Changing times – Time to worry?

Changing times – Time to worry?

When I started sea fishing over forty years ago many of fish we caught were killed to be weighed in at competitions, eaten or buried in the garden. Looking back what anglers did was wrong but we knew no different it was different times and there was little perception that fish stocks were dwindling. There was perhaps still a belief that god provides and that there would always be plenty more fish in the sea.

These are fortunately more enlightened times and most sea anglers practice catch and release keeping just the occasional fish for the table. It is vital that those fish we return to the water have a good chance of survival and I see more and more guidance on how to handle fish. The basics are to treat all fish with respect. Handle as little as possible and support the fish when posing for photos. Consider using circle hooks or barbless when appropriate and consider replacing trebles with singles. When weighing fish always use a purpose made weigh sling or carrier bag for smaller species. Do not dangle fish on the scales.

Coarse anglers have been returning fish to the water for the best part of a century and are in many ways ahead of the game. Weigh slings, unhooking matts and antiseptic ointments are now part of carp anglers standard kit. Rigs used are carefully designed to reduce the risk of tethering any fish that are lost.

Salmon anglers who once retained virtually every fish they caught now have to return close to 100% of the fish they catch. Salmon runs are generally on an alarming downward spiral for a multitude of reasons and it is anglers who are at the forefront of campaigns to protect the future of the species.

Please follow the following guide to good practice when releasing fish:

  • Use barbless hooks. 
  • Use a fine knotless net.
  • Use strong tackle so fish can be played out and netted as quickly as possible.
  • Always net the fish: avoid handling fish and certainly do not pick them up by the tail to weigh or photograph. 
  • Keep the fish in the water all the time: If you want to know the weight, measure the fish in the water and calculate accordingly. If you want to take a photo, do it while the fish is in the water.

Whilst there are those who seek to criticise or even ban angling on morale grounds it is frequently the anglers who are desperately trying to protect fish stocks from over fishing and habitat destruction. Perhaps it is because anglers have a direct interaction with nature by participating that they have a deep passion and love for the environment and the creatures that dwell within. I know that I am perhaps skating on thin ice here but many anglers I know have very a deep love of the countryside and the waters edge. There are of course those who leave litter, mistreat fish and show no respect for the countryside. These are unfortunately a significant minority within society as a whole.

As an angler I feel that I have a close connection with the environment both marine and countryside. Sometimes I question my deep passion for angling but it is this quest for fish that has taken me to some beautiful locations and I have seen many wonders of nature that many only see from their arm chairs on HD screens.

I have witnessed an alarming decline in our countryside in the half a century I have fished and I often fear that I am amongst a generation that has seen the tale end of anglings golden age. And perhaps if we are to believe the climate change protestors earths golden age as well?

Blakewell – Catch and Release Fishing

Times are changing in the world of Stillwater Trout Fishing with more emphasis being put on quality time at the waters edge. A few years ago, there was perhaps an obsession with catching big trout and whilst there are still fisheries that cater for the big trout angler these are now in the minority. It seems that most of today’s anglers want to catch good numbers of fish relishing the key ingredients of trout fishing.

This change in angler’s approach has resulted in an increase in catch and release or sporting tickets. Blakewell Fishery near Barnstaple has after careful consideration moved to meet this demand offering a sporting ticket that allows anglers to retain a brace of fish for the table and then continue fishing on a catch and release basis for the remainder of the day.

I joined with Snowbee Ambassador Jeff Pearce for a mornings fishing at Blakewell that fortuitously coincided with a break in the stormy weather. After a chat over coffee in the tea room we headed out on the lake to try our luck.

Walking out to the lake we took a look around and elected to fish the bay with Jeff fishing the point whilst I fished the inner bay. I elected to fish a gold head PTN on the point with a spider pattern on a dropper. I extended the line across the water and on the second cast after allowing the fly to sink I saw the point of the fly line twitch. I instinctively raised the rod whilst pulling on the line with my left hand. There came that pleasing feeling of life and resistance as a trout erupted in a flurry of spray at the end of a tight line. Whilst I was using a 5wt rod I had taken the precaution of using an 8lb tippet ensuring I could bring any fish I hooked to the net quickly ensuring the fish could be slipped back quickly. The use of light leaders when catch and release fishing should be discouraged as trout should not be played to exhaustion.

