River Taw Fisheries Association – Chairmans Report

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Alex Gibsons report due to have been delivered at the RFTA AGM at the end of March.

A couple of salmon were caught from the middle Taw before the present lockdown. The rivers are now dropping quickly after a couple of weeks without rain. A cold North East Wind would not have been good for fishing.



First some thanks to the whole Committee for their support and the work they have done during the last 12 months.

Particular thanks to Richard Nickell, our Treasurer, and to Ian Blewett, our Secretary, for all their good work; to Judith Kauntze for the excellent Newsletter she produces; to Bryan Martin for looking after the website; to Chris Taylor for his auction work which unfortunately has been delayed this year. Thanks also to John Smith for representing us on the Dartmoor Steering Group and to Andy Gray for keeping the Committee up to date on all farming matters affecting our river and also for printing and mailing our Newsletter.

The weather continues to dominate our fishing lives and I thought the story about the businessman who went to Bergen for a week might lighten the tone. It was raining when he arrived and rained solidly every day. As he was leaving his hotel in dreadful weather on the last day he turned to a small boy standing nearby and asked: “Does it ever stop raining in Bergen?” The boy replied: “I don’t know I’m only seven.” The North Devon version would have a different ending for the businessman who goes to South Molton in November. The reply he receives is: “Not in the winter, but in the summer we get hardly any rain at all.”

Simply put, last season low water conditions seriously reduced the number of good fishing days. The rain didn’t arrive till October. Abnormal weather seems to be the new normal weather these days.

This of course affects the rod catch numbers. I have continued to do the annual beat survey, canvassing all riparian owners. Last season’s results show 82 salmon and 265 sea trout against 2017 figures of 72 salmon and 71 sea trout. The provisional EA numbers for 2019 are 76 salmon (91% returned) and 239 sea trout (86% returned). We can take some comfort from the upturn in sea trout numbers and I believe our salmon numbers will look good relative to the numbers for other south-west rivers when we see them. Brown trout fishing had an excellent year with almost 3,000 fish caught, up from about 2,000 in 2018. The brown trout fishing community is of crucial importance to us since they are the custodians of those parts of the river where the fish spawn and spend their early life.

Turning to the Mole pollution incident, let me summarise where we are with this disastrous event. Back in July last year a large digestate spill apparently wiped out the fish population over a 5km stretch of the Mole from above South Molton to the junction with the Molland Yeo. I say apparently because the EA will not release to us the fish survey they conducted after the incident for fear of prejudicing their prosecution of the person responsible. A figure of 10,000 fish has been mentioned, but we do not know the number of salmonids in this number, nor the breakdown by type and class. We originally understood all invertebrates were wiped out, but recently were told by the EA that the invertebrates were affected only slightly. This is encouraging in terms of recolonization, but we have not seen the invertebrate survey either.

Fish Legal has been briefed to mount a civil claim for us, but this cannot proceed until the EA is much further along with its prosecution and we can obtain the fish survey.

This is all very frustrating.

On the other hand, the EA have confirmed that they will do a fish survey on the polluted stretch this summer. The results will be interesting. The problem however is that we will still have no base line to work from, namely the original fish survey. Until we learn otherwise we will assume that all salmonids were killed and that any juveniles that show up in the survey are the result of last winter’s spawning and recolonisation.

The sad situation that we find ourselves is the direct result of having anaerobic digesters on our catchment. There are three, one on the Mole and two on the Little Dart. We had identified the threat, but were powerless, just waiting for an accident to happen, you might say.

As many of you will know there is a chain, winter maize from farm to anaerobic digester, digestate from anaerobic digester to farm. If any part of the chain fails, and that includes the anaerobic digester itself, the river is threatened. That of course is without considering the siltation damage caused by growing winter maize in the first place. In the last two years in particular the character of the Mole has changed. It now runs dirty for longer and silt is deposited along its length. The optimists think that the New Agriculture Bill will solve all these problems created by bad farming practice; the pessimists adopt a more cynical approach. Things can go spectacularly wrong as evidenced by the Mole incident. While waiting for new rules and regulations to be implemented it may be a good idea for us to keep our fingers crossed.

This brings me neatly to river improvement work which is driven by the siltation problem. The Committee has decided that the “best bang for our buck” is to continue our gravel cleaning programme in conjunction with WRT. This is a short term solution until farming practices change, but we don’t know how long short term is. Last year we spent almost £20,000, having carried £10,000 forward from the previous year. The full 2019 gravel cleaning report can be read on our website. In summary we did 8 days on the Molland Yeo, 3 on the Crooked Oak, 8 on the Mole, 8 on the Little Dart and Sturcombe and 11 on the Upper Taw. To encourage recolonisation an emphasis was placed on the Mole. For this season the Committee has committed £10,000 for gravel cleaning work. Again there will be some emphasis on the Mole.

This continues to be a difficult climate in which find complementary funding. We were unable to gear up on the funds we spent last year. This year look more encouraging.

We continue to be concerned about South West Water’s 35 sewage treatment works on our system. South Molton and Chulmleigh, perhaps the worst, are due for an upgrade in the next 5 years, partly as a result of pressure we have applied. We will continue to press for further improvements.

