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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Dan Spearman ended 2018 in style landing his first double figure brown trout on New Years Eve after many years trying and coming close on several occasions with browns to over 9lb. Fishing at Bulldog Fisherys catch and release specimen trout lake with his young son Rex they enjoyed qaulity fishing landing several trout including Dan’s double figure brown.
Bulldog s owner Nigel Early can be contacted on 447767492800 A catch and release ticket is £20.00.
Twenty Five of Blakewell Fisheries regular anglers attended the fisheries popular Christmas Competition where they enjoyed an unseasonably mild winters day with cloudy Skies that should have been ideal for trout fishing. Those anglers prepared to persevere and try different flies enjoyed a successful days fishing with six anglers taking their six fish limits. Small dark flies proved to be most effective with black and green combinations proving most productive.
The winner of the competition was Paul Grisley who banked six trout for 15lb 8oz. In runner up spot was Graham Turner with six for 13lb 10oz and in third Andy Facey with six for 13lb 5oz. In forth place was John Buxton with six for 12lb 7oz.
The competition was punctuated by a delicious chilli con carne meal followed by mulled wine and mince pies. John and Richard Nickel thanked all competitors for their valuable support following a difficult summer season when many thousands of pounds worth of prime quality stock fish were lost as a result of exceptionally high temperatures. They talked of ambitious plans for the coming season with bank side improvements, weed cutting and of course every endeavour to ensure the fisheries stock fish are of the highest quality as the season progresses.
(Below) Small dark flies like this Black and peacock variant proved successful.
The coming weeks should see some excellent fishing with several stunning big brown trout stocked.
(Above) Jamie Walden is the resident fishing coach at Bratton Water and put his angling skills to good use during a session at the venue banking five superb brown trout the best this stunning specimen of 10lb. All the trout were tempted using a small black bead headed hares ear nymph. The specimen brown is believed to be a wild trout that has grown on feeding on the rich food present in the lake that boasts crystal clear water where small imitative patterns often work well for brown trout. Jamie gave tuition to a group of four first time trout anglers during the weekend and guided them to success in hot sunny condition with the novices landing nine trout between them.
Jamie offer fly fishing tuition at Bratton Water and at Little Warham Fishery he can be contacted on 01837682870.
Dennis Toleman won Triple Hook Clubs latest Fly Fishing Match at Bratton Water with a four fish bag of rainbows totaling 9lb 8oz. John Vaughan was runner up with four fish for 8lb 7oz and Robbie Hancock third with four for 7lb 4oz.
John fished just off the bottom with orange booby whilst Dennis fished a little black Montana and a little orange blob. Rob fished a black and yellow lure.
The River Taw Fisheries Associations latest newsletter is an informative read and I must give special thanks to their Chairman Alex Gibson for permitting me to reproduce it here on North Devon Angling News.
The season got off to a poor start. We lost the first six weeks because of freezing weather and then a number of large spates. As the river settled few salmon were caught and sea trout were late to arrive. By the end of May only about 15 salmon and the same number of sea trout had been caught. We must hope that
our migratory fish are simply a month or so late like everything else in the countryside this year.
Last season was mixed – quite good for salmon fishermen, but very poor for those who target sea trout. The beat survey showed 286 salmon and 214 sea trout. (2016 numbers: 185 salmon and 302 sea trout.) This is the first time that I can remember sea trout numbers being below salmon numbers. No-one can come up with a plausible explanation or, perhaps more importantly, a remedy. We do know that sea trout numbers can fluctuate quite dramatically and we must hope for a bounce back. The EA rod catch numbers for 2017 were 243 salmon (88% returned) and 193 sea trout (81% returned). Brown trout fishing had another good year with about 2,300 fish caught, roughly the same as 2016 even though conditions were less favourable.
Members kindly took part in the EA Salmon & Sea Trout Consultation and will have heard about the proposed National Protection Byelaws that should become effective next year if all goes to plan. For us this will mean an end to salmon and sea trout netting in the Taw/Torridge estuary and a requirement on us to reach and maintain a catch and release rate for salmon of at least 90% or face the imposition of 100% C&R. We have never reached 90%, so all fishermen will have to apply themselves. Those who rent out fishing and those who invite guests to fish their beat will need to get the message across. It is unfortunate that our River Taw Byelaws with their out-dated bag limits convey the wrong message.
The IFCA netting byelaws were finally approved and as a result the salmon and sea trout by-catch in our estuary is now a thing of the past. Everyone should be congratulated for their efforts during a long and complicated campaign.