Over on the point Jeff was putting a new Snowbee Spectre Fly line through its paces with impressive results punching small imitative patterns into a stiff breeze with ease. It wasn’t long before Jeff was also into a hard fighting rainbow. The fish was held briefly above the water for a quick photo before being slipped back into the water.

The next couple of hours passed by all too quickly with several trout falling to our offerings in the clear water. In the past I have often fished for trout and been almost disappointed when I have caught my bag limit for the session. Catch and release removes that perception that some anglers have in that they must catch their bag limit.

Catch and release offers anglers the opportunity to savour time at the water’s edge at a reasonable cost. It is however imperative that care is taken to ensure that a high percentage of fish survive to perhaps grow bigger. Barbless hooks are essential, fish should be unhooked in the water whenever possible and only held briefly to capture the moment.

It is advisable to use as strong a leader as practical to ensure fish are brought to the net quickly. Fish should only be handled with wet hands and should be steadied in the water for a few moments if they show any sign of fatigue.

Those anglers who do not wish to practice catch and release can of course elect to purchase a standard five fish ticket for the same price enabling them to take home all they catch. The two options cater for the vast majority of anglers. Over the next couple of months Richard and John plan to stock Spartic trout and a number of big brown trout.

Spring is a marvellous time to be at the water’s edge as green growth signals the onset of spring. The first swallows and martins will soon be swooping low over the water feasting after their long migration from warmer climes. The trout will also be rising setting those delightful rings upon the water. A carefully placed fly will be sipped down in that delightful moment of deception to be relished by the fly fisher.

As the morning grew to a close it was time to enjoy the first BBQ of the spring. A hot sausage in a fresh bread roll was the perfect end to a great mornings fishing. Jeff took advantage of a new clearing to demonstrate the art of roll casting.

New Sporting Ticket Option at Blakewell

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Blakewell Trout Fishery have introduced a new sporting ticket that entitles the angler to retain two trout and then continue fishing on a catch and release basis for the remainder of the day. The cost of a day’s fishing is £30.00 for the catch and release option or the same for a five fish bag when fishing must cease when bag completed. This enlightened move brings the fishery in line with many other Stillwater fisheries that have adapted to a changing market. Catch and release fishing allows anglers to focus upon quality time spent at the water’s edge away from the stresses of modern society. Perhaps this reflects a move away from material gain towards the actual experience of a day in the great outdoors.

Full report on my latest visit to the water with Snowbee ambassador Jeff Pearce will follow later this week.

Jeff Pearce with a hard fighting Blakewell rainbow trout


I joined members of Wistlandpound Fly Fishing Club at Exe Valley Fishery on Sunday June 10th and with a sunny day in prospect  I wondered how hard the fishing would be as blue skies and sunshine are not always an ideal recipe for good sport. It was great to arrive and meet up with Nick Hart who manages the fishery with his wife Sue. Nick and I always have plenty to discuss and it was a while since we had last met and there was plenty to catch up on especially with NIck now working away in a prestigious role with Farlow’s in London.

Exe Valley has introduced an enlightened day ticket strategy that incorporates catch and release with catch and kill offering a wide range of options at different prices. The club members elected to purchase a three fish ticket that entitled the angler to retain three trout and then continue fishing releasing the next three trout. Catch and release fishing is strictly barb-less hooks, rubber meshed nets and fish to be returned as soon as possible with minimal handling.

After chatting with Nick  almost half an hour of the competition had already passed by before I strolled out to the lake that looked stunning on this hazy summers day. Several members had already caught their three fish quota and were enjoying a chat and a drink from their flasks.

With trout rising freely all around I decided on using a light weight outfit presenting a small Cul de canard dry fly pattern on a 4lb tippet.

Casting to individual rising fish it was not long before I enjoyed the satisfaction of connection as a trout leisurely devoured the dry fly in that delightful moment of deception savored by trout anglers over many decades.

A few yards along the bank fellow club member Nigel Bird was also enjoying dry fly action practicing catch and release after completing his three fish quota.

