posted in: At the Waters Edge, Sidebar | 0

I was fortunate to grow up in North Devon and as a teenager in the mid to late 1970’s I realise looking back how lucky we were. I wrote a  short piece a few weeks ago reflecting upon the wild brown trout that were abundant in the local rivers including the River Umber that runs through Combe Martin.

Lost treasures of childhood days

As youngsters we also enjoyed the freedom to explore and fish the local coastline. In those days access to the coast was far more readily available and even were land was private a courteous request would generally secure access. In many cases free access was taken for granted as normality as it had been for many generations.

Over the years I have seen these freedoms slowly eroded partly due to the ignorant actions of the few and partly due to the ever increasing population of this crowded isle.

We took a stroll along the Old Coast Road near Combe Martin a familiar path and part of the Coastal Path. This old road provides access to several fishing marks that have been a pleasure to fish over the past fifty years. Many memories came flooding back as we walked beneath those old trees where as a young angler we paused to catch our breath after trudging up the steep steps from the rocky foreshore.

Sadly, the signs of restriction have appeared forbidding vehicular access. Physical barriers to prevent access and numerous signs stating the area is now out of bounds for vehicles. I understand that this was in part caused by an influx of people following the first COVID lockdown combined with articles in the National papers extolling the beauty of this stretch of coast.

The loss of freedoms once enjoyed have been brought about by many factors including a combination of an increased population, Lack of respect for land and an intolerance of landowners.

Access to vast areas of the coast have been lost or restricted over the years. As anglers we need to do our bit by ensuring we leave no litter and respect landowners only crossing land after gaining permission or perhaps paying the relevant toll.

This sense of loss can also be felt inland with many old lakes and ponds lost to angling. Whilst we are fortunate to have a vast number of commercial fisheries those smaller club waters have dwindled.

I revisited a local pond once rented by Barnstaple & District Angling Association. The deep dark waters were surrounded by trees their leaves resplendent in rich autumn colours. Fallen limbs disappeared into the depths and the brooding atmosphere held a certain fascination as I recalled those days of forty odd years ago when I had fished in the weekly matches held by B&DAA.

The glimpse of a kingfisher brought a flash of colour to the day. A couple of pheasants rustled through the brambles.

I read on a sign of the plans to turn the area into a holiday complex. Supposedly eco- friendly and in tune with nature. I cannot help but think that the place would be far better left alone with perhaps the occasional angler contemplating the disappearance of a crimson topped float. These neglected corners of the countryside are precious and should not be sacrificed without serious consideration.

A bass from memory Lane – Ilfracombe Pier 1981

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Barry Kift sent me this picture of his personal best bass weighing 11lb 3oz, caught from Ilfracombe Pier in 1981

Well, after taking a walk down the pier the evening before, and seeing a 9lb Bass landed myself and my brother, Lee Kift decided to go the next evening. Fishing side by side, Lee went to help land a conger down below. Asking me to look after his rod. Well, 2 small bites later, on his rod,.I was hooked into this. By the time he came back up the fish was nearly at the pier. He shouted, GIVE ME MY ROD, I told him to f*** off and go back down to land it ! He was not best pleased and hasn’t forgiven me to this day 😳😳😳 cant imagine why 🤣🤣🤣

More Magic Memories from the River Lyn

Many thanks to John Slader for contributing to North Devon Angling News following on from William Ould’s writings.

(Above)A Young John Slader receives Fly Casting Tuition from his Father Bill Slader whilst fishing the Rivers East Lyn

Your recent post with the contribution from William Ould I found most interesting and it brought back many happy memories of the river Lyn I like to call home.

Not sure if William will remember me but for sure he will recall Bill my father.  There is not much difference in age but being brought up and going to school in Barnstaple our paths didn’t cross that often.  I remember him along with Michael Shute and Chick Andrews, not to mention a host of other individuals that frequented the river.

Regretting not having kept a diary, I nevertheless vividly recollect an occasion fishing for mullet just below Lyndale bridge on a high tide.  William was also there and at the top of the tide he hooked and landed a specimen of a mullet.  I have in my mind it was much bigger than the 4lb 9oz show in the photograph.  It drew a crowd of visitors and Jack Clapp came out of his café to see what all the fuss was about and killed the fish by breaking its neck.  Not such a fitting end to a splendid fish.

