you to all of those who attended the book launch from both Wayne Cryer and I.

On a hectic day Pauline and I then attended the Annual River Torridge Dinner at the Half Moon Inn. After a wonderful meal with members of the Association I was pleased to sign a few more copies of “I Caught A  Glimpse”. Special thanks must go to Charles Inniss who wrote a foreword to the book and promoted the book enthusiastically to the Torridge Fishery members.

I must of course give a very big thanks to all who assisted me in writing the book for it was by no means a solo effort and those who helped are acknowledged within the book. Though I have to say I have undoubtedly missed a few.

Artifishal – @ Loxhore Village Hall – Friday 20th September

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ARTIFISHAL is a thought provoking film that everyone should see that has concern for the natural world.

Loxhore Village Hall – Friday, September 20th 7.30pm

Be Informed :-
Open net fish farms threaten the survival of wild fish including Atlantic salmon, sea trout and Arctic char but governments are not doing enough to address the problems. Instead the industry is set to expand exponentially in the pristine fjords of Iceland and continues to grow at alarming rates around Norway, Scotland and Ireland – using massive open net pens that allow the free flow of disease and pollution into the surrounding environment where wild salmon are struggling to survive. In the last 40 years, the population of Atlantic Salmon has dropped from 10 million to 3 million and if we fail to protect their habitat they could soon become an endangered species.

The film will be introduced by Wayne Thomas and screening will start at 7.45pm the film will be followed by an interactive discussion. Wayne will also give details of his new book on angling in North Devon with the opportunity to purchase signed copies.
Note 50% of profits to Village Hall Funds and 50% to the River Taw Fisheries Association. Tickets £5.00 on the door.

Autumn gold and a fading season

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With a brisk North-West wind blowing I decided on a trip to the Lower Taw where I hoped a salmon might be lying up waiting for a rise in the river. The river was lower than I expected but it was good to be there savouring the dying weeks of another season. I had not visited the stretch since the spring when sand martins were swooping over the big pit and a season stretched ahead, how quick the time passes.

I worked down the pool casting and retrieving a large willie gun pattern hoping to stimulate a take from any salmon lurking in the deep slow moving pool. Suddenly the line zipped tight and the water boiled as a fish hit the fly. This was no salmon but it was a decent sized fish and I was thrilled to see a golden flank in the water. After a few anxious moments the prize was safely in the net a pristine wild brown trout of at least 3lb 8oz.  A stunning fish my biggest wild river brown and a welcome slice of luck. Right place right time.

After a quick photo I slipped the trout back into the water and continued a search for silver. If you have followed my water side meanderings you will know of my fascination with the old fishing hut. Each time I visit the decay continues. Recent bank clearance has revealed more detail letting the light reveal more of the ruined hut of memories. The rod rack still stands, old scales rust away in the recess of the shed. What fish were once placed there to be converted to pounds and ounces. The river runs relentlessly on whilst a generations work and memories slowly fade into oblivion. The old bridge structure still stands in the river but even this is slowly washing away.

BOOK LAUNCH – REVISED DATE – I CAUGHT A GLIMPSE

I CAUGHT A GLIMPSE – Fishing In North Devon

            I have been privileged to enjoy over forty years fishing North Devon’s varied waters enjoying both success and failure. The places and the many people I have met along the way have greatly enriched the journey and as the years pass I realise that all we ever get is a fleeting glimpse of a period in angling history.

In this book I tell a few of my own stories of North Devon angling along with recollections from others; some from an earlier generation who enjoyed fishing in those good old days.

I have no favourite species of fish just the one I am fishing for at the time and this book reflects this with every discipline of angling represented. From the small crimson spotted trout of tumbling streams to the huge shark that roam the Atlantic Ocean.