Two more trout succumbed to my dry fly in quick succession and gave spirited tussles on the light tackle I was employing. Casting a dry fly to individual feeding fish was great fun and very rewarding fishing. The last of my three fish on catch and release proved to be my best trout of the day and I estimated it at just over three pounds a fish that made my reel sing as it tested my light weight outfit.

With my fishing over for the day it was time to take a stroll around the lake with my camera and capture a few images of this delightful fishery.

Vivid flag Iris brought a pleasing splash of yellow whilst brightly coloured damsel flies flitted amorously  amongst the lakeside reeds and lush plants.

By early afternoon all members had caught their allocation of three trout and it was time to weigh in. Winner by a very large margin was Dave Richards with a three fish bag of 18lb 4oz that included a fine brace of rainbows caught within his first few casts weighing 8lb 8oz and 7lb 8oz.

Runner up was Dave Mock with 8lb and third Colin Combe with 6lb 12oz.

Spring News From Exe Valley

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Exe Valley is fishing well as spring arrives as this latest report from the fishery illustrates.

Reading from the returns archives Mr Tomkins recently tried a sporting ticket and worked nymphs for 4 fish over a few hours before switching to a stripped Blob which gave him another 5 fish in just half an hour.

Other returns mention the depth of the fish with the word “deep” used consistently along with “cold” including Mr Hobdens comment which made us chuckle “Bloody Freezing!!  But good sport!”  There is no doubt that wrapping up warm is required to enjoy a day at Exe Valley but if you put in the effort the chances are you will be rewarded with some action.

Mr Hobden banked 4 fish during his chilly session, but John Slaven had an even more fruitful day with 5 taken and 4 released, noting that it had been a “Cold day but worth it.  Fantastic!”  Johns bag tipped the scales to 15lb 2oz with a best fish of 3lb 2oz

John will hope for an equally impressive bag in just over a weeks’ time when on Sunday 18th March Exe Valley will host its annual Troutmasters Fish Off to determine who will head to the final later in the year.  This event is already well signed up with around 15 anglers attending but if you have an invite and have yet to contact us, there is still time, if you are quick!  Please note that the fishery will be closed to regular day tickets on 18/03/18 until after the match which is due to end around 2pm.

If you are going to practice beforehand or if you are just heading to the fishery for a pleasure day it would be well worth packing Blobs, Snakes, Blue Flash Damsels, Apps Worms and a few buzzers.  Floating lines with long leaders (fished slow) will work well but in recent weeks intermediates and medium sinkers such as the Di-3 have been well worth trying.

And to round up this catch report please note that Lobbs Lake will be open by the end of the month (in time for Easter) with further details regarding the fishing that will be available on this venue posted next time.

Many thanks for reading and look our for more news soon.

For more news & pictures please check out our social media sites, Exe Valley Fishery Facebook & Exe Valley Fishery Instagram

Angling Practices questioned?

I occasionally receive emails from members of the public in relation to my weekly angling column and always try to answer in a polite and informative matter. I recently received the below email from Robert Durrant a non-angler who has undoubtedly taken an interest in my weekly column. His inquiry relates directly to sea angling and the killing of fish. I will let you read through the exchange of emails below and I will add a few comments at the end.

Every week in the Journal you write about vast numbers of fine fish, targeted for sport and brought to weigh-ins.
Many are species of shark which are endangered and protected.
Are all of these fish bought dead to the scales, or have these anglers moved into the 21st century and found ways to weigh specimens at point of catch without harming them and then releasing them live and unhurt back to the sea?
I wish you’d write more about such practices.
Best wishes,

Hi Rob,
Thank you for inquiry and prompting me to give more coverage on angling practices in relation to catch and release. Angling has progressed a long way in recent years and catch and release has become the predominate practice for all angling disciplines. In relation to shark the larger species are all returned alive to the water and in some instances are tagged to enable scientific research to track migration routes. Sadly many of the blue shark tagged are recaptured by long-liners in foreign countries where the fish are targeted for making sharks fin soup. Spurdog numbers have  increased dramatically in recent seasons as a result of a commercial ban on the species and all of those caught by boat anglers are returned alive.
Fortunately the practice of bringing dead fish to the scales is becoming a thing of the past with most anglers happy to weigh and return fish after a quick photo. You will notice that the vast majority of pictures I use for the Journal are on location and the fish returned alive. There are sadly a few clubs that have weigh ins where fish are brought to the scales due to a lack of trust amongst members. I do not think this will continue for many more years.
Salmon anglers now return over 90% of salmon caught, with no fish retained before June 16th. Bass are now catch and release only for recreational anglers, though this may be reviewed later in the year if scientific data determines it is possible.

