WARNING – A SINISTER LURKING DANGER – PLEASE READ !

Many thanks to Richard Wilson for sharing his monthly prose on North Devon Angling News. I would urge all who tread upon our green and pleasant land to read this article. I have had many encounters with ticks over the years. When fishing some of our overgrown rivers I have returned home later in the day to find these nasty critters sinking there teeth into my skin. Its a bit like Russian roulette some are loaded with deadly lymes disease whilst others are not carriers. I have heard of several people who have been infected and we constantly remove them from our cat. Others find them in abundance upon their dogs. Awareness is undoubtedly a major factor in getting treated but thats not always straight forward as Richard explains below. 

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Lyme Disease: Running Riot

I’ve got it, you may have it too.

This is a good time to be a tick with Lyme Disease to share. You and I may bemoan the weirdness of the weather, but ticks love it.

As the world gets warmer and wetter, they’re partying. 10 years ago, in the wooded valley I call home, we had two distinct tick seasons – from mid-March to June, and a shorter burst in the autumn. Last year I picked up my first in early February and my dog had his last in November, and they continued without a break right through summer.

Ticks are the original muggers. They lurk on the tips of grass fronds, often in and around woodland, waiting for an unwitting victim to brush past. They’re looking for a free meal which, for us, turns into a lose-lose transaction. The tick gets our blood and we get Lyme Disease, a bacterial infection with very unpleasant consequences.

I’ve been paying attention to this because I’ve just been diagnosed with Lyme. Worse, I’ve had it untreated for about 8 years, which is why I can also say that most doctors wouldn’t recognise it even if they caught it, and that I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

There are two basics to understand about Lyme Disease, and they come hand-in-glove: An early diagnosis is both essential and very hard to get. Speed is everything because, given the chance, there’s no organ in your body or corner of your central nervous system that the Lyme bacteria won’t vandalise.

So how do you know if you’ve been exposed? A lot of people never see the tick that infects them. It can latch on at 1mm long, infect and then fall off. Others gorge themselves, growing bloated with their head buried in your flesh. The longer they stay, the greater your risk of infection. Thankfully, dog tick removers do a great job for us too.

The official advice is that the first visual clue of infection is a circular red rash around the site of a tick bite. This is where the medical profession starts to screw up.

In 2016 I had a tick bite and circular rash which I took into my doctor’s surgery. The nurse said it wasn’t Lyme (it was solid red from centre to edge and didn’t match the bull’s eye photo on her screen). No treatment was offered and, back then, I was as clueless as the nurse. I now know that anysort of rash or blistering (no rash) that might be tick-related should be treated as Lyme Disease. I also know that many Lyme cases never show a rash or blisters.

For patients and doctors, it gets worse. Blood tests, if done at all, deliver false positives and negatives in equal numbers in up to 25% cases. So even if a doctor suspects Lyme, and mostly they don’t, the test results are very likely to be wrong.

The next problem is your doctor. Once the bacteria get to work, your symptoms will be mistaken for heart disease, flu, a mild stroke, dementia, diabetic neuropathy, fatigue syndrome, Bells Palsy, arthritis, all manner of intestinal and organ malfunctions, viral infections, Parkinson’s, slacking and so on. Victims are constantly exhausted and, in my experience, at times look unevenly grey. This last blotchy observation is not in the textbooks – it should be.

There is no slam-dunk symptom for doctors to see that couldn’t be something more familiar. And to get an idea of what’s familiar, a quick look around their waiting room is revealing. The majority of patients are obese and bring diabetes, coronary heart disease and the such-like. Those who are not obese are mostly old with all that goes with advancing years. There are a small number of children with sniffles and one or two adults who’ve lost arguments with power tools. There are super-size chairs, but no dispensers of free tick removers and no warning signs or leaflets on how to avoid Lyme. It’s invisible.

Stand in most doctor’s surgeries and you’d never guess that Lyme Disease is the most prevalent insect/parasite-borne disease in North America and Europe and one of the fastest-growing infectious diseases in both. That’s big. According to the CDC, almost 500,000 Americans get it every year. Many, many more in both North America and Europe are infected but undiagnosed. There’s a lot of trouble coming for a lot of people.

Here’s why it took 8 years for me to get treatment: As said above, I first went to my doctor’s surgery in 2016 with a circular red rash caused by a tick. Patients treated with antibiotics at this stage mostly complete a fast 100% recovery, which is why medical guidelines say treat first and confirm the diagnosis second. Antibiotics are very low risk, but the consequences of delaying treatment are serious. In my case, medical ignorance delivered the wrong diagnosis.

