A Glimpse of what we have lost

I spotted this on the Lyn Valley History groups Facebook Page a common skate caught off Lynmouth in 1922. I wrote of the capture of skate off Lynmouth in my book “I Caught A Glimpse” published in 2019. There are a limited number left with the publishers if you would like to purchase a copy.

Looking back at the potential of fishing off North Devon 100 years ago can be depressing for in this relatively short chapter in natures book we have lost a huge amount due to mankind’s irresponsible disregard for the natural world and its complex ecosystems This was the general theme of a talk I attended with our son James last weekend. The complex issues facing the world today were highlighted in a fascinating and at times humorous talk by my good friend Dr Mark Everard.  His book “Rebuilding the Earth” is well worth reading.

The River East Lyn one hundred years ago would have been full of salmon and sea trout in numbers that seem unbelievable today. In the past 50 years the salmon runs have crashed to an all time low. This exceptionally long dry summer has resulted in salmon waiting in the bay for a summer spate where they have been prey to seals. Some have succumbed to disease and have been feasted upon by seagulls.

There are perhaps glimmers of hope as nature struggles on and at times species recover or move into waters where a change in the food chain opens a window of opportunity. After a commercial ban porbeagle shark seem to be recovering and there are even good numbers of tuna visiting the waters off the South West. Pioneering local skipper Dan Hawkins has been searching for these huge fish from Ilfracombe travelling to the fringes of the Atlantic with considerable success with shark. If fishery’s are sustainably managed fish stocks and eco-systems can recover.

A porbeagle boatside in September 2022

Searching for tuna off North Devon


Skate off Lynmouth photo credit to Ashley Clarke

         I purchased a book on the history of Lynton and Lynmouth by John Travis shortly before commencing this book. Contained within its pages is a chapter on “Holiday Pleasures” and within this section a reference to “Monsters from the Deep”. An old photograph shows a multiple catch of huge common skate. Reading through this fascinating narrative it becomes apparent that these huge fish were once a common feature of boat angling trips off Lynmouth in and around 1900. Cecil Bevan a local hotelier took angling parties out in his boat Kingfisher. On December 1st 1908 he set a record catch of 675lb that included 35 conger, two skate, four cod fish and a pollock. The book contains a fascinating account of a day on the boat written by a local journalist.

Within this account he tells of a skate caught that weighed 196lb.

         A friend found further evidence of the skate and porbeagle fishing in the book, “Saltwater Game Fishes of the World and Illustrated history”. Within the pages of this tome are a couple of pictures from the  “Fishing Gazette” July 4th 1896 that show a huge skate and a catch of large cod and conger.

         Local angler Bob Harrop fished over the sandbanks off Lynmouth in the 1970’s and tells me that he hooked a couple of large skate that he estimated to weigh around 50lb. During this time and in the years running up to this he tells me that the banks were much bigger. Heavy dredging for building sand is believed to be a major factor in the reduction of the banks. It is told that at one time the banks became exposed at low water to such an extent that a cricket match was once played upon the sands!

         The banks can at times provide exciting bass fishing during late autumn. Ray can also be caught from the banks with blonde, spotted and small eyed regularly hooked. Large skate are probably a feature of the past but who knows perhaps they will return.

         The Lynton and Lynmouth book also contains a picture of a porbeagle shark. These hard fighting predators have been caught off North Devon’s coastline on a regular basis for many years. The top area for these sharks is probably the area off Hartland Point at the mouth of the Bristol Channel.


I CAUGHT A GLIMPSE – A Great Winter Read

I CAUGHT A GLIMPSE – Fishing In North Devon

            I have been privileged to enjoy over forty years fishing North Devon’s varied waters enjoying both success and failure. The places and the many people I have met along the way have greatly enriched the journey and as the years pass I realise that all we ever get is a fleeting glimpse of a period in angling history.

In this book I tell a few of my own stories of North Devon angling along with recollections from others; some from an earlier generation who enjoyed fishing in those good old days.

I have no favourite species of fish just the one I am fishing for at the time and this book reflects this with every discipline of angling represented. From the small crimson spotted trout of tumbling streams to the huge shark that roam the Atlantic Ocean.

Angling is in essence an attempt to reach into a different dimension. Its fascination has for me never ceased and I always believe that the next cast will be the one that connects, that marvellous moment of completed deception. The anglers I have interviewed in writing this book reflect upon past times when they too glimpsed piscatorial events that they enjoyed recalling. Stories of lost fisheries, big fish, record fish of angler’s their attitudes and love of fishing.

I hope that I manage to share and convey the joys of angling in North Devon and provide a glimpse into a century of marvellous fishing.


Just a fleeting glimpse,

Of Memories gone,

A hopeful glimpse of what may come,


When its bitter cold outside its often good to settle down by the fire to read a good book.  ” I Caught A Glimpse” has an array of fishing stories from North Devon with all disciplines catered for if your interested check out this review from Dominic Garnett and the comments from my friend Paul French.


I received this email from my friend Paul French who took the book on a cruise.

“We’ve recently returned from a cruise to Norway which provided me with ample time to read your book and what a thoroughly good read it was too! The passion you undoubtably have for this pastime of ours is embodied in the words on each and every page. The part mix of autobiographical and part historical is I believe a unique blende and certainly not something I’ve seen attempted elsewhere. It couldn’t have been an easy project to undertake and metaphorically reading between the lines the reader may understandably not appreciate the hours and days of research you have put into it. You’ve smashed it, all round my kind of book. 

All we need now is a Glimpse of the next one”.


Available from The Little Egret Press or drop me a PM via my Facebook Page or North Devon Angling News.




(Above) Image – Courtesy of Tony Gussin

After what seems like a long journey my book ” I Caught A Glimpse” has finally been published and I am delighted with the end result. The launch day at Blakewell Fishery proved to be an enjoyable event with a good number of local anglers attending to meet with publisher Wayne Cryer from the Little Egret Press and myself. The lush water gardens, pools of swirling trout and tea rooms bathed in bright sunshine proved the perfect setting. There was a steady stream of anglers arriving throughout the event and it was pleasing to see generations of North Devon Anglers mingling and reminiscing with several old friends reunited.

The book will be judged by its readers so I await feed back confident that I have produced a worthwhile tome. There is of course far more that I could have written about and this becomes increasingly obvious as I talk further with the anglers of North Devon.

A big thank you to all of those who attended the book launch from both Wayne Cryer and I.

On a hectic day Pauline and I then attended the Annual River Torridge Dinner at the Half Moon Inn. After a wonderful meal with members of the Association I was pleased to sign a few more copies of “I Caught A  Glimpse”. Special thanks must go to Charles Inniss who wrote a foreword to the book and promoted the book enthusiastically to the Torridge Fishery members.

I must of course give a very big thanks to all who assisted me in writing the book for it was by no means a solo effort and those who helped are acknowledged within the book. Though I have to say I have undoubtedly missed a few.