I have no problem with anglers retaining the occasional fish for the table if stocks are healthy. But I have no time for killing fish for competition purposes.

I will write about the changing practices in a future Journal column and on my website. I do not know if you are an angler or have ever fished but I would point out that angling does engage people with the countryside and many anglers are keen conservationists who have a deep love of nature.

Best Regards,

Hi Wayne,

Thanks so much for your courteous, informative, and encouraging reply, greatly appreciated.

It would be great if you could give more coverage to the enlightened practices followed by ethical anglers these days, as so much emphasis is given to weights and trophy specimens that it often seems that conservation of species and fish welfare comes a very long way behind.

I’m delighted that we see eye to eye about avoiding killing fish except for table use where the stocks are healthy.

I’m not an angler, though of course I’ve enjoyed a little sea fishing in my earlier years; but my interest stems from a particular awareness of marine conservation issues, where I have some involvement, from recording marine species found from the shore, and from diving. I’m very much aware of tag and release practices involving sharks, but little is ever mentioned about this in the media regarding local practices, or indeed in the publicity put out by local sea fishing operators. Maybe it’s just taken for granted; but it would be good to see greater emphasis on conservation and environmental issues.

Yes, I have noticed that most of the photos you use in the Journal do show the fish displayed apparently close to place of capture, but without confirmation that these specimens are not later hauled away to the scales elsewhere, it was difficult to be confident. Certainly friends of mine who have been involved with sea fishing clubs in the past have been nauseated at the pointless waste and indeed cruelty involved in these inland weigh-ins which used to be standard practice. I’m so pleased that in recent years things have moved on.

I hope that an emphasis on decent practices will help make those benighted clubs which still insist on weighing dead fish at the club’s scales realise that they have become social pariahs, whatever happened in the past and too often still happens overseas.

I look forward to reading your comments in the Journal, and your website too.

Thanks again for your very positive response.

All the best,

Hi again, Wayne,

Just been looking on the North Devon Angling News site. Lots of pics there of sea catches displayed on the beach or in the boat, but too many not good – one on top of the harbour wall at Clovelly, eg – particularly lots of sharks being dangled by their tails. Shark Trust handling guide very strongly emphasis that sharks must never be held up by their tails alone, and abdomen must always be supported. Otherwise, though the shark may be able to swim away after return it may very well die out of sight from internal injuries.

Maybe you could put out a warning that you will cease publishing pics showing bad practices? Would be a brilliant idea if boat skippers showed a bit more responsibility in guiding their clients correctly!!

All the best,

Hi Robert,
Thank you for your reply. Following on from our exchange of letters would it be possible for me to post the letters on my website followed by a brief article on conservation practices and changing times. I think using the exchange of emails would give a good introduction to the feature and demonstrate to anglers how non anglers view what appears in the media, It might also make people think a little more deeply. This will have more impact than me simply stating my views.
Best Regards,

Hi Wayne,

Certainly very happy for you to do that, sounds a good plan.

I look forward to it.


I am an all round angler and fish for species in all disciplines of angling and I can understand Rob’s concerns to an extent as sea angling is to some degree less focused on fish welfare than Coarse  and carp anglers. To some extent this is due to the fact that Coarse Fish and Carp are valuable commodities stocked into lakes that cost the fishery owners considerable sums of money. For this reason fisheries have strict rules to safeguard the welfare of the stocks. The use of unhooking mats, antiseptic solution to prevent infection, safe rigs, barb-less hooks and the sterilization of equipment prior to fishing is common practice.

Anglers also embrace good handling practice because they value the fish and have a respect for their quarry. I fish for pike and know a good number of pike anglers who are very passionate about the pikes welfare preaching the use of correct tackle and the care needed to safely remove hooks.

