Where have North Devons cod gone?

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Fish populations are a regular topic amongst anglers and sea anglers in particular speculate and debate the ever changing fluctuations. Whilst commercial fishing undoubtedly has a dramatic impact on fish populations there are many other factors that can influence migration including weather patterns and the availability of food.

I noticed a post on Facebook recently commenting on the forthcoming winter season and the expected arrival of cod along the North Devon Coast. I was fortunate to fish the North Devon coast during its cod fishing heyday back in the 1980s and early 90’s when each winter saw numerous double figure cod landed along with the occasional twenty. Capstone Point at Ilfracombe was amongst the hotspots with anglers packing the rocks on favourable winter tides.

Big lugworm’s baits or large fish baits were anchored in the strong tide as winter swells surged against the rocks. South Westerly winds undoubtedly brought the best conditions with coloured water bringing good results.

I have been reporting on angling along the North Devon Coast for the past twenty years and have seen a dramatic reduction in cod catches. Whilst the occasional codling is caught especially from the estuaries large cod from the open coast are virtually unheard of.

During the peak days of cod fishing whiting and pouting were also abundant and catching live-baits was never difficult.

What I find strange is that cod numbers have not shown this dramatic decline further up channel. The Minehead area upwards still has a viable winter cod fishery from both boat and shore. Whilst this fishing coincides with murkier waters I cannot believe this is the answer to question.

Climate change could well be a factor but why would this impact upon North Devon and not Somerset? Food availability could be a factor but observations would not indicate this as herring and sprats are abundant at times throughout the channel.

Other species have become more abundant with spurdog, bull huss, smoothound and ray more prolific. In addition bass can be caught throughout the year and their numbers have not declined in North Devon in the same way as winter cod.

I have no idea what has changed in the past thirty years. It would be interesting to hear readers thoughts on this?

I CAUGHT A GLIMPSE –

Its over twelve months since the publication of my book “I CAUGHT A GLIMPSE” and I am pleased to say I have had plenty of positive feedback and appreciate this and the healthy sales the book has earned since publication back in September 2019. If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the book it can be obtained on line via The Little Egret Press. https://thelittleegretpress.co.uk/product/i-caught-a-glimpse-ltd-edition-hardback/ 

I  only have a few copies left with me so if you want to purchase one for collection or delivery please PM me via Facebook or email.

Since publication I have had many interesting conversations with North Devons anglers and have enjoyed sharing their memories. One thing I have learnt is that many fishermen paths are similar though they often fail to converge.

Combe Martin SAC – Lyn Fish

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Combe Martin SAC members caught plenty of fish in their rescheduled Lyn Fish competition with members fishing boat and shore.

Rob Scoines secured top spot with a fine specimen pouting of 1lb 15oz a species that is not as prolific as it once was in North Devon. ( “The local name for pouting was glower”)

Runner up in the competition was Dan Welch who fished from his Private boat with his friend Ross Stanway. Dan boated several specimens including a tope of 47lb and a bass of 8lb 12oz.

Dan and Ross also boated smoothound, Bull Huss and rockling.

Dan also targeted grey mullet during a short evening session and tempted a fine thick lipped grey mullet of 4lb 2oz

I was fishing with Rob when he caught his pouting; a session that provided a hectic few hours. During the four hour session we beached 13 Bull Huss to around 6lb, 3 dogfish,1 pollock, 1 conger and a bass.

A short lure fishing session from a shore mark on the final afternoon of the competition brought me three bass to 5lb 4oz.

A Fading Federation – BCFSA

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The Bristol Channel Federation of Sea Anglers was founded in 1961 and was for many years a very successful organisation with a loyal following from member clubs throughout the Bristol Channel. The federation was perhaps at its peak during the 1980’s when several hundred anglers would attend the annual awards ceremony to collect prestigious awards. I remember these events with great fondness and was proud to be presented with several awards myself along with other members of the CMSAC.

Sadly recent years have not been good for federation with membership declining for numerous reasons. The hard working but ageing committee have soldiered on for the past few seasons but without up and coming young blood it became clear that the federation was ailing. As fish recorder for Combe Martin Sea Angling Club I have registered many fish with their retiring fish recorder Keith Reed who has a vast wealth of knowledge regarding the fish of the Bristol Channel. Keith has maintained a remarkable degree of enthusiasm throughout his fifty years of service. I will miss our monthly chats.

The COVID- 19 outbreak has perhaps been the final nail in the federations coffin. See letter below from the federation.