The trouble started slowly. Within 2 years the fatigue, aches and pains were worryingly intrusive. Multiple trips to the doctor, scans and tests revealed nothing. Increasingly worried, I remembered the tick rash and asked for a Lyme test. It came back negative. Nobody told me how inaccurate the tests were, and still are.

Fast forward through many more scans, tests, a gall bladder removal that was supposed to resolve my woes (and didn’t), a 2nd negative Lyme test and more. I was a minor medical mystery. Then, this autumn, I paid for a 3rd test and it came back positive. The next day my doctor re-tested with both the standard LISA test and a Western Immuno Blot test. Both came back positive. 3 positives in a week, including a Western Immuno Blot, is as good as a positive diagnosis gets.

Such a late discovery brings problems. Given time Lyme bacteria also attack and disrupt our Autonomic nervous system which controls all those things that just happen without conscious thought: Blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, digestion and so on. They also disrupt our short-term memory, which is why, if I stop to make a coffee, I may have to remind myself that I’m writing about Lyme. That’s very disconcerting. Weirdly, I don’t forget why I culled an adjective or shunted a sub-clause down a paragraph. It’s also why my blood pressure can veer from 180:140 to 80:50 and my heart sometimes sounds like Animal, the Muppets drummer, playing deranged rhythms with one hand. And as medications are added to treat the symptoms, so cause and effect get complicated.

If getting a diagnosis is difficult then getting rid of Lyme is even harder. Symptoms can persist long after the antibiotic course is completed and the longer you’ve had the disease, the longer they’ll last. When this happens researchers are very careful to refer to Post Treatment Lyme, and not Long-or Chronic-Lyme. This may sound like semantics, but it’s important.

I have been treated with 2 courses of antibiotics (the sledgehammer and then pile-driver versions) and it’s extremely unlikely that any of the bacteria have survived this onslaught. They’re dead. So now I’m living with the damage the Lyme bacteria have done, especially to my nervous system. I felt like sh*t then, and still feel it now. Mending this could take years.

Imagine a human-scale version of a deserted battlefield. The war is over, the armies have gone home and all that remains is a landscape of devastation and dysfunction. Eventually, the land will recover, the trees will grow back and any unexploded munitions will be removed. How long will this take? We don’t know. Welcome to Post Treatment Lyme Disease.

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A Footnote: Whole-genome sequencing of Borrelia burgdorferi, the tick-borne bacterium that causes Lyme Disease, has shown a huge range in variety and complexity. This is thought to explain the multiple Lyme disease symptoms, from severe arthritis in children to fatigue and debilitating joint, neurological, and cardiovascular impacts in adults.

For further reading, I recommend the Lyme specialists at Johns Hopkinsand Harvard.

Soon there will be a vaccine (it’s in Stage 3 trials). And about time too.

 

 

Sam Fenner Environment Agency Fishery Officer

Sam Fenner Environment Agency Fishery Enforcement Officer

Sam Fenner the Environment Agency’s North Devon fishery enforcement officer is keen to engage with the local angling community and has recently attended several club AGMs.

Sam previously worked in Scotland gaining valuable experience working with the farming community in byelaw enforcement. He brings this extensive knowledge to his role in North Devon that involves a wide patchwork of rural landscape.

( Above) Paul Carter a previous Fishery Enforcement Officer has worked closely with Sam to pass knowledge gained from years of experience whilst working across North Devon.

I joined him for a walk along the River East Lyn one of North Devon’s most beautiful and historic rivers. It was early March when we met and the river was running high and clear after one of the wettest February’s on record.

The salmon fishing season commences on March 1st on the Environment Agency’s day ticket fishery. Trout fishing starts on March 15th. The salmon run generally gets underway in late April or May if conditions are suitable with the river very dependent on rain.

The dramatic decline of salmon was very much top of the agenda as we walked the river. Having fished the Lyn intensively in the 1980s I have many good memories of those days of plenty. Though when I talked with anglers back then the fishing was still just a shadow of its glory days in the fifties and sixties.

The water quality of the East Lyn is undoubtedly still good as there is no extensive agricultural pollution. Poaching is no longer a significant problem on the Lyn so the main issues facing its salmon and sea trout are undoubtedly survival at sea and predation.

The Lyn offers superb fishing for abundant wild brown trout at a very reasonable cost of around £5.00 per day. Tickets are available from Barbrook Filling Station.

We started our walk at Torrs Road and walked up to Ash Bridge half a mile above Watersmeet. I was able to relay plenty of stories relating to the Lyn and we paused at Overflow and Vellacott’s Pool both of which have a rich history. The recent decimation caused by ash die back is plain to see on the rivers banks and this has undoubtedly been a major issue for the National Trust. Sadly some pools that were prime salmon holding pools are now difficult to access with some angler’s paths now overgrown.

