On October 6th North Devon Angling News will be hosting a screening of Riverwoods supported by the National Trust and Adrian Bryant fromBraunton’s Countrywise Centre . The film is an evocative documentary highlighting the decline of salmon and how this catastrophic collapse of natural ecosystems can be prevented.
The film will be followed by short presentations from National Trust Wetlands Ranger James Thomas and Wayne Thomas talking from the heart about salmon populations across the West Country. Refreshments will be provided to enjoy with discussion and debate around the issues raised.
THE CHALLENGE – SALMON IN HOT WATER
Over many centuries, the loss of natural woodlands alongside rivers has profoundly changed their ability to support the salmon runs that once flourished. Today, many of Scotland’s rivers run through bare, treeless glens, reflecting the ecological decline that we have come to accept as normal.
Within those rivers, the King of Fish is in crisis. Atlantic salmon rely on cold, clean water and are susceptible to pollution, abstraction and rising river temperatures due in part, to a lack of river woodlands that would once have shaded and nourished our rivers.
Restoring a rich mosaic of woodland habitats to Scotland’s river catchments is a vital step in providing food and sanctuary to young salmon, giving them the best chance of migrating to sea before returning as titanic adults to their natal river to give life to the next generation.
Only 3% of Scotland’s native woodland remains.
More than 90% of all living Atlantic salmon measure under 12cm, making young fish in particular, susceptible to rising river temperatures.
Salmon eggs can survive water temperatures up to 16c. In a changing climate and without the shade afforded by trees, recorded water temperatures in some of Scotland’s rivers are exceeding the lethal limit for Atlantic salmon.
At any given time, 90% of the world’s salmon exist in rivers, placing an emphasis on restoring their freshwater habitat.
In the 1960s, 30% of adult salmon returned from the sea to spawn; today that figure is 3%.
RIVERWOODS – the initiative
Riverwoods is a broad partnership of organisations, focused on restoring a network of riparian woodland* and healthy river systems throughout Scotland, and increasing the ecological connectivity between land and rivers.
*Riparian woodland includes trees and woods within a river catchment, that influence river processes such as recycling nutrients, storing carbon and regulating water temperature, and flow. This includes instream woody structures, gorge and floodplain woodlands, wet and bog woodlands, and those far beyond the riverbank that still shape and govern river processes.
Why are river woodlands special?
Native trees and shrubs next to rivers, streams and lochs perform a range of vital functions. They provide shade, which helps regulate the temperature of the water; their roots stabilise riverbanks and offer vital shelter to young fish; leaves and insects falling into the water provide a valuable food source for a range of aquatic creatures, and a rich tapestry of vegetation locks away carbon, filters pollution and slows run-off.
RIVERWOODS – the film
The salmon need the forest. The forest needs the salmon. And Scotland needs them both.
Riverwoods is a spectacular and compelling story of Scotland’s Atlantic salmon – a fish that is the angler’s ultimate prize and a key building block in a complex forest ecosystem.
The feature-length documentary filmed and produced by rewilding charity SCOTLAND: The Big Picture,shows how Scotland’s rivers have been greatly diminished but crucially, how they could be reborn through a shared vision of restoration and recovery.
Restoring river woodlands at a catchment scale is an effective nature-based solution to help secure the future for Atlantic salmon.
River catchments with a mosaic of native woodland habitats, sequester carbon, reduce erosion, improve water quality and slow catchment run-off.
The health of Scotland’s rivers and the life within them, is directly dependent on the health of the landscapes through which they flow.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Tell your friends, family and work colleagues about the Riverwoods film and encourage them to attend one of the film screenings (it’s free!).
Shady River Fishing shared this cautionary tale recently that I feel is worth sharing on North Devon Angling News.
Ticks are very common in the vicinity of moorlands streams and rivers.
