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

Reflections on Turbulent waters

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We took a short evening walk beside the River East Lyn. The water tumbled over boulders as it raced to the sea. The valley was in sombre mood with mist hanging in the warm summer air. The vivid vibrant green of summer was subdued in the early evening gloom.

I fished this beautiful river frequently for close to thirty years and caught my first salmon in 1981 a silver bar with sea-liced flanks. When I say the River valley is in sombre mood what I really mean is that I am perhaps in a sombre and reflective mood myself. The river holds a wealth of memories of fish and fishers. Whilst salmon and sea trout still forge up through the vibrant tumbling water’s they are far scarcer than they once were.

Today all salmon must be returned to the water and whilst I am happy to fish with a fly on the Taw and Torridge, I have reservations about spinning and worming with the dangers of deep hooking. The Lyn is not a river for the salmon fly fisher.

It is not the salmon anglers that have decimated the salmon of the Lyn but it is mankind I feel sure that has contributed to a sad demise. So when I walk the banks of this river the memories come thick and fast. To think of the river with no salmon or sea trout is like a book with no words or a candle with no flame. As an angler I have taken gleaming salmon from the river and extinguished their life. I remember that momentary sadness as that vibrant hue faded from silver flanks. I will never forget the power of the salmon as it battles on the line, the rod bending frightfully in my hands. Strangely this direct contact and interaction with the salmon brings the angler close to the fish and its environment.

I guess what I am saying in a clumsy sort of way is that as angler on the river I feel that I have been in the film instead of watching from afar. I fear that day when no salmon swim the river and that glimpse of silver is no more.

RISING RIVERS SALMON and Memories

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Salmon and sea trout anglers have been hoping for rain all summer to bring the local rivers into spate and bring fresh run migratory bars of silver into North Devon’s rivers. The rain that fell on Sunday whilst welcome was not enough to bring a substantial rise despite washing a great deal of sediment into the rivers. The Taw and Torridge both came up and ran dirty but have dropped back quickly. It is to be hoped that a few fish have been encouraged to move up river. A few anglers have cast a fly on the Taw and experienced rod John Kenyon fished the Weir Marsh and Brightly Beats of the Taw to tempt a fine fresh run salmon of 15lb using a Willie Gunn micro tube.

A few sea trout have been reported from the Torridge but no reports of salmon to my knowledge.

One of my favourite local rivers is the East Lyn that tumbles to the sea from Exmoor through the Watersmeet Estate. The riverside walk has been made even more popular following the TV appearance of Julia Bradbury in a program that showcased the beautiful wooded valley. I have many fond memories of the River Lyn and walking its rocky banks brings mixed feelings. The Lyn was undoubtedly an amazing salmon and sea trout fishery that offered splendid fishing at a low cost. I fished the river extensively over a twenty year period and landed a good number of salmon and sea trout. When I first fished the river back in the eighties individual local anglers often caught in excess of fifty salmon in a season. I never approached those figures but often walked away from the river with a brace of salmon caught on worm or spinner. Back then following a spate the river would be lined by anglers who traveled from far and wide to enjoy the short window of opportunity that followed each spate . When the river flowed with a colour of a fine ale salmon would seize the anglers Mepps spinner with gusto fighting the rod and line in a flurry of spray in the confines of the boulder strewn water course. As the  water cleared the worm reigned supreme as anglers stalked individual salmon. Spotting the salmon is of course an art in itself with a keen eye required to locate the salmon in the turbulent flow. Experience built up over many seasons helped greatly for the salmon would frequent the same lies year on year enabling the anglers to target the right spots.

Pauline and I walked the river on August Bank Holiday following a day of heavy rain the water looked perfect as it tumbled towards the sea. Surely a Mepp’s flicked across the pools would bring a silver reward? But time has passed by and we saw no anglers searching the water. There was once a thriving community of anglers who fished this river who would meet up each season to share stories of past seasons and other waters. There was a darker side to fishing on the Lyn with snatching of fish endemic before the fishery bailiffs stamped their authority.

There are of course a few salmon still running the river and the occasional angler practicing catch and release. As we walked the river we came upon EA Fishery Officer Paul Carter who was hoping to glimpse a salmon as he walked the banks  ensuring that any anglers fishing had their rod licence. Paul also has a vast array of memories of North Devon’s rivers and many characters who have trodden the fishermans paths. Today Paul has the latest technology to help record any hostile reaction from poacher or unlicensed fisher. Sadly the precious salmon stocks have dwindled and it is so important the present stocks are protected. Ironically the anglers who chased those silver bars for many years are those that care most for the future of the iconic fish.

We did see two fishers on our walk, a trout fisher and a heron. Long may there be fishers on the Lyn for a river without fish or fishers is somehow rather empty.

North Devon River Update

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The salmon season got off to a slow start on both the Taw and Torridge as a result of low water temperatures and successive spates that kept the rivers brimful. As the waters have dropped and temperatures have climbed sevral anglers have enjoyed success on both rivers with fish from Lower and Middle beats of both rivers.

 Sugh Smith banked a 6lb salmon from the Weir Marsh and Brightly beats of the Taw. Barry Sutton caught a fine 10lb 8oz salmon on a silver stoats tail and Michael Martin a 9lb salmon on an orange fly of his own design.There have also been salmon caught from the Barnstaple Club water below Newbridge. Reports from Upper Taw beats are scarce but with the prolonged high water levels salmon and sea trout will undoubtedly be present.

On the Torridge Chris Warcup caught a fine brace of salmon estimated at 12lb and 14lb. David Lincoln landed a 10lb salmon from a mid river beat. As the river levels drop on both rivers salmon sport will ease off though lower beats of both rivers will be worth a try.

The lower river levels and higher temperatures will prove more conducive to sea trout fishing with after dark fishing worthwhile. Several sea trout between 2lb and 4lb have been caught by anglers at Little Warham Fishery on the RIver Torridge where day tickets are available. It is surprising how many sea trout can be present in the rivers and a concerted after dark sortie can often unlock the rivers secrets.

The Upper reaches of North Devon rivers and many miles of smaller rivers throughout the area can offer splendid sport with wild brown trout that rise freely to a well presented dry fly. The East Lyn offers stunning fishing in beautiful surrounding for less than a fiver a day. Many streams offer excellent fishing with nothing more required than a polite inquiry seeking permission to fish.