Angling is in essence an attempt to reach into a different dimension. Its fascination has for me never ceased and I always believe that the next cast will be the one that connects, that marvellous moment of completed deception. The anglers I have interviewed in writing this book reflect upon past times when they too glimpsed piscatorial events that they enjoyed recalling. Stories of lost fisheries, big fish, record fish of angler’s their attitudes and love of fishing.

I hope that I manage to share and convey the joys of angling in North Devon and provide a glimpse into a century of marvellous fishing.

 

Just a fleeting glimpse,

Of Memories gone,

A hopeful glimpse of what may come,

ARTIFISHAL – FILM AT THE PLOUGH ARTS CENTRE

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This Saturday night I will be presenting the film Artifishal at the Plough Arts Centre at 7.30pm. The film is a thought provoking film that encourages you to consider the way we have tried to industrialise the production of food at a considerable cost to the natural world that surrounds us. Whilst the film focuses on salmon farming it also draws many parallels with the wider world and how we relate to it.

After the film there will be the opportunity to debate the issues raised.

Whilst I will not have copies of my book “I Caught A Glimpse” on the night I do intend to talk about the book why I have written it. The book launch is now due to take place later in September at Blakewell Fishery full details on here before the end of the week.

50% of profits from the showing of the film will be donated to the River Torridge Fishery Association.

Press Release – March 27th

PATAGONIA RELEASES DOCUMENTARY AND LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN TO HIGHLIGHT THE HIGH COST OF FISH HATCHERIES, FISH FARMS AND HUMAN IGNORANCE.

Patagonia has released ARTIFISHAL – an illuminating 80-minute documentary film by Liars & Thieves! that explores the high cost – ecological, financial and cultural – of our mistaken belief that engineered solutions can make up for habitat destruction. The film traces the impact of fish hatcheries and farms, an industry that hinders wild fish recovery, pollutes our rivers and contributes to the problem it claims to solve.

Executive produced by Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard and directed/produced by Josh “Bones” Murphy,ARTIFISHAL brings into sharp focus the plight of wild fish due to hatcheries and fish farms. The film takes us inside hatcheries in California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, where we witness the conditions of factory fish farms as well as the genetically inferior, dumbed-down salmon they churn out in massive numbers. At a wrecked net-pen farm outside of Cyprus Island, WA, nets swing in the tide after more than 240,000 diseased, drugged factory fish escaped into the wild population. In a beautiful fjord near Alta, Norway, the underwater destruction and disease caused by an open-water fish farm are seen firsthand as activists record the devastation. And along the Elwha River in northwest Washington State, we track the return of wild fish after the largest dam removal project in the United States, later learning that after spending 320 million dollars to remove dams and restore wild fish, the river is once again home to hatcheries.

“Humans have always thought of themselves as superior to nature and it’s got us into a lot of trouble. We think we can control nature; we can’t,” notes Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia founder. “Fish farms and open netpens only treat the symptoms and not the causes of the problem. If we value wild salmon, we need to do something now. A life without wild nature and a life without these great, iconic species is an impoverishedlife. If we lose all wild species, we’re going to lose ourselves.”

The European campaign, which runs alongside the launch of the film, Artifishal, is focused on the fish farm industries in Iceland, Norway and Scotland.

The majority of European salmon farms are in Norway and Scotland where they have been wreaking havoc on coastal ecosystems. The planned expansion of the industry into Iceland’s pristine fjords using open netpens is extremely concerning. Governments are not doing enough to ensure that wild salmon and their habitat are protected from the devastating impacts of these farms.

From March 28th, Patagonia is teaming up with NGOs in these key countries to call for a moratorium on new open net salmon farms and a phase out of existing ones as soon as possible.

Open-water fish farms are driving wild fish to extinction around the world. Protect wild fish and the species and communities that depend on them.

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Watch the Artifishal trailer and sign the campaign petition at___ Link to press images here.

Head to an Artifishal screening near you: TIME/DATE

Otters – A Wider Perspective

The otter below can be seen by appointment at Blakewell Fishery where they are working with the UK Wild Otter Trust.