To broaden our fight against sewage in the river and also the threats from siltation and anaerobic digesters we link up with other organisations who share our concerns. These include South West Rivers Association, Westcountry Rivers Trust, The Rivers Trust, Angling Trust, Devon Wildlife Trust/North Devon

Catchment Partnership and Surfers Against Sewage. These problems are not Taw specific, nor south-west specific, but national. Fortunately there is a growing groundswell of public concern which we welcome.

Paul Carter, our EA Fisheries Enforcement Officer, retires in April. My intention was to make a presentation to him at the AGM and to thank him in a proper public arena for everything he has done for us. The presentation now has to be done behind the scenes unfortunately. It consists of a day’s fishing on seven of the best beats on the river. Paul is a very keen fisherman.

Paul has worked tirelessly for us and has always been available to give us the benefit of his advice. His contributions to our Fisheries Management Meetings and Committee Meetings have always been valuable and valued. He has been a good friend and supporter of the Taw. We shall be sorry to see him go and wish him well. To date it is unclear how he will be replaced.

One final point. I have been Chairman now for about 13 years which means it is probably time for me to step down. The 2021 AGM would seem to be the right moment. Discussions with Committee Members have started and, when these are brought to a conclusion, I would expect a prospective successor to emerge who has the full support of the Committee.

My best wishes to all members for the 2020 season.

Alex Gibson March 2019


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The River Taw Fisheries Association have made the decision to postpone this years AGM that was due to take place at Highbullen Hotel on March 27th  due to ongoing concerns regarding the Coronavirus.

Angling on the whole is not severely impacted upon by the Coronavirus.  Waterside activities in the fresh air are undoubtedly amongst the safest place to be when it comes to Coronavirus. After one of the wettest winters for several decades Devon’s rivers are brimful with water and whilst the first two weeks of the season have been a washout the rivers levels bode well for the coming season. With dryer weather forecast for next week I expect a few anglers to get out and wet a line.

Alistair Blundell ventured onto the lower Torridge and spotted a salmon showing at the tail of the pool. He used his double handed rod to drift a fly across the spot and was rewarded with that delightful connection with a double figure spring salmon. After a few exciting moments the fish managed to shake the hook free in the strong current. The hooking of the fish is a great sign that salmon are in the rivers and as the water level drop there is every project of that most prized spring run salmon.

Salmon Fishing Season off to a flooded start

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A new salmon season began on Sunday March 1st  but looking at the Taw below Newbridge on the eve of the season I doubt if any of the North Devon rivers will be fishable for at least a week. Early season is often hampered by high river levels and in the longer term this could be to anglers advantage as it will hopefully mean that there is a plenty of water well into the season. The early part of the season can produce some of the biggest fish of the year with big fresh run spring salmon one of angling greatest prizes. Don’t forget that all salmon have to be returned to the river in the first three months of the season. Catch and release is also encouraged throughout the entire season with barbless single hooks preferable.

Salmon close seasons by river

River Start and end
Avon (Devon) 1 Dec to 14 Apr
Erme 1 Nov to 14 Mar
Axe, Otter, Sid 1 Nov to 14 Mar
Lim 1 Oct to the last day of Feb
Camel, Gannel, Menalhyl, Valency 16 Dec to 30 Apr
Dart 1 Oct to 31 Jan
Exe 1 Oct to 13 Feb
Fowey, Looe, Seaton 16 Dec to 31 Mar
Tamar, Tavy, Lynher 15 Oct to the last day of Feb
Plym, Yealm 16 Dec to 31 Mar
Taw, Torridge 1 Oct to the last day of Feb
Lyn 1 Nov to 31 Jan
Teign 1 Sep to 31 Jan

End of Season Flourish

Len Francis ended his salmon fishing season in style tempting a brace of 11lb 8oz and 4lb 8oz from the Weir-Marsh and Brightly Beats of the Taw. Ed Ruell caught a fish of 4lb 8oz. Several salmon were also seen in the high water conditions that would have deterred many anglers. A large salmon was also hooked and lost after a battle in the high water. Heavy overnight rain has now almost certainly brought an end to this season. The heavy rain has come too late to save what has been a difficult season hampered by low flows.

Autumn gold and a fading season

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With a brisk North-West wind blowing I decided on a trip to the Lower Taw where I hoped a salmon might be lying up waiting for a rise in the river. The river was lower than I expected but it was good to be there savouring the dying weeks of another season. I had not visited the stretch since the spring when sand martins were swooping over the big pit and a season stretched ahead, how quick the time passes.

I worked down the pool casting and retrieving a large willie gun pattern hoping to stimulate a take from any salmon lurking in the deep slow moving pool. Suddenly the line zipped tight and the water boiled as a fish hit the fly. This was no salmon but it was a decent sized fish and I was thrilled to see a golden flank in the water. After a few anxious moments the prize was safely in the net a pristine wild brown trout of at least 3lb 8oz.  A stunning fish my biggest wild river brown and a welcome slice of luck. Right place right time.