As a child I often accompanied my father when he was salmon fishing but my true first time for salmon was in 1960 when at the age of nine he bought me a day’s  licence as a birthday present.  Costing the sum of five shillings, a not insignificant sum in those days, he bought it at Tregonwell’s on the Tors Road.  We sat on the first floor looking down the river as Ronald Burgess filled out the paperwork and my father enquired whether there was a concession for a child. He was told there wasn’t as it was not expected someone of my age would fish for the king of fish.

Licence secured, we went up to Watersmeet walking up the path behind the house towards Stag Pool and Horner.  The route taking you well above the river and what my father always referred to as the “Hangings”;  an area which brought me into contact with a number of fish in later life.  The path eventually comes back into close proximity to the river below Stag pool.  I was given instructions to stay put whilst my father back tracked and ventured down to Dumbledon a particular favourite pool of his although not so easy to access.

As I was waited for his return I looked into the river to see a salmon laying back in what was a very small pool.  I cautiously took a few steps closer and surprisingly managed to get into position without disturbing the fish.  Using a No 4 mepp I cast upstream but my inexperience kicked in as I managed to line the fish which immediately shot off and took sanctuary in the white water.  My heart sunk believing I had scuppered my chances but I had a couple more blind casts only to find myself attached to the fish hooked fair and square in the mouth.  Typical youngster I held my ground not wanting to give the fish an inch and shouting at the top of my voice “Dad, Dad….”  A waste of breath really as any shouting would have been drowned out by the sound of the river.  As luck would have it, looking down river, my father’s head appeared over the rocks as he exited Dumbledon.  He quickly negotiated the rocks to join me and help land the fish; a grilse of just over 4lbs.

Returning to Watersmeet we each had a celebratory small bottle of fizzy grapefruit and Dad caught up on the news with childhood friend Roy Nercombe.

I went on to catch many more salmon in the 60’s / 70’s but none stick in the memory quite as much as the first.

The last time I fished the Lyn for salmon must have been over 15 – 20 years ago.  I was visiting my parents in Barnstaple in August after very heavy rainfall; what would have been the perfect conditions in years gone by.  I arrived in Lynmouth at lunchtime but questioned if I would be able to find a parking space although to my surprise there was only one vehicle parked above Vellacotts.  Thinking everyone had caught their brace and gone home I ventured down to the river to find an angler fishing in Overflow who, along with a friend, had travelled from Cornwall for a day’s salmon fishing.

We chatted and although he had caught a grilse he had little else to report.  Because I couldn’t see the salmon I assumed he had returned it but later during the conversation he opened his bag to reveal the fish.  I went on to fish until dusk casting in every known pool from the Tors Road to Watersmeet without a touch and nor did I see a fish in what I considered perfect conditions.   Rather disheartened I travelled back to Barnstaple wondering whether I had seen the last Lyn salmon!  So sad when I think back to those days of abundance we enjoyed and took for granted back in the 60’s.

Although I still purchase a migratory fish licence I really do call into question whether I will ever cast for a salmon again.  I think I would rather live with my memories and feel privileged that I experienced first hand those days which, when we look back on them, were so special.

John Slader

17th February 2020

(Above) Bill Slader with a fine brace of Lyn salmon

Recollections from Lyn Waters

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My thanks to William Ould for this valuable contribution to North Devon Angling News.

(Above) Vellacotts and above Chick’s Rock around 1968.

I noticed a comment whilst browsing on social media relating an old photograph of the River East Lyn at Watersmeet. “I love this place and caught many salmon in the two pools back in the day.” Wrote William Ould. Intrigued as always by any story related to the Lyn I sent an enquiring message. The following feature was the result of our exchange.

William Ould was a successful angler fishing the Lyn and the North Devon Coast as young teenager. He was taught the art of worming for salmon by Cliff Railway Worker and Londoner Chick Andrews. William was an observant young teenager who was prepared to walk miles in pursuit of salmon sea trout and brown trout.