I visited Blakewell Fishery recently where I met Dave Webb a founder of the UK Wild Otter Trust. It is fair to say that in recent years the otter situation has been contentious in some areas with anglers and otters with their natural predatory instincts causing concern. As an angler I always take delight in catching that rare glimpse of an otter and have some good memories of encounters beside the Rivers Taw and Torridge. The otter population in the South West is I believe far healthier than it was a few years ago but this cannot be said of fish populations in some of our rivers. The European eel population has plummeted in recent years and the eel was one of the otters prime sources of food.

The increase in otter populations has coincided with a decline in some natural habitats whilst at the same time there has been a growth in commercial fisheries providing recreational fishing for anglers. When an otter stumbles upon a well stocked pond it feasts on the expensive fish that are precious commodities for the owner and anglers that fish there. The sensible solution to this is to erect otter proof fences around the lakes. Costly but necessary to protect valuable stocks of prime fish. The more contentious area is on rivers where barbel and other coarse fish are present and otters are blamed for decimating stocks.

I do not have in depth knowledge of the issues or of the nature of otters and can see both the view points of conservationists and anglers and fishery owners who seek to control the otter population.

In my view otters and anglers require healthy rivers and habitats and every effort should be made to address the environmental issues that decimate our rivers. The rivers should maintain a healthy  enough stock of fish for both otter and angler.

I asked Dave if he could share information about wild otters to improve understanding of the issues. He kindly agreed and sent me the following informative and balanced article.

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August 2019

CAPTIVE BREEDING PROGRAM OF THE EURASIAN OTTER (Lutra lutra) & ITS EFFECTS

We have been engaging recently, sometimes quite fiercely but always emotively with the Barbel anglers. Agree or not, the rivers that hold Barbel amongst other fish species have been subject to many factors thus causing a decline in Barbel stocks primarily but also other fish & wildlife. The captive breeding program started by Phillip Wayre of the original Otter Trust in Norfolk did not exacerbate this issue as some believe

The original otter Trust was established in 1971 and during the 1950’s otters were presentthroughout Britain. Despite the banning of chemicals, by the late 70’s the only healthypopulations were to be found in Wales, Northern & South West England. Organochlorines were the main cause for decline as it affected the reproduction systems within the otters. A survey of almost 3,000 one time positive sites for otter presence was re-surveyed and only 170 positive sites were found. Whilst the spraint surveying method is only a geographical indication, it did indicate that otters could be dropping in numbers geographically, so whilst the project had some consultation missing, it did play an important part and helped to shape otter conservation for the future

Whilst there were relatively few actual releases made in the grander scale of things (thought to be 130 from the Otter Trust and a further 49 from the Vincent Wildlife Trust)

The first 3 captive bred otters were released in 1983 to the River Blackwater in Suffolk and by 1996 there had been captive bred releases to Suffolk, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Rutland, Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Bedfordshire, Essex, and Cambridgeshire and to the Upper Thames area. The Otter Trust closed in 2006 as it was then proven to be a successful program in terms of otter conservation. One of the issues surrounding the captive releases is that as far as can be seen, there was no thought given to the sustainability of the rivers that they were being released into but this would have proved difficult to assess correctly. Unfortunately, where such rivers are NOT sustainable (and that is approximately 76% of the rivers in the UK at present) and then an apex predator like the otter is returned there, then that can have a devastating impact on the existing fish stocks. The problem, in particularwith Barbel stocks is that there are indeed plenty of large fish that have grown on … butthere is not the smaller fish coming in behind them and this is due to poor water quality, habitat, otters, cormorants and uncontrolled invasive species particularly mink and signal crayfish. Coupled with this, the eel population is known to have diminished by some 90% so UKWOT would most certainly support the banning of commercial eel harvesting as more

eels in rivers can only be good for otters as we are all aware that the Eurasian otter prefers the eel in preference to any other fish species due to its high protein content.