I THOUGHT I SHARE A CAUTIONARY TALE……
About 2 months ago I was fishing in the Devon countryside as usual. When I got home I noticed a Tick Nymph on my inside leg, so I pulled it off as I usually do when I see them on me. I’m always getting bit by ticks and did not think much of it, I just pull em out and forget about it. The next day I noticed a red rash around the bite, now normally the tick bite stays small then it goes away. This Rash was much bigger than usual and prompted concern from my fishing widow partner, who insisted I go and check it out, so I of course I didn’t do that. Anyway a few weeks later I was feeling very tired and aching knee joints and generally put it down to being over 40. After about another week or so I rang the doctor and went to see the Nurse who took some general blood tests, at this point I said “could you test me for Lymes Disease by any chance?” She said “yes we can do”, so she did.
Fast forward another four weeks and I was wondering on the test because I hadn’t improved much. I rang the surgery and was told in no uncertain terms that I had indeed contracted Lymes Disease!!!!
I was quite shocked but perhaps I shouldn’t have been as I am always up the River chasing Salmonoids and I can’t remember how many times I’ve pulled ticks off of myself, so suppose it was just a matter of time before this could happen. Anyway it’s a big long course of antibiotics and no Beer either ♂️ I was fishing on this occasion on the Mighty River Lyn when I got bitten, it’s full of ticks up there at certain times, but Ticks are everywhere around this part of the country and unfortunately so is the Disease. So be careful out there folks.
Over fifty years ago I caught my first brown trout from the River Umber that flows through the village of Combe Martin. The fish was tempted on a small red worm a small wild brown trout with a butter shaded belly, olive flanks and crimson spots. Sadly, their numbers have plummeted in this tiny stream as a result of pollution and reduced flows.
Fortunately; there are still many miles of healthy rivers in North Devon and whilst migratory fish have declined the wild brown trout are thriving and offer delightful sport on light fly fishing tackle.
I decided to start my 62nd birthday with a couple of hours on a local river chasing those wild brown trout that were amongst the first fish I caught as a child. Armed with a 7ft Snowbee 4 wt rod I waded into the clear water and started to search flicking the flies upstream beneath a canopy of green.
Starting with New Zealand style tactics I made my way slowly up river. A kingfisher flashed by an electric blue streak that brightens the day.
After searching several runs and stickles I hooked a sprightly brownie that pulsed and turned in the current before being coaxed to the waiting net. A beautiful trout of perhaps 10” that had taken the nymph. I admired it briefly and reflected that fifty years on I still enjoy those same emotions of pleasure from catching these jewelled creatures that dwell in cascading waters.
I tempted another three pristine browns using dry flies in the next couple of hours.
Pheasants called in the nearby fields a reminder that the shooting season is not far away. Another six weeks and the river trout season will have closed again. How times flies it seems ever faster as life passes by.
There are plenty of fishing adventures on the horizon with mighty tuna and shark on the agenda. Its still good though to tune back into those wild browns in intimate waters.
Wistlandpound Reservoir is just up the road from where I live and is an ideal spot to combine a summer evening walk with a few casts here and there. It was ideal that Pauline could join me and capture a few images of the scene and hopefully a fish or two. Despite being on my doorstep I haven’t visited as often as I had planned even though I did tempt some stunning wild brown trout earlier in the season.
Mid-August fishing can be a struggle so my expectations were not high so my target for the evening would be to tempt a golden flanked rudd or two. These beautiful fish are considered a nuisance by some but I see them as a pleasing diversion from the trout. I have glimpsed rudd of over a pound and would love to catch one of these larger specimens.
I had grabbed an old split cane Scottie Fly Rod that was already set up with a PTN on the point and black spider on a dropper. There is perhaps something organic and tactile about split cane and this rod could undoubtedly tell a tale or two and has a slightly poignant history.
I bought the rod from a friend at work who had picked it up at a car boot sale at Torrington. He wasn’t really an angler but had started to take a bit of an interest and we planned to take rods to the River Torridge and cast a line for trout. He was going to retire at some point in the near future and would have time to indulge in a new hobby expanding upon his love for family time, playing golf and tinkering with his sports car.