Two major water quality problems are taking much of the Committee’s time at the moment; siltation and sewage treatment works (STWs). The articles later in the Newsletter by Mark Lloyd and Bill Beaumont directly address the first of these problems. Laurence Couldrick’s article addresses the second.
Everyone who fishes our river, with the exception perhaps of those who fish the Bray, will have noticed a huge increase in the amount of silt in the river. The deterioration of the Mole is particularly worrisome. The growing of winter maize is the main culprit. The run-off from fields is dramatic, particularly when combined with a very wet winter and spring. As a non-farmer I am amazed that some farmers are so uncaring about their top-soil. It is in a real sense their equity. There are three anaerobic biodigestors on the Taw system and they have an enormous appetite for maize. Not only that, but they operate on an owner self- monitored basis. If anything should go wrong there will be a major pollution incident with fish kills, as happened recently on a tributary of the Tamar. We can do no more than keep our fingers crossed.
As for STWs, we have at least 35 on the Taw catchment. All of them out-flow into our river and all of them belong to South West Water. The question is – how many are fit for purpose today and how many will be fit for purpose tomorrow as more and more houses are built in the towns and villages of our catchment? We are applying as much pressure as we can on SWW, working with like-minded organisations including Angling Trust and South West Rivers Trust. We have to encourage SWW to do the right amount of maintenance and investment. Like biodigestors, STWs are also owner self-monitored, a term that does not inspire confidence. We are trying to establish what the EA’s overseeing role is and how actively they are fulfilling it.
Northam Landfill continues to lurk in the background with 650,000 cubic metres of waste in danger of being exposed to the Taw/Torridge estuary. Strorms last winter ate away at the Burrows and brought the problem into greater focus. We are adding our voice to those keen for proper protective action to be taken.
River improvement work was carried out on the Little Dart and its tributary, the Sturcombe, on a match-funded basis between RTFA an
WRT. 13 debris dams were cleared and 17 spawning gravel sites cleaned. Selective coppicing and wood debris enhancement work was carried out over about 3km of bank. This work will continue this year. In our river improvement plans there will be an emphasis generally on gravel cleaning. Bill Beaumont’s article explains why. Any change in farming practice to reduce siltation will take time and is not within our control. Gravel cleaning has an immediate effect and we do have control over it.
This year the EA will carry out its 6-yearly juvenile survey at 67 sites. To enable us to “read” the river effectively and prioritise river work we need to find a way to finance the WRT’s fry index surveys in the intermediate years. Each of these surveys cost about £8,500. Some financing ideas are being worked on.
The Taw has lagged behind other rivers in providing volunteers for the Riverfly Partnership. This season we are making a big effort to redress this situation. 8 potential volunteers have been identified for training. Over time their surveys will add to our knowledge of the water quality and general health of the Taw.
I am concerned about what I perceive as a lack of fishing effort on the river, especially since we have lost the early part of the season to the weather and there is always the threat of drought conditions as we move into summer. Rod catch numbers are an important indicator of the health of a river and its fish stocks. So please, when the river is fishable get out there and fish.
A final point. Please have a careful read of Roger Furniss’s article. Before long we may need to review our constitution which has a rather old-fashioned look about it.
Hon. Treasurer’s Report
The Association continues to work to improve the Taw catchment and last season made two donations, £3,870 and £5,000, on a match-funded basis with WRT for river improvement projects on the Little Dart.. We will be committing to further projects next season, again with WRT on a match-funded basis.
Currently our own cash resources total almost £14,000 and we also have an additional £23,000 held to our account at WRT. This is a comfortable position, but river improvement work is expensive and we must continue to seek additional funding sources
RTFA held another very successful AGM and auction at Highbullen Hotel in March. Following on from the success of last year, the auction this year raised a total of £4,280, a very important boost to RTFA funds. Thanks must be given to those who donated auction lots and to those who organised the auction and its delivery.
Subscriptions & Membership
Subscriptions are due in April and I am pleased to report that we are now receiving the majority of subs via standing order. This is good news. A total of £3,640 has been collected. May I remind you all that the RTFA bank details for setting up a standing order can be found on our website under the heading Membership, along with
application forms for new members. New members are asked to complete an application form and send it to me for our records, but at the same time please set up your standing order and inform me when you have done so.
Recruitment continues. We have 5 new members this year and I am sure this figure will increase as the season progresses.
