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 http://www.merryharriers.org.uk/

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