The Angling Trust now the most important organisation representing anglers and I would urge all clubs to join up.

October 2020

To  All BCFSA Affiliated Clubs.

Earlier this year we sent out a letter from our President John May, to all Member Clubs asking for help to manage the Federations business. Unfortunately, despite the fact that all the Federation events have had very good support on the day there have been no volunteers to fill the vacant Committee positions.

As you all should be aware Keith Reed the Federation’s Fish Recorder gave notice to retire at the end of the year. Keith joined the Federation in 1965 as a Delegate and took up the position of Fish Recorder in 1971. That will be fifty years’ service, with all the history that goes with it. We think Keith deserves a well-earned rest for all the hard work he has put in over the years.

Our Shore Secretary James Redman has unexpectedly had to stand down due to serious health issues. In the short period James was in this position he has put in 100%. Introducing a new format for the 4 Man Team event and had plans to make the Shore events more interesting and enjoyable.

Unfortunately, this currently just leaves four Committee Members and from January 2021 there will only be 3 (3 from 3 Clubs out of 22) and this is not enough.

This year we have been forced to cancel all of this year’s Boat Competitions due to the ramifications of the Covid crisis and are unable to make any bookings for next year due to the ongoing uncertainties. The effects of Lockdowns, Social Distancing & Shielding have particularly affected the Team Events.

The Shore Team & Open events have also been cancelled for this year and there are no plans for next year due to the same Covid restriction uncertainties & compounded by no longer having a Shore Secretary.

The Handbook is also not being produced for next year. This is due in part to the Covid restrictions & lack of manpower but also to the uncertainty of how many Clubs, Tackle Shops & even Charted Boats will survive during these trying times.

Normally in these unprecedented circumstances an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) would be called. But the ongoing Covid situation denies this. Even the Annual General Meeting (AGM) will probably not be able to take place.

We have discussed at some length & decided that we have no alternative but to suspend all Federation activities from the end of this financial year (30th November). If, as it seems a distinct possibility the situation remains as it is after a twelve month period, then the Federation will formally have to close down completely, unless any suitable ideas are put forward during this time.

The Specimen Fish Awards have continued throughout and will continue to do so until the end of November (claims to be with the Fish Recorder by the 30th December, to allow the Certificates to be sent out). Any Claims for December & subsequent months will depend on whether we have a Fish Recorder or not.

All applicable awards, certificates & badges for this season will be honoured.

There will not be a renewal fee due for 2021 (normally due by the end of the year). Your Membership will automatically be rolled over. However as a consequence the Federation Insurance which is due in February 2021 will NOT be renewed.

The Committee.

Flounder Fishing

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Flounder devotee David Jenkins caught this 1lb 14oz flounder on his latest visit to the Taw estuary. David says that the fishing has not been easy and expressed concerns regarding anglers not backfilling after digging for ragworm. This is a perennial issue with a significant minority failing to follow well established codes of conduct relating to bait collection. It is important that anglers do all they can to maintain a good public image and the actions of few tarnish the good name of angling. This also relates to litter and failure to respect private property.

Bideford Angling Club Monthly Rover

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Re-scheduling the October Rover to avoid storm Alex proved a wise decision for Bideford Angling Club with members enjoying improved weather and some good fishing. Phil Vanstone lead the way with a superb ballad Wrasse of 5lb 5oz a superb fish for the North Devon Coast.

The flounder were also all North Devon fish which bodes well for the coming months of the flounder fishing season.

1st Phil Vanstone wrasse 5lb 5oz 106.250%

2nd Andrew Clements flounder 1lb 15oz 1/4 97.656%

3rd Stephen Found flounder 1lb 13 1/4oz 91.406%

4th Andrew Clements flounder 1lb 12oz 87.500%

5th Antony Smith flounder 1lb 8oz 76.562%

6th Stephen Found flounder 1lb 7 3/4oz 74.218%

Autumn hound 15lb

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Combe Martin SAC member Dale Kiff tempted this personal best smoothound scaling 15lb whilst fishing a North Devon rock mark with peeler crab. Smoothound have been a regular feature of Autumn fishing in recent season with fish caught right into the winter months.

Flounder Fishing on the up

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David Jenkins caught this fine 1lb 13oz flounder from the Taw estuary. The recent flood conditions will have flushed some of the crabs out of the estuary increasing the chance of catching the humble flounder a favourite species of Barnstaple’s anglers for many years.