After a quick photo I slipped the trout back into the water and continued a search for silver. If you have followed my water side meanderings you will know of my fascination with the old fishing hut. Each time I visit the decay continues. Recent bank clearance has revealed more detail letting the light reveal more of the ruined hut of memories. The rod rack still stands, old scales rust away in the recess of the shed. What fish were once placed there to be converted to pounds and ounces. The river runs relentlessly on whilst a generations work and memories slowly fade into oblivion. The old bridge structure still stands in the river but even this is slowly washing away.

Salmon on the Taw and Torridge

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The recent rain has brought a welcome run of fish into the Taw and Torridge with the above salmon tempted by Emma Tyjas from the Taw.

Bob Lewington tempted a 9lb salmon from the Weir Marsh and brightly Beats of the Taw.

Simon Hillcox tempted 6lb salmon from the a middle Torridge Beat and a brace from a Lower Taw beat estimated at 6lb and 4lb both tempted on a Willie Gunn.

I fished a middle Torridge beat with great expectation but failed to tempt a fish. Great to be back out on the river though now that the river has been topped up.

The River Taw Fisheries Association Newsletter – All the news from the Taw

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The River Taw Fisheries Association Newsletter

Chairman: Alex Gibson
Lower Braggamarsh House

Burrington, Umberleigh
Devon EX37 9NF
Tel: 07785 232 393
Email: [email protected]

Secretary: Ian Blewett Great Oakwell

Kings Nympton
Umberleigh, EX37 9TE
Tel: 01769 579 131
Email: [email protected]

Treasurer: Richard Nickell, Blakewell Fisheries, Muddiford, Barnstaple, Devon. EX32 4ET Tel: 01271 344533. Email: [email protected]

Web site: www.rivertawfisheries.co.uk

Chairman’s Report

First the fishing. This season has started slowly with an estimated 20 salmon and 20 sea trout caught by the end of May, the result of few fish in the river and limited fishing activity. Early good river heights dropped away and there were concerns that another

season of drought conditions was in store for us. Fortunately rain arrived in June.

Last season was undermined by the worst drought conditions we can remember and so we should not read too much into the fishing results. The beat survey showed 72 salmon and 71 sea trout compared with 286 salmon and 214 sea trout in 2017. Sea trout numbers continue to be below salmon numbers, a strange state of affairs with no obvious reason or remedy. Sea trout numbers can vary dramatically and we must hope for a bounce back this season. The EA rod catch numbers for 2018 are 45 salmon (95.6% returned) and 43 sea trout (74.4% returned). Brown trout fishing held up well despite the drought with about 2,000 fish caught as against 2,300 in 2017.

Secondly the new constitution. As all members will be aware a more modernised constitution was unanimously approved at the March AGM. (The full text can be accessed on the RTFA website.) The two main changes mean that we have removed the Full Member (riparian owner)/Associate Member distinction and now have a single subscription rate. Everyone interested in the future of our river as a RTFA member now carries the same weight in the Association. We believe this will help recruitment, fund-raising from inside and outside RTFA and our campaigning efforts on behalf of the river.

Recent campaigns have been successful as you all know. In addition to the ban on drift netting in the estuary brought in last year, this year will see the start of the ban on salmon
and sea trout netting. The netsmen’s catch of 35 salmon and 23 sea trout last year will be their last. All our migratory fish will now have the chance to reach their spawning grounds. Thanks are due to everyone who tookpart in the EA’s consultation. We have avoided mandatory 100% catch andrelease for salmon, but must maintain a C&R level of over 90%. (Last season we were at 95.6%). If we fail we face the threat of mandatory 100% C&R. Memberswere emailed earlier in the year with the Committee’s recommendation that weshould all practice 100% C&R for salmon wherever possible and extend that practise to sea trout for the simple reason that we are now catching fewer sea trout than salmon. In these circumstances it is important to emphasise care in handling and releasing fish to the river. The Good Practice Guide on our websiteprovide a comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts.

River improvement work is crucially important; we continue to do as much as funds will allow. With fish access up and down the river in good order following the Weirs Project the priority now is to protect and improve the spawning sites and on an ad hoc basis remove trash dams, working in partnership with

Westcountry Rivers Trust. As you fish you will have noticed the silt build-up in the river. Unfortunately this situation will not improve until farmers change their practices. Meantime we will pursue a policy of gravel cleaning in our primary andsecondary sites as identified from the EA’s juvenile surveylast year and earlier fry surveys by WRT. (Paul Carter in his report in this Newsletter comments on the results of the EA survey.) The £10,000 we committed for river improvement work last year has been carried forward to this year and we have added a further £10,000. The work will be carried out in a balanced way across the catchment on the Taw and Mole/Bray systems – specifically at sites on the Upper Taw, Mole, Molland Yeo and Crooked Oak.

Sewage treatment works are still of great concern since water quality is the main determining factor of river health. We continue to seek ways to bring pressure to bear on South West Water to ensure the right level of maintenance and investment in the 35 STWs on our catchment. The situation is of course exacerbated by the extensive regional housing expansion, actual and planned.

The March AGM brought some changes to the Committee.

