Recent rainfall has rejuvenated North Devon’s Rivers and the countryside bringing a lush green to the landscapes. I have reported several salmon caught from the Taw and Torridge over recent days and was delighted to make connection with a special fish myself, more of that later. On leaving the River I was delighted to receive a message from Paul Carter who had just netted a fine fresh run silver salmon from the Middle Taw estimated at 15lb.

The guys from Shady River Fishing have been enjoying some excellent fishing higher up the River catchments targeting wild brown trout. Euro Nymphing tactics producing some stunning fish in the high water conditions. The pick of recent catches being this stunning wild brown of 14” that was estimated at 2lb.

Visit ‘shady river fishing’ on Instagram.

The middle Torridge was looking close to perfect when I arrived for a morning session. Peering into the river I could easily make out the stones at a depth of 18”, the water was the colour of the finest ale. The water glistened in the morning sun and I admired a large silver wash fritillary butterfly as it settled upon bankside grass. I paused for a minute or two sitting on the bench as the river flowed past. A  juvenile buzzard mewed above a sound synonymous with August and the passing of summer.

I waded into the cool water and grimaced as I felt a leak in my waders. I put a line out across the river allowing the fly to drift across the flow searching for the increasingly illusive Atlantic salmon. It was good to be here following the familiar pattern of casting, drifting and stepping down through the pool.

At the point where I knew salmon had taken my fly in the past I felt a strong pull and lifted the rod tightening into a fish for just a few seconds. A chance gone perhaps? The margins between success and failure are often small. I analysed my response to the take, had I lifted into the fish too quickly? It is good practice to allow a little slack to allow the salmon to turn down with the fly but in all honesty the delectable moment of the take is so fleeting. In truth most of the salmon I have caught have hooked themselves or at least I have difficulty in actually visualising that fleeting moment of deception and connection.

I fished on searching the river and its known lies. It has been a little disheartening so far this season to drift the fly over the lies time and time again. Fishing the river in conditions like this even ten years ago I feel certain I would at least have seen a fish jump.

Despite the lack of success and ongoing concern regarding salmon and sea trout stocks I have stubbornly retained a sense of expectation as I fish, whilst there are still salmon to be caught hope springs eternal.

The river and its surroundings have a feel of late summer, early autumn. The invasive Himalayan Balsam are sadly flourishing their pretty pink flowers attracting bees and butterflies. Vivid blue damsel flies flutter amongst the riverside vegetation. Pin head fry flit to and fro in the river’s margins.

After fishing the top of the beat I fish back down searching the water heading for my final casts of the day in the bottom pool.

I wade out into the river once again still hoping almost expectant as this pool has provided many of the salmon I have caught from the Torridge over the years. As I proceed slowly down the pool I hear the piercing call of a kingfisher and glimpse the electric blue as the bird flashes down river. My optimistic heart views this as a good omen.

As I reach the bottom of the pool the line swings round in the current. The line zips delightfully tight and the water twenty yards below erupts as a fish  leaps high above the river gyrating at the lines end. The rod hoops over and the fish heads downriver as I relish the moments of drama. For a few minutes salmo-salar dictates making several strong runs and leaping several times. There are a few anxious moments as the fish lunges near  to branches on the far bank. Pressure eventually starts to sap the salmon’s energy and I coax the fish up river. The fish holds station in mid river and I slip the net ready to secure my prize. There are tense moments as line is gained and lost at close quarters. I pile on the pressure and the salmon rolls into the net. I wade up to the reed fringed bank above and take a moment to admire my prize. The salmon its flanks decorated in autumn hues signifies that it has been in the river for a while. I slip the barbless hook from its jaw and take a quick couple of pictures with the salmon in the net. I then carefully slide the fish into the river cradling the fish in the current  lifting its head momentarily to capture an image. The fish is strong and kicks its tail as I support it. I watch satisfied as the precious fish swims into the ale coloured water to hopefully fulfil its destiny on the spawning redds later in the winter months.