We sighted a pair of goosander above Watersmeet a species that undoubtedly predate on smolts and salmon parr within the river.

The boulder strewn river was as beautiful as ever and I look forward to returning its banks with the fly rod later in the Spring when its crimson spotted trout offer exciting sport.

Sam talked of the challenging role of being fishery enforcement officer. He is very keen to encourage more anglers to enjoy the superb fishing the Lyn has to offer.

Rod licence checking is one of Sam’s main roles, he also works to enforce local byelaws, assist with pollution incidents. Offers advice to fishery owners and clubs regarding stocking and fish health, promotes angling and its mental health and community benefits in conjunction with the Angling Trust. Sam also works with the D&S IFCA in carrying out estuary protection work.

Sam’s area consists of all of North Devon and its rivers and stillwater’s. Quite a challenge if you consider that there were up to eight fishery enforcement officers during past decades.

After walking the river we adjourned to the National Parks Pavilion Centre for a coffee and a chat with Julian Gurney who has a wealth of experience in relation to the River Lyn and its history. Julian has written a piece for the Exmoor Magazine that includes the fascinating history of fish traps at the mouth of the Lyn and the coastline.

The old salmon trap situated at the mouth of the River Lyn.

Sam urged that any signs of pollution or poaching should be reported to the Environment Agency via their hotline : 0800 80 70 60

 

Torridge Fly Fishing Club

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Torridge Fly Fishing Club.
Located at Gammaton Reservoirs ( 2 four acre lakes). Annual membership £180. Members can keep up to 6 fish a week.
Day tickets £25 (3 fish) available from Summerlands Tackle, Westward Ho!, Quay Sports, Roundswell, Barnstaple & Tarka Country Pursuits, Torrington.
Membership enquiries to Robert Chugg: 07491931003. Email : [email protected]

TREVOR TELLING MEMORIAL COMPETITION

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Trevor Telling Memorial Fishing Competition…

Wimbleball Lake, Sunday the 7th April 2024 and annually thereafter.
2 Fishing competitions in 1, from the boat and the bank, trophy & prizes for each.
Normal price for fishing plus £5 donation to charity.
The charities being supported are the South West Fishing for Life and the Exeter Hospicecare team.
For those that knew Trevor, and for those that didn’t, we are holding this match to commemorate a man who simply loved all fishing but especially fly fishing. His local knowledge of Wimbleball, Trout feeding habits and what flies and line to use and when, were readily shared with fellow anglers, he was much respected and a “one of a kind”.
The day will start with registration at the gazebo by the boat ramp between 8:00 and 9:00. The Fishing Competition will start from 9:30 with a weigh in at the end to be determined.
Entries on the day can be paid either by cash or cheque, boats should be booked in advance as normal, bank fishers can book online or turn up on the day & pay in the hut.
Some of Trevor’s “recommended” and favourite flies will be on sale on the day, all monies raised will also go to the charities.
2 shields are awarded, one for boat fishing and one for bank fishing. The winner keeps the shield for the year and is asked to ensure it is returned ready for the competition next year.
Karen, Charlotte, Matthew and Arthur thank you for supporting these 2 charities which meant so much to them during Trevor’s illness and hospice care and Trevor of course supported the south West fishing for life charity, teaching ladies to cast and enjoy the peace and tranquility of fishing after their own personal experiences of cancer.
Please share and get as many anglers who knew Trevor to come along, enjoy a fish and pay their respects…

RIVER TAW FISHING CLUB – AGM

Gerald Spiers delivers an engaging casting clinic

I was privileged to be invited to attend the Taw Fishing Club AGM at the Fox and Hounds at Eggesford last Saturday. The Taw Fishing Club has five and a half miles of fishing on the Upper Taw and its tributaries offering some excellent fishing for wild brown trout.

I arrived at 10:00am to join members in the field adjacent to the River Taw where Gerald Spiers of the Devon School Of Fly Fishing was offering a casting clinic for members. It was good to be close to the river with the evidence of Spring all around. Gerald chatted about the intricacies of casting and fly presentation in depth. Engaging the audience in discussion on mending the line, fly choice, reading the water, casting loops, arc, wrist position, and how to approach the water. He also discussed the finer details of tackle choice advising on leaders, tippets, rod choice and line care. I am sure all walked back to the hotel for lunch enthused for the coming season and eager to employ the knowledge imparted by Gerald. The art of fly fishing and fishing in general is a never ending game of interaction with nature that offers an absorbing fascination that can never be quelled once hooked.

Members and guests mingled over lunch and engaged in conversations that I feel sure contained many fishy tales. On our table the fishy agenda drifted into the toxic world of politics and the environment. It seems increasingly apparent to me that populist politicians are leading the human race on a slippery road to extinction. Failure to acknowledge uncomfortable truths to ensure election is a symptom of a generation that is increasingly disconnected with the natural world.

