Lockdown Continues and Its goodbye to North Devon’s long serving Fishery Officer

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Last weeks Journal report if you missed it!

As we all endure the on-going lockdown thoughts turn increasingly to past exploits and to future plans for casting our lines. Nobody knows when this crisis will end but at some point a new normality will return and the waters edge will be with us once again. The Angling Trust whilst fully supporting the lockdown has been emphasizing the point that angling should be one of the first pastimes to be allowed to resume when safe. Angling is to a large extent possible whilst maintaining social distancing and due to its strong connection with nature has significant mental health benefits. The Trust has created a special page to entertain and inform anglers during the COVID-19 crisis and it is well worth a look with a wide selection of informative videos to view.

The River Torridge Fishery Association has recently published their latest Newsreel that reveals a successful year at their hatchery. During the winter and early spring the hatchery team has successfully nurtured 38,000 swim up fry that were stocked out into the River Torridge headwaters and main tributaries. This ongoing project gives RTFA members a strong feeling that they are at least attempting to put something back into their treasured river. The gift of nature’s wild salmon is to be valued and protected for this iconic species is a barometer to the health of our rivers and the wider environment. The rivers can be likened to the arteries of the land distributing life and water in a vital natural cycle that we endanger at our peril.

North Devon’s Fishery Officer Paul Carter has retired from the Environment Agency after more than three decades of loyal service. I have known Paul personally throughout his long career and have the utmost respect for his dedication to North Devon’s fisheries. His vast knowledge and experience will be missed by many within North Devon’s angling community. Paul has helped with many projects over the years including the provision of Bideford Angling Clubs Coarse Fishing Lakes, The River Torridge Salmon Hatchery and The Taw Access over Weirs Project along with numerous initiatives involving local schools. I wish Paul and his family all the best for the future and hope to catch up with him for a few tales from the water’s edge.

The vital work undertaken by Paul will still be carried out by members of the Environment Agency’s wider team. It is to be hoped that a replacement will soon be recruited. There is also an increasing reliance upon charities like the West Country River Trust to police our rivers in the fight against pollution. Fishery enforcement work is to a large extent undertaken by riparian owners with back up from the police where fish theft or poaching is suspected.

Like many anglers I have been taking this opportunity to sort through my tackle collection. Many of the lures I own will never be used for they have perhaps fallen out of favour as new more attractive versions have been produced by a tackle trade that has to appeal to both anglers and fish. I suspect that many more anglers are tempted by the visual appeal or wiggle of a lure than the fish themselves. This is however all part of the intricate game that we play.


Once again as you may not have access to a shop for your Journal here is last weeks report.


            Whilst angling is on hold the natural world in which we normally cast our lines continues in all its glory. The first swallows and martins have now started to arrive after their epic journey and will be swooping low over the waters we normally fish. Less obvious to many will be the migrations that take place within our waterways as equally wonderous migrations occur.

The elver run should now be underway with many thousands off these small eels arriving in our rivers to forge upstream and populate ponds, rivers, lakes and canals. The eels begin their journey as larvae drifting the ocean currents from the eels mysterious breeding grounds in the Sargasso sea situated within an area of the renowned Bermuda Triangle. It is a sea located within the Atlantic Ocean and is unique in that it has no land boundaries. It is formed and bonded by four currents that form an ocean gyre. Within the sea grows a characteristic brown sargassum seaweed. The waters are renowned for their clarity and yet the spawning of the eels has never been witnessed.

The mysterious life cycle of the eel adds a fascination that has entranced a minority of anglers who seek to catch the large eels that lurk within many waters. The adult eels live in freshwater until they develop an instinctive urge to return once again to the mysterious Sargasso many thousands of miles from our shores. Some eels can remain in freshwater for in excess of fifty years and grow to a weight of over 10lb. A quick search on that wonder of modern times revealed that one European eel was reported to have lived to the grand old age of 155.  Specimen sized eels of over four pounds are an angling challenge that can become an obsession.  They can be found in a vast variety of waters and as they are not stocked and feed mostly at night their presence is only to be ascertained by actually catching them. There are documented cases of eels over 10lb in Devon waters and there are undoubtedly eels present that could shatter the existing British Record of 11lb 2oz.

The eel population has sadly plummeted over recent years and the species is presently classified as endangered. There is a fascinating section on eels in Charles Rangley-Wilsons fascinating book; Silver Shoals, a book that is well worth obtaining during this time of lockdown.

It is now several weeks since any substantial rainfall and the regions rivers are dropping quickly. I spoke recently with Ivan Huxtable who has managed fishing on the popular Weir Marsh and Brightly day ticket salmon fishing beats on the Taw for around thirty years. Ivan has reluctantly decided to hand over the reigns to his good friend Chris Steer who will now issue permits once this pandemic is over. Chris will be contactable on 07761285169. Ivan has eagerly reported many salmon catches to me over the years and always shared in the joy of angler’s success. He told me that he values the many friends he has made within the angling fraternity. Ivan is known to many for his valiant Exmoor Rambles to raise huge sums for local causes including valuable equipment for North Devon District Hospitals Cardiology, Seamoor – Chemotherapy Units and the North Devon Hospice.

Whilst angling is a very low risk activity in relation to COVID-19 the angling community has totally embraced the government guidelines. The message to stay home and Stay safe is clear. Fortunately angling will hopefully bounce back as the waters we fish await largely unaffected.