Combe Martin Sea Angling Clubs annual Lyn Fish competition concludes each year at Lynmouth with the meet up afterwards in the pub. This year’s meet up was in the Ancient Mariner where members were pleased to retire to the warmth of the bar after fishing around the harbour as a cold North Wind swept in.
October is generally a good month for targeting thick-lipped grey mullet and most members who fished the competition concentrated on these wily grey ghosts fishing several of the weekend’s tides.
I ( Wayne Thomas) was fortunate to win the competition with a mullet of 3lb 4oz and added a brace of mullet weighing 3lb 3oz each to secure the top three places. Dan Welch also caught several mullet to 2lb 9oz using float and feeder tactics. I was also surprised to catch a pollock of around 1lb 8oz using bread flake as bait.
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.
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.
A gentle surf broke onto the beach as I paused to take in the view after tackling up a pair of rods. There was no rush with high water a couple of hours away and the sun still high in the sky. I walked along the high water mark to see what the previous tides had left behind. Pieces of driftwood smooth and weathered, where were they from I wondered? Flotsam and jetsam always fascinates me wondering what stories it could tell.
(Flotsam and jetsam are terms that describe two types of marine debris associated with vessels. Flotsam is defined as debris in the water that was not deliberately thrown overboard, often as a result from a shipwreck or accident. Jetsam describes debris that was deliberately thrown overboard by a crew of a ship in distress, most often to lighten the ship’s load. The word flotsam derives from the French word floter, to float. Jetsam is a shortened word for jettison.)
The cliffs showed signs of recent erosion and I noticed that the remains of an old building that once showed on the cliffside had slipped away. My generation would perhaps recall the ruins but as times slips past no one will be aware that the buildings ever existed. There is much that we see in a life time and fail to register, sign posts that tell of times gone by and of other’s lives.
The geographical rock strata with its tortured twisting shapes reflects the power and dynamics of this ever changing world in which we live. Millions of years etched upon the face of the cliffs as erosion reveals a distant history that is hard to comprehend.
As the sun slowly sank lower on the familiar horizon I cut fresh bait and threaded it carefully onto the large sharp hooks. A gentle lob put the baits at the edge of the shingle where I hoped a bass or huss would be on the prowl..
The rods sat poised upon the rod rest silhouetted against the golden light of the sun as it reflected upon the calm waters of the bay. Rob who I was with moved across closer to my station after successfully catching a wrasse having cast out before me, perhaps a little more eager to catch than I was.
I didn’t expect to catch until the sun had set and the tide had reached its high point. The wind was also in the East which gave little confidence but failed to extinguish all hope.
A flotilla of boats paused in the bay carrying sightseers who had undoubtedly paid good money for a spectacular sunset cruise.
The sun eventually sank from sight. The tide peaked and with it ebbed away hope of success. We packed away an hour after high water and trudged slowly back up the slippery cliff path pausing frequently to catch our breath. The air was warm and grasshoppers chirped in the grass. Slugs had emerged to feast in the darkness gliding slowly across the path. The sound of the waves crashing upon the shore far below slowly faded into silence.
At the top of the cliff, we again stopped and looked out over the bay. Where Lights twinkled on the shoreline. As we climbed over the brow we saw the village lights familiar in the valley below. A wasted night some would say but there is more to fishing than catching fish.
A few days later I embarked upon a short mullet fishing session at Lynmouth. It was high tide when I arrived and the tide was pushing up under the main road bridge. I would often take a look to see if any big mullet were present at the top of the tide where fresh and salt water converge but on this occasion I was keen to get set up and start fishing the ebbing tide.
A couple of hours before I had been lying in bed listening to the pitter and patter of rain on the skylight and had briefly contemplated not bothering; fortunately, the quest for a mullet was strong. The morning was by now bright and dry with light clouds drifting slowly across the blue sky.
Fishing trips are sometimes remembered for reasons other than fish as on this occasion. At the top of the slipway, I noticed that a gentleman dressed in what I perceived to be Victorian clothing was arranging a camera and tripod. The object to be filmed was a boat and lady dressed in similar period costume. The boat was being skill-fully manoeuvred by Pete Mold sculling at the rear of the boat. Aware that they might not want an angler casting out at an inopportune time of the film I enquired as to what they were doing. They were performing a piece of classical ‘Elgar’ for their You-tube Channel.
(Above) Mezzo-Soprano Patricia Hammond informed me, “Edward Elgar’s “Sea Pictures”, five pieces for alto and orchestra, which Matt Redman has arranged for alto and guitar. We’ve now filmed four of the five…two others are up on the channel already, and the fourth we filmed in the Valley of the Rocks”
I was told I would not be in the way at all. I was privileged to have a front seat for the performance with the Classical musical notes drifting around the harbour. The morning felt slightly surreal with the towering wooded hillsides, wisps of mist rising from within, the calm sea and boats bobbing upon the waters of the tranquil harbour.
I contemplated upon the contrast between the serenity of the morning and past nights spent fishing the harbour mouth as winter swells surged over the wall. Nights when icy rain beat down and north winds that chilled to the bone as the rod tips reflected light from the head torch.