Barnstaple & District Angling Association – Mid season Report

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                                        B.D.A.A                                                                27/6/2023

Don Hearn on the river bank at the start of the season back in March


Many thanks to Don Hearn for allowing me to share Barnstaple and District Angling clubs mid-season report below.


After an exciting start to the season with several good fish taken and seen we are now, as last year,  faced with extremely low water. The temperature was measured yesterday by the bridge at over 20 degrees and this of course can be threatening to migratory game fish. We have seen Salmon gasping on the surface and several casualties have been found. Some from mishandling, we think, but not by our members as far as we are aware. We are asking for restraint from salmon/sea trout angling during these drought conditions as any fish caught would be at risk of not recovering from the experience. You may have seen online that this is happening nationally and is disastrous for the species. We can but hope for rain. The Hall Estate up river from us has also asked beat holders for angling restraint until the water levels improve. Hopefully, as last year, we will get a decent run of fish when the rain finally comes.

We have now completed the new hut and after a bit of tidying of surrounding areas will soon be declaring it formally open! Hopefully this will last for many years and be a peaceful place to rest and shelter while watching the river pass by. This has involved a great deal of work from our volunteers but we all feel it’s worth it. The original hut was very substantial but in these changing times we couldn’t hope to compete. We are however proud of what we have achieved and hope it will serve its purpose for many years to come. With this downtime from angling at Newbridge work continues with strimming and clearing and if anybody has any suggestions for the beat they would be welcome. Also feel free to carry cutters etc and help yourself!

However, the restriction on the river doesn’t mean you can’t go fishing. One of the most popular options is fly fishing for Bass in the estuary. A greater challenge would be the Mullet. Both would give you a great scrap in lovely surroundings and well worth the effort. We do of course have course fishing at Aller pond which fishes well in summer with such deep water keeping temperatures down. Yet another quiet place to while away a few hours.

Whatever alternative you may find we look forward to getting back on the river when conditions improve and wish you, as ever, tight lines.

Don Hearn

Newbridge River keeper


My own comment :-

The low river levels as a result of prolonged dry conditions are a serious concern and if as is generally thought are a result of ongoing climate trends this does not bode well for the future. We all share the burden of potential climate disaster and need to consider how we should react. My own observations as an angler and conservationist are concerning. Indications that the natural world is in a bad place are all around. If salmon in the river are the proverbial canary in the mine then we should all be concerned.


Thoughts from the waters edge

The warm late May sunshine is starting to impact upon the rivers with levels now dropping and the water becoming clear. A few salmon have been tempted from the River Taw with Ian Blewett amongst the successful anglers with a silver springer from a Middle Taw beat.

The Torridge has seen very few salmon caught and with the river now below ideal height most will wait for the next spate before casting a salmon fly. The wild brown trout fishing on the Torridge can be superb so as the mayfly start to show there could be some exciting sessions.

I wandered down through the beat I fish on the Torridge swinging a salmon fly and ever hopeful of success. Whilst I delighted upon the beauty of the river I couldn’t help but feel a certain unease at the lack of swifts and swallows. Looking up river I savoured the evening light streaming as it illuminated the water. Yet even here I noticed the bare branches of a tree ravaged by ash dieback. I and others of my generation have witnessed a catastrophic decline in nature. It is likely that salmon will be extinct in West Country Rivers before our granddaughter is old enough to drive. Whilst there is a lot of effort by keen conservationists to stem the decline I cannot help but feel a sense of melancholy as I walk away from the river.

It is perhaps time to get out onto the coast and taste the salty air and relish the savage pull of a bass?



Salmon brace from Middle Taw

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Chay Boggis tempted a brace of spring run salmon whilst fishing a middle Taw beat. The fish were tempted using black and yellow flies. The warmer weather coinciding with a dropping river has lead to several salmon being tempted including rumours of a fine 18lb fish.