At the Roadford Fly Fair we met up with a friend and got chatting about life and fishing. How’s it going we asked to be told rather awkwardly that this would be his last Fly-fair as he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. A bit of a conversation stifler but we stumbled on and somehow got talking about fishing rods. It turned out he had sold his old Scottie Fly Rod at a car boot sale at Torrington.
Later that year I attended my work colleague’s funeral. He had retired after being diagnosed with cancer. We never did get to cast a line on the Torridge so on the odd occasion when I take out the old Scottie I cannot help but have a cast for my lost friends who had shared ownership of the old Scottie.
The sun was slowly sinking as we walked to the reservoir and there was barely a breath of wind. Reflections of trees, evening light, the occasional trout rise dimpling the surface and vapour trails decorating the cloud free evening sky.
We stopped at the first area of open bank and I extended a line upon the calm water. It took a while to adjust to the need to cast slower with the cane rod and I ended up spending a few moments untangling my fine leader. As is often the case other areas of the lake called and we ambled on chatting and absorbing the embers of the fading summer day.
We ended up on the far shoreline where I had caught a good brown trout earlier in the season. I waded out and suggested that Pauline capture a few images of me fishing out the fading day.
Tantalisingly beyond casting range the surface was broken as a large shoal of fish feasted upon something, a hatch of fly perhaps? Large numbers of martins swooped above the water a sure indication that flies were indeed hatching. I flicked a fly yards from bushes that stretched out into the lake, paused and began a slow retrieve, the line tightened. A rudd was guided to my hand and lifted from the water its flanks glowing a burnished bronze and silver in the fading light.
After a quick picture the fish was slipped back. I cast again to be rewarded with a slightly bigger rudd.
A pleasing end to the day etching out another memory I remembered those immortal lines that feature in the books written by the late countryside writer BB.
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.
The Annual Dinner and Raffle: this is always a most enjoyable evening and hopefully our new fishery officer, Sam Fenner, will be able to join us. This year the dinner will be on the last day of the season: Saturday 30th September. To book contact The Half Moon Inn: TEL: 01409231376 E-MAIL: info@ halfmoonsheepwash.co.uk
Jeremy Burden: sadly I have to report that Jeremy passed away about a month ago. He had lived in Sheepwash for 25 years and was a valuable committee member. He loved fishing the Torridge and with his dry sense of humour I know many of you will have enjoyed his company over a pint of beer at the bar of The Half Moon.
The Hatchery: we are determined to get our hatchery operational again this autumn. The number of Torridge salmon, like all the rivers in the UK, is declining at an alarming rate and it is now more important than ever to help arrest this decline by using our hatchery to rear upto 30,000 swim-up fry before releasing into the headwaters of the catchment in the spring.
Haydn, the proprietor at The Half Moon, has drawn up a lengthy document detailing the health/safety requirements and risk assessment statement regarding the use of the fish pass at Monkokehampton Weir to trap our broodstock. This has been forwarded to the EA. Once approval has been confirmed we can then prepare to open up the hatchery this autumn. All the hatchery team will have to attend a “confined space” training course and we will have to hire/purchase a portable hoist and harness to safely retrieve any member if necessary from the holding tank of the fish pass. This is all extra expense so it is even more important that the raffle is well supported this year.
Defending the sport we love: the future of river fishing is increasingly under threat. Rivers are no longer regarded as the preserve for anglers. Wild swimming, canoeing threaten the peace and quiet so important to the fishing fraternity. Conservation is currently the in-word. If we are not careful compulsory catch and release will be followed by the conservation lobby demanding a total ban on fishing with our rivers merely becoming a haven for beavers. Be warned!!
A mild August Sunday morning with a hint of moisture in the air, a light South West breeze bringing clouds from the Atlantic. The river was looking healthy, fairly high yet clear as morning sunlight occasionally broke through the lush trees that overhung the river.