Game Fishers who fish for salmon and sea trout now return the majority of fish caught and get very involved in protection of river habitat and even run hatchery projects to attempt to halt the decline in stocks of wild salmon and sea trout. When I first fished for salmon over thirty years ago the majority of salmon were kept for the table and I delighted in feasting on a wild salmon caught from a local river. I always felt a tinge of sadness though after administering the last rites and seeing the vivid colours of life drain from the vibrant flanks. Today I take far greater pleasure in seeing the occasional salmon I manage to tempt swim strongly away to hopefully complete their Journey to the spawning grounds.

Sea angling  I concede has been slower to move towards catch and release practice in part I suspect down to the vast and wild nature of the sea and the once misguided perception that fish stocks are not impacted upon by angling. There is only one reason to  kill fish and that is to eat it. At this point I will confess that I used to fish in local angling competitions and dispatch fish to bring back to the weigh in. I also killed fish to submit for specimen trophies. As time passed I and many other anglers grew concerned at this unnecessary slaughter. The Sea Angling Club that I have fished with over the past forty years now practices catch and release for all competitions. In modern times with quality scales and modern digital cameras and phones there is no reason to kill fish except for the table. Images of live fish at the waters edge are far more rewarding than a dead corpse held aloft in the garden or in a club house.

A quick photo of a smiling angler and this bass is released back to the estuary

As a child I gazed in wonder at the corpses of dead blue shark at Looe in Cornwall brought ashore by members of the Shark Angling Club of Great Britain. This club is now 100% catch and release promoting responsible angling practice that minimizes mortality of these magnificent fish. I have fished for shark on numerous occasions and thrilled at the power of these fish on the line. I have enjoyed the privilege of interacting with the shark and delighted in seeing them swim away. In some instances shark are tagged and this has proved valuable in scientific research tracking the vast migration taken by sharks. Sadly many shark are recaptured by commercial long liners who target the fish for use in shark fin soup.

Wasted carcasses on the quay – Looe in the 1960’s

Whilst sea angling has moved towards conservation there is room for increased awareness of good handling practice. Thought can be given to tackle used with circle hooks sometimes beneficial in reducing deep hooking. Tackle used should always be strong enough to give a good chance of landing the fish hooked. Fish should be weighed in a suitable bag or weigh sling and not hung up by the gills. When holding the fish for a picture it should be handled firmly and supported to reduce risk of damage to internal organs.

Kevin Legge returns a British record tope to the water.

As anglers we have a responsibility to show respect for the fish we seek to catch and to always show the pastime in a positive light. We should not judge past generations by today’s standards. Perceptions change and as we realise the fragility of the natural world we adopt more enlightened practices. I have always been a passionate angler and believe interaction with nature via angling has given me a deep bond with the natural world and an appreciation of the great outdoors. Angling in general is a healthy sport, good for both mental and physical health and an important social pastime that also bring huge financial rewards to local business via angling tourism.

Footnote –

Hi Wayne,

Thanks for the reference in your article this week, linking to the great article in your blog, which I found very helpful; and I most grateful to you for the very positive way you have responded to my approach to you. I am sure that many readers will be encouraged by what you have written; and I hope that it will nudge angling practices a bit further in the right direction.

Very many thanks, and best wishes,

Combe Martin SAC Summer Rover

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Thirteen club members fished all along the North Devon and Somerset Coast Line in this Summer Rover and it was thin lipped mullet that dominated the prize table at the Rising Sun Lynmouth. James Hunter took the top two places in the event with thin Lipped grey mullet of 4lb 1oz and 3lb 12oz. In third place was John Shapland with a thin-lipped mullet of 3lb 11/2oz.

Daniel Welch tempted a thick lipped grey mullet of 3lb 7oz and a colourful wrasse.

Kevin Legge landed a brace of small eyed ray the best scaling 8lb 2oz and Rob Scoines a brace of small eyed each weighing 7lb 11oz.

The roving competition as with all Combe Martin SAC competitions was a catch and release event. Far better than the old days when the carcasses of fish were brought back to the scales. Fortunately we are still managing to meet up for a chat and pint afterwards. Many thanks to the Rising Sun for a delicious spread of sandwiches and hot chips. Much appreciated after a hard days fishing.

Catch and release catches on at Exe Valley

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The latest monthly report from Exe Valley where catch and release has proved a popular option.

