Recollections from Lyn Waters

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My thanks to William Ould for this valuable contribution to North Devon Angling News.

(Above) Vellacotts and above Chick’s Rock around 1968.

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.

The 14 lb salmon July 26 1963
(Above) Place of capture Willums Island
Peal of 6 ¾ lbs Taken of No. 3 gold Mepps

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.

(Above)  Bass 7 ¼ lbs from the Esplanade Lynmouth Taken on Brent squid. Had whole crab inside

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!”

Right – Will with salmon 11lbs 8oz (l) taken from Overflow and Mike Shute with a salmon 8 lbs 8oz from Willums. 4th June 1963 

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.

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RAIN BRINGS WELCOME SUMMER SPATE

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The recent rain has brought a welcome rise in North Devon’s Rivers giving excellent prospects of salmon during the coming week.

I took a walk up the Lower reaches of the Lyn earlier today (June 30th) It looked absolutely perfect for spinning and I received confirmation that a salmon was caught from the river the previous day. This 7lb salmon was tempted on a worm presented on a de-barbed circle hook as supplied with the anglers permit purchased from the E.A. Permits are now available from Barbrook Petrol station from 7.00am.   The Lyn is now 100% catch and release and as a result it is not fished by as many anglers as in past seasons. Whilst the reduction in angling pressure is undoubtedly good for the salmon stocks I cannot help but feel slightly sad as I remember my own days on the river a couple of decades ago when after a spate like this anglers would hurry to the river in large numbers from miles around. There was quite a community back then and many of those characters have passed away. As I jumped up onto familiar rocks to study the water and search for the sight of a salmon I remembered those anglers and almost expected to glimpse them searching the water with worm or spinner.

On a wet summers day I can think of no better place to be. The river holds many happy memories and whilst I only saw this magnificent river as its salmon and sea trout run started to decline I had a glimpse of what it once produced and in my forthcoming book I can reveal some of its former glories.

The Torridge has also risen and should be fish-able within a couple of days as the turbidity drops out of the water. Day tickets are available at Little Warham Fishery and at the Half Moon at Sheepwash.

Day Tickets are also available on the Taw from the Rising Sun at Umberleigh who can also provide tickets for the Weir Marsh and Brightly Beats controlled by Ivan Huxtable.

The Rising Sun at Umberleigh

Rain brings promise.

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I was passing the river today so I had to take a look the water was perfect the colour of real ale ideal for casting a Mepps down and across to twinkle and throb in the turbulent waters. Sadly there were no anglers cars in the car park a symptom of modern times I am afraid. The Lyn once had an impressive run of both salmon and sea trout and when the conditions were right anglers descended from miles around. Catch and release has never caught on on the Lyn which is a spinning and worming river not ideally suited to the fly angler.

The careful angler should be able to enjoy some fine sport on this beautiful river and if barbless singles are used on the spinners fish can be returned to continue their journey. The E.A have after careful consideration allowed the use of the worm after June 16th  and provide anglers with the mandatory circle hooks to promote a high survival rate.

Permits for the Lyn can be purchased from Barbrook filling station that is Open seven days a week from 7.00am until 7.00pm

The weekends rain has also swollen the Taw and Torridge and this should encourage a few salmon up river over the next few days. I will report on NDAN as soon as I get news.

The perception of change

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The perception of change

Everything changes through time just at different rates so whilst our perception may well be that something’s never change the fact is everything does, we are just not around long enough to notice! I of course write this from an angler’s perspective and find myself trying to gauge where we are or I am in piscatorial terms.

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We walked down to Watersmeet a few days ago and I stopped to take a photo of the waterfalls. Stood tall and proud in the river was a grey heron patiently stalking his next meal. I thrilled at the sight of a fellow fisher fishing the waters that I have fished. I recalled a salmon of 11lb that took a Mepps spinner in the pool above. I also remembered another salmon I tempted from the little pool below where the bird stood. These great memories are tempered by my knowledge that the rivers salmon stocks are in serious decline. I have many fond memories of the river thirty years ago when salmon and sea trout were abundant. Yet back then I spoke to locals who reminisced about a river when they were young when salmon and sea trout where packed into pools like sardines, tides of silver that moved up river following a spate.

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The good old days – Fish on River East Lyn

I frequently recall a sentence uttered in jest during a TV comedy show. “They were the good old days, yet no one told us at the time!” How true this is if I fish the river next summer I may well hook a salmon and of course I will now have to return it carefully to the water. I just hope that in thirty years time if I am still around that I don’t speak to a young angler and recall when salmon once swam in this river!

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Fish populations do of course fluctuate and hopefully salmon will be ascending and descending our rivers long after I have made my last cast. I am not so gloom ridden when it comes to sea angling for in this huge expanse of water things evolve. Fish populations ebb and flow and whilst there has been a decline there is plenty of room for hope as each season we see superb catches of some species. The adaptable sea angler will always find sport. Thirty years ago we chased twenty-pound cod from the North Devon Shoreline now its spurdog that seem to be the go to fish. The cod have gone but the spurdog have been protected from intense commercial fishing and have filled an ecological gap. I am puzzled where previously bountiful numbers of pouting and whiting have all gone?

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(Above)The good old days – An 18lb plus North Devon cod

The carp fisher has never had it so good in many ways with big carp now readily available in many waters. The old timers like me can wax lyrical about the old days when we had to work for our fish. Of old waters with overgrown tree lined banks, of carp that were nigh on impossible to catch pre hair rig and boilie.

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The carp fisher has never had it so good- 45lb 8oz Anglers Paradise carp for Kevin Hosie

The coarse fisher has a multitude of waters containing silver fish and handsome perch to specimen size. In some ways we have never had it so good yet we always look back with fondness at those good old days. We should remember that in angling as in life things are so much better when we are young or at least they are looking back. I guess we need to just seize the moment for what it is fish for what’s there and enjoy.

3-06A fine perch for Chris Lambert

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