Full Members (Riparian Owners) £35.00 Associate Members £15.00
Raising money requires hard work and commitment. I would like to thank you for your continued support.
River Taw Fisheries Association AGM Friday 22nd March 2019
The Environment Agency (EA)
It was good to speak to so many of you at the AGM in March. As regards Fisheries Enforcement Officer numbers in Devon we have remained the same as last year, but the addition of the fully warranted part time officers has been of great benefit. In line with all Enforcement Agencies we operate an intelligence- led approach to enforcement, so you all have an important role, acting as eyes and ears for your river. Please continue to report any suspected illegal fishing activities to the EA’s 24 hour hotline – 0800 80 70 60. The more intelligence we have, the more effective we can be on your behalf. Pollution incidents can also be logged on this number. For non-urgent or general fisheries information please feel free to email me.
So far this season I have not had any reports of diseased salmon in the Taw which is good news. Again please update me if you do see any diseased fish.
Bio-security is of great importance for river users to prevent the transfer of invasive aquatic species. Please adopt the “Check, Clean, Dry” approach with all your fishing equipment particularly if you fish on a variety of different waters. For more information go to www.nonnativespecies.org/checkcleandry
I mentioned at the AGM that this summer, weather permitting, we will be carrying out the full Taw catchment electro- fishing programme at 67 sites. This should give a comprehensive review of the current juvenile stock status in the catchment.
About the state of the river and for fishing reports visit the River Taw Fisheries Association Web Site on
and click on Current News and Webcams & Gauges
Save our soils to rescue our rivers
Over the past 60 years, we’ve seen a dramatic change in farming practices and land use choices, driven principally by
high intensity production of cheap food and European subsidies. This has led to the soils on which we depend forfood throughout England and Wales becoming damaged and eroded, causing widespread pollution and flooding. Agriculture is now responsible for the highest number of serious pollution incidents of any sector and is the main reason why only 14% of rivers are in good health.
Bare fields of maize, stubble turnips, over-grazed pasture, slurry spreading and winter-wheat have all led to vast amounts of soil, nutrients and water washing off the land into rivers and lakes. This has a disastrous impact on aquatic wildlife because it smothers insects and fish eggs in gravels on river beds and leads to algal blooms that deplete oxygen in the water. It also heaps costs on the rest of society. Government research estimates the costs of poorly-managed soil to be £1.2 billion each year, or £23 million a week. We are losing soil at around ten times the rate that it is being produced, which is fundamentally unsustainable.
By contrast, healthy soils have high organic matter content, a strong, porous structure and a wide range of soil organisms including worms, fungi and bacteria that work symbiotically with plants to produce more nutritious food and lock up carbon underground. They allow free percolation of water to replenish groundwater storage and keep rivers flowing in summer droughts.
Of course we have to keep on farming, but we do need to change farm practices significantly to save our soils and rescue our rivers for future generations. Simple measures like minimising soil disturbance, sowing rows across the slope, planting follow-on crops to avoid bare fields, reducing stocking densities and slurry quantities can all make a dramatic difference. In high-risk areas (probably less than 10% of the area of a catchment) land-use change will be needed, such as switching from arable to pasture or pasture to woodland.
There have been initiatives such as Catchment Sensitive Farming which have offered advice to farmers and land managers. These have been a step in the right direction, but have largely failed at a strategic scale. Too often they’ve worked with farmers who are most receptive to change, rather than those who are causing the biggest problems. Uncertainty about budgets, inappropriate targets and a lack of clear objectives has led to high staff turnover and an incoherent approach.
Most importantly, advice hasn’t been backed up by a credible enforcement regime. The government has directed the Environment Agency and Rural Payments Agency to take a light touch approach to enforcement and has slashed
budgets to a point where the EA is now able to visit fewer than 1% of farms each year. The many farmers who are following the rules are exasperated to see their neighbours cutting corners and getting away with it.
The government has at last recognised these strategic failures, and it is running a consultation about the future of farming in advance of an agriculture bill. The Angling Trust, WWF and The Rivers Trust have teamed up to write a report setting out a pathway towards a more sustainable future for land and water.
Achieving fundamental change across more than 100,000 farms in England and Wales will require a co-ordinated approach with four complementary measures:
Alignment to a clear set of objectives and planning process in each catchment by all relevant organisations, co-ordinated by the Catchment Based Approach network;
Firm but fair enforcement by the Environment Agency of existing and new regulations to outlaw excessive soil erosion, water run-off and pollution;
Local, well-trained, expert advisors providing free, advice targeted at the higher risk landowners;
Targeted incentives to enable land use change in high risk areas of the catchment (probably less than 10% of land area).