Later a good friend Andy Huxtable who once lived in my home town of Combe Martin joined me for a chat. We reminisced about fishing and our youthful days in Combe Martin rekindling many good memories. The tide ebbed away and the rod tip rattled as a couple of small mullet interrupted the morning. After a hot coffee from the takeaway I ran out of water and set off for home.
Shortly after arrival I opened the back door of the van to find no fishing bag!! A quick drive to Lynmouth and my heart sank for there was no sign of it on the wall where I had been parked. I enquired in the adjacent shop if anyone had handed in a green fishing bag? A negative response, but as I walked out a lady commented. “ Did you say you had mislaid a bag?” . Yes I replied to be told it had been handed into the National Park Centre at the Pavillion. I was very relieved to collect my tackle bag and camera faith in human nature fully recharged.
A celebratory Ice Cream followed for Pauline and I.
A memorable morning fishing with poor piscatorial results but one that will resonate in the memory for a good while. There is certainly more to fishing than catching fish.
Many thanks to John Slader for contributing to North Devon Angling News following on from William Ould’s writings.
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.
My thanks to William Ould for this valuable contribution to North Devon Angling News.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
Twenty anglers competed in Combe Martin Sea Angling Clubs week long competition to catch the best mixed brace of specimens. The event was held in conjunction with the Lyn Sailing Club with proceeds split between Combe Martin SAC and the 1st Lyn Scout Group. Several anglers invested a degree of effort into seeking out specimens from both boat and shore.
The presentation was held at the Ancient Mariner at Lynmouth as part of the Lynmouth Maritime Festival. The winner of the event was James Fradgley Gubb who boated a fine specimen tope of 50lb and a blonde ray of 12lb 12oz a combined rating of 210%.
James was also presented with a special prize from Ardosia Slatefor the best specimen fish caught during the week.
1st James Gubb Fradgley – tope 50lb & blonde ray 12lb 12oz 210%
2nd – Dan Welch – smoothound 10lb 2oz & blonde ray 11lb 14oz 200.208%
3rd – Rob Scoines – rockling 1lb 10oz & small eyed ray 8lb 6oz
The Lynmouth Open Competition was a week long event suggested by Lynton angler James Gubb Fradgley to run in conjunction with the Lynmouth Regatta and Maritime Festival. Promoted by North Devon Angling News and Combe Martin SAC the first three prizes were cash prizes of £100, £50 and £25. The proceeds were to be shared between Combe Martin SAC, Lynmouth Sailing Club and Lynton Primary School.
The presentation was held at The Ancient Mariner at Lynmouth where large crowds had assembled to celebrate with a party atmosphere prevailing as live music drifted across the harbour.
The winning angler was Daniel Welch who caught a boat caught tope of 38lb 2oz, grey mullet of 4lb 7oz and a spotted ray of 4lb 8oz. (296%)
In runner up spot was James Gubb Fradgley who caught a tope of 37lb 2oz, bull huss of 9lb 10oz and a small eyed ray of 9lb 10oz. (260%)
Very close behind in third place was Ross Stanway who caught a tope from the shore of 35lb 7oz, a bull huss of 8lb 10oz and a dogfish of 2lb 5oz. (259%)
The prize for the best specimen of the week went to Ross Stanway for his shore caught tope of 35lb 7oz.
A raffle was held at the presentation that boosted funds raised for the Lynmouth Sailing Club and Lyntom Primary School. Many thanks to the Ancient Mariner for hosting the weigh in.
Combe Martin SAC plan to repeat the competition next year encouraged by the enthusiasm of competitors. It is to be hoped that sponsors can be found to boost the prize table.
This Fishing competition commences at Midnight on Friday so if your in for a bit of action book in ASAP details above. I will be keeping a regular update on this page with catches and images. The prize giving will be at Lynmouth at the Ancient Mariner at 9.00pm. As its the culmination of the Lynmouth Regatta and Maritime Festival it should be a good atmosphere so bring the family and join in the festivity’s.
If you contact Wayne Thomas or Nick Phillips above you can pay entry by BACS Transfer.
Lets hope this summer weather continues!
Fishing started early in the competition with a party of boat anglers off Lynmouth dropping their lines as midnight struck.
Alex Mcleish boated one of the first fish in the Lynmouth Fishing Festival a hard fighting conger 0f 22lb 2oz.
Dan Welch and Ross Stanway enjoyed a hectic days boat fishing though the specimen fish proved elusive.
John Shapland has got off to a good start with the first 100% plus specimen of the competition so fat a thin lipped mullet of 3lb 10oz.
A fine specimen grey mullet scaling 5lb 1oz took top spot in Combe Martin SAC’s and Lynton C of E Primary School PTFA Open Fishing Competition. The event fished between Minehead Harbour and Clovelly Harbour resulted in success for several anglers who landed a variety of specimens from both boat and shore over the two days. The event and the raffle held at The Rising Sun, Lynmouth raised over £120 for Lynton Primary School Funds. The competition received generous sponsorship from Sakuma Tackle.