The Taw Club has been running successfully for over a century and is presently in a very healthy state thanks to a hard working committee Chaired by Gordon Murray with secretarial responsibilities carried out by Chris Searles. The club has a current membership of fifty and welcomes new members to its ranks.  The Taw Club is a friendly group that offers plenty of opportunity to mingle and learn during club teach ins and bank clearing days.

The Chair addressed a large proportion of the membership at the meeting and highlighted concerns mirrored across angling clubs throughout the land. There was conversation around the aging dynamics of club membership and the need for a younger generation to take up rods on the water. Angling participation and social interaction has undoubtedly been impacted upon by covid and recovery is slow.

The health of the river was top of the agenda with a focus on working with landowners to safeguard the future. Gordon expressed his views on pollution and quoted the phrase; “ Kind Words butter no parsnips”. Farming incentives to deliver habitat improvement, River fly monitoring, Citizen Science Water Quality Sampling and the vital work of an underfunded Environment Agency was all discussed with passion. It is essential that this desire to safeguard our rivers is put into practice.

                The Environment Agency was represented by North Devon’s Fishery Enforcement Officer Sam Fenner who engaged with the club members offering advice and guidance on a range of river related enquiries.

There was discussion around invasive species including signal crayfish and mink. The increasing population of beavers were also acknowledged which are generally thought to bring wide benefits to the rivers eco systems.

An exciting increase in  shad spawning in the Taw system was noted with hope that this will bring focus upon the importance of the Taw system to this rare and endangered species.

Catches of wild brown trout across the club’s waters has been consistently good over recent seasons with between 300 and 500 trout registered by members each season. The use of an online recording system has been a very beneficial recording tool ensuring up to date information is shared across the membership.

The AGM was concluded with a talk from Gerald Spiers who gave some valuable advice on wading safely. His three top tips being to wade slowly and upright, wear studded waders and use a wading staff.

         Membership details for the Taw Fishing Club can be found at :-

https://www.tawfishingclub.org/membership-and-rules

http://www.lance-nicholoson.co.uk

 

Rainbow trout waters opening weekend

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The new season is now firmly under way at the South West Lakes Trust trout fisheries, with the Rainbow waters opening on 3 March (with prior preview days for season ticket holders), and Brown Trout due to open on 15 March. Where available, boats are now on the water, and should be pre-booked (online or via the telephone). Generally the weather for the opening weeks has been challenging to anglers, and in spite of strong winds, rain, snow and hail, and cold temperatures, the fish have already started to feed near the surface, with many caught using floating line tactics. The very wet winter means that the waters are at full capacity.

Fishing:

Kennick – Rods averaged over 5.5 fish per angler during the opening sessions, with fish generally located along the western bank and in the Narrows, with bank anglers catching well. A selection of nymphs (Buzzers, Damsels and Montanas) and lure patterns (Tadpoles, Kennick Killers, Black and Blue Fritz and Black and Green Woolly Buggers) fished on intermediate and floating lines with various retrieves proved most successful. The best fish, a rainbow of 3lb 13oz, was caught by Mike Malpas.

Siblyback – The season opened on excellent form – anglers averaged 4.8 fish per rod, with fish mainly located along the North Bank, Two Meadows and Stocky Bay. While some fish were caught on Montana Nymphs, most were caught on a variety of lure patterns (Cormorant, Kennick Killer, Snake, Blob and Siblyback Sparkler) fished on floating lines with a medium retrieve. Ron Wilday (from Liskeard) caught a bag of six rainbows to 1lb 12oz in Stocky Bay.

Burrator – the season opened with a flying start, with anglers averaging 8.6 fish per rod, mainly from Longstone, Pig’s Trough, Lowery Point and Back Bay. Intermediate or floating lines with a fast retrieve proved to be the most successful method, with fish feeding on small flies on or just below the surface. Successful flies included Damsel Nymph variations, Black Fritz, Humungous and Distressed Marabou patterns. Simon Stokes (from Horrabridge) caught the best fish, a rainbow of 2lb 8oz, using an intermediate line fished down to four feet depth, with a medium to fast retrieve. Jonny Mac (from Plympton) caught ten ‘fighting fit’ rainbows to 2lb, chasing stripped lures down to 6 feet below the surface.

Stithians – the cold windy conditions made the opening weekend’s fishing challenging, with anglers managing to average only one fish per rod. Fish were mainly located at Pub Bay, Hollis, Sailing Club Bay and Carmenellis, with slow-fished lure patterns (Black and Green Cats Whisker, Cormorant and Blob patterns) fished on a floating line, but letting the fly sink well before retrieving, proving to be the most successful.