William caught his first salmon in 1962 on a trout spoon whilst fishing for the Lyn’s abundant brown trout during a late season spate. The fish was to be life changing experience for young William. “ My spinner was rising from the milky spate water, just fining down, this huge fish followed and took it not seven feet from my eye. A 5lb grilse, but huge to my eyes when seeking a large Lyn brown trout of 8oz or so. The fight also caused the destruction of my KP Morrit’s Standard fixed spool reel.” William kept a diary of his salmon fishing exploits in the following years recording 29 in his first season of 1963, totalling 257 salmon between 1962 and 1966, including a record catch of 17 salmon in a single day with 15 returned. It would not be permitted today! On another single day when everything seemed to feed a brace of salmon was followed by a full limit of peal and a number of browns too. Such catches of salmon over a season would not have been considered out of the ordinary back in the early sixties when the River East Lyn had an abundance of salmon and sea trout from May onwards as I discovered whilst researching for my book “I Caught A Glimpse’ Published by the Little Egret Press in 2019.

The 14 lb salmon July 26 1963
(Above) Place of capture Willums Island
Peal of 6 ¾ lbs Taken of No. 3 gold Mepps

After leaving North Devon William would return on a regular basis to visit his mother whilst she lived in Lynton. During these visits Wistlandpound Reservoir was a regular excursion to test new fly fishing skills learned on the great reservoir of Grafham Water, which was itself enjoying record returns. Success at Wistlandpound with bag limits of 8 fish on opening day sometimes got repeated later in the season as natural life abounded in warmer waters. However success was certainly not assured on birthdays in June when bright conditions and long days were teasingly challenging.  One occasion produced lethargy towards lunch and a buzzer on a super long leader was launched away from the bank.  In the light wind the line was allowed to work back towards the shore with rod resting against a bag as drink and sandwich was consumed – then line sailed away drawing rod towards and almost losing it and sandwiches to the water but with a fine rainbow resulting. A Happy Birthday!

William also fished the rocky shores around Lynmouth visiting Lee Stone, Hewitt’s Rock, Lee Bay and Woody Bay. One of Williams first good sea fish was a 4lb 8oz grey mullet caught from the roadside wall at Lynmouth using bread-paste as visitors looked on during a high tide in August.

Fortunately, grey mullet still haunt the harbour as they did then and high waters often see me catching grey mullet as the visitors look on asking those familiar questions. “ What do you catch here then?’. “Grey mullet they’re hard to catch aren’t they?”.  I have had hundreds of conversations with visiting anglers whilst fishing for both mullet and bass at Lynmouth.

(Above)  Bass 7 ¼ lbs from the Esplanade Lynmouth Taken on Brent squid. Had whole crab inside

Lee Stone was a popular venue back in William’s youth and he recalls stories of intrepid locals fishing the deep water off the Stone for conger using handlines and 2lb leads when accidents were not uncommon as two pound of lead was swung around the head like a slingshot and launched seawards, trailing big sharp conger hooks and half herring for bait. In those days it was considered improper to fish on a Sunday but it was told that one of the early hand-lining fisherman of the name Hicks went to the Stone one Sunday but returned to town running as fast as he could and in a distressed manner convinced that the devil was after him!  He’d never fish on Sundays thereafter.

One night in summer William was enjoying an all night trip on the Stone when he got “a good but teasing bite, hooked, and reeled the animal ashore. In the dim light from a paraffin hurricane lamp imagine my distress as the very horns of the devil appeared over the ledge. Heart in mouth I lifted it into view. My first fine lobster!”

Right – Will with salmon 11lbs 8oz (l) taken from Overflow and Mike Shute with a salmon 8 lbs 8oz from Willums. 4th June 1963 

Bill Ould  10/2/2020

My family always knew me as Will, and many Lynton people likewise. Thereafter I’ve been known as Bill since when joining industry there was already a William in the same laboratory. My colleagues chose Bill for me.

Looking Back Ten Years ago!

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I will publish the occasional old Journal column from ten years or so back as its often interesting to look back and see whats changing.