Thanks are due to our outgoing Secretary, George Marsh, for all his good work on behalf of RTFA and to Simon Hillcox who has also stepped down. Charlie O’Shea of the Rising Sun and Gordon Murray of the Taw Fishing Club have come on board. Ian Blewett is our new Secretary. Thanks must be given to Paul Carter. We are very lucky to have him as our EA Enforcement Officer. He is very active on our behalf and always has our fishing interests in mind.

My best wishes to all members for a successful season. We simply need more days with good water conditions. Surely not much to ask. That will increase the fishing effort, the number of fish caught and our enjoyment.

Alex Gibson, ChairmanRiver Taw Fisheries Association Committee


Chairman Secretary Treasurer

Lower Taw Upper Taw River Mole

IT Adviser
Newsletter Editor
Torridge Representative Paul Ashworth

If you want to know……..

About the state of the river and for fishing reports visit the River Taw Fisheries Association Web Site on


and click on Current News and Webcams & Gauges

Alex Gibson Ian Blewett Richard Nickell

Peter Tyjas
Charlie O’SheaMark Maitland-Jones

Simon Phillips John Smith Gordon Murray

Andy Gray John Macro Chris Taylor

Bryan Martin Judith Kauntze


Hon. Treasurer’s Report

We had committed £10,000 last year from our funds with WRT to finance river improvement work. This work is being brought forward into 2019 and will now run alongside additional work financed from a further £10,000 allocated from our funds with WRT. The total spend for river improvement work will therefore be £20,000, all to be carried out for us by WRT .

Our own cash reserves stood at just over £28,000 at the end of May. Our annual net income runs at about £5,500.

AGM: We held another very successful AGM and auction at Highbullen Hotel in March. After the success last year, the auction this year raised £3,365, a very important boost to RTFA funds. Thanks to all involved.

Subscription & Membership: Under the new constitution the subscription of £25 will come into effect next April for all members. This year subscriptions will remain at £15 for associate membership and £35 for full membership. A reminder will be sent out later this year for members to amend their standing orders. It is hoped that many riparian owners will decide to keep their standing orders at £35, in which case the additional £10 will be classed as a donation and will go towards river improvement work.

We have 165 members. 10 new members were recruited last year and we have 2 new members so far this year. Please encourage other Taw anglers to join RTFA. The Association exists to represent all who fish our river.

2019 Subscriptions

Full Members (Riparian Owners) £35 Associate Members £15

Raising money requires hard work and commitment. I would like to thank all of you for your continued support of RTFA and the river improvement work we do.

Fishing Hotels on the Taw and Mole

The Highbullen Hotel, Chittlehamholt The Fox and Hounds Hotel, Eggesford The Rising Sun Inn, Umberleigh

Richard Nickell, Hon. Treasurer

Tel: 01769 540561 01769 580345

01769 560447


The Environment Agency (EA)

At the AGM I spoke about the importance of good practice in handling andreturning our precious salmon and sea trout. RTFA’s code of practice is anexcellent guide. Evidence confirms how important it is for the survival of released fish to use a knotless meshed landing net and to retain the fish in the water while unhooking and photographing.

Electric fishing report 2018

In 2018 the Agency carried out its 6 year full electric fishing survey covering over 60 sites on the Taw catchment. The work was difficult at times due to the prolonged low flows and warm river temperatures.

The key points to report are that salmon fry numbers were higher on the whole, demonstrating successful spawning and survival during the 2017/18 winter. Salmon parr numbers were generally down. Brown trout fry numbers were down on average at most sites, but the averages for larger trout have gone up, so generally trout numbers can be considered healthy. I was pleased to see good salmon fry numbers continuing in the mid/upper Taw areas. There also good salmon fry numbers in the Bray, particularly in the Brayley Bridge sections, though I was again disappointed with salmon fry numbers in the upper reaches below Challacombe. As a result I will be carrying out walk-over surveys in that area. The Molland Yeo has remained consistent in producing good salmon fry numbers and there was a very good result in the Little Dart at Rackenford.

Please continue to report any suspected illegal fishingactivities to the EA’s 24 hour hotline – 0800 80 70 60.

The more intelligence we have, the more effective we can be on your behalf. Pollution incidents can also be logged on this number. For non-urgent or general fisheries information please feel free to email me.

Paul Carter

Environment Agency North Devon Fisheries Enforcement Officer [email protected]


RTFA AGM and Dinner

River Taw Fisheries Association AGM Friday 27th March 2020
The Palazzo, Highbullen Hotel


What have the Angling Trust & Fish Legal ever done for us?

Hundreds of staff and volunteers in our organisations are working hard every day to protect fish and fishing in so many different ways. This article is therefore a quick overview of our main activities (It would be impossible to list everything we do!) and a look back at some of our main achievements in the 10thanniversary year of the formation of the Angling Trust.

Fish Legal is, of course, a much older organisation that was

formed in 1948 as the ACA and remains today a co-operative association funded collectively by our members to take action on behalf of any of our club or fishery members whose waters are damaged by pollution. Fish Legal has made polluters pay over £500,000 to its member clubs and fisheries in the past 10 years and has stopped countless instances of ongoing damage to rivers from issues such as pollution incidents, abstractions and hydropower turbines. We have also provided expert advice to hundreds of its member clubs and fisheries on a wide range of issues. Our lawyers have recently been applying pressure on the Environment Agency to stop the dredging of gravels from the River Taw and spreading of slurry too close to the water’s edge.

