Many thanks to Ross Stanway who produced this enchanting piece for North Devon Angling News. I know that there are many who will read this and recall their own days beside childhood streams. The West Country is criss-crossed by these fascinating streams that have seen many hundreds of anglers born. The piece is illustrated with more of Ross’s stunning illustrations available via his facebook page https://www.facebook.com/RossStanwayMarineArt/
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.
I was sorting through the tackle shed today and there is a quite a lot of old tackle some of it given to me over the years. It has dwelt in those old tackle boxes for years but this lockdown has given time to delve into the boxes and start to tidy. Much of it will never be used again but it does unlock a few memories.
(Above)The Mepps spinners that were favourites for salmon and sea trout in those days of plenty before the Fly Only Rules came into protect stocks.
The Mackerel spinners, Devon Minnows and classic the ABU Toby.
(Above) The Winfield Shanny – Made in Gt Britain
I notice the Winfield Shanny that brought back a fond memory of when Woolworths sold fishing tackle. Every Saturday afternoon my parents went to Barnstaple to do the weekly shop. I would wander off to visit the Rod Room or Gales. Or perhaps to Woolworths to buy a cheap bit of tackle or look through the record department. Them maybe call into A J Watts for some trendy clothes and finish off with a coffee in John Gays Coffee house.
The River Torridge Fishery Association
President: Lord Clinton
Chairman: Paul Ashworth Secretary: Charles Inniss
Beeches, Sheepwash, Beaworthy Devon EX21 5NW
e-mail: [email protected]
NEWSREEL: SPRING 2020.
At this extremely unusual and difficult time, here is the Spring Newsreel with the latest news from the Association.
We cannot fish the river at the moment but it is the time of year when subscriptions are due. Please forward your cheque for £20 to the Secretary at the above address. Please make cheques payable to The River Torridge Fishery Association.
If you prefer to pay by BACS: a/c no 00827770 sort code 51:70: 16
The salmon hatchery: the rearing programme last winter and early spring has been our most successful to date and over 38,000 swim-up fry have successfully been stocked out into the headwaters of the main river and the major tributaries. All were stocked out during the weekend of 21st/22nd March: on 23rd the government announced a total lockdown, which would have prevented any travelling to the stocking out sites. We were very lucky!! For the dedicated team of volunteers it is a great relief when the fry are stocked out after five months of hard work.
The fishing season so far: not much to report. After an incredibly wet winter, culminating with over 10 inches of rain in February, the river was in full spate for the first fortnight of March. On 13th March a salmon was lost at the tail of the weir pool at Beam. I saw a running fish at the tail of the Junction Pool, where the Okement joins the Torridge, the day before the lockdown came into force on 23rd March. So for the time being all fishing has come to a halt. Walking the river at Sheepwash I have seen trout feeding on the surface, which has cheered me up. Since the monsoon season ended in mid-March, there has been no appreciable rain in North Devon for four weeks and already the river is showing its bones. The forecast for the next few weeks is for very little rain. If we are able to fish later in the season, maybe this will coincide with a period of more unsettled weather. Here’s hoping!!
The AGM: the agm which was due to take place at The Half Moon on Friday 3rd April was postponed and will be held later in the year.
Our Fishery Officer is retiring: after 33 years at the helm, Paul is retiring at the end of this month. We have been so fortunate to have a dedicated fishery officer who has always held our beautiful river close to his heart. He has been a wonderful ambassador for the river and a good friend to us all. Paul will continue to fish his stretch of the Lower Torridge and I am sure will give help and advice when asked.
At present the EA has not appointed a successor, but in the short term three other fishery officers from Devon and Cornwall will be covering Paul’s patch.
Enjoy your retirement Paul and keep fishing.
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.
(Below)The E.A’s Watersmeet Fishery is closed to fishing in line with Government advice until the current COVID-19 pandemic is over.
(Above) Ross Stanway sent this image of his latest artwork. A sea trout painted a piece of slate. Many will be hoping that there will be some season left after shutdown to cast a fly for these stunning silver tourists.
These are strange times with our freedoms understandably curtailed. I am very fortunate to live out in the country with a garden and access to open countryside to undertake our daily Boris walk. Nature is all around and is a great source of comfort during these dark days.
For several weeks the wind has been blowing from the North East a cold and uninspiring direction from an angling point of view. The wind has now swung to the South bringing a warmer balmy air that stirs the angler within.
It is difficult as an all round angler to decide what type of fishing I am missing the most. The Fly Fisherman within dreams of drifting a team of buzzers and the moment the line zips tight as a rainbow intercepts. The singing reel and the leaping trout.