The Government intends to phase out direct payments to farmers and move to a new system where public money requires delivery of public benefits. Our report estimates that to reimburse farmers fully for changing land-use in England would cost less than £500m per year out of the £2.3 billion subsidies currently paid in England and Wales.
We estimate that enforcement and advice will cost just £10 million a year – a fraction of the cost to society of continuing with our current approach. This is a no-brainer of epic proportions that could transform the state of our natural environment rapidly and ensure that we have food and water for the next generation.
Fishing Hotels on the Taw and Mole
The Highbullen Hotel, Chittlehamholt The Fox and Hounds Hotel, Eggesford The Rising Sun Inn, Umberleigh
Chief Executive, Angling Trust
Tel: 01769 540561 01769 580345 01769 560447
Salmon spawning gravels in the chalk streams
of Southern England and their impact on egg survival.
In recent years declines in Atlantic salmon numbers and catches have given cause for concern in many of the southern chalk rivers. Several potential causes for such changes have been suggested, including factors operative in both the marine and freshwater phases of the life of the salmon. There is, however, a strong viewpoint that problems at the early freshwater stages could be of major significance.
Whilst the composition and quality of salmon spawning areas have been reasonably well studied in North America, in the UK there have been very few published investigations in the UK on gravel composition that is suitable for Atlantic salmon.
Over most of the stream beds of the chalk rivers of Southern England, the gaps between the larger gravels are filled by finer sediments and in many places, there is an overlying blanket of sand or silt, often associated with growths of aquatic plants. There is a seasonal cycle of low-flow (spring/summer) sediment deposition followed by high-flow (autumn/winter) wash out. In general, by the time that salmon spawn (normally December onwards), the shallower, faster flowing reaches of river which they select for redd construction will have been swept free of fine sediment by the seasonal increases in discharge. In addition, the female fish disturb the gravel and, in the process, winnow away clogging interstitial material. In normal conditions this redd construction creates an open structure which persists for sufficient time to permit adequate irrigation of the egg pockets by flowing, oxygenated water, thus promoting egg development and, ultimately, enabling emergence of fry If, however, the flushing flows are inadequate or conversely, if the sediment load is greatly increased, it may be that the areas of suitable spawning gravel are greatly reduced or degraded. In these situations, if the female fish are unable to loosen, excavate and/or winnow redds or the interstices of redds become blocked by fine particles during development and prior to emergence, then the spawning will be a partial or complete failure. In the case of blockage of interstices during development, it is known that when fine (less than 2 mm) sediment is more than 20% by weight and/or less than 1 mm sediment is more than 15% by weight, reduced survival is likely.
Several factors are known to contribute to increases in fine sediment loading of streams. Impacts from abstraction of water, reduced weed growth, forestry operations, enhanced erosion of the land surface, aquaculture e.g. discharge from fish farms and cress beds, poor agricultural practice, etc. are all likely to have detrimental effects on the river’s fine sediment load. Recent changes in agricultural practices are causing particular concern, increased growing of maize as a silage or biofuel crop (a 2,500% increase in acreage over
the last 40 years) and intensification of livestock farming are known causes of increased sediment loads entering rivers.
Several fisheries have historically cleaned areas of gravel where salmonids are known to spawn. With evidence increasingly suggesting that siltation of spawning gravels may be a significant cause in the widespread decline in salmon numbers, (Solomon 1992, Scott and Beaumont 1993) there is now a resurgence of interest in the natural composition and the impacts of cleaning of salmon spawning gravels.
To establish the structure of potential spawning gravels in southern England, a gravel composition survey of sites on the rivers Hampshire Avon, Wylye, Nadder, Dorset Frome and Piddle was carried out. The objective of the study was to compare conditions between and within rivers, to determine the particle size composition of spawning gravels, and to consider the implications of the results obtained on likely salmon spawning success.
To obtain detailed information on gravel bed structure, bed samples need to be collected, as far as is possible, in an undisturbed state. To do this freeze cores were taken of the stream bed. A copper pipe was inserted into the riverbed and 2 litres of liquid nitrogen was gradually poured into the pipe over
a 5-10 min period. The pipe with frozen attached sediment was then withdrawn and laid on a tray to thaw. The tray was partitioned transversely into 100 mm sections to permit depth stratification of the sample.