Newbridge Spring Newsletter – April 2023

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Newbridge Spring Newsletter – April 2023

The season opened with a flourish but after two days of catching many well repaired kelts we agreed a cessation to give these precious fish a chance to get away to sea. The river  has been in spate for nearly six weeks since and any fresh arrivals are well upriver by now. It is good for the fish to get up to safety but not so good if you’re hoping to catch one on the club water. The rain should back off now and the beat would be expected to fish well for a while.

Our working parties have been busy creating a new shelter and it is now ready for use. We do intend to tidy up the muddy floor but hopefully we have a place to sit, eat, chat and enjoy company as the river slides by. There was a lot of history attached to the old club hut and maybe now we can create new history of our own! We intend to have a club meeting there later in the year to celebrate the revival of such an asset and will post it when the time comes. Meanwhile work continues and the next step is to create a crossing for the stream and to strim a route up through the woods to give access to the dump car park. This will save having to go back out to the lane to access lower sections of the beat.

Member Nick Mcmurtrie has graciously been helping with refurbishment of the club cups and we now have more to offer at the AGM.  We  have a refurbished Mullet cup and a Bass cup to offer as well as the salmon and sea trout cups so sea fish, any method, are welcome on your catch return this year.  We also are looking at the course cups ‘ found’ and trying to identify them for use.  We now have a “junior best fish” cup too and would encourage any one with a young angler in the family,  or knows of a keen youngster ,to engage with the club as they are our future and would be more than welcome.

I’ve had an Email from P.C. Lucy Robinson who is a local police officer, wild life trained and involved in stopping rural crime including poaching and antisocial behaviour. She has supported us in various issues in the past and has asked that we call in untoward activity on the river.  It’s really good to have such support locally. Also continue to report to the E.A. incident line when you feel it’s appropriate, Particularly regarding poaching and pollution. Please reference the club if you do. They don’t always respond but it is all logged and the more we call it in the more chance of action. We have been told the E.A. are recruiting  more Bailiffs which is good news

Hopefully the summer newsletter will have interim catch reports so we wish you a good season.

Tight lines

Don Hearn



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            After one of the wettest Springs for many years the salmon season has got off to a slow start with the rivers unfishable for several of the early weeks. There have been a few salmon caught during brief windows of opportunity when river conditions have come right.

I have heard of at least two springers from the Taw system one from the Weir Marsh area and another on the Mole. With the rivers so high salmon will potentially have run far up the rivers and could be caught from areas where they have not been tempted for several years so early in the season

            I headed to the middle Torridge and found the river running high but with a perfect tinge of colour. The dying daffodils told of how the early  season had already passed as new spring flowers bloomed and lush green growth started to burst out on the bankside trees.

I glimpsed martins flying across the rural landscapes of spring as I drove to the water, another great marvel of  migration.

            It felt good to swing the fly across familiar lies and I initially felt a tingle of expectation. A momentary connection with a trout raised the pulse rate but as I fished on the reality of the salmon fishing these days descended. After close to three hours covering the water in near perfect conditions I couldn’t help thinking that ten years ago there would have been salmon here.

            Perhaps the recent talks I have attended and television programmes documenting the demise of the salmon are taking their toll? Salmon anglers like salmon are resilient creatures and I know that I will back full of hope next time. Heavy rain is forecast again as I write this and the rivers will be back bank high soon. The longer term prospects for this season are good as the rivers should hold up well with May likely to  be a great month to be at the river. Even if the salmon and sea trout prove elusive the brown trout fishing will be excellent. Brown trout to over 1lb 8oz have already been tempted by salmon anglers swinging large flies.

It’s well worth watching the Channel 5 documentary. A fascinating documentary about efforts to restore salmon rivers in Scotland.


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            After a day of relentless heavy rain, we drove over the River Taw at Newbridge to witness a torrent of dirty brown flood water racing under the bridge and starting to spill over the flood plain. This was certainly an unusual sight for the last day in March and I thought about its impact on the fish. Any kelt’s’ would certainly be swept out of the system. The downstream smolt migration should now be underway and this significant flush of water will help these juvenile salmon to evade the flocks of cormorants that prey so heavily on them each spring. The raging torrent should also flush away debris and give the river a spring clean. There is of course the worry of pollutants with storm overflows undoubtedly discharging, farm slurry leaking and tons of soil washed from fields.

