Unlocking the mystery of the eel

Unlocking the mystery of the eel

Wistlandpound Reservoir was created in an enduring feat of engineering by building a clay core dam  across Bratton Stream during the late 1950’s. It supplies water to a large area of North Devon and has become a popular area for walkers and is used by the Calvert Trust to provide adventure holidays for disabled adults and children. The lake is managed by The South West Lakes Trust who also control angling at the venue which has a long history as a trout fishery.

My good friend Steve Dawe is a keen eel angler and member of the National Anguilla Club and we got talking about waters that contain eels and in particular large eels. I recalled how twenty or more years ago eels had become trapped in the inlet of the local water works and that these eels were of a good size.

Wistlandpound had never to our knowledge been fished for eels and it is a well-known fact amongst eel anglers that venues that have not been fished and have limited access for eels can hold the eels of dreams. The European eel has been known to live to over 100 years so it is possible that any eels trapped within Wistlandpound when the dam was constructed could still be present.

Steve and I spoke with Ben Smeeth who is head of angling at SWLT and after due consideration Ben agreed to an exploratory session to investigate the lakes eel potential.

Steves credentials as an eel angler are well documented so it was a welcome opportunity for me to join Steve and learn more about how to catch specimen eels. Whilst I have caught many eels over the years I have never caught a specimen of over 3lb and this target is now firmly in my sights.

Eventually in mid-June I met up with Steve and struggled to the banks of a depleted Wistlandpound with an array of tackle, bivvies’ and provisions. The weather forecast was a little ominous with a weather warning in place for thunderstorms and possible flash floods! This did little to dent our enthusiasm as eels are reported to become  more active during thunderstorms.

With the reservoir at around 60% capacity we had a good choice of accessible bank and selected a swim that gave access to deep water.

Steve gave me useful advice on the rigs to use and how to mount the small dead-baits to give a good chance of hooking an eel. Fortunately, we arrived before the rain and managed to get set up before it arrived in spectacular fashion accompanied by a very long resounding  rumble of thunder.

The rain beat down on our shelters and I looked out the rods hoping that a run would not come at this time. After a couple of hour’s, the rain eventually eased and we brewed a hot drink and began chatting about fish and fishing.

Suddenly Steve’s alarm burst into life and he was at his rod in expectation. To our disappointment he failed to connect and reeled in to find that his bait was gone.

We didn’t have long to wait though for within minutes my alarm sounded and I hoked into the culprit. It was no eel but a stunning wild brown trout of around 1lb 8oz.

Within half an hour Steve was in action again and connected this time to bring to the net a stunning wild brown trout that must have been over 3lb. I wondered just how big these wild browns grow to within the lake. I suspect there are a few surprises as there is now an abundance of silvery rudd residing in the lake perfect prey the lakes wild browns to grow to a large size.

Recent seasons have unfortunately been blighted by an abundance of thick green algae making fly Fishing difficult at times. Whilst trout are no longer stocked into the reservoir there is a good head of wild brown trout present and I am sure that Fly Fishing during the autumn could produce the goods as these large browns feed on the lakes abundant fry.

As the evening descended Steve and I talked extensively about our fishing lives and the many places  that we have visited and plan to perhaps visit in the future.

As we chatted we frequently cast our eyes upon the rods perched beside the lake their tips pointing into the green water. As the light faded expectation grew as this was surely the eels meal time?

After last hot drinks we both retired to our shelters to catch some sleep. Occasionally an alarm would give a single bleep and I would tense in anticipation. On one occasion I looked out to see a shadow flit away from the rods, an inquisitive fox I believe.

Just before light some type of bird gave a repeated cry that echoed around the lake in a strange almost stereo like mode. I spoke to Steve later who thought it could have been a type of hawk. Thinking back, I should have recorded it on my phone.