It was only a short session but good to be wading in the cool water as I searched the river working my way slowly upstream. I was fishing a large bushy dry fly tied by Nigel Nunn
https://www.nigelnunnflies.com beneath which was tied a small copper head nymph. I tempted a couple of small wild browns on the nymph and had a few splashy rises to the dry that I failed to hook.
A good sized trout rose to the dry fly and I failed to connect so marked the spot and decided to have a try as I came back down river. I fished up covering a few likely spots with just the dry but failed to rise anymore fish.
I decided to try once more for the good fish I had risen earlier without connecting. I walked back and climbed into the river at the bottom of the pool. I worked slowly up flicking the dry fly over promising spots until I reached the place where I had raised the trout earlier. The fly floated on the river and brought a splashy rise that I again failed to connect with.
I decided upon a few minutes searching deeper with just a small jig headed nymph pattern, I leant back against a tree as I changed flies.
I wrote earlier this summer about how we go fishing to make memories and the next few moments are one of those captured memories to treasure.
As I prepared to flick the nymph into the river there was a flash of vivid electric blue as a kingfisher flew past just a rod length away. Whilst only fleeting the sight will linger in the minds eye for years to come. Downriver a movement caught my eye and I stood stock still as a heron and watched transfixed as three otters moved upriver along the far bank. I watched as they negotiated the tree roots, twisting, amazingly agile in the swirling water, scurrying in and out as they moved oblivious to my presence.
After they had passed I wandered if it was worth casting a line? I flicked the small nymph and watched the tip of the fly line as the nymph sank into the deep water. The line twitched, I lifted the rod and a trout pulsed at the lines end. Eight inches or so of crimson spotted perfection. I admired my prize briefly before slipping the barbless hook and releasing into the cool clear water.
It was time to go home with more memories made at the water’s edge.
Many thanks to Richard Wilson for once again sharing his writing on North Devon Angling News. This months article is more than a little sobering as we can see the drama unfolding on our screens each day. These are indeed interesting times to live in and the symptoms are to be seen all-round.
Sweet memories: The high-summer days as July drifts into August. Cole Porter’s lazy, hazy, crazy days as time sprawls soporific in the warming sunshine. The beer and wine on ice and all gently fusing in the company of old friends. A river burbles nearby while an occasional splashy fish shows midstream. What could be better?
So that was going to be my theme for this article: Chilled booze, cool friends and throwing the dog in (there’s no more enjoyable way to catch summer fish – more on dogs below). A comforting vision of an unfolding August caressed by warm nostalgia.
Then a lot of other stuff happened pretty much everywhere and all at the same time. Canada’s forests caught fire and New York choked in the smog, the US south and west and most of Europe wilted in record-breaking heat, the North Atlantic and the seas around Florida simmered, a lot of places flooded and England’s rivers became fetid, drought-stricken trickles of raw sewage. And, meanwhile, algal blooms suffocated seas and lakes worldwide. These events are global, national and in my garden. So writing a piece romanticising warm rivers and slow, soporific summer afternoons suddenly seemed clumsy.
Instead, an old curse rings in my ears: ‘May you live in interesting times’. Because, it turns out, I do. In the first week of June and in the far north of Scotland, these interesting times came to get me. Fishing was stopped on my trip to the River Oykel because the water temperatures were too high. In early June! This is a time of year and latitude when spring should be alive with bird song, wildflowers and new beginnings. Instead, we sweltered. And as we did, more bad news arrived from abroad as El Nino started flexing its muscles. It’s arriving this autumn and, by all accounts, is a bad one. And bad in this context means trillions of dollars will be lost and a lot of people will die.
We now have a lethal mix of weather and climate change, each piling misery on top of the other. As a brief aside, weather is what happens and we have climate change because if we fill the atmosphere with 200 years of industrial-era pollution it will get warmer and choke. Just as our rivers choke on shit if we keep dumping long after we should have stopped. Some people still have trouble with this idea.