Gravel cores were collected from the rivers during March, a period when salmonid eggs and alevins would still be present in the gravel and hence the data would be applicable to their survival. Cores were taken either from areas of known salmon spawning activity or from areas where salmon were known to have spawned in previous years but actual redds were avoided. In all cases the extreme margins of the river were avoided.
Sediment analysis was carried out by washing the gravel through a succession of sieves. Sand indices were calculated for all sites. This index looks at the ratio of coarse to fine sand in a sample and relates it to the probability of a salmon egg surviving to emergence. For this study particle size categories of 2.0 mm to 0.5 mm and 0.5 mm to 0.063 mm have been used for the coarse and fine sand respectively.
The study showed that from the point of view of salmon spawning conditions, all the chalk streams studied had Sand Indices above levels at which reduced emergence of salmon fry may be expected to occur, with even the best river gravels in
the region having reduced emergence expectations. Thus, the level of fines within
the southern chalk streams may be a contributing factor in the recent reduction in numbers of salmon within these rivers.
Any excess of sediment (particularly in late winter-early spring) could further affect hatching potential and perhaps even prevent successful emergence of salmon.
Although a salmon may spawn successfully in certain types of gravel, it does not follow that the gravel will give good survival rates for the eggs and alevins. Studies have shown that when salmon spawn in gravel with a high percentage of fine material present, egg survival was below 10% compared with around 60% in good gravels.
Further studies were carried out on effectiveness of gravel cleaning. This process uses water jets to flush the fine sediment out of the gravel to allow good survival of the eggs. This management was found to be both effective at increasing egg survival, giving an 8-fold improvement in egg survival, and for the effectiveness to last at least two years.
Of course, the quantity and quality of spawning gravels are only two factors in the complex life history of the salmon. However, unlike problems that occur in the marine environment, mitigating measures can be taken to improve gravel condition and alleviate this aspect of the problems that beset these keystone species.
W. R. C. Beaumont
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust
Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT)
Our ever changing catchments and the sewage treatment problem.
Many of the rivers and streams in the West Country fail the standards set by the EU Water Framework Directive due at least in part to high phosphate levels entering the water. Modelling, mapping and monitoring of a river usually highlight three sources: farming, both point source from slurry and manure stores but also
diffuse, from across the land and riverbanks; septic tanks from small hamlets and individual properties and sewage treatment works (STWs). Apportionment studies from across the region show that the split between the three is locally variable, but in general around 50%, plus or minus 20%, is from agriculture and the balance from sewage treatment.
As you know Westcountry Rivers Trust has worked with farmers over the years to try to reduce agricultural loadings. This is having some impact where we can
secure infrastructure grants and improvements in land management. In some of our catchments we have seen reductions in nutrient loadings and increases in invertebrates and fish populations, but that still leaves the other side of the problem, namely sewage treatment.
Over the years our small rural sewage treatment works have been pushed outside their original design specifications as increasing population has led to increased housing development. This, coupled with changing weather patterns, misconnections, where clean roof and road water is getting into the sewerage system and a reduction in the permeability of our towns and gardens as people pave over their land, is reducing STWs capacity to treat waste. It is therefore not surprising that the effectiveness of individual STWs is called into question in terms of their contribution to phosphate loading within our rivers. This is in addition to other chemicals and pollutants that may make it through the treatment process.
At the Trust we have always tried to operate through evidence and consensus, which is why we are gathering more and more data on our
rivers in order to pinpoint the problems and provide sufficient data to
hold polluters to account. This is why we have also set up citizen
science programmes and invested in monitoring kit that can be deployed upstream and downstream of any problem area. These efforts have allowed us to highlight the problems as well as develop solutions. This does not always mean the best option is the end of pipe solution of a multi-million pound facility, although in places with significant development this is exactly what is required. The solution needs to be defined by the scale of the problem in relation to the rest of the river.
An alternative option that exists alongside formal treatment is the creation of constructed wetlands to take final discharges. This is currently being used successfully in the east of England. Where space permits this option has been shown to be effective, but correct design is essential. Another option is to work with the communities that use the STWs to prevent clean water getting into sewage systems, to hold back flood water and stop it overwhelming these systems and to reduce the amount of phosphate products used by householders. The final option involves reducing other loadings to bring the total loadings in an area under the legal limit. Whatever option is taken though, there needs to be an increased openness and honesty led by community monitoring, if we are to truly deal with these failures on our rivers.