Another successful Fly Fair was held at Roadford Lake on 25 February, with fly-tying demonstrations, casting lessons and trout cookery demonstrations. Charles Jardine opened the event, which also included a variety of tackle and fly-tying suppliers, ‘Coarse fish on the Fly’ by Dom Garnett, a chance to meet local clubs and some bargains to be had on the Kennick Club used-tackle stand.

ROADFORD FLY FAIR

WIMBLEBALL – A NEW SEASON

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Opening day action – Image Jeff Pearce Snowbee

 

                  When my good friend Martin Turner sent a question via messenger saying he was going to Wimbleball mid-week would I go for bank or boat? As luck would have it I already had the day pencilled into my diary and asked if he minded me joining them on the bank?

         A few days later I convinced Martin that there was no rush to get at the water for early dawn and as a result we decided on stopping off at  Dulverton for breakfast. We walked into The Copper Kettle Cafe at around 9:15am and ordered up their mini breakfast and hot drinks. Half an hour later we set off glad we had gone for the rather adequate mini breakfast.

         Martin and I have always plenty to discuss and had talked non stop since leaving my house in Loxhore and had still not exhausted the agenda when I climbed out of the car an hour after dark following the days fishing.

         It had been a bright and sunny day with a strong East to SE wind adding a bite to the moorland air. We had decided to start off near Bessom’s but on meeting Martins friend Mike Snudden walking the path and reporting no action we changed our plan and diverted to Rugg’s that was sheltered from the cold wind.

         I had been absent from Wimbleball for far too long and was eager to re-engage with this water that has a beguiling wild feel. It’s hard fighting rainbow trout are renowned amongst the Fly fishing fraternity testament to the hard work undertaken by Mark Underhill and his family over recent seasons.

         Early March and to me fly selection is simple, surely any lure with black and green fished on an intermediate line is the order of the day.

         We spread out along the bank and set about searching the icy waters emersed in our own worlds. I relished the cool water as I waded out to my waist, the chill water on the fingers as the line was retrieved. I expected that thrilling pull at any moment as I settled into the rhythm of cast and retrieve.

         I took stock of the surrounding rolling hills, the stark bare trees of early spring, blue sky and occasional fluffy white clouds. The margins were populated with frogspawn and melodic bird song drifted on the chill wind.

         I was surprised not to have caught after close to an hour and strolled over to Martin and Mike who were engaged in conversation with a fellow fisher.

                  The angler was Chris Guest who I had engaged with frequently on social media over recent seasons. It is always good to meet in person and we chatted fluently for several minutes comparing notes on bass, trout and books.

         My theory on not needing an early start proved questionable as Chris had caught nine trout before we arrived with ice in the margins.

As Chris had not caught whilst we were present we decided upon a move to a new area.

         The boat launching area has been kind to me in the past and it was to here that we moved. Punching a line into the bitter cold wind proved hard work and I soon had an urge to move to an area with a little more shelter where I had enjoyed success on previous trips.

         In truth it was good to have a brisk walk and warm up a bit after several hours fishing. I had foolishly tempted fate earlier boasting to Martin and Mike that I had not blanked at Wimbleball since its new era.

         After half an hour of searching the water I was delighted to feel a savage pull through the line. A large rainbow trout of perhaps five pounds erupted from the water, a couple of yards to the left there was another swirl as another large trout appeared in a flurry of spray! The result was inevitable as the two trout that had seized two flies on my cast headed in separate directions!

         A few minutes later Martin and Mike arrived to hear my tale of woe. Mike had banked a good rainbow of around 2lb whilst Martin remained devoid of any action.

         My line zipped tight once more and for a few moments I enjoyed brief connection with what looked and felt to be a good trout. I missed one more trout but by now I was feeling confident and expectantly fished eventually avoiding a blank day with a slim full tailed rainbow of just over 2lb.

          I was delighted to look across to Martin fishing fifty yards to my right his rod bent over a fish leaping clear of the water in a flurry of spray. After an exciting tussle a lovely rainbow of well over 3lb graced the net.

         I soon added a second rainbow to my bag a chunky fish of perhaps 3lb 8oz and missed a couple of takes.

         Once again Martin stood in the icy water his rod in a pleasing curve and his reel singing as a big trout surged to and fro. It was now close to five o clock and the sun was sinking slowly behind us. I stood beside Martin sharing the moments and snapped away trying to capture a few images of fishy drama in the slowly fading light of the day.

         After perhaps five minutes a fine blue rainbow trout of close to five pounds was held aloft in triumph. Mike arrived back holding a fine rainbow of close to four pounds along with the tale of a large fish that had taken him to the backing before departing with his fly.