That most stalwart conservative publication, The Economist, reports that a heatwave is a ‘predatory event that culls out the most vulnerable people’ – the poor and the old. They add, “It slaughters silently, snuffing out more American lives each year than any other type of weather”. It used to be cold that killed the most. Climate change, says The Economist, is deadly. I find it strange that some of the most at-risk social groups are the most strident climate change deniers (a predominantly 65+ demographic).
There are 2 possible explanations for what is happening this year, and they’re both deeply worrying. It might be a blip that fits within the warming new-normal we live with or, perhaps, a more alarming acceleration in the underlying rate of change. Whichever it is, we’ve arrived in uncharted territory. Agriculture and everything we think of as modern humanity started about 10,000 years ago and has thrived during a period of climate stability. The Earth was last this hot 125,000 years ago. So while an extra degree or two might look to some like a small twitch on the global-average temperature gauge, it isn’t when you look at the increasingly wild regional climate fluctuations – as can be seen by anyone who follows the news. And so far the scientists have been right; recent temperatures and their consequences are as most climate models projected, albeit at the hotter end. What happens next is less certain.
Life is unlikely to come to a juddering halt, but it will get a lot more difficult. As ever, there’s a caveat: Reputable research published this month suggests that the deep Atlantic circulation (AMOC), which is associated with the Gulf Stream, could fail within 3 years, altho’ that’s most likely to happen mid-century (Copenhagen University). This would indeed be catastrophic.
And look at the language we’re using. A phrase that used to hover in the margins of the climate debate has gone mainstream: the positive feedback loop. Forest fires release CO2 which warms the planet causing more fires. The same applies to methane release from thawing tundra. There are also more frequent sightings of the words runaway positive feedback loop and tipping point.
In the face of this year’s extreme weather and its major economic impacts, kicking these issues down the road in the hope that something good will happen looks increasingly futile. That thought is from the Chatham House think-tank, which isn’t given to hyperbole.
At this point, I’d like to interrupt myself briefly to ask you a question or two: How many days fishing will you lose this year because our rivers and lakes are too warm? Will next year’s fishing be better or worse? How are the redds faring?
It might seem a bit of a leap from global catastrophism to a riverbank with rod in hand, but we’re all going to have to adapt (I wrote about mitigation HERE ). Call me Nero if you like, but we humans are really good at adapting. And we’re going to have to get a lot better at it in all sorts of ways.
So, this may be me fiddling while Rome burns, but I’m hoping the rate of change is going to be at the slower end of predictions. If so, I’ll need that dog I mentioned earlier. Because the simple truth is that even in the good old lazy-hazy days you couldn’t do proper slow summer fishing without a dog and, one way or another, the dog had to go in. And where once this would have happened in late July or August, nowadays May and June are the new dog-days of summer. So the dog is my consolation; a small adaptation I can look forward to and that will keep me on the bank.
Here’s how it works: The writer Ed Zern, a man of quick wit and impeccable unreliability, told of an old timer he knew back before the Second World War. A man who claimed that, if fishing a summer pool with not a salmon to be seen, would turn his attention to catching a couple of trout for the pot. His approach was unorthodox. He would tie a 6ft leader, a dropper and a couple of wet flies to his dog’s tail, and then throw a stick across the pool. The dog, of course, was thrilled to be in the chase and the angler scored two wins: The dog stirred up the salmon and improved the fishing, and also brought back a brace of equally agitated trout for supper. What happened if the dog got into a 30lb salmon is not recorded. American salmon, according to Zern, think dogs are seals. And the caveat? As said, Zern was a very unreliable witness and the trout part of his story is unusually fishy.
This also works at night, which is another cool advantage in our brave new world. Indeed, it was at night that I discovered just how effective a dog can be and why this works (even though no dogs were involved).
Late one summer’s evening, shrouded in the gloaming, I headed out on foot for a night’s Sea Trout fishing. It was that magical hour when day hands over to night and the owls, small scurrying creatures and chuntering water replace the daytime clamour. The river was low, as is the new normal (when not flooding), but Sea Trout, as they say, will run up a wet sack. The night was charged with promise.