(Above) Blonde ray caught by John Avery in February 2008

ANGLING REPORT  January 27th  2008

Spring on its way

The recent mild weather is bringing many signs of spring. Frogs have already deposited plenty of spawn in many ponds and bird song is already ringing out. Spring bulbs such as snowdrops and primroses are already out with daffodils well advanced. In lakes and ponds fish will also be stirring and starting to feed more frequently. Whilst many anglers will be targeting carp it could be worth trying a float-fished lobworm in the margins for perch. Attract them with a steady trickle of maggots and chopped worm. The perch is surely our most handsome fish and some huge specimens reside in our local Stillwater’s. Perhaps there lurks a fish to beat the new British record scaling 6lb 2oz that was recently landed from the River Thames.

Bideford Angling Clubs January Coarse match at Riverton saw Nielson Jeffery secure victory with a net of mostly carp totalling 19lb 9oz. Steve Baileys net of 12lb 9oz took the runner spot. John Lisle’s net of silver fish weighing 11lb 2oz taking third.

Stafford Moor continues to provide excellent sport with some impressive weights coming from Tanners and Woodpecker. Nathan Underwood took top spot in a recent Sunday open match with 127lb of carp. The carp took 8mm pellet fished beneath a waggler float. If conditions remain mild then some of the specimen lakes larger residents should be banked. Fishery owner Andy Seary has invited any angler who lands the thirty pound carp stocked recently the opportunity to name the fish. The angler will also receive a weekend’s free fishing.

On the open coast anglers continue to hope for a cod or two. I fished two sessions last week in what I would have termed ideal conditions for cod. A few dogfish and Pollock were all that succumbed to my offerings. Cod are now very scarce in comparison to ten or twenty years ago when devotees landed double figure fish on a regular basis. I have heard of a 16lb fish but have no confirmation. A few anglers have also reported losing fish into double figures. Lets hope I can report on a big cod before the winter is out. Marks within the estuary are giving a few codling to 5lb along with several bass to 6lb. Fresh crab is the most successful bait.

Whilst there are no cod there are plenty of other species to fill the void. In Combe Martin Sea Angling Clubs roving match last week it was Kevin Legge who continued his recent run of form landing a specimen conger of 26lb 4oz. Paul Widlake took the runner up spot with a bull huss of 9lb 8¼oz and Andy Joslin third with a conger of 15lb 9oz. Members reported taking plenty of dogfish, whiting and pollock from various marks along the coast.

Combe Martin SAC member Guy Sprigg’s landed a fine blonde ray of 15lb 4oz from a local rock mark.

Bideford angling clubs latest mid week rover saw Stuart Bailey take a 1lb 15oz dogfish for top spot. A nice whiting of 14⅞oz for Nick Jobe took second with Jazza John securing third with a doggie of 1lb 13⅝oz.

Tony Gussin secured victory in Rod N Reeler’s monthly Rover landing a specimen small-eyed ray of 11lb 15½oz. In runner up spot Julian Stainer with a dogfish of 2lb 10½oz and in third Tony Werner with a doggie of 2lb 9oz.

The recent conditions are ideal for targeting trout on small Stillwater’s. I seldom find it necessary to use a sinking line relying on a nymph pattern fished on a long leader in combination with a floating line. A slow retrieve generally proves effective with an occasional twitch often triggering a take. Bratton Water is an ideal choice offering clear water and hard fighting rainbows. Owner Mike Williams tells me that visitors to the water have been enjoying some good sport recently with fish taking dry flies on a regular basis. Best fish in recent weeks was a rainbow of 7lb 8oz to the rod of T.Evans. Several five fish bags to 17lb have been taken.

A Glimpse into the past – Combe Martin

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. 

Perhaps if we had taken good care of our fish stocks we would no longer need to go to Norway to catch a halibut!

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.


Express Train 51/2 hours London – Ilfracombe, thence Motor coach connection (20 Minutes) Direct Booking.

Celebrating 90 Years an angler!

I joined Combe Martin Sea Angling Club in 1973 at the age of 12 and have been an active member over the past  45 years and when I reflect on this time with the club it is the dimension of people that dominates. Those far off days in the mid seventies cemented my love of sea angling and the sea and those of us who fished in those times owe a great deal to the generation of the day. NIck Phillips and I are amongst an ever dwindling number of relics from that era and as a result were delighted to be invited to the 90th birthday of longstanding club member Brian Huntley.

