How many of those reading this started their fishing journey dangling a worm in a small stream? I remember well many hours spent exploring the River Umber that flows through the village of Combe Martin where I was fortunate to grow up. Those early years taught me a lot about fish and fishing and chatting with others who grew up in North Devon I know I am not alone.
Those beautiful wild trout with olive, gold and buttercup yellow flanks decorated with crimson spots were abundant in the main river and tiny tributaries that feed into it on the journey to the sea. I walked the river a few days ago hoping to glimpse a trout as I have on a few occasions in recent years. The river seems tiny now through an adults eyes and it is hard to believe I caught trout of over 1lb from this tiny brook.
My own observations and that of others is that trout are now very scarce in this once bountiful stream. How many other rivers have suffered a similar fate? I suspect that the generation of youngsters that live in Combe Martin now would not suspect the presence of trout in the river and would accept the present state as normal. It is sad that we have lost so much.
As I am now over sixty those days were close to fifty years ago. Fifty years is a long time to us but it’s just a moment in natures vast history and it is devastating how rapidly we are destroying what we once had. I suspect that sewage is a major factor in the decline of the River Umber.
I would be interested to hear other recollections on North Devon rivers and record a few memories before what we once had is forgotten.
Norman Bird was a founder member of Combe Martin Sea Angling Club and I was fortunate to join the club ten years after his son Nigel who joined the club in 1963. Nigel and I fished together with the club on many occasions during the seventies and early eighties and now fish together from time to time with the Wistlandpound Fly Fishing Club. I was pleased fo receive this picture from Nigel showing his grandson George enjoying his first fishing trip with his grandad at Bratton Water where they enjoyed catching a fine bag of rainbow and brown trout.
It is great to see the generations as they discover the joys of angling. For many years I enjoyed trips out of Combe Martin on George Eastmans boat Star of Scillionia PW265. and was also privileged to help out from time to time hauling lobster pots and taking trips around the bay. Those glorious summer days were greatly enhanced by Georges great grandad George Eastman of whom I have many fond memories . Much has changed over the years but I still feel a sense of belonging when I stroll upon the foreshore at Combe Martin reminiscing upon a lifetime of encounters within the bay.
Footnote – Nigel traced Star of Scillionia PW265 around the West Country over the years from the Isles of Scilly to the Helford Passage were she was finally decommissioned and broken up.
SEA FISHING – The fishing at Combe Martin is varied and excellent; and not the least delightful aspect is the opportunity afforded the visitor of seeing from a new angle the magnificent cliffs. Motor boats and rowing boats are available in good weather at any state of the tide: though it is sound policy to listen to the expert advice of the local boatmen as to the most suitable conditions and the most profitable fishing hours. With the constantly varying tides of this channel they are perfectly familiar; and their favourite fishing marks are productive of good sport.
Bass, pollock, pouting (locally called “glowers”) wrasse,codling, tope, conger, grey mullet, plaice, dabs, and mackerel are taken in spring and summer.
The herring season is from mid-September to Christmas. Cod, large conger, skate, ray and dogfish are caught in winter. bearded rockling and whiting also occur: sea-bream has been scarce of late years and hake has not been obtained for several years past. A weever was caught off Ilfracombe in 1932 and a sturgeon near Clovelly. Sunfish are sometimes seen resting on the surface. Small sharks, seals and porpoises come up the Bristol Channel at times. Lobsters, crabs and prawns may be added to the list. Squids are fairly plentiful.
A conger of over eighty pounds was caught about 1880. Two halibut were taken on “long lines” one night in early December, December 1919, one weighed 60lb., the other about 16lbs. This is the only occasion remembered for halibut locally. A bottle nosed shark sixfeet long and about three hundred weight, was caught in herring nets, November 1931. A skate (“rooker”), five feet across and weighing one hundred weight, was caught on December 2nd 1931. An angler fish was taken some years ago and a strange fish, possibly another angler, was washed ashore dead on February 7th 1933.
FLY FISHING – Fly Fishing may be had at Hunters Inn. Tickets being obtainable at the hotel; and on Slade Reservoir. Ilfracombe’ permits being issued at the Municipal Offices, Ilfracombe. Good fishing is also available on the East Lyn, the Barle and the Bray. For fishing on the Exmoor Reservoir apply at the Ring Of Bells Inn, Challacombe.
Whilst having a tidy up I came across an old holiday guide to Combe Martin. The back cover advert below gives a fascinating glimpse of the past. Reading through sections of this book brings thoughts as to what we have lost in the seas off North Devon. I was born in Combe Martin and can see see glimpses of my youth within the pages of this old guide within which I can frustratingly find no publication date. My guess is that it is early 1950;s. It is a sad reflection that the waters off our coast once held fish that we now travel to far off shores to catch.
There is of course much that has not changed along the majestic North Devon Coast and for this we should ensure that we pause to savour what remains and reflect upon change and what the future holds.
COMBE MARTIN (Scene of Marie Corelli’ s Mighty Atom)
For SUNSHINE and HEALTH and the Ideal Sea Side- Country Holiday.
UNRIVALLED MILD WINTER CLIMATE
Express Train 51/2 hours London – Ilfracombe, thence Motor coach connection (20 Minutes) Direct Booking.
Combe Martin SAC Member Derek Ferret fished a local beach to land this superb bass scaling 13lb 3oz. The fish was tempted using Ammo Frozen mackerel and was returned alive after weighing and photographing. This is the third big double I have heard of so far this season a promising omen as we are still early in the season regarding bass with the best yet to come!
I hope to have better pictures of this fine fish in a couple of days.
Andrew Parish used King ragworm purchased at Braunton Bait Box to tempt this handsome ballan wrasse from a mark near Combe Martin. Ballan wrasse were plentiful along the North Devon coast during the 1980’s but catches have not been as good over recent seasons. A contributory factor could be that less anglers target the species these days as they tend to reside in among thick kelp and rock that deters some anglers. It would be great to see some pictures of these fine fish. Crab baits were always favourite for the bigger specimens though king ragworm was always a great bait for numbers of fish. Recent developments have seen wrasse targeted with great success using lures a method that is perhaps underused in North Devon?