Simon Curtis is a happy man after landing this 8lb Rainbow using a dry fly! Part of a 4 fish bag that totalled 20lb. Loads of fish rising at the moment with imitative flies catching plenty of fish.

Another month has passed far too quickly at Exe Valley with the first taste of summer now upon us.  Although some inevitable weed has appeared during the hot spell Anchor Lake continues to provide excellent sport.  The deep areas are looking in better condition than this time last year and up to today, 27th May 17, 147 anglers have caught 547 Trout for a very healthy rod average of 3.7 fish per person.

Another month has passed far too quickly at Exe Valley with the first taste of summer now upon us.  Although some inevitable weed has appeared during the hot spell Anchor Lake continues to provide excellent sport.  The deep areas are looking in better condition than this time last year and up to today, 27th May 17, 147 anglers have caught 547 Trout for a very healthy rod average of 3.7 fish per person.

Just this week I used imitative tactics while guiding Andy & Carl from the Birmingham area.  We had to experiment with a couple of different fly patterns and in the end enjoyed some great sport using a washing line consisting of a Black Hopper Booby on the point and a simple Crank Shank Buzzer on the dropper.  Fish fell to both patterns and the takes were fantastic; not to mention the fighting qualities of these fish!

If you are interested in improving your casting techniques please see Nicks website Nick Hart Fly Fishing


Anchor Lake has been fishing its head off ! One angler  had 9 in under 2 hours and there have been a couple of 7lb fish in amongst some limit bags including this cracker caught by Daniel Stocker which was also tagged so he  headed home with £20 and an Easter Egg! Despite the concerns about C&R making the lake hard we see no evidence of it and today of the 14 anglers fishing 7 are on sport tickets, all catching using a variety of tactics including washing line, straight nymphs & dries.

News from Nick Hart at Exe Valley

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Catch & Release to continue at Exe Valley Fishery

Although I had been meaning to add a catch report during March it is quite poignant to be writing one up now as this weekend heralds a two month period since Catch & Release options were introduced here at Exe Valley Fishery. 

Catch & Release News

I am happy to report that the initial trial has been a resounding success with twenty percent of anglers choosing to opt for Catch & Release only while many others have completed their limits prior to enjoying an enjoyable sporting session rather than leaving the fishery prematurely.

Catch & Release options will continue for the foreseeable future until such time that water temperatures become too high.  Please check the website and facebook for details or call 01398 323008, although I anticipate that the options should be available until June 2017 at least.  We are the only small stillwater fishery in the area offering such a range of flexible fishing permits and now that spring is in the air you can expect some fantastic imitative sport … especially as there are a few wise Trout in Anchor Lake now.

Top Sport … and some of it is top of the water!

Over the last few weeks 228 anglers have enjoyed some great sport landing 893 Trout for a very healthy average of 3.9 fish per angler.  Top flies have been Damsels, especially the Blue Flash variety and Buzzers under a bung are also very successful.  But as the water begins to warm and the longer days are upon us don’t be afraid to try a straightforward dry fly such as a CDC Owl.  Andrew Berwick, who started fly fishing late last year, did just that and was rewarded with his first ever surface caught Trout.

Looking back through the returns as usual we have witnessed some great catches including Perry Bamonte with a 5 fish bag at 17lb plus another 5 fish released, the second time he has achieved this in as many weeks.  Matt Hunt has become a regular, travelling from Torquay to fish with us having heard that C&R fishing is now available.  Fishing with his pal Mr Morgan they consistently catch 15 – 20 fish between them during weekly sessions since the new options were introduced back in February.

Nick Billet from Wellington said “Great day, many thanks will be back” after his first visit, completing a limit of 8 with his 4 fish taken tipping the scales at 14lb.  Buzzers under an indicator proved to be the successful tactic which also worked for Nicks mate Shaun Rowden, also landing 8 fish.

News of the changes have spread across the West Country and Peter Philips from Plymouth was another first time visitor who had a best Trout of 5lb 8oz in a bag of 4, with one safely released.   He commented “Great Fishery – lovely setting, nice condition & variety of size of fish, easy back casting – will certainly be back!

Mr Metcalfe all the way from Wales was rewarded for his journey today in the form of this 11lb Rainbow.