            We arrived at Highbullen for the RTFCA and it was good to see familiar faces at this annual gathering. Chairman Andy Gray gave a warm welcome to the membership many of whom had travelled a good distance to attend. After a couple of crisis hit seasons of COVID and drought it was hoped that 2023 would bring better fortunes. The flooded river presently prevailing would hopefully bring a spring run as water levels drop. The large numbers of kelt caught at the start of the season was very encouraging indicating that good numbers of fish had spawned.

            The main focus on river habitat work had been to concentrate on gravel washing but the 2022 drought had severely impacted upon this work.

            The 2022 season had seen 53 salmon caught and 83 sea trout.

            There was extensive debate surrounding the successful legal proceedings by Fish legal regarding the pollution on the River Mole in 2019.

The monies received from this court case will be invested  in the future of the River Taw catchment with funds supporting the valuable work of the Westcountry Rivers Trust. The importance of joining Fish legal was highlighted as without their support and expertise the polluters would have escaped justice.

A significant number of  migratory shad were witnessed in the Taw during the late Spring of 2022. It is thought that this could be a direct result of the removal of weirs project during the past decade. The presence of these rare fish  spawning in the Taw can bring welcome funding to the river for further habitat improvement.

Adrian Dowding of the Westcountry Rivers Trust gave a short talk on the importance of gravel washing works on potential spawning areas. This is part of the SHIP ( Spawning Habitat Improvement Project). Gravel washing removes silt and breaks up compacted gravels enabling successful spawning.

There was passionate debate regarding the frequent pollution of rivers from agriculture and discharge from an antiquated and inadequate sewage treatment infrastructure. An ever expanding population has resulted in an overload with many sewage works working way beyond their design capacity.

Intensive farming is undoubtedly having a negative impact and considerable efforts are being made to work with farmers to control run off and ensure secure storage of effluent and slurry.

There has been a very high take up of Citizen Science Investigation monitoring across the Westcountry. This can provide the EA with valuable data.  The North Devon Catchment Partnership brings a collective alliance with various interested parties working together for the good of the river.

The RTFCA  believe that working together in common causes is the best way to achieve results regarding water quality, and habitat with the opportunity to pool resources where appropriate.

Harry Chance gave a talk on his work with the Environment Agency as an Agricultural Regulatory Inspection Officer on the Torridge catchment. His work funded by DEFRA ( Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) involves regular farm inspections. The focus is on offering advice and support to farmers to prevent pollution and habitat damage. Regulation is extremely complex and the legal system frustratingly slow. Harry explained the rigorous expectations for farming with mandatory soil testing and adequate controls to prevent pollution incidents. The importance of reporting any suspected pollution or breaches of regulations was emphasised with reports and data essential in bringing potential prosecutions and increased funding.

EA Hotline 0800 80 70 60

When reporting obtain an incident number, take photos, give a grid reference or what 3 word location.

Reports can be made anonymously.

            Mr Phil Metcalf and Sophia Craddock gave an informative talk on the Devon Rivers Improvement Project ( DRIP) . This project started on the River Umber that flows through the valley at Combe Martin. The project focusses on flood risk awareness and flood risk. The installation of sensors that measure water depth, Moisture, rain, water quality, including turbidity, nitrates, conductivity, pH, temperature and ammoniums. These provide valuable data that is linked to satellites to give real time data collection.

            This project is now being extended to the Little Dart a tributary of the Taw.

            The initiative plans to use natural based solutions to reduce flooding and run off. These potential solutions involve woodland planting, cross slope planting, floodplain planting, hedgerow banks, log dams, gulley stuffing, buffer ditches, containment ponds and many other innovative trials.

            Floodplain connection is considered a key factor in righting the mismanagement of land over recent decades.