I moved slowly up the bank, careful to arrive at my pool without spooking the fish, and then settled down to wait for darkness to wash over the river. Only once all is crow-black, bible-black, (Dylan Thomas-black) would I start to fish.
This night was different. Through the half-light, I could see a pair of otters playing exuberant otter-tag and working their way upriver towards me. Once in my pool, they started the serious business of hunting and I had a ring-side seat as two of nature’s most beautiful creatures plundered my fishing. Time flowed by and I don’t know how long I sat enchanted and uncaring that my night’s sport was being trashed before my eyes. This was already among the most memorable of fishing nights, and I was still on my backside.
Eventually, they picked up my scent and in an instant were gone. The pool stilled and the darkness settled back around me. My senses strained, but nothing moved.
I gathered myself, my rod and my minimal kit and stepped down to the river to cast a line. It felt like a futile gesture, but it was a beautiful night and I was reluctant to leave.
The line kissed the water and the pool burst into a mid-summer’s night madness. I caught an 8lb sea trout with my first cast and another of 6lb with my third. These were big fish for this river – much bigger than the expected 1-2lb schoolies. The otters had disrupted the pool and I had reaped the benefit by dropping my fly into the chaos.
And then, just as suddenly, the fish turned off. There were no fishy splashes on the margins of my senses. Just nothing – the pool had died. The fish frenzy had lasted for the 30 minutes or so it took the remaining sea trout to slough off the otter terror and revert to their normal, elusive behaviour. It was as though the otters had never existed
How long was I there that evening? I don’t know. Time had frozen into the very essence of slow fishing, which was mostly no fishing at all. The next day I told the riverkeeper my story. He smiled and said, ‘When all else fails, throw the dog in’. It’s an old saying that happens to be the just about only piece of fishing wisdom that actually works – and climate change will have to get worse before it fails.
In the UK, dogs are otters. In Canada maybe they’re bears. Zern says they’re seals.
And climate change is global, so if we keep going the way we are there will be no salmon to throw the dog at.
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Tell others I’m here: via sharing on social media.
Recent rainfall has rejuvenated North Devon’s Rivers and the countryside bringing a lush green to the landscapes. I have reported several salmon caught from the Taw and Torridge over recent days and was delighted to make connection with a special fish myself, more of that later. On leaving the River I was delighted to receive a message from Paul Carter who had just netted a fine fresh run silver salmon from the Middle Taw estimated at 15lb.
The guys from Shady River Fishing have been enjoying some excellent fishing higher up the River catchments targeting wild brown trout. Euro Nymphing tactics producing some stunning fish in the high water conditions. The pick of recent catches being this stunning wild brown of 14” that was estimated at 2lb.
Visit ‘shady river fishing’ on Instagram.
The middle Torridge was looking close to perfect when I arrived for a morning session. Peering into the river I could easily make out the stones at a depth of 18”, the water was the colour of the finest ale. The water glistened in the morning sun and I admired a large silver wash fritillary butterfly as it settled upon bankside grass. I paused for a minute or two sitting on the bench as the river flowed past. A juvenile buzzard mewed above a sound synonymous with August and the passing of summer.
I waded into the cool water and grimaced as I felt a leak in my waders. I put a line out across the river allowing the fly to drift across the flow searching for the increasingly illusive Atlantic salmon. It was good to be here following the familiar pattern of casting, drifting and stepping down through the pool.
At the point where I knew salmon had taken my fly in the past I felt a strong pull and lifted the rod tightening into a fish for just a few seconds. A chance gone perhaps? The margins between success and failure are often small. I analysed my response to the take, had I lifted into the fish too quickly? It is good practice to allow a little slack to allow the salmon to turn down with the fly but in all honesty the delectable moment of the take is so fleeting. In truth most of the salmon I have caught have hooked themselves or at least I have difficulty in actually visualising that fleeting moment of deception and connection.
I fished on searching the river and its known lies. It has been a little disheartening so far this season to drift the fly over the lies time and time again. Fishing the river in conditions like this even ten years ago I feel certain I would at least have seen a fish jump.
