After a long dry late summer and early autumn the rains have arrived swelling the local rivers into a dirty torrent. On the last day of the salmon season following rain earlier in the week the rivers had started to drop. I took my rod to the Middle Torridge and swung the fly more to say goodbye to season as in expectation of catching.
The river was at a good height but visibility was no more than 6″. I put on a big orange tube fly in the hope that it could be seen. The water was dark and turbid and rain beat down. The Bankside trees and vegetation showed little sign of the changing season. I savoured the sights of the river bank, the invasive Himalayan balsam has spread widely in some areas. Its pink flowers added colour, water droplets shone like jewels upon seed heads that popped as I walked past. Rose hips added a splash of colour as persistent rain beat down on this grey final day of what has been a disappointing season. In a few days the river will have fined down and will hopefully be full of salmon and sea trout forging up river to spawn high up on the redds.
We are living in strange times the ash trees suffering from ash die back some already dead and cut into lengths. Nature will heal of course I read recently of the loss of the nations elm trees during the dutch elm disease outbreak during the 60’s and seventies when an estimated 25.000,000 elm trees perished in the UK.
It is hard to believe that another season has passed by and for me a season without a salmon. As an all-round angler there is much to look forward to as autumn arrives and I will be torn as to where to cast my line. Until the wild daffodils once again decorate the banks I will no longer cast in hope of silver.
I was delighted to receive this wonderful image of Graham Dunn fishing the Middle Torridge during the early dawn. During these hot summer days it’s better to be at the waters edge either at first or last light as the temperature is more comfortable and the fish more likely to take. During this short trip Graham tempted a dace, five brown trout and a sea trout all carefully released with minimal handling.
Jon Dickman fished a middle Torridge beat and tempted a fine salmon estimated at 13lb. The fish took a holo silver cascade on a size 10 double. The fish was the reward of a six hour car journey and was the result of the first cast of the session.
The Taw and Torridge are both running high following the recent spell of heavy rain but as the rivers drop and clear salmon and sea trout should start to show in good numbers. Jack Hillcox was fishing a River Taw beat with his father Simon who was acting as ghillie.
Simon told me ” The one thing better than catching a salmon is acting as ghille when your son lands one.We had half an hour left before I had to drop him at Tiverton Parkway and were just philosophising how we had a great day and fish didn’t really matter ….then wham! A memorable day and hoping we all have some action over the next week or so.”
The salmon was returned quickly and swam away like a rocket.
As the rivers drop salmon and sea trout will settle into known lies where for a few days they will be catchable. Im sure a few good brown trout will also seize the salmon flies like this fine brown tempted by a seasoned Torridge fisher.
I fished a middle Torridge Beat as the sun started to rise above the trees and had a couple of good pulls on a brass tube fly. The colour was perfect but the river is running just a little high and should be perfect within two or three days. Despite the lack of success is there a better place to be than in the river as the English countryside reaches early summer perfection?
After posting this I received news that Jamie Walden tempted a fine salmon of 16lb from Little Warham Fishery.
The River Torridge salmon season is underway and the scoreboard is ticking over as regular Torridge angler Duncan Betts tempted a fine 9lb fresh run springer. A cast in the right place at the right time and a springer that most prized of catches could be yours.
I hope to bring more news from the rivers as the week progresses. On the Taw a 3lb sea trout was tempted from the Day Ticket Brightly and Weir Marsh beats.
Sadly the hatchery programme for this winter is currently on hold. The hatchery team was ready to trap the broodstock from the fish pass at Monkokehampton Weir when the second lockdown restrictions were announced early in December. We have not given up hope and if the restrictions are lifted on 2ndDecember will endeavour to catch up at least a few broodstock, which by then should almost be ready for stripping.
Steve Phelps, our vice-Chairman, has been working closely with William Entwistle, the vice-chairman of the South West Rivers Association, to develop a South West Hatchery hub at the Colliford hatchery on the River Fowey. This hatchery is currently funded by South West Water in mitigation for the loss of spawning streams on the Fowey catchment when Colliford Reservoir was constructed. Initially the Torridge and the Axe will be the two rivers directly involved. With the support of the Colliford hatchery team, the Axe Association, South West Water, The South West Rivers Association and the EA we have permission to grow upto 50% of our eggs to the swim-up fry stage at the Colliford hatchery. Their progress will be monitored under almost laboratory conditions. Last year we achieved a very high success rate at our own hatchery and it will be very interesting to compare the results.
As salmon stocks in all the rivers in the South West continue to decline there may will be a need to develop and expand the Colliford hatchery so that it can support all the rivers in our region.
A new Fisheries Enforcement Officer:
Some good news to cheer you all!! Following the retirement of Paul Carter in the spring, the EA has appointed a new Fisheries Enforcement Officer (FEO) for North Devon. Callum Underhill is fully trained and skilled as a FEO and for the last five years has been based in North Wessex. Callum is very enthusiastic about his new appointment. He is a keen fisherman!! Paul Carter has been very supportive and will continue to do so. I am sure next season many of you will meet Callum on the riverbank.