The Angling Trust has been running a number of major campaigns to protect both freshwater and marine fisheries.

Over the past year, we have been successful in securing an almost complete ban on the taking of salmon by nets, which will save over 20,000 salmon each year.

We believe that the best way to restore freshwater fish stocks is to restore healthy flows of clean water into our rivers. The principal pressure on rivers nowadays is from modern agriculture and forestry operations. A combination of ever-more complex farm chemicals with poor soil management and intensification of dairy and poultry farming has led to a national picture of worsening water quality and damage to fish and invertebrate habitats. The Angling Trust has teamed up with WWF and The Rivers Trust to set out solutions to these issues and has presented them to Environment Secretary, Michael Gove. We are hopeful that the new Environment and Agriculture Bills will contain sensible measures to reverse the decline in river health.

The Angling Trust has also campaigned hard to protect inshore fisheries from over-exploitation and to secure bans of netting by the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) in estuaries and other areas frequented by salmon and sea trout. We will continue to press these authorities to improve the protection of our vulnerable marine and migratory fish as the byelaws are reviewed in each IFCA area around the country.

We continue to campaign for angling clubs and fishery owners to have greater freedom to control cormorants and goosanders to protect vulnerable fish species, but Ministers have so far been resistant to changing the rules in the face of strong opposition from wildlife campaign groups. We will keep trying. Our two Fishery Management Advisors have provided advice to more than 900 fisheries in the past year about ways of managing fish eating birds and there is constant demand for their services. We have also successfully distributed £480,000 through the Angling Improvement Fund (which is funded through fishing licence income) for clubs and fisheries to use on-predation deterrents.

On the subject of the Angling Improvement Fund – £2m of fishing licence income has been reinvested back into fishing – supporting clubs and fisheries to improve their facilities. The success of this has been phenomenal – generating an additional 200,000 fishing opportunities across the country through the funding that has been awarded.

The Angling Trust also has a range of programmes to promote fishing to people of all ages and we have trained more than 1,300 coaches over the last 10 years. More recently
we have run over 1700 taster sessions and introduced more than 70,000 people to fishing for the first time in the past 2 years at Family Fishing and Get Fishing events throughout the country. We are also providing high quality information online about how people can get into fishing and learn new disciplines to ensure that fishing has a sustainable future – you can visit www.getfishing.org.uk and fishinginfo.co.uk to find out more!

We are also taking action on illegal fishing – we have recruited nearly 500 volunteer bailiffs to help reduce poaching, fish theft, rod licence evasion and other crimes and this is helping reduce fear of crime that can deter people from going fishing. In the last year Volunteer Bailiffs across England undertook over 10,000 patrols, contributing over 25,000 hours to protecting fish and fisheries. The Fisheries Enforcement Support Service coordinates Operations TRAVERSE and LEVIATHAN, targeting illegal fishing and fish theft, involving the EA and the majority of police forces in England (and all in Wales).

Our Building Bridges team are working harder than ever to reduce poaching by migrant anglers, by educating and integrating migrant anglers with the culture of fishing in the UK. Our team have a wealth of experience and offer services to clubs to provide signage and material in up to 12 languages to help this integration.

There are a huge number of threats to our precious fisheries and we always need more resources to fight to protect the water environment and the rights of anglers. Our membership has been growing steadily in recent years, but still only represents a small proportion of the angling community.

If you are not a member, please visit www.joinanglingtrust.net/video to find out more about our work. We’ve got a fantastic offer for new members – we will give you your money back to spend at Fishing Megastore/Glasgow Angling Centre online – so it has never been easier and affordable to support our work for your fish and fishing! If you own a fishery or run a club, please contact us to discuss fishery membership of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal on 01568 620447. We offer inclusive insurance packages and a wide range of membership benefits.

Thank you to all of our members for making what we do possible and for your support in the future.

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive, Angling Trust and Fish Legal

What can genetics tell us about human-mediated effects on trout populations in south west Britain?

Freshwater habitats are amongst some of the world’s most threatened, sufferingfrom five major human-mediated threats, namely over-exploitation, pollution, modification of flows, habitat degradation and the spread of invasive, non-native species. For anadromous fish species issues with connectivity between individuals in small streams and larger catchments or the sea and how this is affected by the presence of barriers to fish movement are of particular interest. Barriers, both natural and man-made, can impact rivers by dividing continuous habitat into smaller patches. From a genetic perspective, this subdivision can have multiple adverse effects on fish populations. Barriers that prevent movement of fish between habitat patches can result in reductions in population sizes, increased inbreeding and reduced levels of genetic diversity and may ultimately result in local extinctions.

The role of small streams (those that directly enter the sea or an estuary) in the ecology and population genetics of brown trout (Salmo trutta L.) is not well understood. There are a disproportionately large number of these streams in southwest England. We have explored the genetic structure of – and connectivity between – trout populations in small streams and larger catchments along the south Cornish

coast, which is characterised by a few larger catchments and numerous small streams.