First and foremost, we are an Otter Trust ourselves and are not associated in any way to the original otter trust, but we recognise & acknowledge that there were some important and much needed input & thoughts not put into this program. We cannot say that the captive bred few that were released did not have any impact on fish stocks in rivers orStillwater’s because there was an impact albeit in our view a smaller impact than could have been. During the captive program, otters were still breeding and without doubt the captive program helped to secure that progress in areas that may otherwise have struggled. Was the captive program necessary? Hindsight is a wonderful thing but in our opinion andknowing what we know now I don’t think it would have been needed and that it would havebeen better to let the population regenerate naturally. Of course, they could have held some in captivity ready for a breeding program if at any time the wild population was categorically & scientifically proven to be at an all-time low and by monitoring the actual issue as opposed to the knee jerk reaction that was taken. One thing that irritates me personally, is the lack of importance shown by people in not worrying about how many we do have – how can we actively promote the protection of a species if we don’t know how many exist? Population estimates are done via spraint counting and recording but this tells us nothing apart from the geographical range of the otter, which in itself is important but it does not give us any idea as to numbers

How can we say that the captive breeding program was needed at that time because wedidn’t know numbers then and we don’t know now? Equally, how can we say that it was notneeded then? … it is without doubt that the Eurasian otter population have recolonised naturally, but even given the fact that the population did recover naturally after the banning of organochlorines, it may also have struggled so the captive program did have a place. We still rely on old data and number estimates of 12 – 15,000 …. That was then, and we know that they are now in every county so how can we still rely on that figure which personally I think is very inaccurate. It seems to me that some 40 years later, we are still in denial – that must stop. We are still making mistakes – that must stop. Otter groups AND angling groups need to present to the public as professional organisations to gain support to safeguard angling and otter conservation. Perhaps during the captive breeding program, the technology was not around but what I do firmly believe is that there was without any doubt a serious lack of consultation and impact studies carried out. There should have been full media coverage of the plans, there should have been full consultations with river keepers, beat keepers, and lake owners as their input would have been invaluable.

There should have been ongoing impact studies and pre-release monitoring of the proposed release sites. There should also have been post release monitoring to establish that the welfare of the released otters and the existing populations would not be affected in any detrimental way. Its now easy to sit back and criticise how or what was or should have been done then but we are talking now – otters can, and do cause huge financial and emotional issues for many. We must now learn from the mistakes of the past and work together to improve that. If we are unable to work together, both anglers, fishery owners, Barbel

anglers and otter organisations then we should consider hanging up our otter boots and fishing rods for good because the sport of angling will be lost as would one of the most important species of the UK.

The EA often get blamed for this and as far as I am aware, they were not in favour of a captive program originally. The other thing that is very clear and rightly so, is that the Eurasian otter is here to stay – being one of our native species it rightfully, has a place amongst our wildlife and therefore it is important that anglers understand that a cull will never work and that energy should be channelled into riparian habitat restoration to give the UK back healthy, sustainable rivers that will happily hold plentiful fish stocks, predators and the facility for sport fishing.

REHABILITATIONS OF INJURED/ORPHANED OTTERS

Whilst we know that many would like to see the banning of otter rehabilitation centres, a cull or farmers right to shoot for angling we know realistically that those suggestions are absurd and will never happen and nor should they.

Rather than call for banning the actual rehabs we need to concentrate on regulating the ones that are released after rehabilitation periods. It would be impossible to ask the Government to ban the caring of one species and not the other.