The Annual Dinner and Raffle:
Sadly we were not able to hold the Annual Dinner at The Half Moon, but the raffle did go ahead and as usual it was wonderfully well supported: thank you all very much. The raffle, together with several generous donations, raised over £2,000 which will go a long way towards funding our own hatchery and the costs involved at the Colliford hatchery.
The winners of the raffle prizes were as follows:
1st prize: £100 wine voucher: Richard Henry, an extremely experienced and successful angler who has fished the Torridge and been a regular visitor at The Half Moon Inn for over 50 years.
2nd prize: £50 Snowbee voucher: Robert Clark, a friend of James Mumford. James has been fishing the Torridge for many years and still travels from his home in Somerset to fish for salmon and sea trout several times each season.
3rd prize: a day’s fishing on The Half Moon beats was won by Bill Blake from Somerset.
4th prize: a bottle of wine donated by Reg Lawton was won by Tim Birkbeck, a committee member.
5th prize: a day’s fishing on the famous Madeira beat was won by Nick Gunn, one of our newer members.
The Fishing Season:
For the first three weeks of the season the river was in spate and then all fishing stopped until the end of May, by which time the river, after a spring drought, was down to summer level. For the latter half of the season the weather was changeable and river levels held up reasonably well. Fishing effort has been very light, but those anglers who have fished regularly have been rewarded with some good catches. Barry Mills caught a salmon in excess of 20lb on the Little Warham water while Martin Weeks and his brother Ed enjoyed some excellent night sea trout fishing. Catch totals seem to have been similar to last year: about 30 salmon, 100 sea trout and plenty of good-sized brown trout.
With no significant rain in the last weeks of the season salmon fishing has been slow. A few salmon were tempted from the Torridge as anglers visited the river for the last time. One salmon was also tempted from a very low River East Lyn.
Little Warham regulars – David and Stuart.Were both determined to fish before the end of season on their annual visit to Warham; let’s just say their 5hr plus journey paid dividends
Several fiesty wild brownies seized my nymphs before a better fish took hold in a deep pool, a crimson spotted brown of over 10″.
It is hard to believe that it is early September as I approach the river as the sun slowly climbs above the trees sending shafts of light across the river. The river is in perfect order running at a good height with pleasing a tinge of colour that one could almost describe as that of fine ale.
I wade out into the cool water and begin my search, optimistic as an angler must be expectant that at any moment the line will zip tight. I absorb the familiar surroundings and listen to the soundtrack of the ever flowing river as it ambles to the sea. Wagtails bob about and a kingfisher flashes past. Fry are abundant in the margins giving hope for future seasons.
The seasons passing is obvious as leaves drift past and I notice a large number of ash leaves undoubtedly a sign of the ongoing of ash die back.
I have fished the river in perfect conditions several times this year and last with four or five years since my last salmon. After fishing the beat carefully drifting my flies across the favoured lies I work my way to the bottom of the beat covering the lies for a second time.
It is clear that the salmon are not as abundant as they were when I started fishing this Middle Torridge beat ten years or so ago when leaping salmon and sea trout were a common sight. The picture of a twenty pound salmon further up river is of course an image that maintains hope in the knowledge that the fish had swum past the waters I am fishing.
The sun is now well up in the sky as I place my fly inches from the far bank. As it swings across the river there comes that electric pull down the line and in a magic moment that contact is made with throbbing life on the line. I hold the rod high and savour the moment as the rod kicks before the reel sings. I keep a tight line leaning into the fish as I step sideways allowing the salmon to push up river. The fish hangs deep in mid river; the rod bends, the line pointing into mid river, the salmon holding station in the strong current. For a while the salmon powers up river but as the pressure tells the fish seeks help from the current heading down river as I attempt to maintain a position opposite the fish . I glimpse a wide powerful tail and the flash of silver.
Its always a tense experience playing a salmon hoping that the hook will stay put and the knots hold strong. After around ten minutes I detach the net from my back and the battle continues with the fish on a short line. This is a tense time for many salmon are lost during that time when the fish is so close to the net.
Then suddenly the fish rolls and is in the net as I give a call of triumph. “Yes!”
I carry the salmon to the margins and slip the barbless double hook from the top jaw. The Go Pro is clipped to my rod handle strategically placed at the water’s edge. I hold the salmon above the water for a brief self-take shot. The flanks of the 10lb plus hen fish are already showing subtle hues of the autumn season. Its image will remain etched upon my mind for the rest of my days fuelling the return to the river in search of silver.
The salmon is held in the cool water head upriver for a couple of minutes until I feel its strength return. It is a great feeling when the fish powers strongly away into the river to continue its amazing journey to hopefully spawn in the next couple of months.
This 21lb beauty was caught by Barry Mills this evening in Boat Pool at Little Warm Fishery; using his newly acquired ‘weigh net’, which came in pretty handy with a fish this size!
I also fished the River Torridge downstream of Little Warham with conditions perfect I fished with optimism drifting my flies across proven lies. I failed to connect with any silver tourists but I did see a sea trout leap from the water and glimpsed the electric blue of a kingfisher. With the river now running at a good height i expect salmon to be caught from both Taw and Torridge for the remainder of the season.