I remember Brian and the senior club members of the day. I guess they would have been in their forties back then and they would pick us juniors up every  Friday night and transport us to the rocky shoreline at Watermouth or to Ilfracombe Pier if it was too rough to fish the rocks. Looking back they were crazy days that I am so glad we enjoyed and survived. In today’s safety conscious world it would be considered irresponsible to drop a handful of teenagers on the the rocks and leave them to their own devices.

I took a look back through the clubs history on our website and found a mention of Brian who was MC at the clubs dinner at the Staghunters Inn at Brendon three years before I joined the club. If my maths serve me correct Brian would have been 42; so I would have met him first when he was 45.

Brian’s birthday celebrations were held at the Merry Harriers tea  rooms

Nick and I found ourselves surrounded by a diverse number of party goers who had come together to celebrate a surprise party to celebrate Brian’s 90 years, it was apparent speaking with his daughter Jayne that his time with Combe Martin SAC had been a period that held great memories. Recent years have seen Brian face a few challenges with his health and in spite of this his character shone through. It must have been truly daunting to have been wheeled out to a chorus of Happy Birthday in front of  a room full of  many faces.

As we chatted at the table memories of those formative years with the Combe Martin SAC flooded back. Brian Huntley a sprightly and humorous chap who drove a Robin Reliant – Three Wheeler and wore a distinctive Breton Cap. ( A hat with French origins worn by mariners and Fishermen). Brian Huntley, Barry HIll, Owen Knill, Ian Lawson, Tom Clark were regulars on our weekly excursions to the shoreline. A generation that gave us a lot and Brian is I guess one of the last of that generation. In 1982 a very proud Brian Huntley donated the Sarah Rachel Trophy to the Combe Martin Sea Angling Club  in celebration of the birth of his daughter. When Nick and I met with Sarah it was slightly disconcerting to realise that this women with two young children is Brian’s daughter. It is alarming how life flies past and how we have become the old guys. I also realise looking back how rich our angling lives have been and that people are a very big part of the journey.

Extract from Combe Martin SAC Club history below :-

1970 The MC at this years Dinner at the Staghunters was Brian Huntley, ” who gave a very lively and worthwhile performance”.
We fall out with the CM boat owners over £6, so all boat trips are booked from Lynmouth.
Part of the path down to Sandy Cove is swept away, members bring along tools to clear the path and make it safe again to get down to the mark.
Juniors are allowed to fish Friday night competitions as long as they pay the senior subscriptions, but cannot enter fish for the Burgess Trophy.
Membership stands at 35 members.
Poor attendance is reported in the Friday night competitions. Four fish are registered for the Shore Shield and the winner with a Wrasse of 5lb, reported “a good entry of specimen fish”.
The Clubs balance stands at £33-2-6.
No nomination is made for Secretary as Barry Hill stands down due to lack of support received. Laurie Wilson carries on the role of Chairman and Secretary.
A Tankard is presented to Barry Hill for his work over the last eight years.
An auction is held at the Club’s Dinner to raise monies for Club funds.

Tunny History

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I am always on the look out interesting angling stories and thought this old film footage a fascinating glimpse into times gone by its all a bit barbaric by today’s standards but don’t judge past generations on today’s perceptions. This was remember a time when people had little perception of the vulnerability of the oceans believing that its wonders were inexhaustible.

Fifty odd Years of a fishing club

This article appeared around five years ago on the World Sea Fishing Website. With Combe Martin SAC’s AGM a couple of days away it seems a good time reproduce it on North Devon Angling News.


On October 29th 1962 almost fifty years ago a group of anglers met up in the Merry Makers Café in the village of Combe Martin famed for having the longest village street in England. They formed the Combe Martin Sea Angling Club that I joined eleven years later in 1973 at the tender age of 12. I write this forty odd years later as Chairman of the club. A post I first took on in 1984 during a time of major change in the club for as always where there are people there will be an evolution of change. Since those days I served the club continuously as secretary, Vice Chairman and Chairman. Present club Secretary Nick Phillips and I have been in these posts for far too many years serving a combined total of around 80 years!

The club is still active though much has changed since those early days back in 1962 just a year after I was born. The general perception we all have is that the fishing was far better back then but was it?