We sampled 26 populations of resident brown trout from 16 rivers and streams from south Cornwall and screened each for variation at 19 genetic markers. We identified highly contrasting patterns of diversity, relatedness and genetic differentiation between some of the small streams and neighbouring larger catchments. Many factors, both historical and contemporary, appear to have affected the levels and patterns of genetic variation we found.

Measures of genetic diversity were generally high in the majority of the sampled populations. However, a small group of populations sampled from the six of the smallest catchments (e.g. the Gweek and Percuil Rivers) showed levels of diversity approximately 50% lower than that found in the larger catchments (e.g. the Fowey). These small stream populations also show very high levels ofdifferentiation, both from each other and also from the larger ‘core’ rivers in theregion.

At a regional level, we found two genetic groups, with western (Helford River to Par) and eastern (Fowey to Lynher) groups.
This pattern most likely originated during the last Ice Age, when sea levels were up to 130m lower than at present and the English Channel was largely dry land. Southern Britain was not glaciated at this time and most of the rivers and streams that exist today would have been the headwaters of much larger rivers that drained into the eastern Atlantic.

At a more local scale the genetic structure becomes complex. There are strong genetic similarities between some rivers and small streams that are geographical close, such as the Fowey, Lerryn and Looe and the Carrick Roads rivers. In these cases, this reflects the fact that the rivers are likely connected via straying of sea trout between catchments. This straying both maintains and homogenises diversity between catchments. However, it is clear that six of the studied rivers (Gweek, Kennal, Percuil, Portmellon, Par and Polperro) do not fit into this pattern. In all cases, we believe that this is as a consequence of human activity, either directly or indirectly, affecting trout populations.

The most obvious signs of human influence on these streams is the presence of barriers, such as weirs and culverts, many of which date from the Industrial Revolution. On the River Kennal
a gunpowder works was established on the river in 1812. Water-driven wheels powered the powder mills and a series of impoundments were constructed along the valley to divert water to the mills. Likewise, the Polperro is also impacted by more recent human activity. A series of culverts take the stream under the main street of Polperro village including a 300 m long culvert under a modern car park. Together, these barriers prevent movement of fish, especially sea trout, isolating fish upstream of the barriers. This isolation limits the amount of habitat available for fish resulting in reduced population sizes, which in turn leads to increased chances of inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity.

Other small streams have been affected by historical mining activities. Our analyses show that it is apparent that human activities have been affecting Cornish rivers over long time-scales, with severe demographic declines occurring in trout populations in the period between the Middle Ages and early Modern times. This is a time before the widespread use of deep shaft mining when a process known as tin streaming was at its most extensive in southwest England. Tin streaming required large volumes of water to wash away soil overlying metal ore deposits. This resulted in the construction of weirs, leats (artificial water courses) and dams to channel water from rivers and streams to where it was needed for streaming. More recently, water quality in the Rivers Fal and Par has been adversely affected by waste from the china-clay mining industry. Mining for the clay started in the mid 18th century, though the effects of china-clay mining are markedly more localised than metal ore mining, which was widespread across both Cornwall and Devon.

Together, these multiple processes have resulted in reductions in genetic diversity in small streams across the region. This reduction has serious negative effects on the population level, over both short and long time-scales and could potentially impede the ability of trout to cope with future stressors, e.g. climate change. Reductions of genetic diversity also threaten the long-term persistence of populations and can result in local extinction. However, due to impassable barriers in the lower reaches some small streams, natural recolonisation will not be possible. For instance, despite the presence of suitable habitat, trout are absent from the Mevagissey stream, a small stream close to the Portmellon, that flows into St Austell Bay. It is thought that there has been a local extinction of trout in this stream and natural recolonization has not occurred due to extensive barriers through Mevagissey village.

We have highlighted that human activities over long time- scales have affected the structuring of, and levels of genetic diversity within, brown trout populations inhabiting streams and rivers of varying sizes. The small stream populations areisolated from the ‘core’ rivers along this stretch of coast due to the presence of barriers to fish (specifically sea trout) movement between catchments. Future conservation efforts should investigate ways of increasing genetic diversity within the small stream populations, preferably by enabling natural reconnection with fish inhabiting the larger catchments.

Dr Andrew King. Post doctoral researcher, University of Exeter. (Guest speaker at RTFA AGM 2019)

Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT)

What do salmon and trout on the Taw need and how can we give it to them?

Whilst trout and salmon can seem unbelievably complex creatures at times, their basic needs are simple: a place to stay, clean gravel, plentiful food and the ability to move up and down the river as the needs of reproduction demand. Over the last decade the RTFA and WRT have worked together to give the fish these four things.

No one who fishes the Taw will be unaware of the major barriers to fish passage that have been addressed across the river over the last decade. Whilst there are a few smaller weirs needing passage improvement, the most important weirs have been fixed. Fundamentally,

the fish know where they want to be at a given time, they know when the best time is to stay put, and when it is time to smolt and go to sea. They also know when they want to hold in a deep pool before migrating upstream or if they want to travel many miles in a single day. Without sounding complacent and acknowledging that there a many smaller improvements that can be made, we can be reasonably confident that the fish can mostly go where they want, when they want, on the Taw catchment.