            As I attend multiple talks I realise how we need to rethink how we manage the land and our watercourses to enable nature to heal the damage that has been inflicted.

            On conclusion of the formal meeting and talks many members remained at the venue to enjoy a delicious meal. If our table was anything to go by many topics were discussed with fishing past and present undoubtedly providing a vast wealth of subject matter. It is always good to make new friends and savour reminiscences of lifetimes spent beside many waters.

Anyone interested in North Devon’s rich angling history might enjoy my book published in 2016. See link below.

“I Caught A Glimpse Book” Launch 2019

High Bullen House Hotel AGM, Talk and Dinner

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High Bullen House Hotel

AGM, Talk and Dinner
17:30 on 31st March
Some spaces left
Either come and pay  on the night or click below to pay online

We have a talk on the  EA’s new water enforcement regime and a second on the work on headwaters to reduce peak flows.


The funds raised from the following auction will all go towards improving the ecology of the River Taw, Mole and other tributaries.

Please bid generously and forward to other likely interested friends


RIver Taw Fisheries & Conservation Association – News


Chairman’s Report

Our AGM will be on the 31st of March at the Highbullen Hotel. We have a speaker from the Environment Agency called Harry Chance. Harry is an Agricultural Regulatory Inspection Officer and will update us on the greater level of enforcement that was first trialed on the Axe and is coming to the Taw.

We are running our annual auction online this year. The link is at the bottom of this piece which can be forwarded to as many people in your network as you feel might be interested. Chris Taylor, as ever, is rounding up auction lots. If you would be willing to donate, be it fishing, stalking, other experieces or equipment, then do email Christopher Taylor ([email protected]) or me ([email protected]). We will continue to add lots and run the end date through into mid April.

We have started the new season with a bang with around 20 fish caught on the lower beats, mainly kelt on the Barnstaple & District Angling Association water. Wisely, they immediately asked members not to spin and then brought in a voluntary cessation of fishing until the next large tide that should carry these valuable fish safely out to sea. I have checked with other rivers and these unusually high numbers have not been replicated elsewhere. They equate to a lot of eggs in our river and will only represent a proportion of the total spawning fish. This gives us some reason for optimism. Any angler who does catch a kelt should take particular care in returning this valuable fish to the water.

We hope the weather is an improvement on the 2022 season. Last year we had a promising start with several early fish caught. The rain then stopped and the summer and early autumn were a complete right-off. Our final figures were a miserable 53 salmon and 83 seatrout. The one lesson is to put in the effort when the conditions are right. Those lucky enough to fish the lower river did have sport in periods the water was cool enough to fish.

The Committee has been working away behind the scenes on protecting the ecology of our catchment. The toughest job was working with Fish Legal on a private prosecution. Alex Gibson coordinated this and his report is in this Newsletter.

There are rapidly increasing numbers of shad spawning in our river, most likely the result of the weir removals assisting their migration. We contacted various researchers through Jo Madden (Upper Taw Representative). An article on this fresh-water breeding herring can be read elsewhere in this Newsletter.

Over the years we have improved access over our weirs, bought out the estuary salmon nets, succesfully lobbied IFCA to ban other estuary netting, monitored fish numbers through fry surveys and beat surveys, collaborated with South West Rivers Association on various lobbying activities, cleaned compacted and silted gravels to assist with spawning, sued polluters and those that damage the ecology of our river and brought a multitude of other benefits. The two major causes of damage we continue to battle are sewage treatment works and poor farming practices. We can’t change these alone and so view collaboration as a necessary strategy. The North Devon Biosphere have a Catchment Partnership and Ian Blewett has a seat at that table as outlined in his article in this Newsletter. A major step forward will be in-river water monitors that have been trialled in the Umber and are now to be introduced in the Little Dart.

William Martin has just completed a new website for us. It will allow greater flexibility, easier communications – such as this email – and also online auctions. Bryan Martin has ably managed our previous website for which we are grateful and will continue to assist with the new one. The new model allows other officers to have direct access alongside Bryan.