I note looking at the clubs history that on December 3rd they held their first competition on Ilfracombe Pier that was won by R.Jenkins with a conger of 3lb 14½oz.

I notice with interest that in 1965 the fish of the year was a bass of 10lb 2oz. would this win in these times? The answer is that with today’s specimen rating the fish would not have won once in the last ten years. In 1966 the club fished in the North Devon Sea Angling Trophy and Barry Hill weighed in a flounder of 9oz and Gerry Marigoni a 5oz flounder to amass a grand bag weight of 14oz. The best specimen of the year was a conger of 11lb 2oz.

In 1968 the club held a Women’s Open Competition and first prize was a bunch of flowers and second fifty cigarettes. Mr W.Legge was in hospital having an operation so the club kindly sent him 20 cigarettes. Comparisons with the TV series “ Life On Mars” spring to mind.

When I joined the club membership stood at 49 twenty of whom were juniors. Barry Hill was club secretary at this time a keen angler who gave us youngsters a great deal of help and advice. Barry was very much a stickler for rules and got embroiled in many passionate debates regarding the rules and what was right and wrong.

I look back upon those years with great fondness. On Friday nights the club seniors would collect us youngsters on their way down through the long village street at 6.30pm. We would arrive at Watermouth Cove or perhaps Ilfracombe Pier and set forth onto the rocks to fish. On those dark nights we would light up our paraffin fuelled tilley lamps. I remember with fondness the delightful smell of meths as the lamps were lit to then glow and emit a comforting hiss as we fished. At the end of the night we would struggle back with our bag of dead fish to weigh in. No thought of conservation in those days it just wasn’t an issue.

In 1977 Nick Phillips and I start ripping up the draw tickets at the annual dinner and dance; a chore I have continued to do for many years. Those early dinner and dances were highlights of the angling year. We were young and of course we drank far too much beer despite our young years. The singsongs on the way home in the coach were often raucous affairs that must have been a nightmare for the poor driver. Its strange looking back glimpses into a different era I guess. The clubs elders waltzing around to the dulcet tones of “The Last Waltz” by Engelbert Humperdinck while us young ones savoured the forbidden delights of underage drinking. An indication of how times have changed for back then the technology we now take for granted would have been seen on “Star Trek” with Captain James Kirk talking on remarkable cordless devices that could transmit through the air. Doors on the Starship Enterprise that opened miraculously; like those in Tescos’s. As to those elders they would have been ancient members possibly into their fifties!!!

How times have changed in many ways. It is highly unlikely that any club could now allow junior members to venture out onto dangerous shores unaccompanied. Back in those days there were no CRB checks to stifle and deter the senior anglers who encouraged us youngsters out to fish.

As a parent now I fully understand how fear has crept in and stifled the sport of sea angling and many others I would think. I would not have let my own son onto the rocks to fish with his mates as a young teenager. I am so glad that I grew up in a less fearful or protective age and had the freedom to fish.

Of course through the years there have been many differences of opinion as strong characters via for position or try to introduce new ideas. There have been several resignations as a result of this though more often members’ just drift away as other interests or conflicting demands take them away from the waters edge.

The early eighties were a time of change in the Combe Martin Club as a generation of anglers stepped aside as a young enthusiastic committee took the reigns.

I have served within this fluctuating committee ever since and have seen a few challenging events including cheating anglers, disputes over access and the inevitable frictions between individual members.

In 1980 Barry Hill who had been secretary of the club for many seasons landed a British Record shore caught Coalfish of 18lb. This magnificent specimen highlighted one of sea angling’s greatest attributes; the unexpected. No other coalfish approaching this size has been landed from the North Devon coastline.

Club members have broken three other British Records. Kevin Legge smashed the shore tope record with a specimen of 66lb on November 6th 2006. Incredibly five years later on November 6th 2010 Kevin broke his own record with a tope of 66lb 8oz. A fish I was privileged to lift from the water and photograph. On another dramatic nights fishing Kevin was to witness the capture of a British Record rockling of 3lb to the rod of Tim Neal. On this night Kevin also landed a 50lb plus tope!

(Above) Kevin Legge with his British Record Tope of 66lb 8oz

A major blow to the club came in 1987 when Barry Hill passed away after 8 months critically ill in hospital suffering from Guillan-Barre-Syndrome. For several years after this the club raised funds for the Guillan-Barre-Syndrome Support Group raising £100 in 1988.