Regarding the other three factors – a place to stay, clean gravel and plentiful food – these can be summed up by a single concept, natural habitat. Easy to say, hard to create, when so many stresses and strains have been put on our rivers. Many different organisations are working on the difficult job of reducing point source pollution and trying to persuade farmers that good management means keeping the soil on the land rather than letting it flow into the river. This year WRT is leading a new project to reduce the amount of soil finding its way into Westcountry rivers, the ‘Devon and Cornwall Soils Alliance’, which brings together organisations across the Westcountry to work toreduce the sources of these problems.

Whilst land management practices are undoubtedly the major cause of our problems, change will take a long time. To take a realistic perspective it will take years and probably decades for this work to have a significant impact on our river. Few of us would be so patient as to wait this long, so what can we do in the meantime? The answer comes back to natural habitat.

In the Taw the important natural habitat for salmonids is in the middle to upper reaches of the river. In these areas we are seeking out the best habitat for salmon and trout and working to keep it that way. Firstly, this means cleaning gravels of the choking sediment that has built up. That work both improves the survival rate of salmonid eggs and provides better, cleaner, more natural habitat for juveniles and small fish. Secondly, this means letting light into the river where abandoned river coppicing is over-shading the river, thereby restores the food-chain that provides the trout and young salmon with their food supply. Thirdly, we use the woody material won from coppicing to create in- river woody structures. These have multiple benefits, as they provide hiding places for small fish to enable them to avoid bird and other predators and also speed up the flow, which enhances the rivers self-cleaning capacity and creates pool structures for fish to lie in. Naturally such structures create a dis-benefit for casting anglers so we are careful not to put them in your best fishing pool.

In conclusion, the trout and salmon on the Taw need our best efforts to protect them from the worst of human behaviour and over- development. We need to work on the fundamentals – good fish passage and preventing sediment and excess nutrients from entering the river, as well as treating the symptoms of the problem by gravel cleaning and creating good habitat for fish. Between these two approaches we have the best chance of helping the fish we all want to prosper and grow.

Bruce Stockley, Head of Fisheries, Westcountry Rivers Trust


Two years after retiring as Secretary, I was elected Chairman of SWRA at the AGM in April, succeeding Henry Llewllynwho had been in the chair since Humphrey Wood’sretirement in 2011. During those two years I have been amember of the Angling Trust’s group advising theEnvironment Agency and Defra on the new byelaws

affecting angling and netting (see below). Looking forward I will be proposing changes to the way SWRA operates with a key focus on specific campaigns and more effective use of our limited resources. None of this will reduce the support that the association gives to individual rivers, including the Taw, where I now have a direct interest through a rod on the Hall Water.

New Byelaws

In December Secretary of State, Michael Gove MP, confirmed new byelaws aimed at reducing exploitation of salmon. This followed extensive consultationafter the Salmon Summit in 2015 and the launch of the EA’s Five PointApproach to Restoring Salmon Stocks in England. The outcome met most of theconcerns raised by rod fishing interests, including Angling Trust’s Angling Advisory Group which included SWRA. The key points are:

 Acceptance by the EA and Defra that anglers and their representatives are best placed to deliver voluntary conservation measures. This was a


key achievement by Angling Trust against pressure from those who

wanted further mandatory controls on angling.

  •   An immediate end to most licensed salmon netting, which included all

    South West rivers.

  •   Mandatory 100% catch and release of all rod caught salmon on every

    river where the stock is assessed as being ‘At Risk’ of failing its Conservation Limit and on smaller rivers regarded as ‘Recovering’. In the South West the only ‘At Risk’ river is the Yealm, and the RecoveringRivers include Allen, Seaton, Fal, Lerryn, Looe, Par, Looe Porth (all in Cornwall), Otter, Sid (both in Devon), and Brit (Dorset).

  •   Continuation of the ban on killing any rod caught salmon before 16 June.
  •   Restriction to artificial fly and bait only before 16 June.

    However the EA and Defra are committed to a further review

    of the need for mandatory rod fishing measures in 2020 based on levels of catch and release achieved in 2019 with an expectation that they will be at least 90%.

    The implication for us all is clear –
    treat every salmon as a potential contributor to our sport.

    Angling Trust, supported by SWRA, is now applying pressure

    on the EA to focus on the other parts of the Five Point Approach, including abstraction, pollution, predation and barriers to migration. This is in the context of widespread acceptance that angling is not the main cause of declining salmon numbers, a fact acknowledged by the EA and Defra. We are also pressing for a better method of stock assessment which currently relies too much on rod catch returns – Alex Gibson’s ‘Beat Surveys’ demonstrate howunreliable the EA’s catch returns are.

    Final Thoughts: Neil Yeandle included the following in the SWRA 2019 Newsletter:

    ‘Reading ”Final Thought” in last year’s Newsletter little seems tohave changed – low salmon stocks and catches, reduced fishing effort and lack of younger anglers coming into the game fishing community– these factors seem common to the majority of our South West Rivers.

    In addition 2018 included the longest drought period, highest temperatures and lowest river levels for many years. Will 2019 bring more of the same and what can the SWRA and its members do about it? The individual Rivers Associations already do fantastic work to maintain and improve the salmon and sea trout stocks by specific habitat improvement – gravel-cleaning, easing fish passage, reducing over-shading in small spawning tributaries etc – and that will continue. What about the other factors I have mentioned?