CEO, Westcountry Rivers Trust
CATCHING THE ENIGMATIC TAW SEA TROUT
The sea trout is often regarded as an enigmatic fish by anglers. It
is a very close cousin to the Atlantic Salmon and appears to have
a similar lifestyle. The sea trout is in reality a sea-run brown trout
that starts its life in freshwater before it smolts and descends to
the sea in the May of each year. However, in truth we know far
less about the sea trout than we do about salmon. No one really knows where these juvenile fish go to feed and grow. The accepted wisdom is that they chase shrimp, sand eels and capelin in waters around the coasts of the Celtic Sea and grow quickly before returning to the river of their birth in the years that follow. They are by nature a rather secretive fish, running the rivers in the dark hours and the best time to catch them on the fly is probably at night when they are up on the fin and at their most active.
Across Devon and Cornwall the sea trout is colloquially termed a “peal”. On the Taw the smaller fish that appear in large numbers in June, July and August are called “school peal” or “harvest peal” and the bigger fish in the 2 to 6 pound bracket are “peal” or “salmon-peal” in old parlance. Any fish above the 6 pound mark is termed a “pug”, a term coined by the old salmon estuary netsmen to describe these deep and powerfully built fish. If you are lucky or skilful enough catch a 6 pounder or anything bigger, then you will have done well because it’s a very good fish indeed. The Taw regularly produces big sea trout; the biggest in recent years caught by a salmon angler on the main stem was over 16 pounds – a monster. A big fresh August hen of over 14 pounds was also caught on the Mole in 2016, but every year double figure fish are taken and a good smattering of 7- 9 pounders regularly succumb to night anglers.
So how do you go about finding a taking sea trout on the Taw system? Well the first thing to realise is that the fish start to run the river far earlier than most people imagine. Some of the big fish start to appear in late April and continue to trickle into the system
thoughout May. These fish often run hard and can be found well up on the Upper Taw and Mole. I have seen sea liced peal caught at night at Wampford Bridge on the Mole in the second week of May. On the Taw night fishing operations normally commence in earnest at the beginning of June. The runs of fish really start to build and by the third week of June good numbers of peal will be present throughout the main stem and well above the junction. Night time temperatures will have warmed and stabilised and with a bit of luck, warm and gentle South Westerlies will blow, thus encouraging the fish to be in a taking mood. Rather like salmon, the truth is that fresh run fish will more readily take the fly than the
older residents. But fishing a fining river after a small summer spate will pep things up and often produce great results.
Sea trout will lie up in sheltered water and deep shaded pools during the day, but will become more active as the light values change at dusk. When the river is low, anglers fishing at night will often hear fish in the riffles as they move from pool to pool. Sometimes these new arrivals will settle in a pool and then become ready takers. At times you can intercept running fish at the heads of the pools but more of that later. It is generally accepted that in settled conditions as the darkness deepens and night draws in the peal will become more active. Some will decide to run upstream, but those that have stopped to rest will often move from their daytime hiding places to take up positions in the deeper glides and pool tails. They will often lie together as a loose shoal or you may find a smattering of individuals distributed through the pool, but when there is a bright moon peal will seek the shelter of the gloom provided by overhanging trees and bankside vegetation. When conditions are good you will often see or hear peal swirling and moving or jumping with a very distinctive “ker-plosh”. An encouraging sound that is always good for morale.
Let’s talk a little about tackle, flies and tactics. Given that the Taw is essentially fly only, you’ll need a nine and a half to ten foot fly rod rated AFTM 6 or 7. A good quality fly reel with a properly working drag and floating line to match. A good reservoir or still water trout set up will suffice admirably.
Depending on your level of expertise or approach you may want to pack a couple of medium or fast sink versi-tips or poly-leaders if you should wish to fish deep in the pots later in the night. Use10lb BS leaders of 9 to 10 feet in length – anything lighter and you are asking for trouble. Peal at night aren’t generally line shy. You should aim to travel light, there is no need to festoon yourself with vests, pockets and gismos. Wear chest waders if you can because they will allow you to wade deep and manoeuvre in the pool when required. Wear a warm jacket with big pockets into which you can deposit licence, fly boxes, leader material, nylon clippers, spare torch et al. Take a net – a small Gye net or other suitable alternative is a must. A hat with a peak or wide brim helps and a modern LED powered head torch is essential; make sure it has a red-light function. By turning away from the river, you can use the red light to change flies and undo the inevitable tangles and most importantly the red light won’t spook the fish and ruin your night vision. Never, ever, shine a white light on a pool at night – you will kill the fishing.