Andy Gray

The Mole Pollution Incident

The Mole pollution incident has been extensively covered in
our website over the last 2 ½ years. Now that the legal processes have run their course, I have been asked to write a concluding article. We should remember though that the  effect of so many of our fish being killed will be felt in our salmon, sea trout and brown trout fish stocks into the future.

Sadly we have become used to the drip by drip deterioration
in the water quality of our river caused to a great extent by the bad practice of farmers and our water company, South West Water, this despite extensive campaigning efforts for improved regulation and enforcement. There was always a feeling though that a major catastrophe could be around the corner.

I was Chairman when I received a call from the EA on the
morning of 1 August 2020 telling me that there had been a major fish kill incident, Category 1 in EA terminology, as a result of anaerobic digestate used as a fertiliser getting into the Mole in large quantities. For reasons of continuity I stayed involved until all the legal loose ends were finally tied up towards the end of last year.

An estimated 15,600 fish in a 5km stretch of the Mole were
killed, from above the link road to the junction of the Molland Yeo where fortunately sufficient dilution took place. This stretch is an important spawning and juvenile area for the river. The salmonids actually counted by the EA were: 315 salmon parr, 1,155 salmon fry, 14 adult sea trout, 1,127 adult brown trout, 328 brown trout parr and 1,222 brown trout fry.  Although no adult salmon were killed the loss of three generations of juvenile salmon will be felt for years to come. The same situation applies to the sea trout killed and to the unknown number of juvenile brown trout killed that would have migrated to sea as sea trout.

The EA mounted a successful criminal prosecution of Alun
Sing’s company and one of his employees. The total fine was £2,667, an amount viewed as derisory by those concerned with the health of the river. The proceeds went of course to the Treasury not to the river. With the criminal prosecution out of the way it was open to us to mount a private action for damages. It turned out that amongst all the riparian owners below the polluted stretch on the Mole and on the Lower Taw only five RTFCA members, a
disappointing number, could be identified as members of Fish Legal. These five, acting as claimants, engaged Fish Legal and after a long, drawn-out legal process compensation of £18,000 was paid. Each of the five claimants agreed that the proceeds should go to the Westcountry Rivers Trust for river improvement work on the Mole and this has now happened.

What lessons can be learned?

Taking legal action in relation to river pollution is a
time-consuming and expensive business which requires specialist skills. This we found out through working alongside Fish Legal and through the excellent efforts of Justin Neal, Fish Legal Solicitor. I do urge riparian owners to protect their own and the river’s interests by becoming members of Fish Legal, thereby in effect insuring against the costs of legal action and making legal action affordable.

Those who pollute our river should be held to account and
pressure needs to be brought to bear on the EA to prosecute Category 1 and where possible Category 2 incidents.

Criminal prosecutions do have a deterrent effect. It is therefore important to decline offers under enforcement undertakings as RTFCA did in this case. By using the enforcement undertaking arrangement and offering money direct to the affected party the polluter seeks to avoid a criminal prosecution. It is important to note that after a criminal prosecution there remains the option, as in this case, of bringing a private action with proceeds going to river improvement work. A successful criminal prosecution by the EA
increases the likelihood of a successful private action.

We will never eradicate all the threats that our river faces,
but we must do all we can to minimise them. This means that anglers should act as eyes and ears on the river and report pollution incidents to the EA via its hotline (0800 807060). It may seem dispiriting that individual cases are not followed up by the EA unless there is a fish kill, but action becomes more likely against the repeat offender if incidents continue to be reported and logged.

Three anaerobic digesters on our system are three too many. There
is always the threat of a major incident directly or indirectly connected to them. I would urge any member who hears of plans for others being built to bring that information to the attention of the RTFCA Committee so that a concerted campaign can be launched to nip such plans in the bud.

Fortunately major incidents are rare and I hope my successor, Andy Gray, has a smooth ride in this respect.

Alex Gibson