Many thanks to Pete Gregory and Toby Bassett for allowing me to use their pictures and words following a successful trip on Bluefin out of Ilfracombe.
Fishing Ilfracombe aboard John Barbearys boat ” Bluefin ” and what a fish packed day it was . Lots of Dogfish as you would expect but in the morning when your hooking and landing more Bull Huss than dogs , you know its going to be a good day . Its always good to fish with Troy and Toby and as well as loads off fish between us , great laughs and banter all day long . We moved out to deep water to get amongst the Spurdogs and conger and ended up with forty to fifty spurs and a couple of half decent conger . Unfortunately with a spring tide and a little swell we had to head back in , but thanks john and the lads for a good day!
The River Torridge starts its journey at Meddon near Hartland surprisingly close to the source of the Tamar that in contrast journeys to Devon’s South Coast flowing into the English Channel at Plymouth. The Torridge flows through the heart of Devon’s rural interior. Rolling hills, lush green fields and abundant woodland it is famed for its association with Tarka the Otter. Otters are fortunately still a common site for anglers as they cast their lines for salmon and sea trout on the many miles of water that are available to fish.
The Torridge is a smaller river than its sister river the Taw and is perhaps less daunting to fish with plenty of excellent fly water. Day Tickets for salmon, sea trout and brown trout are available from the Half Moon Inn at Sheepwash that boasts a rich fishing pedigree with several beats available throughout the river. The Little Warham Fishery also offers excellent fishing opportunities for salmon, sea trout and wild brown trout.
There are plenty of opportunities for the coarse and carp angler in this heart of rural Devon with a variety of waters. The famous Anglers Paradise complex owned by the notorious Zyg Gregorek and family offers a vast range of opportunity with everything from gudgeon to huge carp, catfish, pike and trout. Whilst renowned for its holiday complex the venue also boasts some superb day ticket fishing with Anglers Nirvana and Eldorado home to catfish over 60lb and carp in excess of fifty pounds.
Close to Holsworthy are Thornbury Fishing Lakes that offer carp to double figures along with tench, bream and other coarse fish. Day tickets are available for the two lakes that are set in a tranquil rural setting.
Stafford Moor Fishery close to Dolton has a well deserved reputation for its prolific carp fishing and match fishing. The lakes are well established and run by the Combe family who have invested much time, effort and money to build upon the sound foundations laid by the previous owner Andy Seery. The Match lakes regularly produce ton up bags of carp with Open events held on a regular basis throughout the year.
Carp anglers have the choice of two lakes Beatties and Lodge Lake both of which contain carp to over thirty pounds with twenty pound fish frequently gracing the bank.
The lakes also hold a variety of other species to specimen size including perch, eels and a few surprises.
Melbury, Jennets, Darracott, Upper and Lower Tamar are all controlled by South West Lakes Trust and all hold some impressive stocks of coarse fish. Specimen Carp are caught in all of the venues with multiple catches of double figure fish common. These waters tend to offer more of a challenge than the heavily stocked commercial venues and are often less crowded as a result. Though this is not always the case at weekends when news has spread regarding good catches.
Carp are not the only specimens to dwell within these waters with some huge perch to over five-pound present in several of the lakes. These long-established waters are also home to some huge eels that offer a serious target for the dedicated eel angler.
Lower Tamar also holds a good head of bream to double figures.
Match fishing on the reservoirs brings bulging nets of silver fish with Upper Tamar considered one of the best venues for silver fish in the West Country.
Keith Armishaw of River Reads sent me this story abut a recent boat trip. When the tope are about hang onto your tackle!!!!!
Has anyone seen this rod which was heading to Lundy? Monday was a day spent sea fishing. After a slow couple of marks, we finally anchored off Welcome and must have been in a middle of a shoal of tope. In a couple of hours, I had 7 and lost about 5, Jonathan had 4 and lost as many, Mike was feathering and never managed to get a fish to the top although he had tope on several times his tackle just wasn’t strong enough. Lee had 5 but… as I was unhooking one of mine in the sea, Lee got nudged and loosened his grip on his rod and a tope ran off with Greys Spinflex and Shimano baitrunner in tow. It was last seen heading for Lundy. Should you be tope fishing and hook it up, he would be delighted to have it back! Keith Armishaw
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.
Its seems that spring is slow to arrive and just as we think its getting milder another cold snap is forecast. But any day now we will get that first real day of spring when warmth prevails and balmy air descends.
There are of course signs that spring is here as daffodils, primroses and celandine’s line the hedgerows and roadside verges. Frogs spawned a couple of months ago now and their spawn is already transforming into tadpoles. It will be soon be the turn of the toads to converge onto lakes and ponds their birdlike croak echoing around. Any time now we could glimpse that first sand martin and then that true harbinger of spring and summer the swallows.
As anglers we are of course very aware of nature that is around us and this is all part of what fishing is all about. I am always filled with optimism as the days grow longer and the chance to fish evening sessions in daylight arrives. Of course many plans are made and time is as ever less plentiful than desired. In just a couple of weeks the clocks spring forward.
There will be the chance to cast a fly across the river for spring salmon. Flick a dry fly upstream for wild brown trout or fish a buzzer on a Stillwater for hard fighting rainbows.
Carp anglers will relish the warming water knowing that carp will become more active and as a result will search for food maybe even coming onto the surface where a chum mixer will be slurped down with that delightful sound of summer evenings.
If you’re a sea angler your thoughts will be turning to bass, smoothound and ray. It will of course depend upon your favourite angling style what you seek. The bait angler will enjoy sitting back waiting for the nodding rod and screaming reel. The lure fisher will be more mobile searching for fish casting here and there searching for that electric tug on the line.