I snoozed intermittently as a grey and misty day dawned. I took a look at the weather forecast that told of heavy rain from 8.00am. The rods remained poised at the waters edge but by now our expectations of catching the mysterious eel had faded. After a rushed brew and breakfast we packed away our gear to escape before the rain. The question remains unanswered for now. The problem is that life is short and big eels can take time to find.

Fortunately there are plenty of other SWLT waters that have proven big eel potential. Upper Tamar lake, Lower Tamar, Melbury and Jennets all hold eels of over 4lb with far bigger eels likely to be lurking in the mysterious depths.

Childhood Streams – By Ross Stanway

Many thanks to Ross Stanway who produced this enchanting piece for North Devon Angling News. I know that there are many who will read this and recall their own days beside childhood streams. The West Country is criss-crossed by these fascinating streams that have seen many hundreds of anglers born. The piece is illustrated with more of Ross’s stunning illustrations available via his facebook page https://www.facebook.com/RossStanwayMarineArt/

Bulldog – Fly Fishing

Bulldog fishery has reopened after a winter break and offers some fine sport.

Ross Prior from Barnstaple took this double figure Brownie and bagged out with a 5 fish ticket for 19lb 6oz.

Fish tickets are 4 for £30.00, and 5 for £35.00, catch and release for £20.00/ day. Should anyone bag out and wish to carry on fishing its £5.00 with barbless hooks. All brownies to be returned, this allows other anglers the experience of catching double figured Brownies.

Fishery open dawn till dusk, days’ notice required for booking. Contact Nigel Early on 07767492800

South Molton Anglers Visit Bratton Water

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I joined several members of South Molton Angling Club on a mild misty autumn morning at Bratton Water. Conditions were ideal for trout fishing and all members completed their three fish bags before the close of the competition. The water was gin clear and small imitative patterns resulted in the quickest full bags. The best trout caught was a stunning brown trout of 3lb 15oz that fell to my rod on just the second cast of the morning. Roger Bray tempted the best rainbow of 3lb. All fish fought hard and were in superb condition.

This picturesque and sheltered  water should offer great sport in the coming months as autumn hues tint the wooded valley. Dry flies can work well right through the autumn with some stunning browns caught each season.

Autumn gold and a fading season

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

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

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

WELCOME SUMMER RAIN

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As I write this rain is beating down and I am optimistic that the long summer drought is well and truly over. Whilst many will be grumbling about the wet summer we have not in truth had much rain so far certainly not enough to bring the rivers up and encourage good numbers of salmon and sea trout into the rivers. Sea trout wise it has not been as bad as last year and a few salmon have trickled in. Bob Lewington fished on the Weir Marsh and Brightly Beats of the Taw and was rewarded with fine salmon of 9lb. A few salmon have also been tempted on the River East Lyn.

( Below) Chay Bloggis has landed a 7lb fresh run salmon from  the middle Taw on  a Stoats Tail, variant.

The cooler weather is also welcomed by Stillwater Trout Fisheries where the trout do not react well do extra hot conditions.

Pete Tyjas was rewarded whilst searching for silver on the river catching a superb brown trout.

Pete Tyjas “We’ve been hitting the river pretty hard hoping that any small lift might bring some salmon up. Despite our efforts nothing has materialised as yet.

Emma and I popped down this morning just in case and while she fished a pool for salmon I rigged up a single handed rod and decided I’d pull a streamer. At first I thought I’d hooked a grilse but it turned out to be a trout, the sort that I have only really dreamt about catching in Devon. I’m pleased Emma had a salmon net!

I’d love to say that it were perfect conditions for a heavy hatch and rising fish but it wasn’t and I just used what I had to hand.

Perhaps this method isn’t for for the purists but I don’t think I’d bump into a fish like this other than late at night or during a good hatch of mays. Happy? Just a little, sometimes your dreams do come true.”