  • Rehabilitations should be logged at point of collection and ongoing care should be recorded to include behavioural traits in that particular animal
  • Proposed release sites during rehab should be monitored and assessed for any potential issues that may impact or prevent the final release
  • There should be a second release site agreed in case the original one gets filled by a transient otter
  • Releases should be recorded and only done providing the area is vacant or to the best of the monitoring process will allow
  • All records and data should be made available to anyone with a vested interest in those releases
  • Any otters taken in for rehab that display any humanised traits, (and some do naturally) should be held in captivity to ensure their welfare (this does already happen but it needs to be regulated)
  • All aspects of collecting, caring and the eventual release program should only be carried out under licence
  • Importantly, any subsequent releases should involve full consultation with any fisheries or river keepers for that specific area. This need not be grid referencespecific but at the very least information given such as “a Female otter is being released on the River Otter within 5 miles of your fishery” This would enable thefishery to prepare should they not have suitable protection in place. This would be more difficult for the Rivers but it is as equally important that they also know of releasesSUMMARY INFORMATION

Some avenues believe that the otters are churning out many cubs …. In reality, otters arenot sexually mature until approximately 2 years of age. The average lifespan of a wild otter is 5 – 6 years old which has been discovered via post mortems carried out at Cardiff University by teeth analysis. As the cubs stay with the Female for approximately 12 to 18 months, it is likely that they only have one litter in their lifetime. Furthermore, they are capable of having 1 – 5 cubs, 3 being the norm of which it is probable that only 1 or 2 will survive.

There were once self-sustaining fish stocks in many of the rivers and it should be noted that it is recognised that this is no longer the case for many of our rivers. Combined with a 76% fiqure of rivers being environmentally unsustainable for fish stocks, other wildlife will suffer if we do not work on improvements. With the contact that UKWOT have with many angling groups and fishermen, it is clear that the success of the otter has not played a hand in this decline but we need to accept that fisheries and rivers will continue to suffer with or without them as an apex predator. We all know and understand that scientific data to support this is important however, it is real and it is happening and being reported by those on the banks. Otter groups need to be supporting this initiative as the otter, relies on fish stocks being sustainable and rivers being healthy – without that, the otter faces a very bleak future as the otter relies on fish stocks being good as part of its dietary requirements

It is further important for all otter groups and supporters to acknowledge that the otter does cause financial and emotional impacts and as such can provide social media sites with a contentious difference of opinions. We should not under any circumstances hide behind old data or denial as this will prove counterproductive for the species in the long run and we try to be transparent and open and supportive of those that suffer predation. Only then will we gain trust to progress and only then will we be able to work together for the future of otter conservation and angling

The UK Wild Otter Trust would not support any action towards a cull, farmers rights, reduction in numbers because the dynamics of otter control is not easy, nor would it be effective. This is why we need to concentrate on the river sustainability to ensure that they will hold all species and predators and then, otters will indeed find that natural balance that is very much required. This will ensure that we have healthy, sustainable rivers full of prime fish and apex predators such as the otter along with a varied list of other wildlife. It is clear to me that this is not just about otters or angling alone, but a bigger picture is paramount to success in the way in which we move forward and the way in which we change peoples perceptions of angling and anglers perception of otters by working together

UKWOT have invested huge amounts of time and effort to work with anglers and fishery owners to reduce predation at their waters. Fencing for stillwaters is still perceived to be an expensive option but it should be seen as part of the business plans. It can be very costly to have fencing installed to protect against otters in particular, but here at UKWOT, we can offer advice on installing fences, the costs, the labour, the best ways to protect and itneedn’t be as expensive as some think. We are happy and committed to visiting as many lakes as we can to provide support and advice and even labour to help where we can. We

make no charge for this as its important to us that both sides work together to make effective change

Dave Webb

UK Wild Otter Trust – Founder
IUCN Otter Specialist Group Member
Otter Predation & Fishery Advisory Group – Senior Board Member
Otter Welfare Advisory Group – Citizen Science/Board Member
IFAW International Fund for Animal Welfare – Conservation in Action Award Winner 2017 Otter Advisor to the Ornamental Aquatics Trade Association

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The views expressed within are solely that of the Author and do not represent the views of

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other organisations