Many anglers are happy to stick with the more traditional fly patterns such as Silver Invicta or Butcher and so on, but these days many anglers also fish modern flies that are bigger by comparison
and of substantially different appearance. I have real confidence fishing slimly tied Black and Silver Snakes, Waddingtons or tubes of anything between an inch and two inches in length on the point. There are those who say that fishing a dropper increases the chances of tangling and they are probably right. However, there are a lot of anglers who do fish a dropper because it works for them. My fishing friends and I use black and silver stoat’s tail and hair wing butcher variants, tied on size 6 or 8 low water salmon singles on the dropper and we catch a substantial proportion of our fish on them.
Let us assume you have secured your beat for the night. It is late June, the evening is settled, warm and there is good cloud cover. Having checked the Bye Laws the first thing to do is arrive early when it is still light, stow your kit in a safe place and conduct a recce. Stay well back from the river and Identify the pools, pool tails and glides that might hold fish. Also check those hazards that might affect your casting and those areas where a switch or roll cast might be useful. Take note of the access points and routes because the river will become a different place when darkness falls. As the dusk deepens and the bats appear you might wish to start by having a cast or two in the riffles at the heads of the pools. This is often the place to intercept running fish and there is always a chance of encountering a resident salmon in the oxygenated water. You will find that your eyes will adjust to the gloom and when the dusk deepens and all becomes a darker uniform grey, switch your fishing effort to the glides and pool tails. Make your way gently into the water and cast downstream at a forty five degree angle under the far bank, put in an appropriate mend and work your flies back across the river with a gentle series of pulls or a slow figure of eight retrieve. Fish your cast out, take a long pace and cast gain. Remember, you are searching for that taking fish and always fish right down to the very tail of a pool. Peal will often lie in amazingly shallow water at night.
In the wee small hours you may feel the river has gone dead. The peal may have stopped showing and gone down and all is quiet. This is the
time to change tactics. Put on a quick sinking poly leader and short tippet; team it with a big fly and start searching the deeper parts of the
pools. Fish the fly with a slow retrieve and concentrate on getting the fly right down. This method often delivers surprising results. However, as the eastern sky starts to lighten it will be time to switch back to the floater and concentrate on the glides and pool tails before dawn heralds the end of your fishing.
A peal will take your fly in a variety of ways. Sometimes you will feel a fish pluck at your fly, but not take. Take a step back and cast to the same place again, a fresh fish will more than likely have another go. Sometimes the pulls are savage, sometimes the fly just stops dead and sometimes the fly feels as if it has gone peculiarly light in the water. No matter, the response should be the same.
Don’t strike per say, but rather lift the rod firmly and pull down on the line in your other hand. Tighten into the fish and hopefully the fireworks will begin. The wonderfully exciting thing about night-time peal fishing is that you never know what is coming next. It could be a feisty school peal, but equally it could be an eight pounder fresh from the tide. On feeling the hook there’s a good chance that the fish will immediately take to the air and then run and then jump again. Fights can be spectacular and heart-stopping – a big peal will change direction in an inkling, so be warned – but weather the initial storm and things will calm down. Sooner or later you will be able to draw your prize into the net and with beating heart and shaking hands saviour one of angling’s great triumphs and admire one of our most enigmatic game fish – before doing it all again.
Oh and by the way, a word of warning. Once you try night- time peal angling it can become seriously addictive.
RTFA Committee Member
River Taw Fisheries Association Committee
Chairman Secretary Treasurer
Lower Taw Upper Taw
Alex Gibson George Marsh Richard Nickell
Simon Phillips John Smith Peter Tyjas
Andy Gray John Macro Chris Taylor
Associate Members’ Representative Ian Blewett*
IT Adviser Bryan Martin* Newsletter Editor Judith Kauntze* Torridge Representative Paul Ashworth*
* Non-voting Members
RTFA – FIT FOR THE FUTURE?
Alex Gibson asked me to contribute this article to your Newsletter because of concerns about whether RTFA is up to speed constitutionally. Nevertheless it is with some temerity that I write as a very new (2018) Associate Member of RTFA. This article reflects my experience gained over 14 years serving the 20 individual river
associations in the South West and as a Committee Member on the Exe, Fowey and Teign Associations. The views expressed are mine alone.