         I grabbed a photo of Martin and Mike holding a pair of Wimbleball’s finest. Mike headed for home whilst Martin and I fished on eager for another connection as the chill of evening descended.

         As we walked back the car holding a brace of rainbows each we reflected upon the day and how enjoyable it had been. Whilst we have had days with far more fish we both agreed that these days when its hard work are so often more memorable and rewarding.

          These days of early season are so full of promise as we look forward to those warmer days when we will drift teams of buzzers in a gentle ripple driven by a warm southerly wind that will surely blow the bait into the fishes’ mouth.

Wind from the West, fish bite the best.
Wind from the East, fish bite the least.
Wind from the North, do not go forth.
Wind from the South blows bait in their mouth.

 

Below are a few images of open day action sent to me by fellow Snowbee Ambassador Jeff Pearce

RIVERWOOD SCREENING AT HALF MOON – SHEEPWASH

The hour long film is a fascinating documentary made by rewilding charity Scotland The Big Picture https://www.scotlandbigpicture.com/riverwoods, about the current challenges Atlantic Salmon are facing in Scotland’s rivers, and the project that is trying to solve these issues.
Riverwoods is equally applicable to solving Atlantic Salmon decline in North Devon’s rivers, and the hope is that a community based solution will emerge from the North Devon screenings.
The film will be followed by a short presentation by Wayne Thomas of North Devon Angling News on his experiences of fishing for West Country salmon, and an audience conversation about how to reverse salmon decline in North Devon.
The Riverwoods film tour of North Devon is being run by Adrian Bryant of Earth Collective community interest company, founder of the Caen Catchment Beaver Project at Braunton, who will introduce the film

Celebrating a new start – Salmon Season 2024

On March 1st 2024 members of the Barnstaple & District Angling Association assembled beside the River Taw celebrating both the start of a new season and the re-opening of the clubs fishing hut.

Some members had even brought their tackle with them despite the raging brown torrent that was racing towards Barnstaple the estuary and its eventual meeting with its sister river the Torridge at Instow.

As I walked to the river I savoured the birdsong as blackbird’s delightful tune filled the early Spring air.  Primroses, wood sorrel, celandines and other fresh green shoots of spring were evident in the roadside hedge.

I have a wealth of memories regarding the old fishing hut and you can read my account of a visit to the old hut fifteen years or so ago at the end of this article the account can also be found in my book I Caught A Glimpse that can still be bought at the Little Egret Press.

There is something reassuring about the return to the river at the start of each season. There is that eternal optimism of the returning angler. For despite the constant decline in salmon numbers and concerns about water quality there is a resilience in nature.

I negotiated the road bridge and headed down the familiar fisherman’s path to the old hut. A bright red gazebo seemed slightly surreal erected at the front of the newly refurbished shelter.

It was good to hear cheery voices as I approached and I smelt the smoke lifting from the BBQ. There was a cheery greeting from fellow members and a welcome hotdog as talk of the new season and past adventures did the rounds.

Water quality was high on the topic list as we chatted about the council meeting held at Petroc college a few days before. All agreed that it was good to place the state of our rivers higher on the political agenda. The integrity of our local MP and local water companies was discussed but I will steer clear of politics on this platform!

The jovial camaraderie of the assembly had a touch of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ or ‘Dads Army’. Don Hearn the club river keeper brings a refreshing air of optimism and whilst he acknowledged the dwindling salmon numbers compared to the past he also talked of the joy of club life on the river bank.

Club Chairman John Webber declared the hut open with the ceremonial cutting of a green ribbon that threatened to disintegrate in the wet conditions.

Dark clouds and a ferocious hail storm failed to dent the optimism of those  gathered and I left with joy in my heart for a new season. The smell of wild garlic lifted from the ground a pleasing scent heralding the onset of spring and warmer days ahead.

When I wrote of the old club hut a decade or more ago I was saddened at its demise. Today the old hut and spirit of the angling brethren had risen like a phoenix bringing optimism for the future. It is my hope and fellow club members hope that the rivers problems will be solved and that a new generation of club anglers will continue to gather memories as the rivers eternal flow continues.

I have just finished reading a book about the Chalk Streams of Southern England. ‘The Lost World Of The Chalk Streams, by E. A. Barton tells of an enchanting riverside world between the wars. A selection of atmospheric black and white images capture a bygone age. There are extracts of prose that bring poignancy and inspiration  as I write this and look back over fifty years beside the Taw.

The Test In August – “The season has turned and like the first grey hairs of middle life, signs of approaching age cannot be overlooked.”