I could ramble on but I am sure you get the vibes that I am trying to convey that excitement at the arrival of new a season and fresh piscatorial adventures. I hope to report on your catches over these coming months, not just the fish but also an appreciation of all that angling means. So please feel free to send me your successes, stories and any images of the angling world you enjoy.
Many thanks go to those who sponsor this site and support this project.
South Molton & District Angling Clubs AGM was held on February 20th at the Coaching Inn, South Molton. A good number of members were present to listen to reports from the clubs officers. Eddie Rand’s delivered a humorous account of the clubs year focusing on the rivers health and plans for sympathetic work to be undertaken at a suitable time to both improve fishability and fish habitat.
Roger Bray stepped into the role of secretary following the resignation of Ian Binding following many years of loyal service to the club.
Ian Binding was one of the clubs founding members and has fifty years of fond memories of his years with the club. Ian told me that the club was initially formed as a sea angling club with members enjoying excursions to local venues. They often fished from local ports aboard local charter boats including the Combe Martin boats whose skippers included Mickey Irwin and George Eastman. When fishing became available on the River Bray courtesy of the Poltimore Arms they took on the fishing and have remained tenants on the water via the Stucley Estate. The rivers are primarily wild brown trout fisheries that offer fine sport for the dry fly fisher using light tackle.
The club has room for a few new members with game fishing membership allowing access to 5 miles of fishing for just £50 per year. Social membership stands at £10. The club holds monthly meetings at the Coach and Horses, regular outings to local still-water trout fisheries including Blakewell, Bratton Water and Exe Valley. There are also boat trips throughout the years from local ports. Anyone interested in joining this friendly and active club should contact Roger Bray on 01271 371506 or via email – [email protected]
Matt Kingdon gave an enlightening talk to the membership outlying his experiences of fly fishing for Team England at various venues including the renowned Chew Valley Lake. He also gave a fascinating insight into the rules, tactics and effort involved.
Following the formalities and talks Eddie Rand’s presented trophies to Rob Kingdon for his capture of a 30lb + tope on one of the clubs boat trips in 2017.
Mike Latham won the clubs Fly Fishing Trophy with a 4lb 5oz trout.
There were of coarse plenty of fishing tales exchanged throughout the evening covering all disciplines of angling. Eddie had several tales of a recent trip to Spain’s River Ebro where he caught catfish of over 40lb and a fine carp of 37lb.
The shortest day has been and gone and we have that interlude before the New Year gets underway; though nature has already turned the corner ahead of mans timelines. The last few days have seen benign weather; mild and damp with misty days. This passing of the year can be a time for contemplation and I often cast my mind back to winters of the past and in particular days and nights spent beside the water.
My own fishing at this time of year has tended to be spent upon the shoreline-seeking specimens from the rocks as I have done for past forty years. I fished a deep water rock water mark a few days ago in Combe Martin SAC’s Christmas Competition and was lucky to land a spurdog of 12lb 3oz. Just a few years ago such a catch would have been a rarity and anglers would have been targeting the cod that were a worthwhile target from North Devon’s coast line. Decent sized cod are certainly a rare sight from North Devon’s shoreline these days but why? They after all are caught in reasonable numbers up Channel.
(Above)A shore caught cod from the last century!
Many species of fish have declined with whiting and pouting numbers certainly down on a few decades ago. It would appear that herrings are plentiful along with good numbers of sprats in recent seasons.
(Above) The humble pouting its numbers have declined.
An extract follows:- So we forget that the default state of almost all ecosystems – on land and at sea – is domination by a megafauna. We are unaware that there is something deeply weird about British waters; they are not thronged with great whales, vast shoals of bluefin tuna, two-metre cod and halibut the size of doors, as they were until a few centuries ago. We are unaware that the absence of elephants, rhinos, lions, scimitar cats, hyenas and hippos, that lived in this country during the last interglacial period (when the climate was almost identical to today’s), is also an artefact of human activity.
And the erosion continues. Few people younger than me know that it was once normal to see fields white with mushrooms, or rivers black with eels at the autumn equinox, or that every patch of nettles was once reamed by caterpillars. I can picture a moment at which the birds stop singing, and people wake up and make breakfast and go to work without noticing that anything has changed.
I’m not getting any younger; none of us are and I guess that at this time of year we pause to think a little more. As I clambered to the cliff top during a recent session I slumped onto the grassy cliff top. Across Combe Martin Bay a Westerly wind blew and the waves tumbled against the rocks, the damp breeze on my face and salty tang of the sea. The lights of Combe Martin shone brightly and farmstead lights could be glimpsed high on the Northern slopes of Exmoor. It was all so familiar and great to be alive.
There is something fascinating and mystifying about the dark waters and the fish that may be lurking. It is this that draws us to this vast natural amphitheater to connect with nature via a relatively gossamer thread.
There is plenty of pessimism about regarding the state of our seas and their stocks of fish. The evidence I see as an angler is contradictory. I look back and remember the good days whilst the average days get lost in the haze of time. Whilst cod are scarce there is no shortage of dogfish, bull huss, spurdog or conger.
Far out to sea during the warmers months catches of shark are on the up with some spectacular catches of blue shark over recent seasons. Blue fin tuna are once again featuring in catches off the South West. If these mighty fish at the top of the food chain are making a recovery how can things be so bad?
My gut instinct and that of the majority is undoubtedly that the seas are less productive than they once were. I feel for certain that the present generation have inherited a less healthy marine environment than that in which we first cast our lines. Will these be the good old days? Perhaps there is a growing awareness that the seas are not that endless provider of life and that there is much to lose. Will increased awareness and protection of stocks bring a revival in the seas bountiful stocks?