Or waiting beside a calm lake absorbing nature as I await the piercing thrill of a bite alarm as a carp bolts after falling for my carefully laid trap.
Wading the river searching for the elusive spring salmon? Flicking dry fly and nymph into a riffle in search of a crimson spotted wild brown trout? Launching a sandeel from the beach in search of spring ray or working a plug for a silver bass.
Frustrating times indeed. In the mean time I have been buying a few flies and have a mission to sort out the chaos of the tackle shed. I really wish I was more organised as I tend to grab fishing time and often return from the water dumping the kit with the intention of sorting in the cold light of day.
Do I really need all of this gear? An array of lures purchased over many years some of them hosting large barbaric trebles that seem a little excessive. It is perhaps time to declutter.
I am presently reading a book called STRONGHOLD by Tucker Malarkey. The book tells of one man’s quest to save the world’s Wild Salmon – before its too late. Whilst it relates mostly to Pacific salmon there is much to relate to within its pages. Most alarming is perhaps the reference to the demise of the Atlantic Salmon for its clear that what we now have left is a shadow of what we once had. Of this I am very aware following the research I undertook when writing my own book “I Caught A Glimpse”. Which is a good read for the lockdown!
The COVID-19 outbreak is undoubtedly a disaster on many levels but there is perhaps always an upside. Not sure if it’s just my perception but looking up into the night sky the stars seem brighter than ever. Is this a result of the lack of pollution from the many planes that normally leave vapour trails crisscrossing the sky?
The reduction in commercial fishing could give fish stocks a valuable reprieve. Following on from the World Wars fishing often showed a dramatic upturn as fish stocks had recovered. As I said in my previous feature perhaps this is a time to recalibrate.
Our daily walks into the countryside have allowed a time to observe. I have a collection of books by that acclaimed countryside author BB. His prose paints a vivid picture of nature with in depth observation. In some of his writing there lingers a melancholic atmosphere that somehow resounds with me today in these sombre times. Throughout BB’s prose there is a love for nature that gives strength. Most of his books have these simple words in their cover.
‘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.’
Alex Gibsons report due to have been delivered at the RFTA AGM at the end of March.
A couple of salmon were caught from the middle Taw before the present lockdown. The rivers are now dropping quickly after a couple of weeks without rain. A cold North East Wind would not have been good for fishing.
CHAIRMAN’S REPORT 2020
First some thanks to the whole Committee for their support and the work they have done during the last 12 months.
Particular thanks to Richard Nickell, our Treasurer, and to Ian Blewett, our Secretary, for all their good work; to Judith Kauntze for the excellent Newsletter she produces; to Bryan Martin for looking after the website; to Chris Taylor for his auction work which unfortunately has been delayed this year. Thanks also to John Smith for representing us on the Dartmoor Steering Group and to Andy Gray for keeping the Committee up to date on all farming matters affecting our river and also for printing and mailing our Newsletter.
The weather continues to dominate our fishing lives and I thought the story about the businessman who went to Bergen for a week might lighten the tone. It was raining when he arrived and rained solidly every day. As he was leaving his hotel in dreadful weather on the last day he turned to a small boy standing nearby and asked: “Does it ever stop raining in Bergen?” The boy replied: “I don’t know I’m only seven.” The North Devon version would have a different ending for the businessman who goes to South Molton in November. The reply he receives is: “Not in the winter, but in the summer we get hardly any rain at all.”
Simply put, last season low water conditions seriously reduced the number of good fishing days. The rain didn’t arrive till October. Abnormal weather seems to be the new normal weather these days.
This of course affects the rod catch numbers. I have continued to do the annual beat survey, canvassing all riparian owners. Last season’s results show 82 salmon and 265 sea trout against 2017 figures of 72 salmon and 71 sea trout. The provisional EA numbers for 2019 are 76 salmon (91% returned) and 239 sea trout (86% returned). We can take some comfort from the upturn in sea trout numbers and I believe our salmon numbers will look good relative to the numbers for other south-west rivers when we see them. Brown trout fishing had an excellent year with almost 3,000 fish caught, up from about 2,000 in 2018. The brown trout fishing community is of crucial importance to us since they are the custodians of those parts of the river where the fish spawn and spend their early life.
Turning to the Mole pollution incident, let me summarise where we are with this disastrous event. Back in July last year a large digestate spill apparently wiped out the fish population over a 5km stretch of the Mole from above South Molton to the junction with the Molland Yeo. I say apparently because the EA will not release to us the fish survey they conducted after the incident for fear of prejudicing their prosecution of the person responsible. A figure of 10,000 fish has been mentioned, but we do not know the number of salmonids in this number, nor the breakdown by type and class. We originally understood all invertebrates were wiped out, but recently were told by the EA that the invertebrates were affected only slightly. This is encouraging in terms of recolonization, but we have not seen the invertebrate survey either.