Well, here are my top tips for 2019 – go fishing more, take a young angler with you, and although you may get some funny looks, do a rain dance at the same time!’

Roger Furniss. Chairman, South West Rivers Association

Spey Casts and Salmon: Remember your first salmon?

I have a very special memory of the feeling of the line pulling tight from my fingers and the steady thump, thump, thump of the salmon. I lifted the rod and felt the live weight of the fish. Pete slipped quietly into the water beside me with the net, offering encouragement and advice. Being married to a guide has its advantages. By now we could see that I had hooked a grilse of about five pounds. The strength of it was far more that I was expecting. I was starting to understand why salmon fishing can be so addictive even if the chances of success are often quite small.

Pete netted the fish, and after a quick photo to mark the occasion, I held it in the current until I felt it kick free. Of the two of us,I’m not sure who was more excited. It is a curious mix of relief and elation that accompanies catching a salmon. I have to admit

we both shed a little tear. It could so easily have never happened at all.

Despite my husband being a fly fishing guide I had never fished or had any real interest in fishing. I would occasionally join him on the river, as much to keep him company as anything else. I had played around with casting on the grasswhen he was practicing, but actually going fishing wasn’t something I thought Iwould enjoy.

About six years ago a spare spot became available on Pete’s regular trip toScotland. It probably helped that a novice friend of ours was also going. Isuppose I just thought ‘why not?’ So I decided to go.

Peter took me down to the river to learn how to Spey cast. This is dangerous territory as trying to teach your spouse anything can be fraught with peril. That said I wanted to do Pete proud and to satisfy my own determination to not let the side down. What was supposed to be just a few casts turned into a couple of hours. We started with a simple roll cast; then I learned how to reposition the line with a circle Spey. The thing was, I really enjoyed it. Making a good cast, then trying to follow it with another, and another, was satisfying and rewarding in itself. Spey casting is mesmerising, fun and therapeutic in a funny sort of way.

It wasn’t long after we’d arrived in Banff that I was standing in my waderssending out cast after cast across the Deveron. ‘Great cast’, Pete would say after a particularly nice one. At times you think comments like that are more for morale than anything else, but I knew when I had got my D-loop in the right place and the feel of the line pulling tight against the reel as the line straightened over the water.

As the week progressed I remained fishless, but this didn’t bother me. I washappy spending time on the water and seeing if I could get a good run of casts together. Not every one was perfect of course, but I was quietly pleased withhow I was doing, and I hadn’t hooked myself either.

On Friday, our last day, Peter handed me his fly box and asked me to choose a fly. I picked a purple Ally’s Shrimp that justseemed right. The pool was called Upper Glide and the tail is a spot where salmon that have just run up the river are known to sit. I made a few warm-up casts and as my fly got nearer to the right area I started to concentrate on making sure I had good control of the line as the fly swung. That was when the fish took.

Firsts are special. First love, first car, first fish. The Deveronwill always be a special place for me, but there’s more thanthat. Salmon are special too. I’m lucky enough to have caughtplenty more fish as we spend a lot of time on the Taw in Devon, which has its own long history of salmon fishing.Now, when the conditions feel right I’m the one who says toPeter “Shall we?” He never says no.

Emma Tyjas



River Taw Byelaws

Main Points

Salmon 1 March to 30 September Sea Trout & Brown Trout 15 March to 30 September


Fly fishing permitted all season
Spinning permitted until 31 March
No other method or bait fishing permitted


No salmon to be retained before 16 June
No salmon greater than 70cms in length to be retained after 31 July No rod caught salmon to be sold or offered for sale

Sea Trout
Size limit 25cms

No rod caught sea trout to be sold or offered for sale

Brown Trout
Size limit 20cms

RTFA strongly recommends

that you practice catch and release whenever possible

The River Taw Fisheries Association is most grateful for
the financial support given towards the printing of this newsletter by:


Editor: Judith Kauntze. Email: [email protected]

Rivers rise to bring a run of silver tourists

posted in: Game Fishing, Sidebar | 0

The recent rainfall has boosted rivers levels and brought a welcome run off salmon and sea trout to both the Taw and Torridge. Around a dozen salmon have been tempted from the River Torridge and I suspect a similar number from the River Taw. One angler was certainly in the right place at the right time catching three salmon in a short session on a middle Torridge beat. If we get more rain to top up the rivers more sport can be expected.

A fantastic fresh run 18lb salmon was caught, landed and returned safely by Jamie Walden who was fishing alone in a challenging location mid river, on the Little Warham Fishery testament to his skills being able to land it on his own. Jamie also lost two sea trout in the same session.

River Taw salmon

posted in: Game Fishing, Sidebar | 0

Pete Tyjas who published Fly Culture Magazine tempted this beautiful springer from a middle Taw beat on a cascade. Whilst there have only been around half a dozen salmon from the Taw so far; as the water warms I expect a few more to be tempted.

Dave Mock caught his first ever salmon estimated at 8lb from the Barnstaple and District Angling Association Water below Newbridge.