Tales from the River Bank

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The areas rivers are already at summer levels bringing concern amongst salmon anglers that we could be in for a repeat of last year’s disastrous season when rivers ran low for most of the fishing year. A brief rise last week after localised rain encouraged at least one fish into the Taw with Bob Lewington tempting a fresh run grilse of 6lb from the Weir Marsh and Brightly Beats. There are positive stories from the Taw and Torridge in that the brown trout fishing has been excellent with wild trout to over 1lb caught on Half Moon Beats of the Torridge. Anglers have also caught and returned good numbers of silver smolts on their way back to the sea a sign that all is not doom and gloom.

With salmon and sea trout scarce, I contacted Snowbee Ambassador Jeff Pearce and suggested an evening fishing the middle Torridge for wild brown trout. Jeff was keen to visit a new stretch of water and I picked him up whilst the sun was still high in the sky.

Arriving at the river the lack of recent rain was apparent with the river running very low. When I say there has been a lack of rain this not entirely true as localised heavy showers had brought a short spate the previous week bringing the level up three feet. As is often the case in recent years the dirty river dropped very quickly as a combination of dry ground and thirsty trees mopped up the welcome water.

Despite its subdued and sedate flow rate the river and its surroundings looked resplendent in its late spring flourish of vivid life and colour.

I expected to see plenty of trout rising as fly life seemed abundant with insects flitting above the water illuminated by the slowly sinking sun. We walked to the top of the beat discussing the various holding pools as we passed them. Each pool held its memories and I enjoyed recounting stories of salmon and sea trout caught during previous seasons.

I had tied a small grey duster dry fly to my light tippet and started to wade carefully up a long glide. I cast the fly to likely spots as I scanned the water for signs of feeding trout.

A splashy rise twenty yards upstream raised expectations and I waded stealthily to get within range.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Pearce
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Pearce
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Pearce

After a couple of casts there came that most delightful of moments as the waters surface was broken as the  dry fly was taken in a sublime moment of deception. A flick of the wrist set the tiny hook and the water bulged, the rod flexed and line was ripped through the rings as I was forced to give a little line. A twelve ounce wild brown trout gives a pleasing account on a three weight rod. Jeff was soon at hand to capture the moment and commented that such a fish could be the best of the season.

I fished on for a while rising a couple of more trout that came adrift after a few moments. Fishing the upstream dry fly to rising fish is perhaps as close as one can get to the true essence of the hunter fisher. This searching and seeking is so different to the trapping mindset of the static bait fisher.

Don’t get me wrong I am not setting out one type of fishing as superior to another just highlighting the contrasting approach. Non anglers find it difficult to contemplate upon the diverse nature of angling. Why we need so many rods, reels, lines and tackles.

I am in danger of wondering into complex waters so to return to the night in question. Jeff was fishing a slower section further down and had found several trout sipping flies from the surface. I watched him place his fly delicately upon the water and hoped to see him connect. As I turned to walk away down-river I heard a  triumphant exclamation. The Snowbee Prestige G-XS Graphene Fly Rod ( Matched with a Thistledown 2 Wt line) was well bent as a good trout battled gamely on the gossamer thin line. After a few anxious moments a delighted Jeff gazed at his prize in the rubber meshed net. A pristine wild brown trout that would probably weigh close to 1lb 8oz. A splendid prize that was twice the size of  the trout I had returned a few minutes earlier.

Jeff held the fish close to the water at all times lifting it only momentarily from its watery home to record a pleasing image to take away. It would be difficult to surpass this success and as the sun sank the temperature dropped and we both changed over to nymphs and spider patterns fished down and across.

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Pearce
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Pearce

This style of fishing is less demanding than the upstream dry fly and allows the attention to wonder slightly absorbing the sights and sounds of the river and its banks. The electric blue flash of a kingfisher, the yellow wagtails, the handsome cock pheasants and the lively brood of beeping ducklings all part of the rich scene.

We both enjoyed success with hard fighting trout tempted as the light faded. Hopefully as summer arrives and a little rain the brownies sea run brethren will provide some more exciting sport.

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Pearce