In common with most of the river associations in the South West, RTFA started life as a Riparian and Fishery Owners’ Association reflecting the direct ownership interests of its leading players. This is apparent in the membership arrangements with two different levels – Full for riparian and fishery owners and Associate for everyone else – as a new rod holder on the Taw I have joined as an Associate Member which means I pay less than for my membership of three other rivers! Does any of this matter?
When I first joined the Exe Association, RETA, its constitution was similar to the Taw’s. It had relatively few members and had been run by the same small group for many years. It changed its constitution to allow anyone with an interest in the river and its fishing to be a full member by the simple addition of the word ‘and anglers’ in its constitution which now includes To represent the interests of riparian owners and anglers of the River Exe and its tributaries. The Committee includes representatives from all parts of the river. There are now 250 individual members each paying £30 pa, many by Standing Order, plus a few corporate members paying varying amounts. The benefits of the changed constitution include:
Better representation of all anglers on the river and reflection of the socio-economic benefits of angling on the river – removal of the old ‘us and them’;
Better basis of influence on the establishment (Defra, Environment Agency, Exmoor National Park, SWW, Angling Trust, IFCA’s, etc);
Better income from a wider base;
Easier fundraising for specific projects, especially when applying for
A bigger pool of potential Committee Members;
More potential volunteers who feel fully involved – now reflected in
work on Riverfly, juvenile fish surveys, habitat and gravel improvement,
and cormorant and goosander monitoring and control;
Easier communication with the bulk of the Exe angling community.
This is not to suggest that the RTFA is not a very successful
association – its work on barrier removal and other river improvement schemes, IFCA netting byelaws, siltation and sewage treatment is testament to its success which rivals that of most associations. Indeed RETA is only now following the Taw’s lead on removing barriers to migration. However there is an increasing threat which suggests it’s time for a change – the threat to game angling, especially for salmon and sea trout, posed by the EA’s focus on regulating fishing while doing little to address the real threats to rivers, their fish and hence our fishing.
To be a credible force when dealing with this and all the other threats and to influence the debate it is important to have a strong democratic base – there are still those in power who see us as an anachronistic irrelevant group of rich owners even though our track record of caring for our rivers is in direct contrast to theirs. The continuing reduction in the EA’s ability to fulfil its statutory fisheries duties is increasing the need for us to manage our own rivers for the benefit of all anglers, not just fishery owners. Equally the interests of owners (and I am one on the Exe) are best served by the most effective river associations.
As I said in the opening I wrote this with some temerity and it is with the same temerity that I ask the question – is RTFA constitutionally fit for the future?
Former Secretary, South West Rivers Association
End of Season Gathering
The newly refurbished Rising Sun Inn at Umberleigh will be hosting an evening to mark the end of the season on Sunday, 30th September. More details to follow on the website.
To book a table and for further details, please contact
Charles O’Shea on 01769 560447
River Taw Byelaws
Salmon 1 March to 30 September Sea Trout & Brown Trout 15 March to 30 September
Salmon bag limits
Fly fishing permitted all season Spinning permitted until 31 March No other method or bait fishing permitted
No salmon to be retained before 16 June
No salmon greater than 70cms in length to be retained after 31 July
2 fish in any 24 hour period 3 fish in any 7 day period 10 fish in a season
No rod caught salmon to be sold or offered for sale
Sea Trout bag limits 5 fish in any 24 hour period 15 fish in any 7 day period
40 fish in a season Size limit 25cms
No rod caught sea trout to be sold or offered for sale Size limit 20cms
We strongly recommend
that you practice catch and release wherever you can and release all sea trout under 1lb and above 4lbs
Both the Taw and Torridge are at summer levels with little chance of fresh run salmon moving into the river. Big tides might see the odd fish trickle into the lower reaches. Low water seldom deters sea trout that are likely to move into river and move stealthily up river with night fishing the only likely approach likely to succeed. I had a couple of hours on the middle Torridge at the weekend and tempted several brown trout on small black and silver flies intended for sea trout. The best trout was a fine wild brown of well over 1lb.
There are plenty of quality wild brown trout throughout our local rivers that can give superb sport using dry fly and nymph tactics. Fishing after dark with surface lures or traditional sea trout flies could bring success with big sea trout. The Welsh rivers are heavily fished after dark and some fine sea trout are caught. I am sure that many more big sea trout would be tempted in North Devon if they were targetted at the right time.