Despite the lack of success and ongoing concern regarding salmon and sea trout stocks I have stubbornly retained a sense of expectation as I fish, whilst there are still salmon to be caught hope springs eternal.
The river and its surroundings have a feel of late summer, early autumn. The invasive Himalayan Balsam are sadly flourishing their pretty pink flowers attracting bees and butterflies. Vivid blue damsel flies flutter amongst the riverside vegetation. Pin head fry flit to and fro in the river’s margins.
After fishing the top of the beat I fish back down searching the water heading for my final casts of the day in the bottom pool.
I wade out into the river once again still hoping almost expectant as this pool has provided many of the salmon I have caught from the Torridge over the years. As I proceed slowly down the pool I hear the piercing call of a kingfisher and glimpse the electric blue as the bird flashes down river. My optimistic heart views this as a good omen.
As I reach the bottom of the pool the line swings round in the current. The line zips delightfully tight and the water twenty yards below erupts as a fish leaps high above the river gyrating at the lines end. The rod hoops over and the fish heads downriver as I relish the moments of drama. For a few minutes salmo-salar dictates making several strong runs and leaping several times. There are a few anxious moments as the fish lunges near to branches on the far bank. Pressure eventually starts to sap the salmon’s energy and I coax the fish up river. The fish holds station in mid river and I slip the net ready to secure my prize. There are tense moments as line is gained and lost at close quarters. I pile on the pressure and the salmon rolls into the net. I wade up to the reed fringed bank above and take a moment to admire my prize. The salmon its flanks decorated in autumn hues signifies that it has been in the river for a while. I slip the barbless hook from its jaw and take a quick couple of pictures with the salmon in the net. I then carefully slide the fish into the river cradling the fish in the current lifting its head momentarily to capture an image. The fish is strong and kicks its tail as I support it. I watch satisfied as the precious fish swims into the ale coloured water to hopefully fulfil its destiny on the spawning redds later in the winter months.
Simon Hillcox took advantage of a swollen river to tempt a fine Torridge salmon. As Storm Antoni sweeps in the rain will add to the river flows bringing the chance of salmon for several weeks to come. Hopefully restoring some of the damage inflicted by the drought of spring and early summer.
I recieved an email from a reader of North Devon Angling News and have published it here with my reply. Darren’s email mirrors many of my own observations and thoughts on the River and its decline. Many thanks to Darren for giving me permission to publish along with my reply.
I chanced upon the NDAN website and indeed your book “I Caught a Glimpse” this year – excellent reading and nice to see a website so regularly updated.
Both from reading your book and old articles on the website it’s interesting to see the change in target species over the last few decades. We read about the reasons put forward and they seem to be many and varied. It set my mind running on a couple of points of local relevance.
The East Lyn is indeed a beautiful river and, although I wasn’t lucky enough to experience it, I’m sure it’s days of plenty live long in the memories of those who did. But why the drastic decline – with the salmon run a shadow of its former glory and I doubt it’s fished much at all for sea trout nowadays. You wonder what the culprits are. We can’t blame fish farming – the Severn is mercifully free from that industry which seems to have blighted the west coast of Scotland. The twin evils of pollution from farms (pesticide and fertilisers) and sewage discharge from treatment plants can’t be an important factor in that catchment can they ? The brown trout population seems to be relatively healthy so the environment for parr developing to the smolt stage would seem to be good. I’m my limited walks along the river and along the coast looking out to sea I don’t see the preponderance of fishing eating birds and seals I’ve seen elsewhere.
If I’m right in that unscientific guesswork it makes you wonder what’s going on out at sea. I suppose the salmon could be caught in large numbers at or en route back from their feeding grounds (like they used to be with drift nets on my native river Foyle). But surely not the sea trout which, as I understand it, doesn’t travel large distances and feeds around the coast. I’ve no doubt the bait fish such as sandeels, whitebait, etc. are hoovered up in huge quantities which could affect dependant species (although the bass seem to get by).