Fish Legal has been briefed to mount a civil claim for us, but this cannot proceed until the EA is much further along with its prosecution and we can obtain the fish survey.
This is all very frustrating.
On the other hand, the EA have confirmed that they will do a fish survey on the polluted stretch this summer. The results will be interesting. The problem however is that we will still have no base line to work from, namely the original fish survey. Until we learn otherwise we will assume that all salmonids were killed and that any juveniles that show up in the survey are the result of last winter’s spawning and recolonisation.
The sad situation that we find ourselves is the direct result of having anaerobic digesters on our catchment. There are three, one on the Mole and two on the Little Dart. We had identified the threat, but were powerless, just waiting for an accident to happen, you might say.
As many of you will know there is a chain, winter maize from farm to anaerobic digester, digestate from anaerobic digester to farm. If any part of the chain fails, and that includes the anaerobic digester itself, the river is threatened. That of course is without considering the siltation damage caused by growing winter maize in the first place. In the last two years in particular the character of the Mole has changed. It now runs dirty for longer and silt is deposited along its length. The optimists think that the New Agriculture Bill will solve all these problems created by bad farming practice; the pessimists adopt a more cynical approach. Things can go spectacularly wrong as evidenced by the Mole incident. While waiting for new rules and regulations to be implemented it may be a good idea for us to keep our fingers crossed.
This brings me neatly to river improvement work which is driven by the siltation problem. The Committee has decided that the “best bang for our buck” is to continue our gravel cleaning programme in conjunction with WRT. This is a short term solution until farming practices change, but we don’t know how long short term is. Last year we spent almost £20,000, having carried £10,000 forward from the previous year. The full 2019 gravel cleaning report can be read on our website. In summary we did 8 days on the Molland Yeo, 3 on the Crooked Oak, 8 on the Mole, 8 on the Little Dart and Sturcombe and 11 on the Upper Taw. To encourage recolonisation an emphasis was placed on the Mole. For this season the Committee has committed £10,000 for gravel cleaning work. Again there will be some emphasis on the Mole.
This continues to be a difficult climate in which find complementary funding. We were unable to gear up on the funds we spent last year. This year look more encouraging.
We continue to be concerned about South West Water’s 35 sewage treatment works on our system. South Molton and Chulmleigh, perhaps the worst, are due for an upgrade in the next 5 years, partly as a result of pressure we have applied. We will continue to press for further improvements.
To broaden our fight against sewage in the river and also the threats from siltation and anaerobic digesters we link up with other organisations who share our concerns. These include South West Rivers Association, Westcountry Rivers Trust, The Rivers Trust, Angling Trust, Devon Wildlife Trust/North Devon
Catchment Partnership and Surfers Against Sewage. These problems are not Taw specific, nor south-west specific, but national. Fortunately there is a growing groundswell of public concern which we welcome.
Paul Carter, our EA Fisheries Enforcement Officer, retires in April. My intention was to make a presentation to him at the AGM and to thank him in a proper public arena for everything he has done for us. The presentation now has to be done behind the scenes unfortunately. It consists of a day’s fishing on seven of the best beats on the river. Paul is a very keen fisherman.
Paul has worked tirelessly for us and has always been available to give us the benefit of his advice. His contributions to our Fisheries Management Meetings and Committee Meetings have always been valuable and valued. He has been a good friend and supporter of the Taw. We shall be sorry to see him go and wish him well. To date it is unclear how he will be replaced.
One final point. I have been Chairman now for about 13 years which means it is probably time for me to step down. The 2021 AGM would seem to be the right moment. Discussions with Committee Members have started and, when these are brought to a conclusion, I would expect a prospective successor to emerge who has the full support of the Committee.
My best wishes to all members for the 2020 season.
Alex Gibson March 2019
Many thank’s to my good friend Jeff Pierce who sent me this short article that demonstrates the Fly Tiers Art.
Fly tying is a fascinating & most absorbing hobby in its own right, but made even more hypnotising when you catch your first fish on a fly you tied. That’s when it takes on a whole new dimension, the obsession of outwitting the trout not only on the water but on the vice, in the comfort of your own home. Blending, colours & textures of natural & synthetic materials together to match the hatch & fool the fish, trust me you’ll be immersed in no time, not to mention being buried in fly tying materials & hooks! Or to the uninitiated, creating an imitation of fish food by wrapping feathers, hair & synthetic sparkly materials to a hook, hoping it will fool a fish to take it…