 

“The enjoyment derived from a day’s angling should never terminate with the day but should linger in the memory like a pleasant taste, to be reconstructed with but the smallest effort of will at times when there is little else to distract. Over the fire on winter evenings. When one’s book is finished, or with a friend in retrospective mood, one reverts back to those days spent together by open loch or quiet river. The habit of visualising accurately a picture of the surroundings of some specially interesting incident at the moment of its occurrence is one well worth cultivating. After a time it becomes so reflex and automatic that it is easy to recall vividly. Even to the smallest detail, the passage of some memorable event. Such a habit becomes a priceless possession, for by its aid can be conjured up, with photographic accuracy, a collection of moving pictures of everlasting delight. So that when the afternoons of life are beginning to draw in, and the wheel creaks at the cistern, that habit cultivated in youth becomes an ever delightful resource by which one lives again with little less than reality the golden experience of the  past

I stopped on the bridge as always to peer into the river below. The sun shone and the river took on that blue green translucence typical of springtime. A few martins and swallows swooped above the river seeking nourishment following their long flight from far off lands. After a brief survey of the pool I moved on and came to the old gate that leads to the river bank.

            The gate hung partly unhinged, it’s fastening asp broken, a few bits of litter caught my eye discarded by some ignorant motorist. A problem that blights our countries hedgerows tarnishing our land with an urban feel, continuing down the steps I glanced at the old fishing sign, rusting and grimy, the clubs name still present above the words, “Private Fishing Club Members only”. The pathway beside the river had always been well trodden at this time of year (Early April) yet now it was partly grown over. Celandine flowers brightened the waterside meadow with their bright yellow hues. It felt good to be walking the river bank again after a long break but strange melancholy feelings drifted into my being. I glanced at the old corrugated fishing hut its door was open, someone was about I thought, tidying up or fishing somewhere down stream.

            My club membership had long since lapsed and I was heading to fish the free water a hundred yards or more downstream. I had fished this section of river heavily twenty five years ago hoping for a silver spring salmon but had visited rarely over recent seasons. However a river is like a long lost friend familiarity returns quickly and certain things retain a core character. The constant flow of a river towards the sea has always given me an almost spiritual reassuring sense of stability. A feeling I had always treasured each spring as I trod the banks rod in hand hopeful of one of anglings greatest prizes, a fresh run silver salmon. The grass flourishing, buds bursting into life on riverside trees and spring birds filling the air with song, migrants returned from a long cold winter, a sign of the coming warmth of summer.

            I had very little time today just a grabbed moment from life’s busy schedule no time to fish methodically, just a few random casts into favourite lies. I remember long ago seeking a salmon a prize that seemed unattainable. Eventually after many days by the river I had tempted a salmon, what had seemed so difficult I realised was really quite easy. You just had to be in the right place at the right time with a little good fortune. Salmon are a perplexing fish, totally ignoring all offerings one minute then suddenly erupting from the water to seize your bait, lure or fly with an unbelievable determination. After catching that first salmon an angler will forever be able to cast in hope for he believes in the impossible. This faith remains forever fuelling the desire for cast after cast.

            I climbed down the river bank entering the water above a sweeping bend in the river. An old tree stood, its roots exposed from constant attack annual winter floods. Beneath the tree was a favourite lie that had held many salmon and sea trout over the years. I waded out into the river, relishing the feel as the cool water pushed against my legs. I extended my fly line above the water and dropped a bright orange Ally’s Shrimp fly near the far bank. I allowed the fly to swing tantalizingly across the flow, took a step downstream and repeated the process. Many times in the past I had seen salmon and sea trout leap from the water at this spot. I hoped to see one now, I really didn’t need to catch to glimpse the prize would suffice.

            Strange  really, since the introduction of catch and release in the early season I have lost much of my determination to seek salmon. I always used to relish taking that first fresh Springer home to enjoy with new potatoes and lashings of butter. I regularly fish for a wide range of species and return ninety percent of the fish I catch. I have no problem returning a coloured salmon in the autumn but I somehow struggle with returning a bar of silver sea liced salmon. I often think of Hugh Falkus’s comments on catch and release and his views that it was somehow wrong. Somehow I feel he had a point there is something undignified in toying with a fish so magnificent as the Atlantic salmon. Perhaps I just don’t like being told I have to return the fish, I remember catching a well mended Kelt several years ago. It had inhaled the Mepps spinner to the back of its throat and was bleeding profusely. I gently returned it to the river, to my horror it keeled over and drifted away to die. How would I feel if this happened to a prime fresh run fish?  

            This leads me on to another restriction that has been imposed to preserve stocks. In the early season I and most other anglers used the spinner to fish for salmon. A Mepps spinner or Devon Minnow was cast into the cold waters and retrieved slowly its throbbing reverberated through the line to the rod giving a physical transmission between angler and river. At any moment there was the anticipation of the electrifying take as a bar of silver attacked the lure. I fully support the need to preserve salmon stocks and if that impinges on my pleasure then so be it I guess, I just wonder about the long term effect of these restrictions on our freedom?