You do wonder if rising sea temperatures have had a pernicious impact. The reports of cod and whiting seem to have been replaced by smooth hound, bull huss and black bream but I wonder if it’s had am impact upon some part of the life cycle of the migratory fish as well.
Something else that seems unusual to me is the differing behaviour of sea trout in the estuaries. I cut my teeth in the mid eighties catching sea trout with frozen sandeels freelined in the ebbing and flowing tides in the narrow points of estuaries on the Donegal coast. The great times on that have gone now but its still worth a throw. What I wonder about is why sea trout were not caught more regularly on bait and lures in the estuaries of sea trout rivers such as the Teign and the Taw. I’ve fished those estuaries quite a few times over the last 25 years but haven’t seen a sea trout taken. I can’t work out why. Perhaps you’ve seen many caught.
Anyway – I just thought I’d drop you an e-mail to congratulate you on the book and thank you for the helpful website. My head scratching re the East Lyn and seatrout behaviour at just thrown out there in case you happen to know the definite answer !
All the Best
Thank you for your email it is really good to get positive feedback regarding my book and the website.
Would you mind if I publish your email on North Devon Angling News with my own thoughts as set out below.
As regards the East Lyn many of your comments mirror my own thoughts.
There has undoubtedly been a dramatic decline in salmon and sea trout runs on the East Lyn and the vast majority of West Country Rivers.
I have witnessed the decline on the Lyn first hand and it has to be appreciated that the decline that I have seen is based upon just over forty years and that my own baseline would have been much depleted in comparison to an angler who had seen the fish that ran the river forty years prior to that.
The facts on the Lyn and other rivers are to some extent blurred by a reduction in angling since the introduction of catch and release. In the days of prolific salmon runs there were also large numbers of anglers fishing the river. The angling community that once fished the Lyn came from far and wide when conditions were right and I met many anglers on the river who had commuted from London and other areas. These were familiar faces who joined the locals on the river bank jostling for the best spots. I often walk the river and now I seldom see a salmon angler even when conditions are good. Last week I spotted a good fish of 9lb plus resting in Overflow pool and feel sure there would have been other fish present.
Like you I do not believe the River Lyn has significant issues regarding pollution, Water Quality or indeed salmon farming.
It is likely that the most serious issue is loss at sea. These factors could relate to the marine eco systems that are in turmoil as a result of climate change, overfishing and an imbalance in predation.
Climate change also impacts upon the spawning of salmon and survival with many scientists predicting that water temperature will be too high for salmonoid species to successfully spawn within the next forty years. Others predict the virtual extinction of salmon within the next twenty years.
One regular angler on the river tells me that otters are decimating the remaining salmon stocks on the Lyn and I have heard of many otter sightings on the river. During drought conditions there are often seals around the river mouth feasting upon salmon, bass and mullet. The juvenile salmon ( smolts) are also heavily predated upon by cormorants that lurk in the river mouth particularly during the spring months.
Another major factor that impacted massively on salmon numbers was UDN during the 1960, 70s and 80s. There was also a recent outbreak of disease that resulted in a large loss of spring run fish.
The reasons for the decline in salmon stocks are undoubtedly complex and I see little reason for optimism though nature has a habit of bouncing back if given a chance. Everything we can do might help, reporting pollution, working with River Trusts and highlighting the decline of an iconic species. It is tragic that the salmon stocks on the Lyn were once so prolific that they could be harvested by anglers and via the salmon trap at the mouth of the river. For many years stocks seemed to be abundant and seemed to bounce back from UDN and natural weather patterns etc.
Across the natural world there has been a catastrophic decline and salmon are just another indicator that all is not well with our world.
As regards to sea trout I have never understood why they are not caught on a regular basis in West Country estuaries. They are as you say caught in Scotland, Ireland, the Hebrides and across Sweden etc.
Later this Autumn Medlar press are publishing a book that promises to deliver more information and thoughts on the history of Exmoors Rivers.