Writing this it feels as if the passing away of Barry signalled the end of an era and start of the clubs modern development. Since this time much has changed yet the core membership number has remained fairly constant. We have evolved to changing times, no more bag weight competitions. Politics have become higher profile; society has evolved work practices have changed. Weekends are no longer that haven when men went fishing for we have become the seven day society with twenty-four hour living. There are many threats to our sport from over-fishing, restricted access, regulation, insurance and apathy.

Mobile phones, WWW. Facebook and so on have become valuable tools or worthless shortcuts to angling success? The club ethos has always been to promote angling and to help newcomers surely this new technology is ideal for this.

I see a serious decline in the traditional angling club and the social scene that once thrived. This is a phenomenon that has hit angling clubs nationwide as society changes. It’s got little to do with the recession for we were apparently far worse off in those dark days of the seventies and eighties when we had galloping inflation, miners strikes, power cuts and riots. Something’s never change!

Each day when I sit at my computer and open up my Facebook page I see a number of posts from fellow anglers enthusing about fish, landscapes and tackle. I am relieved for I can see that the desire to fish and talk of fish remains as strong as ever. Perhaps these are the golden days for another generation?

I hope that in fifty years time there will still be a CMSAC and that it will have evolved continuing to bring anglers together. For that is after all the main purpose of an angling club to foster friendship amongst anglers.

There have been occasions when involvement with an angling club has been highly stressful for there have been lows and those who have been around will know of those for human nature ensures that there will always be an unsavoury element.

On the other hand how can I look back without reflecting upon hundreds of hours spent in fantastic locations with great friends? Long may I continue to scramble over barnacle encrusted rocks breathing in the sea air beneath star studded skies not knowing what the next rattle of the rod tip will bring.

The clubs fiftieth year was a time to celebrate. Members benefit from generous sponsorship from our good friends at Ammo, Sakuma and World Sea Fishing.

The clubs presentation night in 2013 was appropriately held at the Royal Marine Hotel in Combe Martin an establishment that had been used for our committee meetings over many seasons. The club has had an impressive array of trophies over the seasons that we have cut back on year after year as the membership seem to value the awards less and less. Many winners seem reluctant to take their awards home an indication of changing attitudes. Perhaps a good picture and recognition is all that’s required?

In October of 2011 I was privileged to visit Iceland to help promote the shore fishing in the lead up to that years E.F.S.A Shore Championship. The full story appeared in the pages of Total Sea Fishing Magazine and online  on WSF. Whilst in Iceland I experienced some exceptional shore fishing but In addition to this I made new friends who made me realise how powerful angling is at bringing people together and breaking through all perceived barriers of nationality and class.

Towards the end of our trip we enjoyed dinner at the home of the Icelandic Chairman. Smoked salmon washed down with red wine and cool beer followed a delicious meal of wild goose. The fishing talk flowed freely relating to years of casting into varied waters. As always potential plans are made that will never materialise for there will never be enough money or longevity to satisfy the passion to fish that is generated by a room full of keen anglers. We talked of salmon, cod, halibut, sea trout, artic char and many other species. I learnt that there were many similarities between Icelandic anglers and English anglers. I also detected a refreshing level of amateurism for they did not have all the latest gear. It’s not easily available in Iceland so angling was not so commercially driven as it is in the UK. In the competition we fished they awarded trophies and it seemed that the winners really appreciated winning. Including myself! At the presentation the officers dressed up in their smart blazers adorned with badges and medals. Perhaps what I had found in Iceland was the joy of fishing in England forty years ago! Perhaps there were aspects that reminded me of the formative years with CMSAC.

(Above)One of the clubs outings to Sark

And moving on from the joys of angling friendship to the places and the landscapes that angling takes its participants to. I have fished in the heat of Egypt to the cold of Iceland and Norway, in tiny streams, vast lakes and oceans catching fish from every watery world. I guess this is almost becoming a celebration of angling but I feel strongly that angling is a great way to appreciate many aspects of the world we live in and hopefully as a club we can help its membership to share this rich vein.

Wayne Thomas