            I continued to fish on down stream, ice cold water started to seep into my chest waders. I realised that my repairs to the holes had failed and a new pair of waders would be needed before my next trip.

            It was time to leave I had to collect my young son form his cricket coaching. I climbed from the river my boots squelching as I retraced my way along the riverside path. I came again to the old fishermen’s hut, the door was still open, inquisitive I strolled over and peered inside. The door had been broken from its hinges, the old leather seat was torn, old mugs stood in an old wooden cabinet where mice had made their home the old hut was damp and derelict. A feeling of sadness came upon me. I immediately understood the melancholy feeling I earlier sensed. Twenty odd years ago I had spent many hours beside this river and talked with the club anglers of the day. They were generally anglers in their fifties or sixties who had fished the river for many years. They generally had a tale to tell of the good old days, of encounters with huge spring salmon, some won some lost. They had intimate knowledge of the river and a deep respect and love for the salmon. Each year working parties would trim troublesome branches and carry out repairs to gates and stiles. The fisherman’s hut was a meeting place where tales were swapped over cups of hot tea. Fishing magazines sat on the table to provide inspiration during break in fishing or tending to the river bank. There was always a rod leaning against the old rails that segregated the front of the hut from the bank side. A bench dedicated to an angler invited one to, “rest here and find pleasure”.

            It dawned upon me that a generation of anglers had passed away. Few anglers now trod these banks in search of spring salmon. Upriver on prime beats people still pay large sums to fish but here on the club and free water few bother to cast a line. Perhaps restrictions have taken away the motivation for these anglers to fish or perhaps people no longer have the patience to chase dreams. I realise that back then we seemed to have time to talk, time to fish, time to dream.

            The faces of a host of anglers fill my minds eye as I walk away from the river and the derelict old fisherman’s’ hut. I realise that whilst the river flows relentlessly on we anglers are just passing spirits. The comfort of the rivers immortality is temporarily shadowed by the realisation of our own fleeting visit to its banks.

            As I walk across the bridge I again pause as always for one last look at the river. A car races past, a train thunders along the nearby track I re-enter the modern world and walk back to the car. On getting home I think back to the old fishing hut and vow to jot down my thoughts before they get lost and drift away like the old anglers who once fished the river.

Bideford & District Angling Club Presentation night

Bideford and District Angling Club held their presentation night at Bideford Conservative Club  Friday February 23rd with close to forty members attending. I was privileged to join in presenting several awards along with Simon McCarthy from Summerlands Tackle. The evening was very enjoyable and a very positive vibe was apparent as members cheered the winners and added the occasional good natured banter to proceedings. It was very encouraging to hear of a very healthy number of Junior anglers taking part during the summer Coarse series. Many thanks to Adam Wheeler for taking some excellent pictures of the evening.

Bideford’s Triumphant Coarse Fishing Team who beat Plymouth in their annual inter-club Match

Season 2023 / 24

Matchmans Cup  

 Nathan Underwood 

126 points

Runner-up 

Kevin Shears

 115 points.

Junior winner

 Brodie Allin

57 points

Junior runner-up

Ted Blight

48 points

Evening series

Winner 

Nathan Underwood

119 points

Evening Runner-up 

Richard Jefferies

107 points

Pairs trophy winners

Roger Ackroyd

Craig Lamey

Top weight in competition

Darren Polden 71lbs 

 Stephen Found 55 pts

Valentine bowl – most points in the monthly Rover.

Nathan Clements Gilthead bream 8lb 2 1/4 203.515%

Stephanie Vanstone  – Best specimen caught from the shore.

 Stephen Found Thornback Ray 13lb 10 151.388%

Jason Talbot Memorial plate – Best specimen ray caught from the shore.

 Tony Gussin Conger 14lb 5 71.562%

Snake plate – best specimen Conger caught from the shore.

 Nathan Clements Gilthead bream 8lb 2 1/4oz

Best round fish from the shore 

Stephen Found Flounder 2lb 4oz 112.5%

Best specimen flat fish caught from the shore 

 Stephen Found Smoothhound 14lb 5oz 143.125%

Best specimen shark from the shore.

 Nathan Clements Small-eyed Ray 10lb 4oz 1/2 114.236%

Winner of end of season competition  

 Paul Ackland 4lb 1oz

Big Mike Memorial vase

Stephen Found total of 1160.118%

Species challenge cup

In the game fishing section John Mc Cullam and Terry Dymond dominated the results collecting five awards between them.

(Above) John Mc Cullam

 

(Above) Terry Dymond